Fashion
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How to Purge Your Closet & Love Your Wardrobe Again

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

Yes. 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.

Step 2: Try it all 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!

Step 3: Sort each item into four piles

If you have a TON of clothes, do this process in groups. All your tops, then all your bottoms, then dresses, shoes, etc.

  • LOVE IT: If it is appropriate for the current season, and you absolutely love it and want to put it on right this second, 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.

Okay, 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.

If I’m unsure about something, I keep a MAYBE bin in my closet with the things I just can’t bear to part with but don’t think I will wear. 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.

I realize not everyone has seasonal wardrobes, and that is fine. If you prefer to keep all of your clothes in your closet all year round, go for it. But if you live in an area with distinct seasons as I do, I highly recommend putting away things that are not in season. It’s so much easier to get dressed when you’ve reduced your closet to only truly viable options. Try it once, and see how you like it.

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!

Yes, it feels very 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 are 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.

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.

Step 4: Assess what’s left in your closet

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, 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 feel lost or want more help, I highly recommend taking the next Adore Your Wardrobe course, which starts up again in April 2021. 

This course made SUCH a difference in how I view my body and how I dress myself.

Step 5: Shop

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.

Be sure to consider your lifestyle, and make sure you have a healthy ratio of casual clothes to work wear. This varies from person to person, and of course is based on climate as well.

Perhaps your lifestyle has changed recently, like you now work from home rather than the office, or you took a career turn with different wardrobe requirements, or you find yourself at home with the grandkids rather than working in a corporate atmosphere. If so, that ratio may have changed. You may not need so much work wear, for instance. Be sure to take that into account.

If you need guidance or a place to start, take a look at my Winter Wardrobe Essentials. I’m also going to be doing more posts in the coming days on the building blocks of a workable wardrobe.

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.

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174 thoughts on “How to Purge Your Closet & Love Your Wardrobe Again

  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!

  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. 🙂

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