How to Simplify Your Closet in Smart and Chic Ways

white hat and jewelry set on a dresser table

When it comes to your wardrobe, think simple. | iStock.com/Kwanchai_Khammuean

So you want to simplify your closet. Maybe a more organized wardrobe was a New Year’s resolution. Perhaps a streamlining was on your list of spring cleaning goals. Or, maybe you’re just tired of stray shoes tripping you, errant coat arms strangling you, and sweaters avalanching down on you every time you open the door to your closet. Whatever the situation, you know it’s time to organize, edit, and pare things back to a more manageable size.

There are numerous ways to simplify your closet, and they’ve been discussed ad nauseam in various corners of the internet. But many people are new to the idea of editing their wardrobes down to the essentials. And if you’re one of them, it can be hard to figure out where to start. So we’ve gathered some essential reading on the most useful ways to edit and organize your closet.

Don’t expect to try everything on the list. (That would take a lot of time and probably result in just as much frustration.) But if you find an approach that appeals to you, try it out. Do some more reading on the subject, and see if the steps that go into the method make sense to you. Not every way of simplifying a wardrobe will make sense for everybody, and there are some that only make sense for a select few people. But there’s at least one great way for everyone to edit and organize. You just have to find the right one for you. 

1. Define your personal style

white wardrobe with shirts and pants

Once you define your style, it’s easy to clean things out. | iStock.com/KhongkitWiriyachan

Before we start talking about the various ways you can clean out your close, there’s something that needs to be said. It’s going to be pretty tough for you to figure out what you should keep and what you should toss if you don’t really know what you like wearing or how you want to look. And there’s no better guide to that topic than Anuschka Rees, known for her blog formerly called Into Mind.

Rees can guide you through a 10-step wardrobe revamp that will help you discover or refine your personal style. You’ll collect inspiration, experiment with different pieces, and identify a coherent story line that underlies your style. Then, you’ll be much better prepared to go through your wardrobe, map out your ideal closet, and make smarter decisions about what you buy. 

2. Clean out your closet seasonally

Three beige and one black clothes hangers

At the end of the season, empty it out. | iStock.com/Lizmyosotis

The lowest-commitment way to simplify your closet? Just clean it out every season or so. You’ll need an afternoon, or perhaps an entire weekend day, to do it right. But once you get started, a simple closet clean-out is the easiest way to get things in order. The specific steps will vary based on whose method you follow. (You can start with Vogue’s flowchart.)

Essentially, you’ll divide your clothes into a few piles. One pile will be composed of things that will stay. (Pieces you love and wear regularly.) The second pile will be things you’ll get rid of. And the third pile will usually be items you’ll think more about, whether you put them in storage for a season or leave them in your closet to see if you wear them. If you need more guidance, check out these posts from Racked, Man Repeller, and Apartment Therapy

3. Follow the Marie Kondo method

clothes hanging on rail in white wardrobe

Try a therapeutic approach. | iStock.com/KhongkitWiriyachan

If you’ve paid any attention at all to the part of the internet that offers advice on simplifying your life (and your relationship with stuff), then you’ve probably heard of Marie Kondo, author of the best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Jessica Schiffer reports for WhoWhatWear that Kondo’s book espouses a “therapeutic approach to closet cleaning that actually works.”

The most important step in Kondo’s method is getting rid of anything that doesn’t spark joy. What does that mean? Don’t keep jeans that don’t make you feel good about your figure or that party dress that’s more redolent of bad memories than good. Kondo also advocates for getting rid of things you’ve never worn and items that you would never leave the house in. She also recommends against keeping things out of guilt. It’s definitely a method we can get behind.

4. Commit to a minimalist wardrobe

clothes in a closet

Go with what you like, and avoid stuff you don’t need. | iStock.com

There isn’t a single definition, nor a single set of rules, for what constitutes as a minimalist wardrobe. The idea is, generally, that less is more. And if you shop and curate your wardrobe intentionally, you don’t need a huge number of items to dress well. Erin Boyle of Reading My Tea Leaves has a running series of (excellent) posts on building a minimalist wardrobe.

The Frisky says applying minimalism to your wardrobe is all about not only having less, but also having better items that work for you. Doing this will free you up to think less about what you’re going to wear. Becoming Minimalist has some simple tips on thinning out your closet.

5. Try out a capsule wardrobe

woman searching what to wear in a wardrobe

You’ll be surprised at how much you can do with these items. | iStock.com/DeanDrobot

If you’re serious about paring down, you may want to try out a capsule wardrobe. Caroline Rector’s blog, Unfancy, is one of the best resources for learning about a capsule wardrobe, which Rector describes as “dressing with a small collection of seasonally appropriate, mix-and-match clothes.”

Essentially, you’ll whittle down your clothes to a set number of items. Rector uses 37. Then, you’ll wear only those items for a season (three months). You can’t shop for new clothes during those three months. But at the end of the season, you’ll choose a different edit of 37 items for the next season. And if you need something new, you can shop for it then. A capsule wardrobe keeps the number of items in your closet under control, which, ironically, can help you out if you feel like you never have anything to wear. 

6. Challenge yourself with Project 333

female clothes hanging on hangers

It looks sparse, but it makes everything so much easier. | iStock.com/Kwanchai_Khammuean

If you want to try out a capsule wardrobe with slightly more stringent rules, then you may be interested in Courtney Carver’s Project 333, detailed on her blog Be More With Less. If you take the challenge, you’ll dress with 33 items for three months. Clothing, accessories, jewelry, and outerwear all count toward those 33 items. (Underwear, sleepwear, loungewear, and workout clothing don’t count.)

Once you’ve chosen your 33 items, you’ll box up everything else for the season to get it out of your closet. The idea is that when you wear pieces  you love and that you can easily style numerous ways, you don’t need as much. 

7. Go with a French wardrobe

Hanging clothes in a fashion store

Choose your basics, then pick up some trendier pieces. | iStock.com/AGCreativeLab

For some people, having to plan and rearrange their closet each season doesn’t seem so ideal. If that sounds like you, you might want to try the so-called French wardrobe. The idea seems to have entered the spotlight thanks to a thread on The Fashion Spot. Kat Collings reports for WhoWhatWear this method can “help you cultivate a wardrobe that feels true to your aesthetic and stand the test of passing fads and seasons.”

You start with a foundation of quality basics, then limit your purchases to five pieces or fewer each season. Sartreuse has some great guidelines on getting started with a French wardrobe. And AfterDRK has a number of posts on the French five-piece wardrobe philosophy. 

8. Test the waters with a personal uniform

Female clothes on hangers

It sounds boring, but it’s a great tip. | iStock.com/Lizmyosotis

If you really want to keep things simple, you may want to try out a personal uniform. Man Repeller suggests uniform dressing may be “the nirvana of personal style.” Once you’ve found the look you love and that works for you, wearing it every day may be the simplest way to get dressed each morning. The Cut has some great tips for finding the personal uniform that works for you. And The Uniform Project is an interesting experiment in sustainable fashion.  

9. Get creative with a monochromatic closet

wardrobe

Maybe sticking with one color is your style. | iStock.com/dstaerk

Want to go a step beyond a uniform? Then you might be the kind of person who’d like to pare your closet down to clothes in a single color. That’s obviously a pretty extreme approach. And you likely already know whether it’s right for you.

If you’re intrigued and want a little inspiration, check out Joanna Goddard’s “One Is the Loveliest Color” at New York magazine. Or, if you don’t think that you can commit to just one color for all of your clothing, you can check out some options like wearing only black and white, building a three color closet, or choosing a base color for your minimalist wardrobe.

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