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The realization that I had way too many clothes hit me the way it usually hits us: When we’re running late for an appointment and all we can do is stand in our underwear in front of our closet and glare. The whole situation made no sense to me. I had more sweaters than a Gap mid-season sale, too many skirts to count, and there were so many shirts stuffed onto shelves that one literally tumbled out and plopped in a heap in front of my toes. And yet, nothing in there was doing it for me. Not a thing. As I tried to skim the mess for something that would make me feel somewhat cute that afternoon, a question hit me that changed everything: Why do I own all of this stuff if I never seem to want to wear any of it?

And that, my friends, is when the garbage bags came out. Over the next few months, I got rid of – and grab the smelling salts for this one – 80 percent of my wardrobe, and I’ve never looked back. So if you’ve been meaning to clean out your closet and streamline your style but have no idea how to convince yourself to part ways with your outfits, grab a cup of coffee and let me tell you my story. You’ll be tossing out that 2003 tiered ruffle skirt in no time.

Why Did I Do It?

Before the purge, I was your typical hoarder: It took me years to part ways with even the rattiest of sweaters. Call it a love for fashion or just a general uneasiness with spending money only to get rid of it, I had so many articles of clothing that one night I woke up to the loud crash of my closet rod falling because it was so weighted down with clothes.

You’d think that would have been my come to Jesus moment, but alas, it wasn’t. What finally got me to bring a garbage bag into my room was the realization that I didn’t actually enjoy the majority of options in my wardrobe. It went back to the guilt thing: I wore pieces I was lukewarm towards just because I knew I haven’t worn them in months, and the cost-per-wear ratio was giving me stress. I’d skip over pieces that made me feel great for outfits that made me feel like a potato, all because of self-imposed budget guilt.

And to me, that made zero sense. Why would I keep lumpy sweaters and dresses that no longer fit my style if I didn’t actually love putting them on? If I was the one enforcing that rule, then I figured I could just as easily change it.

Before you think I have miraculous will power and there’s no way that you could do the same, I’ll admit that this didn’t happen in the snap of a finger. It took three experiments (and many, many months) for me to finally secede and admit the change had to happen:

1. I did the forward-facing-hanger trick.

First, I had to prove to myself that I wasn’t wearing about 50 percent of my clothes to begin with. Not so deep down, I already knew this, but it’s easy to lie to yourself. It was all just tucked away into a closet layaway, where it’d be available if on the off-chance I’d want to wear it bi-annually. Not wanting to admit that, I turned all my hangers to face me on their racks, and challenged myself to wear each piece at least once that month. If I wore it, the hanger would be flipped the opposite direction, and by the end of the month I could visually see how many articles I wore.

The results were eye-opening. In the span of four weeks, I wore about an eighth of my closet—I kept reaching for my favorite things or outfits I knew looked good together. To change that damning statistic, I gave myself another two months to break outside of my comfort zone and create new outfits with neglected pieces. But that proved yet another thing to me: I had so many clothes that there was no way I’d get to wear everything in a timely manner – two months later and I didn’t even get halfway through my closet. Which meant, if I kept this challenge up, it’d take me half a year to get back around to my favorite pieces, so the bulk of my days I’d be wearing stuff I didn’t even really like.

2. I forced myself to wear the pieces I’d completely ignored.

While I started to inch my way toward a breakthrough, I was still nervous to prune. What if I was just having a crazy moment, and I’d experience serious purgers remorse within a week? So, I had to prove to myself that I most definitely wouldn’t miss the pieces, no matter how much I was convinced I would. And the only way to do that was to wear said pieces indefinitely.

I took out all those dresses that were too small, the items I wanted to donate the last time I cleaned out my closet but chickened out, the pieces that were no longer my style but still kept, and the skirts and shirts that didn’t make me feel confident but still somehow had a space on my hangers. And I decided those were the only things I could wear for a month.

You guys, I lasted a little more than a week. From all the fidgeting I did on the bus, the frowns every time I caught my reflection in a window, and the general lack of joy and pizzazz I experienced, it finally sunk in that these pieces just weren’t worth keeping around.

I wasn’t having fun with fashion – instead, I was punishing myself with crap clothes.

3. I only wore my most favorite pieces.

Finally, to seal the deal, I then gave myself permission to only wear my most favorite, beautiful pieces for two weeks. I took out the summer dresses I wore solely for special occasions and donned them to work on Wednesdays instead. I took out the nice sweaters that I was afraid I’d ruin in the wash, and got to only wear pants that made my butt look amazing. I wore dramatic skirts to Taco Tuesday, and had more than enough chances to wear jumpsuits that made me feel like the flirtiest, bomshell-iest version of myself. I let myself wear colors and prints and funky shoes that made me feel like a street style star, and dressed up each day like there was something fun to do.

And that’s when it finally (for real this time) hit home: I could have this…every day. If I got rid of all the fluff, the dead weight, the constantly ignored-and-skipped-over, I would give myself the permission to wear outfits that actually gave me zing; that actually made me feel beautiful and made figuring out my style and dressing up fun again.

My closet before (at left) had many tiers of clothes I rarely wore. At right: My pared down (but perfect!) wardrobe.

(Image credit: Marlen Komar)

How I Tackled the Beast

I had a mission; a plan; my eye was on the prize. But yet, I still felt nervous. I’ve had my breakthrough, but ripping clothes off of hangers was a whole other ordeal. So I gave myself an inch: I was still going to donate all of the clothes that I planned to, but not immediately.

Instead, I packed them all into cardboard boxes and stashed them away in my closet and basement for about three months. That way if I got re-inspired by a piece or wanted to wear one a few weeks down the line, I could take it out and let it rejoin my closet. But if I didn’t, I’d know I didn’t make a mistake and they could safely leave my wardrobe without regret.

And do you know what happened? I didn’t miss one thing. I didn’t think about that pilling sweater; I never thought about that one dress that wasn’t hanging there anymore; I didn’t wonder if that stowed away top would look good with those jeans – instead, it was like they stopped existing. And I was content to move on.

Why? Because I finally had a closet that –while yes, was sparse – made me want to cartwheel from my bed to its doors each morning. It only had beauty inside.

And isn’t that what we’re all looking for anyway?

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