How to Whittle a Wardrobe Rotation

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Declare-Order-Logo-Concept-500px miniI get a lot of questions about how I maintain my whittled wardrobe rotation.  Here is a three-step synopsis!

Whittle: to reduce the amount of, as if by whittling; pare down; take away by degrees (

When I first started keeping fewer clothes in rotation, the process of whittling down involved PILES and PILES of clothes – so fret not.  You’ll get more efficient at it too!

Because I have been whittling for five years now, I realized I can fit all my options in ONE PHOTOGRAPH!  In fact, most everything will make the cut, because I own so few clothes these days, but I still take the time to think it through.

It is a little weird for me to place everything on the floor and not the bed, but I wanted to capture it all together.  Disclaimer: Some items were pulled from the laundry basket, so they look a little worse for wear!

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What you are seeing are the tops, bottoms, and dresses that I will be choosing from to wear for the next month.  I prefer to start with an empty closet space and hang only the clothes that I will be wearing in the closet.  Everything else I own fits into a six drawer dresser and one under bed storage bin!


Ready and waiting!

Here is my three-step Whittling thought process:

  1. What will I be doing professionally in the month ahead?   

This month, I have a NAPO-Chicago chapter meeting, my current Declare Order clients, my current position with local elementary school kids, and the National Association of Professional Organizers Conference!  I want to keep this in mind so that have appropriate options for everything.

  1. What color story is emerging?

Based upon what colors I am seeing in magazines, on colleagues, etc. I have an idea of what I might want to be wearing, but it also depends upon what is revealed as I look at the options.  I am pretty sure that I will be using teal and tomato, but navy and white is appealing as well.

Sure enough, the tops divide pretty evenly into these two camps. I see “navy and white” and “teal, tomato, and olive.” So…


  1. How can I layer and combine what I have chosen?

Now the trying on begins.  Because of the crazy Chicago weather, as well as air conditioning vs. being outside, I have to consider layering.  I try various combinations to arrive at a decision.  I am going to eliminate any light blue, but keep teal.  I will keep one

clothes whittled.jpg

Process of elimination…

of the two trapeze neckline tops (the black because I have a Black and White party to attend).  I will keep the lighter weight of the two navy and white striped options because I can layer and still get the desired effect.  And I am not generally a “print” person, so I will remove two “print” tops.  My goal is to wear everything by the end of the week and have minimal laundry as a result.

In the end, my whittled rotation that has earned closet space for this month or so contains:

1 navy and white print dress

1 navy blazer

2 cardigans (navy and tomato)

2 long sleeve tops (teal and beige print) that have a ¾ sleeve roll-up option

4 short sleeve tops (2 black (not pictured), 1 navy and 1 navy print)

4 no sleeve/strappy tops (olive, navy and white stripe, black, beige and tomato floral print)

6 bottoms (3 navy, 1 dark navy and 1 beige)


20 basic items TOTAL

The overall color story for the month worn on real people (courtesy of Ann Taylor Loft, Limited Express, and the Gap) is something like this.


Black Lightweight Wool Two-Button Blazer - Black

Black Lightweight Wool Two-Button Blazer – Black


This rotation does not include the two sweaters I decide to keep handy for when I am cold (always) around the house.  Nor does it include pajamas or clothes to wear when doing yard work or walk/hiking.  It also does not include the two long sleeve cotton tops and two tank tops that I might need for layering.  Those live in the drawer.

Think you can do it?  You may have to start by just doing one type of top at a time if you have waaaaay more clothes than I do.  But just becoming conscious and considering the idea of keeping few clothes in rotation can change habits for the better in the long run!

Please comment below with questions and will be happy to help you!



Solving the Unwanted Gift Dilemma – With Love

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Several years ago, my family solved the problem of unwanted gifts…Declare-Order-Logo-Concept-500px mini

As is customary, we would gather at my sister’s house on Christmas Day to eat, enjoy each other’s company, and exchange presents. With the addition of new babies, the list of who to buy for was long and ever-expanding.  We amended the gift policy, deciding to draw names and buy for one adult, but still purchase for all the kids.

A few Christmases ago we further amended that policy and as a result, have solved the “feeling good while getting rid of unwanted gifts” dilemma.

Our gift exchange for the adults is now a festive pile of creatively wrapped “White Elephant” gifts!  We actually put as much effort into selecting which items make the cut as we would shopping for new stuff.  And it is an eclectic little pile.

For example, my husband is an Assistant Principal at a middle school.  At this time of year, he receives a lot of random small gifts. This year, amidst the little boxes of Turtles and Starbucks Gift Cards, he received a Karate Post-it Note dispenser.  We wrapped it with care (with  previously used holiday paper and saved up ribbons of course) and added it to our laundry basket of gifts to tote to my sister’s home Christmas Day.  When my brother-in-law picked that gift to open, my nephew went crazy for it!

