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Closet Cleanout 101

Author | Nicole Hostetter

Every time I open my closet doors to get dressed, I quietly hope that today is the day I’ve arrived — arrived at the fabled place where I never need to buy clothes again because I have the perfect capsule wardrobe where everything I own fits perfectly, sparks joy, is timeless in style and destined to be passed on to my children because of the quality craftsmanship.

But I haven’t arrived.

When I open my closet and reach for a workout tank from the bottom of a rumpled pile, the whole mess falls down on top of me.

And so it goes, season after season.

Same old favorite striped racerback in hand, I look at the pile of synthetic fabric around me and wonder what it is about all the other shirts that causes me to keep but never wear them? And what is it about the one striped shirt that keeps me coming back to it?

As I scan the entirety of my closet, the question keeps repeating itself: Why do I keep things I hardly ever wear?

I’ve got a few answers.

In the case of the workout tanks, I thrift a lot of my workout clothes and sometimes a Lululemon top for $3.99 is too good to pass up, even if it doesn’t fit quite right. As for the rest of the closet, sometimes I hang on to an expensive item I paid full price for and wore once for a special event. Sometimes it’s an item I loved and wore regularly at one time, years ago. Sometimes it’s a gift I received from someone I love and I don’t want to part with it for fear of hurting them somehow.

Sometimes I keep clothes around even though they serve no purpose at this time (especially at this time, when all I really need is lounge pants). I found them at a great price and I might need them some day. You know, for that job interview I don’t have lined up, or the fancy garden-party wedding that none of my friends are planning to have, or my favorite — the Drake concert I’ll probably never go to (I see you slinky black new-with-the-tags-still-on Alexander Wang T-shirt dress, and yes, you can stay because post-pandemic that concert just might happen).

All these clothes, and their intentions, unnecessarily fill my closet.

This spring, after the workout shirt avalanche, I brought my spring and summer clothes up from the basement and made a conscious effort to really evaluate my closet. Every piece.

I wanted to feel less confused when I pulled open the doors. I wanted everything within my closet to just feel more, well, me.

With the help of Humble Home’s very own Morgan, and Mary Yoder, owner of Dart Resale and Trade in downtown Harrisonburg, I scored some tips on how to approach my collection, and also found a great place to pass on those items I no longer need but still could have value for someone else (who might actually be going to that garden-party wedding — maybe).

Mary opened Dart last year in a ground-floor nook beside the Ice House downtown. With a footprint of less than 500 square feet to work with, she is a mindful buyer, curating a stylish and cohesive collection of pieces for those looking to reduce their environmental footprint through second-hand fashion and score on-trend preloved staples like high-waisted jeans and leather sandals at a great price.

“We're always looking for pieces with interesting texture, great shape, and flattering fit,” Mary says. “We value pieces that are functional, versatile, and can be worn in a number of different ways for different occasions.”

Ultimately, she wants to present a collection to buyers that reflects their needs, primarily a need to feel good about oneself in the outfits they wear.

“I think people want clothes that make them happy,” Mary says. “It's even better when those clothes can last them a long time.”

I wanted to carry this philosophy over to my own closet: Clothes that make me happy.

It’s such a simple idea, and yet how did I get to the place where most of my clothes don’t make me happy?

The former graphic designer and art teacher offered a few points to achieve the goal of clothes that make you feel good and are made to last.

First and most importantly, she says, “If it doesn't fit, you don't need to keep it around. So much has changed over the past year, including our body shapes,” she says.

“I think wearing clothing that makes us feel good is pretty important. There are also so many creative options for altering and mending clothes if your items need some care.”

And if after making those changes you still are on the fence about a piece, “offer them to your friends, donate them, or try reselling them at Dart or any other local resale [or] consignment shop,” Mary says.

Her point about fit resonated with me as my weight and shape has fluctuated over the past few years thanks to the process of carrying, birthing, and nursing two children. And yes, the Covid 19 (15 in my case, but who’s counting?).

Clothes I’ve held on to in hopes that my hips would magically narrow back down to pre-pregnancy place are doing me no favors by taking up space and serving as a reminder of something I’m not anymore. Mary’s words are a reminder that a better course of action is to dress myself as I am.

So I pulled everything out and down from the shelves. Trying on, and sorting into piles, starting first, as Morgan recommended (see her tips below), with the clothes I love the most. Then to the clothes I was unsure about, and lastly to the clothes I know I don’t need anymore.

The result was utterly refreshing — a closet full of items I love, and a pattern I could recognize when I looked at what remained: High-waisted jeans, white boxy cotton tops, and a lot of leopard print.

The leftover piles are going to Dart next Tuesday, when the store accepts sales and trades, in hopes at least some of the clothes can be traded; what can’t will be donated.

Mary looks forward to Trade Tuesdays. “It's so fun seeing what comes in each week,” she says.

“Sometimes people bring clothes to sell after a recent closet cleanout, and other times we get vintage and unique brands from excellent thrift treasure hunters. Regardless of why someone sells their clothing to Dart, they are giving up something they no longer want so it can be found by someone who does want it. It's awesome seeing that cycle.”

I’m glad to be a part of the cycle, and yet I also hope to participate less in it as my habits change to reflect my new understanding of what it is I love about my clothes. I hope my future closet contains less impulse purchases, and more deliberate curation. Closer to the fabled closet paradise I know exists, if I only pay attention.

Morgan’s Tips for Your Spring Closet-Clean-Out

  1. Pull your favorite pieces first. Analyze what you love about them - is it the fit? The color? The material? Get acquainted with what you're drawn to.

  2. Break all the rules you thought you once needed. When sorting just go off of what you love and what makes you feel good, don't worry so much about having similar pieces. And forget about the color/complexion tips you've heard your whole life - wear any and all colors that you love!

  3. If you're on the fence about a particular piece - that's okay! Don't spend too much time hemming and hawing over it, keep it for now and see if you can naturally bring it into your regular rotation of clothes. If over the next couple weeks it doesn't make the cut, then you know for sure it's time to move it on!

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