If you don’t love your wardrobe, and you wish you did, you can change that.
Over the past few years, I’ve worked hard to curate a wardrobe that meets my needs for almost any occasion without having an overabundance of odds and ends that I never wear.
It’s still a work in progress, and I expect it always will be to some extent, but I’m so happy now when I walk into my closet.
How long has it been since you gave your closet a ruthless purge?
I don’t mean just removing a few things you haven’t worn in a few seasons; I mean taking it all out and starting over with only things that you truly love. If you haven’t done this in a few years (or ever), that’s the first step to curating a wardrobe that works for you. Here’s how to do it.
I always thought I was good at moving things out at the end of every season and keeping my closet up to date until I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. That’s when I realized I was doing it all wrong.
I used to go through my drawers and closet at the end of each season and remove anything that was damaged, out of style, or didn’t fit well, but I didn’t realize how many things were getting overlooked or saved “just in case.” I still had a lot more clothes than I was actually wearing.
That’s how you end up with a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear. Well, that, and by buying things that don’t fit right or don’t go with anything else in your wardrobe.
Marie Kondo’s method was revolutionary to me. She has you take everything out of your closet and drawers — every. last. thing. And then go through them one by one, trying them on if you haven’t worn them this season, and asking yourself if each piece sparks joy. If not, it goes buh-bye.
It sounds hokey, but there’s a big difference between, “Eh, it’s okay. I might want it some day” and “I love this; I want to put it on and wear it right now.” That made all the difference for me.
Once you ruthlessly purge your closet and get rid of all the stuff you don’t wear and don’t love, you can start to rebuild your wardrobe into one you will love to wear.
If you feel like you have a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear, start by purging your closet with the process below. Only the items that fit and make you happy will go back into your closet, and then you can rebuild from there. You may end up with 5 pieces or 55; the number doesn’t matter, as long as every piece is one you would love to put on and wear right now. Here’s the process.
How to Ruthlessly Purge Your Closet
I recommend doing this when you have a good bit of time to spend. You don’t want to be rushed. And I don’t recommend doing this after a big meal when you’re feeling bloated. Choose a time when you feel good, you look good, and you have a few hours to dedicate to the project.
Speaking of which, I like to do this when I am fixed up and feeling good about how I look. I think it’s easier to get a good gauge of how something looks on when I have some makeup on and my hair done.
Okay, let’s get started.
Step 1: Empty out your closet
Take everything out, down to the bare walls. Do NOT skip this step. Taking everything out at once is first step to style clarity. Make sure to gather your clothing from all areas of the house — laundry, storage, etc. Don’t skip anything.
2022 UPDATE: Since writing this post in 2015, I’ve read some good arguments for NOT doing a closet clean-out this way. It worked great for me, as I tend to be an “all or nothing” kind of person, plus I’ve never been one to keep a ton of clothes so my closet wasn’t overwhelming at the time.
But doing this all at once may not be best for people who tend to get overwhelmed easily or have tons of clothes from many years of excessive shopping. In this case, I would suggest doing this process by wardrobe category.
Either way you do it, it is important to get all of the items together so you can see how much you have.
Step 2: Do a quick sort.
You can really do this as you are taking everything out of your closet. Start with the low-hanging fruit and put everything you KNOW you want to get rid of into the donate/trash pile. Don’t worry about what you will do with it just yet; just get it out of the way.
If you have any current items that you love and wear often – these can only be things you currently wear over and over, they make you feel good, and YOU KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt you are not getting rid of – you can put those back in your closet.
Step 3: Try everything else on.
Try on anything you haven’t worn recently — yes, even that special occasion dress you’ve been saving for 5 years “just in case.”
Before I did this, I had no idea how much stuff I was keeping “just in case”, and I was shocked at how many of my “just in case” pieces didn’t even fit anymore. What a waste of closet space!
When trying things on, if you’re unsure about whether or not to keep something, take pictures and then look at the pictures…. and be sure to take one of the rear view!
