How DO you clean out closets? Hold things in your hand and see if they spark joy? With all the respect in the world to Marie Kondo, I’m NEVER going to feel joy from a black tee shirt, but having a handful of them is really important to being well dressed, in my life. So I keep looking…
(in all fairness, when you’re talking about decorative or sentimental objects, her method is perfect…)
I’ve got a couple of ideas – let’s try these out.
First, let’s start with a fairly normal wardrobe. I think this is 50 pieces; I just wandered about the Uniqlo site and chose pieces without any real pattern or plan:
Let’s get 2 things clear right from the beginning:
- There’s not one single thing wrong with any of these clothes, and they could all be worn, happily and beautifully, by the owner. This isn’t about finding “bad” clothes!
- You’ve got to WANT to accomplish something – your own personal something – when you plunge into this process. If you’re currently perfectly happy with your wardrobe as it is, don’t do this; there’s nothing to be gained!
I’m thinking of this approach as The Color Method, because the very first thing I think needs to be done is that all of the garments get sorted out by color, and then to isolate the neutral colors here. In this wardrobe, I have this:
I’m struck by a few things, right away:
- There’s a LOT of olive green here, which suggests that the imaginary owner of this wardrobe is really drawn to that color,
- There are TWO duplicate (sort of) garments – two olive tank tops with just the slightest fabric and styling difference, and both long- and short-sleeved versions of a marled olive and white sweater. Duplicate just scream some sort of attachment…
- The range of shades of rust to camel is wide, and again indicates that these colors often catch our heroine’s eye.
- Black is very well represented, especially in “bottoms.” Lots of us are culturally conditioned to keep darker colors on the bottom, so black could be a true affinity, or just an easy default choice.
Just sorting clothes out this way makes it possible to create a versatile Four by Four Wardrobe; sometimes a little organizing is all the further you need to go!
Pulling the 16 pieces out for the above wardrobe leaves us with a lot more neutral garments. It would be possible to make the case that maybe another pair of black pants is excessive, but they’re drawstring waist with a gathered ankle, so it’s not like they’re exactly like anything else she owns…
In fact, I’d even hang onto the duplicate olive tank top! The only piece here that I feel is really out of place is that very “warm” olive printed tee shirt. This looks, to me, like something that was picked up on impulse – because it’s olive, one of her favorite colors! – but that turned out to be the wrong shade. Things like this need to go BACK to the store pronto. We all do it, we should all learn to just suck it up and admit our mistakes!
So, at this stage, I’d suggest keeping all but one of these pieces:
NOW: the hard part! What accent colors are we going to use?
At first glance, one would think that this woman clearly favors cooler accent colors, because they madly outnumber the warmer garments. But I’d like to offer an alternative explanation – she buys them because they outnumber warmer-hued garments about 10 to 1 in most stores, and she keeps TRYING to wear what everyone else wears.
Also, the five warmer garments include pieces that could almost be considered neutrals – the cardigan is light olive, the sleeveless top and dress are both just really intense shades of rust…
And finally, the cooler pieces don’t feel like there’s a plan or system there – one pink thing, one turquoise thing, a pretty blue sweater, a pretty red sweater… but you can’t even put an outfit together from these things…
So for these reasons, I’m going to swing this wardrobe to warm accent colors. If this step feels difficult for you, just take the cool garments and store them. If you start to feel homesick for them, they’re still about.
One caveat – I would definitely keep blue jeans, because they’re pretty much neutral in our culture, and I would keep the grey tee shirt to wear with black, or with the very greyed olive pieces…
If you’re really on the fence about what accent pieces to keep in the “active” part of your wardrobe, put together shell outfits from your neutral garments, and then test-drive any accent piece that’s under consideration with each of the neutrals. Here’s a couple of examples:
Camel pants seem like an obvious “soon” purchase, don’t they?
So, after we’ve put the cooler accent pieces into storage, we’re left with this wardrobe. With the exception of the blue jeans, this all blends together nicely.
