Closet Editing During a Pandemic

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You know, I thought I had this closet editing thing down pat. That there was nothing new to possibly learn about culling and organizing my closet. Nothing to change or refine in my own method short of doing the Marie Kondo “sparking joy” thing. Or applying those hard and fast rules like one piece in means one piece out, or if you haven’t worn it for a whole season it has to go. Rules which do NOT appeal to me at all. And then I stumbled across New York stylist Allison Bornstein and her “Closet Editing System.” And I thought, “That sounds like fun.”

So I decided to give Allison’s method a try and film the process so you could listen in. Because it’s much more fun sorting through my closet when I have someone to chat to while I’m doing it.

Allison’s five step method:

Step 1.

Identify your closet “regulars.” What do you wear all the time? Not what you want to wear and don’t. Not what you know you should be wearing. Just what you reach for time and time again. Then spread all those pieces out and have a look. What is your “signature style?”

Okay. I’ve piled all my “regulars” on the bed. Let’s chat about them for a bit.

Step 2.

What do you never wear? Whether you love it or not. Pile all those pieces on the bed.

Step 3.

Categorize all your “never wear” pieces by analyzing why you never wear them. Put them into one of three piles. 

A. Gotta go pile. You really don’t like that piece anymore, and don’t want to wear it. Get rid of it. Donate or consign. 

B. Not now pile. You still love this piece but just don’t want to wear it now. Store it. I’m a big fan of the “not now” pile.

C. How pile. You love this piece and want to wear it but you can’t think how to style it.

I’ve finished step 2 and all my “never pieces” are on the bed. That darned bed is getting piled, I can tell you. Ha. Now let’s try to figure out why I never wear these pieces.

Step 4.

Spend some time restyling your “how” pieces with pieces from your “regular” collection. This is the part of Allison’s system that I had the most fun with. And which I never thought of doing myself. Taking pieces which I reach for all the time and pairing them with pieces which I love but which have been languishing in my closet.

I haven’t worn my pink Everlane tee shirt enough. I’d planned to wear it under my Veronica Beard jacket, with jeans or my Burberry denim skirt, and sneakers. But in the spring when I was more likely to wear an outfit with a jacket, we were “sheltering in place,” and I simply went nowhere. Now the jacket would be too hot.

Today I just popped it on with my navy and white checked Rag and Bone pants which I already had on. I like this. Really simple to haul on to go to the library when it opens later this month. Yah! Or out for coffee on a patio. It’s a bit of a spin on my usual white tee, and the red in the sneakers kind of ties in with the pink. I didn’t play with jewellery today. Not sure I have anything that will work. I might just throw on a cross-body bag and go. My little red one from two years ago, maybe.

My black crepe Aritzia joggers from 2015 still fit, and I have no idea why I haven’t worn them for ages. Perhaps because if I want to wear black pants, I pull out my Rag and Bone Simone cropped pants instead. But Allison’s idea to try a never worn piece with something I wear all the time gave me some ideas. I could pair the joggers with my more slouchy, baggy Everlane pocket-tee, do a half-tuck, and wear my ubiquitous Stan Smith sneakers. I like this look. And for more texture, I threw my Theory crocheted sweater around my shoulders. I like the cream on white. Looks good with my “new” hair.

I didn’t style my other “how” pieces. I’ll do those another day. But step 4 has given me some much needed ideas to rescue a couple of my “never wear” pieces. So that’s time well spent in my books.

Step 5.

Allison’s step 5 is all about categorizing and organizing your closet. I don’t need to do that. All my jeans hang together. Ditto dress pants, jackets, tees, blouses, and tee shirts. My closet is so small keeping it organized is not hard. And because I don’t have a lot of room, I reorganize every spring and fall when I bring out my seasonal pieces. In fact, I’m kind of excited to try Allison’s method when I turn my closet from summer into fall in a couple of months.

One thing that Allison’s method doesn’t address is the fact that “never wear” is a matter of interpretation. Never could mean you literally never wear that item. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that. A couple of the pieces I classified as “never wear” … I do wear… sometimes. But never willingly. And I almost always wear that piece because I feel guilty about its not being worn. And I don’t feel good about myself when I’m wearing it. So I gave myself some leeway when I designated a piece as “never wear.” Maybe I should have said, “never willingly wear.”

