The One With Prêt à Porter

For years I wore a poop-brown sweater. Sorry for the terrible image, but that’s the most accurate way to describe the color. I often paired the sweater with brown pants and brown boots.  I also should mention that the sweater was a turtleneck.

So, to recap, that’s brown hair, brown eyes, brown turtleneck, brown pants… One day I had the stark realization that this was not a good look for me (or anyone) and I put the sweater in the back of my closet, to be visited only by mothballs.

I have a small closet—thirty-seven inches wide—because I live in an apartment building built when people had a lot less stuff. (According to a Forbes article cited in Joshua Becker’s post, “The average American woman owns thirty outfits—one for every day of the month. In 1930, that figure was nine.”) The tight quarters were the source of all my fashion woes, I reasoned. I envy those of you who have walk-in closets that could host the Rockettes. If I only had more space, somehow I would be visited by the spirit of Coco Chanel, who would bestow me with a sense of style.

I often lamented that I had nothing to wear. But how could that be? My closet was overflowing. In fact everything was jammed in tighter than a toothpick between two molars. Things were piled on the floor. Dresses and pants were a wrinkled mess. Nearly every morning I was suffering from decision fatigue. From the New York Times: “There is a finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control.” This seemed to explain the brown sweater.

Buoyed by a recent article and a TedTalk about taking control of one’s closet, I decided to attack mine with nothing but sheer determination (and the self-promise of a slice of Steve’s Key lime pie). I was going to be ruthless and teach my closet who’s boss.

Does anyone's closet really look like this?

Does anyone’s closet really look like this?

While I’m no expert, here are a few things I learned that might help you too.

  1. Start fresh. I took everything out of my closet. Everything. Anything that went back in had to pass muster.
  2. Allow time. Don’t try to squeeze this project between Real Housewives commercial breaks. I set aside an hour. Enough time to sort, but not too much time to get distracted.
  3. Dispense with Dynasty. In the interest of full disclosure, I found a jacket with shoulder pads too large even for Krystle Carrington. And, no, they aren’t going to come back in style.
  4. What was I thinking? A nicer way to say this would be: Would I buy this again? Sadly, most of my clothes fell into this category. Maybe it was the aforementioned decision fatigue, but I’m looking at you, brown sweater.
  5. The 12-month rule. If I hadn’t worn it in the past year, it got an automatic pass to the donation bin. Exception: special occasion wear.
  6. Memories. I was holding on to too many clothes because of memories. I wore this to the U2 concert back in 199-whatever. And that was the dress I wore on a date with so-and-so. Someone went to X and all I got was this lousy t-shirt. Out. All of it.
  7. One question. There was really only one question to ask: do I like the way I look in this? As I was sorting, I realized I didn’t like most of my clothes. Either it didn’t fit well, or the color wasn’t flattering, or I had nothing to pair it with. So I ended up wearing the same handful of items. Why not keep just those?

In the end, I’d reduced my clothes by about half. When I look in my closet I see only items that I love and want to wear. Now that I can see light between the hangers, the goal isn’t to refill that empty space; it’s to live within what I have.

Have you reorganized your closet/garage/cupboards? Share your tips in comments. 

Have a great weekend, everyone!   



  1. Perfect timing, Jackie. In Manhattan, all my clothes fit into a closet that was no bigger than 36 inches. Now, I share half of a walk in closet and my clothes are squeezed together. Time for a spring cleaning! Thanks for the inspiration and laughs. –Patti


  2. Great post & fun, useful tips. I’ve been decluttering too, but most of my clutter consists of books and mementos and misc. stuff… way too much. However, in the clothes department, I was truly shocked to read this: “the average American woman owns thirty outfits—one for every day of the month,” because I think I have two. Maybe four if I include work out clothes and gardening attire. Of course, I work at home and I live in Maine. So I can mix and match sweat pants with t-shirts for almost any occasion. When I leave the state I panic a bit…


  3. Great post. I too have lots of clothes that I never wear. Like many women, I also have those clothes that are either too big or too small. I keep thinking, 5 more pounds and I will fit into these pants again. Then from experience, I keep a few things with the scale goes the other way.

    I also have a black dress that I bought in the 80’s that I keep just because at the time, I thought it was a really cool dress.


  4. Very interesting article on decision fatigue. I just read another one about how this phenomenon contributes to procrastination, but it wasn’t nearly as in-depth.
    I so need to clean out my side of the closet! There are clothes and shoes I never wear and everything else is getting squished. Thanks for the nudge, Jackie. 🙂


    1. I know that decision fatigue plays a role in many of my regretful purchases. Even on a small scale, it can be overwhelming just to go to the toothpaste aisle of the grocery store!


  5. My closet is a mess, Jackie. I’m fortunate to have a small walk in, but it’s crammed with purses that went out of style over a decade ago, and stuff that fit very nicely when I was three sizes smaller. You’ve made me want to take everything out and seriously consider if it should go back in, or get donated. Thanks for getting me inspired to simplify!


  6. I keep a bag in my closet at all times. When I try a piece of clothing that doesn’t fit or is outdated, I toss it into the bag. It saves time and helps me declutter my closet too. Great tips!
    Thanks, Jackie.


    1. That’s a super idea, Rudri! Keeping a donation bag handy means you don’t have to re-evaluate the same item multiple times. It goes right into the bag and it’s done. I’m going to implement that idea in my closet too. 🙂


  7. Because you know what’s going on “behind the scenes” with me, I have to not only clean out my closet, but I have to seriously de-clutter my entire sanctum sanctorum and the sooner, the better. Just thinking about that makes me want to take a nap. Every day of my life, I pretty much wear a variation of the same five outfits that look like they came straight out of Larry David Couture.


  8. Okay, at first I thought that picture was your closet and I was thinking, “Her closet looks like a catalogue!” So now I feel better. I always think I’m ruthless about keeping mine tidy, but I know that more can and should go. I love the idea of taking ALL of it out at once, though that scares me, too.

    I have that book about the Japanese art of tidying up on my nightstand, but I’m scared to start it because I know I will want to empty out the whole house.


    1. Ha! I wish the closet fairy would come and wave her magic wand to make my closet look like that. But I like the fact that now, when I look in my closet, most of the pieces I like. Still have some work to do, though. 🙂


  9. Very topical, I just read ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ by Marie Kondo, which everyone is currently raving about. It was very interesting but I’m afraid I’m too far gone and it certainly didn’t change my life! Basically, you have to ask yourself ‘Does this bring me joy?’ about everything you own. If not, out it goes. Sadly, she didn’t reckon on my excellent procrastination skills…’Does this bring me joy? Dunno, I’ll just put it back until I decide’!

    The best tip I think I’ve ever read is the one above by Rudrip – keep a donation bag in your closet! I’m going to do that right now 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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