As a former shopaholic, I know how hard it is to declutter clothes. I had so many pretty things, and for years, letting go felt impossible.
But what I didn’t realise, at least at first, is why it was so difficult.
Of course, I knew what my roadblocks were. I felt constantly triggered by thoughts like:
- “What if I need this someday?”
- “I love it; I just never have time to wear it!”
- “But I paid so much for that!”
- “What if I lose weight someday ….”
These are common decluttering challenges that almost everyone struggles to overcome, but believe it or not, it’s only part of the story. If you feel stuck, keep reading to learn seven surprising reasons why it’s hard to let go and my top tips for creating a decluttered closet.
How To Get Unstuck Decluttering Clothes
If you own more clothes than you know what to do with, but you keep getting stuck, then you’re not alone. I’ve been there and know a stack of black trash bags won’t magically make letting go any easier.
Instead, I invite you to go deeper, to look at how and why you’re decluttering. You might find that a simple mindset shift is the only thing standing between you and the minimalist wardrobe of your dreams.
Here are seven surprising reasons why you struggle to declutter clothes. Once you work through these hurdles, you’ll find it much easier to achieve your goals.
1. You don’t have a clear vision for your closet
Let’s imagine that I’m going to build you a house. We sit down to talk about it, and you tell me, “I like a classic style, but nothing too stuffy”. What kind of house do you think you’d end up with?
The answer is … who knows.
Your description is vague and could be interpreted a million ways, and I’m pretty sure that in real life, you’d have tons more to say about the house of your dreams.
But what about your closet? When people describe what they want, I hear words like stylish, classic or comfortable thrown around. But what does that even mean?
Comfortable could mean grey sweatpants, or it could mean cashmere loungewear. Stylish could mean linen shirt dresses, or it could mean tailored wool suits. Classic could mean Levi’s denim or raw silk blouses.
You get the idea. The way most people describe their personal style lacks clarity, which leads to a lack of direction and overwhelming decision fatigue! It’s exhausting because every item of clothing has to be dealt with individually—and if you have a lot of clothes, you’re practically setting yourself up for failure.
So what’s the solution? Clarity. Create a strong vision for your closet and be specific. What colours do you like wearing? What fabrics? Or even simple things like necklines.
The more you understand your personal style, the less you have to think about each piece of clothing. Instead, you can group similar items together, make decisions in bulk or at least make decisions quicker. This is, without a doubt, the first step to creating a simplified closet.
Pro tip: Once you have a strong vision for your closet, creating a minimalist capsule wardrobe is much easier.
2. You like the idea of your clothes more than you enjoy wearing them
Have you ever found yourself obsessed with an article of clothing that you “love” but, for some reason, never wear? Maybe it’s something you adore when you see it on other women or in magazines, but you just can’t seem to make it work for you—so it stays in your closet?
If so, these are sure signs that you love the idea of your clothes more than actually wearing them.
I know; it’s a tough pill to swallow. During my shopaholic days, I couldn’t stop buying vintage tea dresses. I thought—and still think—they’re absolutely beautiful.
But here’s the truth. When I get dressed, I dress for comfort. I like tanks and jeans, or loose-fitting dresses. My style is more casual bohemian than 50’s glam. I can appreciate vintage dresses, much like one appreciates art in a museum, but that doesn’t mean they deserve a place in my closet.
When you recognise this, it makes clothes decluttering so much easier.
Related Post: What To Do When You Have Too Many Clothes
3. You’re afraid to face your mistakes
Decluttering our clothes is hard because it means facing mistakes.
Most of us have spent a lot of time and money on things we’ve never worn, and let’s face it; the last thing we want to do is be reminded of it. Sorting through piles of clothes is a lot like a long, painful walk down memory lane, and who wants to deal with those negative emotions?
Certainly not me, which is why I used to tell myself things like, “I just need to find a shirt to go with that skirt, and then I’ll wear it all the time”, or “That’s so versatile, I just haven’t gotten around to wearing it yet!”
These excuses were believable enough that I could fool myself into ignoring the truth. I didn’t want to deal with these items of clothing because I didn’t want to feel the guilt and shame I associated with purchasing them.
Now, I’m not saying that you’re lying to yourself, but if you can’t let go of clothes, it might be worth taking a closer look at your emotions. A little self-kindness now can save you a lot of wasted time and energy in the long run.
4. You struggle with self-care, self-kindness and self-worth
Speaking of self-kindness, did you know it’s a vital part of creating a simplified wardrobe? It’s right up there with self–care and self-worth, and here’s why.
Decluttering of all types is about trade-offs. We must weigh the value of keeping something and compare it with the cost of letting go. Pretty straightforward, right?
One thing I repeatedly see, especially among women, is that we refuse to include our well-being in the equation. We obsess over that $50 we spent on a pair of pants but completely ignore how crappy it feels to wake up every morning and stare at something two sizes too small.