My elderly mother wrapped a patterned black and beige cotton scarf someone had given her that she found never matched her wardrobe.  My daughter traded for it, put it on, and declared it perfect. It was!

My son, a budding fisherman, also traded over for a gift.  My mother had opened a cheap little pocket knife that my sister confessed to adding to the mix because she thought my son would want it.  She was right.

As these unwanted gifts and household items are opened, exclaimed over, and traded around, merry laughter fills the air.

In addition to recycled gifts, we have also been adding gently used clothing to our gift exchanges.  This year, I brought a tastefully wrapped red cardigan from Eddie Bauer that felt outdated on me.  I presented it to my mom who became quite excited, saying she really needed a cardigan like that.  I also brought a sparkly black Ann Taylor shell top that just does not fit me properly.  It think my sister grabbed that one.

The idea is that the items have new life.  If even just for Christmas day.  Yes, that re-gifted book might go unread, but it can be passed along in the next AMVETS donation box, or added to a Little Free Library.  It seems the guilt is reduced, because the original recipient is not the one doing the actual donating.

In addition, we are modeling for the next generation that there is already enough to go around.  You just have to look for it.  And present it with love.

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A white elephant, “White Elephant” gift!


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Second-Hand Cheer


Who made it onto your To Do list for those little extra gifts this holiday? You know, those special people in your world you appreciate year round but would like to take the time to acknowledge this season.  If your list is anything like mine, you will find:

–  Classroom teachers (and school support staff members),

–  Neighborly neighbors,

–  Assisted Living Staff members, and more!

It can be challenging to stick to a budget and personalize the gift for each person.  Additionally, we all feel more pressure these days to be mindful of the environment by spending less on random items that may end up in the trash before the year is through.

So how can you – Save money, Save time, and Save the environment?  Try a little Second-Hand Cheer!

Instead of Target or the mall, start your shopping at a local second-hand store.  Perhaps there is a Savers near you?  Or a Goodwill? There are several consignment and resale shops in our area (Home Again Resale, Treasure House, and Second Hand Rose).

All you need to look for are clear lidded containers.  Glass is best, but plastic will do.  As long as the container has a lid, it will work!

The next step is to personalize these reusable containers with sweet treats!  If it is a gift for your kiddo’s teacher, enlist your child’s help.  Find out what kind of treat the teacher might enjoy.  Candy is quick to track down and easy to personalize – from bit-size snickers, to skittles, to wrapped starlight mints – even organic dark chocolate.  One trip to the candy isle (I don’t think I need to tell you where to find one of those!) and you can knock-off your list in a jiffy!

Now you are ready to fill!  Match the container (they will not all be identical) to the candy that best fits into it without being compromised.  If one of the containers is less than pristine inside, save it for pre-wrapped candy and add a layer of tissue or plastic wrap as a buffer.  The personality of the container + the color of the candy even substitutes for wrapping paper!  All you need is a label and the gift is personalized and ready to give.

There you have it!  Easy and festive second-hand cheer.  Sweet!


Reusable Containers


How do you store your reusable storage containers?  Our family has tried many methods – separate tops and bottoms, same sizes stacked inside each other, stored as sets, but the method that has endured for the past year (hooray!) is storing them with the lids attached.  Our kitchen has a waist-high lazy susan cupboard within the work area.  The top shelf holds lidded/matched storage containers.  The bottom shelf is the holding area for the lidless/matchless pieces as the need arises.   This method takes up extra space – an entire cupboard!  But we are heavy reusable container users, so it works for us!

This August, we started using the colorful lidded Easy Lunchboxes  Bento Boxes.  They are like one-stop shopping to support our heavy use of reusable containers.  Instead of taking lunch in three separate containers, the kids just take one!  The size encourages appropriate serving sizes, as well as cutting down on waste from chip bags.  These reusable containers are not kept with the others.  They get a place of honor in the “drawer that houses stuff for making lunches.”

Sample lunch

Bento Box

The Least I Can Do

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The Least I Can Do…

(The 12 Least Intrusive Ways I Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle in the Suburbs)*

    Over the past few years, I have become more conscious about how my decisions impact the world around me.  Unfortunately, the more I learn, the more my stress level increases because I am not certain how to achieve these changes in a realistic way.  I created “The Least I Can Do” to summarize the modest progress our family has made over the past few years (hooray for us!) and to offer inspiration to other families who might be feeling the same pressures.

1. Bring my own bags to the store.

It took several years to work out a system because I never remembered to bring them.  Or I would bring them and leave them in the van!  These days, my reusable bags live in a re-purposed cabinet by the door that also houses my purse and serves as a landing/launch pad for various papers/receipts.  I stop there before heading out the door.

2. Grow tomatoes.

We grew tomatoes in planters on the deck railing last summer.  It was the only place we could think of to keep them away from the rabbits and our nosy schnoodle. My tween really, really wanted to do a garden patch but we didn’t get to it.  I think herbs and tomatoes may be a good goal for next summer.

