Living With a Tiny Closet

My house was built in 1930, an era when people did not accumulate quite so much stuff. In particular, I suspect the 1930 wardrobe was quite a bit less varied than today’s, because my closet is about the size of a refrigerator.

My friend Nyla recently asked me, “How do you do it? You are always wearing something different.  My husband wears purple shirts 90% of the time and our closet is twice the size of your’s and we don’t have enough room!”

The first and most important part of my closet-management system is: I wear all my clothes.  All of them. There cannot be anything in my closet taking up space that I don’t wear.  To keep track I use a very basic, no-decisions-needed system.

My husband does the laundry. Our closet door is in front of the right-most section of the closet, which is about 1.5 times the width of the door. Brian hangs his own clothes in the rightmost section of the closet and feeds in my clean clothes immediately to the left of them.  I then always pick what I’m going to wear for the day from the last three items on the leftmost side of the closet. Right-in, Left-out. I don’t have to look at more than three things to pick my outfit for the day and I eventually wear everything with a wardrobe-full gap between repeats.*

“But how do you wear coordinated outfits that way?” Nyla asked. “Do you store the bottom and top on the same hanger? But I’ve seen you wear that skirt with different blouses.”

The exception to the right-in, left-out rule are my skirts and pants. These I keep on two multi-garment hangers between my clothes and Brian’s. It’s like the Great Wall of Bottom Wear.  Blouses are fed in just like the dresses, and when a blouse gets to the back of the closet, I then select a bottom to go with it.

The second major part of my wardrobe is that I have Regular Purges.

Twice a year, I rotate out my cold-and-warm weather clothes. It is a big fat pain and yes it took me a long time to commit to this but it was either that or drop half my clothes.

So in the fall, I bring my Cold Weather clothes down from the attic where they have spent all summer in a plastic tub with only a lavender sachet for company.  I dump the tub out on the bed and then I turn to my closet, systematically pulling out anything that isn’t wearable in cold weather.

Now, as I pull things out I pay especial attention to the back of the closet. Are there things I skipped over all summer? They get dropped immediately in the good will bag.

Everything I store has to fit in the one tub, so if things don’t fit, I sacrifice the least-liked clothes.  (I also confess that I’ll leave a few summer clothes in the closet all winter just in case I get swept away to a tropical island. You never know. I also keep a few sweaters in the summer because you can still get chilly!)

I like warm-weather clothes more, so I have more of them, but it balances out because cold-weather clothes take up more room individually.  About a quarter of my wardrobe is legitimately all-year.  My business suits. My blazers. My long skirts.

The important thing is to prioritize clothes you actually wear, and not to load up on clothes you don’t.  I also have a strict ‘one in, one out’ rule which… sometimes I am less strict on. But if I buy a new item of clothing, it has to meet an uncovered niche in my wardrobe, or the old niche-coverer is out.

“You really need to blog this,” Nyla said.

So… here ya go! Hope it is a boon to small closet havers.


*Exceptions: I wear the closest-to-the-back pink dress on Wednesdays and sometimes I’ll bump a dress up in order if a particular weather or event demands.  Like if I’m depressed I’ll wear my swooshy skirt.

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