Now, let’s extract a wardrobe for the upcoming season. Remember that your tops should outnumber your bottoms 2 or 3 to 1:
Everything else can be stored for a while; realistically, I’d probably keep the blue jeans in my closet too…
So, after this exercise, the 50-piece starter wardrobe now has only 24 (or 26, if you keep the jeans and the duplicate olive tank) pieces in your closet. It’s got at least 15 or 20 outfits…
I know, this is somewhat overwhelming! I’m going to look at this wardrobe again tomorrow, with a different spin about how to approach the process, if this didn’t feel comfortable for you. And I can always do this again if you’d like…
PS – For more in the “Cleaning Out Your Closet” series, please check out:
Just wow! This process is just what I needed. Thank you! Thank you!
Mama Squirrel says
Wow here too! (I wish somebody had showed me how to do this when I was growing up.)
While I admire your selection of colors that work together to make complete outfits from a random wardrobe , I'm going to disagree with you on the Kondo method.
Even if you have colors that work together, if they sit in your closet unworn, they are taking up space that could be used by something that would delight you to wear. I have culled 4 large black garbage bags of clothes that go together, but have been just going unworn in my closet. They were nice clothes, but did not elicit any sense of " I love this outfit ", so why not pass them along to someone who might
enjoy them ? Life is too short to not enjoy wearing what you love, and if a black tee seems utilitarian, but is necessary to an outfit that you are creating that you enjoy wearing , then isn't that a part of sparking joy ?
Janice Riggs says
That's a very good point – I think maybe I'm looking for more from the idea of joy than is really intended? I know that she's a genius, and is making a lot of difference for a lot of people in the world, so she MUST be doing something right; I need to re-read her book and give it more thought.
Thanks for your thoughts; I respect your input tremendously!
I think "sparking joy" comes in many levels. It's obvious when you're considering a favorite sweater or necklace that makes your heart swoon. But when considering "this" black t-shirt versus "that" black t-shirt you might find yourself always choosing the same one. If the one you always go for slips on like a dream and you feel a comfortable sigh wash over you – like a gentle hug from an old friend – this simple t-shirt has "sparked joy". If you don't feel that way, look for a new t-shirt. You should love every item in your closet. If you don't, there is a reason you are merely tolerating an item. Figure out why and you're closer to surrounding yourself with only those things that make you happy.
Maybe it's the fabric, the fit, the color, the condition, the style. It's worth questioning. I've learned that deeper cut arm holes, a slightly longer length short sleeve, a certain neckline, a slightly fitted style in a fabric with some stretch is my winning formula for a t-shirt. It's taken a while to get it just right, but I'm pleased as punch to grab a t-shirt and a pair of jeans (that also spark joy) and feel like a million bucks as I head out the door. Who doesn't want to experience that every time they get dressed?!
Anne in MN says
I don't feel "joy" as such with basics, I do feel a sense of correct-ness or harmony when I consider something. Or, a sense of how I need a piece that fills this function, but this current version slightly annoys me or is wearing out & a replacement is in order. Sometimes, I get a sense of nothing in particular. I've learned, for me, this indicates an item that was formerly a basic, but my needs have changed.
If you love the basic black tees as a piece of your wardrobe, that probably qualifies as joy/harmony (or need & regular use of things you may not completely love, as she points out, also make these things a keeper).
Obviously I'm a convert. ;) For me the truly useful piece of her work has been the gathering of all like items together, and storing them in one place. I knew it from years of working with archivists, but applying that to my own home has been amazing.
Gail Finke says
I think "sparking joy" helps when you have a lot of similar things. If the wardrobe above had 8 nice olive t-shirts in it that fit, say, and the owner wanted to whittle them down, a good way to do that would be by figuring out which ones she just LOVED (which ones "sparked joy") and getting rid of the rest. Even KonMari knows that you have to have some things that don't spark joy! Just necessary things. IT's the other things you collect that you should use this method on.
I was thinking along the same lines of Shrebee when I read that first paragraph. While the t-shirt itself may not spark joy, knowing it is exactly what you need to get dressed easily and efficiently does.
I agree with others in this thread — "sparking joy" isn't the same as "whappage," though
Kondo skeptics often conflate the two. (In fact, Kondo herself did too at first — I believe she tells a story of giving away her hammer because it didnt "spark joy," then trying to use a ruler to replace its function. Lesson learned when the ruler broke!) one of the major shifts Kondo-izing has inspired for me is a deep appreciation of the joy of the utilitarian — an object perfectly suited to its function. A sturdy pair of well fitting and comfortable jeans. A reliable black shirt with exactly the right cut. Etc. — Sarah
Oh, I forgot to add that I just discovered your " Start Here" header at the top of the page — wonderful idea !