3. Use cloth napkins.

THIS, my family does well.  We have a stash of paper napkins to cover food in the microwave, but for everything else, we use cloth.  It has been over 3 years!  (We even use cloth when entertaining kids – though I often feel the need to remind them not to throw the napkins away.)

4. Use cloth towels.

We do this well too!  No paper towels in this house – well, except for the roll in the far bottom cupboard behind the paper napkins for the microwave.  My sister left it when she visited from Michigan.  Cloth kitchen towels just don’t work for her, so she brings her own paper towel roll 🙂

5. Recycle, recycle, recycle!

Our suburb does not charge for recycling, so there is a monetary advantage here as well.  I re-purposed a lined, lidded, wicker laundry hamper in the kitchen to gather recyclables.  Recycling is more work – what with all the sorting of packaging, but it is the least I can do!

6. Hang to dry.

I never thought I would do this one, however…our dryer went on the fritz at the end of December 2010.  We hung clothes for a couple of days…and then a couple more days.  And then we worked out a system.  And then the weather got warmer.  And now here we are!  Never got the dryer fixed and have only had to hit the laundromat twice for major bedding loads.  (Gas and electric bill are each about 10% lower.)

7. Wear less.

In September 2010, I attempted the “Six Items or Less” clothing experiment.  Now, the average amount of clothing I keep in rotation is about 12 Items or Less – rotated monthly.  (For example, instead of purchasing a new shirt for “The 4th of July,” I purchased a shirt “for July.”  I had four other shirts, four shorts, one pair of slacks, and one pair of jeans in rotation.)  It really reduces stress about what to wear.  Really!

8. Avoid buying on impulse.

One of the most powerful weapons stores have is how they market items on the shelves.  Have you ever been tempted to buy a soft blue blanket when walking past an end-cap?  Remove it.  Carry it over to a home decor aisle that has colors similar to the interior of a room in your home.  It doesn’t look as good when it is not between the green and pink blankets – does it?  The least you can do – is resist the urge.  Put it back.  Reuse what you already own.

9. Reduce whining.

No means no 😉

10.  Resist spoiling my kids.

Proper nutrition, enough sleep, and plenty of time to play.  This is advice I give other parents:  Reduce the number of “outings” you take.  Kids don’t need constant outside stimulation.  I recently read that boredom breeds – creativity!  Teach kids to re-use what they have.  For example: ball mismatched socks for rainy day sock wars, invent new card games, build forts with couch cushions or barbells from milk cartons.  Make sure they have chores that are appropriate for their skill level and teach them to help prepare meals.  You won’t regret it.

11.  Learn.

I am currently researching rain barrels, composting, and a garden plot (or, at least, an herb garden).

12.  Have one responsible car.

I drive a 2004 silver Honda Odyssey mini-van, but our other car is a 2008 red Prius.  We are becoming more aware of when we an walk or bike.  It’s the least we can do!

I am inspired by creative solutions.  So tell me, “What cool ways do you do to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle?”

*Format inspired by posts on

Clean Your Room!

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Stressed by the  mess in your child’s room?  Don’t battle – reduce!  Easy as 1, 2, 3…

1.  Clothes – Reduce the number of clothes your child is directly responsible for.  One laundry basket full + one nicer outfit?  Remove the rest from the immediate environment and store.  What remains is a little over a week’s worth of clothes and underwear that fit better in drawers and closets with all that extra room!

2.  Toys – Reduce the number of toys your child is directly responsible for.  While sorting, look for categories that have open-ended uses and are developmentally appropriate.  An eight year-old girl example:  One bin of dress-up clothes + one bin of dolls and accessories + one bin of books.  The rest should find a home OUTSIDE of the bedroom.

3.  Maintenance – Store and label the remaining toys and clothes.  After a month or so, make time to “go shopping” through the stored items.  Rotate clothes.  Select different toys, as needed.  Things seems fresher when they have been out-of-sight.

Now when your child has clean clothes to put away, dirty laundry to pick-up off the floor, and/or toys to wrangle it is all more manageable!  Give it a try!

Do your kids put away their own clothes?  What is preventing it?

Declaring Order in a Storage Room – Part 3

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Declaring Order in a Storage Room – Leftovers!

With a fast and furious “Sort and Remove” complete – what is left in the leftovers?  Everyone has unique leftovers after a big purge and this storage pile was no exception.  Because the homeowner worked with toddlers, there were many random toddler toys in the mix.  These were gathered and given away to family, friends, and pre-schools.

School memorabilia.  The kids were called in to reminisce and sort through items.  Original writing, report cards, and a few art projects were kept.  Everything else went to the recycle bin.  It is important to take the time to look through these items.  The kids enjoyed looking back and laughing about how far they had come.

So…what was the most notable item recovered in the pile?  A Gift Certificate for a beloved teacher mixed in with the school papers.  It had not quite expired, so the decision was made to find her and pass it along.  She was tickled too.  What unexpected item have you uncovered in a re-organizing project?

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