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Nothing New for a Year: The Edited Closet


The first order of business after deciding not to buy anything new for a year was making peace with my closet. Over the years I had read books, saved articles, attended — and even taught — classes on organization, but somehow never managed to extend what I learned to my wardrobe.

Every so often I’d tidy everything up and attempt to organize it, but after a few weeks the chaos would return.

Part of the problem was too much stuff — hangers crammed so tightly and stacks of sweaters piled so high that it was impossible to see what I had — but mostly it was laziness. Since I basically wore the same 10 things every week, my ‘uniform’ of jeans and some type of knit shirt languished on the closet floor until I felt enough mercy — or shame — to wash them.

But realizing that I would have to rely solely on the contents of my closet for everything I would wear over the next year was the wake-up call I needed: time to start practicing what I’d preached.

Where to begin? With a little motivation. Closet organization is not rocket science, and there are a bajillion resources out there — books, magazines, blogs, talk show segments — to help.

All basically come down to some form of three basic principles: Sort, Edit & Organize.


I started with a question: “Have I worn this in the past year?” If the answer was yes, the item stayed where it was. If no, it came off the hanger or shelf, or out of the drawer, and went on the bed.

I sorted through the entire contents of my closet this way, including belts, handbags and shoes.

Then I dealt with the pile on the bed. There were a few no-brainers – the “I will never wear under any circumstances” things like stained t-shirts, a ripped (but not on the seam) blouse, a sweater that was and always would be the wrong shade of pink. Those I tossed; the rest went into a pile to give away.


Next I tried on everything that remained. These were all things I hadn’t worn in a year, and while some were for good reason (more for the giveaway pile), many I’d neglected simply because I couldn’t see them.

My questions for this round:

  1. Does it fit / look good on me? (Will it if I lose five pounds?)
  2. Do I love it? (Or at least like it enough?)
  3. Does it complete an outfit?

If I couldn’t answer yes to at least one of the questions, the item went in the giveaway pile. I surprised myself by how ruthless I was. My usual M.O. with clothing was to keep it – it might be in style again, might fit in a couple months, etc. — and I was fully expecting that since I knew I would not be buying anything new for a year, my natural tendency would be to hoard.

But the process of editing my closet was strangely liberating. As the pile on my bed got smaller, my standards got higher and my giveaway pile grew. (Note: If you, like me, are not a fan of fitting rooms, this will at times feel like your own private hell. Resist the urge to give up and just give everything away. Play some music. Take occasional breaks. Stay hydrated. You’ll get through.)


After paring down, it was time to stash the survivors. There’s a great little book I bought in 1995 called Simple Isn’t Easy, in which authors Olivia Goldsmith and Amy Fine Collins give advice about simplifying your personal style. They say the best way to organize a closet is by outfits, not individual pieces. I tried this at first, but found it overly complicated — especially since I have several favorite pieces that go with more than one outfit.

So I did it the old-fashioned way — by type: jackets, skirts, pants, shirts, dresses. All on wooden hangers, all facing the same direction — just like in a store.

When I had finished editing my closet, I couldn’t believe how much better it looked. Magazine worthy? No, but finally functional; I could see nearly everything at a glance. I also couldn’t believe how fast it went — the entire process took only a few hours on a Saturday morning.

For some reason, this time the change stuck. While occasionally a pair of jeans might end up on the floor overnight, I’m generally pretty good about keeping it up. And my edited closet continues to improve and simplify my life every day.

Each section is arranged by color to make individual items even easier to find:

Folded things like sweaters, knit shirts and scarves, get stacked by type and color. Everything else – socks, tees, workout clothes, shorts and unmentionables — are sorted into piles or bins then placed in drawers:

Hats and handbags go in baskets. I also hung a couple tack boards picked up at the C&B outlet years ago (similar here) to corral my costume jewelry:

Additional sources (all IKEA): BUMERANG wood hangers — standard ($3.99 for an 8-pack) and skirt ($.99 each) | MALM 3-drawer chest ($79) | Shoe racks (old; similar here).

Coming soon: Since we can’t commit to built-ins in our rental, my next project is to make better use of the master closet’s vertical space by attempting to recreate this great shoe/boot storage solution using an adjustable IKEA Billy bookshelf:

Image via Lonny Magazine, March/April 2011

Next up: Nothing New for a Year: How to Shop Your Closet

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Jere Miller permalink
    09/13 8:11 AM

    I especially love the wooden hangers throughout the closet.

    • 09/13 10:55 AM

      The wood hangers are great for hanging heavier things — coats, pants, jackets, etc. — and I’m keeping them, but they are bulky and were a pain to move. They’re also kind of big/wide for some of my tops. I just noticed Costco has a multipack of black, non-slip hangers for a great price; might have to get some for my shirts…

  2. 09/13 9:00 PM

    Your closet could be in a magazine. Another great post.

    P.S. Love the orange bracelet ;)

    • 09/13 10:42 PM

      Wish you lived closer — I’d have featured *your* amazing closet instead. (I love that bracelet, too!)

  3. Karen permalink
    09/14 12:06 PM

    Wow! I wish I had seen your closet in person when we were visiting! It looks great & super organized. I’m did a similar project here with my sister and it feels great to have everything where you can find it easily. A friend in NYC has these great slide out trays for shoes so you can stack your shoes in depth of the closet (under the hanging clothes) but the shoes are still easy to see when you pull out the shelf. I would love to incorporate in the space in my closet.
    where did you get the jewelry pegs?

    • 09/14 12:15 PM

      Those shoe trays sound perfect, Karen — I’d gain a whole extra rack for hanging clothes that way! The jewelry is hanging on tack boards I picked up at Crate & Barrel years ago – they’re great because I can just push in a tack wherever I want to hang something and rearrange as needed. (Considering these “hook tacks” to control the slide factor:

  4. Jean permalink
    09/14 6:43 PM

    Some day for me, some day….

  5. Steve Castro permalink
    09/21 8:04 PM

    OK, I have always appreciated neat and organized, but that is impressive…

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