I first did a major closet purge four years ago. I had stumbled across the idea of a capsule wardrobe while browsing the internet and fallen in love with the idea. Researching capsule wardrobes lead me to Project 333, the 10-Item Wardrobe, 10×10 Style Challenge, and many more. I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and ruthlessly got rid of items that did not “spark joy.”
Since then, I’ve done a handful of closet purges. After two babies, losing and gaining weight, and getting older and (hopefully) wiser, I’ve found it necessary to do periodic purges to weed out items that don’t work for me right now.
My most recent purge was an eye-opener in how lax I’d become about my shopping habits and my influx of clothing. Following this recent purge, I created some new ground rules for myself and did some soul searching about my recent shopping habits, and hopefully this most recent purge will be my last big one.
Outlined below is everything I’ve done to review my clothing needs and edit my shopping habits. For me, and I think a lot of people, bad shopping habits develop when we are looking for something externally to make us feel better internally.
If you have any additional tips, I would love to hear about them in the comments.
Clean Out Your Closet
There are a lot of ideas and different approaches for how you can clean out your closet. Here are the steps I took recently to downsize my wardrobe.
Count Everything You Own
This might seem tedious but it’s crucial to starting the process. Count how many pieces you own of each type of item. Count all of the t-shirts, blouses, jeans, dresses, etc. Don’t cheat. Pull everything out and count it. You will be shocked by how many items you own.
For me, I was surprised by the number of dresses. I love wearing dresses in the summer and love shopping for dresses. I have been known to spend a lot of time shopping for new dresses because I thought I didn’t own the “right amount” of dresses. But the real reason I thought I needed new dresses was because I was holding on to several dresses that didn’t fit me right now, so in my mind I was only thinking about the dresses that no longer fit, not the ones that currently worked for me.
Counting up all the pieces you own will make it easier to let go of a lot of your clothes, I promise. You can write it down if that helps you remember (for example, Blouses – 10, T-shirts – 15, etc.) or you can just make a mental note.
Get Rid of Duplicates
Now that you’ve counted how many pieces of clothing you own, it’s time to get rid of the duplicates. I’m not a big fan of quotas, such as you can only own seven shirts, but by knowing how many shirts you own it will help you understand why 15 button-down shirts might be a bit excessive for your current lifestyle.
This is only an example, again I’m not into quotas. I currently own five pairs of jeans. Some minimalist out there is thinking: “What?! Five pairs of jeans? That’s too many!” For the winter, I own two pairs of skinny jeans (one pair is black denim and the other pair is dark wash) and one pair of bootcut jeans. For the summer, I own two pairs of ankle length jeans. During my last closet purge I got rid of my “just in case” jeans and jeans that didn’t fit me right now. All of my jeans look different, there are no duplicates.
This is what works for me. Find a magic number that works for you. If you’re nervous that you’ll get rid of too many things, try boxing up your maybe pile. Hold on to it for a few months and then decide if you can let those items go or if you want to bring them back. Or you can try Project 333.
Get Rid of Things That Don’t Make You Feel Good
There are a lot of reasons we tend to hold on to clothes that we don’t wear (original cost, sentimental value, aspirational sizes), but if something doesn’t make you feel good right now then it’s time to get rid of it. Maybe it’s a dress that’s just a tad too snug in the hips. Maybe it’s an expensive pair of jeans that have stretched out in the knees. Maybe it’s a t-shirt that shrunk after a bad cycle through the wash.
Whatever the reason, if you don’t enjoy wearing a piece and/or it doesn’t make you feel good, then it’s time to let it go. It’s amazing how much lighter you’ll feel (honestly).
Get Rid of Aspirational Pieces
A lot can fit in this category. It could be a dress that used to fit and you’re holding on to as motivation to lose those 10 pounds. Maybe it’s a leather fringe jacket that you thought looked cool on someone else but you never find a reason to wear. If you haven’t worn something all season or don’t see yourself wearing it this season, then get rid of it.
Everything in your closet should fit you right now. As someone who struggled to lose the baby weight, I can honestly say that by the time you do lose the weight, you’ll be so excited that you’ll want to buy something brand new to celebrate your achievement. Try selling those clothes that don’t fit right now while they are still in-style so that you have some extra cash to buy fashionable clothes that do fit you right now.
For the longest time I thought: “I don’t own a single t-shirt.” But when I cleared out my closet a few months ago, it turned out that I owned six t-shirts. The truth was I didn’t own one t-shirt that I felt comfortable in. All of the t-shirts didn’t fit quite right in some way. On some the material was too thin and my bras showed thru. On others the body was cut too straight which made the shirt too snug in the hips. On others the material was too clingy and I felt self-conscious about my tummy. By getting rid of all of the t-shirts that didn’t fit quite right, I learned what to look for in a new t-shirt and I didn’t settle. Not settling for an okay t-shirt was the key, otherwise I would end up with a new batch of six t-shirts that I never wanted to wear.