I really like these more analytic posts. They actually help me think thru getting rid of things
Having said that–speaking of sparking joy–I'm glad that cute dark blue sleeveless dress made the cut!
This seems to be closer to a process that will work for me. All my clothes spark joy, lol, so that is a meaningless metric for me.
One other variable I'd like to throw out there is I always wear a "3rd" piece or topper. It may be a left over from my years of wearing suits, or it just may be my natural modesty, but I rarely leave the house without a topper-even if it's just a shirt over a tank top.
I would love to see a controlled wardrobe with navy and white neutrals, several colors in layering pieces, and a variety of toppers to pull it all together/keep it interesting.
I'd like to see that wardrobe too. The 3rd piece / topper is a staple in my wardrobe.
Thank you, girls! This fabulous article, and your reminder of the third piece, helps re-enforce my resolve to purchase more "stand alone tops" that may or may not need jewellery instead of a topper.
This brain teasing article is the best!! Thank you..
Gail Finke says
Me too. I will wear shirts with sleeves without a topper, but not tanks, and I would not buy anything with spaghetti straps! I am just more modest that way. So I wear a lot more toppers than some people. When looking at any capsule wardrobes that have no sleeved garments as wear-alone garments, I mentally substitute ones with sleeves.
This is a very late comment, but I’ve been looking at tons of wardrobe organizing/ capsule wardrobe articles and this post is the best ever! Gathering your clothing by color is genius, it helps you start generating out ideas, and shows you what you have too much or too little of. I also LOVE the 4x 4 idea. I may try organizing a few different “capsule wardrobes” with this idea.
Of good lord, I've put off reading this today because decluttering is something I absolutely need to do and I was frightened to take a peek. But, you make it sound so simple! And straight forward. And logical. But, procrastination is another of my faults so I can totally put this off today and look forward to tomorrow's version. I will do it one day, I promise!
PS: I found Mari Condo method was good the underwear drawer but that's as far as I've got.
Come on Irene, we can do this! I'm just getting started after procrastinating WAY too long.
Margie from Toronto says
This is so helpful – and what I've been trying to do with my own wardrobe. Seeing everything laid out and then seeing what goes with what makes it so much easier than trying to remember what I have as I shop or dig into the closet. I've done a pretty good job with my winter clothes but I got a bit carried away with some summer tops that will need to be re-assessed before this year's warm weather arrives.
I love this! In my closet cleaning efforts, I seem to have forgotten about the difference between the closet – all of what you have – and the wardrobe – what's in current rotation. So simple, store some away for a bit, focus on the season! Now the task has gone from hopeless to "this I can do".
I've been reading your blog since the beginning and often recommend it to others. I rarely comment but just had to say that this is one of the most helpful, down to earth entries I've read here: and given the high quality of your posts, that's saying something! More please.
Several years ago I used an assessment you posted from The Colorist (https://www.theviviennefiles.com/2013/02/more-insights-from-colorist.html) to see if there were any notable patterns. And sure enough, almost everything I picked was 1.) highly saturated and 2.) a jewel tone — a cluster of fuchsias/oranges and blue/green/turquoise. Since the colors I like also happen to be the colors I look best in, I took a deep breath and got rid of everything that weren't those colors or black/gray/white. My husband likes to say my entire wardrobe is Garanimals now. But it's amazing that getting rid of more than half my clothes made my wardrobe feel BIGGER.
I recently got rid of every piece of black colored clothing in my closet. WOW — what a revelation! I could actually see a wardrobe taking shape. Maybe first step in the process should be to remove any colors that you honestly don't like or don't look good on you? Then go from there. I could have created a very nice 4 x 4 based on black as neutral, but that really wouldn't have resolved the dissatisfaction that I've been feeling lately when I go into my closet. Love your blog!!
I love this intense VISUAL approach. I do think there's an application for Marie Kondo's "spark joy" method for colors as well as individual garments. For instance, you might pause once you'd pulled all your neutrals together, and consider whether one draws you more than the other. The blacks could feel too cold, and you'd move forward with olives and rusts. Or the browns might feel dowdy, and you'd beef up your sharp blacks. Same goes for accent colors – you might pull them into "families" and then see what family felt "like you."
