A Candid Capsule: Plan and Purge
Fasten your seatbelts, people, this is going to be a rocky road. In preparing to create my capsule, I read a lot of blogs and tutorials and guides about how to capsule, what it is, why to do it, you get the idea. I found a lot of inspiration on a few blogs in particular: Seasons + Salt, Project 333, and Unfancy. I also really enjoyed reading through the backlog of Confidence Tricks, a (slightly out-of-date) blog by the woman who coined the term “capsule wardrobe” herself, Susie Faux. Her blog has some great inspiration not only for creating a capsule, but also on how to simply live and style yourself with confidence and ease. The conclusion I came to after all this research: When it comes to capsuling, there is no perfect method; your primary mission is to create a system that works best for your life.
One of my biggest questions about the capsuling process was “How many pieces will my capsule include?” Most of the sources I read for inspiration said that that number should be somewhere between 30 and 45, with the most common number being 33. But working with the idea that I need to create a capsule that works for my life, I decided that going into it, I wasn’t going to choose a number to aim for. Rather, I was going to cull as much as possible and then meld the remaining pieces into a functional capsule. Another thing I noticed while doing research is that many capsules work on the assumption that you will change pieces out every three months, so your capsule changes with the seasons. This seems like a great idea in theory, but I know it won’t work for me in practice. I wear the same thing almost year round—I wear many of the same dresses and skirt/top combos to work in July as I do in January. I simply layer sweaters and tights when it gets colder. My intention is to create a functional wardrobe for the full year, not something that changes each season. I will have a set of core pieces and allow for a small number of things to remain in “capsule storage”—a capsuled storage system! (How many times can I say “capsule”? Am I getting carried away with this?)
At the beginning of the process, I thought that I would just go through my closet piece by piece by piece. And I did—eventually. But what I found easiest was separating the things I wear most often from everything else. Then I went through the “everything else” pile in order to weed out pieces that might have been buried in the far reaches of my closet, pieces I’d forgotten about and might like to work into my capsule. I made the ubiquitous piles: Keep, Recycle/Donate, Sell, and Gift.
Pile 1: Keep
I began by really assessing my “core” wardrobe pieces. I pulled everything out of my closet that I wear all of the time—the dresses I wear to work and the few things I wear often outside of work (my single pair of jeans, for instance). My first problem was the number of things in my pile: 50. My second problem was the “core” I mentioned in the previous post. Turns out I’ve been lying to myself. Upon further consideration, I do not have as many strong, foundational pieces as I thought. There are some great pieces, but I’ve also got a few duds. (More than a few.)
I revisited the Keep pile after I went through everything else in my closet. I had indeed found a few items that I don’t wear all the time buried in the depths of my closet, but for the most part, I just took the 50 pieces and carefully considered each one. I asked myself the following questions:
- Does this bring me happiness?
- Does this flatter my body type, or do I feel uncomfortable and like I have to adjust myself all the time when I wear it?
- Is this functional—can I wear it to work and then, maybe with a change of shoes or a different necklace, wear it to happy hour?
In the end, I was left with a total of 21 all-the-time items. In addition to these core, year-round pieces, I gave myself 14 seasonal items that I keep in “capsule-storage”. (Feel free to adopt this term. I have yet to trademark it). For example, my spring/summer items include a white dress, a white maxi skirt, and a white midi skirt; I’ve got a thing for white. When fall/winter sets in, I can rotate in my 7 other seasonal items, which mainly includes dresses that pair well with tights. At any given time, I have 28 pieces that make up my new wardrobe. This feels like a good number to me. It gives me the flexibility to add an adequate number of shoes into the capsule and I still feel like I have plenty of options. Looking back, I think I had a slight advantage in forming my capsule: I wear almost exclusively dresses. A dress is a complete outfit, so in some ways, I feel like I have more outfits than if I was more of pants-and-tops kind of woman. Either way, don’t let the number of pieces bog you down and keep you from making progress. There are no hard and fast rules, so do what feels right for your lifestyle.
Pile 2: Recycle/Donate
My decision to create a capsule wardrobe was inspired in part by watching The True Cost documentary. It brought to light the abhorrent conditions and wages of many workers in the apparel industry. And I learned that a huge percentage of the clothing we donate (think Goodwill, Salvation Army) actually ends up being shipped to third-world countries to be resold—or be sent to a landfill. If I donate something to Goodwill, there’s a pretty good chance that my unwanted items will end up overseas somewhere. And that just means that I am contributing to a different kind of problem, passing my own unwanted things on to someone else who doesn’t want them. I found a lot of information and a guide to easy textile recycling at Wearable Collections. They’re based in NYC and are doing some really amazing things. I’m in Boston, though, so had to do a little more digging. The Council for Textile Recycling is a great resource, and while it first tried to direct me to clothing donation centers, I did eventually find some phone numbers for the public works and recycling branches in my area. I’m going to call to find my closest textile recycling center, even if it does take a little extra effort.
