How to Be Ruthless When Decluttering Clothes

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tee, cardigan, and other clothes hanging in closet

Decluttering your closet can be a challenge to undertake. Maybe you’ve been frustrated with your wardrobe before. You’ve tried clearing it out, but there’s still a bunch of clothes and nothing to wear.

There is a lot of emotional baggage that accompanies clothing. If you don’t recognize where those feelings are coming from, it can be even more challenging to get rid of clothes.

I used to be quite the hoarder of clothing. It was the source of a lot of stress and frustration in my life. One of the best things I’ve ever done was declutter my closet and create a capsule wardrobe. The simplicity and organization that resulted are just a couple of the benefits that filtered into other areas of my life.

Below I’ll share the three reasons it’s difficult for us to part with clothes and three ways to overcome those challenges and discover how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes.


3 Reasons We Can’t Get Rid of Clothes

What do the biggest challenges of letting go of clothes all have in common? They are about what has happened in the past and what you think will happen in the future.

The three consistent reasons you can’t purge clothes are:

  1. Guilt from purchasing something you didn’t use
  2. Hope for a change in your lifestyle or body type
  3. Fear you’ll get rid of something you’ll need someday

Take note that none of these reasons are about the here and now. And that’s exactly what we need to change.


Why You Can’t Get Rid of Clothes You Don’t Wear 

When you look in your closet, do you see stuff you don’t wear? If you took the time to read this, then you probably do.

Chances are you still have those clothes due to one of the three reasons listed above. We’ll dig into each of these and talk about how to getcha mind right so you can start decluttering your closet.

Guilt from a Poor Purchase

Look at the items you’ve bought that you have never worn or have worn once. Have you thought about why you still have them?

We carry enormous guilt for the mistakes we make, especially with money.

Holding onto something you don’t wear doesn’t change the past and doesn’t help you move forward.

Whether it’s a style that isn’t your taste or a color that doesn’t fit the rest of your wardrobe – stop punishing yourself every time you open the closet.

The sooner you admit the item wasn’t the right purchase and remove it, the better off you’ll be.

Hope for a Change

We all usually have some “motivational clothing” that we keep in our closets.

Unfortunately, instead of providing motivation, this clothing tends to remind you why we’re not good enough to wear it.

What is “motivational clothing”?

  • The clothing you can’t wear until you drop a few inches in the waist
  • Or the clothing for that activity you were planning to take up – tennis, running, or cycling

You can’t get rid of them because you’re still hoping you will lose weight or find the time to start that new hobby. But those clothes are giving you negative vibes in your closet. Every time you look at them, all you’ll see is how you’re not doing enough.

Fear of Not Having What You Need in the Future

Fear is a reason many clothes outstay their welcome in our closets. You know you’re keeping something out of fear when your excuse is, “I might wear this…”

  • if I don’t do laundry for awhile
  • if I wear out my other tops/shoes/pants
  • if I start dressing up for work
  • if I get the right top/shoes/pants to go with it

Our biggest decluttering roadblock is the fear of needing something after it’s gone.

In this society of consumerism, it’s amazing that this is what scares us. After all, if we don’t have something, we can easily go out and buy it. And we often do. Yet, we still fear letting go. 

I’m not saying you should get rid of something just to go out and repurchase it. It’s just the opposite. When you have curated your wardrobe with things you love now, you will rarely need to buy anything.


Tips for Decluttering Clothes

Now that you understand the emotions behind why you haven’t been able to get rid of clothes, we can start decluttering them.

Pants folded neatly in storage basket

Just by understanding our emotions, we are in a better position to overcome them. Here are three tips to declutter clothes and not let your emotions get the best of you.

1. How to Decide What Clothes to Keep

Pull all your clothes out of your closet and drawers. Surprise! I know, I know – you’ve heard this before. But pull it all out. Now only put back items you love to wear (and that you actually do wear).

Just so we’re on the same page, if you ‘don’t hate it,’ it doesn’t go back in your closet.

Here’s the thing, when you’re decluttering your clothes, you can’t overthink it.

If you grab something and don’t immediately know you love it, it is very likely bound for the giveaway pile. When you linger on an item too long, all those negative feelings of fear and guilt can creep up. They’ll try to convince you to keep something that doesn’t make you happy or add value to your life.

Now look at what’s left after the things you love to wear are back in the closet. Unless you don’t have enough clothes to get you through the week, everything not in the closet should be finding a new home.

