Inside: Wondering how to minimize your wardrobe with the least amount of angst? I’ve curated this list of the most popular strategies for downsizing your closet, paired with guidance on who will benefit most from each method, depending on your personality and goals.
Ding! The text message from a dear friend asked the same questions I’d answered a few times before.
“So, I need some inspiration for getting rid of clothes. How do you decide again? This feels SO hard!”
In the moment, I gave my standard, cookie cutter answer. I listed the same questions I always do:
- Are they worn out?
- Do they fit?
- If they don’t, how do they make you feel sitting there unworn?
But this week I realized it’s rarely that simple. I’ve been doing this whole minimalism thing for years, and getting rid of clothes is still not always easy for me.
Minimizing your wardrobe is hard. Why? Because our closets don’t just contain clothes, they contain STORIES.
Clothes tell the tales of who we used to be when we were younger, a different size and shape, living in different places and times, with different people.
They remind us of when we used to work this job or that one, when we used to go to church once (or twice) a week or when that person was still here.
Those stories can make decisions about clothes some of the toughest decluttering decisions by far. It’s a category right up there with sentimental items.
But you know what? Figuring out the best strategy for YOU can make all the difference.
How to Minimize Your Wardrobe: A Strategy for Every Personality
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Thankfully, there are several different strategies for decluttering clothes and giving your closet some breathing room.
Which strategy is best for you will depend on a few factors:
- The size of your wardrobe
- Your tolerance for decision-making
- How sentimental you are (or not)
- Your goals for your wardrobe
There are ways to let go slowly over time, or if you’re more of a “rip off the bandaid” kind of person, there’s a strategy for you, too.
After describing each “declutter your closet” method, I’ve included a cliff notes version of who this particular strategy will work best for.
I’m certain you’ll find a strategy that works best for you! Let’s dive in.
(Look for the “Best For” sections at the end of each method’s description, highlighted in blue. They give guidance on who will benefit most from that particular decluttering strategy.)
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1. Marie Kondo It
Marie Kondo made headlines again last month when she admitted that after having her third child, she was “giving up tidying.” Mothers everywhere breathed a deep sigh of satisfaction (with a note of “I told you so”).
Even if Marie has given up tidying, her methods are still widely used to help people declutter their homes. And where does she start? Clothes.
With the Marie Kondo method, you take everything out of your closet and dump it onto a freshly made bed or clean floor. Next, you pick up each item one by one and ask, “Does this spark joy?”
Reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Kondo’s first book) is what jump-started my minimalist lifestyle, so I used this method to downsize my closet first.
I got rid of A LOT of clothes using the Kondo method – probably too many, too soon. I was a broke mom of four little kids, and I didn’t have a lot of clothes I loved.
Also, depending on the size of your closet, that can be a LOT of decisions to make in one day.
And once you start, there’s not a lot of room to break up this project. It’s all or nothing, baby.
Best For: Those who have a lot of time and decision-making energy on their hands, and a lot of nice clothes you like or the ability to replace your wardrobe if you don’t. If the “Does it spark joy?” question feels too vague or woo-woo, this probably isn’t the best method for you.
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2. Pack It All Up
I discovered this method on Youtube a while ago, and it mirrors The Minimalist’s “Packing Party” decluttering method.
Essentially, you “pack up” everything in your closet except lounge and workout wear. Over the course of the next month, you take clothes out every day (or every other day), as needed.
The goal is to force you to pull out specific items, thus separating your favorites and go-to’s from the “meh’s” in your closet with relative ease.
Everything else is “out of sight, out of mind”. So by the end of the month, it should be pretty clear what you need to keep and what didn’t even cross your mind to pull out.
The biggest problem I see with this method is seasonality.
If you live in a four season region (and you store out of season items), you might need to adapt this and do a round at the start of each season over the next year.
Best For: Those who want to minimize difficult decisions and let the decluttering method do most of the leg work. You have difficulty letting go and need things to be “out of sight” to confirm what doesn’t even cross your mind and is “safe” to declutter.
3. Backwards Hangers
The “backwards hangers” method is one of the more popular methods for minimizing your wardrobe, probably because it’s another great method for those who have difficulty making decluttering decisions.
Obviously, it only works if you use hangers to store your clothing. So if you primarily use a dresser, choose a different method.
Essentially, you “reverse” the hangers for every clothing item. When you wear the item, you switch the hanger to the opposite, “normal” hanger position.
At the end of a month or two, you will be able to clearly see which items you wear regularly and reach for every day, and which ones you don’t.
Best For: Those who want a slow method to minimize their wardrobes. You know you want to declutter your clothes, but you’re happy to take your sweet time and the visual clutter of a stuffed closet doesn’t bother you.
