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Decluttering Clothes {step-by-step guide to a pain-free purge}

What’s inside: learn why decluttering clothes can be hard, and the 5 step process you can take to finally declutter your wardrobe and love your closet again.

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The struggle with wardrobe decluttering

When it comes to decluttering and simplifying your home, decluttering clothing is one of the hardest obstacles for many people.  On the surface, it seems like it should be easy: keep what you love, toss anything that doesn’t fit or you don’t wear, and then place it back in your closet on pretty hangers.  An hour or two of work and you’re on your way.

Yet, it’s rarely the case.  

People fear decluttering clothes.  They worry about getting rid of something they’ll regret.  They fret they aren’t discarding enough.  They struggle with how to declutter clothes when they love fashion.  They hold onto old clothes long after they really need them because getting rid of things feels hard.

Decluttering wardrobes and clearing cluttered closets are often the last things on any home organizing tasks list.  But, it doesn’t have to be that way. 

This guide will make it easy to declutter your closet without the added anxiety or overwhelm.  I’m going to show you how you can get rid of clothes with tips and step-by-step directions.  No overwhelm required!

Why is it hard to declutter clothes?

Our clothes hold sooooo much emotional attachment.  The outfit you were wearing when you met your husband or got your first real job. The teeny tiny clothes your babies wore.  That old college sweatshirt that looks like garbage, but is so comfortable and triggers countless memories.  Clothes you loved before babies that just don’t seem to look great on your new body, but you can’t bear to get rid of them because you might fit back into them some day.

If you have a lot of emotions wrapped up in your clothing, decluttering clothes can be a challenge.

Luckily, this guide will help you overcome those emotional ties and downsize your wardrobe without tears, frustration, or guilt.  Let’s get started!

Benefits of decluttering clothes

Why declutter your wardrobe? There are so many reasons! Downsizing your wardrobe can save you time, money and energy.

Decluttering clothes saves time 

  • Less time shopping for clothing and returning clothing that doesn’t fit.
  • Fewer hours spent folding laundry and putting it away.
  • No more wasted trying to find something to wear each morning- you know where everything is and it looks great on your body today.

Decluttering clothes saves money

  • Downsizing your wardrobe means less money being spent on clothing.
  • Less money wasted on “good” deals that you never wear.
  • Buying less clothing means you can purchase ethical clothing that lasts.

Decluttering clothes improves your energy

  • Clutter zaps your energy and creates anxiety.
  •  A simplified closet is refreshing to walk into. No one feels great walking into a closet overflowing with stuff.
  • Having a wardrobe full of clothing you love and feel great in does wonders for your confidence.
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Decluttering Clothing: Step-by-step

You know you need to clear your closet. 

  • You’re sick of tripping over things when you get dressed
  • Tired of stuffing hangers into overcrowded closets.
  • Over having a closet full of clothes but nothing to wear. 

But how do you go from where you are now, to a simplified closet you love?

If you’ve wondered ”How do I know what to keep when decluttering?” or “What do I do with all this stuff I’ve decluttered?” or a million other questions that leave you feeling stuck when you begin trying to declutter, read on as I show you how to downsize your wardrobe, step-by-step.

How to declutter clothes: overview

Step 1: Set your decluttering intentions

Step 2: Corral it all

Step 3: Eliminate 

Step 4: Find the sparks 

Step 5: Assess the Rest

How to declutter a closet

1. Set your decluttering intentions 

Whenever you begin the decluttering process, it’s critical to get in the right frame of mind. To do this, begin by focusing on why you want to simplify your clothing. Why is decluttering your closet important? Do you want less stress in the mornings? Less laundry to keep up with? Are you wanting to create a capsule wardrobe, or work toward a minimalist wardrobe? 

How do I get motivated to declutter clothing? 

Getting clear on the root of why closet decluttering matters to you is critical to move forward.  When you know why you want to simplify, finding the motivation to declutter clothes comes more easily. If you don’t know why you’re working toward a goal it’s hard to get motivated to declutter, whether it’s your closet or anything else.  

When you get to a place in decluttering where you have to make a tough decision (and it’s almost certain you will), remember why decluttering clothes is important to you and what you’re trying to accomplish by simplifying your wardrobe.  This guiding principle will help you make those tough decisions.

2. Gather all your clothes into one place

Ideally, it’s best to gather up all your clothing in one place as you are learning how to declutter clothes. Seeing everything together can be a bit of a shock, as you see the full impact of the money you have spent on that giant pile before you.  But, it can also be a great way to get real with yourself and recognize how much you have that you really don’t need.  (If you’ve ever seen Tidying Up, you’ll recognize this is how Marie Kondo does it in the Konmari method).

What if I’m easily overwhelmed when decluttering?

If gathering up everything all at once sounds completely overwhelming to you, don’t do it!  The last thing you want to do is pull out every article of clothing you own, get completely overwhelmed, and then shove it back onto your closet, leaving it even worse than when you started.  

