How to Declutter Your Clothes for a Streamlined Wardrobe

Do you have more clothes than you ever wear?  Do you have clothes that you don’t want but hate to get rid of?  Do you have too many clothes for your actual storage space?  These are just 3 little red flags that it’s time to declutter and take back control of your wardrobe!

The steps of decluttering are very straightforward.  So if you’ve got a big old mountain of clothes that needs to be slimmed down, it’s not complicated.  You’ll do the same steps, just repeat them until that mountain is a streamlined, curated collection of what you need and like.

1. Take 5 minutes.

If you’re just getting started decluttering your wardrobe, do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to think about what you want.  This is important to make sure you’re goals are in sight throughout the process.  

Consider these things:

  • What is my life like right now?  What clothing do I need and wear?
  • Is there an upcoming change that will affect my wardrobe?  Maybe a new job, a move to a different climate, a pregnancy, or a change in responsibilities.
  • Do I like my current style or is there a style I’d like to move toward?
  • What all storage space do I have for clothing?  Closet, dressers, etc.  Can I reasonably add more space by organizing more effectively?
  • What about my wardrobe isn’t working for me and what would change that?

When you need motivation to keep decluttering, come back to your goals and vision for your wardrobe.

2. Grab your supplies

With clothing, be sure to have at least one trash bag for items to be discarded.

Also have containers to collect items for different destinations.  For example have a box or bag to hold clothes to be donated.  Maybe another to hold clothing that needs to be returned.  And another for items you plan on selling.

The more you can separate items based on where they will end up the easier it will be for you.  

Ideally you’ll be able to do much of this while you’re actually decluttering and not later.

3. Gather and sort

Gather clothes together.

Ideally, you’d be able to have all of your clothes (or at least all of one category of clothes, such as jeans, or socks, or dresses, etc.) in one place so you can see everything you have while you sort and make decisions.

If this is an option for you, go for it.  Just pick a type of item, let’s say workout clothes.  Then collect all your workout clothes from wherever they are in your home.  Put them all together and declutter them before starting with another category.

If this isn’t an option for you, or if you’re working through your house space by space, that’s okay.  Follow these steps for the space that you’re focusing on (maybe a dresser or closet).

Sort by type of item.

If you’ve gathered all items in a category together, then you’re sort step is already completed and you can move on to deciding what to keep.

If you’re working with a range of items (maybe you’ve emptied all the drawers in your dresser), then sort the items into categories so similar items are together.

4. Decide what's going to stay

Select a category and go through each item in it. 

Decide if the item should be:

  • Discarded (thrown away)
  • Returned (to lender)
  • Donated/Given (to an organization or individual)
  • Sold
  • Kept

With some items, it will be obvious to decide where they should go.

With other items, it gets a little trickier. 

Here’s how to make decluttering clothes faster, easier, and feel more confident about your decisions:

  1. First, ask yourself the right questions. (see list below
  2. Then, if you’re still not sure, learn how to get past the most common stumbling blocks. (see list below)

One at a time, work your way through the category of items you’ve chosen.   Put each in the appropriate destination pile (trash, return, donate/give, sell, or keep).

When you’re finished with all the items in a category, move on to the next.

5. Return, remove and relocate

Once you’ve made a decision about every item, next you want to get them to their new home.

  • Neatly replace the keep items where they belong.
  • Put all the items to be discarded into a trash bag for disposal.
  • Divide items up by destination and put into boxes/bags for transport.
  • Remove all decluttered items from the room.
  • Get them out of the house as soon as possible.  If not immediately, put them in an out-of-the-way staging area until they can be taken away.

Questions to ask yourself

Questions are the main tool of decluttering.  But the key is to ask ones that get at the heart of the matter, that are designed to help you make decisions that you won’t regret.

Here is a list of questions to ask yourself as you work to clear your clothing clutter.

  • Will I wear it again?   If the answer is “no”, then your decision is obvious.  But even if the answer is “yes”, it’s not an automatic “keep”.  Still go through the rest of the questions.
  • Is it well-fitting and comfortable?   Let’s be honest.  We’ve all been willing to pay the price of a little discomfort for the sake of fashion somewhere along the way.  But 99.9% of your wardrobe should fit well and be comfortable to wear.
  • Is it difficult or time-consuming to care for?   No matter how much we love a piece of clothing, practicality is still important.  Does it hang unworn because of the time it takes to maintain?  If so, it’s a good candidate to go. 
  • Do I need to return it to someone?   This can be a little bit embarrassing and even guilt-inducing if you’ve borrowed something and waited way too long to give it back.  But don’t avoid it any longer.  Get it back to the lender with a genuine “thank you”.
  • Is it in good enough condition to donate?   Items with permanent stains, obvious repairs, repairs needed, or looking thread-bare aren’t suitable to give away.

    If something isn’t in good enough condition for you to hold on to, it isn’t in good enough condition to donate. And if something isn’t in good enough condition to donate, it’s probably okay for you to let it go.

    Although there’s nothing wrong with keeping those worn-through jeans and holey t-shirt you find so comfortable! 

