Skip to Content

How to be Ruthless When Decluttering Clothes

How to be Ruthless When Decluttering Clothes

Decluttering clothes is so much more than getting rid of a few shirts you don’t like. Here are some tips on how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes so you can create space, fun and flexibility with your wardrobe.

THE BENEFITS OF DECLUTTERING CLOTHES

Decluttering my clothes was one of my own very first decluttering projects. Once I’d made the decision to simplify my closet and get rid of any clothes that I didn’t wear then I found I had more space, more outfit options and more enjoyment from my closet.

It’s strange that having less clothes actually made me feel as though I had more to wear but it’s true! I could open my wardrobe doors each morning, safe in the knowledge that everything in there was something that I could genuinely throw on. It would fit, feel comfortable and help me feel ready for the day ahead – on the inside and out.

The Pareto Principle states that 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes. This 80/20 rule applies just as well to our clothes. In my own wardrobe, I’m aware that I probably wear 20% of my clothes at least 80% of the time. Maybe it’s the same for the clothes you choose from your own wardrobe?

Here are some examples:

  • If I’m unwinding in the evening I put on my favourite sweatshirt and joggers.
  • If I have an important work meeting, I put on my favourite black smart trousers.
  • If I’m going out in the evening, I’ll wear my favourite jeans and black top.

I reach for my favourites, partly through habit but also through design, because I know they’ll fit and I like the way I look and feel in them.

WHY IS DECLUTTERING CLOTHES DIFFICULT?

So, if we just decluttered our clothes on the basis of keeping our favourites and getting rid of the rest, surely that would be easy? Ah well, therein lies the problem!

Our clothes are highly personal and evoke emotions well beyond worrying if our bums look big or whether we can get away with doing the school run in our well-loved hoodies (complete with holes or a stain down the front).

And, when emotions come into play, decluttering can be tough. They remind you of the past, of people and places, of what you used to look like and what you’d like to look like instead.

You may feel guilty for spending too much money, for not being able to lose weight or sad for a lifestyle or activity that you used to enjoy but can’t anymore.

There isn’t much in our home that gets as up-close-and-personal to us as our clothes. We put them on our body, carry them around as we go about our day and they’re how we present ourselves to the outside world. Whilst our clothes might not define us, they are certainly part of our identity.

Decluttering our clothes is a highly personal and emotional topic so, when it comes to decluttering your own clothes, it’s important to bear in mind the reasons why we find it tough – so you can overcome or work with them.

How to be ruthless when decluttering clothes

HOW TO BE RUTHLESS WHEN DECLUTTERING CLOTHES

Here are some tips on how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes. They’re not all serious, sometimes you can have fun and enjoy decluttering too!

1. Get clear on why you want to be ruthless

Before you start decluttering, it’s good to be clear on your decluttering goals and why you want to declutter. What do you want to achieve?

  • Make it quicker to get dressed on a busy morning?
  • Want to enjoy your wardrobe more but fed up with your clothes and looking for a makeover?
  • Do you find it difficult to put an outfit together?
  • Has your body type or style changed and you need your clothes to reflect that?

Before taking action, decide WHY you want or need to take action. This will motivate you to carry on when decluttering feels hard as you have an end goal and incentive to focus on.

2. Understand why you haven’t been ruthless up until now

Why have you found it hard to declutter clothes until now? Do you put it off? Have no time, feel overwhelmed, not sure where or how to begin?

  • Maybe you’ve tried decluttering your clothes but struggled? Did you feel guilty for getting rid of items because they were a gift, or they held sentimental attachment or you spent money on them and it feels wasteful to get rid of that item?
  • Maybe you got stuck in a decluttering rut, the clutter in your closet has just built up without you realising or you find it difficult making decluttering decisions?

Understanding WHY you haven’t been ruthless in decluttering your clothes up until now will help you know what obstacles and struggles you need to overcome to be successful this time around.

3. Overcome the feeling of wastefulness

Decluttering can feel wasteful. We buy items, even high value clothes and accessories for a variety of reasons because we love them, because we get an adrenalin rush from the purchase, because we’re feeling down and need a little perk.

Sometimes we’re just reluctant to get rid of an item because there’s nothing essentially ‘wrong’ with it so it seems ungrateful or wasteful to let it go.

Although I often say that the waste of money comes about when you purchase the item, I think it’s also true that sometimes we make decisions in good faith at the time but our circumstances change. It’s ok to admit that your style has changed, your priorities have shifted and you’d rather have space in your wardrobe than a reminder of the money you spent out.

