Many people think that our business is about helping people let go of unwanted or unneeded possessions. That is certainly one way to look at it – we love a good closet purge, and nothing feels so good as being able to reach into your closet and find the exact item you want to wear.
But if you think about it the way we do, our business isn’t really about telling people what to throw away. It’s about helping individuals connect to what items best help them live their lives – what clothes they feel most confident wearing, which kitchen supplies they love to use when cooking dinner for their families, which towels they love stepping into after a hot bath. These are the things we urge you to hang onto, to cherish, to care for meticulously so they last a lifetime.
Owning Well is about being mindful about each step of ownership – we buy carefully, keeping our needs in mind; we launder our things gently, so they last longer. The final step in this process is knowing when a piece of clothing has served its purpose—in other words, knowing why something has value to you can give you important information about when its not worth keeping.
Here are some guiding principles to follow to develop the muscle of artful keeping:
1. Do not wear damaged, ripped, or stained clothing. Anything you put around your body should be thoughtfully chosen, including your loungewear. If you keep ripped and stained clothing, you will likely pass over them when you go to your closet, and they will just clutter your drawers and closet space. Do not be tempted to donate these items either – they are not in good enough condition. If you are crafty, you can repurpose old t-shirts as rags or an art project, but otherwise they are to be given to a organization that recycles fabric (decreasing the enormous burden of textiles on landfill sites).
2. It is a common mistake to keep clothes that make you feel bad about yourself. While of course it is normal for weight to fluctuate, especially through the seasons, and a size or two of variation is fine and won’t clog up your space too much. But hanging onto clothes four sizes too small or too big with either the hope or fear that you may one day need them is an emotional response, not a logical one. These clothes function as a safety net so you don’t have to experience feelings of fear shopping for a different size. Live in the present with your wardrobe – do not sift through painful reminders every morning as you get dressed, whether they be memories of bigger or smaller years. Collect your clothes that don’t fit and give them a new home through our vast network of donation services NYC has to offer.
3. Keep sentimental things in moderation, and only if they’re built to last. Our co-founder Ann was on the phone with friend and clothing designer Amanda Wakeley when she remarked, “Holding onto anything that isn’t exquisitely designed is a fool’s game.” And we couldn’t agree with her more. Cheap materials and clumsy cuts are simply not worth holding onto past their wearable lifetime. If you wish to hang onto a loved ones clothes that you are not going to wear yourself, make sure you have the space to keep it away from your regular clothes, such as in a bin under a bed or at the top of a closet. Choose one or two pieces that resonate with you. As Ann says, “it may be fabric infused with meaning and memory but it is fabric nonetheless.” To put it into more blunt terms: if no one is wearing it, it is a memento and you don’t want to fill up half your apartment with memories from another person’s life.
4. Be careful about saving items for your children. Ask yourself repeatedly, “Will they want to store this as they get older and move from place to place?” Most clothing does not keep well over multiple generations, so you are better off preserving a modest amount of jewelry and photographs for your kids. These are easier to preserve or display, and the recipient is more likely to use and care for it.
Recently, a Japanese Organizer named Marie Kondo wrote a book called The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, in which she poses a question to her clients about their possessions. “Does it spark joy?” she asks. In our experience, certain things bring us joy. Others are items don’t spark joy, necessarily, but rather bring a great sense of comforting functionality to our lives – the feeling you get when it’s wet and cold outside and you reach for a pair of rain boots that you just know will keep your feet warm and dry. While we may easily choose to keep an item because it is joyful, it is more difficult to strategize how much cold medicine to keep in your cabinets, when it’s time to replace the mattress pad, or when your gym shirts have become too ratty – the necessities of life rather than its pleasures.
Although these decisions seem light, they are endless and can stack up on you. Avoiding the feeling that you’re drowning in the logistics of life is only possible if you tease out a strategy before decisions start building.
So start now, from the beginning. Cut the fat from your closet. Buy intelligently. Keep less. Live better.