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17 questions to ask yourself as you declutter your closet

Don't aim for minimalism — decide what's right for you. And if all else fails, ask yourself the "X factor" question.
Image: Open wardrobe is usually adapted for a small living space. The shirts, dresses or coats are hanged on a clothing rail,
Rather than striving for a particular level of possessions — minimal or otherwise — it's helpful to think about getting rid of what's superfluous.Omar Shamsuddin / Getty Images

Outer order isn't a matter of having less or having more; it's a matter of wanting what we have. For some people, owning a minimal amount of possessions makes them feel freer and happier. That's absolutely true. But it's not true for everyone.

Declaring that we'd all be happier with less (or with more) is like saying that every movie should be 120 minutes long. Every movie has a right length, and people differ in the number of possessions, and types of possessions, with which they can meaningfully engage. One person is happy with a bare shelf that holds a single vase; another is happy with a shelf lined with books, photographs, and mementos. We must decide what's right for us.

Outer Order, Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin
Outer Order, Inner Calm by Gretchen RubinHarmony, an imprint of Penguin Random House New York

Rather than striving for a particular level of possessions — minimal or otherwise — it's helpful to think about getting rid of what's superfluous. Even people who prefer to own many possessions enjoy their surrounding more when they've purged everything that's not needed, used or loved.

Consider this checklist for your clothes closet

Take stock of the items in your closet. As you pull out each garment, ask:

  • Does it currently fit?
  • Do you actually wear it?
  • Do you love it, or if not, is it truly useful?
  • Even if you love it, is it in such bad shape that you ought to get rid of it? I struggle with this.
  • How many interchangeable items do you own? If you have five pairs of khaki pants, you’re not likely to wear your two least favorite pairs.
  • Is it uncomfortable?
  • Have you worn it five times or fewer? It’s the rare item that’s worth keeping, even if it’s almost never been worn.
  • Do you worry that it’s out of fashion? If you think it might be, it probably is.
  • Can it only be worn in a limited way? Like a shirt that’s stained so it can only be worn under a sweater, or shoes that almost never work.
  • If you’re keeping an item only because it was a gift, does the giver know that you have it? If you don’t need to make a show of using it, you don’t need to keep it.
  • Does it work with other clothes that you have, or would you need to buy new items to make use of it?
  • Do you keep this item merely to fill a category? If you never wear something, you don’t need it. You don’t need any turtlenecks if you hate to wear turtlenecks.
  • Does it fill a need that no longer exists? This can be hard to admit, so press yourself.
  • Does it need to be altered before you can wear it? If so, get it altered or get rid of it.
  • Do you describe an item of clothing by saying, “I would wear that” or “I have worn that”? These phrases suggest that you don’t actually wear it.
  • Does your active closet hold clothes that you’re keeping for sentimental reasons or for wearing to a costume party? If so, store those items elsewhere. And be choosy; only save things that really deserve it.
  • Is a beloved item still flattering but not in top condition? You might “demote” it to more casual use. A sweater can go from a go-out-to-dinner sweater to a hang-around-the-house sweater.

Can't let go? Try the 'X factor'

If you can't decide whether to keep an item of clothing, ask yourself, "If ran into my ex on the street, would I be happy wearing this?" Often the answer will give you a good clue.

Excerpt from OUTER ORDER, INNER CALM Copyright (c) 2019 by Gretchen Rubin. All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Harmony, an imprint of Penguin Random House New York.


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