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The Single Life: Take the Closet Challenge

The Single Life: Take the Closet Challenge

In my neck of the woods, spring is marked by daffodils, the chirping of baby birds, and tornado warnings.

Thankfully, I’ve been spared the devastation that hit much of the South this year, but I do take these things seriously. When the TV starts honking at me to take cover, I gather the cats and a few supplies and head for my bedroom closet. So here we are  ... and it looks like my closet has already been hit by a twister. Since I’m stuck in here anyway, I think I’ll give it a good clean. I figure it’s a better use of my time than worrying about the weather and it keeps the boys entertained. (Cats take a closed door as a personal affront and they are not shy about sharing their indignation.)

It’s not strictly necessary to wait for a tornado to deal with your closet clutter; any time you have a few hours will do. It’s a project that can be done in stages if necessary, so don’t get overwhelmed. While we’re waiting for the all clear, I’ll break it down into simple steps.

Floor Duty

Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up. My shoes tend to walk off their appointed shelf and gather in a heap in the middle of the floor. (I’m sure I have nothing to do with this.) This is a good time to pair them up and give them a little polish on their way back home. Check to see if they need a trip to the shoe doctor for new heels, or if they’re really just too sad to save.

While you’re down there, pick up all the other things that accumulate on the floor and (assuming you’re not hiding from the weather) vacuum or sweep. It’s amazing what a clean floor will do for the look of your entire closet.

A Wearable Wardrobe

Next, look at your clothes, one garment at a time. No, really, take each piece off the hanger and give it a good going-over. Be brutal. If a garment is not wearable—and by “wearable” I mean “I can put this on, be seen in public wearing it, and breathe while doing so”—it’s clutter. For the wardrobe-challenged, here are a few specific things that will help determine the wearability of your garments:

Is it torn, missing buttons, or otherwise marred? Fix (or get it fixed) or toss. I recently discovered spots on two of my favorite tops and reluctantly put them in the trash pile. Charities don’t want stained clothing and I knew if I stuck them in the “I’ll wear this around the house when I’m cleaning” area they would eventually weasel their way back into the regular rotation. I don’t think “dingy and disheveled” is what I want my look to say. 

Does it fit? Fit today, that is, not ten pounds from now. Clothes that are too small just hang in the closet mocking you—and you don’t need that kind of attitude from a pair of jeans. As my friends Stacy and Clinton say, “Dress the body that you have, not the body that you want.” (Confession: they don’t actually know me, but I’ve watched TLC’s What Not to Wear a long time and I feel like the three of us are tight.) A garment that fits—regardless of the size—will make you look better than one that doesn’t. Besides, you’ll be so much more comfortable if you’re not constricting vital organs or constantly hitching up too-big pants.

Is it appropriate for your age and lifestyle? If you are, say, in your thirties and still wearing your favorite t-shirt from junior high, it is time for an update. Jimmy Choos are probably not the best option for mucking out stalls; Daisy Mae hot pants are likely not the best option for ... well, for anything outside the house unless you’re in the field of adult entertainment.

Do you wear it? Really? If something hasn’t seen the light of day for a year, it’s probably not going to in the future. Mistakes happen in the best of wardrobes. Accept them, extend grace to yourself, and move on. If it’s wearable (by someone else) donate it, get a receipt, and take a tax deduction. If not, toss it. Let it go. You’ll be the better for it and so will the person who ends up with your unworn garb.

Making the Most of It

Now that you’ve narrowed down your wardrobe to what you actually can and should wear, look it over. Are there ways to arrange what you have into new combinations? If you have trouble with this, invite a fashion-conscious friend over to help see your clothes from a new perspective. (He/she’s probably been dying to tweak your look and will be happy to help.)

This will also help show you where any holes may be in your wardrobe. If you look at your options and think “If I just had a _____ it would go with this, and this, and this...” then you know how to get the most bang for your wardrobe buck. It will also help you avoid those impulse buys that live in the closet for years before you finally give them away.

Ready to hang it all back in the closet? Try this: color coordinate your clothes. It may sound silly, but it saves a lot of time when you’re looking for something. I’m not at my best in the mornings, so anything I can do to cut down on the time spent standing in my closet staring blankly at my clothes is a good thing. If I can at least decide I want a white shirt, I know to look in the white section.

If space allows, move the winter wear to another spot or at least assign it to its own section. Digging through bulky sweaters to find a t-shirt for a sweltering summer day is a waste of time.

Well, it looks much better in here now and the threat of severe weather has passed. Time to cart the giveaway/throw away piles out to the garage. The sooner they’re out of the house, the less likely it is I’ll think “Oh, it’s not that bad…” and rescue something I’d be better off without.

Ready to take the closet challenge? You can do it, I know you can! Your reward will be a calmer, more pleasant closet experience.


Susan Ellingburg is a natural-born Texan who sings at every opportunity, reads as much as possible, and cherishes every day she gets to spend with friends.  She's a serious foodie and not-so-serious gardener who is determined not to let being single stand in the way of living an amazing life.  Read Susan's blog at