Living in a studio apartment forces you to reconsider what you own. Just a month ago, my two closets were filled to the brim—the clothing rods near ready to burst. My multiple suitcases were filled with unwanted, out-of-season clothes and shoes. The storage under my bed was a mysterious vortex of seldom-used items. Even with the best intentions of decluttering my wardrobe regularly, I made "donate" piles and never followed up with actually donating them. Unwanted clothing ended up in suitcases, in a second closet, or under my bed. Piles had even started to form in corners of my apartment—something had to change.
So, I called in the big guns—in this case, Thumbtack professional organizer Anna Bauer (also the owner of Sorted by Anna). Bauer, who specializes in the Marie Kondo method, had organized a slew of Manhattan apartments. If anyone was going to get my evergrowing clutter under control, it was her.
Donate, Toss or Keep
Bauer met me at my apartment in the East Village on a foggy Saturday morning. Ready to tackle the dark hole that is my closet, she pulled every single item out and asked me to go through each item one by one. I got this G.Viteri straw hat as a party favor two summers ago, and I love it, but it's actually too big for my head—donate. This is my favorite Reformation floral dress, but it caught in my suitcase zipper and ripped beyond repair—toss. My ex-boyfriend told me I looked like a pirate in this white ruffled MDS Stripes crop top but I love it anyway—keep.
One item at a time, she had me justify each piece of clothing and answer why it was worthy of holding precious space in my small closets. It was entertaining at first, nostalgic and eye-opening all at once, and even a little nauseating: Consumerism isn't pretty when you're faced with six garbage bags of hard-earned purchases literally going in the trash. I couldn't believe the number of items I even forgot existed.
One item at a time, she had me justify each piece of clothing and answer why it was worthy of holding precious space in my small closets.
Some items were a struggle: "Do you really need three bathrobes, five sleep masks, and 10 sets of white sheets?" Bauer would ask. In all honesty, I didn't, but the thought of throwing them away (bedding can't be donated in New York City) made me feel sick and wasteful. My "maybe" pile was growing by the minute with items I was struggling to justify: shoes I had never worn, dresses that no longer fit, jewelry I had forgotten I even had.
While my internal struggle of throwing out items continued, Bauer started filling my closets back up. She tagged each of my baskets with pretty labels: bags, hats, ski, beach (I own an unhealthy number of beach towels). She even labeled the inside of my dresser drawers: travel accessories, makeup, hair—each containing boxes filled with meticulously organized items. She folded my underwear in neat little triangles and color-coded them—a system I reluctantly maintain even though it feels like a giant waste of time.
She even labeled the inside of my dresser drawers: travel accessories, makeup, hair.
Six hours later, I saw the full scale of what we had accomplished: six garbage bags, six donate bags, one suitcase full of more donations, and another pile of clothing to sell. We carried the garbage bags to the trash chute. Bauer stuffed the donations into an Uber, guaranteed me a tax receipt, and made me promise to tackle my sell pile the next day.
It was bittersweet—my apartment felt so much more spacious and organized, my closets were virtually empty in comparison with before, but I felt guilty about getting rid of so many things I had once convinced myself I needed. I wished I could have found a home for every item I chose to discard. I vowed to be more careful with my purchases in the future.
The true breakthrough came a couple of days later when packing for a trip. Where I would have once overstuffed my suitcase with outfits I thought I would "maybe" wear on my trip (but never actually would), I found myself knowing exactly what I wanted to bring—without excess. Because I could see items so easily in my closet, and it was filled with only things I truly loved, the process of packing efficiently was infinitely simplified.
In the following weeks, I found myself getting more creative with my wardrobe—mixing and matching things I would never have in the past because they were stuffed in the back of a closet. Even though I owned more clothes before, I had a tendency to wear the same 10% of outfits—those that were tossed on a chair or had just come back from the dry cleaners. What was in my closet was as good as nonexistent. Now, digging through my closet no longer felt daunting; it felt empowering.
I also found myself being more mindful of purchases and buying fewer, better things. I surprised myself by unexpectedly throwing out a workout top because it had seen better days and giving things away to friends to make space for new purchases. Even though we only organized my closet, I was motivated to similarly clean out my bathroom and kitchen—discarding things I never used or no longer needed.
I also found myself being more mindful of purchases and buying fewer, better things.
I still own too much bedding—I realize that now. Even though we got rid of multiple sheet sets, Bauer had warned me that I didn't have enough storage space for each set I was hellbent on keeping. She was right.
My closet rods feel eerily empty now—something I actually enjoy and helps me identify the gaps in my wardrobe. Will I continue to fold my underwear in neat triangles and donate regularly? Only time will tell.
5 Decluttering Lessons Learned
1. Throw one thing out every time you bring something in. Otherwise, you'll end up back at square one.
2. Don't declutter alone. Having someone there to listen to you justify what to hold onto keeps you accountable.
3. Don't delay trips to the cobbler. No one needs 10 pairs of shoes and boots in a total state of disrepair taking up closet space. If you can't be bothered to have them fixed, it's probably time to let go.
4. "Everything in its right place" is more than just a Radiohead lyric. If you don't find a place for every single item you own from the moment it enters your life, your organization system will always be flawed.
5. Don't feel guilty about discarding. This is how you end up hoarding. Just try to be mindful of future purchases and adopt a minimalist mindset.