Get an Honest Friend to Help
Having been in many closets, I understand this is an emotionally charged, intimate place. Do not enter alone! You need to enlist a a warm, yet honest friend to help you determine what stays and goes in your wardrobe. You do not want your friend who thinks everything you do is amazing and every idea you've ever had is the best one ever. While she is a wonderful friend, you need the straight shooter who will tell you the truth. It should go without saying, but you also want this person to be someone whose taste level and style you respect. In the case that you don't have someone like this in your life, you can always enlist the help of a professional, like myself.
Ask 3 Questions
As you go through your closet, you will try on every item. As you try on these pieces, you need to ask yourself a few questions to determine if the piece has earned its right to valuable real estate in your closet. This is another reason it's helpful to have a friend involved during this process--it is incredibly easy to lie to ourselves. Yes, you love that sequined, black mini-dress, even if it doesn't fit and you bought it 12 years ago. Your honest friend will tell you that it's not worth keeping. To be honest about your wardrobe, you need to ask yourself three questions.
1. Would I purchase this garment today? If the answer is "No," you need to get rid of this item. Our style, personal taste, bodies, and lives evolves over time. There is no use in hanging on to the past with items that no longer speak to you.
2. Is it comfortable? There is no reason to be uncomfortable in your clothing. If the fabric is itchy or you can't walk more than 10 feet in those heels, they need to go.
3. Where am I going in this? Aside from fitting your body, your clothing needs to fit your lifestyle. If you can't think of three occasions where the garment would be appropriate, it needs to go. Perhaps you're hanging on to that sequined mini-dress because it reminds you of your College Party days, and now you're a high powered corporate executive with three kids? That dress is no longer appropriate for your lifestyle. Not to mention, with your current station in life, you could afford an even more fabulous, sexy dress.
Categorize and Organize
Try your clothing on by category. You'll need to try on all your pants, then all your skirts, then all your dresses, then all your tops, etc. After you've tried them all on, you will separate them into 3-5 categories. The first category is "Keepers", these items go back into your closet and do not need any alterations. The second category is "Alterations", these garments may need to be hemmed, taken in, or have a zipper fixed. The third category is "Donations", these items are going to be donated to a local charity, as they no longer serve you. The other two optional categories are "Dry Cleaning" and "Consign". If you have some pieces in your closet that are great, but need to be freshened up, separate them for a trip to the dry cleaner. In San Diego, I recommend La Jolla Cleaners in UTC. They are pricey, but one of the few places that will actually does a decent job of cleaning your clothing. If you are parting with current pieces in good condition, you may consider selling them at one of the many secondhand shops throughout the region, like My Sister's Closet, Buffalo Exchange, or La Femme Chic. You can find my guide to San Diego consignment shopping here.
To organize and separate these items, I recommend using a garment rack, clothing dividers, tags for tailor notes, as well as a few shopping totes.
Organize by Item Type and Color
To efficiently organize your closet, I recommend organizing your clothing by item type and color. This means you will hang all your skirts with all your other skirts, all your long sleeve tops with all the other long sleeve tops, all your dresses with all your other dresses, etc. I also like to organize the categories by color, so all the red tops are in one place and all the black skirts are in one place, for example. This method is aesthetically pleasing and ensures you know where to find any piece in your wardrobe. The only time I deviate from this system is when I'm planning outfits for the week ahead. In that case, I will hang my outfits for the week together in "outfit sets". I leave the rest of my closet organized by item type and color.
Plan Your Outfits for the Week Ahead
To save time in the mornings, I recommend planning your outfits for the week ahead. Take a look at your calendar and see what's happening this week. Do you have an important meeting on Wednesday? Are you hosting a family dinner on Sunday? Are you going out on a date? Take some time before the week begins and plan your outfits for these occasions. Try them on and take a photo so that you'll remember the combinations. If you can, hang them up as outfit sets in your closet, or on a separate garment rack, if space allows.
Create a Shopping List
Inevitably, after going through your closet, you will find yourself in need of some new pieces. Perhaps you have an edgy tunic that needs leather leggings or a navy top that would only look right with light wash jeans? You have the tunic and the navy top, yet you don't have the pieces needed to create a proper outfit around them. Create a list for these "missing" pieces and reference it the next time you're out shopping. This is what I mean by "shopping with intention"--you aren't mindlessly adopting the next trend, you're building a cohesive wardrobe that is unique to you.
I'm Jaquelyn Wahidi. I take the stress out of getting dressed. As a personal fashion stylist in San Diego, I help women organize their closets, define their style, and shop with intention. My blog features practical style advice for women everywhere. I've been addicted to blazers since 2004.