I did this a couple of years ago – first I pulled all the greens and browns out of my closet – and it immediately felt cleaner! Then I pulled out (most) blacks and purples – and it felt happier!
becky johns says
I like your approach of beginning by grouping like colors…it is easier to spot duplicates and pieces that are not the right shade of a core color. I have found olive to be very hard to find shades that work together. As you have suggested it helps to buy them all from the same source. I would love to see more posts like this.
I would be just fine wearing the "wrong" green with the other olive pieces. I'm often okay with using shades of a color in the same outfit.
I really like the direction you have taken with this post. This is something I try to do at least twice a year, but it's a job I hate to do. I need all the help I can get.
I really appreciate this article. It's just what I am needing right now to get me started with my closet re-vamp! It's hard to know how to begin when you have many clothes that have nothing wrong with them, but just don't form a cohesive wardrobe. Some may not be the best quality or may be too trendy, etc… I hope you'll continue doing some similar articles!!
Please do this again and then, hopefully, come up with a way to document the process so we know what's in the closet and what's in storage – would be great as we transition seasons as well as keep "our stuff" under control. Thank so much!
Janice, I bought duplicates of two tops last fall of colors I love in a good fit and comfortable cotton. They have gotten a lot of use and i feel more relaxed not worrying about something happening to a favorite top. I'm not that fond of shopping and sometimes it's hard to find women's talls. No regrets here! I hope to find something for summer so I can do it again! Thanks for the joy you bring. You are an artist!
natruss r says
This was awesome as this is pretty much me and the colors I have in my closet and have been gravitating toward. You're correct a lot of times with the greens or even the beiges, they are too cool and a mistake. I have had issues back and forth with black as I do have to make a delineation between that and navy, I like the warmer navy, but black is so much easier to find and match and I like the black with the warmer accents especially in winter, summer its easier to branch out and I love scarves so that helps me immensely with black. Hmm maybe black in winter and warmer navy in spring and summer. Something for me to ponder this upcoming week, especially as the darker colors are a lot easier to keep looking pristine. I had a offwhite vest I loved but keeping it not looking dingy and dirty was an exercise in futility for me in the northest!! thanks again for all you do.
What a great approach!! Can't wait to see what you do next!
This post could not be more timely as I just read the Marie Kondo book this weekend and have gotten most of my clothes out and assembled to go through. I'm mentally finally ready to pare down as my closet is overflowing and I still feel I have "nothing to wear." I'm sure as soon as I get rid of things that just don't suit me or fit anymore, I'll suddenly find I have plenty to wear and can actually find it.
This approach is just what I've been looking for! Can't wait to go home and try it.
Very helpful Janice, thank you! I have become a big fan of this kind of review process in the last year or two. It concentrates the mind on which – and especially why – particular things may be kept, creating new or favourite outfits from what's already in stock, and creating a targeted shopping list if necessary. It has certainly kept me from buying too much or at random. It's interesting, too, how when some items come out of storage it's a real pleasure to welcome them back, while others prompt more of a 'Meh! what was I thinking?' response.
Thank you for choosing this particular set of clothes too – i would have found it difficult to set anything aside here, but you've shown the way nicely and rationally.
Robyn in Tasmania
I'm hoping you might have a suggestion regarding whittling down to a specific shade. I'm a red fan like you but I find it difficult in practice to find enough items which fit my body and lifestyle in the same shade of red. My most egregious example is that I love my Patagonia nano puff jacket in garnet and my Lucky Brand purse in brick red with just the right strap and pocket configuration for many occasions when I want to wear the jacket. They look neither similar enough to blend nor different enough to complement, but I really don't want to get rid of either one. It's just one example of this issue but it happens to me quite often that I'll pick function over shade as long as the shade itself is flattering and works with other, more neutral, garments. Thanks, from Julia.
I have this problem with wine colored clothes! Some of them are clearly warmer and some are cooler and I want Janice to come to my house and help me!
I think if the pieces bring you joy and you have the space to store them, enjoy them! You can simply wear your favourite pieces with neutrals :)
Theresa Garton says
You are an AMAZING GENIUS!!!!