For some reason, it’s easier to make a good judgment call about an outfit or wardrobe item when you see a picture of yourself wearing it… rather than just looking at yourself in the mirror.
Step 4: Sort the maybe items according to the following.
- LOVE IT: If it is appropriate for the current season, it fits well and makes you feel good, hang it back in your closet.
- MAYBE: Is the fit a bit off? The color? Are you keeping it just because it has sentimental value, or because you paid a lot for it and feel guilty getting rid of it? Put it in a box and store it. If you find yourself wishing you had it, you can always go retrieve it. But if you don’t find yourself wanting it before the end of the season, it’s time to donate it and let someone else enjoy it. If you’re not used to purging, this can be hard to do, but I promise you, it is SO freeing!
- HATE IT: Self explanatory. Donate or sell to fund new purchases.
- SEASONAL: If it’s not in season, but you LOVE IT (and I mean LOVE IT), put it in a box and store it so you can add it to your wardrobe when the proper season rolls around. (I realize this doesn’t work for everyone, but if you live in an area with distinct seasons, I highly recommend this… especially if you tend to get overwhelmed by options when getting dressed.)
Haha… how old is that picture!?! That’s from the very first time I ever did this process, back in 2015. Yes, I’ve been updating and republishing this post for 7 years!
A few notes about this step: Marie Kondo says it is important to touch each piece and consider if it brings you joy. I promise, this works. Trust your gut.
I keep a Maybe Bin in a spare closet for things I’m unsure about or having a hard time parting with. I allow myself to go into the bin and retrieve something if I change my mind during the season. This helps with any feelings of remorse over getting rid of perfectly good clothing. At the end of the season, anything I didn’t retrieve goes to the donate pile.
Some people have a really hard time getting rid of things they’ve bought that they feel are still in good shape, even if they don’t fit properly or make them happy. If that is you, I say this with love: Be like Elsa, and LET IT GO. You will feel SO much better, trust me!
It may seem wasteful to give away perfectly good clothing, and some people have a hard time with the purging process, but I look at it this way. It’s not a waste if it blesses someone who needs it.
If my clothes sit in my closet and rot until they’re outdated and full of moth holes, that’s a waste. However, if I can bring joy to someone today by giving them a bag of like-new clothing that they will wear and enjoy, I’m all for it.
Step 5: Assess & Shop
This is where you assess what is left in your closet, and then shop for any items you need to complete your wardrobe. Make a list and shop intentionally.
This step is ongoing, to some extent, but it is possible to get to the point where you have a complete and very workable wardrobe.
After the initial purge, you may want to live with your clothes for a little while before shopping for new pieces. If you’re struggling to define your personal style, this process will help.
Peruse Pinterest and your favorite blogs (ahem) and fashion magazines, and keep track of what styles resonate with you. Pin them to a personal style Pinterest board, or keep a notebook with pages from magazines. Whichever method you prefer is fine, as long as it works for you.
Your goal during this phase is to determine your personal style and what you need to rebuild your wardrobe. Keep a notebook or a document on your phone with a list of clothing items you need or want so you can shop strategically.
If you’ve never done a ruthless closet purge like this, I challenge you to try it. And please, let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear.
What To Do With Your Donations
I always get asked what to do with clothes you want to donate. There are tons of local organizations that do good work providing clothing to needy women and families in the community where you live. Just find one that resonates with you and haul your stuff over there. As an added bonus, get a receipt, and it’s a tax write-off.
The other option is Clothes Mentor or Style Encore. Both are consignment shops that will pay you on the spot for the clothes they keep, whether they sell them or not. It takes about an hour, so bring a book or prepare to run some errands while they look through your stuff. Whatever they don’t want, you can then donate, but at least you may get some money back to put towards rebuilding your wardrobe after the purge.
Of course, there’s always Ebay or Poshmark, but that is a huge project, and not one many women want to undertake. Either way, get everything you plan to sell or donate out of your closet, and out of your bedroom immediately.
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