  • Does it look/feel good on me?   It really doesn’t matter how good you look in a piece of clothing if you don’t feel good when you’re wearing it.  So ask yourself both these questions and be honest with your answers.
  • Would I buy it again?  If you were in a store today and walked by this item, would you be willing to part with hard-earned cash to have it in your closet?
  • Do I have similar items?   This doesn’t mean you can’t have duplicates, but be intentional about it.  How many pairs of a certain wash or style of jean do you own?  How many colors of that turtleneck do you really wear?  
  • Can it be matched with different outfits?   The best use of your space is for clothing that can multitask.  If an item only works with one outfit, think about whether it’s worth keeping.
  • Does it need to be repaired or altered?   Whether it needs to have a stain removed, a seam fixed, a button replaced, a hem finished, or some other adjustment.  A simple repair or alteration can breath new life into a piece of clothing.  You need to decide if it’s worth the time and expense … and if it will actually get done! 
  • Does it reflect the style I want and will wear?   I’m talking about pieces that reflect how you want to present yourself today.  If an item is clearly the relic of a style that no longer suits you, it’s a prime candidate to go. 

If you’ve gone through these questions and still aren’t sure, ask yourself this:   Why do I want to keep it?

Observe the emotions, memories, and thoughts that it evokes.

This should give you a hint about what is keeping you stuck.

What-if and other traps that keep you stuck

Let me start by saying that I believe it’s perfectly okay to hold on to items that have special meaning for us.  The question is “how many and which ones”?  Your answer to that will be very personal but I hope to give you some direction here.

Items that are emotionally-charged, whether positive or negative, are often a little tougher to deal with.  

Below are 5 common themes that can paralyze us into inaction.  I know how tough they can be because I’ve struggled with each of them myself.

  • “It’s too good to give away.”   You know how much you paid for it or if it’s a high quality item.  And maybe you’ve never even taken the tags off.  But here’s a little cold water to splash on your face … it doesn’t matter.  If it fails the question test (above) there’s no reason to keep it.  If you can easily sell it, great.  But don’t try to get your monetary investment back.  There’s nothing wrong will donating good quality items.
  • “What if I change my mind?”   I’ll be honest.  You might.  But in most cases you won’t.  Ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen if you no longer own this item?  
  • “I’ll feel guilty if I don’t keep it.”   Why?  Are you afraid to hurt someone’s feelings?  Even if it was a gift, that doesn’t mean to you need to carry it with you the rest of your life.  Does it make you feel wasteful?  Then donate or give it away so someone can be using and appreciating it.  
  • “I’m afraid to let go of my past.”   A physical object that we can see and touch is a strong connection to our past.  It doesn’t make that past any more real, but it can feel reassuring.  Is there another way to preserve it … maybe a photo or video or even a clever upcycle?  
  • “It brings up strong emotions and I don’t want to deal with it.”  You know yourself best.  If the emotions are going to have a ripple effect in your everyday life, then maybe it’s best to leave this item as it is for now.  But in less extreme cases, confronting the emotion and taking action will actually help to get you past it.  If it helps, journal your feelings and thoughts so you have it to look back on.

When there are items you’re having particular difficulty dealing with, it can be really useful to jot some notes in a journal.  Not only will it help you process your thoughts, but will be something you can look back on.

My personal experience has been that maybe something I just can’t let go today, I’ll feel no need for a couple years from now.

That doesn’t mean that I just keep everything and hope I change my mind someday!

It’s important to challenge yourself and take some risks.  In other words, get rid of things.

But for a select few items that are too much to deal with, I think a gentler approach is smart.  It’s more important to make progress than to stick to the “rules”.

Tips for success

So far we’ve talked about the steps of decluttering, the questions to ask yourself, and how to deal with difficult items.  

Next I’m going to let you in on some tips that make the whole process run more smoothly and easily.

  • Concentrate on what you want to keep, not what you’re getting rid of.  This will maintain your focus on the real goal and help you avoid getting “lost in the weeds”.
  • If you really get stuck on an item, set it aside for later and keep moving.  Maybe it even ends up staying by default.  It’s better to do this than to stall your entire decluttering effort.  Just be sure to minimize the clothing in this pile.  You don’t want to add too many things to avoid making decisions.
  • Try everything on.  Items that you remember fitting great may not look the same if it’s been a while.

What to do with decluttered clothes?

There are so many options these days that picking one is tougher than finding one.  Whether local, online, or international, someone will be happy with what you have to give.

  • Donate to a charitable organization.  From churches to shelters to thrift stores, every community has a range of organizations that collect clothing.  And if you go this route, don’t forget a receipt for tax purposes.
  • Give to someone who needs it.  Maybe it’s a local family that’s fallen on hard times, or someone you know who’s struggling.  
  • Gift to a friend or family member.   An item we’ve tired of can be a bright new addition to someone else’s wardrobe.  Maybe it’s something that a friend has complimented you on before.  Or a color you know looks just fab on your sister or mom.
  • Sell.   Drop off at a consignment shop and let them sell it for you.  Or have a clothing sale and invite your friends.  Of course selling online (think ebay, PoshMark, ThredUp, etc.) is a great option these days as well.
  • Upcycle.   If you’re crafty, there’s really no limit to how you can upcycle clothing.  Turn it into a newly styled piece to wear, or into an entirely different object. 

Wrap up

On your way to closet bliss there will be lots of decisions. but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.  Asking the right questions goes a long way toward making decisions that you won’t regret.  You’ll learn how to avoid getting stalled by items that it’s hard to make up your mind about.  Decluttering clothes is one of the best things you can do for yourself … and your family.

Maintaining your decluttered wardrobe

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