Discover your style to keep clutter out of your closet

On page 23 of Unclutter Your Life in One Week, I promote the idea of discovering your style to help you keep clutter out of your closets. If your closet is limited to clothes that fit, clothes you want to wear, and clothes that project your desired image, you’re less likely to find yourself overbuying or with a mess you can’t control:

You may not know exactly what you want your clothes to say about you, but you probably have a good idea what you don’t want them to say. When I was in my twenties and leading a forum on school uniform policies, a group of high school students told me I dressed like a “frumpy pants.” It was a few seconds after that moment that I decided I didn’t want my clothes to say that I was a “frumpy pants.”

Years later, after reading Carrie McCarthy and Danielle LaPorte’s book Style Statement, I figured out a more proactive concept for my wardrobe choices. I’ve found that having a defined style has made it a lot easier to keep clutter out of my wardrobe. Nothing comes into my wardrobe that doesn’t project my image.

I like to think of my wardrobe as being an exclusive club that only the best of the best can get into. I’m the bouncer, and I get to decide what items make it past the red velvet rope, and what items don’t.

I’m not a fashionista, and if you knew me in the world beyond the computer screen you would probably laugh at the suggestion that I even think about my clothing. I predominantly wear solid colors. I have three of the exact same dress in black, gray, and white. I have three styles of t-shirts in four colors (black, gray, white, and navy blue). I have three pair of black pants from the same manufacturer but in different cuts. And, I look nice in these things. They work for me. They say, “uncluttered,” which is what I want them to say. Clothes that say, “complicated” or “fussy” don’t make it past the imaginary red velvet rope into my closet.

Discover your style, stay true to it, and get the pieces of clothing that don’t represent you out of your wardrobe. If you don’t know your style, check out the following resources:

  • Carrie McCarthy and Danielle LaPorte’s book Style Statement, which I mentioned earlier. Most of the images in the book are female-focused, but men can get just as much out of the text.
  • A lot of my female friends swear by The Lucky Guide to Mastering Any Style. Only 10 styles are in the book, and they’re all female styles, so it’s not a comprehensive text.
  • As far as men’s fashion goes, I like Details Men’s Style Manual. It starts with the extreme basics and moves on from there.

31 Comments for “Discover your style to keep clutter out of your closet”

  1. posted by valletta on

    I totally agree with this post!
    In addition I would say know what colors look best on you. This will save tons of time and money. (If you are interested you are also able to shop thrift stores well if you know your colors, since most stores are organized this way.)
    I know that I personally cannot wear anything red, orange or yellow. Period.
    I’m also very broad shouldered and ahem, busty. That eliminates 90% of the trendy stuff out there.
    I find there are a couple of styles that work on my top half and I stick with those, change accessories, colors and no one is the wiser. I feel comfortable and stylish.

    I would also recommend reading Nina Garcia’s The 100, which is basically a list of the classic 100 items that she feels a stylish person might have. It’s a great list. Mostly classics, with little anecdotes thrown in. Google The 100 and there are a few blogs out there that have typed up the list for you….

  2. posted by Mike on

    If uncluttering and long-term reusability are the key criteria, it’s all about blue jeans and concert tees. They NEVER go out of style. And best of all, the older a concert tee gets, the more prestigious it becomes! Until it wears out, anyway. The oldest tee I have that’s still in crisp shape is from +Live+’s 1999 “The Distance to Here” tour.

    Alas, corporate culture is still stuck in the 1950s. Or, to be fairer, the 1990s — business casual seems pretty prevalent once you get away from the Atlantic seaboard. I guess we’ll only get to reap the convenience of concert-casual during off hours.

  3. posted by Meghan on

    Yes! Buy quality over quantity. Go for classic pieces. Don’t follow trends that don’t flatter you. Know your body and what shapes work for you. Wear at least one special/interesting piece in every outfit! Color, texture, pattern, shine!

