How To Pare Down Your Closet Without Losing Your Mind

Want to pare down your closet but not sure where to start? Are you painfully aware that you don't wear 70% of what you own?  Click through for one stylist's tips for decluttering your closet!
Want to pare down your closet but not sure where to start? Are you painfully aware that you don’t wear 70% of what you own? You are not alone, my friend! Thankfully, Sally McGraw is here to help us clear out our closets

Even if you love to purge your closet, chances are – you also hate it.

Clothing is imbued with emotion, steeped in memory, and parting with it can be downright painful. As rewarding as it feels to jettison long-languishing items, it can be stressful to part with pants that will never fit again, gifts from long-lost loves, expensive duds you never wore.

I’m not gonna tell you to invite your girlfriends over, open a bottle of wine, and make a party of it. You certainly can, but for many women, closet purges are extremely personal and most effective when undertaken alone.

Regardless of whether you tackle the task on your own or with help, promise me you’ll make time for it. Real time. Do not purge your closet in between other tasks over the course of a month. Set aside a full weekend day, hire a sitter, banish everyone. It sounds like overkill, but you will not regret carving out the space and time for this task. Promise.

How To Pare Down Your Closet Without Losing Your Mind

Start with your neglected, underutilized, languishing items

Try them on. Yes, all of them. Including shoes and accessories. Yes, I know it’s going to take ages. Remember, you’ve got all day. Try them on in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror.

If an item never fit in the first place, donate it

You should begin dressing for your Today Body as soon as possible. Clothing that never worked with your figure damages your body image. Donate it to a worthy cause.

If an item shames you for your body shape or shopping habits, sell it

If an item has negative associations, recouping your losses can soften the parting blow. Consign, sell on eBay, or find some other way to make a few of your bucks back.

If an item’s value is emotional, store it or document it

You can keep the shredded jeans from your carefree days in high school, but you don’t need to store them in your active closet. If you can’t bear to part with them, find an obliging corner of your basement. If you don’t have much storage space, photograph or journal about the item before you send it along to a new home.

If it is damaged, repair it 

Some items are neglected because they’re broken. Replace buttons, have shoes resoled, take ill-fitting items to the tailor.

If you love it but don’t know how to wear it, display it prominently

Many items remain neglected simply because they’re hidden from view. Move challenging items to the front of the closet so you can see them.

Don’t feel obliged to jettison everything that is currently too big or small for you

Bodies fluctuate. Many women’s bodies fluctuate on a monthly basis and having some size options on hand can be incredibly helpful.

But consider these two important things before deciding to hang onto any article of clothing that doesn’t fit your Today Body:

Are you being honest?

It makes sense to hang on to jeans a size or two away from your current size in case of weight changes. But beyond that may be pushing reason. While you may return to a previous size someday, remember that you can replace virtually all clothing. You should donate items that are far smaller or larger than you are now. Letting them go can help you accept your body and move toward loving it.

Are you hurt by their presence?

Memories of other body shapes and sizes can be painful for a multitude of reasons. Any items of clothing that prompt feelings of disappointment, shame, or self-loathing don’t belong in your closet, or in your house. Find them new homes for those pieces and focus on the clothing that inspires, beautifies, and energizes you.

Now that you’ve sussed out your least-worn items, let’s move on to your most-worn pieces. Try them on. Yes, all of them. Now ask yourself:

What is their relationship to your current style?

Some frequently worn items may fit into your current style but feel stale or tired. Consider jettisoning those or placing them into storage until you’ve made more decisions about where your style is headed. Keep anything that feels classic or quintessentially “you.”

Do they make you look good and feel good?

Ideal garments will work with your body. That means they’ll highlight your favorite attributes without causing you acute discomfort. Items that feel great but look awful should be reserved for sick days. Items that look great but feel awful should be ejected from your closet.

Some garments will fall more on the “look good” or “feel good” side of the fence, of course, and that’s fine. But always consider your compromises. Carefully.

If they’re keepers, do they need repair or replacement?

Wardrobe staples are among the items most likely to show wear and tear. How are yours holding up? If they are items that you know will endure beyond any style revisions, make sure they’re in good shape.

