I Clean Out My Closet Once A Year. Here's Why I Never Actually Get Rid Of Anything.
One thing you learn when you watch a lot of capsule wardrobe videos on YouTube is that this common piece of closet-cleaning advice gets bandied about often: Get rid of any clothing you haven't worn in the last year.
In theory, this makes a lot of sense. If you haven't worn something once during Earth's lastest rotation around the sun, there's probably a reason, right? Maybe you've grown out of it, or it just doesn't feel right with your current style. But I find this particular directive impossible to follow.
I love cleaning out my closet but I'm also kind of bad at it. I don't really like getting rid of my things — instead, I sort of pretend I'm going to get rid of some stuff, take it all out of my closet, try it on for two hours, get bored, and stop, not having whittled my wardrobe down. Instead, I am usually reminded of how much I love — or used to love — many of the items I've forgotten about.
I don't have a problem passing on items that I no longer love or need to a better home. The idea of giving my used items new life thrills me. No, the difficulty comes with those pieces that I do still love (or at least like) but haven't had a reason to put on my body in awhile. Some recent examples: a silky green polka dot blouse I wore on New Years Eve in 2012; a vintage dress a found in a pile of discarded items on move-out day my junior year at Sarah Lawrence College; a black-and-white leopard print shift from Rogan Gregory for Target that I actually bothered to get hemmed by a tailor.
My particular low-key fashion hoarding mindset appears to have gone out of style, so to speak. If the internet is to be believed, the royal we is now obsessed with achieving minimalist enlightenment via a rigorously paired down wardrobe. Even Leandra Medine, founder of Man Repeller, a website that is mostly about fashion and shopping, wrote earlier this year,
"In April, I was interviewed for a closet tour video powered by British Vogue wherein I explained that my ideal wardrobe would contain no more than 15 pieces. This is ironic given that the setting for the video was an office-turned-closet in my apartment, which got me thinking about why the hell I keep talking about how badly I want to own less stuff and furthermore, why I don’t just, you know, own less stuff?"
I sympathize with Medine's dilemma. I, too, am a lover of fashion, and I enjoy having a broad selection of items to chose from when I get dressed in the morning. But I, too, have begun to feel like owning six pairs of jeans that sag at the knees is an indicator of all my personal failings.
Minimalism hinges on easy-to-grasp (and repeat ad naseum) concepts like the aforementioned "one-year rule." It's not bad advice. If you feel overwhelmed by your closet, using some clear-cut guidelines to trim it down is probably a good idea. And the urge to reign in some of the rampant consumerism that leads many of us to believe we need 15 identical T-shirts that will literally fall apart in the dryer is admirable.
But every time I try to apply the one-year rule while decluttering my wardrobe, I falter. This idea simply serves as a harsh reminder of how quickly a year really does go by — it's actually pretty easy not to wear something for 365 days straight, especially when you work from home and live in a city that makes dressing up difficult unless you take cabs everywhere.
It's not only about the logistics, though. My closet is like a time capsule, the clothes hanging inside a physical link to my memories. I know that not everyone feels that way — for some, clothes are just clothes. I've never looked at it like that. Nothing is more personal, and few things more precious, than my lovingly curated wardrobe, full of pieces that I plucked from obscurity and delivered to a life of meaning.
I love to open my closet and run my hands along the rows of fabric that, together, thread through the story of my life. When I make cuts to my wardrobe, I remove items that no longer "give me joy" (h/t Marie Kondo) but I can't bring myself to base those decisions on how recently I put them on.
There is something so clinical about following a strict set of regulations that leave factors like nostalgia entirely out of the equation during a closet clean-out.
I have several pairs of really, really high heels that I haven't worn much since graduating from the land of college dances held ten feet away from my dorm, but I get a thrill out of seeing them lined up in a neat row on the floor of my closet. I'm not certain I'll ever wear them with regularity again, but I look at them and think both "Someday..." and "Remember when...?" When I open the door, I imagine the outfits I might create with them in the future, while simultaneously reminiscing about the girl who wore heels to high school almost every day.
And yeah, maybe "someday" and "remember when" aren't the right reasons to hold on to clothes you no longer wear, but they are good enough for me. I don't my wardrobe to be purely functional — I want it to be full of items that remind me of who I used to be and who I am right now. And if I haven't worn some of them inside the last 12 months?
Well, there's always next year.