This logic is true for every piece of clothing you own. Don’t settle for something that doesn’t fit quite right or is cheaply made just because it’s on sale or a low price. I once found a beautiful top at consignment store from a well-known brand. The top was 100% cotton, eyelet pattern with lining, with a keyhole detail on the back. It was a flattering fit and great for summer. I was so excited to find this top! But on the back of the collar was a hook-and-eye closure that always came undone while I was wearing it, no matter what hack I used to try and fix it. I wore the top a handful of times before I got tired of always refastening the hook-and-eye closure. The top sat in my closet for a few months, making me feel a little bummed every time I looked at it, until I finally got rid of it.
If there is something about an article of clothing you own that you just don’t like, then it’s time to get rid of it.
Set Rules for New Items
Now that you’ve cleaned out your closet, you can take an honest inventory of what you own and determine if you need to fill in any gaps to meet your current lifestyle needs. If you are downsizing your wardrobe, then you will not need to replace every item you got rid of. You should be selling, donating or tossing more items than you replace.
Here are the ground rules I set for myself to keep me from mindlessly shopping and refilling my closet with unnecessary items.
Pick a Number
Set a number for how many new pieces of clothing you can purchase at the start of each season. This year I (sorta randomly) picked the number six, but you can choose whatever number you want. I wanted a number that allowed me to replace some pieces that no longer worked for me, but I wanted a number low enough that I really had to like something to purchase it. Whatever number you choose is the absolute maximum you can purchase for that season.
This is how it works for me. If I notice that a piece of clothing doesn’t fit right anymore or it’s starting to look worn out, then I replace it. Depending on the condition of the piece I either sell it, donate it, or toss it.
This spring when I pulled out my khaki green ankle pants and tried them on I noticed they looked a little sloppy. There was a lot of extra room in the seat and waist, and it wasn’t a flattering look. I have lost a little bit of weight since last summer so I wasn’t surprised that they were looking a little baggy. Overall, the pants were still in good shape so I added them to my sell pile. These khaki ankle pants were in heavy rotation last spring/summer, so now when I go shopping I know that I need a pair of pants to fill the role of these khakis.
So why does setting a number work? Because it keeps me from settling on something that I sort of like or replacing one pair of pants with three new pairs.
Buy At The Start of the Season
If all of my clothing needs are fulfilled early in the season, then I don’t have to think about shopping for six months. Focusing my shopping to a limited timeframe forces me to think about my wardrobe needs for the entire season. I live in Minnesota with very different clothing needs between summer and winter. Summers are hot and humid, winters are cold.
Think about your lifestyle for the season and what you will need to feel comfortable. Buy for your current lifestyle, not an aspirational lifestyle.
Of course, there might be exceptions to this rule. Why? Well, for example, I own one pair of jean shorts. If for some reason my shorts got ruined during the middle of summer, then I would need to replace them right away.
You’ve probably heard before that you should buy quality over quantity. I agree with this but with a catch: you should buy the best quality you can afford. I like to buy pieces on the edge of my comfort zone because it keeps me from impulse shopping but if something were to happen to it I know I can still afford to replace it.
If you are buying less and you are only buying things you enjoy wearing, then it makes it easier to pay a little more for a single item. Remember, with fewer items of clothing, each piece you wear will get worn more often. Buying the best quality you can afford means your clothes will last longer.
Another perk of buying more expensive clothing is that you take better care of it. I no longer leave clothes in a heap on the floor at night; if I’m planning to re-wear something then I take the time to hang it up. I carefully read care tags on clothes to make sure I don’t ruin something in the wash.
I highly recommend buying quality items secondhand. I buy 90% of my clothes on eBay and consignment stores.
A great side benefit of reducing your wardrobe (or anything in your life really) is discovering what you actually truly enjoy and understanding what you don’t like and why.
By reducing my wardrobe, I learned that I much prefer to wear natural fibers. I enjoy wearing cotton, linen, silk, Tencel, and merino wool. I hate wearing polyester blouses. I love wearing high-rise jeans, especially when I’m on the floor playing with my kids. I hate wearing skirts.
Knowing what you like and don’t like makes it easier not to settle.
And Finally, Live Your Life
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the process of decluttering and downsizing, but remember the ultimate goal is not minimalism. Minimalism is the means to an end. The ultimate goal is to find more time for self-care, time for loved ones, and time for fun activities.