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How To Purge Clothes: 7 Mindset Shifts You Need to Edit Your Wardrobe

Is it hard for you to let go of clothes?

The ones that are old and dated. 

The ones that don’t make you feel your best.

The ones that are “just ok,” but you make do.

Yes?

Then you are far from alone. 

We’ve all been there: You open your closet door, see that it’s filled with stuff, and immediately feel utterly overwhelmed.

Even as someone who does this for an actual living, there are certain times when I peek in my closet and think, I’ll deal with this later.

I really have to be in the mood to dive in and get things back on track, which often leaves me feeling guilty.

But as we’re racing toward spring, “later” might be now.:)

How to Purge Clothes and Create a Closet You Love

How to Purge Clothes and Create a Closet You Love

How to Purge Clothes and Create a Closet You Love

Before I launched The Well Dressed Life, I spend about a decade as a personal stylist, working with clients, helping them shop and create a functional and stylish wardrobe.

My first step with a new client was to clean out and edit their wardrobes.

Honestly, it was my least favorite part of my job, but the most necessary.

Almost every time I came home from that initial appointment, I was exhausted.  

At first, I didn’t understand why I was so tired.

It’s not like my job was hard. 

But I eventually realized; it wasn’t the physical task that drained me so much but the constant negotiations back and forth with the client. I’m sure this is a sentiment that most professional women can understand.

Most clients wanted to tell me the life story of every item they purchased and debate every single piece we were purging.

However, this challenge eventually got easier. The more experience I gained, the faster I worked.

I knew what should stay and what should go immediately.

Because I wasn’t emotionally attached to the clothes, I could edit a decent-sized wardrobe in under an hour. 

Purging Your Clothes is Emotional

As it turned out I wasn’t the only one drained; clients would let me know they too were surprised how wiped out they felt after our time together.

Because our clothes are an extension of who we are, a link to our past and future, parting with even the most unwearable piece can feel uncomfortable.

To make the experience easier for both of us, I had to figure out a way to streamline the process and lessen the rush of anxiety many clients felt.

Since I’ve stopped working with clients, we’ve published countless posts on editing and organizing your closet space and keeping your closet clean.

But we’ve never dived into the most important part: the mindset you need to feel good as you move through the process.

If you grasp the steps of editing your wardrobe but struggle with actually letting go, there are a few things you can do to lessen the strain and stress.

7 Mindset Shifts You Need to Edit Your Wardrobe

This is the most important tip I can share with you. 

You cannot curate your wardrobe if you don’t know your style.

And if you don’t know your style, you will not be able to create a framework for determining what stays and what goes. 

So start there.

Before you attempt to edit your wardrobe and purge your closet, take some time to figure out what you like.

When we worked with clients, before we even entered their closets, we asked them to pull pictures from magazines and catalogs or create a Pinterest board of looks that spark joy for them.  

  A snapshot of my personal style board. 

Giving yourself a visual will help you see a common theme.

Here are some questions to ask:

Do you like pants more than skirts? 

Solid colors or bold prints? 

What shoes do you prefer?

What kind of accessories?

Going through this step before starting an edit made a huge difference for our clients.

It gave them “permission” to let go and provided some much-needed clarity and focus. 

When you struggle to let of an item, hold it up to your inspiration pictures and ask yourself, “Does this get me to my desired personal style?”

If the answer is yes, you keep it. But, no, let it go. 

Read Our Post: How to Discover Your Personal Style

2. You Already Spent the Money

“How can I get rid of something I spent money on and barely wore?”

Looking at our donation pile and seeing nothing but wasted money is so frustrating.

But once you can grasp the idea of a “sunk cost,” the fact that you already spent the money, whether it’s hanging in your closet or someones else’s, it doesn’t matter.

It’s just clutter. 

Hanging on to clothing items you haven’t worn doesn’t give your purchase any value.

Often, it does the opposite and becomes a negative or a pain point in your closet.

Every time you look at it, you get annoyed. 

Is it in excellent condition but doesn’t work for you?

 Sell it on Thredup or Poshmark (see our tips here).

