How to streamline your closet

Wednesday 26 October 2011
A reader asked if I could give a few tips on how to streamline her wardrobe. I don't claim to be an expert but these are some suggestions that have worked for me. I often find that the more clothes I have, the more I think I have nothing to wear. I'm not the best person to ask about organizing a wardrobe but after years of making enough expensive mistakes, I've learned to cull it down and work with a small closet. It's a sense of relief that I can actually find my things and not to haul clothes into storage whenever there's a change in the season. The less clutter I have around me, the more organized my life is and the quicker I get dressed each morning.

1. One in One out rule

I've talked about this rule at length here so I'll keep it brief. I decided to purchase a small cupboard so that I'd force myself to keep my clothes to a more manageable size. I'm pretty brutal with myself. If I purchase something, another item from my closet will have to go. This made me think more carefully about each purchase that I make which brings us to the next tip.

2. Be ruthless

If you haven't worn a top or look at it for more than a year, chances are you will never wear it. There's no point keeping a pair of jeans two sizes too small hoping your weight would miraculously plummet. I had to be honest with myself. My hips appeared to have sashayed upwards after giving birth. My pre-baby low rise jeans look more like crotch-rise when I tried to put them on. It really wasn't a good look. I think I may have shocked a few friends into speechlessness when I wore them out once.

3. Understand your lifestyle

Ever since I left the corporate world, I rarely wear suits but I still adore jackets. I tend to pair them with jeans. My lifestyle is rather casual these days so I eschew tailored shirts which require ironing. I prefer clothes that are comfortable and easy to maintain without compromising my style. I'm constantly around children which means I can't wear anything that's too delicate or expensive.

4. Find out what flatters your skin tone and figure

I will never ever look like Elle MacPherson. Not even remotely. I have a jelly belly which wobbles whenever I break into a run. Any thought of squeezing myself into a Herve Leger bandage dress is laughable. So I tend to wear loose fitting tops. Unfortunately, I also have a tendency to expand like the shape of an apple so I look for dresses which give me an illusion of a waist. Orange, mustardy, gold or similar tones make me look ill. I had a color analysis done on me more than a decade ago and it was one of the best thing I've ever spent my money on. Once I understood which colors suit my skin tone, shopping became a breeze.

5. Only buy what you need during the sales

Well, who am I to preach. Oooooh.... 80% off. Never mind that it was a size too big. It's 80% off! I came to the realization that I've frittered away my hard earned money on things that I'd never ever wear just because they were on sale. These days, I'm armed with a list which I'd carefully thought about. If it ain't on my list, I won't buy it no matter how tempting the price may be.

6. Purchase pieces that will work with the rest of your wardrobe

I like the fact that I can get multiple ensembles from a single jacket by pairing it with various clothes from my existing wardrobe. There's no point in buying a top that looks good on you but you'll have to buy another skirt or shoes because it just doesn't go with the rest of your wardrobe. You'll just end up with lots of clothes and nothing to wear.

If you have any tips about editing your wardrobe, please share as I'd love to hear about it.


  1. These are some great tips. I'm not a fan of the "one in, one out" rule, myself, but I do tend to be ruthless about moving certain things over to the "for the pasture/woods" stash before just getting rid of the items. That gives me a chance to wear them before I finally decide what to do.

    Another thing I find helpful is to restrict the colors I can buy during a set period (to maybe four or so), as that cuts out a lot of pretty, trendy options that ultimately won't serve me well. It's also easier to build a wardrobe if I only get white, black, red, and blue pieces.

    Last, the biggest help for me was to cut out new knits. My lifestyle is too hard on knits OR knits are falling in quality fast--either way, knits (wool, cashmere, cotton, linen, anything it seems) turn into yucky lumps fast in my world. By cutting them out, I'm saving lots of money. Leather jackets are a better investment--and keep me warm, too.

  2. I generally agree with these words of wisdom. For me the biggest problem was #6, so I still have things with tags that I have not paired up for an outfit!

    And the "one in one out" rule is one I've crossed off of my list once I started adding pricey pieces to my wardrobe. They lose value on resale so I rather keep them.

  3. AA, thankfully, I haven't encountered the same problem with the knits. Mind you, mine are rather inexpensive so it won't hurt that much if they pill badly.

    La Professionnelle, I understand your predicament. Been there myself. Many times. I've managed to resale a few of my IM jackets quite easily but I know what you mean. Most designer clothes depreciate.

