Decluttering Clothes: A Realistic Step by Step Guide

Inside: Is your closet driving you insane? This realistic step by step guide (you won’t be left with ten pieces of clothing by the time you’re done) will walk you through the entire process of decluttering clothes, from start to finish. 

Three years ago, when I picked up a copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, decluttering clothes was one of the first projects I tackled. When I pulled everything out of the closet, I was shocked.

Did I really have this many clothes? It was staggering, especially when I loved only a handful of them.

And because I didn’t love them – they were either uncomfortable or I didn’t love the way they looked on me – I rarely wore them, leaving the majority of my wardrobe unused.

Does decluttering clothes feel too overwhelming? Afraid you'll be left with a threadbare wardrobe with nothing left to wear? This simple and realistic step-by-step guide can help! Declutter your clothes without getting rid of everything you own (unless, of course, you want to). A decluttered closet equals less stress and more time. Start today!

 

The Benefits of Decluttering Clothes

Did you know that most of us only wear 20% of our wardrobes?

Twenty percent.

That means the rest of the clothes in your closet amaare “just in case” clothes: clothes that don’t fit you anymore, clothes that are worn out, or bad purchases you never wore in the first place. And because the clothes you don’t wear take up so much space, you ironically always feel like you have nothing to wear.

The 80% of your wardrobe you rarely wear negatively affects you more than you know.

Because of that other 80%, you:

  • Waste time getting dressed in the morning, trying on multiple outfits.
  • Feel stressed when you can’t find the clothes you love.
  • Never figure out your style, which means you…
  • Waste money buying more clothes you won’t wear.

When you make time for decluttering clothes, on the other hand:

  • Getting dressed in the morning will take no time at all.
  • You will be able to find exactly what you’re looking for (so much less stress!).
  • You will finally know your style, which will…
  • Drastically reduce the likelihood of future bad clothing purchases.

Now that you know all the benefits, let’s just right into how to actually do this thing.

Decluttering Clothes: Step by Step Guide

1) Dump every piece of clothing you own altogether onto a bed, floor, or another large, clean surface.

When I say every piece, I mean everything except undergarments and socks, which I’ll give you the quick decluttering pep talk for those right now:

  • If the socks haven’t had a match in six months, it’s time to toss them.
  • If your underwear have holes in them, it’s time for new ones.
  • And if you have bras you never ever wear? They’re taking up valuable space: get rid of them.

Alrighty then! Back to the rest of your clothes.

Dig out that seasonal clothing packed away in storage. Empty the closet and the dresser.

Do the laundry if you need to, so you can go through everything at the same time. Only when everything is altogether will you be able to see the magnitude of the problem and make the best decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of.

Other experts suggest evaluating by category (t-shirts one day, pants the next), but I’ve found that this leads to keeping more than you really need or want to keep.

2) Sort the clothes into three piles: clothes you love and wear regularly, clothes you wear but don’t love, and clothes you rarely wear.

First, pull out your favorite clothes. If you are having trouble deciding which ones are your favorites, try this tip I just heard on the Young House Love podcast: figure out which clothes you wash regularly.

The clothes you are washing every single week are most likely the ones you reach for first. There might be some clothes you wear but don’t love mixed in.

The ones that were in the closet and drawers instead of the laundry? These are probably the clothes you rarely wear and don’t love for one reason or another.

3) Evaluate the clothes you love and wear regularly.

In order to make better decisions about clothes in the future, you need to know why you love your favorite clothes.

What colors do you wear most often and look best on you?

What styles and fits do you prefer?

Once you answer those questions, you will have a much easier time evaluating the other piles.

Next, evaluate the number and types of clothing in this pile.

  • If you were left with nothing but what you have in this pile, would it be enough?
  • Would you be doing laundry every few days? Once a week? Is that doable?
  • Would you be without the clothes you need for specific occasions, such as lounging around the house, yard work, weddings?
  • Do the clothes in this pile easily mix and match? Can you create a variety of outfits if you were left with only these pieces?

If you don’t have enough, what are you missing? Make a list.

As you evaluate this pile, also be honest with yourself about your season of life and what you really like. Are you a full-time stay at home parent who isn’t planning on going back to work anytime soon? Do you feel obligated to buy and wear dresses, but you always reach for dress pants or skirts instead?

