The Culling Plateau
and how to push through — with gratitude
Back when I first started my business, Honor Code Creative, I did some personal branding work for a friend, colleague, and now HCC frequent partner, Sally Marrer, a business coach for leaders and brands (many of which you know). One of the things we talked about was her sweet spot and love: helping clients push past a plateau. Which is something on my mind right now. In terms of my (and now your) closet.
Wait, let me take a teeny step back. Why bother culling? And why do it so often? At some point in my life I was trying to make “forever purchases.” Like crossing things off a list. Things I’d see in magazine lists of 10 timeless whatever. Cartier love ring. Burberry rain coat. Or later looked at someone like Emma Hill and wondered if I should be doing what she’s doing— minimal pieces that largely won’t age, things I buy rationally and don’t get sick of. In this context, culling would be about trying to get closer and closer to some perfectly curated forever closet of items that all work together and help me build a life of never looking fradiculous. And this project would be mostly finite. Something I could do and pretty much — get done.
But at some point — crystallized by the Tibi Style Class content — I realized that style is actually a way I reflect my internal self on the outside. It means I’m forever trying to look the most like the me I feel. And that me is creative and faceted. So culling my closet is a way to probe who I am and how I want to feel. To express my creativity. And to experience joy in doing it. Because I work on who I am inside, I also work on my closet, making it a better place to help me express who I am and how I feel. The work is ongoing. And I love it.
And generally, the work is easy. So let me talk about that part first.
(1) I have a system of hangers. (Others do one in, one out, but for some reason I find that hard to follow.) I have a set number of hangers and am not allowed (ever) to buy a new hanger. It’s a built in way to force culling and a (generous) set of parameters for how much I can own.
(2) I have a Probation Shelf. Anything I’m struggling with, anything I’m uncertain about, anything that didn’t make me feel good or that I’m not excited to wear, goes on Probation. And then I check on them when ready to cull and see if I care at all about getting rid of them.
(3) I trade up and eliminate more. When craving something that’s really a better version of something I already own in terms of the feeling it expresses, I try to get rid of multiple things I already have before allowing myself this new purchase.
(4) I use my adjectives and modifier. Currently: Eased out, modern, heritage, Miami. Most often culling happens on question 1: Is it eased out? I don’t want to put on tricky, choky, sweaty, pull-y, compression-y things.
But recently, for the first time I can remember, I hit a wall. I had incredible new pieces in that I’d chosen with great care. A vintage cotton men’s Missoni sweater from Capsool. A Tibi sculptural tunic top I’d put on my wish list, a Miu Miu skirt with very different, provocative proportions. They needed a home. But after what I thought was my usual disciplined paring, I still had work to do. I almost bought new hangers. But to do so would be to give up and that was a resounding “No can do, Rach.”
I had to, like Sally teaches, push past the plateau for meaningful results. And was it ever eye opening.
(1) First, I used IG to find my “iffy” items and relegate them to probation. so I snapped a pic and posted as a poll asking IG friends for their yay/nay. This I’ve done before. But this time, I didn’t go based on just the answers or the fact that I’d posted them in the first place as an indicator that they could go— but instead looked at how the answers made me feel. If someone gave a thumbs down and I thought “You’re so wrong and here’s why!” it was information. If I felt relief, it was information.
(2) I styled pieces I wasn’t sure about. For these items, I took the time to fully style them to the best of my abilities. I snapped mirror selfies. And then looked at them a couple hours later. What I need most are, in Tibi-speak, the WOFs, that is, the kind of pieces that make my wildest items work, the kind you can count on without even thinking about it. So if this item wasn’t good even with loads of thought, even styled with those most reliable pieces, it definitely had to go. And if I could only see this piece working in literally this one way, I put it on Probation.
(3) I tried on my elite, most treasured pieces. And holy sh*t, this was where the most learning happened. I discovered that sometimes when I love something the most, I don’t wear it. Or even look at it.
- In some instances, as I’ve mentioned on IG, I don’t wear it because it’s “too good.” Like my black Bottega jumpsuit. So it just sits there. Instantly I pulled this out to wear.
- Some things sit for so long without being looked at that they’re no longer good. Either they sort of go out of style, the fit shifts slightly, or in the case of a white shirt, they yellow.
- Some things, it turns out, weren’t as good as I’d remembered, a fact I’d ignored because they were “my elite, most treasured pieces!” By putting them in this category, I’d removed them from the rigor I subject all my other pieces to.
The key with these formerly “untouchable” pieces is to remove the high level of emotion and make them cull-able like the rest. To force myself from saying “those are my holy grail jean!” and instead look at them as a jean. (The search for the holy grail is ongoing, especially in a category that’s subject to trends, and it’s part of the fun.) One way to force it is to pick a category and try on every single piece in that category. When you don’t have time (I did the skirts on a Sunday morning, pre-brunch), do it in small subsets. Try on your neutral skirts, for example. Your black blazers. Your denim jackets.
Sometimes the results are instant. You might be like “what the heck did I see in this thing?” Or “this is so not my life now.” Sometimes you have to focus a little more to be true to yourself. Generally when you have such a strong emotional connection to an item, there’s something else involved. Some sort of nostalgia. Maybe you loved who you were and how you felt in that moment. To push past the plateau (even trying it on is step 1), you have to ask, do I love it, truly, right now? Or can I say — ala Marie Kondo, I loved you, I’m grateful for what you brought me, but you are not joyful or helpful for me today. I’m making room for the me I’ve become. Or more accurately, I’m becoming.