    These are all things I learned from watching What Not to Wear. Great lessons to be learned on that show!

  4. posted by Loren on

    I read the post about a basic wardrobe when I first got my new ‘business casual’ job. I thought the idea of just blacks and grays to be to stark for me. But I have become very exclusive about what comes into my ‘Club Closet’. I trimmed down my wardrobe to things that I love and never hesitate to throw on.
    I was afraid for a while that I might own to many dresses (about 10). But I wear them ALL and my closet isn’t to full, I can still find everything and I think they are all flattering.

    However I have a friend who still buys me lots of ‘ironic’ t-shirts that are a size to big for me (in all fairness I dressed this way exclusively when we met in high school). I can never decide when it is ok to give them away. I settled on as long as I have 2 in my closet somewhere that I still occasionally throw on it’s ok. Neither of them is my favorite shirt, but it’s good to have a ‘laundry day’ outfit.

  5. posted by Alix on

    I LOVE the idea of a Club Closet!

  6. posted by Beth on

    I’ll add on: Easy care. I have three-year-old twins and I’m clumsy, so I often end up with food, dirt, and other assorted “stuff” on my clothes. I also travel a lot for work. I don’t have time to hand wash or iron. I love stuff that doesn’t stain, and that looks good coming out of a suitcase.

    I am a professional in a male-dominated field, in a male-dominated industry, and a male-dominated company. My “uniform” consists of black pants, no-iron, button-down shirts, shaped jackets, and accssorized with scarves and stylish shoes… Although, if I know I will be on my feet most of the day, I may compromise on the style of the shoes.

  7. posted by Suzyn on

    I agree with Valetta! Having a defined color palette is incredibly helpful! Not only can you be pretty well assured that everything in your closet will mix together, it saves a lot of time in stores. Since many stores have their own defined palette, you can pretty much tell at a glance if anything in there will work (or more accurately won’t work) for you. If you see some or all of your colors, then it’s worth venturing in and trying stuff on. (BTW, my colors are red white and blue, with yellow and black as accents. I saved myself a lot of frustration when I got rid of all the green and beige in my closet!)

    I would add to Erin’s list Tim Gunn: A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style.

  8. posted by Emily on

    I started Style Statement just before the holidays and am finally to the “worksheet” section. Can’t wait to figure out my own Style Statement and start decluttering my closet–and my life!

  9. posted by chacha1 on

    My “business casual” standbys are Lucy “everyday pants” in four colors, Nike slimline leather sneakers in black and brown, and a range of tops (from tees to French-cuffed tailored shirts to sweaters). The pants and shoes are pricey (my sneaks are now 6+ years old and need to be replaced, alas!) so I buy mostly inexpensive tops and cycle them out regularly.

    This everyday look works for me because the most noticeable thing about me is my long red hair (thanks to Garnier). And since I’m sitting in a cubicle all day, a) mostly people only see my face and b) it’s important to be comfortable.

    I also have some dressier slacks and skirts for variety. My work wardrobe takes up 1/3 of my closet and the rest is full of dancewear. 🙂

    My one “rule” is that clothes must be washer-safe. I can hang-dry things overnight in our climate, but I haven’t had to dry-clean anything for years and intend to never do so again.

  10. posted by J on

    While I do agree with most of this. Buy clothes that fit you, project a desired image, know what colors suit you, etc. You don’t seem to leave much room for variation and evolution.

    I don’t always want to project the same image. That way you’ll end up in a single compartment. People will think you’re too uptight or to sloppy. Don’t get me wrong, all the pieces and details of an outfit should match and complement each other. Or if they don’t you should at least be aware of which rules you’re breaking and do it on purpose!

    One day I might feel like wearing a dress shirt and tie, and the following day a band T-shirt and worn jeans. As long as the dress code allows it, why limit yourself to one style? Both outfits can look great, but it does require a larger wardrobe to keep it uncluttered. You’ll probably wanna use different bags, shoes, watches, etc. to both outfits.

