Monday, December 30, 2013

Breaking All the Rules for Cleaning Out Your Wardrobe

a wardrobe "Cluster" built around a grey wool dress, with 2 options for shoes, hosiery, scarves and jewelry
The grey winter dress "cluster"
It's an absolutely unbreakable rule for cleaning out your closet - you're supposed to take EVERYTHING out of your closet, pile it somewhere like on your bed, try EVERYTHING on, and then sort things into piles for things to keep, things to donate, and things to "work on".

I can picture that chez moi:
  1. Open bottle of wine.
  2. Take all clothes out of closet and put them on the bed.
  3. Look at stacks of clothes and feel a terrible combination of shame, panic, and sense of being completely overwhelmed by the situation.
  4. Drink wine.
  5. Try on a few of my favorite garments, and put them back in my closet.
  6. Take another drink.
  7. Throw up my hands in despair and put things back where they were...
I'm sure that some of you have done this the proper way, and have had great results.  I'm eager to hear from you about how long it took, and what it was like to execute the project properly.


a wardrobe "Cluster" built around a black velvet skirt, with two sweater options
The black velvet mid-calf skirt "cluster"

But for me, an incremental approach is the only way this is going to happen.  So I'm going to go the "cluster" route.  It works like this:

  1. Pick a dress, pair of pants, or skirt.
  2. Figure out at least two ways that I'm going to wear it.  In the example of the dress above, I can be sort of casual-ish with opaque tights and flats, or it can be dressier, with sheer stockings and pumps. Your "cluster" might be three different ways to wear something - there are no rules here.
  3. Segregate EVERYTHING necessary to this "cluster".  I'm thinking of putting things onto my portable hanging rack for a few days, shoes on the floor, and accessories... somewhere...
  4. Move on to the next core garment, build the cluster, segregate the garments and accessories in the "keeper" area.
You could set aside part of your closet for the completed clusters, or you could put them somewhere entirely separate for a few days.  (lots of people show photographs of storing their clothes on an open rack in their home, which looks cool, but bear in mind that light and dust are damaging to clothes - there's a reason we have closets...)

I'm going to pursue this idea in my closet, because it will help me not only get my clothing under control, but it will also help me to see what shoes, hosiery, scarves and jewelry are actively being worn.  Just trying on clothes won't necessarily address some of my worst areas of clutter - I need to get a better handle on my accessory madness.

When I get to the point that I have a favorite item in my hands, and I see that there's no outfit "cluster" in which this item works, I'll have some clear-cut ideas about what shopping I might want to consider.

Items that never make it into a cluster - get donated.  There's a ton of people in the world who could use the things that are laying dormant in my wardrobe.

a wardrobe "Cluster" built around a grey dotted skirt, with two options for sweaters and jewelry
The grey dotted skirt "cluster"

a wardrobe "Cluster" built around a pair of grey flannel trousers, with two sweater options
The grey flannel trousers "cluster"

I've got four clusters chosen right now, and I've only used one Hermes scarf; the black and white scarf with my velvet skirt is an ancient Dolce & Gabbana.  What does this tell me?  (uh, my life has changed a LOT recently?)

And wouldn't 3 or 4 clusters make a GREAT suitcase?

For those of you who were wondering what Susan would buy with the $25 gift card for Novica, dash over to see her at Over 60 and Over Here today, where you can admire her lovely choices...

love,
Janice

 Artisan Crafted Jewelry


45 comments:

  1. Absolutely brilliant! It's like playing paper dolls and ending up with some great new outfits.

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  2. This is so clever. Your technique not only shows what goes together within the cluster but also should help identify those "orphans" that really don't work (or work well) with a cluster. Conversely, this should help increase the adaptability of some garments -- say a teal blouse always worn with gray pants that could also migrate to a black cluster, etc. Yes, brilliant!

