Revisiting Your Evening Wear

My niece is getting married next month, and I have been planning what to wear. I rarely get a chance to dress up, so it has been fun reminding myself what I already own.

If you are a longtime reader of my organizing tips, you’ll know that I advocate getting rid of any item of clothing that you haven’t worn in one year — with one exception. That exception is dressy clothing, because you don’t always have the need to wear them every year. However, I provide two conditions for keeping them: they must still be in style, and they must still fit you.

I have three nice dresses in my closet that would be suitable for the wedding, and I’m pretty sure I know which one I will wear. So I started thinking about the rest of the outfit.

I bought a pair of sexy black sandals back in 2013 for a family wedding. My feet are hard to fit, so I went to a shop that features a lot of comfy brands. I was impressed with this fashionable style and also impressed with the different ways to customize the fit of the shoe. I wore them to that wedding and then again in 2014 for another family wedding. I probably haven’t worn them since then.

I tried them on recently, and even though they still looked great, I was reminded that they were really not that comfortable for an entire evening. So I ordered some sandals online and decided on a fun (but comfortable) pair of gold sandals. As for the sexy black ones, I gave them away on Buy Nothing. Good riddance! Life is too short to wear uncomfortable shoes, no matter how sexy they look.

A few days ago, I started thinking about what handbag to wear. I have a few dressy handbags that I keep wrapped in tissue paper in my closet. It has been so long since I dressed up that I didn’t even remember what they looked like! I unwrapped them this morning, and at least two of them are good options for this outfit — maybe all three — so I think I’m covered there as well.

When I’m working with clients on reviewing their handbags, we inevitably come across the stash of dressy purses. Many of them were inherited from mothers or grandmothers, and clients are reluctant to part with them, even if the purses are in disrepair. I have developed a good rule of thumb to help clients decide: is it big enough to hold your smart phone?

Back when our mothers and grandmothers dressed up, they probably took along their lipstick and a few other small things. They didn’t have to worry about smart phones. But most of us will take our smart phone with us even to a wedding, especially if we plan to take photos. So give your dressy purses the smart phone test, and give away any that are too small to fit your phone, not matter how cute the bag is.

So here’s my bottom line on dressy clothes and accessories. You have my permission to keep them even if you haven’t worn them in more than a year (assuming they still fit and are still in style), but you should still review them every year and be honest about what you are likely to wear in the future. Uncomfortable shoes and tiny purses: be gone with you!

Space as a Finite Resource

I think we are all used to the idea of money as a finite resource. But space is a finite resource as well — not just for those of us who live in small homes, but for everyone. Even if you have an attic, basement, or garage to stash the stuff you aren’t using, eventually it will be so full that you will have to deal with it.

One way to avoid coming up against space limitations is to use them as an ally and not an enemy. Use space to help determine how much you own.

Here’s an example of this. I love cardigan sweaters. (For those of you not up on your fashion terms, a cardigan sweater is a sweater that opens in the front, as opposed to a pullover.) I wear them over turtlenecks in the winter, and I carry one with me in the summer to combat over-cooled restaurants and subway trains. But I can’t have an unlimited number of cardigan sweaters because space is finite resource.

So I have allocated one — and only one — drawer in my dresser for my beloved cardigans. That drawer is always full. If I decide to buy another sweater, I need to figure out which sweater to get rid of. Embracing my space limitations forces me to make choices, which is the key to avoiding clutter. And I can always find the sweater I’m looking for, because they are limited to just one place.

You can apply this method to anywhere in your home. When your bookcases are full and you want to buy another book, figure out which book(s) to give away. Don’t start putting books somewhere else (where you will never find them again) or lay them horizontally across the standing books or start another row of books in front of the existing books. That, my friend, is clutter.

Once you’ve allocated the space for a particular type of item, stick with it. If it’s something that gets used up — like toilet paper or breakfast cereal — you will easily be able to see when you are running low and need to buy more. If it’s something that doesn’t get used up — like handbags or neckties — having a limited number will enable you to find what you are looking for faster and more easily.

Another Way to Donate Clothes

I last wrote about Vietnam Veterans of America in 2011. At that time, they still were picking up clothing donations in NYC. They no longer do that, but they have offered a wonderful alternative.

Go to their Happy Donations website to print out a free shipping label. Fill a box with clothing, shoes, jewelry, and/or accessories. Add the label and take the box to a UPS store. You can also give the box to a UPS driver or leave it any other place that UPS picks up, like your office mail room or with the doorman of your apartment building. Vietnam Veterans of America will send you a tax deduction receipt for the items you donate.

If you live in other parts of the country, Vietnam Veterans of America may still pick up your donations. Go to their Donate page, click “Donate Clothing & Household Items”, and enter your zip code to find out.



Get a Fabric Recycling Bin in Your Building

The laundry room of my apartment building is not a place that usually fills me with glee. However, I recently went down there for my weekly laundry routine and was delighted to find a clothing donation bin! It is part of a program called refashionNYC that is a joint venture between the NYC Department of Sanitation and the charity HousingWorks.

In addition to clothing, shoes, accessories, and linens, we can deposit fabrics for recycling, even though they might only be reusable as rags. This will keep fabrics out of the landfill.

Would you like to have a bin in your NYC building?  See this page on the Department of Sanitation site for more info, and for access to the on-line application.

Know Your Style


The inimitable Iris Apfel

Last week, I watched a documentary about the style icon Iris Apfel. She is an interior designer who has amassed a collection of one-of-a-kind clothing which she pairs with gobs of unusual jewelry pieces. Her sense of style is so unique that the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute featured her collection in an exhibit in 2005. According to Wikipedia, “Apfel consults and lectures about style and other fashion topics”. By the way, she is 95 years old.

I was fascinated by the close-up portrait of the inimitable Iris Apfel. I think it was her confidence that I found so compelling. She is not afraid to wear something unusual, or to pair together several pieces of oversized jewelry. Her outfits have an inevitability to them — they look like they were destined to go together.

Fascinated as I was, I also knew that this is not a style that would work for me. Iris clearly has the energy and the interest to shop for unusual items, and the patience to experiment with matching up different pieces. I like my wardrobe to be comfortable and easy. And I hate shopping!

This was brought home to me a few days ago. Now that the weather is cooling off,  I am moving into my fall wardrobe.  I put on a shirt that I had not worn in a few months. I perused my jewelry collection to find a piece that would complement the open neckline, and selected a necklace that consists of four separate strands with silver and clear beads on it. Every time I looked in the mirror, I felt compelled to straighten out the strands, which had a tendency to get tangled up in each other. Within a few hours, I took that necklace off and put it in a pile of items to be donated. I also took a similar necklace and added that one to the pile. They are just too complicated for me!

The next day, I took the opportunity to rearrange my necklaces now that two of the more voluminous ones had been removed. (They hang on a contraption in my closet that was actually designed to hold belts or ties.) The end result is that it is now easier for me to see all of my necklaces. I was much happier knowing that I could more easily reach the ones that do work for me.

Does your wardrobe consist of aspirational items that really don’t match your style? It’s important for you to understand what you will really wear and what you won’t. Clearing away the items that aren’t truly “you” will make it easier for you to see and wear the items that do match your true sense of style.