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2019 was taken by storm when Netflix released Marie Kondo’s series, Tidying up with Marie Kondo, based on her successful book on the art of Japanese decluttering and organization. Not only did she help me whip my apartment into shape, but she also inspired me to download a few closet apps to help get my wardrobe seriously organized. Over the last few weeks I’ve learned a lot about my shopping habits. (I’ve also stumbled upon a handful of clothes I’d completely forgotten I even owned—all of which were hiding in my dresser, under not-so-organized piles of sweaters. Whoops.)
It’s safe to assume that Kondo’s tips about sorting through clutter and organizing your home or apartment have been instrumental in changing many lives in recent months (or years, for those who picked up her book back in 2014). We could practically hear drawers and shelves around the world being decluttered just by watching the series. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t finish Kondo’s show with a serious hankering to apply her KonMari method to my own apartment—specifically, my closet.
Living in New York City is a challenge for many reasons—one of them being that the closets are so small. I don’t know why the people who designed apartments decided that buyers and renters wouldn’t want, you know, a reasonable amount of space to store their wardrobes, but oh well. My best self would see this obstacle as a positive: This challenge is merely an opportunity to pare down my closet, focus on the stuff I actually care about and spend way less money on clothing. I might never own Mia Thermopolis’ incredible walk-in closet in Princess Diaries, but maybe—just maybe—I could do such a job organizing the closet I do have that it could feel a little more spacious and a lot easier to navigate.
But I’ve never managed to follow through—until recently, when I took the plunge and downloaded a bunch of closet apps.
Though these apps come with different pros and cons, they’re all basically the same: They invite you to import photos of your entire closet into the app so you can see, sort and sift through everything at once. In an actual closet, pieces get lost—pushed to the back of shelves, disappeared under mounds of clothing, hidden in dusty corners you haven’t explored since you moved in. But in a digital closet, everything is accounted for. You’re given a bird’s-eye view of your entire wardrobe, leaving your clothing storage situation feeling a lot more Princess Diaries (and a lot less like the beginning of a Tidying up with Marie Kondo episode).
First, let’s talk closet apps.
My roommate (a divine queen of cleanliness in her own right) swears by StyleBook, a paid app that’ll run you $3.99. Though the fee seems a little tedious, my roomie says it’s worth it: “Best $4 I’ve ever spent. From getting ready in the morning, to packing, to purging items I don’t want, StyleBook’s made my life easier.” (She’s basically a walking ad for the thing.)
But StyleBook isn’t the only closet app on the market. During my quest to KonMari my wardrobe, I also downloaded Finery, a free app created by journalist Whitney Casey and model Brooklyn Decker. The celebrity influence is an obvious plus for the app, but I also loved that Finery offered a lot of the same features as StyleBook without a fee. To round things out, I also downloaded Smart Closet and Closet+—two other free options that boasted many of the same features as StyleBook and Finery.
There are a number of other apps that essentially do the same thing as these four, but I chose not to expand my search further. I mean, how many closet apps does a girl need? Plus, the last thing I needed was to clutter up my phone in the process of decluttering my apartment.
OK, but how do closet apps even work?
No matter which app you download, the first steps are basically the same: You need to photograph your entire wardrobe and upload those pics into your app. Some apps will do a little of this work for you; Finery, for example, connects with your email to import photos from past purchases. That makes things a little easier, but it’s not a perfect system, so a lot of the work still falls to you. This was undoubtedly the most time-consuming part of this entire process—I think it took literal weeks for me to finish photographing and uploading all my clothes into the apps. (Seriously, I dedicated an entire afternoon to doing so, spent five hours working on it and still only got through one-fourth of my closet.)
True to form, my roommate took this process super seriously when she did it two years ago. Not only did she photograph all of her clothing, but she shot her pictures in super great lighting and then deleted the backgrounds from all of them so the pictures would look uniform. (You’ll notice I attempted to do the same, but some of the clothes look way better than others.) She also cut out the tags on her clothes, photographed the laundry instructions and uploaded photos of those in with her clothes so she’d always know how to clean them. Goals.
Once you’ve logged your entire wardrobe, it’s time to organize it into categories. I opted for eight: day, work, evening, formal, vacation, favorites, auditions and examples (that one just came with the app).
From there, you can do all kinds of stuff. You can create full outfits (yes, like in Clueless)—and then keep track of which outfit you wore when. (No better way to avoid an outfit repeater situation, eh Lizzie McGuire?) This feature is also super great for keeping track of which accessories pair best with which outfits. How else am I supposed to know which pair of sunglasses to grab when running out the door?
The closet apps are clearly pretty cool, but did they actually affect the way I shopped, got dressed and kept my clothes organized? Short answer: Yes.
Something about using these apps feels pretty progressive. They’ve definitely simplified my getting-ready process each morning. And while I haven’t grown accustomed to logging my outfits on the daily, even having the opportunity to look at all my stuff at once has made the whole closet organization thing feel way less daunting.
For starters, I’m way smarter about packing now.
I used to be (and—let’s be real—still am) one of those people who fully believes they need to pack eight pairs of shoes for a weekend getaway. (For reference: I’ve worn the same pair of black Marc Jacobs boots every day for the last three weeks.) Still, when you’re spending three days in Stratton—even though you’ll be skiing the whole time, and heels of any sort in two feet of snow are a disaster waiting to happen—you might still need them, right? Wrong. And visualizing all the clothes I’m hoping to pack helps me rationally sift through these temptations—without piling a bunch of stuff onto my bed (key, because you know I’m not gonna manage to tidy that up for a couple weeks, at least).
