← Back to All Columns


Your Real Wardrobe

Clothing chaos is one of the top reasons people call me for organizing help. Closets and drawers get filled up, even stuffed, with clothing, yet many of us still can’t figure out what to wear. So we often end up buying what we already own — yet another pair of black pants — because we can’t find it in the depths of the walk-in.  

The old organizing maxim is “you wear only 20 percent of what’s in your closet,” but I try with my clients to bump that up to 50 percent or more. To make this happen, we have to “get real.” That means owning a wardrobe that represents your current life.

Where you live is key because a different wardrobe is required for Napa Valley versus, say, Hawaii or New York City. In California, and especially here, where “Napa Valley Casual” (code for collars and khakis) can be seen printed on event invitations, it’s easy to spot the excess in a wardrobe. The hard part in getting rid of it is emotional. Certain clothes remind us of who we were, who we’d like to be but aren’t quite, good times we’ve had, family or — another big one — the money we’ve spent.

Below are lists to get you thinking about where you could trim some fat in your wardrobe. You can donate or consign many of these items. Another idea: Local theatre companies might love to have any uniforms, furs or specialty items for their costume cache. You’ll also create some room to add real-time, real-place basics.

Who we were: cheerleading, football or military uniforms, black tie outfits, prom dresses, wedding attire, clothes that are too small, suits from a business life we once had, maternity clothes.

Who we’d like to be but aren’t quite: Sexy nightgowns or lingerie that we’ll never really have the guts to wear; clothes that are too small, suits for a business life we wish we had, sky-high heels that hurt our feet, teeny bikinis.

Good times we’ve had: ethnic clothing from travels that aren’t wearable (kimonos and other ceremonial or costume-y garb), Halloween costumes we will never wear again (an adult usually only needs one good costume to rely on when the occasion arises), favorite jeans from college, a dress we wore to a great party, sports clothing for sports we no longer play.

Family: mother’s graduation dress, a daughter’s first communion dress, hand-knit items gifted by a relative that don’t fit or suit, lederhosen or other outfits from the Old Country. 

The money we’ve spent: Furs are a tough category. As one client told me, “You can’t even give them away.” In California, it’s rarely cold enough to wear them, even though they are back in fashion in a big way this year. Unless you get to a cold climate regularly, they just take up too much space. Black tie dresses, for most of us, are also costly and seldom worn out here in the west. The Armani or Chanel purchased on sale that never really looked right — I’ve seen that one many times. Out it must go.

If you can’t stand the thought of losing the memory of an item of clothing, take a photo of it before letting it go. If you must keep a few things, box, label and store them out of the way. 

Now think about your real day-to-day and month-to-month activities and assess what remains in the closet. You should be able to clearly see the holes, if there are any, and do a little judicious shopping to fill out your “new” real wardrobe.