That probably took a while. If you were as thorough as you should’ve been, you’ve just tried on and evaluated everything in your closet. If you’re on the brink of exhaustion, call it a day. If you’ve got any energy left, take a moment to evaluate your closet itself, including organization and storage.
Your wardrobe should be clean and organized. No piles on the floor, no wads in the corner. Do what you can to keep everything tidy, as it will keep your clothes in wearable shape for longer.
Make sure your clothing, shoes, and accessories are visible and safely stored. Again, you won’t wear what you can’t see. Do your best to create a wardrobe space with few hidden corners.
Eyeball your available storage for future purchases. You will, eventually, go shopping. Do you have room for any new items? If not, can you reconfigure your current storage?
Now feel free to collapse into an exhausted heap. You’ve earned it.
Do you actively purge your closet or wardrobe? Any tips to share?
P.S. 9 ways to avoid buyer’s remorse so you don’t have to do another closet purge in a year!
Photo by Alexandru Acea on Unsplash

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  1. Rachael

    I recently lost 30 lbs due to medical difficulties. In the 4+ months since I have not gained a single ounce back so I have been finally going through a massive purge of my closet – about 3/4ths of it is too large for me. I've slowly begun to accumulate smaller sized clothing. I am still in shock though and cautious to trust it. I've had to take small steps though; there's no way I could do one whole day.
    I'd like to eBay some designer jeans & dresses I have that no longer fit but the market is bad :/
    oh well.
    Thanks for the support & advice!~

    • Paula

      Try Clothes Mentor. you can at least recoup some of your money…

  2. Anonymous

    Oh my goodness. I love going through my closet and getting rid of things. I don't hate it. And I also don't have emotional ties to clothes or the majority of the other things she mentions. Couple this with reading my roommate's diary last night, and boy, I feel like one of the only sane women out there!

  3. Rae

    I have been doing this, slowly, over the past few weeks. I am finally getting rid of stuff that I acquired over my six years in Asia. I realized I was keeping a lot of it for sentimental reasons, and it's felt really good to let it go. It's like I was still hoping to go back, and now I am finally accepting and enjoying my new life.

  4. Kit

    Ooh- I often set aside a day to try everything on and pull everything out of my wardrobe and chuck it on my bed so I can't give up. Then I try on a few things and I give up. I end up sitting on my bed for a bit, or daydreaming, or seeing what's on telly. Not good form! But I have recently culled quite a bit because of a recent move and it feels so good- particularly when putting things on ebay pays off! I think I'm due another one quite soon…

  5. M

    2 great things for doing this…
    1) Turn your hangers around…so the opening is toward you instead of away, when you wear it put back correctly. In a month you will see what you wear and what you don't. Do it longer and see what you where over the course of a year.

    2) Reselling on ebay or getting friends together for a clothing swap to get "new" stuff from your friends while you purge your closets!

  6. Mandy

    This post came at the perfect time, as I need to go through my closet as I get ready to move from California to Texas in about a month. I can't take everything with me, and don't have anywhere to store the leftover stuff…so out it goes! So hard!

    Also, like Rachael, I just lost 25 lbs, so I have a lot of clothes that don't fit. I'm so nervous to get rid of them though, in case my weight goes up again! I guess getting rid of them will help pressure me to keep off the weight? Right?

  7. Shelley

    What about workout clothes? what's a good rule of thumb for the number of old tanks or t-shirts or long-sleeved cotton tops (for running in cold temps) that I should keep? I always struggle with that.

  8. L

    I'm bookmarking this post because it has so many helpful tips. I moved to TX two years ago and will be doing the whole cohabitation thing with my boyfriend by the end of the year. If we are going to share a closet, things need to go. I have a bunch of heavy sweaters that I've held onto from my years in Philly and I think it's time to say goodbye to them. Sad but true.

  9. laura fox gill

    This comes at the perfect time! I share a bedroom with my boyfriend (and a wardrobe) and so there is NO room and everything ends up on the floor. I plan to take out all of my clothes, clean them and put them on the bed so that the undoubtedly sheer size of the pile shocks me into getting rid of at least half. Some great tips in the post and in the comments–especially that one from 'M'!) x

  10. alittledof

    @Shelley: Every time I'm purging my closet I'm left with a hugh pile of tops and tanks that I think I can wear for workout or lounging. But over the time, my 'lounge drawer' is packed with stuff so I can't even open it. It's terrible. So I think the rule of thumb is to realistically evaluate which from that pile of 'not-so-good-but-still-will-do' tanks you are going to wear and how many of them do you actually need.
    Anyway, good post. I'm currently in the situation, that I will have to move every year, because of school, so I start to work hard on building capsule wardrobe. But as was already said, giving away bulks of clothes hurts. So thanks for your support 🙂

  11. Hannah at The Lemon Hive

    I desperately need to empty my closet. Especially of damaged clothes etc but I always think but…I could layer it and hide that bit that needs repair. Dreadful, I know! If I were more consistent with laundry maybe I'd be better at living with a smaller closet. Or, maybe, a smaller closet would make me better at laundry. Who knows?!

  12. Holly

    Love this: “Items that feel great but look awful should be reserved for sick days. Items that look great but feel awful should be ejected from your closet.”

    I need to continue my KonMari charge. Thanks for the reminder!

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