If you're cleaning out your closet, you may be wondering if you should declutter clothes you never wear, but feel that you could. Someday. Take inspiration here that it's okay to pass these clothes along to a new owner.
by Susan McCarthy
Back about nine or ten years ago, when I was decluttering my parents’ house, I found bags of kids’ clothing in the basement. The 30-year-old clothing had belonged to me and my brother. The colors (orange, gold, olive green) and prints screamed “1970s!”
Why, oh why, hadn’t it ever been donated when it had been bagged up?
I can only wonder. Did my mother think that someday her grandkids would be into vintage orange shorts? Would I want my kids to wear clothing that had been festering in the basement for three decades?
A detour - why things stayed in my parents' house forever
My parents believed that everything had a re-use. I remember trying to clean the basement as an anniversary present to my parents and my mother insisting that I show her everything before I threw away or donated anything.
Early in the process, I carried two badminton rackets (held together in places with tape) and a net (with gnarly masses of knots to close holes) past where my mother sat.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Tossing this stuff. It’s broken.”
“Put it back.”
I believe my eyes goggled. “It’s broken. The rackets are held together with tape.”
“The grandkids could play with it.”
Um. “There are no grandkids.”
“When there are, they can play badminton.”
I was indignantly baffled (trust me, that can be a thing) that she would want her grandkids to play with stuff that belonged in the trash.
Oh, and after that I stopped trying to declutter the basement. It wasn’t a battle I’d win. Which is why I could find bags of 30-year-old kids’ clothing along with the other baffling collections of items that had been stored for decades because they could have been used again.
Declutter clothes you never wear
By the time my mother had passed, and my father went into assisted living, I’d begun the slow process of minimizing my belongings. For years I’d bought into my parents’ idea that you kept everything for someday.
When it came to clothing, that meant that someday I’d lose weight and then I could return to wearing the clothing that had been hanging in my closet for a dozen years.
It didn’t matter that I’d made a career change and I couldn’t wear blouses and pencil skirts as a nature and art teacher (well, I could, but it would be a tough hike up a rocky hill) because…I could wear those things on a date!
Eventually, I gave up the reasoning and the clothing. I was moving my life forward while holding onto the wardrobe that belonged to a former me. Getting rid of clothing that didn’t fit me (in so many ways) was like pulling my foot out of the mud. I’d been sucked into a belief and freeing myself was a relief.
Clothing is made to be worn. Now. Or at least when the appropriate season rolls around. This isn’t in five or ten years.
How many times did I hold onto a garment because I was starting a new diet and I was sure it would fit in three or four months?
You know what? If at this point, I lose the weight, I want new clothes. I don’t want to pull from the closet some fusty-smelling outfits from 30 years ago. Also, my lifestyle has changed a lot over the years and the outfits from oh-so-long ago wouldn’t fit who I am today (even if they did fit my body).
I do have a few sizes in my closet because women’s clothing sizes aren’t standardized and some days, I’ll want something that fits a bit looser or more form-fitting. If I notice those things don’t get worn, when the season changes, I’ll donate them.
I don’t need the same wide variety of sizes in my closet that you’d find on a rack at Target. Do you? Or does this just make you feel horrible every time you look in your closet.
Clothing wears out even if it's never worn
As a professional organizer, I’ve met women who, except for their pregnancies, have remained the same size their entire life. (I didn’t know this was an option.)
Because their clothing still fits, they keep it. Like me, they probably learned that you hold onto things that can be useful.
But how are these garments useful? The items are too out of style. If they wore these things in public, someone might ask them if they haven’t been able to do laundry…for a month. Or if they’d bumped their head and were suffering from a concussion. There would be concern. Unless the outfit was worn to a Halloween party, but how many costumes do you need in your closet?
Take the best, more dear sentimental items and move them to a keepsake box or at least put them in a garment bag that gets moved to the most awkward-to-reach part of your closet.
Clothing math can help you let go of clothing
As a kid my play clothes were always the previous year’s school clothes.
Sometimes, to disguise that we don’t really need an item of clothing, we downgrade it to loungewear or something we can wear when doing yardwork.
How often do we do these activities though? Even if you did yardwork seven days a week, you don’t need 32 tee shirts. (Ask me how I know.) You do laundry and so chances are you wear the same seven shirts all the time.
(Clothing math – the number of times you’ll wear a type of item between laundry days.)
Ditch the stretched out, faded, stained, holey items. Give away this stuff. There are industries that recycle the fabric and transform it to a new use.
Also get rid of those perfectly good tee shirts and hats that you were given for donating to a group or joining a gym or insurance agency. If these things have been shoved to the back of your drawers for ages, you aren’t going to wear them. You aren’t going to get that desperate.
You could designate a single drawer to loungewear or yardwork tops and another drawer to bottoms and you’ll still have plenty to wear for these purposes.
Feeling emboldened? Fit the tops and bottoms in a single drawer. You’ll have plenty to wear.
It's okay to declutter clothing you don't wear
"If it fits, it sits." This is an adorable concept with cats sitting in tiny boxes, but less precious with clothing set on shelves.
I’ve had individuals tell me that they own stuff they never wear but because they have the space, they’ll just keep it.
Minimizing your wardrobe will result in empty drawers. You’ll see wall peeking between hanging garments. Maybe this extra space makes people nervous.
Personally, I think wiggle room is awesome. I can find what I want in 10 seconds. I wear what I own. My closet isn’t filled with distractions that I don’t, won’t, or can’t wear.
Like my mother, I believe that things can be used again. However, I’ve also learned that this doesn’t mean that I’ll be the one to use or wear the item someday. Someone else can appreciate these items…and I won’t make them wait 30 years.
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