Are you looking for tips on how to declutter your closet? If so, you’re definitely not alone! I’ve been living a minimalist lifestyle for nearly a decade and during that time, I’ve had countless conversations with women about their wardrobe struggles.
Time and time again, you’ve told me how much you want to declutter your clothes—but for some reason, you just can’t let go.
If this sounds familiar, I understand. I’ve been there too, and the truth is it took me several years to go from deciding to declutter my closet to actually making any progress. It took a lot of trial and error, but I learned so much along the way.
That’s why I decided to put together this closet decluttering guide. I know how life-changing it can be to clean out your closet (and spoiler alert: you’re letting go of more than just clothes). I also know hard it can be to do it on your own—but it doesn’t have to be. Keep reading for all the details.
Minimalist Wardrobe Tour
Before we get started—did you know that I’m a recovering shopaholic turned minimalist? At one stage, I turned my entire guest bedroom into a closet and I owned over a hundred pairs of shoes.
If you’re curious to see how things have changed, then check out this video for a behind the scenes tour of my current minimalist closet!
How To Declutter Clothes
There are many ways to declutter your closet, and most involve dumping everything onto the centre of your bed. If you’ve watched Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up (or read her books), you’ll know that she advocates going through each item one at a time, decided what to keep and what to let go.
This is advice is exceedingly popular but, if you’re reading this, it probably didn’t work for you. It didn’t work for me either. It was overwhelming and it overlooked one important fact: I wasn’t good at making decisions about clothes.
After all, this is why I had SO many clothes in the first place. I had a bad habit of buying clothes that I never wore, and it was an overwhelming mess. Emptying everything out of my closet first didn’t make things easier.
MY #1 CLOSET DECLUTTERING TIP
After many failed attempts, I realised that I needed to take a different approach. I had read about the Pareto principle, also known as the “80/20 rule”. It can apply to many things in life but in this case, it’s the belief that most people only wear 20% of what’s in their closet. The rest is just … well, clutter.
With this in mind, I went through my closet and took out all the things I wore most often. These were the items I felt my best in—the things that always got worn in the days following laundry day. I laid them all on my bed and then, I put on my “detective hat”.
I realised there were some striking similarities in the clothes I wore most often: style, colour, fit, fabrics, and more. I wrote this all down in a notebook. Then I looked at the clothes I never wore … and found there were also similarities. Again, I wrote it all down.
It was like a lightbulb went off over my head. I realised I could that I could use this information to write my own set of style guidelines, and then I could use that as a framework to decide what to keep. (Instead of randomly going through everything in my closet and getting completely overwhelmed.)
I refer to this as the Style Standard Method and it’s what I teach students in my closet decluttering course, The One Day Closet Cleanse. In my experience, this has been the best way to declutter clothes and it has been a game-changer for so many women—because it works.
WHAT TO DO WITH THE CLOTHES YOU’RE DECLUTTERING
Another one of my best closet decluttering tips is to decide what you’re going to do with the clothes you declutter before you get started.
Why? Because it removes some of the friction from the process. Decluttering is overwhelming because we have so many decisions to make, so if you can make things easier on yourself, you should.
As a general rule, you’re going to sell, donate or recycle your clothes. The right option for you depends on many factors—you have to weigh up your financial goals with the time and energy you have available. One Day Closet Cleanse participants get a workbook to help them make this decision, but in summary, here are some things to consider:
- If you want to sell, do some research beforehand. Most people I work with are surprised by how little secondhand items are worth.
- The more “hands-off” the selling, the less you can expect to earn. For example, taking your clothes to a consignment store is easy but you’ll get a small fraction of the sale price. Selling clothes on eBay is harder work but you’ll keep more of the profit.
- Be mindful of loss aversion. Don’t get sucked into selling out of guilt. When you consider the cost of your time, selling isn’t always the best choice.
How To Be Ruthless When Decluttering Clothes
If you’re reading this, you know that decluttering clothes is hard. This is because the clothes we own are more than just “clothes”. They represent so many things—everything from our hopes and dreams to our fears and insecurities. If you’re struggling to let go it’s because you have to unpack the emotional baggage too.
