Sparking Joy and Capsule Wardrobes

Cool organizational trends that will have you seeing green
hat and coat hanging on a wall rack
Niik Leuangboriboon/

Last year I cleaned out my closet. I know, give this girl an award, right?!? But I did. I cleaned it out and it changed me. It changed me in a real, visceral way and I feel like I want to share it with the world!

Now, I know we all do it. We take those obligatory bags and boxes to our rooms with the best intentions of purging unworn and unwanted clothing.  And sometimes we actually fill those bags and boxes, donate them, and then feel pretty good about ourselves. But, there still remains those things. You know what I’m talking about: the clothes that don’t really fit, or we don’t love but feel like we should keep, just in case.

Getting down and dirty and taking a long hard look at your wardrobe isn’t for the faint of heart. You’ve gotta be tough, and ruthless, and above all be tough and ruthless. Wait, did I already say that?

Why should you cull your closet?

Here’s the thing: if you’re reading this, chances are you are looking for a way to green up your life. Going green with your wardrobe doesn’t only mean buying ethically sourced, organically produced, and socially responsible clothing. Don’t get me wrong, doing so is totally awesome, but greening up your wardrobe is also about purchasing less, and taking care of what you do have. Holding a moratorium on clothing purchases takes some pressure off the fast fashion industry. If everyone bought 10 fewer items of clothing a year, imagine how many sweatshops would close down and how many millions of tons of oil wouldn’t have to be mined and produced in order to ship those t-shirts and shoes across the world to your local mall! And if you were to repair a sweater fray or fallen hem instead of donating and replacing the item, then you would be purchasing even fewer items of clothing. The point is, a green wardrobe doesn’t only have to involve large sweeping gestures; sometimes it's the small, quiet, simple things that can have the greatest impact.

Sparking Joy and the Organized Closet

When I culled my wardrobe, I was determined to end the cycle of mindlessly adding things to my already full closet. I chose a time when the house was quiet and no one would interrupt me. I turned on some music, took a deep breath, and I yanked everything out of my closet. Every. Single.Thing. I considered each piece for a moment and then it went into one of three piles: Keep, Maybe, and Donate. I didn’t overthink my decisions; I just went with my gut. By the time I was done my donate pile took up most of the bed and my maybe and keep piles combined, consisted of a grand total of 15 items. Amazing and utterly terrifying. But I wasn’t entirely surprised.

I had taken the time to actually consider each piece and ask myself some honest questions: Do I wear it? Do I need it? Does it spark joy? Yup, does it spark joy? I know what you’re thinking: that is potentially the hippiest thing I’ve ever heard, I mean, who finds joy in their clothing? We all should, according to Mari Kondo, anyway.

In her bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, organizational expert Mari Kondo, outlines the concept of finding joy in what you have. Based in part on Japanese values, Kondo emphasizes that organization should be a mindful and conscious way to consider, not only what it is that brings us joy, but also, when it is time to part with those things whose usefulness is over.

It may sound corny, but looking at your closet from the perspective of only keeping those things that spark joy for you can be completely freeing. It means not worrying about peripheries like how much it cost or who gave it to you. It is more instinctual: Do you love it? Does it make you feel good? Does it spark joy?

What You Really Need In Your Closet 

Keeping only what sparks joy in my closet helped me find my style. After my closet purge, I realized a lot of things. About the way I saw myself. About my impulse purchases. About the sales rack deals I couldn’t pass up even if they didn’t fit or didn’t flatter. About the jeans that always had to be yanked up, and the sweaters that itched, pulled, and made me sweat.  I had been filling my closet with things I didn’t particularly like or feel comfortable in. No wonder I always felt like I had nothing to wear!

The handful of pieces I chose to keep were the ones that I wore most, suited me best, and made me happy. They were the root of my style, and strangely enough, could be mixed-and-matched in themselves to create quite a few outfits. This was an epiphany for me, because I had never really considered what I was drawn to when I wasn’t following trends or panic shopping.

With fewer clothes I could actually ask myself, what did I need to round out my closet? What outfits could I build that I could wear to weddings, or parties, or date nights?

And you know what? Instead of feeling anxious at the prospect of having to start over, I felt hopeful when I looked in my empty closet. That empty closet sparked joy for me because I knew that I was ready to make a wearable wardrobe happen!

vintage hangers on rod

Elizabeth Coelfen/Shutterstock

Mixing and matching: fewer pieces, more options

I know it’s hard to imagine, but most people don’t remember every item of clothing you have. Think about it for a moment: think about five people you know and try to itemize their wardrobes. You probably can’t for the most part, save those awesomely unique standout pieces. When I discovered the world of mix and match, I was sold. For me, a capsule wardrobe was the perfect fit for keeping me organized and choosy about what I buy. A capsule wardrobe means a limited number of pieces that are mixed-and-matched to create the maximum amount of outfit options. Because I am confined to a specific number of pieces I can include, I now take the time to consider things like how many t-shirts I actually need or which colours I love that will give me the most mix-and-match options.

My closet might be sparer than it used to be, but I am now confident that there are some pretty great outfits in there just waiting to be worn. They are pieces that I feel comfortable in and can take me pretty much anywhere my life will go (except a royal ball. I may need a fairy godmother for that.) 

Quality over quantity

We’ve all heard that idiom before. But what does it really mean? I had always been of the mind: why have one good pair of jeans when you can have five mediocre pairs? Or why spend $50 on a great shirt when you can spend $50 plus 30% off on ten and only sort of like them for two washes?  I was choosing quantity over quality. That’s why I had a ton of stuff but really nothing to wear. I still try to be frugal, but now I also aim to consider a piece’s wearability. Before, I would shop aimlessly, or I would shop in a panic for a specific function I had to attend. I would end up with items I didn’t really like or didn’t really fit into the rest of my wardrobe. Now though, I am more conscious of my purchases: I mentally show up when I shop and I am more aware of what I buy. I purchase only what I absolutely love, what fits me well, and what will go with the other pieces in my closet. This means saying no to a lot of clothes I like, or returning items I discover don’t actually go with anything I own. I also try to look for sustainably produced clothing. Sometimes it's more expensive, but since I'm buying less, it's justifiable. It is definitely a learning curve, but one I have found takes less time with practice.

Living With Less

This whole process of organizing my closet by keeping what sparks joy, and parting with those pieces that either don’t anymore or never really did, has helped me discover what I truly need in my closet. I truly need a good pair of jeans. I just do. And I’m hopeful one day I’ll find them.

Living with less means being conscious of what items are in my closet. I know, for the most part, what pieces I could add, and what ones are just getting me sidetracked. And because I am making fewer purchases, I am spending less money. Because I am spending less money, I can afford to purchase clothes that are made responsibly and support good work practices. Fast fashion is dependent on our mass consumerism, and by taking a big step back from my previous shopping habits and embracing one that might mean fewer trips to the mall, or spending a bit more on something that I know is eco-friendly, sparks great joy for me.

Ultimately, your wardrobe should be a reflection of you. It should meet your life’s needs. It should spark joy, and make you feel confident and put together. Being conscious of why you are buying something, purchasing only what you totally love, and by choosing more eco-options, you can easily build an organized, loved, and definitely greener wardrobe.

And really, what could be better than that?