  4. Thank you for this!! I read a lot about streamlining wardrobes, but I never have enough discipline to practice. I'm hoping to find a good balance soon! My problem is always the sales - you know what I mean!

  5. These are awesome tips! I have the worst.....WORST issue with sales. I once wrote a 5 tips for bargain hunting, and talked about the buying sthg just because it is on sale...especially if it is highly coveted designer. I am getting better, but honestly...I need to stop buying things just because it is on sale.

  6. These are excellent tips!!! It has really taken me time to figure out what works with my figure. I use to be really thin, and my body has changed a lot. So what worked for me way back when does not NOW! I was stuck on things I could wear in the past. So you have to re-evaluate your body and as you mentioned style/career etc. I don't keep a lot of stuff, so that really helps me. AND I just learned lesson number 6!!! I have paired a lot of older items with newer ones. Instead of buying an entire outfit. EXCELLENT TIPS and ADVICE! :D

  7. Resisting sale stuff s definitely a tough one for me! And the one-in-one-out rule sounds like something I should definitely implement, but it'll be so hard :(

  8. These are great advices !!! Thanks my dear !!

  9. Hi, I agree with all of your tips above. I'd rather have 10 pieces of high quality items that will be in constant rotation then 50 items that will end up in a Goodwill bin in 6 months. I have learned to save up for those items that I really want and not take a chance purchasing items that are too trendy. When I read this post I instantly thought of your Isabel Marant Jacket and Louis Vuitton scarf, two items that I would love to have in my closet :)

  10. Hi, Just like to say that this is a great post and very inspirational. I'm pretty far away from how organised you are because I have to dress for work, and casual days, and mummy-with-kids days. Actually, I have lots of cheap items in constant rotation :-) but I do like my H bags!
    Thanks for making my day! I-Ping :-)

  11. these are great tips, although i'd probably fill a small cupboard so full it would have the opposite effect on me!

  12. Sam, Bessie & skippysays, sales are so deceptive. They tempt you to make purchases that you'll never ever use/wear in a million years.

    Kim, my body has metamorphosed into something I don't even recognize. I suppose the more we understand our own style, the easier it is to build a wardrobe that works for us.

    Lamia, my pleasure. Glad you liked them.

    Sharon, you'll have to treat yourself to the LV leopard stole. The charity shop from round the corner from me LOVES me. I don't know how many bags of unworn/worn once clothes from Zara, H & M and the likes have ended up there. So no more "cheap" purchases unless I plan to wear them for years.

    I-Ping, you're a sweetheart. Thank you for your lovely comment. I like my H bags. I can't make myself spend a lot on clothes but I don't mind doing so for bags and accessories.

    amy, LOLOLOL! Trust me. These tips were years in the making.

  13. I'm only just learning about what the right colours can do at the ripe old age of 47. I need to build my closet, my job took a nosedive and I didn't buy anything for about 4 years!

  14. Brilliant tips! + Don't settle for the second best when shopping!

  15. Tabitha, I'm stunned to learn that you're 47! I thought you were younger than me! No more than mid 30s!!!!!

    Fleurette, you're absolutely right. I feel physically sick when I think back how much money went down the drain when I settled for second best and realizing I didn't like them after all.

  16. Very useful tips! Especially the 1 in 1 out rule.

    I just cleared my wardrobe last weekend, and now now buy >20 clothings! I try to buy simple classics that I can get more value for. And considering that it usually cost more, I spend more time justify the buy(and not purchase it on spur of moment).

  17. Cecelia, I very rarely buy on impulse. I carry around a list in my head so I just tick it off once I've found something. However, I'm sure you're having lots of fun filling up your wardrobe again!

  18. These are wonderful tips! My sister has been working on editing her ginormous wardrobe and I gave her some of this same advice. I'm definitely a sucker for a good sale...and I end up with buyer's remorse every time. Grr. I've learned to save up for great pieces that will replace a lot of the crap in my wardrobe. It's amazing that paring down can result in a more robust wardrobe, but it's the truth. Fab post!

  19. Very kind of you to say so, Natalie. Thank you! The sales are such money making machines. They make us buy things just because they're "cheap".

  20. Thank you for this!! I read a lot about streamlining wardrobes, but I never have enough discipline to practice. I'm hoping to find a good balance soon! My problem is always the sales - you know what I mean!

    1. The stores are really sneaky that way. They use sales to entice you. I mean 85% off, how could one not cave in?? It has taken me a decade to physically walk away. So hear hear! I know exactly what you mean.

  21. These are great advices !!! Thanks my dear !!



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