How to update your wardrobe without spending a penny

I’m not a hoarder, but I’ve moved three times in the past two years, and each time one thought runs circles in my brain: “how did I accumulate so much STUFF?”

I will never understand how I manage to fit so much crap into a tiny NYC apartment. I sometimes wonder if I’m Mary Poppins, and in lieu of a carpet bag, my magical object is a bottomless apartment.

(Mary Poppins was “practically perfect,” so it makes sense that we’d be the same person.)

For years, I have purged my wardrobe every spring and fall. As I dig out warm weather and cold weather clothes respectively and banish the off season fare to the depths of a teeny tiny closet, I toss out bags of things I don’t love anymore. And yet! Each season yields more bags! Where does it all come from? How is it that I have SO many clothes and can find nothing to wear? How does it all fit in that Barbie-sized closet?

Well friends, I won’t be answering those existential questions today. Instead, I give you my best advice for clearing out your closet so that you are left with only the things that you 1) love 2) feel great in 3) have reasonable use for and 4) won’t make you look like a hobo from Annie.

Step 1: the obvious

You know those things that end up in your closet that you NEVER liked? Take all those things that mysteriously found their way into your possession – even though they’re not your style – and throw them in a pile on the floor. (Floor pile optional – that’s just my process. You do you.) You never wanted these things, and you don’t want them now. Do not waste precious closet space with them. I also want to free you from the guilt of getting rid of gifts you don’t like. It’s ok. Your loved ones will love you no matter what.

Example:

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I know race t-shirts are SUPER stylish, but you don’t have to keep them all. Especially if they’re neon yellow.

Step 2: the things you don’t wear

Look, I know you LOVED that babydoll dress when you bought it in 2002, but you haven’t worn it in years. Likewise, those chic high-waist wide-leg pants that you never wear because they just don’t sit right, it’s ok to let them go too. That peasant-top blouse you got last summer that you don’t wear because the ruffles itch, it’s also ok to call it a day on that one. It doesn’t matter WHY you’re not wearing it. If you’re not wearing it, you don’t need it.

Example:

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I got this dress for a trip to Atlantic City  (Whoo! AC!) 6 years ago. I haven’t worn it since. I’ve been hanging on to it, just in case somebody throws a “sci-fi nightclub” themed party. I’m letting it go. If somebody throws such a party, I guess I’m SOL.

Step 3: duplicates

This is a tough one for people. In some cases, you DO need multiples of things. Like black leggings. I work out multiple times a week and my bottoms of choice happen to be black leggings. I wear all three pairs week after week. I need them all. However, most of us don’t need multiple grey blazers. I try to cull my wardrobe down to staples and elements that can mix and match together. If you have two of something where having one will do, decide which one you like best and toss the other.

Example:

I have two pairs of suede, camel-colored, heeled boots. Yes, one’s a wedge and one has a block heel, but COME ON. I don’t need them both. I like the block heeled ones better, so the wedges got the boot (pun intended).

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Step 4: the worn out

There’s a white long-sleeved t-shirt that I LOVE. It’s the perfect cut, it’s super comfortable, and it layers well almost everything. Unfortunately, it’s gotten a little dingy over the years. It’s more of an ashy-white nowadays. Sadly, many of the things we love the most, wear out the fastest. We wear them over and over. They get dingy, stained, stretched, pilled, and ripped. It’s probably hardest to part with these things, but it’s really important to cycle them out. If you love something too much to let it go, relegate it to pajamas, but take it out of rotation. Nothing kills a well-styled look like worn-out clothing.

Step 5: take it away!

There are a several things you can do with your discarded clothing – don’t put it in the trash! Take everything that’s worn down or lower-quality to be recycled into textiles. Farmer’s markets often have clothing recycle drives, and most H&M locations will recycle your old clothes too – they’ll even give you coupons for being eco-friendly!

If you’re getting rid of nice things that aren’t worn, you can resell them at online at second-hand retail platforms like Poshmark or Mercari, you can sell them to your local thrift store, or donate them to a Goodwill or Salvation Army thrift store.

Once you’ve whittled down your closet, I bet you’ll feel like you have a whole new wardrobe! Why? Because you’re not wearing things that you don’t feel good in, that don’t fit, that are worn out, or totally out of style. You’re left with the best of your wardrobe. It will be easier to find an outfit that looks and feels good when you’re struggling to get going on a Wednesday morning. You’ll have culled out the less flattering options for your date on Saturday night. No shopping spree has ever made my closet feel as transformed as it does when I clear out the crap.

Since it’s been such a mild winter, I got a head start on my seasonal purging. I’m sending 3 dresses, 1 skirt, 1 pair of jeans, 4 shorts, 14 blouses, 4 sweaters, 14 t-shirts, 11 tank-tops, 2 pairs of gloves, 5 hats, 4 scarves, 4 bathing suits, 10 pairs of shoes and 4 bags back into the world. Next time you see me, I won’t be looking like a style-icon, but I bet I’ll look a little more put together!

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