Do You Really Know What’s in Your Closet?


According to the Pareto principle, 80 percent of consequences come from 20 percent of causes. A formula frequently used to identify an organization’s problems and strengths, it is also the guiding principle behind the notion that most of the time, women only wear about 20 percent of the clothing items in their closets. Of course, that means 80 percent of what is in our closets goes unused.

When that whole notion first started popping up in fashion magazines and columns, I started to question myself, but it did not motivate me to make an honest appraisal of my closet. At least not right away.

Five years ago, my husband and I downsized from a 3,000 square-foot home to 1,300 square feet of living space. That meant parting ways with a lot of things. During this purge, “things” did not include wardrobe items, which got tricky, considering we bought a house built in the 1940s. Closets were much smaller back then.

You might think the move to Tiny Closet Land finally spurred a moment of clarity, inspiring me to take an honest wardrobe inventory. No, it just prompted a brainstorming session that ended with a new item topping my husband’s move-in “honey do” list: transforming a small bedroom into my fantasy dressing room/closet.

The truth behind my defiant refusal to assess my existing closet was that I did not want to sort through all those clothes, shoes and accessories. I knew there were things that still had price tags on them. I knew there were pants, shirts, dresses I had not worn in years that I had convinced myself would one day fit me. Forget skinny jeans – I had an entire skinny wardrobe just waiting for me to wake up one morning with the waistline I had at age 30.

Reality, however, has a way of keeping us in check. Here I was with this ridiculously large closet, and I still did not have room for everything! I failed to acknowledge that, in our previous home, I had stuffed and crammed things into any and every existing possible clothing storage space. I had reached a moment of truth.

I went through every single item in my closet and it hit me: I honestly did not wear more than about 20 percent of it. No, I did not get rid of the entire unworn 80 percent; but I did put a sizable dent in it. I donated, re-sold, discarded and finally admitted that 30-year-old Leslie existed 20 years ago, never to be seen again. I found things in my closet I didn’t even like – most of them I was on the fence about buying in the first place. Today, I only buy what I love the moment I try it on and know that I will wear it.

I continue to whittle away at my wardrobe, occasionally – okay, frequently – adding new items. But now I am toying with the idea of a capsule wardrobe, limiting my closet to 35 items I love and will wear all the time. As difficult as that could be, it seems like it would be freeing to open my closet and know I love everything inside.

I am no fashion expert, but I know great style is not about the size of your wardrobe, or even your budget. It’s how you wear something. If you love it, you will wear it with confidence, always wear it well … and often.


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