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  3. Brilliant and funny!
    I haven't taken everything out of my closet in at least 10 years but I do edit it regularly. I love your cluster approach.
    One of my problems is dealing with the seasons. It looks like your suggesting that you deal with the current
    season. Also I need to edit my costume jewelry and my scarfs in a separate session or sessions.

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  4. So you asked how long the total clear-out process took? Six months and counting for me, and it has evolved into an incremental approach. The cluster idea would have saved me from discarding items I miss now - bummer. Now that my closet is slim-er, I'm excited to try the approach to see what orphans still hide there!

    One thought about the try-it-on rule: I also use the wear-it-once approach. If, after a day at the office, I feel anything but wonderful in the garment, out it goes. I think this process will be ongoing for quite a while. It's funny, really. I knew how to buy clothes, but had no idea how to get dressed.

    Cheryl's comment about paper dolls made me smile. Even after the clean out, I still walk into my closet and feel lost. Until I started playing paper dolls - that's what I call it, too! I am oddly challenged when it comes to putting outfits together and remembering what works and what doesn't on me. I've accumulated quite a library of outfit ideas that work - thank you, Janet - so I can play paper dolls to pull together the week's outfits. What looks nice on the hanger doesn't always look good on.

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  5. Your blog has already trained me, Janice, to arrange and hang my clothes in clusters and clusterettes. I use sturdy but space-saving non-slip velvet hangers to hang slacks, blouse, cardigan, flowing oblong scarf all on one hanger--and adjacent to another mix-and match slacks ensemble or two or three and a couple of mix and match skirts. A portable rack as a staging area to do this helped me, for example, fill a big bag of scarves for Goodwill that I realized were redundant or not as versatile as the ones I'd draped on my cluster hangers. Best of all, getting dressed for work is quick and efficient and already thoughtfully considered.

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  6. What a clever idea to use the clusters to organize and clean out your closet. I'm afraid without your suggestions I would have fallen into the first category :) I've also enjoyed reading the comments above. You and your readers give me great inspiration. Thank you Janice.
    Sam

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  7. I usually save the "open a bottle of wine" for the completion of a task. Perhaps having a few sips along the way could make the task more pleasant, and surely I would accomplish something. Then again, hot tea might be the better choice. I have found your ideas for clustering, like you use for packing, really help me find things that will work well together and help me figure out the holes. My weight has been very unstable this past year, so I have to try things on frequently, or they may not fit right. I've had some unpleasant surprises when I've tried to get dressed.

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    1. You're not alone in having to try on frequently. I'm currently in a spot where all my pants are either too big or too small. Makes getting dressed a challenge for sure.

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  8. I successfully cleaned out my closet last year, not quiet as smartly as you (but I did have the wine with it!), but since I had finally lost those 25 lbs. that had piled on over the years, it was time to face the music. That was a few months after finding your blog, and it has been my inspiration for pairing down keeping only the things that were worth alterations. It took me most of the year to replace these clothes, but I own now about half the items that I previously did. And I could not be happier with my closet. I now have clothes that play well with each other and dressing has become pretty easy.

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  9. Having always been a random shopper and having a closet full of things that don't mix and match well (at least not when in a rush to get dressed), I've been working on a spreadsheet that lists clusters of outfits. Glad to hear I'm thinking along the lines of our resident expert :-)

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  10. My steps:
    1. The wine
    2. Pick the infrequently-worn clothes and hide them where I do NOT see them for at least 4-5 months
    3. If hidden clothes are needed-absolutely and passionately-go fish them out and wear
    4. If not, donate.

    If I do not exile a garment for awhile, my dna of frugality (hi, Mom) prevents me from letting go. The "out of sight, out of mind" technique has helped me give up those 'perfectly good' but underperforming things.