HOW TO KNOW IF YOU REALLY LOVE SOMETHING: Distinguishing love from an emotional response is complex with some items. For example – you might feel love from a memory or because it’s the perfect cozy material. But also guilt, because it’s not your style anymore, or it doesn’t fit. If you love an item, you will have a wholly positive and almost proud response to whether you should keep it.

2. Clearing Out Clothes

Have you ever set out to declutter your closet, cleared out a bunch of clothes, and put them in a bag in the basement? What happened when you found those clothes again? If you’re like me, you started going through the clothes, and some of them found their way back into your closet.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this and ended up decluttering the same items a second time.

An essential task of ruthlessly decluttering clothes is getting the clothes gone ASAP.

Sort them into selling, donating, and trash as you declutter. Then, put the boxes in your car and take them as soon as possible to their final destination.

Clothing You Want to Sell

When ruthlessly decluttering clothes, your top priority is always going to be getting rid of the clothes. That makes maximizing profits from selling clothes a lower priority.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Poshmark, eBay, and other sites for selling clothes, but if you try to list everything, you’ll be at it forever. Getting the momentum and motivation that comes with clearing out your space is crucial to this process.

Here are two avenues for quickly decluttering clothes for a profit:

CONSIGNMENT – Consignment stores are a good option for selling your gently used clothing.

clothing on consignment racks

Reasearch store options before you start decluttering.

  • Find a store with a good reputation
  • Get the scoop (how many items can you bring, what brands do they accept, etc.)
  • Sign up or book an appointment if required

Consignment stores will donate things that aren’t accepted or don’t sell. The last thing you want is to give decluttered items a chance to return to your home.

THREDUP – If there’s no consignment store nearby and you still want to try selling your items, send them to ThredUp. ThredUp will list the items on their site and give you a percentage of the sale.

screenshot of ThredUp consignment website

Do some leg work before clearing out clothes.

  • Go to thredup.com and sign up for an account

  • Print out their free shipping label
  • Have boxes on hand for your shipments

ThredUp will also donate what isn’t accepted or doesn’t sell.

WHY CHOOSE CONSIGNMENT OR THREDUP FOR SELLING CLOTHES: These options allow you to remove clothes from your closet, car, etc., immediately. You can also earn a little cash while making sure decluttered clothes don’t boom-a-rang back into your closet.

3. Set a Goal with a Deadline

For the clothes you just can’t get rid of, set a deadline, and stick to it. If you need to lose weight or start a new hobby to get value out of your clothes – do it. Need to get something hemmed or mended to wear it? Plan a time to get it done.

Write down your deadline on the calendar or put it on a post-it where you can see it.

In the meantime, put any unwearable clothing in a different space. Store them under a bed or in a different closet. This will prevent them from messing with the new vibe in your wardrobe.

Now, one of two things will happen. You’ll find the motivation to reach the goals that will allow you to enjoy these clothes – or you won’t.

If you don’t meet the deadline, that’s ok. You now know the action needed to find value in those clothes wasn’t worth your time. You can let the clothes go with the confidence you’ve made the right choice.

HOW TO SET YOUR GOAL DEADLINE: Remember to be realistic. If the goal is to lose 10 pounds to wear your favorite jeans, don’t set a deadline for next week. If the goal is to get a jacket mended, next week is achievable. An attainable goal will help you feel comfortable with the challenge.

Final Thoughts on How to Declutter Your Closet

Here are a few key things to remember before you start decluttering your clothes.

  • You know yourself and your wardrobe better than anyone. There are going to be some exceptions to your ruthless decluttering rules. You’ll know the exceptions when you see them. You’ll be certain of things you should keep, even if they fall outside the guidelines in this article.
  • Trust your gut and hold yourself accountable for your choices. Think about what you reach for most, what looks good on you, and how you want to feel in your clothes.
  • Don’t force yourself to wear things just because you bought them. And don’t beat yourself up if your keep pile is small. For every garment in the giveaway pile, there is a valuable lesson learned.

Lastly, here are a couple of resources to get inspired and stay motivated during the process.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo

This book will remind you why you are taking the time to declutter and how to train your brain for this process. If you read it a while back, I recommend rereading it for renewed inspiration. You can view the book here.

The Curated Closet, Anuschka Rees

This is my favorite read for building a small wardrobe that makes you feel confident. This book doesn’t tell you what items to put in your closet but instead guides you on a path to find your personal style. You can see more about it here.

The Minimalists: Less is Now

A documentary that will inspire you to live with less. Learn about the minimalism movement and how simplifying will change your life. You can watch the documentary on Netflix.


Want to learn more about downsizing your closet to a minimalist wardrobe?

Check out our 5 step guide to downsizing your wardrobe.


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