    Knowing what suits you takes practice. You can often easily spot the guy who’s not used to wearing a suit. The sloppy ironing of the shirt, the mismatched shoes or perhaps just the lack of confidence. This might be extra obvious with suits and all their associated rules, but the same thing goes for all styles.

    If one wants to work with, and quickly get accepted by all kinds of classes and cultures. One needs a versatile wardrobe. When building a wardrobe with multiple styles you will undoubtedly stumble upon a few pieces that doesn’t really work for you, but you’ll learn from your mistakes and avoid making them when it actually counts.

  11. posted by JLBanker on

    Thanks. For the most part I had a “uniform” but I had a few clothes that didn’t fit into “my style” and I had a few that I was holding onto that were too big for me. After reading your book I thinned it down to the essentials and got rid of the rest. It is so much easier to decide what I want to wear.

  12. posted by allen on

    I like the idea of this, but do these books guide you if you’re a man in your late twenties, back in college to finish a degree, not sure where you’re going after this, and live in Wisconsin now?

    I don’t know what cloths will say, what i want them to say, & so on. I do know that I am apparently not telling what I _would_ like, but am putting of vibes that cut-down on my date-ability?

  13. posted by Sally F on

    I discovered my Style Statement in 2008 and my closet has never looked better. After weeding out the chaff, I went “shopping” among the accessories I already owned and created outfits that would not have occurred to me before SS. These “new” outfits are now some of my favorites.

  14. posted by Kathryn Fenner on

    Allen– May I suggest you make friends with your local haberdasher/upscale men’s store, or a Nordstrom if one is near you? They can help you find looks that flatter you, work for your lifestyle and suit local tastes. Buy a couple of outfits, maybe, from them, just in fairness. Then you can buy similar styles in the same upscale makers on eBay, if you need to save money.

  15. posted by Kathryn Fenner on

    Style Statement at Amazon is now about $6…

    BTW, I sprung for Amazon Prime, because I buy a lot on Amazon but didn’t want to pay the higher postage and ended up buying more stuff just to make up a $25 order. I think it has paid for itself.

  16. posted by DJ on

    Today’s post got me thinking and upon further thinking, I went online to see if there are companies that will make T-shirt quilts for you. Yay! There are. I am seriously thinking about boxing up all my old tees and sending them off to be made into a cozy quilt for my bed.

  17. posted by Scarlett on

    Thank you for highlighting the importance of only having in your closet what fits and flatters not only your body, but who you are as well. As a professional Image Consultant I love showing my clients how having less in their closets, can actually provide them more choices as to what to wear and save them time and money by guiding them towards making better choices when they shop.

  18. posted by Another Deb on

    My Style Statement says “Orthodics”. The three pairs of shoes that work with the orthodic shoe inserts and match most things in the closet determine what I wear. Since they are all boring sensible shoes, I am wearing black pants and basic tops all of the time. It makes each day’s wardrobe choice both simple and frustrating, since I feel like I wear the same things all of the time. I have a neck badge so I don’t use scarves or necklaces. Any wrist jewelery adds distraction to my lesson so, no bracelets.

    When I lost a lot of weight a few years ago, I shopped the Goodwill in order to try lots of styles for very little money. I recommend this kind of experimentation for those who don’t want to end up with a lot of clothes they feel “obligated to” in case things don’t work out. Donate them back!

    Has anyone else ever noticed that cellulite can produce noticible topography through any color of slacks, even if they are the right size? Only black pants absorb some of that lumpiness. Some.

  19. posted by Christine on

    Three Cheers for Goodwill and Value Village! I’m reading the above posts and thinking…I’ll do a wardrobe overhaul in a few years. I’m keeping almost EVERYTHING in my closet until I’m done having kids (one more will make three!) and I’m at a weight I like. It isn’t practical to get rid of anything when I might need it, if only for a month or two before or after maternity clothes. Squeezing into too-tight clothes or having pants droop b/c they’re too big is no fun!

