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A funny thing has been happening lately; people have been complimenting me on my outfits. Me: the one who wears yoga pants and pretends they are “professional attire.” Who always grabs the ugly, frumpy dress because it’s easy and won’t require dry cleaning when I inevitably spill pasta sauce on it. And me: the one who has been known to wear sneakers with dresses because I walk to work.

The first time it happened I looked behind me because surely they weren’t talking to me. But then I looked down and had noticed I had put on a cute outfit that day. After a silent pat on the back I chalked it up as a lucky break. Eventually I had to put on a decent outfit, right? And then it happened again – in a different group of people – so this was no fluke.

That’s when I remembered my recent closet purge. How could I forget? In a flurry I had taken everything I didn’t love, or couldn’t find things to match and triumphantly put them in the “donate” bag. At the time it felt good, I just had no idea it would make be a better dresser.

Backing up a bit, I had recently finished a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.  Don’t worry, this isn’t a book review. But her book did help me de-clutter my apartment (and surprisingly my life) with her practical and unique tips. In a mad flurry I went through everything I owned either donating or throwing away most of my stuff while my husband looked on, clutching his belongings tighter. And while Marie does talk about cleaning out your closet, she always connected it to bringing me more joy (which it did) and not that it would make me a better dresser.

In fact, my closet was the last part of my apartment I tackled with her tips. First, I felt like I didn’t have that many clothes to begin with; even before reading her book I was pretty minimalistic. Second, I was only supposed to keep everything I loved, but I didn’t love a lot of things in my closet, and therefore feared I would have nothing to wear.

I almost felt like I didn’t deserve an entire wardrobe I loved. It’s expensive, and most days no one sees me except my husband, my co-workers and maybe the woman who works at the Post Office. Why waste a good outfit then? I needed ones that I could wash and wear and just not care.

That’s not to say I didn’t have cute clothes. It’s funny, the more I got rid of the old and ugly brown dresses, the more cute sweaters from JCrew and pretty little skirts from Loft I found hidden behind them. Clothes I bought knowing they were adorable but never felt like I earned the right to wear them. But somehow buying them and letting them sit in my closet – unused – made me feel better. That is until I read the Magic of Tidying Up book and had an epiphany.

One day I grabbed a brown dress that I probably wore once a week, but truly hated, and thought, “Why am I keeping this?”  I decided I’d rather have fewer items, but love every piece in my closet, then extras I don’t like or even need.

So I purged. Gone went sweaters covered in fuzz that I kept because they were warm. Gone was that yellow sweater that washed me out but I kept wearing because it never wrinkled. Gone even was the silk nautical shirt I always got compliments on, but never knew what to wear with it, so always felt awkward when I did.

What I was left with were items that I individually loved, and surprisingly went well together. Why did I never think to put my black leggings with that oversized fall sweater? They were so perfect; it was so easy.

I also discovered a few other unintended effects of purging my closet.

First, it goes without saying that if you only keep everything you love, you will love every item in your closet.

Second, putting together outfits is so much simpler now. As I purged I only kept items that easily matched other items (think neutrals) and therefore, more of my tops automatically go with more of my bottoms.

Third, it saves me money! Yes, I actually buy fewer clothes. Now before I hand over my card I ask myself whether it will go with a majority of the rest of the items in my closet. If not, I no longer see it being worth the money, knowing I will probably love it, but never wear it.

Fourth, I appreciate what I have more. It’s funny, but when you have fewer things, you appreciate them more. Almost like being flooded with material items forces you to lose appreciation for them. These minimalists may be onto something.

And lastly, it has boosted my confidence. A good outfit will do that. Now when someone says, “I love your outfit!” I just smile and say, “Thank you. Me too.”

Sarah Althouse

Sarah is a Buffalo transplant living in Washington, D.C. with her husband Josh and cat Squeakers. By day she work as a Communications Director for a Member of Congress; by night she dreams of being Martha Stewart. She also loves pigs, peonies, politics and peanut butter. Follow her at http://prettysimpleideas.com/

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