Other pieces I didn’t classify as “never wear”, when someone else might. These are pieces I wear maybe only once or twice a season. Pieces like my navy Rag and Bone dress from 2016 with the netting detail. I love this dress. I don’t often have occasion to wear it, but when I do I feel great in it. Ditto my Burberry denim skirt. I have had this skirt for years. Lately I’ve been wearing it once or twice a summer with a casual tee, sneakers and my Veronica Beard navy jacket. I love this outfit. It makes me feel comfortable and polished at the same time. And feeling great in an outfit once or twice a season is reason enough for me to continue to give that skirt and dress closet space.

Anyway. Have a look at Allison herself applying her 5-step closet editing system to Violette’s closet below.

Culling one’s closet during a pandemic can be a bit of a struggle. When you might be working from home, or not working at all, not travelling or doing much of what you’d normally do in the summer. And thus not wearing nearly as many of your summer clothes as you would in other years.

It’s hard to make judgements about what you always or never wear when you’re not wearing anything much besides shorts and old tee shirts. Or I’m not at any rate. Plus I think the mood we’re all in these days might make us more susceptible to getting rid of pieces we should keep. Still, I was surprised that I had so many “never” pieces. And I feel good about my decision to let those pieces go.

And I may yet decide to change the designation on that navy and white tee I’m wearing in the videos. It looked fine in the mirror when I put it on with my checked pants. Look at me pattern mixing, I thought. But mirrors are flat. And I kind of gasped seeing myself in it in the videos, “in the round”… so to speak. Ha. Round being the operative word. Now, it may have been that the video showed only my short, wide top-half, not offset by my legs. It may have been the horizontal stripes. Or it may just be that I need to face the fact that I am getting “broader in the beam” as I said in one of the videos. I still think I’ll rethink that top.

But I think I’ll think about that tomorrow.

How about you my friends? Have you been culling anything during the pandemic?

P.S. If you’re interested, here are links to some of my “regulars”, pieces I reach for the most in my closet. These are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link I will make a commission.

Everlane box-cut, pocket tee. Vince short-sleeve tee. Everlane rusched air-blouse. Everlane tank. . Rag and Bone Simone Pant. Frame high-rise straight-leg jeans. Paige high-rise skinny jeans. Frame straight-leg white jeans. Frame mini-boot cropped white jeans. Veronica Beard scuba jacket. Theory white blazer.

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32 thoughts on “Closet Editing During a Pandemic”

  1. I am pretty much culled, not that there was a lot to chuck. But I have stopped buying. There seems no point at present and I am content to wait until I really need to get anything. Working on the house – painting, decorating, re-arranging – has shown me just how much stuff we have and, frankly, I am reluctant to get anything else. If something has finally dropped off its perch, I may replace but only if really necessary. Seeing just how much guff my daughter is – still – storing in this house is a very pertinent message. She appears a little deaf to it.

  2. I really ought to do this & your new system looks good . I’ve carried bags full of stuff to our charity shops over the last few years but there’s still some work to do . I guess this is the ideal time but the thought of heaping everything on the bed & wading through it is a mountain I can’t bring myself to climb at the moment . On the plus side I’ve bought nothing new since February . The local Margaret Howell discount shop began their sale yesterday & I’d normally be there by now but these aren’t normal times . Our only outings have been walking in the Dales when I wear my usual walking gear . The virus stats around here are good so I’ve arranged to meet my old workmates for lunch & my niece has invited us to a socially distanced garden party for her birthday . It’s going to be ridiculously exciting deciding what to wear .
    PS Cameras lie . The white stripes are perhaps not kind on camera . You are not round . You are lovely & slim .

    1. Ah, thanks, Wendy. That top was maybe no the best choice to film in. Have fun deciding what to wear to your parties. Maybe take an extra outfit to change half way through to give as many pieces a chance to participate as possible. 🙂

  3. I am very good at purging my husband’s closet, and my daughter’s closet, and my son’s closet, however, my own closet is another matter! And by ‘closet’ I actually mean the plural, as I have 2 closets full of stuff. OK – 3, actually. One is for off-season sports clothes, one is for the off season, and one is for the current season. I hold on to everything – and we’re talking my collection of 90s prom dresses. Emotionally, I can’t get rid of these dated dresses. Logically, the puffy shoulders and butt bows didn’t look good in the 90s and won’t be good looking in the future. Perhaps I can wear one of these dresses on my first day back to teaching? No-one will notice it under the Hazmat suit, face mask, and face shield! Sue, I admire your ability to curate your closet, and to ensure that what you keep always works with multiple other pieces: it’s a much better system than what I have (the “Keep Everything System”). Having a stuffed closet and yet often ‘finding nothing to wear’ doesn’t make sense. I’ll get right to fixing this…as soon as I finish my book!