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    1. This is exactly the approach I was planning to try! I came up with this idea recently --- hide away the less-loved garments, get the clutter out of the closet, and see if I REALLY need or miss any of them... Joy

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  11. I have spent this past year getting a handle on my closet, and I got a really good start with your site, and another blog - Into-Mind. I set up several Pinterest boards - one has pictures of outfits I would wear EXACTLY as styled, another is the same, but for fall/winter. One is for dancewear (flamenco), so I have been able to set specific goals for style, color, embellishment. The last board is a private board with everything I secretly adore and want my life to be. So when I go through my things, I compare, item by item, to those four Pinterest boards. It has helped me root out a lot of stuff that isn't 'me' anymore.

    I have done about three closet empty-outs this year - but they got smaller and faster, to where the last one, I only pulled stuff out to make sure it smelled fresh, didn't need repairs or cleaning, etc., and still fit, because I lost some weight. That is faster, because I know if it fits and doesn't need cleaning, it's going right back in the closet. But every time, I borrowed a page from Flylady, and set a timer, and did things in 15-minute increments. I've done this three times, and I always set aside an entire afternoon/evening. When my timer went off after 15 minutes, if I was feeling good and flying high, I reset it and kept going. If I was tired or feeling overwhelmed, I would do something else for 15 minutes - sip coffee, stretch, play piano, surf the internet. Taking a periodic break lets you come back with a fresh mind and eager spirit.

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    1. LOL....Vivienne Files, Into-Mind, and Flylady - you and I are two of a kind! :-)

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  12. This is a fun fresh pared down (mini) capsule idea. I have too many things and its hard for me to let go of them. Maybe I should start with my most favorite items and give this a try.

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  13. I like this idea and also the idea of using the portable clothes rack. I would never get that mountain on the bed sorted through in time to go to sleep!

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  14. I find this the best way to sort my wardrobe, as long as I try on the combinations to check they work. Sometimes they look great on the rail but the proportions, colours or details don't work on me. When they do I take a photo and keep it for quick reference.

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  15. I've been weeding through and donating everything that doesn't fit my 3 neutrals or seasonal accents. That makes it easier to get them straight into the bags. I don't do it with red wine, as it tends to make me sentimental. Which I've foundis not a good thing when trying to distill my wardrobe to only those pieces I'll truly wear.
    Bookbutterfly

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    1. Red wine makes me giddy and irrationally optimistic, so I'd end up keeping every stitch of clothes I own, and every accessory, convinced that I would be able to find fabulous ways to use them!

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    2. Ha - I think I would end up having to weed out too many pieces, due to all the new red wine stains! Better that I stick to white while hovering giddily over a pile of clothes.

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  16. I love the cluster idea. Actually I love everything you do. This is off topic for today. But, I was wondering. How would you "winterize" a "Whatever's Clean" wardrobe ?

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    1. Replace shorts with long trousers, shorter sleeves and tank tops would be long-sleeved shirts and blouses, or lightweight turtlenecks, and cardigans would become heavier and more winterized. A great idea for me to consider...

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    2. I, too, would love to see a winter version of the Whatever's Clean wardrobe! Janice, you're such an inspiration...but I can't seem to take the leap from your suggestions to creating my own.

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    3. Like Ellen I seem to lack the creativity or focus to create my own capsules. I had a friend who told me I need "Granimals" for adults. That was a line of kids clothing with special tags so you knew what to wear with what.

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  17. A great idea and one I am definitely going to share with my teenage daughter! I'm with Flylady now though - never take any more out of any cupboard than you can put back in an hour because once it's all out all over the floor, the urge to do anything but lie down in a darkened room and hope it all puts itself back takes over! Having learnt the hard way, I try not to buy clothes now that don't fit in with my existing "clusters" (never thought of them as that, I like it!) as life's too short to have to excavate clothes out of a wardrobe on a regular basis!

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  18. Thanks, Janice (and your readers), for these great suggestions. My closet has improved since I began reading your blog, though it is still a work in progress. Last week I put on two different blouses that look nice on the hanger but just do not feel right on me. It is time to remove them. I love your blog and look forward to reading it each day. Thank you for all your efforts.

