How to Clean Out Your Closet When You’re Ready to Level Up
Plus, how our partnership with thredUP can help you do it responsibly.
“The majority of people only wear about 10 percent of what they own,” says Jeanie Engelbach, an NYC-based professional organizer who specializes in taming all things chaos and clutter. She explains that, for some, donning a mere fraction of our clothes might have to do with feeling overwhelmed by visual messiness, while others might be in the midst of a fashion identity crisis. Either way: “If you’re standing in front of a closet that is crammed full of clothing and feeling as though you have nothing to wear, what it really means is that you have nothing you like or want to wear.”
Not that Engelbach is advocating for everyone to replace everything they own—rather, she is encouraging people to use the new year as a reason to commit to a reevaluation and edit as necessary. “This is a really good time of year to address your closet,” she adds, pointing to resolution-related momentum that can carry us through the weeks after the holidays. As for how to actually accomplish that while channeling your career aspirations, read on for a step-by-step guide according to Engelbach and NYC-based personal stylist, Sheyna Imm.
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She also advises those intending to embark on this journey to tell someone they’re going to do it, which makes it harder to back out. That said, if a friend offers to help, consider still pursuing this mission solo: “With respect to clutter: It’s never about the clutter. Until you figure out how to solve that problem, you’re constantly going to be creating and accumulating more clutter,” says Engelback. For that reason, this is usually a journey best undertaken solo or with the help of a pro.
Another consideration: Do not plan to parse your wardrobe on a day you’re not feeling good about yourself. But in the challenge ahead, you’ll also find some silver linings. “Most people like what they own. They just either can’t find it in their closet or they’re in a rut of wearing the same thing over and over again,” says Engelbach. “But when you bring things out and really look at them, it creates a new foundation for what you have, and a new perspective.”
Primary criteria for the stuff that stays: Does it fit well? Does it feel good? Try things on and inspect for issues like snags, stains, or tailoring needs—damaged items that can’t be mended must head for the “purge” pile. (Intimates, like socks, underwear, and pajamas, should follow the same rules. But these items should get trashed or recycled, not donated.) As for pieces that are in perfectly good shape—maybe even still have tags—but either don’t fit or don’t suit you: “The money has already been spent. You have to make peace with that. Just let it go,” says Engelbach. This is a great pile to send to a re-seller like thredUP.
Why thredUP? Well, to start, it’s super easy. Just print a label, fill up a box with clothes you’re not going to wear anymore, and send it in. thredUP accepts an average of 40% of items sent in, and you can earn up to 80% of the listing price if your item sells (you can also have items not accepted sent back to you). Plus, if you’re a fan of M.M. (and if you’re reading this, we’re assuming you are), when you have items accepted by thredUP, you’ll earn an extra 20% when you redeem your earnings for M.M. shopping credit—making this a great way to level up your wardrobe AND help the planet by upcycling. Click here for more details.
The final “keep pile” should contain only items that make you feel good, literally and emotionally, and reflect the version of yourself you want to see walking around the world. Imm has a few other questions she asks clients trying to pare down: “One of my biggest memos is quality over quantity, and longevity,” she says. This should also guide how you invest in clothes: timeless pieces—like classic suiting or a gorgeous cashmere sweater—are more likely to be with you for the long haul. “Try to be practical about it,” she counsels. “Yes, it’s scary. But having space on your rack makes you appreciate the things you do love, and once you’re done, it’s so exciting!”
One way to create closet zen is through uniformity. Engelbach recommends using slim velvet hangers, all in the same color, which are both visually appealing and space-saving. How you hang things up also matters: With her clients, she typically puts the closet back together in categories, separating tops, dresses, jackets, pants, and skirts. From there, she organizes by length (shirts go from camisoles to long-sleeve; bottoms go from short to long). Within those groupings, she color codes from lightest to darkest. If you have your own preferred system to impose, have at it! Imm cautions her own clients to be mindful about fabrics: Don’t put easily snagged items next to roughly textured ones, for example.
Another pro-tip: “Invest in things that make it easy for you,” adds Engelbach. “I’m great at folding, and I love folding boards; using one keeps everything consistent.” It might also make putting laundry away a little more fun in the future. (That said, don’t buy tons of organization system stuff before you’ve done the sort. As Engelbach put it: “Containers don’t solve your problems. The stuff that goes into the containers is your problem.)”
If you’re struggling to zero in on your style, Imm suggests this trick: channeling someone whose fashion sense you admire. “Everyone has a person they want to imitate in some way. The question is: If you could dress like anybody, who would you want to look like?” she says. Tailor that attire to the parameters of your own daily life and go from there. As always, aim for classic pieces that can do a lot of work within your wardrobe and don’t worry about being trendy. (“If you’re owning it, it’s always on-trend.”) Also, consider a capsule wardrobe—it will limit the amount of unnecessary extras you own, while promising you’ll always look polished and put-together.
Prioritize pieces that make you feel confident. In Imm’s case, that means a menswear-inspired boxy blazer, a classic pair of Levi’s, and shoes that make you feel sharp. Another piece of advice for getting dressed, especially if you’re test driving something that feels bold: “People hinder themselves when they spend too much time in front of the mirror over-thinking,” says Imm. “If you want to wear that fun thing, put it on and get out the door.”