Simplify Your Wardrobe and Closet

Brook Noel

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Okay - show of hands, even though I can't see them. . . . How many of you have done any of the following in the past 90 days:

  • Put on an outfit only to realize you liked the top or bottom but did not have a matching top or bottom that you liked to wear with it, and thus changed out of it?

  • Tried on more than 2 outfits for a single event?

  • Tried on something in your closet only to discover you no longer like the way it looks, but left it in your closet anyway?

  • Argued with a child (or had a long conversation) about what they were going to wear?

  • Scrambled to find a matching outfit for your child?

  • Wanted to wear something only to discover it needed to be mended, ironed or dry-cleaned so chosen to wear something else?

  • Have a pile of clothes that need repairing, ironing or dry cleaning that have not moved forward in any of the aforementioned processes in the last 3 weeks?

This week's challenge is geared toward your personal wardrobe, but I strongly encourage you to do this with any children's wardrobes if you are responsible for getting them dressed in the morning. It is simply amazing how much time we spend putting on and taking off, searching for a missing item of clothing or a ‘match, ’ running errands to dry clean or mend, ironing, pre-soaking, taking something off in frustration and then adding it to a pile we will later have to fold so we can repeat the process later!

Since dressing is something we do daily, it is important to tackle on the simple path. When we don't have good routines and practices in place, what should be a simple task becomes a source of stress and lost-time. Not to mention, it isn't a great feeling to put something on and decide you don't like how it looks first thing in the morning!

Here is how I went about the practice of simplifying my wardrobe. You can do this exercise over the course of a week or take a long weekend to get everything in order.

First, wash and repair everything you own so everything is clean and ready for a clear decision. Remove all special occasion clothes that you need to keep but don't wear on a regular basis. Store them at an end rod of your closet, or better yet in a different closet.

Begin with three piles . . .

1. Your favorite items: You wear them a lot, you feel good in them and they are comfortable.
2. Things you don't wear for whatever reason.
3. Things that fall in between 1 and 2 - you don't love them, but you wear them.

Now let's revisit pile 1, the most important pile.

The first step is to match everything up. What bottoms go with what tops? Lay out these loveable outfits in sets, making sure everything has a match (and yes, one pair of jeans can have multiple matching tops). The goal here is to make sure that no-faves-are left behind.

If you find you have bottoms or tops you love, but don't have a matching loveable counterpart, see if you can find anything in pile 3 that works. Make sure to try it on and ensure you are satisfied with the combo. If not, put this ‘stray loveable item’ in its own area of the closet.

Once you have completed this step ask yourself the following question of the combos you have made.

Are these combos easy for me to maintain? Move any that require special care into their own grouping.

Now count up the combos you have left. How many are there? Next, think about how often you will do laundry. If you do laundry weekly, do you have 7 outfits? If you do laundry twice a week, do you have 3 or 4? If you find that you have enough outfits to get through between laundering then you have discovered your core wardrobe. Carefully put these items back in your closet, keeping them grouped together for easy ‘grabbing. '

Now we have to look at these other piles that you have made. If you find that you easily have enough comfortable outfits to last several launderings, then it is time to think about seriously trimming your wardrobe. Why keep anything in pile 2 or 3? If you have plenty of matching combos in pile 1, why settle for something that makes you feel less than wonderful?

If you find you are lacking in pile 1 combos, grab the yellow pages and look up a consignment shop. Take items from piles 2 and 3 and place them on consignment or hold a garage sale. Use that money to finance more 1-combos. (Make sure to try everything on before purchasing!!!!)

After you have put your combos back into your closet, check to see what you have in the odds-and-ends favorite grouping. Make a list and tuck it in your wallet of items that need matches. Decide if is worth the time and money and the maximum you are willing to spend on the item. Keep this with you as you go about your errands and consult it before adding new clothes to your wardrobe. Then you are buying-on-purpose, instead of on impulse. People have asked me what I think a good number of ‘combos’ is to have at-the-ready. I personally think 10 is perfect for each life area. . . 10 home combos, 10 work combos, and then 4 church combos. If you live in a seasonal area like I do, then you would have 10 for summer work, summer home, etc. and 10 for winter.

Return any of the higher-maintenance combos to your closet as well. Store these items in a different area of the closet and remember when you pull from this section, the time investment is greater. Make sure you have a plan for getting the item to the dry cleaner or ironed, so it doesn't pile up and become clothing clutter.

There are many great options for purchasing wonderful clothing without breaking the bank. However when clothes shopping, it is very important to be in the right mindset. You want to go on a day where you are not pressed for time and plan on trying everything on (even t-shirts)! Everything fits everyone differently. If you prefer to catalog shop, that is fine, just make sure the stores makes returns easy. I like Newport News as they have good clothes in all sizes and the return process is very easy and the last time I ordered, there was not a time limit on the return.

What about piles 2 and 3? Good question! After you have completed the above assignments, I want you to stand and look at the nice combos you put together and how think about how they make you feel. Then look at your other two piles. Do you really want or need to keep them? Do you want the clutter? Personally, when I did this, I took it all to a women's shelter. It was 18 bags of clothes, shoes and miscellaneous. Honest. (I told you I wasn't born simple!) I was a little paranoid and nervous as I did it and thought my husband would have a fit but I did it anyway. When I walked into my closet that next morning it felt great. No crammed stuff everywhere. No searching. No debating. No trying something on and then throwing it into a pile. I loved everything there.

If you aren't ready to stomach the big give-away, then please do this. Package it all up in bags and boxes and either store it out of the way or stack it in the closet. Live with your simple wardrobe for the next 30 days. Then come back and see if you are ready for the big giveaway.

Once you have completed this process with your day-to-day wardrobe, consider applying the principles to your special-occasion clothing as well. Since special occasion clothing is worn infrequently keep only your ‘pile 1 combos. '

Then consider applying these principles to simplify young children's wardrobes as well.

Excerpted from the 30 Day Walk Toward Simplicity Class. (Visit to learn more about this class)

Brook Noel is the creator of the best-selling 70 Day Life Makeover Program for Women . . The Change Your Life Challenge. This program has helped thousands of women take control of their home, finances, relationships, clutter, time-managmenet and more.

She is the author of 19 books and maintains three free newsletters. The Daily Rush is devoted to quick and easy recipes; Good Morning! is a daily newsletter to get your day off to a great start and The Challenge Weekly offers a personal challenge for self-improvement each week. To sign up for these free newsletters please visit


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