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  19. I like this clustering idea. What I do now is ask "if not now, when" about a garment I'm not eager to wear. Clustering might help with that decision: "when" I wear x or y or z.

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  20. I have been doing something similar to this. I take a key item and try on all the logical coordinates with it. I keep trying every good possibility until I make a few really great outfits. I make sure to select the perfect jewelry, shoes, stockings, belt etc. so everything is figured out and the outfit is really fabulous. Then I lay it all out on the floor and photograph it. I then transfer the photos of outfits into One Note where I can print them out in groups. I keep these pages of outfit ideas in my closet where I can grab them quickly. Whenever I need a great outfit fast, I can see the whole thing laid out from soup to nuts and it just take me a moment to grab everything I need and toss it on.

    When I first started doing this process, I would find that I had part of a great outfit, but it needed black shoes, or great skinny jeans or something else, which was was preventing me from wearing some of my favorite clothes (in fact a lot of my favorite clothes--who knew!!?) This really helped me put together a shopping list of needed items. Of course, it was all the boring stuff I never liked to shop for. I have spent the last year finding these "boring" items and WOW, what a difference they have made in my life. Now all the clothes in my closet work!

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  21. I start a little differently.

    I look for the most basic garment with the most difficult fit to find in stores or catalogs. (There is the option of going to a tailor ... which I do for some clothes.) I choose pants that are in darker colors (black, gray, navy and demin and just occasionally and carefully dark brown and taupe) in solid or very subtle patterms commonly found in men's clothes. Pants are checked for the best hem length for shoes that will be worn with them. They have to fit beautifully, be of good material and in good condition. (Everything has to be in good condition.) I am of an age and live in a climate and environment where pants seem to make the most sense.

    Once I am sure of my "base" of pants, then the tops are fairly easy for me to find a good fit. I almost always have a base layer and a second layer. I start with the neutals (including white) and add a bit of color. Fit and condition are crucial. Most of my tops can be worn with most if not all of the pants.

    I do get compliments ... often from men who are much younger that I am. It is surprising that anyone notices because it is such a simple and practical way of dressing and my wardrobe is comparatively small.

    Another surprising thing is that when I am on business trips with men, they always comment on how lightly I travel. I have heard the same comment over and over ..."Is that all you are taking?"

    I don't know how people manage large wardrobes. For me, it is a lot of work and a fair investment of money just to maintain mine. On the other hand, I am on the short side and find the options for clothes rather limited. That might make a difference in cost.

    Thank you so much for your blog, Janice. I do not know how you come up with so many ideas day after day. May 2014 be just as entertaining as the past years!

    Susan in WA

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  22. Has anyone tried photographing their clusters to ease the busy or aging memory banks? How do you make the photos accessible? Also Janice, as you create clusters, do you use accessories with multiple items? How do you document this? Great idea for creating outfits. Far less overwhelming than the usual closet purge method.

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    1. Thea

      I've starting photographing outfits and I keep them in a file called outfits. I'm not terribly organized about it and need to have a folder containing just outfits that WORK. Since I check e-mail first thing every morning, I could easily open that folder too. I'm guessing once I build a cluster file to go with an outfits file,, I will eventually train myself to remember certain combinations.

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  23. Janice,

    When we write you respond. It's so wonderful to jot a comment to your blog of the day and within a day to see some response to some of the questions or comments we've raised. Not easy to respond to everyone and I like the way you reply to some of our questions. On other really, really great blogs it's like yelling into a dark hole when I respond. No answer to me or any way to feel that the loop has been closed. I'm glad you get a couple of responses in. Thank you, Janice and Happy New Year. Hope it's a wonderful one in Chicago, USA!!

