Reach For It

In reply to Tuesday’s post, reader Carol L. commented:

Like you, I also have a tendency to pick up “great finds” that are “nearly but not quite right”! How can we counter this habit? Maybe remembering the ideal of a streamlined closet? Or one in, one out?

Good question!  I think we find a system or a saying – like “one in, one out” – that works for us. In deciding whether something stays in my (theoretically) well-edited closet, my mantra lately has been “Do I reach for this?” And I think it could be applied proactively in the thrift store; I’ll explain how in a minute.

I’ve found that having a simple question like this keeps me from slipping into a lengthy pros-and-cons analysis – something that is unlikely to give me clear answers or a sense of peace about what’s in my wardrobe. (You know when something is unresolved and a small part of your brain is always paying attention to it? Not worth it.)

The most (in)famous of such mantras for clothing is Marie Kondo’s “Does this spark joy?”  I love this question in theory and find it works well in other areas of my life. But for clothing it doesn’t seem to cut to the heart of the matter. Why?

For starters, more than one closet favorite has started as a closet “eh” that I had to grow into.  Remember my futzing around with this sky blue Loft sweater that wouldn’t seem to layer? I was unconvinced for quite awhile.

But then I figured out it looked smashing with my caramel pants (particularly when paired with this massive cardigan), and look how thrilled I am to sport it under a navy polka dotted vest! Good thing I didn’t chuck it because it wasn’t sparking joy right away.

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Second, I’ve found that some items that DO spark joy (see: fabulous sequined capelet below) are not things I ever wear.


In contrast, “Do I reach for this?” seems to be where joy hits the road – do I love not just the piece itself but wearing it? Is it something I don’t have to talk myself into? The question also measures whether I’m being won over by an unlikely contender: “Hmm, I was not sold on this top at first but I seem to be reaching for it a lot lately.”

The concept helped me jettison a few items I’d been on the fence about during my last closet cleanout (post next week!) and I’m keeping it at the ready as I finalize my spring wardrobe lineup. When my Lenten fast from thrift shopping is over, I’m also going to try “Will I reach for this?” as a preemptive question while I’m still in the thrift store, trying to decide about a piece.

Stopping for a moment to figure out how I feel about a piece – am I excited to wear this the first chance I get? – rather than how I think about a piece – it’s so practical, it will fill a wardrobe hole, it has lots of features I normally love – connects me to same the emotional space targeted by “Does this spark joy?” In my emotional lexicon, thinking “I can’t wait to wear this!” or feeling drawn to something I love both fall under “reaching for it.”


Does “reach for it” do it for you? Or some other short question/phrase/mantra? Or do you prefer a more data-driven or analytical system?  Scroll down to share!


PS “Reach for it reach for it…” There’s your Hamilton reference for the day!  You’re welcome. (Sorry, can’t help myself when it comes to Lin-Manuel.)


4 thoughts on “Reach For It

  1. I don’t like to get rid of a ‘maybe’, because maybe I will find a way to wear it later that is more suitable. Although if I find that I haven’t worn that ‘maybe’ in a year, I’ll donate it. More often than not if I never reach for something in my closet, there is a good reason why – the fit or color isn’t flattering on me, it isn’t practical, or just doesn’t evoke joy. When thrift stores run specials like fill up a bag for $x or all clothes half price, I tend to be a little less picky because it is so cheap which amounts to a lot of clutter in my closets. It can be hard to quickly decipher between really great and almost great in a dressing room and low prices mean low risk. I try to get stuff that I love, is quality, and fairly unique (color, pattern, or style that I don’t have). If I have something similar at home, but I like the new version better, I’ll get rid of the one I already have. If something is not practical, but evokes joy, I’ll get it if it is really special – a few things like that are OK, a closet full is not.

    1. Emmy – oh man, bag sales can be tricky! I tend to stay away because they’re so popular it can be really hard to even try something on, so I buy things out of FOMO and then find out they don’t fit. I tell myself I’ll be happier to spend $7 on one piece I’ve tried on and know is great rather than spend $7 to get 7 things that are likely to be “meh.”
      Like you I try to stick to color/style/pattern I don’t have, and/or making a “thrift upgrade” with a better version of something I already own. Thanks for sharing!

  2. “Reach for it” is the best takeaway thought I’ve had from a style blog in a long time. I’m so glad you posted this, Leah, because it just made everything click for me. When I stepped back (metaphorically) from my wardrobe, I suddenly realized that this is how I choose what I wear every day. I’ve decided that following my gut instinct on reaching out for what works for me (and not overthinking my decision) is the best and most sensible advice I’ve heard in a long time. A great post!

    1. Sophie – wow! So glad you found it so helpful. I had a similar “click” moment with “reach for it” and am thrilled it resonated with someone else! Thanks for taking the time to share.

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