Why to stop decluttering (and how to do an audit instead) [Style Series 3.1]
We are in an exciting part of the productive style journey: Chapter 3 - the audit!
Remember, there are several previous articles on the past chapters, which cover all the foundations leading up to this point.
Be sure to at least do the 'Values', 'Style' and 'Colour Palette' before heading in for the actual audit.
Audit (noun) UK /ˈɔːdɪt/
“An official examination of the quality or condition of something.”
- Cambridge Dictionary
Declutter (verb) / UK /ˌdiːˈklʌt.ər /
"To remove things you do not need from a place, in order to make it more pleasant and more useful."
- Cambridge Dictionary
In most of the companies I have worked with, at least once a year, the financial manager will sit and pull their hair out over a very important meeting. It may last several days, and it will be quite frustrating at times, but once it is done, those finance managers will likely be blissed out and book a long holiday. The meeting is with none other than their audit and compliance manager(s).
This person, or team, usually comes in as an ‘outsider’ and performs checks on the key functions of the business. They go through every file, every process, usually every transaction, and even check the items in the offices, along with the function of ‘all the things’. And as long as everything meets their standards, they’ll close their reports and move on - until the following year or two, when it will happen all over again. Much like companies need to perform audits to help ensure the health of the business, the idea in this article is that we do the same for our clothes and personal belongings.
The benefits of doing an audit, instead of a declutter, are a lot like the definition of ‘audit’ suggests: it is an opportunity to examine the quality or condition of something, in relation to our unique standards. However, decluttering implies there is already chaos, and that you need to get rid of many things. I don’t even like saying ‘I need to get rid of this’ - it’s charged with negativity.
And just remember the definition of declutter: “To remove things you do not need from a place, in order to make it more pleasant and more useful.”
This definition makes me wonder: since your home already is likely to be a somewhat pleasant place that you like to be in (especially for the minimalist and home aesthetic enthusiasts among us)... doesn't decluttering imply the things we do have are useless or redundant? Isn't that a bit disrespectful to those things you may have lovingly chosen before?
Regardless, a declutter implies the only issue against which your things are being judged is their 'use' or 'prettiness'. An audit gives you a set of aligned values, colours and styles that you can use as a standard with which to check whether the things in your wardrobe should stay or move on.
No good audit can begin without a set of standards. That's why we've been exploring your values, style descriptors, colour palette, ‘fit’, and cultural elements in the past articles until now.
If you’ve followed along with those, in Parts 1 and 2 of this series, you’ve likely already done a lot of this foundational work. If so, here are some tips on how to go about your wardrobe audit:
1- Take note of your values, colour palette, style and 'fit'.
Bring your style descriptors, your values, your colour palette and your ‘cut’ to the forefront of your mind - or even visually in print. In the past, I’ve written mine down, especially the ratio one and the different ‘fits’, and stuck them inside the door of my wardrobe.
2- Set aside a peaceful and relatively uninterrupted time to do this.
It can be a very cathartic process to go through one's wardrobe. Sometimes it can even be emotional. I prefer to be alone for this process, even just for practicality, so that I can goof around with abandon here and there, and try on clothes to see how they fit or align with my renewed values, fit, style filters etc.
3- Take out everything you want to audit.
In the past I used to remove everything - all categories, all at once. But in recent years it’s shifted to being able to audit just categories of things. Having many things out of their places can be unsettling. You might also want to do it bit by bit, or all at once. There is no wrong or right, only what would feel best for you. The nice thing about an audit, is that as you begin to naturally filter out the quality, fit and condition of clothes you own regularly, it doesn’t become such a huge ordeal anymore.
4- Begin auditing piece by piece.
Every item of clothing tells a little story. Give each piece its moment to see if it fits in your new kaleidoscope of personal style. I like starting with certain categories like tops, bottoms, inner garments, first, but often I will do an audit by the physical sections of my wardrobe instead. Many professional organisers will tell you where to start and how to do things. Follow what feels good to you, start with what feels simple, obvious and hopefully not overwhelming.
5- Let go of rules and rethink ‘shoulds’.
For example, I used to think if you hadn’t worn something in more than 6 months, you should let it go. But slow, sustainable and nuanced lifestyles just aren’t that simple. There are certain things, like an old pair of boots, that I just adore. I almost lost them by giving them away one time (a story for another time), but I’m so glad I didn’t follow the ‘6-month rule’ for them. I don’t live in a cold place right now, but I love the feeling I can depend on them as soon as I do go to a colder location.
6- Enjoy the process!
This audit may leave you with quite a few gaps. Or it might end up with you feeling content with what you have. Either way is good - as long as you are discerning and running things by your values and style indicators. In future, I hope curating your wardrobe becomes more of an audit, because it’s highly likely that the things you have and have owned will be ones you truly do resonate with and love.
The act of simply auditing the use, value, and condition of something to see whether it still aligns with your renewed set of standards creates a far more positive experience when you come to 'declutter' your wardrobe.
Auditing is a thoughtful and thorough way of decluttering, since you use a thorough checklist of values, palettes and more through which to keep or allow things to move on.
By encouraging you to audit using your values and style descriptors, you are more likely to be left with items that really meet your standards and align with you. Having a set of foundational values allows the decluttering to begin to naturally take care of itself. Things that don’t really match up will naturally fall away and you’ll be left with what really is a reflection of you and your own unique style.
Enjoy your auditing journey!