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  24. Another way to start the process: Enlist the help of a brutally honest friend with an artistic eye. After seating her comfortably on the couch with a glass of wine, disappear into your bedroom. Put on several similar garments in succession (three pairs of pants, etc) Do your best catwalk and request a verdict.
    This process discourages procrastination and is especially helpful with “oldie but goodies”. I found myself tossing two skirts I hadn’t realized were unflattering, shortening a third, but keeping a favorite jacket I thought I’d washed once too many times.
    I usually work season by season (fall possibilities in August, etc). Once I have a sense of what works and what holes I need to plug, I look forward to assembling clusters per Janice’s suggestion.

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    1. This is a great idea, especially for clothes that could fit into plenty of clusters but simply are not very flattering. I'm already thinking of which of my friends would be best for this feedback.

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  25. Thank you for this post and your blog in general! I must credit you as an enormous help in slowly but surely overhauling my wardrobe. I am almost to the place where I have a cohesive, classic, flattering and high quality collection of clothing. I think this cluster exercise will be helpful in further refining my choices by shining light on problem areas, missing pieces and duds.

    Happy new year to you!

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  26. Thanks Janice for such a helpful post (and for giving my blog a mention!). The replies are also very helpful, so I will go through the comments again at my leisure. My wardrobe has evolved quite a lot over the last year - and is now far more coordinated and versatile - and much of this has been down to following The Vivienne Files. I love the idea of creating clusters and may very well pinch the idea for future posts of my own (hope that's ok?), obviously giving you a credit! Wishing you, and your other readers, a very happy new year!

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  27. Great idea! I also second what Sheryl said about how an item of clothing makes you feel. If you're tugging at it during the day, repositioning it, scratching...out it goes.

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  28. You are always an inspiration to me; your creativity and talent are positively motivating!

    I hooked into the 333 Project last year. Wine, a few tears, a lot of support from fellow participants, and two weeks later, I'd donated items I no longer would or could wear. My closet was positively fresh, organized, and I was excited about getting dressed in the morning.

    Now, I find it easy to pluck out an item that moves to a donation box without clearing out the contents of drawers and hangers. I hope to keep up the practice because it's made all the difference in the world.

    I haven't built clusters. My clothes have seemingly fallen into 'natural' (accidental, perhaps?) clusters but I would like to rethink my wardrobe using this approach. Thank you!

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  29. Yes, I agree that the whole 'pull out everything and try it all on' thing is exhausting and unmanagable. I couldn't be bothered with it! What I struggle with is bringing myself to donate things - either I'm emotionally attached to a favourite item or it's something that's never really worked but I don't want to 'waste' the money I spent buying it. Still, it is just sitting there not being worn, taking up space when it could be raising money for a charity then being worn by someone else... so I do manage to part with most things I don't wear eventually.

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  30. Jennifer Skinner (http://web.archive.org/web/20081208112556/http://www.jenniferskinneronline.com/index.html) presents a concept similar to this. She suggest picking out your favorite pieces and building at least two outfits around each of them. She has a lot of good information on her site and her take on pure capsule wardrobes is worth considering. Like her, I have found it to be somewhat stressful as not every design of blouse goes with every design of skirt. I think I work better with the small cluster or outfit concept.

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  31. That turtleneck may be the just the thing I've been looking for! I love that notch/V in the front of it. I attempted to find it via google but was terribly unsuccessful (I did find a horrifying number of sweaters that are low cut, but then have a turtleneck attached on the very top!).

    Do you happen to remember the source for the item? And, perchance the seller of velvet skirt from the same cluster?

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  32. The turtleneck does not, in fact, have a notch in it - that's the way the neckline fell forward in the photograph. But someone should produce something like that. And my velvet skirt is from Eileen Fisher - I think I bought it on ebay years ago, and it is probably going to last forever at the rate I'm going!

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  33. How about. ... Drink wine.... Move pile to bed in guest bedroom ... Let pile sit there for three weeks... Drink more wine...

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  34. Love it. But need to add the wine. Very good tips.

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