The fact that you can look back on past packing lists is also incredibly helpful. When planning for a getaway, most people haphazardly throw some stuff together, try to be intentional in their packing and inevitably forget something (or, in my case, bring way too much stuff). Closet apps make it easier to not only plan what you’re bringing more thoughtfully, but also to remember what you’ve brought before. My roommate recommends making folders for each packing list you’re making, and labeling them by destination and event (so, “Raleigh wedding” or “Nantucket Memorial Day”). While you’re on your trip, you can revisit your packing folder to add stuff you forgot and delete stuff you didn’t need. Then, the next time you’re invited to a Southern wedding or brief beach-side getaway, you can open your folder—and your packing list will already be written. Total game-changer.
I’m more thoughtful about what I’m buying—and when.
I have way too much stuff. And since I’m constantly going on auditions (I split my time between writing and acting), I have a hard time getting rid of any of it. One day, I need to look like a 17-year-old rebel, and the next, I need to look like a 28-year-old business woman. Parting with anything is a challenge, because it actually could be useful for some audition at some point. On top of that, I’m trying to look like the 24-year-old I actually am. The whole thing feels more complicated than it should be, and my closet reflects this lack of cohesion.
The closet apps have really helped me hone in on what I’m wearing as an actress—and what I’m wearing as a human being—which has made it easier to see what I can afford to get rid of. They’ve also forced me to see that most of my best purchases have been investment pieces I wear all the time—and not those one-off, statement pieces I save just in case.
Case in point? Those Marc Jacobs boots I mentioned earlier.
I’d be lying if I said these boots weren’t too expensive. And I don’t think I would’ve pulled the trigger at their original price ($355). But I managed to score a discount that brought the boots to $290—still more than I’d normally feel comfortable spending on shoes, but I’d been looking for this style for a while and figured I should give ’em a try. Now, they’re one of the most reliable, most versatile pieces in my closet, and the apps account for that. StyleBook invites you to plug in the price you paid for a given item of clothing, and if you keep track of what you wear day-to-day, the app knows how often you’ve worn that piece, too. From there, it can calculate the price per wear—which makes it clear just how valuable investment pieces can be.
In the last month alone, the price per wear of those Marc Jacobs boots has dropped to $18.16. And I bought them in January—so you can imagine what the price per wear would actually be, if I’d been tracking my outfits this whole time. Though those boots were a little out of my price range, they ended up being worth every penny. And some of the less expensive pieces I almost never wear no longer seem like the great deals I once thought they were.
Plus, since the closet app allows me to see what I’m wearing on a regular basis, it helps me see what I actually need. If I’m out shopping, I can quickly check the app. If I already own something similar, I’ll probably pass on the purchase. But if I own something similar that I’m wearing nearly every day, investing in a second version might not be such a bad idea.
I’m hella organized.
Like I said before, while decluttering my closet in-person, I found all kinds of clothes I’d totally forgotten about. And as Marie Kondo says, if it doesn’t give you joy, DITCH IT. (Not her exact words, but the spirit is there.) I did dig up some hidden gems in my thoroughly cluttered closet, but I ended up getting rid of a lot of the stuff that had been lurking around. And it felt so good. I let go of dresses I wasn’t wearing anymore, skirts that never looked quite right and slightly off-color tops that “looked so good that one time!” There were so many pieces that seemed nice in theory but just weren’t practical to keep. They didn’t work for me—and as my closet apps showed, I wasn’t even wearing them. This was my chance to clear out my space, and I did.
The app also helped me feel organized in a couple other ways. For starters, it lets you color-coordinate your wardrobe. Which is just one of those things that makes you feel more on top of life, ya know? (Though I’ve long struggled to declutter, I’ve always managed to keep my closets color-coordinated—at least to some extent. Being able to tidy my digital spaces in the same way made the whole organization thing feel more approachable and rewarding.)
And the apps have influenced my IRL closet storage situation, too. I now have a cute little rack in my room where I store my most-worn items. Because why not have them at the ready? My fancier, occasion pieces and statement-makers live in my actual closet. (Naturally, both are color-coordinated—because of course they are.)
I’m better about accessorizing.
One wardrobe thing I’ve never really managed to figure out? Accessorizing. I know how to do it, it’s just—I own so many accessories, and it’s hard to keep track of them all. (Hence my propensity to wear the same pair of shoes for weeks on end.) Logging stuff in the app has helped me keep track of all the accessories I own, and it’s invited me to find new ways to wear them.
One example: a small silk scarf I bought from Madewell. I’ve almost never been able to remember I actually own it, and as a result, I pretty much never wear it. Part of that’s because it’s a unique piece; if I haven’t designed an outfit around it, I’m probably not going to grab it. So now, I’m thinking of new ways to incorporate it—and other statement-making accessories—into my day-to-day outfits. And it’s left me feeling more daring. I’m now wearing more scarves, rings and sunglasses than ever before, and I feel pretty great about it.
And honestly, I’m actually having fun.
Every time I use one of my closet apps, I really do feel like Cher in Clueless. There’s something really satisfying (and honestly, cinematic) about lounging in my robe at night and being able to plan tomorrow’s outfit from the comfort of my bed. No more hidden dresses, no more tops hidden under piles of sweaters, no more camisoles that have fallen off the hangers and into the corners of my closet; I now know I own 48 tops, 22 dresses and 25 pairs of shoes—making it easier than ever to grab and go.
It’s technology’s world, and we’re just living in it. Why not have fun while we’re at it?