Or we have such diminished feelings of self-worth that letting go of items that no longer fit feels like failure. We feel an emotional attachment to our clothes because we let what we wear (or what we wish to wear) define who we are as a person.
Now does that sound like self-care to you? Would someone with strong self-worth feel diminished by their wardrobe? Is it self-kindness to keep clothes we don’t wear?
Look, I’ve been there myself, and I say these things with nothing but compassion. This post isn’t meant to put you down or make you feel worse about yourself. Instead, it’s about creating awareness and a starting point. If you can’t declutter, the best way to overcome your emotional attachment might be to take care of YOU first.
The better you feel about yourself, the less you’ll care about clothes—I can promise you that.
5. You’re looking for problems, not solutions
When I was pregnant, it felt like everyone in the world was pregnant too. I’d be walking down the street, and suddenly, pregnant bellies were everywhere.
Was this due to an unprecedented baby boom?
Nope. There was no change to the number of pregnant people in my town—at least, not that I was aware of! But there was a change to my attention. I was thinking more about pregnancy so I noticed when pregnant people came into my field of vision.
I’m telling you this seemingly unrelated story because the same thing happens when you’re decluttering. If you’ve ever thought, “what if I need this someday?” and then felt overwhelmed by the thought of letting go, it’s because you’re asking your brain to look for problems. You find a million scenarios where you “might need this” because that is what you asked your brain to do.
But what if you made a slight change to your question?
What if you asked, “If I needed this someday and didn’t have it, what could I do instead?”
Now your brain is actively looking for solutions, and my guess is you’ll find ways to make do—and I can almost guarantee this simple shift will make the decluttering process easier.
The Simply + Fiercely Show is a podcast for women who want to clear their clutter and create space for freedom and joy. If your life keeps getting bigger—but not better—then it’s time to declutter from the inside out. LISTEN NOW
6. You’re not sure what to do with the clothes you declutter
Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to start a job when you know exactly what needs to be done to finish it?
Or perhaps more accurately, have you ever noticed how much you procrastinate when you don’t know exactly what needs to be done?
If so, this might be one of the reasons you struggle to declutter clothing items. You’re overwhelmed by all the options (Drop in a donation box? Sell at consignment stores? List on eBay?), so you avoid the whole project altogether rather than deal with it.
Don’t do this. Instead, make a plan.
Set a time limit, consider your options, and then decide what you’re going to do once and for all. Accept there are no perfect solutions and that all you can do is the best you can with the resources you have available.
Doing this before you start leads to better decisions (plus, you’ll find it easier to follow through with decluttering). Here are some ideas to consider:
- Do you have friends or family members who might enjoy “shopping your closet”?
- Selling secondhand clothes is hard work, and you rarely get anywhere near what you paid. You get the best results with current season clothes.
- A consignment shop will sell clothes on your behalf for a small commission. But make sure your clothes are in good condition, read the fine print, and don’t expect too much.
- The simplest option, especially for old clothes, is donating to a charity shop. Just keep in mind that much of what they receive gets shipped overseas.
- Recycling is also an option, depending on the facilities near you.
At the end of the day, the best way to reduce clothing waste is to buy less in the first place. But don’t get caught with perfectionism. Do the best you can now, learn from the experience, and then do better in the future.
7. You’re not sure why you’re decluttering
Most people think they’re decluttering because they have too much clothing, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. In truth, we declutter when our clothes no longer add value to our lives or when the value of letting go outweighs the value of holding on.
This distinction is a good thing because it provides us with a practical roadmap. If you’re struggling to declutter clothing items, all you have to do is increase the value of letting go.
And how do you do that? By getting clear on why you’re decluttering.
Try asking yourself the following questions:
- What are the benefits of owning fewer clothes?
- How much clothing do I need to be happy?
- Who am I dressing for?
- How much time do I spend getting dressed, and what would I rather do with that time?
- What stories do I tell myself about my clothes?
- How do I feel when I look inside my closet?
See what thoughts and emotions these questions bring up, then write down exactly why you’re decluttering. Then refer back to this whenever you struggle to let go or when you think about buying a new outfit. I think you’ll find it adds a fresh perspective that makes it easier to make quality decisions.
Want to Learn More About Decluttering Clothes?
If you enjoyed this article, check out one of these popular posts:
- How to Declutter Your Closet For Good: An Ultimate Guide – ruthless decluttering tips that will help you get more done in less time.
- How to Stop Buying Clothes You Never Wear – Do you know what’s better than decluttering? Buying less in the first place.
- How to Create a Personal Uniform + Simplify Your Style – learn how to dress better with fewer clothes.
- Behind the Scenes: A Minimalist Wardrobe Tour (Video) – I’m pulling back the curtain and showing you my entire closet!