Capsule wardrobes and wardrobe counts are fine, but they are not the only way to build a wardrobe that works. Likewise, assessing each item to see whether it sparks joy, à la Marie Kondo, is also effective, but involves pulling everything out in one marathon effort.
A gentler intuitive approach that focuses on categories is another way to get a workable wardrobe that is custom-made for you, for your lifestyle, and your wardrobe space.
| A gentler intuitive approach that focuses on categories is another way to get a workable wardrobe that is custom-made |
It begins with looking critically at how much space you actually have to work with—wardrobe, shelves and drawers—which will cap the volume you can keep. Then the fine-grained checking of categories will shape your wardrobe to fit your particular needs and style.
Here’s an example: swimwear. If you gather together all your swimming-related items you can see at a glance whether this category is right-sized for your life. It will be obvious if you have too many swimsuits, if you could do with a new sarong or towel, or that your next purchase should be a bikini instead of a one-piece. Because you’re not overwhelmed by the thought, “I must organise my entire wardrobe all at once”, it becomes simpler to make decisions for a single category.
How it’s done
Your space dictates how much you can keep. Your clothes should fit in your bedroom wardrobe/dresser/drawers. Spill-over for winter coats and specialist gear to another cupboard is fine, but everything else should be stored close to where you get dressed.
Breathing room between items is also necessary: drawers should be easy to open and look through rather than jammed full; hangers should have space between them and be easy to pull out; and jewellery should be tangle-free with each piece visible, not heaped in piles.
Now comes the fun part—the category sorting!
Divide everything wardrobe-related into categories, including accessories and shoes. The actual groupings will be personal to you. In general, as well as assessing large categories (such as tops), you might also want to compare smaller categories (long-sleeve tops, short-sleeve tops, singlet-tops, collared shirts). Experiment with what works: if you’re overwhelmed, make the category smaller; if not, assess a broad group.
For each category, work through these steps:
- Place all items in the category together in your wardrobe.
- Look at the amount of space the category takes up—does this seem to match your lifestyle?
- Assess each item one by one—and against the rest of the category. Does each piece serve a purpose and get worn regularly? Are there duplicates? Is there a good balance of fabrics, colours, lengths and styles so you get maximum variety from minimal pieces?
- Purge any unnecessary items, as well as writing down any gaps to fill.
Once you’ve finished, make a list of your categories and assign each one a status: overfull, full or gaps (you’ll see why below).
Principles to reduce the overall size of your wardrobe
- It’s helpful to have more than one of an item you wear a lot, but try not to duplicate beyond your base pieces. Otherwise, you risk diluting the appeal and value of your favourite items.
- Within each category, if you have similar items, use the benchmark principle to decide which to keep. Which ones do you reach for over and over and which usually stay on the hanger or shelf?
- Aim for versatile pieces that you can dress up and down, wear across seasons, and in a variety of outfits.
- Choose a refined colour palette to make it easier to decide what to keep and what to buy.
- Reflect on the success of your purchases by checking everything you’ve added in the last few months. Which pieces are you wearing often and why? What hasn’t worked? Use this information to guide your future decisions.
How to maintain a right-sized wardrobe
A wardrobe that suits our space and lifestyle is achievable, but is never done. It’s unrealistic to think we can purge, fill gaps, and never have to tinker again. Circumstances change, clothes wear out, and sometimes we’ll spot something fabulous. On the flipside: there is almost infinite potential out there—regularly emerging trends in colours, silhouettes and styles—but just because we like something isn’t a good enough reason to buy it.
What we can do is control the overall size of our wardrobe—as well as adjusting the categories within it.
| What we can do is control the overall size of our wardrobe—as well as adjusting the categories within it |
Next time you’re in a store and want to buy something, remember your category status list. We’re going to apply the one-in one-out rule. If that particular category is full or overfull and you still want to buy the item, let at least one thing go in that category. If it fills a genuine wardrobe gap, get rid of an item in another category that is full or overfull. This way, your wardrobe will remain right-sized—both overall and in type of garment. It will also be fresh and current as you cycle out anything stale or worn-out.
Try this approach and see if it works for you. It’s a great way of easing your wardrobe into excellent shape, aligning it to your current circumstances, and encouraging you to wear your favourite things a lot rather than only a little.
I’d love to know what you think: Do you use a similar method? Is your wardrobe right-sized for your life?