The Lean Closet Philosophy


Illustration by ElizabethHudy via flickr CC x ND-2.0

Three years ago, I moved across town and into a new house. It was painful. My husband and I had amassed a ton of stuff. More accurately, we had amassed a ton of crap. Broken lamps. Toys missing pieces. Flannel shirts from college. Class notes from grade school (not kidding). Blurry film photographs. Too many spatulas. Way too many coats. Crusty duffel bags. Old hiking shoes. A quiver of snowboards. Stained baby clothes. Bridesmaid’s dresses. Magazines, magazines, magazines. And much more. Ugh.

Why had I collected so much junk? My dilemma was twofold: My practical–New Englander side had trouble getting rid of things (but this stuff is still useful!), while my sentimental side clung to objects that held memories (awww, Grandma gave me that hat). The result was deleterious; I was afflicted by a house – and therefore a mind – that was badly in need of de-cluttering.

In my defense, my habits were seared into my DNA; I was born into a long lineage of frugal folks – we use stuff up until it’s well worn out. But the truth is that my issue was more about letting go. My closet suffered the same issue. I just couldn’t give away the blouse I’d worn only once or those expensive pants that didn’t really fit. (But those are in good shape! I haven’t gotten my money’s worth! Panic!) Really, though, for something to be useful, it has to be used.

When we moved into the new house two days after Christmas, I knew immediately what my New Year’s resolution needed to be: Reduce the clutter by making mindful decisions, or, put another way, strategically fight back against the random crap that kept creeping up on me. I’ve always been someone who could adeptly pack a tiny carryon suitcase for two weeks without sacrificing a single thing I needed. Why not apply that skill to my wardrobe at large?

My habits were seared into my DNA; I was born into a long lineage of frugal folks – we use stuff up until it’s well worn out. But the truth is that my issue was more about letting go.

I’ve come to recognize clutter as the failure to make a decision. It sometimes seems easier to tuck something into a drawer and decide what to do with it later, when, in fact, it ultimately takes less mental energy to sort it out in the moment. I’m certainly not alone in the gravitational pull of de-cluttering my closet. Let’s face it, the internet is overrun with organization sites. But I’m less interested in neatness than I am in quality, elegance, and efficiency. The designers behind fashion brand Cuyana put this concept simply with their tagline, “fewer, better things.” This year, they’re encouraging their fans to create a “lean closet” through a series of articles on their blog.

Think about applying that idea to your purchasing decisions. Instead of succumbing to the endless loop of desire, temptation, and shopping, I’ve consistently found myself choosing quality over quantity. And I can say honestly (and I believe my husband would back me up here) that I’ve had far fewer I-have-nothing-to-wear days than ever. Astoundingly, less really is more.

Need a hand? Here’s what I’ve learned about decluttering my closet.


Photo by Evil Erin via flickr CC x 2.0

1. Edit, edit, edit
I’m no minimalist — more of a tight-edit — but I clean my closet out at least twice per year, seasonally if possible, and get rid of anything I don’t need or like any longer. I’m not afraid to make minor edits in between the bigger purges, too.

2. It’s not useful if I’m not using it
Nothing that’s lying unused can be defined as being “useful.” Let someone else put that piece to work.

3. Fast fashion is a burden
I prefer natural fabrics, buy in colors I really like, appreciate good fit, and shop for items that mix and match pretty effortlessly. Buying for quality means shopping less often, because I don’t have to replace basics too frequently.

4. Layer it on
I don’t swap out my whole wardrobe seasonally. A lot of pieces can be worn year round by layering. I keep an eye out for pieces that are anti-seasonal.

5. Invest in the best
By nature, I avoid uber-trendy clothes that won’t make it till the end of the month before they look stale. Maybe I just don’t move that fast, but I prefer timeless pieces that I fall in love with, and I buy the best I can afford to build an enduring wardrobe that will last over time.

6. Don’t be a sucker
No one needs a new outfit for every event. Mix, match, and accessorize. Exercise creativity, not a credit card.

Meaghan O'Neill is a writer, editor, blogger wrangler, and the founder of Puddingstone Post. She was formerly editor-in-chief of TreeHugger, Discovery Channel online, and TLC's Parentables. Her writing has appeared in numerous print and online publications, and her book, Ready, Set, Green: 8 Weeks to Modern Eco-Living (Villard/Random House) was published in 2008. She lives in Newport, RI with her family.


  • Reply February 17, 2014


    AMEN! The mental fatigue I go through over the clutter I choose not to deal with is way more taxing then just doing the decluttering. Time to start tackling one room at a time.

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  • Reply September 20, 2014

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    Hi there, after reading this awesome paragraph i am too glad to share my know-how
    here with mates.

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