Instead, work in clothing types and pull out everything you own by that category (dresses, shirts, workout clothing, etc).  You’re still gathering everything and eliminating, but the pile is a lot more manageable.  This strategy is particularly effective if you are not sure how long you have to declutter (any other mamas decluttering their wardrobe during nap time?). Nothing like shoving an entire closet full of clothing onto the floor because you ran out of time and energy to finish purging!

simple clothing layout of minimalist wardrobe

3. Eliminate clothing you don’t need

During the elimination stage of closet decluttering, your job is to ruthlessly declutter your clothes so that you can eliminate everything that’s no longer serving you.  Start with the clothing that’s the easiest to part with because the issues are obvious.  The low hanging fruit, if you will. 

Clothing to eliminate:

  1. Clothing items that are damaged and irreparable.
  2. Anything that is damaged and you know you won’t actually fix it.
  3. Clothes that are stained and unable to be worn out.

Next, move on to the decisions that are not quite as clear cut.  In reality, you know which clothing items fit this category.  You just have a hard time parting with them emotionally, due to regret, guilt, connections to the past version of you, or connections to a future self you’d like to be. 

Clothing to purge:

  1. Anything that you don’t like the look of on.
  2. Clothing that’s uncomfortable to wear for any reason.
  3. Clothes that you never choose to wear, even if you can’t identify why you don’t wear it.
  4. Wardrobe relics from another era in your life that you have no present or future use for.

Tip: If you struggle to part with stuff, try setting a physical goal, like filling a donation box with things you’d like to bless others with instead of holding onto clothes that no longer serve you. Or, set a numerical goal, like getting rid of 15 items, or 30% of your clothing. Still another option is to limit the number of hangers in your closet.

4. Find the sparks in your wardrobe

At this point you’ve eliminated all the clothing that’s trash, stuff you don’t like to wear, and clothing that doesn’t fit your body in its current state.  Now let’s look for the items that make you shine!

Find your favorites

Pull out your go-to outfits…your favorites…your must keeps. These are items that fit well now, that make you feel great when you wear them, and that you regularly wear. Not the “I’d like to wear” items or the “I should wear this sometime” stuff.  

You are finding the clothes you ACTUALLY wear. Right now. In this current season of life.  This is the clothing you reach for consistently when you get dressed in the morning.  

When you find a favorite, hang it back in the closet or put it away in a drawer.

Now, if you’re shocked at how little you actually grabbed and hung up in this stage of the closet decluttering game, you’re in good company.  Research tells us that while we have a closet full of clothes, we only wear about 20% of our wardrobe. It turns out it’s not the number of items in your closet, but your love and appreciation for them, that leaves you satisfied with your wardrobe.

decluttered rainbow clothing in closet

5. Assess the rest & prepare to purge

Now that you’ve eliminated everything you don’t like or wear, and have chosen your favorite pieces to place back into their home, let’s work to cull down the 80% remaining into a number that feels good to you. 

If this is the part of the closet decluttering process where you begin to feel undone, odds are you have some emotional connections or triggers holding you back.  Here are some wardrobe decluttering tips for learning how to overcome the paralysis by analysis.

Find the root of the struggle

Why are you having trouble letting go of these items?  You have figured out they aren’t your favorites, you don’t wear them, and they don’t give you confidence when they’re on.  Often the struggle to purge stems from a few key areas:

Connecting the past
  • Problem: this outfit or clothing represents something special from your past, or something you’re highly connected to.  It could be something that reminds you of a prior life, a person, or an event. 
  • Solution: recognize that this item is a trigger, not the memory.  Consider taking a picture of the item, repurposing it into something new, or keeping just a favorite item from this time and then releasing the rest.
Guilt over the present
  • Problem: That designer handbag was so expensive.  That shirt was a gift.  You bought all this clothes on clearance because it was a great deal, even if it didn’t fit quite right or wasn’t your ideal color.
  • Solution: avoid shaming yourself for frivolous or expensive purchases.  Beating yourself up over it isn’t going to make it less expensive, or bring you any more peace.  As a matter of fact, holding onto items that trigger guilt will only serve to continue triggering you to feel guilty.  Instead, give yourself permission to let things go (even if they  were once loved) because they are not serving you now.  Releasing these items from your possession is the quickest way to release the guilt you’re holding onto about it.
Living for the future
  • Problem:You bought stuff for the person you want to be, not the person you actually are.  We often buy clothing for our ideal selves, not our real selves. Those waterproof hiking boots for becoming more active, even though you hate the woods.  That plaid blanket scarf that was trending all over Instagram, even though you hate wearing things around your neck. 
  • Solution: Spend time thinking about what you actually need in a wardrobe and how your clothing needs to serve you in your everyday life.  Focus on the life you have now, and then give yourself a free pass to give away those things that don’t serve the current version of you.