For example, during the height of my shopping addiction, I was obsessed with stiletto heels. I’ve always struggled with my self-confidence but it turns out that I have a high tolerance for foot pain. When I wore my sky-high heels, I felt like I could conquer the world.
Decluttering my shoe collection felt like ripping off a mask. I felt so exposed and I was flooded with self-doubt. Letting go was physically painful.
Of course, I didn’t realise this right away. At first, I just felt stuck and I didn’t know why. It took a lot of time and self-reflection to identify the problem.
But once I did? Everything changed. I was able to ruthlessly declutter my closet and my entire relationship with clothes shifted. (In fact, I was able to go on a seven-month honeymoon with just one carry-on bag in 2016.)
7 Questions To Declutter Your Closet
If you need help identifying the emotions and “hooks” that are keeping you from letting go of clothes, try working through these questions. Bring an open mind and see what comes to the surface.
1. WOULD YOU BUY IT AGAIN?
Do you have anything in your closet that you “love” but you never wear?
If so, the problem might be that you don’t really love your item after all. Instead, you tell yourself that you love it because you don’t want to face the real truth: you made a mistake by buying it.
(This isn’t to say that you’re intentionally lying to yourself! But I’ve learned that often times, we tell ourselves creative stories to protect us from difficult feelings.)
A simple way to test this theory is to ask, “Would I buy this item again?” … and if the answer is “no”, then it’s time to let go.
2. ARE YOU WILLING TO TAKE CARE OF IT?
Every time I’ve decluttered my closet, I’ve come across a selection of clothing that I never wear—simply because I’m not willing to care for it properly.
For me, this includes anything:
- dry clean only
- that requires hand washing
- that needs to be ironed
- too delicate (out of fear I’ll damage it)
Everyone’s tolerance is different but personally, I know that if it requires too much maintenance, then I’m not going to wear it. (Or I’ll wear it once and then it will sit in my laundry basket for months!)
Ask yourself the same question—what is your tolerance for maintenance? If you know you’re not willing to care for something, then consider passing it on to someone who will.
3. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING ABOUT WHEN YOU BOUGHT IT?
As a former shopaholic, I’ve learned a LOT over the years about why we shop—and the truth is, it’s rarely for the reasons we think.
Usually, it’s not because we need something new. Instead, it’s often a reaction to fear or insecurity.
Maybe you’re feeling down because you don’t earn as much as a colleague or perhaps you’re feeling diminished because someone criticised a project you’re working on.
I’ve experienced both of these feelings and here’s how I responded:
- I bought an expensive handbag because it’s what I imagined a wealthy woman would do.
- I bought new stiletto heels because, in my mind, I associated high heels with power.
In retrospect, see how I used my clothing as a mask—to give myself a false confidence boost whenever I felt bad about myself.
Accepting this isn’t easy but until you acknowledge it, your item will always have power over you. I struggled to let go of that expensive bag (even though I never wore them) because subconsciously, letting go meant letting go of my power.
One way to move forward is to reflect on what you were thinking when you made the purchase: did you buy it for yourself or were you more concerned with how others would perceive you wearing it?
4. HOW DOES IT FIT YOU?
OK, I know this one sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how often people want to avoid asking this question! When you’re decluttering your closet, one of the most important questions to ask is, “Does this fit?”
A few things to keep in mind:
First, remember that fit is not just about size. I can buy a pair of jeans in my size that technically “fit”—the waist and hip measurements are correct—but they might sag at the knees or be a little tight in the things.
These type of fit problems are often less to do with your weight and more to do with the garment design. Remember, we are all so different! If something doesn’t fit in the way you want it to, regardless of what it says on the tag, it’s OK to let go.
When your clothes are too big or too small … look, I’m a realist. I’m not rich so if I stopped fitting into my favourite jeans, I wouldn’t automatically toss them out! Instead, I’d keep them for a while because my body size tends to fluctuate a lot (I think this is true for most people). You’re not a “bad minimalist” if you decide to hang on to some things.
Having said that, make sure you’re not keeping things that are outdated, not really your style, or that you never wore in the first place—just because you’re nostalgic about the size!