    1. Ah… those nineties prom dresses. Been hearing about those for years. You’d better wear them so people don’t think they’re imaginary. Ha. When visiting indoors is safe I’m coming over to film your closet kiddo!

  4. Thank you for your post! I have been culling my closet and my daughter is pleased, because I send her pieces that are more “her colors” and things that I am realizing would look much better on her.

    One thing I have been doing is wearing each top for a day (since we aren’t going anywhere) and determining if it looks good, fits well and is comfortable. I am surprised how many things are going to my daughter or the thrift store. And, it is keeping me from wearing the same things over and over.

    I am also trying to make myself wear my skirts and more casual dresses, they are comfortable and cool. I need to do much more sorting, but am making a little progress. And your posts and videos help to keep me going! 😊

    1. Thanks, Liz. Glad my posts are helpful. I love to hear people philosophize about their clothes. You daughter must be happy you are into culling these days.

  5. Thank you for this great post. Listening to you chat to us is the best, and working through your stacks. I enjoyed the whole system with working in the how do I wear it with the regular love it clothes. I have to do this. I am not in the frame of mind to buy more at this point, so it is a good time to play in the closet. I really can live with much less in there. I always like a choice, but there is a time when the choices are overwhelming so fingers crossed and dive in. Thanks for the inspiration with this method as I am most certainly not a Marie Kondo type.

    1. Some of the methods out there do not work for me… too dictatorial, or strict. I so happy I didn’t donate all my Max Mara jackets when I stopped wearing them the first time,

  6. Really enjoyed this post with the videos along side. I have made a pair of summer pants and 2 tops which were much needed but otherwise nothing. I have a piece of lovely fabric for a special blouse but having nowhere to wear it I am lacking motivation to make it. I have plenty of clothes otherwise and until something needs replacing it seems a bit pointless while we are not going far. Rather sad really as I do love clothes. However, I do like the idea of looking at the closet in the way you have done, particularly looking at the regulars in conjunction with the how and I am going to try that to see what I come up with. Looking forward to seeing your pieces put together in new ways. Sorry gone on far too long!

    1. Being able to sew must be wonderful! The idea of “how” category really spoke to me. Never apologize for the length of a comment, Christy. I love to hear what other people are thinking.

  7. Thanks for the inspiration, especially the part about restyling the “how” pieces. Like you, I have a rather small closet but it requires constant reassessment to keep it that way. And I agree that, in our current situation, it’s easy to overdo the eliminating. Figuring out a “how” seems to be a better way to approach rarely worn items than eliminating or ignoring (!) them.

    1. I have to be careful not to over-eliminate. I usually just store pieces I’m not wearing if they still fit and I like them. But pairing them with something I wear all the time is a good formula, I think.

  8. “So that’s time well spent in my books.” Just made me laugh.  It is the “books” —plural, that got me going. Subliminal wish to be sitting outside totally absorbed in a book rather than doing the clothing-review-on-the-bed exercise? (It is a great idea.)

    Well, your posts on this topic are always worth reading.  My duds, including some major contenders for that title, fit in a wardrobe closet. It sounds nuts to say it but many Ecuadorian houses do not have any closets. So, I bought one that has only 5 feet of hanging space. (18 inches for long items and 42 inches for short stuff.) Everything I own is in it and actually fits me. Is every piece useful or flattering? No. Soon I will do as you have done and face the facts.

    to think, I had three closets full of clothes in my Seattle apartment.  A lot didn’t fit but it occupied real estate for years. Such a relief to leave so much behind when I moved to Ecuador five years ago.

    There are no retail spots where I choose to purchase clothes here. The quality is poor and the choices are too va-va-voom. So ‘shopping my closet’ is the only way to go.  It is time to pare things down and also decide what I will shop for down the line when I next visit the U.S. A short list, for sure. We don’t have seasons where I live here in the Amazon. The climate is temperate and very pleasantly the same all during the year. Rarely any need for a sweater. When I go to cities in the Andes Mountains, I have standard items I always pack.