During my closet purge, I had to face a hard truth about a hoarding habit: I have 42 t-shirts and sweatshirts from my alma mater. I’ve been moving them around with me since I graduated, which means they’ve lived in six apartments. Clearly, they are sentimental to me. Luckily, these too can be recycled! I’ve just washed them all and will be sending them off to be made into a quilt. There are a number of Etsy shops that will create your quilt for you (some even replicate your campus’s map in the stitching on the back of the quilt!), or you can head to a place like Project Repat, which uses sustainability as a cornerstone of their business.
Finally, I am keeping a small number of things out of my recycling and quilt piles to host a clothing swap. This will give some of my better-quality items the opportunity to live on in someone else’s closet, and eliminate the risk of these items ending up in the exportation/landfill cycle.
Pile 3: Sell
Many of the items in my closet are in disrepair or are of low quality, but I did pull a few things out that have value. I plan to send them into Tradesy and will put the cash they bring in toward the purchase of the (few) things I need to buy in order to round out my capsule wardrobe. Tradesy also notes that they recycle any textiles that they don’t sell within a certain time—so again, I won’t have to worry about my clothes ending up in a landfill somewhere.
Pile 4: Gift
Much like clothing donation, I don’t want to pass my wardrobe problems on to my friends and family. But there are a few things in my collection that I know I could pass on without cluttering my loved ones’ closets. I selected a few hand-me-downs with great care. I have a scarf that a friend gushes over every time I wear it, for example, and a pink down vest that I know my adorable little mother will look great in and that will keep her warm in the New England autumn.
All in all, I think this closet purge and capsule creation was a success. By the numbers, I am getting rid of 2 bulky, navy-blue, shapeless, cowl-necked sweater dresses; 3 bridesmaid dresses; 18 ripped/broken garments (what is wrong with me?!); and 36 things that I can confidently say I haven’t worn for the last year at least. Overall, I am getting rid of (or making into a quilt) more than 120 garments. I am not proud of that number. To me, that number means that I’ve been holding on to far too much for far too long. I have not been intentional with my purchases over the years. I’ve been consuming blindly, and my number one hope for this capsule wardrobe is that it will make me a more conscious consumer.
Yes! I just saw “The True Cost” and was so bothered. I’ve been slowly whittling down my closet, curbing spending, and working on being even more conscientious for the past few years. I love consigning, but was blown away by the damage donations can do! Thank you, Alexandra, for this step by step break down. It’s inspiring!
This is great! I’d love to know which Etsy shop (or whatever) you end up choosing to make your quilt. Would you mind sharing? I have a ton of old t-shirts from my middle school and high school sports days which I’ve been considering making into a quilt myself, but I’m worried it’s a project that will never actually happen … so maybe I should pay someone else to do it.
Hi Sara! I am dragging my feet with the quilt! As I’m sure you’ve noticed, there are SO many Etsy shops making really beautiful t-shirt quilts, but I think I’ve narrowed my choice down to these four:
1. QuiltRich: https://www.etsy.com/shop/QuiltRich
2. ThatsSewFetch: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ThatsSewFetchQandC
3. ConfettiQuilts: https://www.etsy.com/shop/confettiquilts
4. LilBitsofThread: https://www.etsy.com/shop/LilBitsofThread
I’m happy to let you know when I finally choose one and send my shirts away. Thanks for commenting–I followed the link to your blog and have already made your guava marg 🙂 I, too, will ALWAYS choose cake over steak.
Haha aw I’m so glad you made the guava marg!!! Cake over steak forever. Thanks for sharing these links, and yes please do share when you finally choose. 🙂
I also live in Boston and am interested in the clothing/textile donation centers. Did you end up calling them to donate stuff? What did you find? I’m planning on doing another closet purge now that I’m moving into my 4th season doing a capsule wardrobe and would love to have a good place to donate old, beat-up clothes instead of my go-to Goodwill!
Also, you can donate items in good condition to domestic violence shelters and professional clothing items to Dress for Success, an organization that helps low-income/homeless, out of work women get professional clothing for interviews and jobs!
We’re still trying to do some research on this topic, Beck. Clothing recycle centers are hard to find, but we will do our best to start putting resources together, both local and national. And yes, Dress for Success is an amazing organization!
I’ll second Beck’s interest in Boston-area textile recycling options. Please let us know what you learn. Thanks!