4. The 40 Hanger Closet
Speaking of hangers, if you don’t want to wait 3-6 months the “Backwards Hangers” method requires to figure out what you wear and don’t wear on a regular basis, you might consider Ruth Soukup’s “40 Hanger Closet” strategy, instead.
But she wasn’t looking for a more extreme capsule wardrobe. So instead, she decided to limit the number of hangers in her closet to forty.
She bought forty nice, velvet hangers and chose just forty favorites to keep, not including things like pajamas, lounge or workout wear.
For this method to work well, I’d suggest taking everything out of your closet that you’d normally hang up (again, not lounge or workout wear) and dumping it all on your bed, similar to the Marie Kondo method.
Note: This method can be adapted if you mostly use a dresser for your clothes. Simply choose ONLY forty items to put back in your drawers.
What I love about this strategy is it’s cut and dry: someone else has already decided on the number of items to keep. It also uses a process of elimination, albeit faster than the “Pack It All Up” method, instead of needing to make decisions about every single clothing item.
You’re pulling out your favorites and the items you wear every day. Whatever doesn’t make the cut for one of those forty slots is obviously NOT a favorite and you can let go of it.
Best For: Those who want to keep more than your average minimalist, but with fewer decisions – no extremes or asking “Does this spark joy?” about every single one. You’re ready for some closet breathing room ASAP, not weeks or months from now.
5. Project 333
Courtney Carver’s famous Project 333 clothing experiment has become just as well-known as Marie Kondo’s tidying methods.
Project 333 is a capsule wardrobe formula: beyond loungewear, workout wear and underwear/socks, you limit your wardrobe items to just 33 items every three months.
Those 33 items include jewelry, shoes, outerwear, other accessories like scarves, along with pants, tops and sweaters.
Typically, she recommends storing the rest of your wardrobe during those three months. A lot hinges on how many clothes you have to start with, and if you have room to store things temporarily.
This challenge assumes you already have far more than 33 clothing/accessory items you love. To me, it’s also assumed you have many quality items – a closet full of awesome.
At the end of the challenge, you can safely declutter what you didn’t wear from the current round of times. Then make the next season’s capsule wardrobe with current and/or old items.
Over time, you’ll be able to gradually let go of things you never chose to include in your 33 items.
Best For: Those who are fashion-conscious and want to downsize their wardrobes, but are reluctant to get rid of quality items they occasionally wear, especially seasonal items. Over three months, you’ll see just how much variety can be achieved with less, without being forced to get rid of anything right away.
6. No New Clothes Challenge
This method can be combined with the others, or act as a stand-alone method for downsizing your wardrobe.
Commit to not buying clothes for a period of time – typically anywhere from three to twelve months (I recommend six). When you stop bringing anything new in, it can lay the groundwork for decluttering your clothes over that period of time or when the challenge is over.
Allow for exceptions like something wearing out completely, as in, there are holes in places there shouldn’t be.
But mostly, you commit to not bringing any new-to-you clothes into your wardrobe during that period of time. No thrift stores of hand-me-downs, either!
When you stop the influx of new, it forces you to reconcile with the wardrobe in front of you.
Having tried a “no new clothes for a year” challenge myself, I will say that this is NOT good for those who are going through body changes of any kind, like pregnancy or postpartum. I imagine it’s also not a great idea for seasons of high stress or illness.
Best For: Those who aren’t ready to part with any clothes or make any hard decisions just yet and need/want a breather before they jump into downsizing their closets.
7. Daily Uniform
I’ve baby-stepped my way through these methods all the way to the daily uniform. I have one for winter and one for summer so far, but I’m still working on transition seasons like fall and spring.
A daily uniform can be as strict or as relaxed as you want it to be.
Joshua Becker from Becoming Minimalist wears the same black V-neck tee (he has more than one, of course) and jeans almost every day.
I’ve leaned into this level of extreme lately.
But you can absolutely keep it more broad. For example, in winter, you might always wear a sweater and jeans, but you have a variety of sweaters and jeans that can all be mixed and matched easily.
Because it’s so extreme, I typically recommend people try this method for a month or more before they give away the rest of their wardrobes.
Best For: Those who typically reach for the same clothes all the time, anyway. You’re ready for extreme wardrobe simplicity. You’re also not sentimental and letting go of stuff is easy for you.
Downsize Your Closet: Live Lighter
You’re reading this because something in you knows minimizing your wardrobe will serve you in some way.
Maybe you want more breathing room in your closet. Maybe you want to become a more conscious consumer and only buy clothes you will wear and love.
Maybe you just want to do less freaking laundry! (Solidarity.)
Whether you choose a slower method like backwards hangers or jump right to a daily uniform, the goal is the same:
Less stuff. Fewer decisions. More time.
So pick a method, and get on it! The sooner you start, the faster you’ll get these benefits.
A “lighter” life is on the other side of minimizing your closet.