Janice, I love this post. I did something similar a couple summers ago and found it so helpful to weed out things that I actually don't miss anymore. Time to do it again. Love your readers too – – some of the comments were also very helpful. I'm much more in this stage than creating a capsule wardrobe stage, except when I travel. So hope you continue along this vein.
Wow…..what a great way to start culling your wardrobe! I have just discovered your blog, and it will take me time to catch up, but I have been interested in Project 333 for awhile now. This type of post at least gives me a direction to start in!
I am going to try this method as I purge my closet in preparation for a clothing swap I have coming later this month.
I also think this system is excellent for when you know an item doesn't 'spark joy' (and ideally I'd like all my pieces, however utilitarian, to afford some pleasure in their wearing) but you can't afford to go out immediately and purchase a 10/10 in every category you require. So you need to streamline your wardrobe by other means than the 'joy' Kondo method. And then voila, by doing as Janice suggests, it becomes clear what items one needs to make one's wardrobe function (the pasta or rice on which one ladles the piquant 'sauce'). One thus has a much more focussed agenda for shopping, knowing exactly what one needs and keeping a keen eye out for key upgrades that will 'spark joy'. This is a win-win approach!
I should give credit where it's due, the notion of building a workable wardrobe with lots of basics that are the pasta/rice foundation of a meal, comes from the brilliant Lisa Pippus. That metaphor really helped me understand why my wardrobe wasn't working; it was full of beautiful, stellar items that all competed with one another. I needed some calm, quiet, well cut, almost invisible in impact, basics. Which is what the equally brilliant Janice also often reiterates here. Hurrah for the neutral 4 by 4s, so unassuming yet so crucial to making an ensemble click into place in minutes, anywhere, anytime.
I find i wear and sort my clothes according to seasons. Same outfit but different weight topper.
Why wouldn't you keep some colors like the pink and the light blue to add a little color for a change? They would be fine with the black, white and blue jeans. I would get very tired of wearing only black, olive or camel.
I'm a professor. Layers and scarves don't really work in the classroom because I'm generally hot and moving around. In particular bending over student's desks tends to be problematic when wearing a scarf or long substantial necklace. I love the pared down idea – how do I get it to work without looking boring in my particular situation?
Janice Riggs says
Reconsider necklaces and scarves – a short necklace that falls just at the hollow of your throat, or a scarf tied very short (or a small scarf) so that it doesn't dangle will both work. Consider rings – there are BEAUTIFUL rings in the world that aren't expensive, and can be switched out the same way that other jewelry is. And your students will get to see them as you point to something on a page or screen…
I'll give it more thought. Don't discount unusual color combinations, mixing prints, or just wearing simple things "simply," so that the attention is on your intelligent face!
I agree with some of the other commenters – joy doesn't have to mean giddy, it can mean happy, calm, fun and any and all other adjectives: If you feel the need for black in your wardrobe then that comfort can bring you joy. I'm not much of a black person, but grey brings me peacefulness and peace brings me joy.
Alison Gunn says
After long consideration on the whole Kondo idea of joy, I've decided that the feeling most approximating 'joy' vis-a-vis my clothes comes down to quality of fabric, appropriateness of design for my body, and color. Certain colors bring me much greater happiness when I'm wearing them than others. I think that, long ago, I threw out anything that didn't automatically make me feel good. I look through my wardrobe every day to see if there's something in there that just doesn't make me feel good about myself, and when I put something on that no longer works or feels right, or makes me feel better about myself, I toss it. The one way I think I can best understand the concept of joy is just to think about how I feel in a garment, if it makes me feel great or blah. If I feel blah or inappropriate for me, out it goes.
Anne Hernandez says
This is the most logical and best (for me) arivle on wardrobe decluttering. I do have a question – do you include gym clothes? I am trying to work out more often and that means more gym clothes to keep from doing laundry daily and to avoid looking the same every day. I look forward,to your reply.
I do indeed keep my gym clothes to a really limited palette of black, white and bright blue. The joy of gym clothes is that they’re SO separate from the rest of your wardrobe (or at least they should be – leggings are NOT pants, everybody!!!) that you can branch out into a really different assortment of colors…
Great information and approach! Thank you!
What is your thoughts on all the slightly different shades of black? Thanks in advance for the advice.