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What we wear: 7 steps to weeding your fashion garden

Clothing on hanger at the modern shop boutique1 / 2
white wardrobe with shirts and pants hanging on rail2 / 2

Those minutes standing in front of your closet add up.

Studies show women spend 16 minutes each weekday morning and 14 minutes on weekend mornings deciding what to wear, according to The Telegraph. Holidays, vacations and weekend nights tack on even more time.

Perhaps even more alarming is that a study conducted by Elizabeth Bye and Ellen McKinney revealed that 85 percent of women own clothes that don't fit and the average person only wears about 20 percent of the clothing in their closet, according to Business Insider.

Susie Ekberg Risher, owner of The Essential Closet, says the statistics are even lower; she's found her clients utilize closer to 10 percent of their closets.

"Here's what I liken it to," she says. "You've got a beautiful garden, with all of these beautiful flowers growing, but then you've allowed all these weeds to grow up, so you can't see the flowers anymore."

Weeding through your closet is often much easier said than done. Pieces with similar fabric, cut and color act as "fake flowers," imitating clothing you love. We become attached to our clothing because of the stories associated with them, Ekberg Risher says.

Some pieces have sentimental value — a gift from a relative or a shirt attached to fond memories. Other articles of clothing are kept due to wishful thinking — future weight loss or a modeling career.

"I think part of it is the story in their head about how they want to look, how they used to look—that kind of a thing," says Liz Fevig Hager, intuitive massage therapist and aspiring Fargo minimalist. "We keep certain kinds of clothing that used to fit us but don't fit anymore."

How to weed your fashion garden

Eliminating undesired clothing and reducing your wardrobe has a plethora of benefits. To showcase the best blooms in your closet, follow these seven steps.

1. Collect all clothing. "Find every article of clothing throughout your whole house that belongs on your body and you bring it to one place — probably your bed," Fevig Hager says. This includes outerwear and extra clothing in an entryway and spare closets.

2. Sort clothing into categories. Divide clothing into three piles: "love it," "maybe" or "donate/toss." Ekberg Risher says it's easiest to start with your favorites. "The first thing I would recommend is picking out your top pieces," she says. "Those are the things you know that you love. Even if they're worn, pilled and ripped — that'll give you information. If you do want to wear them, pull them out and fix them, but commit to doing that."

3. Remove donate/toss piles. "Once you've sorted everything into those three piles, the donate or toss piles leave the room — to your car, trunk, wherever. You're never going to look at that again," Fevig Hager says. If you're looking to sell or consign items, Ekberg Risher says expect to make 10 cents on the dollar.

4. Sort again. Return to the "maybe" pile and re-sort those items into the "love it" or donate/toss pile. "Now that you've gotten rid of the toss pile, you'll be more discerning — hopefully ruthless — with the 'maybe pile,'" Fevig Hager says. "When you're making these piles, you have to hold each item in your hand so you can ask yourself, 'Does this spark joy?' or 'Why do you deserve a place in my wardrobe?'"

She offers up a minimalist mantra: "You can keep things that are just for 'when' but you don't keep them if they're 'just in case' because 'just in case' almost never happens anyway," she says. "If you know you have weddings coming up and you have wedding dresses then keep them just for 'when' even though you might wear it once that year. But don't keep a ball gown 'just in case' you go to the Academy Awards — you could buy another one."

5. Organize your closet. "Once you have all the clothes that fit — you've given away the ones that don't fit and you have the pieces you know are your essentials — now organize it," Ekberg Risher says. Sort clothing by category — pants, tops, sweaters, outerwear, etc. — and color.

6. Store some clothing away. Set aside seasonal clothing and other pieces to store in totes for a later date. "All of your clothes have to fit," Ekberg Risher says. "If you love some of those clothes, then put them in another closet. Get them out of there."

7. Swap clothing every few months. Fevig Hager found swapping clothing from the totes every three months has helped to kept her wardrobe fresh. "You end up having new clothes but you didn't have to buy them — which is my favorite part," she says. " When you open a tote, it's just like shopping."

Stress less with reduced mess

When everything fits and pairs seamlessly together, you can be creative choosing outfits without overthinking it.

"We are all looking for ease in our lives because there's so much stress and there's so many other decisions to be made," Ekberg Risher says. "But, if we want to look good, this is a way to look good without a lot of stress, without a lot of pressure."

Fevig Hager highlights a theory that says the more choices a person has, the less satisfied they are with their choice in the end.

"I've found I appreciate more and enjoy more the things I have in my closet," she says. "I see what I have, it all goes together and I can get dressed quickly."

For those nervous about owning only essentials, downsizing doesn't mean you have to throw fashion out altogether.

"If you like fashion, you can incorporate little tiny bits without having to own everything of everything," Ekberg Risher says. Rather than buying a pair of velvet pants, a rose gold jacket and floral shorts, she says women can incorporate those textures, fabrics, patterns and colors in their accessories like shoes, belts, hats and scarves.

Whether you like it or not, the way you dress tells people about you.

"Your closet is a Rorschach ink blot of your life," Ekberg Risher says. "When you are coherent and integrated with what your clothes are and how you dress, it makes you more powerful out in the world, more confident."

• Related article: Living lighter: Reduce stress and save money with minimalism

Shopping after downsizing

Once a person has downsized their closet, the urge to shop will inevitably return one day. But how do you do it without filling your closet back up with unnecessary items?

"You start with buying things that fit you right now — things that fit your body exactly the way it is this minute," Fevig Hager says. "Going out with the list of things you really need — especially if you're someone who is a chronic shopper — keeps you reined in."

Ekberg Risher echoes the same sentiment; go with a list — and be picky.

"For me, 90 percent of the fun is the research," she says. "I think the addiction part of shopping is the hunt. So go for the hunt, but you don't need to kill every cardigan. You can catch and release."

The magic of a capsule wardrobe

Coined by Susie Faux — owner of the London boutique "Wardrobe" — in the 1970s, a capsule wardrobe is a collection of essential items that can easily be mixed, matched and paired with seasonal pieces. Though Faux suggested fewer than 12 items for the ideal wardrobe, each person has their own idea of what it looks like to them.

The general rules include a color theme with one or two neutral base colors; pieces that flatter body size, shape and complexion; classic shapes and patterns and high-quality fabrics that will stand the test of time.

After determining favorite pieces in your closet, Fevig Hager recommends creating a capsule wardrobe. By determining those essential pieces, women are able to more easily choose outfits and get dressed in the morning.

Alexandra Floersch

Alexandra Floersch has worked for Forum Communications since February 2015. She is a content producer and photographer who enjoys writing about finance, fashion and home.

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