Ready to clear the clutter and gain some peace in your life? Grab the FREE Reclaim Your Domain Starter Guide! It’s packed with quick tips & 5-minute decluttering tasks to begin transforming your home today!

reclaim your domain mock up image of free guide


How to declutter clothing you’ve purged

Now that you have successfully learned how to declutter your wardrobe, how do you get rid of the clothing you’ve purged? It’s important to work quickly to eliminate all this clutter from your home.  Leaving it lying around will only create more clutter, and you’ll be tempted to “rethink” something if the opportunity is still there.

Damaged clothing

If it’s clothing that is damaged or stained beyond repair, you can either trash the items or repurpose them into cleaning rags or wrapping materials for gifts. If you’re the crafy type, consider repurposing a favorite shirt into a DIY bag or blanket (but only if you’ll actually do it!)

How can I donate my old clothes?

It’s important to ethically process your clutter when possible.  Here are some ways you can donate or sell your purged items:

  1. Give to your favorite donation center.
  2. Donate to a clothing drive at your local school district or church.
  3. Donate quality clothing to a woman’s or homeless shelter.
  4. Sell high quality items online or in consignments shops, like Facebook Marketplace, eBay, ThredUp, Mercari, or Poshmark.
  5. Have a yard sale.
  6. Host a swap- gather friends and family and host a swap party.  Bring the stuff you no longer want and shop for new-to-you things from your favorite people.
neutral minimalist outfit with gold shoes and jewelry

How to maintain your newly decluttered closet

Now that you’re finished decluttering clothes, how can you work to keep your new closet as simplified as it is right now?  Here are some tips to try:

1. Create a one-for-one system

Want to buy something new?  Then what is going to go?  Forcing yourself to declutter something from your wardrobe when you purchase something new is a great way to keep clothing purchases in check.  You already know you love and wear what’s in your closet, so it will require an intentional decision to make a change.  It might very well be worth the purchase.  This rule simply works to ensure you’re using discretion before sliding that Visa.

2. Create a closet inventory

A closet inventory sheet is a great way to keep track of what you have in your wardrobe.  It’s also a helpful guide to know what you still need when you’re out shopping and want to fill gaps in your wardrobe.  Now I’m not suggesting a live Google Sheet that gets updated in real time (although if you’re a data nerd, I totally support this decision!), but it is helpful to have a general idea of what you already have and what you’re still on the hunt for.

Take a look at your decluttered closet and identify what types of clothing are still missing from your wardrobe.  Would you like a comfy sweater?  A brown pair of dress boots?  Another loose fitting camisole for under your favorite cardigan?  

Keeping a closet inventory allows you to see what you are still needing to complete your wardrobe so you can be specific as your shop.  It’s like those bumper rails for kids when they’re bowling- the inventory keeps you in your lane, making it more likely that you’ll actually achieve the goal of your shopping trip.

You can keep a list of future must-haves in the Notes app on your phone, or download the free MinimaList app.

If you want to get fancy, spend a few dollars and download the Stylebook app. I have this on my phone and it’s so fun to piece together new outfits by combining options that are already in my closet!

A closet inventory case study

I wanted a denim jacket back in the day.  But, not just any denim jacket.  I wanted just the right amount of distressing, a slightly tailored fit, and the ability to roll up the sleeves for a more casual look.  Oh, and I’m only five foot, so the selection was even more limited. 

It took me about two years before I pulled the trigger on purchasing one.  I knew that if it didn’t fit perfectly, I wouldn’t be comfortable and it would never get worn.  So, whenever I went shopping, I kept an eye out for one.  And eventually, I found a favorite!

This is the benefit of a closet inventory. Know your wardrobe needs to keep your shopping on point and enjoy the hunt. Then, celebrate when you find that timeless piece to add to your minimal wardrobe.

Ready to finally make some lasting changes in your home? Grab my free guide and start simplifying your space immediately!

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3. Give your closet a makeover

Celebrate your newly decluttered closet with a makeover.  Freshly paint the walls white to brighten up the space, hang a pretty light fixture, buy some accessory organizers, and splurge on some new coordinating hangers. When you create a space that you love and appreciate every time you step inside, you’ll be much more likely to keep it looking nice in the future!

Decluttering clothes without fear

Decluttering clothes doesn’t have to be panic inducing.  Following the steps described above helps you eliminate the guesswork and overwhelm.  Remember that decluttering is called a process.  You don’t have to do it perfectly, and it doesn’t have to be a one-and-done thing. Work through the steps, appreciate your progress, and give yourself permission to do it again in the next season, or sixth months from now.  The more you practice the act of decluttering, the easier it becomes. 

P.S. If you’ve follow this advice but don’t feel as satisfied as you had hoped at the end, take heart! Every time you work to simplify your closet, it gets easier and easier. Commit to a simplified wardrobe and limit the amount of stuff you bring in.  Then, declutter again when you’re ready.  Before long you’ll be an expert at decluttering clothes and you’ll have the simplified closet of your dreams.

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