Marie Kondo tidied my closet.
But now what do I wear?
Three years ago, after reading Marie Kondo’s best seller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” — I decluttered my apartment. After “Kondo-ing” my entire space, getting rid of anything that didn’t spark joy, I felt a sense of calm that I had never before experienced. I started telling everyone I knew about Marie Kondo’s book and approach. My home and my life had literally been transformed. And nowhere was the transformation more obvious than in my closet.
A former fast-fashion junkie, I previously had a closet jam-packed with low-quality clothes that didn’t look great on me and definitely didn’t go together. I owned so many clothes, that I was constantly struggling to pick out an outfit from the chaos. I often found myself surprised when I would locate a shirt hiding in the mess that I had forgotten that I even owned! (Ahh! Yes! Blue polka dot top, you were super cute that one time I wore you! I can’t believe I forgot about you!)
After my Kondo-inspired transformation, suddenly my closet was no longer a chaotic mess. My closet was beautiful! I had gone from over 200 items in my closet to around 70. I actually had breathing space. Amazing! I was feeling the joy! But then…
It took less than 24 hours for the joy to wear off.
I realized it the next morning. I walked to my closet to pick out an outfit, and I was stumped. These items had “sparked joy” in me yesterday. So why was I struggling to find an outfit? The answer, it turned out, is clothes are complex.
These weren’t just objects in my house, like a teapot, or a candle, or a pillow. These items were meant to be worn, on my body, out into the world. They are an external expression of me! And not only that, but an outfit is made up of more than one item at a time, often 5–8 items need to be worn at once! This is a complicated proposition! And then throw in the issue of fit, weight fluctuation, and body image. It’s no wonder it’s difficult to pick out an outfit.
I was a bit disappointed, but I didn’t panic. I realized that the KonMari method had helped me immensely, but that in the big picture of building a wardrobe that worked for me, it had really only helped kickstart my journey. I needed to make a few logical jumps from Kondo’s tidying principles to my own wardrobe building principles. And that’s exactly what I did.
My Approach to Building a Wardrobe that Sparks Joy
1. I Tried on Everything!
For me, an item can’t truly spark joy until I try it on. Sure, I can get a sense if I like the fabric or details by holding it and looking at it, but ultimately clothes are meant for wearing. So for me, I decided that I would never make a decision to keep a clothing item without trying it on. It’s amazing how the moment an item is on your body it really comes to life. In that moment, when you first glance in the mirror, it was much easier for me to know immediately if that item “sparked joy.”
2. I Chose My “Wardrobe Heroes”
As I tried the items on, I looked for the ones that 1) sparked joy 2) fit well, and 3) I reached for often! How do you know if you reach for an item often? Check your hamper. The items that end up in the hamper the most often, are likely your wardrobe heroes. After I chose my wardrobe heroes, I put them at the front of my closet, where I could reach them easily. There happened to be 21 items. I started dressing in only these 21 items for about a month. It was amazing. Suddenly, it was incredibly easy to get dressed because I had curated a collection to choose from. I started taking note of why these items worked for me — Was it the color? Was it the versatility? Was it the fabric? Was it easy to layer?
Note: Even though I only dressed in 21 items for a month, I didn’t toss the rest of the 70 items, I let them stay for a bit in the back of my closet. They sparked joy, after all.
3. I Found My “Wardrobe Gaps”
A month of wearing only 21 items was like a cleanse. It helped me imagine what life could be like if every item I wore was a wardrobe hero. It also helped me realize the gaps in my wardrobe — the items that I needed for my particular lifestyle but didn’t own. These gaps tended to exist for one of two reasons. 1) Because I had thrown them away in the Kondo-ing process (which is ok! I had thrown it away because I didn’t like it, so now was my chance to replace it with a version I DO like). Or 2) Because I had NEVER owned that type of item, and had previously just been “getting by.”
I wrote down my list of wardrobe gaps, and prioritized them. This became my shopping list. I didn’t, however, go out and buy everything at once. I made this a long-term list, with the goal of slowly acquiring one item at a time. And I started to do my shopping in a radically different way from my previous life. I won’t get into it here, but if you’re interested in how I turned my approach to shopping on its head, you can check out this other post I wrote — Shopping That Sparks Joy.
Note: What about those items in the back of my closet? Well, I revisited them to see if they could help fill the wardrobe gaps, not a single one did. Suddenly, they didn’t spark as much joy anymore. My bar for what “sparked joy” had been raised. Over the next few months it would become incredibly easy to part with them.
I’m Constantly Raising the Bar for What “Sparks Joy”
This was not an overnight process. I am constantly tuning and refining. But three years later, I have a wardrobe that I love, works for my lifestyle, is high-quality, fits well, and most importantly that I feel comfortable in while expressing my best self to the world. That’s a high bar indeed. But what I’ve found is that by constantly raising the bar for what items I let into my wardrobe, I have been able to slow down drastically in how much I acquire. I now treat my closet like an exclusive collection, and only the most worthy items are allowed in. And overall, I spend way less time thinking about what to wear, and more time enjoying what I wear.
So thank you, Marie Kondo, for getting me started, and changing my life in more ways than one. I now spend my time and energy helping others tame the closet chaos and build a curated wardrobe. And it’s incredibly fulfilling to see what they get out of their transformations. And that’s a type of joy that’s more than just a spark.