Closet pruning with The Furlough Method

When pruning a wardrobe, the classic advice is to make three piles: keep, alter and discard (via donation, gift or resale.) This system works, but you need to be in the mood to make a certain, swift decision.

If you are not sure you'll ever wear that purple silk blouse again (and it fits), or if you have somehow amassed a dozen pairs of dark pants and aren't sure which ones to keep, I suggest the Furlough Method

With the Furlough Method, you avoid getting swept into the thrall of purge passion, only to find that the cost of another aqua cashmere cardi—which you now realize would look great with your new charcoal skirt—is a lot higher than what you paid for the one you gave away. 
Step #1: Make sure it's clean (you don't want to raise a farm team of moths), and pack in a garment bag or box. Store the piece out of sight, and not in your own closet, where you might be tempted to peek.

If your memory is not perfect, like mine, make a list of these items and where they are.

Step #2: Wait a minimum of four to a max of twelve months. One of two things will transpire:

A. You discover that you miss the item: Take it out of storage and wear it immediately– that's why you dug it out, right?

If the item makes it back into your closet, apply the Hanger Test. After that first wearing, turn its hanger in the opposite direction to the rest of the garments. If in four months (or a season), that hanger is still pointing the other way, get rid of it. 

No, you don't re-furlough; that would take you to the territory of nutbar-hoarderland.

B. You do not wear or even think about the thing: Out it goes! (If you can do so without looking at it again, that's best.) At this point, parting feels entirely different than pitching it in the initial cleanout stage.

In the past, thanks to my mother's influence, ("What? That skirt is perfectly good!") I could eat pufferfish liver with more equanimity than cast an expensive item from my closet. Post furlough, the item loses its emotional power and I can let go in peace.

You could achieve the same thing by loaning the piece to a friend for awhile, with clear repatriation rights and an understanding that there might be some normal wear. 

In the world of pretty new things, this Etro dress, audaciously Italian-ly springy as a park full of tulips, turns my head:

I don't think that dress would ever leave my closet!


LauraH said…
What a good idea for dealing with those emotionally laden pieces of clothing and other gear. I'm currently thinking about my bags, don't seem to be using some at all so feel a purge on the horizon.

Etro prints are so lovely to look at, the price makes them strictly eye candy for me!

Longing for spring and an end to this winter, I just saw this post which you and others may with colour!
Susan said…
I found an Etro woof scarf at a consignment shop this winter and purchased it for a bargain price. Hmm...I may wear it to my book club meeting today as it is still in the 20s in Dallas!

I can see that Etro dress on you! It has a lot of personality and I think that would suit you.

And yes, more closet paring in my future. I hope to just move things on out without the furlough.
frugalscholar said…
I've always wanted an Etro scarf. Sigh. The prints are so beautiful.

I think I am your mother's "daughter" and you are my mother's "daughter" in the closet department. I am wondering where my own daughter will end up on the spectrum.
materfamilias said…
Great advice! I've got a number of items I'm getting ready to move to the furthest closet in the house and see whether they pass the test for re-entry when it's next their season.
That dress! So fabulous! It would be perfect for you, no? Great colour! Such presence . . .
It is also important to keep in mind that paring can allow someone else to wear nice things, as well as benefiting a charity you want to support.(Mine is a centre that assists women in crisis).

At the same time, it is freeing up very valuable cubic ft or metres of your own storage space, for which you are paying rent or mortgage payments.

And remember, that famous French, Italian or other European style is also based on very limited storage space, even chez people of professional classes.

One problem I have is recycling clothing that is NOT in good condition; there aren't a lot of places to take worn garments made of good fibres that can be recycled. I have some such garments in a box as I have to repaint some walls, after they will be discarded. I can take non-paint-covered old rags to a recycling centre not very far away, but it is a schlepp on foot or bicycle!
Duchesse said…
LauraH: Etro scarves show up on eBay, sometimes gently used (by which I mean in great shape), for much less than retail prices.

I bought one at an end-of-season sale in Spain and still enjoy it more than a decade later.

Susan: Wondering if scarf was there b/c heavy for your climate- lucky you! If you have the confidence to make a final decision, no need to furlough- that's for those of us torn by doubt.

frugal: With your thrift shop mojo, you will likely find one. One of the reasons I enjoy your blog is that your thinking is so like my mother's.

materfamilias: A farther-away closet is exactly the place for the technique. I also find I am no longer willing to maintain a larger wardrobe.

lagatta: How much space is "needed" is part of a bigger-picture decision tied to values, and I'm frequently surprised by how much many North Americans think is necessary.

Dropped off things at a charity and took look around store, found new (tags till on) very good quality shirt for one son for $5!
Murphy said…
I call this technique "putting my clothes on probation" and it does work well! Still, I have a few pieces that , while rarely worn, haven't been placed on probation purely because I can't ignore my mother's voice telling me how good they are. Maybe I just need a limited archive section? You know - probably won't wear again but need for emotional support? Ok, that sounds pathetic when I actually write it out and read it!
Anonymous said…
While my own mother was very thrifty, she didn't seem to have trouble getting rid of things, sometimes to MY everlasting regret. I still recall asking her, when in my twenties or thirties, if I could have her cape-back mink jacket she never wore, only to be told she had donated it. Aaarrrgh!

---Jill Ann
Cornelia said…
That is how I scaled down my much too large wardrobe. Everything that I was ambivalent about went into a closet in a guest room, and never once did anything make it back. But it kept me from the what-if lament.
LPC said…
You always crack me up! And Etro! I love my Etro man's scarf, enough so that I think I'm going to need a second one. There's an Italian in all of us somewhere;).
You'd look fabulous in that Etro dress! With your hair colouring and svelte figure heads would turn!
Our closet situation is rather challenging because they are tiny so I need to use two for my for out of season wear and one for in season clothing. The best trick I learned for paring ones wardrobe is to lose weight!
I just bought a bright yellow jacket rather like your green Boden!
Tiffany said…
I don't have any trouble purging things, although I am occasionally the victim of purge passion - what a great expression.

Ah, Etro! I wear very little in the way of bright colours or patterns but my absolute favourite party top is a beautiful Etro silk number with a sort of swirly bronze floral design. The cut is just incredible. I bet that dress looks amazing on.
Anonymous said…
Am especially enjoying this post and comments! I seem to be regularly trying to purge my closet…sometimes with more success than others….will have to try the Furlough Method. My biggest "challenge" is footwear….why do I feel that I HAVE to keep it, even when it doesn't exactly fit or I never wear it….
Cathy Wong
PS am now going on eBay to check out Etro scarves :) and I too think the dress is lovely
Kristien62 said…
I usually don't do prints, but that Etro is a statement, not just a print. It is stunning.

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