Finally, remember that there is often a mental cost associated with keeping clothes that don’t fit. If there are dresses hanging in your closet that you can’t fit into, how does that make you feel?
If your unworn clothing makes you question your self-worth or inspires negative self-talk, then is it really worth keeping? Don’t be afraid to let go of anything that makes you think less of yourself (this goes everything—not just your wardrobe!).
5. WHEN CAN YOU WEAR IT?
This is another simple question that will help you declutter your closet. For anything that you’re not sure about keeping, write down the occasions when it would be appropriate to wear.
Here are some examples:
- to the office
- while running errands
- Friday night drinks
- to yoga class
- while going for a walk
- to a formal event
Then when you’re done, look at your list and compare it to your actual life.
For example, when I decluttered my closet I realised I had a lot of formal dresses and shoes—the kind of thing you’d wear out on a Friday night for drinks and dancing.
There’s nothing wrong with this … except that I’m the type that prefers my wine at home, on the sofa, while watching Netflix.
I loved my beautiful dresses and shoes but ultimately, I had bought for the lifestyle I thought I wanted (sometimes referred to as my “fantasy self”) instead of for the life I actually had.
6. DO YOU FEEL GUILTY ABOUT HOW MUCH YOU SPENT?
This is a really common problem—we keep things we don’t wear out of guilt because of all the money we’ve wasted.
I know this feeling too well because my shopping addiction definitely cost me tens of thousands over the years! And even now, if I think about it too much, I get an anxious pit in my stomach.
If you feel it too, then I know how tempting it is to give up on decluttering and to simply close your closet door instead. It’s not pleasant to face these feelings head-on.
But here’s the thing: years of experience have taught me that the longer you wait, the worse it gets. You are much better off confronting it and here is my top tip to help:
Think of the money as an investment in yourself—in your education and your wellbeing. You made mistakes in the past, now learn from them. Give yourself the gift of forgiveness and move on.
7. HOW DO YOU FEEL WHEN YOU WEAR IT?
Here’s a final closet decluttering tip for you: try on your clothes and then ask yourself how you feel—both physically AND emotionally.
First of all, are you comfortable? Can you sit down, bend over, and reach for something on a tall shelf? If not, what is your tolerance for discomfort?
There’s no right or wrong answer. Some people are willing to sacrifice comfort for fashion and others aren’t—and it’s not my place to judge your choices. However, you need to be honest with yourself. (And personally, as I’ve gotten older, my tolerance for discomfort is practically zero! ?)
Equally important, how do you feel emotionally in your clothes? I genuinely believe that what we choose to wear can have a huge impact on how we feel. (I know this isn’t the case for everyone and I wish I felt more detached from wardrobe—but regardless, I think it’s true for most people.)
For me, I know there are certain things in my closet I wear often because when I wear them, I feel like the best version of myself.
Aim to fill your closet with items like this and let go of anything that makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin.
Closet Decluttering Tips
Here are a few more tips for decluttering your closet:
- Know that you can admire a style without needing to wear it. It’s like going to a museum—you can appreciate art without hanging it in your living room.
- Be honest about how much you’re willing to suffer for fashion. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised my tolerance is very low. My current closet reflects this.
- Stop comparing yourself to other people. It doesn’t matter what other people own or wear. (This might mean taking a break from social media, fashion blogs or magazines.
- Create a personal uniform—it will help you simplify your style and you won’t feel the urge to own so many clothes.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Declutter Your Closet
If you’re still feeling overwhelmed about how to declutter your clothes, then be sure to check out The One Day Closet Cleanse. In this step-by-step program, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know—from how to let go of clothes that are too small to how to overcome guilt about decluttering expensive items.
This program works because I take a two-part approach to closet decluttering. You get a complete practical strategy that removes the overwhelm (all you have to do is show up and follow instructions) plus video coaching that helps you overcome the emotional hurdles.
And as a bonus? The lessons you learn in this course will teach you how to make better decisions in the future, saving you considerable time and money in the long-term. For less than the cost of one late night Target binge (whoops!), you can get the support you need to declutter your closet once and for all.
If you found these questions and resources helpful, I’d love to hear about it! Alternatively, do you have any tips for decluttering your closet? Let me know in the comments! x