I believe that the best way for me to be effective with my clients is to look at my work as fashion psychology and actually practice what I preach about fashion, style and wardrobe management. This past week, I decided to take a personal day to actually go through and de-clutter my apartment, including my clothing closets and drawers. The day opened my eyes to many of the psychological struggles and pitfalls that we experience when saying goodbye to clothing that no longer serves us. The following describes some of what I went through during my closet purge, in the hopes that you can reference and use it the next time you decide that it’s time to get ruthless in your own closet.
Fashion Psychology #1- Do we trust ourselves?
Before I started purging, I took note of just how many pairs of pants I had hanging in my closet that no longer fit. The good news was that it was due to weight loss, not weight gain. Even though I am happy with my new size, it was still hard to think about letting go of pants that I really loved that at one time fit me really well.
The first issue I dealt with was wondering if I really should let go of the pants that were too big. Would I maintain this weight? What if I needed them in the future? What if I started to gain and didn’t have them on hand? After I weighed in on all of these questions, I asked myself if it was smart to keep pants around as a safety net. By hanging onto these pants was I saying that I didn’t think I could maintain my current weight? Didn’t I trust myself?
My final decision was to let go of all the pants that were too big, with the exception of three pairs of very basic pants. But I didn’t keep them in my closet. I packed them away in storage. I am giving myself one more season to maintain this weight, and if I do I will get rid of them.
If you find yourself dealing with sizing issues, be gentle with yourself. This can be a very sensitive matter. While I think it is important to keep only the sizes in your closet that you do actually wear in this moment, you can keep one or two basic pairs of pants in one size larger or one size smaller away in storage. Just make sure they are VERY basic and timeless. Give yourself a one year limit on these pants to determine if you maintain your current weight.
Fashion Psychology #2 Letting go of the false sense of security
A false sense of security in the closet occurs when you create the illusion that you have a lot of choices to wear when, in fact, you don’t. I once had a client who had several closets filled with clothing. When we were finished I had purged about 75% of her wardrobe. She never wore anything that I purged, but a few days after her session she sent me an email telling me that she felt as if I had taken away all of her clothing, and that she was left with few to zero options. I simply told her that I hadn’t taken away anything that she had actually been wearing. The truth was that she was only wearing about 25% of her wardrobe, which was the part that I had left behind. I pointed out that only thing I had really taken away was her false sense of security in the belief that she had a lot of options.
When I started my purge I realized that I had my own false sense of security in my closet. As I started to acknowledge all of the pants that I was going to have to release (now that they no longer fit) I began to fill with anxiety. Did I really want to acknowledge the sad truth that I didn’t have a lot of clothing that worked anymore? It almost seemed easier in that moment to just keep it all in there; at least it would appear that I had an abundant wardrobe, even if reality said otherwise. I stopped and shook my head at my temporary lapse in judgment. How could I be thinking in such a ridiculous manner? I started to pull all the unworkable pieces out of my closet and was left with only a fraction of the previous items. Sure it was sparse, but it was also honest.
Is your full closet creating a false sense of security? Have you kept things mainly because you don’t want to face the sad truth that your wardrobe is more dismal than you may have thought? If you aren’t ready to purge it all and be quite that honest, a temporary step is to remove it without getting rid of it. Pack your never-worn pieces away in some boxes and store them out of sight. When you look inside your sparse closet you may initially experience feelings of lack, but in time you will realize that all of those items you stored weren’t being worn anyway. As time passes, you may also realize that you have never once gone near the storage boxes to retrieve any of those pieces that you boxed away. If after six months you find that you have never touched these items, you may finally be ready to part with them.
Doing this also gives you a sense of where your real wardrobe needs lie. If you build on what you do wear vs. simply adding to the chaos of confusion, it will ensure that your buys are more purpose-driven.
Fashion Psychology #3 Love It or Leave It
The more thorough you are with this one, the more benefits you will reap. I learned this while going through my drawer of yoga clothing. I pulled a mint green shapeless sleeveless t-shirt out of the drawer and just as I was about to toss it onto my “keep” pile, I took it back and reconsidered. Upon closer inspection I acknowledged that I hated the way I looked in this T-shirt. Even though I only wore it to yoga, I hated it and decided at that point to get ruthless. Even when it came to yoga clothing, I thought, if I didn’t passionately love it, I didn’t want it around.
From that point on I became increasingly discerning. Anytime I looked at an article of clothing and heard myself saying, “Oh, it will do.” I chucked it. My intention was to keep only those things I was passionate about. I realized that clothing is like anything else in life. If we send out a message that mediocrity is tolerable, or that we will accept things into our lives we aren’t impassioned about, what does that say about our standards? Think about your clothing as a boyfriend, or as friends in general. If they don’t make you feel good, why do you keep them around?
I realized in that moment that it felt better to open up my drawers and closets and have only things that I love staring back at me. By doing this, I set a standard that day that I am worth nothing less than the best, and this reflection has no choice but to start spilling out into other areas of my life. One of the easiest ways to raise the bar in your life is through your clothing. I also know that when I get dressed every day the only options I have now are things that I really love.