Or take it to your local consignment shop – be sure to call ahead and check what season they are accepting.

My Best Tips for Consigning, Donating, or Recycling Clothes

Or donate to someone who can benefit from it and move on.

If it’s stained, ripped our in bad shape, recycle or throw it out. 

3. It’s Not Coming Back in Style

I was 16 years old in 1995 when clueless came out and like millions of other teenage girls, every outfit in that movie was my personal style north star.

And now, 90s style is everywhere.

But I am 43.

I don’t want to dress like I did when I was a kid.

Instead, I want to embrace true 90’s style, rooted in relaxed, classic pieces.

Listen to me when I say, that while trends “come back”, they are never the same and likely won’t make sense in your current style.

Each new iteration of a trend has subtle details that make it modern.

Are there exceptions?

Sure.

Did your mom dress like Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy back in the day? Maybe raid her closet.

We’re talking about a Chanel tweed jacket, or a Calvin Klein bias cut dress, something truly archival is worth holding on to.

But it’s not the blazer you bought at Macy’s on the clearance rack.

That you can let go of.

How do you know when something is dated?

First, when I talk about something being dated, I’m NOT talking about this ridiculous trend of influencers pushing a style one season, and the following season they dare to tell you it’s “over.”

I just saw a video of some girl telling her audience that the Tory Burch Miller Sandals are out of style – which is absurd.

You can peel them from my cold dead hands.

When I talk about dated, I mean truly past their prime, actually old items that make you look older than you are and prevent your look from looking timeless and modern.

So, how do you know?

The Pinterest exercise above helps.

Are the pieces hanging in your closet reflected in your inspiration pictures?

Look at details like buttons, pocket placements, length and widths of pants, shoulder shape, and color saturation. 

Think of it like this: the classic pair of black pants you bought in 2010 are now 13 years old.

The styling, the line, the construction, and the fit are all outdated. 

Consider asking your most opinionated friend or even your kids for guidance.

My daughters are frighteningly good at giving, ahem, brutal fashion advice. 

The point is, you might need a fresh set of eyes to be objective.

4. Don’t “Save” Your Stuff for Someone Else

One of the most consistent things clients would say while we were cleaning out their closets was, “oh, no don’t get ride of that,  I’ll see if my daughter wants it.”

I eventually realized they were using this as either an excuse not to have to make a decision or to help them not feel wasteful.

So, let me say this with love; with few exceptions, your friends and neighbors do not want what you are giving away.

Don’t burden the people you love with your old stuff.

The exception is, of course, heirloom-quality, timeless designer or sentimental pieces. I have several of these pieces put aside for my daughters for a special occasion.  

Once you determine what you want to pass down, have it cleaned and stored correctly so they stay in good condition.

I have a few vintage bags put aside for my girls, the white suit I wore at my rehearsal dinner, and some designer pieces I splurged on that don’t fit anymore.

Other than that, don’t use passing a piece down as an excuse to hold on to something you don’t wear. 

And trust me, if your daughters wanted something in your closet, they would have stolen it by now 🙂

5. Take It Out of Your Main Closet

If you are undecided about a few items, don’t stress.

You don’t need to part with them right away.

Instead, move them to a separate closet or store them in a box under your bed.

Then, after a few weeks, or even at the end of the season, if you haven’t reached for them, you know you can finally let them go.

The same goes for items that don’t fit anymore.

If you’re on a weight loss journey, move the pieces that don’t fit to the back of your closet.

I did this for myself this year as I was losing some COVID \stubborn pregnancy weight.

Because there is nothing worse than trying to get dressed and being constantly reminded that your body isn’t where you want it to be. 

6. Fit Doesn’t Mean You Keep

This is a big one.

Just because something fits doesn’t mean it’s for you.

As women, we are so used to the struggle of finding things that fit; we often forget to ask ourselves whether we like it or not.

I found this out personally when I resubscribed to Stitch Fix for some postpartum clothes after my last baby.

I was so happy something zipped up I kept it with no thought to whether I liked it or not.

Everything I ordered eventually ended up in a big, rather expensive donation pile. 

