Video: Clothes call: Cutting the closet clutter

NBC 'Nightly News' contributor
updated 11/10/2010 2:20:40 PM ET 2010-11-10T19:20:40

My favorite shirt is falling apart.

The seams are ripped and the buttons are loose. There are small stains here and there. These imperfections are a roadmap of memories for me—good times had while wearing a blouse I bought secondhand more than 20 years ago.

It’s a vintage silk Rhoda Lee with red roses and green leaves with buttons up the back. I imagine it had a history long before I ever got my hands on it.

I’ve worn this shirt on first dates, to job interviews and at parties. And although it’s completely un-wearable at this point, it still holds a prominent place in my wardrobe and in my heart.

Nostalgia and clothes go hand in hand. Ask any woman in America, and she’ll likely recall, in detail, the outfit she wore on a certain special occasion. It’s no wonder— we spend hours looking online, poring over magazines and perusing shops for the perfect ensemble with just the right nuance for the woman we want to be for that momentous event or intimate evening.

Like the weather, clothes are a common connection. The fact of the matter is that every day, with few exceptions, we get up and have to put something on to go face the world. Our clothes are our armor, and they have the power to transform.

They also occupy a heck of a lot of real estate in our homes.

Related: Living Better with Less

Almost every woman I know has a closet full of stuff, not only for  each  season, but for every mood and physical condition: fat clothes, skinny clothes, maternity clothes, and comfy clothes, outfits for work, sexy dresses and sensible shoes. And I bet if you dig deep enough, most would find some clothes waaay in the back, with the price tags still attached.

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That’s what happened to Sally Bjornsen.

And she did something about it.

Sally Bjornsen went on an apparel diet: No shopping for one year.

She said she was sick of the feeding frenzy of shopping…spending up to $6,000 a year on clothes, shoes, and accessories. She had multiples of the same styles and questioned the quality of so-called “fast fashion.” It was time, she said, to clean up, clear out, and evaluate exactly what she owned.

Sally started an online community called The Great American Apparel Diet. It now has thousands of followers world-wide. The women involved all have different reasons for joining—some are trying to save money, others are more interested in finding new hobbies, and some simply want a break in order to discover their OWN style… and not rely on what’s the latest flavor in fashion.

Too old for sassy, too young for sensible
I can relate to that last point. After age 40, it’s tough to develop style—feeling too old for sassy and too young for sensible. It’s a confusing, in-between age with blurred boundaries when it comes to appearance.

Sally and the rest of the group check in frequently online and in person to support one another when the urge to shop strikes. She hosts clothes-swapping parties for when members feel the need for something different in their wardrobe, and she encourages participants to donate what they don’t use.

Related: We are not what we do

In tonight’s Back to Basics report, we’ll meet Sally and also highlight another fascinating, ongoing social experiment.

New Yorker Heidi Hackemer started a movement called Six Items or Less. Perhaps you’ve heard about it… her group got some press recently in the New York Times. The Today Show also did a story and Financial Expert Jean Chatzky even participated. Members of the group wear just six items for an entire month. They mix and match and do a lot of hand washing to make those clothes last for 30 days. Hackemer says there’s no set goal—instead, she encourages everyone to find their own motivation and satisfaction from the simplicity of having so few choices.

Both groups are confronting culture and shattering norms when it comes to clothes.  Could you last a year without buying something new to wear? What if you only had six things in your closet? What would you choose?

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