Set the bar in your own life through your wardrobe choices. Try to accept nothing other than pieces you love passionately into your wardrobe. Have a quality vs. quantity rule. But note that this does not mean only buying expensive things. I have Old Navy dresses that I am passionate about because they fit well and look great on me. Love it or leave it.
Fashion Psychology #4 Space to create
It’s amazing how we identify with, or create our personalities through our surroundings and objects. When we release things, we remove the attachment/relationship to a tangible item with which we have formed a solid identity, even if we don’t like it all that much. If we don’t have the familiar to cling to, then who are we? What could, in fact, be a scary idea is actually one that can also be quite liberating, if you choose to see it that way. This is why makeovers are so unsettling, yet freeing at the same time.
Let me clarify this if I am getting too deep here. There are tons of women walking around not totally in love with the way they look. They know a change is in order but have created such a comfort zone around their unworkable wardrobes and their dull styles that, while it may not work, it is surely familiar. As the saying goes, “Better the Devil you know than the Devil you don’t.” When you make a serious shift in appearance you welcome the unexpected, which may cause you or others to relate to you differently. This may also, in the long run, shift your life into unfamiliar territory. Not many people feel comfortable in the unknown, so while we want change to occur it also scares the bejeezus out of us.
This type of shift happened to me; not in my closet, but one time with my hair quite some time ago. Being on a mission to purge the old and familiar, I knew that altering my hairstyle would make a definite impact. For the past five years my hairstyle had been a variation of the same. When I visited my hairstylist I would tell him to only trim it, and I would monitor my request closely. I knew this frustrated my hairstylist, whom I have often called Edward Scissorhands. He has wanted to hack into my hair for years. So when I told him that I was open for change and that he could take a few inches off the length, his eyes widened with excitement. Before I could think twice I felt the tug at the back of my head and was quickly presented with a chunk of hair totaling about 4 inches in length. As I stared at the long wad of hair in my hands I just closed my eyes and mumbled to myself “Embrace the change” over and over again. I was filled with excitement and dread at the same time. I couldn’t believe what a baby I was being, and how I had created such a reliance on my hair as an anchor to my identity. It was only hair, for goodness sake; when and how did I develop such a reliance on my hair to define me? And why in the world was I being so dramatic about this?
After he had finished and I had taken about a million unsure glances at my new hairstyle I began to love it, but it took some time. Even though I loved what he had done, I had to gradually get used to it. I walked out of the salon and looked at how others eyed me on the street. I was aware of everyone I passed. If someone stared back I wondered what they were thinking. Even though I was unsettled, I knew that cutting my hair was a good thing. I had let go of the familiar and embraced the unknown, and it felt good to live in that space.
If you are someone who wants change but is scared about what that change might bring, start small. Go through your closet and look for the dull, expected and familiar, the standards, and the things that people and you know as your boring “tried and true.” Are you someone whose style is known as being quite tailored but you would prefer to adopt a more feminine style? Ask yourself what would happen if you let these anchors go, if you dared to get uncomfortable and embrace some change. By releasing some familiar things you may spin yourself out into unfamiliar territory, but remember that the unexpected is where the excitement lives.
Fashion Psychology #5 Less Really is More
I have often used the menu metaphor with clients who have overstocked closets. Think about going to a restaurant where you are handed a nice, concise menu of options. Even though the choices are limited, isn’t it easier to select your meal that way than being handed a menu filled with pages and pages of options? The same is true with your wardrobe! I love a pared-down wardrobe containing only purpose-driven buys, because it is so much easier to work with and navigate.
If your closet is reminiscent of a diner menu that has pages and pages of options, it is time to free yourself from the chaos and let go. After I helped a client rid herself of a good portion of her wardrobe we followed up afterwards, and she just said how much freer she felt in her closet. She actually liked walking into her closet and seeing all the free space! She said that she didn’t even care that she was repeating her choices more frequently. All she cared about was that she felt a sense of control over her wardrobe, and the last thing she said was, “I mean, how much do you really need anyway?”
Another client keeps one thing that I said to her as her personal mantra for the season. During our last session I told her that she has enough, and her goal now is to learn how to better utilize it. By enforcing this rule, she can’t weasel out of being creative with her closet. A lot of times when we don’t know what to do with our wardrobes, we just go out and buy more, assuming that this is the solution. The truth is that adding more isn’t always the right answer. Sometimes we just have to become more savvy at working with what we already own.
Of course a sparse closet, while it creates a sense of calm and control, can also be just that – a sparse closet. If you are going to keep it sparse you must make sure it works. I have been in my share of sparse closets with clothing that is completely unworkable and if I could, I would have tossed it all. But even with these clients’ closets, when we do go in and fill it up with workable things my goal is to keep it tight, streamlined and compact.
A clear, clutter-free closet always equals a clear, clutter-free mind, and as one very wise client of mine once said, “What goes on in one part of your life goes on in all parts of your life.”