  20. posted by Jen on

    @ Another Deb Try a heavier pant fabric, it does wonders for lumps and bumps. A darkish navy is a good alternative to black, as well. I agree with trying different styles at thrift/secondhand stores – very economical.

  21. posted by Zengirl on

    Interesting thoughts. I will have to try it out. I usually get rid of following ways

    1. Something I have not worn in 1 year.
    2. Does not fit me.
    3. I do not care for it, some one else does.

  22. posted by Angela on

    The best way to de-clutter your closet is to ONLY have clothes in that fit you NOW. Today. No more “saving” jeans that are going to fit one day in the future. If/ when you lose weight, you can buy new clothes.

  23. posted by Jenn on

    One more idea for those who are fashionistas but trying to unclutter…
    Rent the Runway ( has been a fun way to consider trying some outrageous styles, and then sending them back! I wish this service existed for business wear too. There are few times when I need a nice skirt suit, but I hang on to those I have because I can’t do without them entirely.

  24. posted by Cheryl on

    Great suggestions – thanks for posting!

  25. posted by April on

    A friends lent me the book What Not To Wear and it was so helpful! I already know what colors and prints I like, but because of my body shape/quirks I had trouble finding clothes that flattered my figure. This helped.

    It’s not a perfect book, especially since they only use two models (the authors) and so some of their “problem areas” that they showed as examples weren’t really a problem for them, so it was hard to see how one outfit was better than the other. But overall it was a great basic how-to.

  26. posted by April on

    Typos in my last comment…

    * “A friend lent…”
    * Missing link:
    * And an apology for the run-on sentence!

  27. posted by Carrie McCarthy on

    Hi Erin,

    Great post. I especially like the metaphor,like Alix, of your closet as an exclusive club.

    I wanted to add that once people embrace their Style Statements, they tend to find more, rather than less, fashion that feels good on them. A Style Statement is very freeing, because it points the way to clothing and other style expressions that reflect who we truly are, while at the same time helping us know immediately what DOESN’T work. It makes going shopping so much easier–and more fun!

    One more thing: comfort is important. If you look at people who carry themselves well and wear their clothes beautifully, you’ll notice most of all that they’re comfortable in what they’re wearing–they’re not self-conscious. They trust their clothing to speak for them, to convey their unique spirit. As a result, they convey confidence (always attractive, always compelling).

    Btw, now is a great time to get a Style Statement done via personal session with me – we have a seasonal special on till Valentine’s Day! Check it out at



  28. posted by Ruth Hansell on

    @Another Deb, I wear a short brace on my right foot. There is only one shoe that accomodates the brace, a Hush Puppy, and it only comes in black and a very unappealing putty. So, shoe shopping is pretty easy for me!

    For business wear, I have black pants, dark gray, dark brown, and navy pants. I can wear many, many options with those colors and look pretty darn snazzy. I’m overweight, as well, but I can look polished and professional. Nice earrings, a few different jackets that I’m comfortable in, etc, and I’m good to go.

    I’m going to do the Goodwill trip next week, to build up a spring wardrobe. I’ve got a few nice pieces from Coldwater Creek – a little pricey for me, but they’ll last forever, and it is absolutely heavenly to have a saleswoman get the next size up or down for you AND give you a kind but true assesment of how you look.

  29. posted by Maggie Ruth on

    I highly recommend reading The Lucky Guide to Shopping Manual. It gives you advise on who to take shopping with and who to not. As well as, what to include in your wardrobe. I used to be a personal shopper and used this book as literally my “manual.”

  30. posted by Tracy W on

    I’ve tried being very minimalistic about my wardrobe and only buying clothes that fit with something I already own. After about two years I realised that everything in my wardrobe looked the same. Which was boring. So now I allow myself some variety.

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