This is the fourth installment in our series, Homemaking Your Way. Catch up on the first three here.
If you are on a tight budget, you know that buying new clothes is one of the first things that gets cut. As newlyweds, my husband and I were just barely scraping by each month. Our concern was paying rent and buying groceries. New clothing did not factor into the equation.
Now that we have a bit of breathing room in our budget, we can afford to splurge occasionally on clothing. We go all out. Costco underwear. Old Navy clearance. Target sales. However, shopping for clothing with small children in tow is not for the faint of heart. If you are looking for a good time, this is not where you will find it. So even though I like new clothes, I don’t go shopping much.
But organizing closets? You better believe it. A clean, orderly closet is a thing of beauty to me. My goal for all of the dressers and closets in our home is that everything in them is something we actually like and wear. I know that getting them to that point is not always easy, though. Closets can be one of the hardest things to tame because the doors, in theory, are so easy to close. Maintaining them is really a constant process of sorting and tossing. Music to my ears. My closet is not custom-designed or color-coded, but there is a place for everything. And I sure like it when everything is in its place.
I am relentless about sorting out my kids’ clothes. As soon as they grow out of something, it is out of their dresser or closet. Why? Because getting my one-year old dressed is like a wrestling match. I do not have an extra arm to rummage around in his dresser for something that currently fits. Helping my three-year old get dressed, on the other hand, involves good negotiation skills. She would squeeze herself into a size 6 month swimsuit and cowboy boots for a trip to the zoo if she found them in her closet. After my morning wrestling match, I do not have the energy for a discussion on appropriately sized seasonal attire.
It just makes life easier for everyone involved if the clothes in their rooms are limited to the clothes that actually fit them. To help with this, I keep five big plastic bins in my daughter’s closet: Two bins hold clothes (spring/summer & fall/winter) that are currently too big. Two hold clothes (spring/summer & fall/winter) that are too small and will be sold, donated, or given away. The last bin is for special clothes I want to keep. Worn-out clothing goes in a bag for Goodwill.
Once my kids have worn out or grown out of clothing, it goes straight from the clothes dryer to the correct bin or bag. By dealing with one piece of clothing at a time, it keeps this task from becoming overwhelming and time consuming. That about covers kids’ clothes in our house. As long as I can steer clear of Target clearance racks, I am good to go.
Harder to manage, right? Here’s a good place to start: Take an inventory of your closet – How many shirts or shoes or pants do you own? Seriously, go look in your closet right now. I have a cup of coffee sitting here, and I will wait for you to get back. Shocking, right? I did this last week, and I was surprised. If you had asked me how many fitted, short-sleeved t-shirts I owned, I would have guessed ten, thinking that was high. Wrong. I have eighteen. Eighteen short-sleeved shirts! Six of them are black. That’s a lot of shirts, especially when I wear essentially the same thing every day of the week.
Figure out what clothes you wear and get rid of the rest. If you are a young mom, I know this is not an easy task. You have the pre-pregnancy clothes, the maternity clothes, the post-pregnancy clothes, and those clothes that you are hanging onto for the day when you lose those last ten pounds. At least get them out of your closet. It’s a mental game, but it just makes a huge difference to get them out of sight. Stick them in a box, label it, and check back in a few months. Absence will either make the heart grow fonder or forgetful.
I have a tough time getting rid of clothes that are still in great shape. Time to go back to my rule for clothes: Do I really like it? Do I actually wear it? If either answer is no, it needs to go.
Be strict with yourself. If you bring something new into your closet, toss something old out. I know this is not new advice, but it is really good advice. I force myself to do this because it keeps my closet under control. Except, apparently, for black short-sleeved shirts.
If you’re not ready to get rid of something, cut yourself some slack. We are all sentimental about different stuff for different reasons. For me, it’s this shirt I received for finishing the Chicago half-marathon. A decade ago. It is threadbare and full of holes, but I cannot part with it. I’ve tried many times. It is my wearable security blanket, reminding me of faster, fitter times.
I do know that as a devoted tosser, I have gotten rid of a few items through the years that I now regret — a shirt I designed for a band in college, workout gear from my basketball team, Umbro soccer shorts from junior high soccer days. Ok, maybe that last toss needed to happen, but it took me until college until I was ready. And this is coming from someone who is not all emotional, touchy-feely about stuff. Especially clothes. All I know is that sometimes it takes time to let go of things that are connected with special memories.
Limit those sentimental items, though, or you will have boxes full of clothes with a past but not a purpose. Memories are what are important; the majority of the time, stuff is just stuff.
Be honest with yourself. If you look through your closet while saying things like, “I wish… I might… I could… I used to… It’s still in good shape…” then you are probably collecting clothes instead of actually wearing them.
Several years ago, a woman hired me to help clean out her closets. The only problem? She couldn’t bear to get rid of… anything. For example, as we looked through old clothes, we came across a single scuba diving glove. “Well, I think I will hang on to this just in case. You never know!” She lived in the middle of Tennessee and hadn’t been scuba diving in over 40 years. Old maternity clothes, clown costumes (no joke), and random snow gear all got the same loyalty. She had overflowing closets and perfectly polished excuses for keeping each and every unused item in them. She was overwhelmed and her husband was frustrated, but by golly, she was going to keep that red clown nose and old ski sweater… just in case.
So what does staying on top of our homes, in this case our closets, have to do with frugal living? Lots.
I won’t get into the obvious — staying on a budget, determining needs, or prioritizing spending. I think it’s key for one very simple reason — when we have too many clothes, we forget what we have. I’m not getting philosophical here. I mean we literally forget what we already own. We forget we have four black shirts that still work and that last year’s winter coat fits our child just fine and those capris we bought at an end-of-summer sale still have the tags attached.
Life is full of so many good things; who wants to spend it digging through a cluttered closet when you could be shopping with your small children or… scuba diving in Tennessee?
Written by Emily Chesney, who lives with her husband and two small children just east of Portland. She is a homebody who loves to travel. Even if they are just mental vacations every time an REI catalog shows up in the mailbox. She also loves matching hangers.
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