    My thought on your navy and white striped top: it seems to be wearing you rather than the other way around.  Such strong degree of contrast for you? Maybe true only in pictures? Or is it calling for stronger lip color?  A pair of small simple earrings to repeat the navy blue?

    1. I have to rethink that top. The fact that it occupied the entire camera frame was not helpful. I usually wear it with big earrings, but not for home closet cleaning attire. 🙂

      1. I forgot to tell you that I enjoy the videos very much. It takes things to the actual instead of the theoretical.

  9. I enjoy your blog so much. It is easy to see you were (ARE) a teacher.
    Your videos are really good and helpful and I enjoyed the one with Violette. I have a similar striped top but with 3/4 sleeves. I think I will video myself in it to decide if I look round in it. I never thought about mirrors being flat. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Mary. I’ve found the videos really fun to make. I have to try hard not to waffle on and on. Ha. I wish I knew how to make videos properly. Film short segments and cut-aways with still photos etc etc. That is on my “to learn” list.

  10. I just retired a few months before the pandemic, and our plan was to begin to look for a place to retire. Florida is just too hot and humid for us and we’re not beach people. So, I have a work wardrobe and a Florida casual wardrobe and someday in the future I won’t need either one! In the meantime, since I’m filling time by doing some consulting and we can’t really leave the house much, I do need them. We know we want to move somewhere cooler, preferably with a mountain or two, but I’m trying to be patient with the clothes I have. One new wrinkle that complicates things — many of our usual places like Good Will and Salvation Army are not taking clothes at the moment due to the pandemic so what I can cull sits on the floor in bags.

    1. If you move somewhere a bit cooler you may find your work jackets etc come in handy with jeans and sneakers in your retirement wardrobe. I’m loving the look of my business-y jackets with a slouchy tee. Love the idea of moving somewhere with a mountain or two.

  11. Just wanted to say ” Thanks Sue! ” for all your well written blogs. They are always enjoyable and informative to read. I have found them especially helpful during the past few months. I also enjoy you “talking” to us in your real life videos – it is like having an “in person” visit, with a friend. : )

    I really like the idea of Step 3 being split in to those 3 categories. It makes the decision making so much easier. I have found that I have now switched to only wearing softer or “comfort” clothes – anything structured or too fitted and it no longer makes it off the hanger.

    Sorry to hear that your friend had to close her consignment clothing business . That couldn’t have been an easy decision as it takes a Lot of hard work to setup a business and keep it running in normal times .

    1. Thanks so much, Carolyn. The biggest take-away for me from Allison’s system is identifying my “regulars” and then pairing them with a “never.”
      P.S. I feel so bad for my friend Fiona. She loves fashion and her consignment store was a dream come true for her.

  12. Thanks for sharing Allison’s video. I haven’t done any culling, but need to. I know I have some “nevers” that have had a good run, but I don’t reach for them anymore. (I think I’ll be doing this soon!). It’s a little hard to pick the “always wear” right now, as shorts and tees rule the day.

  13. Oh, Sue, this was just what I needed at the end of a long day. I felt like I was sitting at a friend’s house chatting as she organized her closet. And, in fact, it is pretty much what I was doing. Except you weren’t able to hear my comments or giggles. I had a great time and picked up some new ideas for how to think about my clothes. Thank you for taking the time to make the videos.

  14. The pandemic put paid to my usual end of summer wardrobe edit and as spring is now coming up, my clothes need a good going through. Thanks for sharing a different and fun way of going about this, complete with visuals and chatty commentary – just what I need to spur me along 😉

  15. Hi Sue,

    I really enjoyed seeing you work through this process and picked up some great ideas. My closet if fairly well culled but after watching the videos there is more I would like to do. Our spare bedroom closet is used for transitioning seasonal pieces with strictly Winter and Summer pieces alternately stored in a wardrobe in the basement.

    I have a habit of buying multiples of an item I like in various colours. This can be pants, t-shirts, blazers and shoes. I find it makes it easier to put outfits together. Does this make me lazy? I am sure it says something about my personality but I do love fashion.

    The take away for me was taking a picture of a completed outfit. I also agree with your comment not to over eliminate. It would be easy to do now as a lot of our clothes are hanging idle.

    This was a really fun post for me Sue, thank you so much!

    Glenda

    1. Good point, Glenda. Taking a photo of an outfit is really helpful. I didn’t even think to mention this because I do it automatically for the blog. Makes it do much easier to decide what to wear.

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