Resist the urge to keep clothes from a different season of life that you don’t plan on returning to anytime soon. Let them go.

If you absolutely must keep some (my husband isn’t a minimalist, so I get it), choose a small selection of your absolute favorite pieces to keep, and move them to deep storage.

4) Go through the “clothes you wear, but don’t love” pile.

When I decluttered my clothes using the KonMari method, I ended up getting rid of anything I didn’t love.

Big mistake.

(Side Note: If you’re looking for better decluttering questions than the ones Marie Kondo promotes, try these ones .)

I ended up being short on clothes for quite some time because I couldn’t afford to replace the huge gaps in my wardrobe.

Over the course of a year, I eventually recovered and replaced what I needed. The good thing was that I made much better buying decisions during that time.

Every piece of clothing I bought was a piece I loved, fit well, and coordinated with the rest of my capsule wardrobe.

But don’t be like me and experience major decluttering regret. ‘

You may need to keep some of the clothes that you wear reluctantly and don’t feel your best in for a short period of time. Figure out a monthly clothing budget to replace these items piece by piece with clothes you love and will wear all the time.

Use the list you made during step 3 to figure out what you need to keep from this pile temporarily and can replace over time.

5) Determine how many clothes you actually need.

This one is tricky and a very personal question.

Some people love variety. They live for changing up their outfits every day and picking something out in the morning.

If you’re one of those people, you might not love a “capsule wardrobe”. Your closet might be fuller than many minimalists, and that’s o.k.!

I’m not. It actually brings me great joy to pare down my closet further and further until I have the least number of items that will actually get me to laundry day.

Not you? Don’t think you need to be that way.

The point of decluttering clothes is to get rid of what you don’t use and wear, not to be left with the least amount of clothing ever.

Think through the following questions to find your answer to the “how much is enough?” question:

  • How often do you currently do laundry? Are you willing to change that frequency at all?
  • What’s your lifestyle like? How many outfits a day do you go through?
  • Do your pieces coordinate with each other? If not, are you willing to swap some out to reduce the number of clothes you actually need?

The math of outfits is simple: if you own 6 shirts and 6 pants that all coordinate, you can mix and match those to create 36 different outfits.

The fewer items match, the more clothes you may need.

6) Donate the “clothes you rarely wear” pile as quickly as possible.

Go through the pile one last time. Some of the clothes in this pile might be seasonal, so be careful that you don’t accidentally chuck your formal wear for weddings, work events, or funerals into the donate bin.

As long as you have enough clothes remaining that you love or can get by with until you replace them with ones you do love, most of this pile can be donated or sold. The choice you make – to donate or to sell – if yours depending on whether what you have it worth the time it takes to sell and/or whether you want to just give it away to get it off your hands.

Whatever you decide to do, give yourself a deadline to get the excess clothing off your hands. The longer it sits around, the more likely it is that you will justify moving things back into your closet.

7) Over time, replace the temporary clothing items with pieces you love.

Take your time. Don’t rush this process, or you’ll end up with more clothes you don’t love or wear.

Go back to your list of things that were missing.

Over time, through various shopping trips, seek out the missing items.

Don’t compromise! It’s so easy to justify a piece that isn’t the right one, especially when you’re tired of looking.

Psst – want to know how I spend next to nothing on clothes for myself and my family of soon to be 7? Subscribe to my newsletter and get my free e-book on how to save hundreds on clothes!

I spend less than $500 a year on quality clothes for a family of 6.

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Final Thoughts on Decluttering Clothes

This process can be a little exhausting, especially when you consider the time it will take craft a wardrobe you truly love and use regularly.

But it’s worth it!

I love that my closet is now stress-free. I open the doors and see things I truly love. It takes no time at all to get dressed in the morning, and I feel and look great every day (well, at least in my opinion! <wink>).

I hope that the time you choose to invest in decluttering clothes ends up being just as worthwhile.

Here’s to a lot more simple and a lot less stress!

P.S. If you’re going through this process with kids’ clothes, check out this post for more guidance!

Afraid of decluttering your clothes because you don't want to be left with nothing to wear? This realistic, step by step guide for decluttering clothes can help!

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