Think about how many things you have that you are lukewarm about in terms of style but kept because you’re just happy it fits?

7. Your Closet is NOT a Department Store

You don’t need to stock your closet like a department store or a bunker for potential fashion disasters.

While I’m far from a minimalist, the sheer volume I’ve seen in closets is overwhelming.

Stop buying things on sale simply because they are at a discount.

Client Case Study: I once had a client who had a giant box of pantyhose and tights, in all different colors, patterns and in various sizes in her closet. Some of them had to have been 10 + years old. She bought them all on sale, “just in case,” despite not ever needing to wear a pair of pantyhose. We battled over the box, and she finally let us donate the decent ones when I told her if she let me get rid of them, I would personally buy her pantyhose any time she needed one in the future. A risk I was willing to take since she refused to wear skirts and only wore pants. 🙂

Be serious and realistic about your needs, spend wisely and don’t fill your space with unnecessary “stuff.”

Making a habit of thoughtfully considering purchases each time you shop will help keep your closet organized, is better for your wallet, and limits the endless cycle of waste in the retail industry. 

Getting organized and building a wardrobe you love is a lot like getting fit and healthy.

There is no quick fix or magic wand. It takes a great deal of time and discipline. Editing your wardrobe is like those first couple of workouts back at the gym.

At first, it’s miserable, but then you feel great, and it gets easier.

How To Purge Clothes: 7 Mindset Shifts You Need to Edit Your Wardrobe
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 Join Megan Kristel for a comprehensive, 3 hour long, LIVE Virtual Workshop sharing personal style and shopping tips for women over 40 on March 31, 2023.

MEET THE AUTHOR

Megan Kristel

Megan Kristel is an entrepreneur, working mom, and former personal stylist. Tired of the one-dimensional portrayal of women online, she founded The Well Dressed Life as a resource for other professional women.

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Tracy Gray

Wednesday 27th of March 2019

This has been great. I have been the worst at cleaning out my closet. At one time when cleaning out my closet, I decided to give some outfits a second chance. My mindset at the time was: if you don't wear it next year, it has to go. Well some things never went. Then when I would finally reached the stage of actually removing it from my closet, I moved everything to a space room we had and would keep the discarded clothes there just in case. After all, what if I needed it? What if it came back in style. Through your suggestions and subtle push, I have taken the big leap and really cleaned out my closet and the spare room. I almost cried as I drove my clothes to the local thrift store. The gentleman who grabbed the bags from me tossed them onto a large conveyer belt and I actually cringed. But I feel free and I actually that I have a clean palette to work with. I have slipped back, but I am making progress. And yes it is an emotional rollercoaster.

Carolyn Jensen

Tuesday 10th of April 2018

Great timing for this post Megan! I decided that I would finally get rid of a skirt that I literally moved back and forth between summer storage and winter storage for (gulp) 10 years without wearing it once. Oh the energy wasted that I could have used on shopping:)

Christine

Tuesday 10th of April 2018

These are great tips. I struggled so much with this, especially when I still had tags on stuff. But once it was out of my closet I felt so much better, less guilt, and then ended up with just stuff I love. And, then you can also see the holes better and can add accordingly.

My problem still lingers with shoes, but I'm getting better.

Kristin

Tuesday 10th of April 2018

I always knew my style, but then I turned 50 and realized stores don’t have much for customers like me. Then, I started to hate shopping, stopped knowing my way around the stores, and now I feel overwhelmed. Not only do I not know what suits me, what I love — but even if I did I wouldn’t know where to buy it. Based on the catalogs that come to my house, I suppose I should load up on Eileen Fisher? Help me!!

MJ

Sunday 10th of October 2021

@Kristin, Boy, do I know the feeling!

Heidi

Tuesday 10th of April 2018

Kristin, I had to smile at your comment about clothes for the "over 50" woman. I especially had to laugh at the Eileen Fisher comment. I know exactly what you mean. Now having just turned 60, I also feel the same way as you with the change in personal style and not finding what we really want or need. Maybe we can get Megan to do a post on wardrobes for the older woman. :-)

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