My dream fashion fantasy – I pile all of my unworn neglected clothes (the good, the bad, the ugly) on the floor of my bedroom. When I wake up, all that’s left is a handful of threads and the cash I once spent. How amazing would that be??

Photo, Tara West.

That fantasy springs from the number of times that I’ve moved in the past year. I’m determined to simplify my life, with a big focus on streamlining my closet. If it’s better organized (and reduced), I’ll be able to focus on the looks that I really love. I’ll be more creative in my dressing, because I’ll be able to see exactly what I have at a quick glance and buy the right pieces rather than more of the same things. 

I tend to hang on to outfits long past their sell-by date. I’ve got more than my fair share of impulse buys and “what-was-I-thinking” trend items. I’d rather have someone else enjoy garments that don’t fit me or suit my style. I’ve become ruthless in cleaning out and making space for the pieces that I truly love. Case in point – in the photo above, I found a classic Chanel handbag in the back of my closet. I know, hard to believe … now it’s back in regular rotation.

Photo by Phil Chin. I've had this topper in my closet for 20+ years.

Change the 80 / 20 rule – Do you wear 20% of your items 80% of the time? I’m doing everything that I can to shift that equation. I’d rather have fewer items of higher quality that I wear constantly. Here are my top 5 strategies that I used to make the most of my closet: 

  1. Head-to-toe inspection: Some people take everything out of their closet and divide it into piles. I did this every time I moved – and trust me, I quickly resented the extra time packing and the cost of shipping it back and forth across the country. I saw what I wasn’t wearing – and never would again. (Poor quality fabrics, obviously worn pieces and cringe-worthy fast fashion buys didn’t make the move back from Vancouver this summer.) Do the same exercise with your footwear and handbags. I had several gorgeous designer handbags that were in immaculate condition but too heavy and impractical with fussy fastenings for regular use. Instead of letting them gather dust in my wardrobe, I sold them. 
I'm with designer Mary Katrantzou

2. Try it on & style it: Every day, pick an item that you haven’t worn in a long time and style it with one of your favourites or new season trend items. For example, red is this fall’s leading neutral. Will a pop of red in an accessory (boots or even just a lipstick) give your old piece new life? You may fall in love with it all over again.

Can you style the piece more than one way? Case in point – the Etro jacket I’m wearing in the photo above. It’s perfect for work with all-black underneath but I’m going to freshen it up this fall with dark denim trousers and boots. Same with my signature Dries van Noten coats – they look just as good with jean as they do over tailored wool work separates, or a cocktail dress. I gave new life this summer to a neoprene Marie Saint Pierre jacket when I paired it with torn embellished jeans and heels. 

If you’ve decided to keep the piece in your wardrobe, flip the hanger hook away from you. That way you can quickly identify which pieces you still need to wear and experiment with. 

Photo from TIFF 2010 by George Pimentel

3. Does it fit? A minor alteration can make a world of difference if you’re constantly fussing with a sleeve or neckline. But if you’re still fidgeting, get rid of it. I’ll start wearing this red Prada dress again this year but will update the shoes.

If you end up with a poor fit and limited styling options, it’s time to donate that piece, sell it or store it. I’ll hang on to top quality investment pieces if they fit well – like this Prada dress. Chances are, I’ll be re-inspired by the colour, shape or detail down the road.

4. Snap it! Take a selfie of your outfit and store it in a file on your phone. This becomes a quick reference when you’re shopping or packing for a trip. I gravitate to the same pieces – like a tailored black jacket – over and over. A reminder in my phone helps make sure that I don’t buy yet another one. There’s no point buying something that simply replaces a piece you already love and have in rotation.

5. Sensible storage: Divide your closet in a way that makes sense to your lifestyle. I divide mine by category – skirts, jackets, toppers (white to black) – so I can easily see what I have. Some people divide it only by colour, or work to weekend – do what works for you. The key is to review it a few times a year – seasonally for me – to make sure that you’re maximizing every single piece.