There are birds chirping just outside my window and kids playing down the street. A few rays of sunshine are finally peaking through the dark clouds after a severe thunderstorm where I had my very first experience being under a “Tornado Watch”. Ah, Dothan Alabama. I find myself settling down in this quiet town after spending 3 wonderful years in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The fast pace city living is gone, replaced with slow, southern hospitality and boiled peanuts. It’s my first week here, and so far – I can say it’s a sweet comfortable life.
“The fast pace city living is gone, replaced with slow, southern hospitality and boiled peanuts.”
If you’ve ever moved, you are familiar with that moment where you really look at your belongings and wonder “Why?! Why do I have all this STUFF?”. That moment is usually followed by hours of madness. You toss things you don’t need, hang on to things you don’t need but seem to think you can’t live without, and make a pile of “maybe I need this, let me think about it another night before I trash it”. Well, if you are anything like me, that is how moving goes. Take that, add in the fact that you are catching an international flight to your next destination with a two checked bag policy and let the panic set in. That was me, a month ago – looking at my bags and my wardrobe and wondering what laws of physics I could bend to make everything fit. The struggle was real. My carry on was reserved space for my camera gear, and my backpack had books and travel necessities (pillow, sweater, headphones, Vogue, etc) so in the end, my entire wardrobe (clothes, shoes, and accessories) had to fit into the 2 checked bags.
“…wondering what laws of physics I could bend to make everything fit.”
Many good pieces were left behind, but at the end of that very long day/week, I realized that it was for the best. It was time to downsize. And by downsize, I mean have a total closet detox. While I considered purchasing an extra checked bag and paying the fee to travel with it internationally, in the end – I opted to stick with my original plan – downsize to 2 checked bags, carry on, and a personal item (which in my case is a backpack, stuffed as much as I think I can get away with). It was a great decision. Any more bags to wrangle on moving day and I might have lost my mind.
Continue reading to learn how I managed to downsize my closet to the bare necessities (and some).
Step #1 | Sort
Two cups of coffee in and a Soundcloud playlist of feel good jams on, I started by making a pile of absolute “no’s”. These were items I knew I would not miss and did not need. To my surprise, the pile grew like a chia pet. Before you knew it, I had shed at least 20 lbs of clothes.
“To my surprise, the pile grew like a chia pet.”
Detox well underway, I continued with a pile of “must keep”. This pile included items with sentimental value, irreplaceable’s (custom pieces I would never find again) and items I love/wore so much I simply could not imagine my wardrobe without them. With the “no’s” and “must keeps” separated, all that was left was the “maybes”. This pile consumed more time than I’d like to admit, but it was worth the effort. After thoughtful evaluation and repeated sorting, I ended up with a few more items in the “must keep” pile and a larger amount left to the “no’s”.
Step #2 | Donate
It was time to donate, because tossing in the trash is a no-no for the environment. I arranged for the items to go to a mission center (clothes went to poor families who were awaiting visa clearance from the government due to negligent and abusive employers). It was an eye opening moment for me. Here I was, having a difficult time deciding which pair of shorts to keep for the journey home (black or khaki?) while my unwanted clothing was going to families who were legally stuck in a foreign country with no means of income and had been poorly treated (sometimes physically abused) by their employers. It’s a jolting reminder that the stress of downsizing is petty in comparison to some of the struggles some of our neighbors are facing.
Step #3 | Stick with it.
At this point, you have completed your detox and should have everything you need. While it might seem like you have more room in your closet for more stuff, try to refrain from filling the empty spaces and instead view it as luxury space for the items that deserve your attention.
“…view it as luxury space for the items that deserve your attention.”
In photography, there’s a term called “negative space” – it’s where you intentionally include a large empty/dull/plain portion of the image to emphasize focus on the smaller, more important subject. For example:
Think of this image as your closet, you don’t need to fill the full frame to have a beautiful wardrobe. Having less emphasizes the importance of what is left. When you do a closet detox, the items that are left are items that you truly, absolutely love. Focus on that :)
If you are preparing for an upcoming move or simply feel that it’s time for a “closet detox”, here are 3 tips to get you started:
1. Start sooner than you think.
Sometimes getting through that “maybe” pile takes a few nights to sleep on it. If you are moving, the last thing you want to be doing the day before you depart is sorting through giant mountains of clothing, jittery from the 5 cups of coffee you downed convinced it was going to give you super powers to get through the process yet still indecisive on what to keep. Sorting everything out a few days or even a week before the big move can eliminate a LOT of stress.
2. Research different donation options.
Finding the proper means of donating can also take a few days – sure you can take your goods to a local thrift store, but sometimes you can find an even better 2nd life for your clothes. For example, in my hometown there is a company that specializes in assisting women in their personal, social and professional growth. (Women’s Resource Center). One of their services is offering these women 2nd-hand career clothing to give them the edge they need in an important interview or new job. If you have a wardrobe with a lot of great business pieces, this would be a great alternative donation option to your typical thrift shop. One thing I love about this is that when you help a woman in your local community, your kindness spreads much farther than just that one person. This tip relates to tip #1 because if you waited until the last minute, you would likely resort to dropping off a few trash bags of clothing to your local thrift shop. By giving yourself more time to prepare, you can research other means of donating your clothes. Of course, if you can’t find an alternative donation option that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, donating to your local thrift store is better than tossing it in the trash. Just make sure you deliver your clothes in decent condition so they have the chance to actually have a second life. (a lot of clothing donations don’t actually make it to the stores because it was delivered in poor condition -unwashed, super wrinkled, pet hair, etc)
3. Minimize your sentimental items
When it comes down to the sentimental items, sometimes you just have to pull and Elsa and let it go.
Granted, there are certain items you won’t be able to live without. For me, a few of these items include my grandmothers custom honeymoon dress/jacket combo (oh so Jackie Kennedy), my great grandmothers cashmere cardigan that I lent my best friend for her wedding as her “something borrowed”, and a designer abaya I purchased in Abu Dhabi that will forever be a reminder of the beautiful years I spent there. Some folks might not feel the same way about items such as these quite like I do, but if you are a kindred spirit in that respect – realize that it’s ok to hold on to the important items, just learn to find a way to release items of less sentiment. Sometimes you’ll have to “sleep on it”, but try to avoid holding on to items that might not be as significant as you think. Like that cute top you wore for your 21st birthday that you look great in, but somehow never wear anymore. Or your prom dress. Find your line, and learn to let it go.
I hope you find the time to take a closer look at your wardrobe and decide what really deserves to be there. Just like those crazy juice detoxes you tell yourself you’re going to do (one day I’ll actually do one), you might not enjoy the process right away but after the cleanse, you will feel so much better – promise.
What items do you feel the most attached to? How many times have you done a closet detox? Would love to hear about your journey to a better wardrobe – tell me your secrets! :)