by Susan McCarthy
Want to feel happier about getting dressed in the morning? Spend less time putting away clean laundry? Have a coordinated and signature look? The solution isn't to be found in a store. Instead, decluttering your closet reveals the wardrobe you already love.
When my mother died, the director of the funeral home asked me to bring in an outfit for my mother. She hadn’t set aside an outfit and I had no clue what I’d find in her closet.
I opened the door and the clothing practically burst out. (It was a small 1950s house and she’d been using the broom closet for her clothing.)
I was overwhelmed and baffled trying to find something for her. There was a span of sizes. There were items I couldn’t remember her ever wearing. Some hangers were draped with three shirts.
And although it hadn’t been my plan, as I sifted through her clothing, I ended up filling trash bags with things I knew wouldn’t fit or that were too casual to wear for an eternity.
The day after my mother died was not the time when I’d thought I’d clear through her closet. I knew that she used to press her hip and shoulder into the door to get the latch shut. Now I knew why.
We’d moved into the house in 1974 and I think almost every item of clothing she owned between then and when she died in 2009 was crammed into that small space.
Some items were so out of style that she wouldn’t have worn the items around the house (even if they had fit). Instead of keeping only the clothing she currently wore in the closet, she made her life so much more difficult.
It couldn’t be joyful or calming to look at the space let alone try to remove (or, worse, return) items to this crammed closet.
Several years earlier, I’d decluttered my closet. But sorting through 30+ years of my mother’s clothing sent me back into my closet, to further clear things I wouldn’t, couldn’t, or didn’t wear.
Over time, I found myself owning fewer and fewer items. If I owned it, I was going to wear it. Today I might not have the most interesting wardrobe, but I’m in my late-50s and I own what I need.
A simple closet is better than one that's stuffed.
I didn’t tell you the story about going through my mother’s closet, so you’d envision your adult children sorting through your sweaters some day in the future as they wondered why you owned nine sweaters in nearly the exact same shade of red.
However, as a professional organizer, I’ve met a lot of people who express frustration and overwhelm about their packed closets and then insist they need to keep everything and couldn’t I suggest a new way of arranging the items or perhaps recommend a rack to hold the overflow.
Do you want to simplify your mornings? Save money (buying organizing gadgets, buying clothing like pieces already in your closet)? Save time trying to pull together an outfit? Save stress?
Then, declutter your closet. Let go of all the stuff you don’t, won’t, and can’t wear. Afraid there won’t be anything left? What remains will be the pieces you wear.
I promise, you’ll have enough.
You don’t wear most of the stuff in your closet.
Did you know that most people wear 20% of their wardrobe 80% of the time?
That means that if you own one hundred items, you wear the same twenty items of clothing nearly all the time. While that doesn’t sound like a lot of clothing, it could be 10 tops and 10 bottoms…or 10 tops, 5 bottoms, and 5 cardigans.
All that clothing in your closet and it amounts to a week and a half(ish) of outfits. So, what’s the rest of the stuff (the remaining 80 items) in your closet there for?
There’ll be some seasonal items in there, that heavy sweater you wear for maybe a month of the year. The cocktail dress that you pull on once a year. The dress pants you wear to funerals and the few nicer get-togethers you encounter in your life.
Maybe you now work from home and so your wardrobe is more casual than when you went into the office. You still need some office-appropriate outfits for when you have in-person meetings, but chances are you don’t need a month’s worth of skirts or pants and blouses or shirts with jackets you’d never wear anyplace else. Three outfits might be plenty.
But most of the stuff in your closet? You never wear it. You’ll never wear it. It’s out of style. It doesn’t fit. It’s uncomfortable. It’s stained. It’s missing a button. It’s needed alterations for the past seven years. It still has the price tag on it.
You don’t need this stuff.
You deserve ease when getting dressed.
Let’s face it, you know what you’re going to do for the day. When you go into your closet to get dressed, you dress for the activities of the day. Sometimes you may need to change your outfit during the day, but that probably doesn’t happen all the time.
And for better or worse, people dress far more casually nowadays than they did in the past. When you go to dinner at your neighborhood bar & grill, no one is going to look at you sideways if you have on jeans and a top. Often, it’s the people who are dressed up who get the curious look.
When you stand in front of (or in) your closet and look at all the things you aren’t wearing, I’m not thinking that you feel happy or serene. There may even be days where you feel disorganized with that tightly packed clothing rod and shoes strewn over the floor.
You get dressed every day. This should be a simple process that doesn’t bring up emotions about the weight you’ve gained, the alterations to your work identity, changes in how you spend your time, or the losses or frustrations in your life.
You’re getting dressed! You want to be comfortable and appropriately attired. It’s time to let go of the shirts that ride up, the shoes that pinch your toes, and the underwear with the elastic that started giving out two years ago.
Wear what you really wear (shockingly banal advice).
Remember the statistic that you wear twenty percent of your clothing eighty percent of the time? That’s the stuff that should be in your closet. Round it out with the stuff you only wear when doing yardwork, the couple of nicer outfits you wear to events, and seasonally appropriate outfits and you’ll have a lot more space in your closet and drawers.
This doesn’t mean that you need to go out and buy more clothing. You’re not going to get rid of anything that you wear all the time. You’re not even removing that dress you wear once every two years to a wedding (because you do wear it).
What you need is a week’s worth of clothing. You could go crazy and keep outfits for a week and a half. You’ll have plenty to wear. If you live someplace where winter and summer offers widely different weather, you can have two distinct wardrobes. Spring and fall could be a melding of these two wardrobes.
How to declutter your closet.
If you have the mental and physical energy to pull everything out of your closet and spend the next six-to-ten hours sorting through it all, this is the ideal way to see what you have.
If just the thought of doing that level of work has you making plans to hold off on the task of decluttering until that long weekend next month, then try this Minimal Mess Method right now.
How to simplify your wardrobe.
Grab a sheet of paper and pen:
Not counting sleepwear, workout gear, stuff you wear to garden or clean house, bathing suits, etc. you’ll likely have between 20-50 items (including outwear and footwear) for a seasonally appropriate wardrobe.
These are the things you’ll wear all the time.
Save your sanity (and keep the space you’ve created).
Laundry is easier to do when you own less clothing.
Really. The washing machine is doing most of the hard labor. What do you do? Hang up your clean clothing in your closet. Fold freshly laundered items and set them into your drawers.
If you have a lot of clothing, putting it away is a hassle. You must find an empty hanger. Then you need to squeeze it onto the clothing rod between other items. Or you hang it at the end of the rod so there’s no system in your closet, making it more difficult to find what you want when you want to wear it.
Doing laundry once (or even twice) a week means that you have a laundry basket of items to put away. This takes much less time than it does to put away two weeks or a month of clean clothing.
And if you pile clean clothing on a chair because it’s easier to do this than put your clothing away, then let me point out that most of the stuff in your closet can probably go…you aren’t wearing it.
Take the path to a less cluttered life.
Decluttering your closet is a wonderful way to see the benefits of minimizing your belongings. By removing the items that you don’t, won’t, and can’t wear you are clearing the clutter so you can see what is important to you.
More Resources to Help You Declutter Clothing
Hi, I'm Susan
I'm a former teacher who became a professional organizer (and not because I'm a natural-born neatnik). I live with my husband and fluffy cat on a river in Massachusetts. I crochet, make handmade cards, and love reading young adult novels. Learn more about my decluttering journey here.