How to Purge Your Closet & Love Your Wardrobe

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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191 thoughts on “How to Purge Your Closet & Love Your Wardrobe

  1. Always such a great and inspiring post!  I try to keep purging through the year, but I did do the whole purge thing a couple of years ago and it truly helped!  I have a big enough closet to keep everything in there, but I do tend to move the seasonal stuff to the back and move the current season forward where it’s more easily accessible.  I need to figure out what to do with shoes!  I have PF and when I find shoes that are comfortable, I hate to get rid of them, if they are still in style.  Even if I only wear them a few times a year.  I need better storage for them.  That is my next task!

  2. So strange. I first commented this morning and there were lots of comments posted but sounded like right after Christmas. Now came back to reread something and it’s only one post commented. Maybe first time it linked to your old post to this subject. Anyway great post. Purging really does help but I dread the taking everything out of closet time of purging. Takes me forever. I need days not hours. Lol. Best thing I ever did was color code my clothes. 

  3. Hi Jo-Lynne, I enjoyed this post so much. Do you hang up all your sweaters and sweater dresses? I don’t like getting those pumps on the shoulders caused from hangers and I worry that sweater dresses will stretch in length from hanging? Just wondering how you handle your sweaters and sweater dresses.

    1. Sweaters are a problem for me too. Unfortunately my house is 35 yrs old built when no one wore clothes lol.  My closet is 6 feet wide and the depth of a hanger plus about 6 inches and it has two bypass doors so I can only see in half at a time. We took out the single eye level shelf and divided it into two halves since only one is accessible at a time. My cardigans are on hangers and they got bumps so even tho it takes massively more space I started folding them over the hangers like the dry cleaners do. The fold the sleeves inward, place a piece of tissue and then fold the sides in. That way no stretching. I have probably 30 crammed into a tiny space. It’s frustrating since the only place for a chair in the room is in the corner blocking the closet. I’m planning to not take everything out since that means dealing with the doors, but rather half at a time. I think I’ll take the spring weight ones out completely. Good luck with yours!  

      1. Hi Liane, sorry…I tho’t at first that your lovely email came from Jo-Lynne but now I see it was from you, my bad lol. I appreciate your reply, and I like your idea of folding sweaters over the hanger, although your right, I could see it taking up a lot more space. But I’ll give it a try! I do have some folded in my dresser but it’s not as easy to see what I’ve got that way. I hear your frustration with a smaller closet. Mine is quite wide, but not a walk-in closet, and I’m trying to maximize the space. Thanks for your tips I appreciate it!

      2. Liane, my house is about the same age and I don’t have a walk in closet, that’s sort of how I handle hanging my nicer sweaters also removing any lightweight spring/summery sweaters. I try and use a hanger with some sort of padding. I still end up with some everyday older ones folded in my dresser. Works much better for me too.

        1. I think you all responded to the original 2015 blog post. Since then we’ve move and I have a new ginormous closet. I did however do a purge just before we moved. Another blogger I follow introduced me to Oufit Formulas. It looked interesting so I bought one module – the basic casual wardrobe. I already had everything on that list and a few duplicates. Everything else went into boxes for donations or storage for a different season. That eliminated a ton of cardigans. After getting rid of a huge number of them for various reasons – mostly pilling, snags, nothing matching, too small etc. I was left with a core of useful neutral cardis I could fold like the video. My pullovers underwent a similar purge – mostly tossed for pilling but a few had stains or were too big. They are in a blanket chest at the end of the bed. I tried shelves for them but they wanted to fall off and I’m short, so that caused a problem also.

  4. This is a wonderful post.
    I have wanted to clean out/purge for a while. You just gave me the push I need. Thanks!
    Looking forward to the building blocks to follow.

  5. My closet needs a serious purge of some items. I still have dresses I wore in 2011 and 2012! I don’t even like them any more but I hold on because I have no newer dresses. Yep, 2012 is the last time I bought a dress. Oh my!

  6. I struggle with holding on to too many things I rarely wear. They fit and look nice, but they are pieces I would only wear on certain occasions. Like a tropical print dress that’s perfect for a beach resort but doesn’t match my normal wardrobe. I also noticed that I gravitate towards dressier pieces but rarely wear them because I feel overdressed in them. I’ve definitely been looking for more casual pieces to fill in the gaps!

    1. I think it’s appropriate to keep a few of those things, because when you need them, you need them. I have a couple of classic black dresses that I rarely wear, but I’m always glad to have them when I have a funeral or dressy occasion. Just be sure to try them on at least once a year and make sure they still fit and are in good condition. Then keep them in the back of your closet where they don’t create “visual clutter” when you are trying to put your outfits together. 🙂

  7. I have done a purge, and it was enlightening! I took everything I didn’t want to a local nonprofit that works with the needy and underserved. I like that my clothes go to women for free. I always have a donate pile going, as well. When I fill up a bag, out it goes.

