How to Create a Sustainable Closet

Mary Lou Andre President of Organization by Design

Over the years I’ve discovered that one of the nicest ways to start a day is by opening my closet doors to get dressed. I’ve organized it according to color and season and am proud of the fact that just about everything in there is loved (hence my joy at getting dressed daily).

One of my closet mentors is Mary Lou Andre, owner of Boston based Organization By Design, a consulting firm providing ongoing solutions to corporate image and personal dress code challenges, author of Ready To Wear – an Expert’s Guide to Using and Choosing Your Wardrobe, and editor of Dressing Well On-Line, Organization By Design’s trademarked global site. She’s a busy woman.

Mary Lou offers some tips for cleaning out closet clutter sustainably.

PhotobucketEcoSalon: It’s a new year and I’ve decided I want to live a more sustainable lifestyle with healthier clothes. The first step is editing my closet. Where do I begin?

Mary Lou: Start at a time of day when you feel energized and alert.  The art of closet management is not for the weary!  Start by opening your closet door with a new “less is more” attitude. Since most people tend to wear 20% of what is in there 80% of the time, start by casting a fresh eye on the 80% you are not wearing first.

Next, organize your castaways into piles — a rack and/or your bed are two good sorting tools.  Shelters, theater companies, babysitters and relatives are all great sources when thinking of who might like to receive your things.  Don’t forget to properly recycle your hangers and plastic bags.  Most drycleaners are happy to take hangers back and (Amy — you might want to add some info about how to recycle plastic bags here — I give mine back to the drycleaner or recycle them at the local supermarket.

PhotobucketI’ve finished editing my closet and see I have less than I’d hoped. Advice?

When you have cleared out the bulk of your belongings, study what remains. Are there any items you can replace with newer fashions that are more eco-friendly? Is there anything you need to add to your wardrobe at the moment – an outfit for an upcoming wedding, new yoga clothes to make good on your New Year’s resolution to exercise more?

With pad and pen in hand, make some notes. Visit eco-friendly fashion websites to see what is out there in your size and style and consider adding new things as your budget allows. As you add, let more and more things go from your existing wardrobe that no longer work for your healthier lifestyle.

Also, visit home organizing websites to see what they offer in environmentally-friendly products.  Decorating your closet with eco-friendly messages and such is also a way to spiritually celebrate your choices. One of the first places you visit in the morning is your closet – make this a happy, soul nourishing place!

PhotobucketI have a whole section of my closet packed with clothes my mother has given me that I never wear but think I shouldn’t get rid of. What should I do?

If you really can’t part with them, give them a new home outside your main dressing area. Pull one or two things out of the pack that are meaningful to you and display them in your dressing area. I had a client once with a beautiful hat collection of her mom’s that she could not part with. We placed them on a variety of glass bud vases and arranged them on a shelf for her to enjoy without feeling guilty about not wearing them.

If there are any special scarves in your collection from your mom, consider having a piece of glass cut the size of your dresser or other flat surface and placing the scarves underneath. It will add color and warmth to your room!

PhotobucketBesides Goodwill and Salvation Army drop boxes, are there any women’s groups that collect clothing?

We are big fans of Dress for Success. Visit for an affiliate in your area.

PhotobucketAny tips to help keep my closet in check as I move through the new year?

As you add, get rid of more.

Amy DuFault

Amy DuFault is a conscious lifestyle writer, consultant and fashion instigator. She resides in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.