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How to Purge Clothes and Create a Closet You Love

How to Purge Clothes and Create a Closet You Love
How to Finally Let Go of Clothes You Don't Need - The Well Dressed Life

By the end of June I usually need to set aside some time to reset my closet.

I don’t want to do anything too involved, but too many things have come in and not enough has come out. So let’s talk about how to quickly purge your closet, and keep on top of it so it doesn’t become a whole big thing. 

Is it hard for you to let go of all those clothes hanging in your closet that you know don’t serve you well? 

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. 

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 wardrobe that they loved.

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.

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

The challenge became the longer I was in business, the faster I worked. I knew what should stay and what should go.

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, and tied to a part of us, parting with even the most unwearable piece can be stressful.

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 wardrobe (here and here). We even created our seasonal 4 Week Wardrobe Challenge (next challenge begins in early September) over in our private Facebook group.

But we’ve never dived into the mindset you need to move through the process.

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

Simple Steps to Purge Clothes Once and For All

How to Purge Clothes and Create a Closet You Love

Know Your Style

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. 

Before you attempt to edit your wardrobe, 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 they loved.  

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

For example, do you like pants more than skirts? 

Solid colors or bold prints? 

Going through these steps before starting an edit made a massive difference for our clients. It gave them “permission” to let go and provided some much-needed clarity and focus. 

When you struggle to retire 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

You Already Spent the Money

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

We’ve all been there, looking at our donation pile and seeing nothing but wasted money.

It’s 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 it and not wearing it 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.

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. 

It’s Not Coming Back in Style.

I often say I care less about making you look stylish and more about looking current and modern.

Looking dated, especially as we age, is what we’re trying to avoid.

While trends come and go, each new iteration has subtle details that make it modern. Unless we’re talking about a Chanel tweed jacket or YSL suit, I promise you, 90% of the typical American woman owns isn’t coming back.

So how do you know when something is dated?

Well, the inspiration picture exercise above helps.

Do you see what you have hanging in your closet in your pictures? Don’t look so much at the style; instead, 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 2000 is now TWENTY years old. The styling, the line, the construction, and the fit – are all outdated. 

Consider asking your closest friends 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.

* And I know that everyone has that one piece that works with everything and lasts forever, but that is a unicorn. The blazer you bought at Kohl’s on the clearance rack is not that piece. 

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

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

I eventually realized they were using that as an excuse not to have to make a decision.

“No, she doesn’t! She’s 12!” 

Let me say this with love; with few exceptions, your friends and neighbors don’t want what you are giving away. So 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 kind pieces put aside for my daughters.  

If you are no longer wearing something, 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. 

How to Finally Let Go of Clothes You Don't Need

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. 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.

Same for clothes you’re hoping to fit into again.

If you’re on a weight loss journey, don’t keep those pieces in your closet. You don’t want to wake up and see garments that are too small. So place them in a different cabinet, or keep them in a bin under your bed. 

When you’re ready to try them on again, use the same exercise and principles you used for the rest of your closet.  

Fit Doesn’t Mean You Keep

Remember, 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 ignore 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 often kept the piece 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?

Your Closet is NOT a Department Store

You don’t need to stock your closet like a department store. 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.

Not only does that fill your space with unnecessary “stuff,” it’s a gross waste of money.

Making a habit of thoughtfully considered purchases 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.

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Our readership inspires all of our posts and is not sponsored or paid for by brands or retailers. 

Recommendations are based on my experience as a personal stylist and wardrobe consultant for over a decade. I worked with busy, down-to-earth women who wanted to look chic and feel confident but were often confused by so much of retail. 

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How to Purge Clothes and Create a Closet You Love

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Hollis

Thursday 30th of June 2022

Beautifully written post! So much wisdom and clarity for those who want a thoughtfully curated wardrobe!

Diane

Wednesday 29th of June 2022

I recently purged my closet and I think I did a great job. We’ve moved 3 times in ten years, so I fortunately didn’t have really dated items to purge. Nearly everything I did get rid of was purchased from the clearance racks at my favorite stores, some items with tags still on them, I’m ashamed to say. I took a lot to a consignment store and the rest to charity. I have a good sense of my personal style, which is classic and tailored….think a crisp white shirt with jeans, black pants or a pencil skirt. I’ll jazz it up with a jacket, sweater or accessories. But sometimes a girl just wants to have fun and be trendy. The current trend of feminine floral pieces is not my normal thing, and I wouldn’t go crazy spending $$ on it. Here’s my question—is there a way to incorporate it into my style without looking like someone I’m not?

Tracy Gray

Tuesday 28th of June 2022

Thank you for this! I recently did a purge of my closet and I admit I had a hard time parting with some clothes. I retired this year and still couldn’t part with some of my work clothes and some dresses that I always got compliments when i wore them. I finally asked my girls to help me. They immediately dove right in and the donation pile grew. We had some “discussions” about clothing they wanted to purge and I wanted to keep. We talked about it and finally I realized it wasn’t necessarily the outfit that I loved it was my attachment to it I was holding on to. I’m proud to say that my closet looks a lot better and much more streamlined. Your article reinforced my decisions!

Sue

Tuesday 28th of June 2022

I am currently down-sizing from my large home where I raised my family, so of course I am actively purging many items including clothing. I am also approaching retirement in the upcoming year, so my style and needs are in transition as well. One thing that I finding fun, is to give a favorite outfit a last “tour of duty” wearing before I pass it on. It reminded me why I loved it, and why it will no longer serve me in my new life, which will be lighter and freer than before.

Pam

Tuesday 28th of June 2022

I used to struggle with this but several years ago after getting rid of a bunch of clothes when I remodeled my closet, I established a strict rule with myself. I only buy something new if I can think of something in my closet I would gladly give up to make space. (Same with dresser drawers and shoe cabinet.) So I always have one donation bag, and sometimes a Poshmark bag at the bottom of my closet. When I buy something new, I take something old out and put it in one of those two bags. If I am out of hangers, I know I screwed up somewhere and I pull something else to donate or sell. It works really well for me because I'm a high-C (compliance) oriented person; but I have two sisters who say they are not disciplined enough to make it work for them; so I think everyone is different and you really have to find what works for you! The one thing I have noticed is that the higher end, higher quality pieces tend to stay in my closet longer. Even though I could sell them on Poshmark, they tend not to be the pieces I'm finding easy replacements for. Instead, those clearance rack discount store pieces turn out not to be such a bargain because I replace them after 6 months with something new I found that I liked better. So I'm trying to avoid those emotional, impulse buys where I say "it's such a good deal..."

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