  8. Great post, I’m overdue for a closet purge! I like the idea of keeping a “maybe” bin in your closet! I keep a “5lb bag”, anything that’s too small but would realistically fit if I lost 5-10lbs. If I’d have to lose more than that to wear it, put it goes! I’d enjoy a closet storage/organization post! We just ripped out our old closet rod/shelf combo and are planning to put in dividers and new shelving and I’m clueless how to organize it! Also I agree with the others on needing tips for the best way to store sweaters and other tricky items. Thanks for posting this, I think New Year is a great time to do this!

  9. Such a great post! So helpful! I try to do this often, but have recently lost quite a bit of weight and plan to lose more. Since I am in between sizes I am keeping some things that I know I won’t continue to wear. It’s also hard to know what to buy now (because I have to have something to wear) and what to wait to buy until I’m at my goal weight. I’ve been holding onto some things that I know I won’t wear any more just to have something to wear. I’m going to get rid of them this week! Thanks for the encouragement! 🙂

  10. Jo-Lynne,

    Thanks for updating this post. I have also used the Marie Kondo method to clean out everything from clothing to house decorations, etc. Something else I do is to limit the space for items. I don’t need more clothes than my closet and dresser can hold. I have “donate” boxes ready for things I don’t want or need and when I fill a couple of boxes up, I run them over to the thrift shop. This year when decorating for Christmas I made a point to collect items and gift wrap supplies that I didn’t need and donate them.

  11. Such great advice! Thank you. As someone who only purges piece by piece, this necessary project will likely take me weeks. I probably have decades of clothes filling multiple closets. Yikes!

  12. Great reminder! Quick question – have you had your colors done? I keep thinking about it and this post makes me want to in order to rebuild my wardrobe with colors that actually complement my skin and hair color. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  13. So I haven’t actually emptied the closet but I’ve gone through sections – tops, sweaters, pants, jeans, each as sections and eliminated/purged. What’s ironic though is I’ve had a poshmark closet for just over 5 years and I find myself thrifting a lot and then get home and realize i don’t love it so …. it goes into my closet to resell. I have found myself several times this year specifically going to THAT closet and pulling things I didn’t love once and finding new ways to wear items and taking them out of circulation for sell… kinda going backwards – they were things that were on trend currently but I just couldn’t figure out how to wear them to fit my style but just digging in to the fashion blogs I’ve stretched myself a bit to find ways that work.

  14. Thank you for the update. I have a big closet, so all of my clothes are in my closet. I purge by category. This keeps it from becoming overwhelming, and I can then devote a couple hours vs. a day or two that I never have. It may take me several sessions, but it is more manageable. Thank you also for the “permission” to let it go. I need to teach my girls this. I have one who has trouble letting things go.

  15. Merry Christmas JoLynn – thanks for this post. Funny story: I did a HUGE closet clean out/purge when i moved in April of this from Texas to Arkansas to be near family. I literally got rid of 25-30 huge bags, some tubs loaded, etc. I felt so much lighter….until I started realizing I’d donated my favorite black tee by mistake & oops, then another thing here and there. But the good news is I was able to replace everything and am so much happier with a smaller wardrobe. I am a seasonal person, so I definitely have the seasons and the weather covered still – but very happy I can fit my clothes more easily into my closets.

  16. I like Marie Kondo s methods and think they’re very helpful, with one caveat. I won’t discard something that doesn’t “bring joy” but fills a real need, until I’ve found a replacement. Otherwise, I’d be left with a gap in my wardrobe. Right now, I want a new heavy, snow-worthy jacket but untiI find one I love and can afford, I’m holding onto the “so-so” one I have lol.

    1. Makes sense to me! There are definitely some things like that, that you just need and they aren’t terribly exciting. Like all methods, we have to all tweak them to work for us.

  17. Hey JoLynne! Great Post! I did this about 6 Mos ago after I had my open heart surgery and lost 40 lbs. That was a real eye opener. Anyway, I got rid of a lot of stuff. I’m so glad because I was one of those people that has a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear. I have spent the rest of the year to replenish with the basics. But I did it!! I’m so happy with ny closet now. Thank you so much! A little encouragement goes a long way!! Hope you and your family have a Wonderful and Blessed Christmas and New Year 2023!❤️

  18. Best thing I ever did was put my clothes back color coded. Also helps now that I am empty nested I can use the other bedroom closet for out of season things. That’s when I tend to purge is when I change seasons in my closet. I did remove everything years ago and start over, but haven’t done it again. Probably time.

  19. I have to separate my clothes by season and store out of season clothes in bins. When I switch over to the new season I hang everything backwards. After wearing the item I hang it properly. At the end of the season anything that is still hanging backwards gets tossed.

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