Think about ways you can donate, gift or sell your items so that decluttering feels positive and helpful to others rather than negative and wasteful.

4. Know how to deal with sentimental clothes

Many of us have clothes that remind us of people, places and events. An old sweatshirt from college, a dress we wore on a holiday. For me, I have a scarf and a bag that belonged to my mum.

We hold onto clothes (and other stuff) because they bring back memories, so to be able to declutter your clothes, you need to unravel the emotions that go with them and find a way to deal with those before you deal with the clothes.

  • Do you really need these clothes to remember the person, event, place or memory?
  • Would a photo of that item achieve the same result but take up less space?
  • Could you put the item in a memory box or store it somewhere else if you never wear the item but want to keep it still?

If you don’t wear the item, does it really need a place in your wardrobe?

5. Be aware of your fantasy self

I used to have quite a few dresses hanging in my closet, that is, until I realised and resigned myself to the fact that my lifestyle doesn’t require those fancy dresses. When I’m finally able to be fancy again, it might be that my style and shape have changed a little so I probably wouldn’t wear those dresses anyway!

  • Do you struggle to declutter your clothes because you’re holding onto an idea of what you’d like to wear and be?
  • Does your lifestyle really support this idea of your self right now or is your closet designed for a different ‘you’?

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming for something different or working towards it, but you need clothes that suit you and your life right now. Dress your fantasy self when you’re ready to be living that life.

How to be ruthless when decluttering clothes

6. Deal with the ‘just in case’ argument

My husband keeps everything for ‘just in case’, including his clothes but I try to think of it differently. Instead of thinking you’ll keep something ‘just in case’ you might need it in the future, reframe that question. Ask this instead…

If you didn’t have that item, do you already have something that you’d wear instead?

7. A reminder of when you were younger, thinner and had a different lifestyle

As we go through life, our bodies change and this inevitably means so do our needs, including what type of clothes we like and want to wear.

Holding on to clothes because they remind you of the past is one thing, but holding on to those clothes even though they make you feel sad, frustrated and even resentful of where you are now compared to where you USED to be, does you and your body a great disservice.

Focus on the present and making yourself look and feel as good as you can so you can show up for your life in the best way possible.

Declutter clothes that make you compare yourself unfavourably with the old you.

8. Get comfortable with tradeoffs

The honest truth about decluttering is that there are tradeoffs.

To get the amazing benefits of a decluttered home and life you’ll have to make some tough decluttering decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of. Facing up to these tradeoffs before you start decluttering will help you declutter more easily and with more confidence.

Think back to why you want to be ruthless with your clothes, what it’s going to change for you and focus on that. Getting rid of a few items of clothing that you don’t feel comfortable in could be a small price to pay for an easier, simpler life.

What tradeoffs are you going to come up against when decluttering your clothes?

9. Put a temporary ban on shopping for clothes

If you’re struggling to declutter your existing stuff, stop the cycle of clutter in its tracks by not buying anything new for a while.

Make do with what you’ve got, get comfortable with your existing wardrobe, take time to identify the gaps and make a list of what you’d like to buy when your shopping ban is over!

How to be ruthless when decluttering clothes

10. Use your current lifestyle to decide what clothes you need to keep

The little collection of dresses I mentioned above don’t suit my lifestyle as a busy working parent. I need jeans and tops instead of dresses so, as I don’t have space for everything, it was a relatively easy decision. Keep what I actually wear day to day and let the rest go.

Not only does this give me more choices when I’m getting dressed but it means I started to build a capsule wardrobe that suited my life and needs.

This ended up being much more fun than a closet full of dresses that I loved to look at but could never actually wear (without looking totally overdressed and out of place at the school gates!).

11. Use your current body shape and size to decide what clothes to keep

When I was putting together my own minimalist capsule wardrobe, I also decided not to keep clothes that didn’t fit my body right now.

As Courtney Carver wisely says, it’s your clothes job to fit you now, not your job to fit your clothes. I think this is very true but how often do we keep clothes hanging up in our closet that we can no longer squeeze into?!

Isn’t life tough enough without reminding ourselves of when we were younger, thinner and fitter? Your body is wonderful right now so let’s start dressing ourselves for the present. Get rid of clothes that make you feel bad.

And, if your budget is tight and you want to hold on to these clothes for when you’ve lost some weight, store them somewhere else so you’re not confronted by them every time you open your closet doors.

12. Keep a ‘maybe’ box for clothes that don’t suit your current size, shape and lifestyle

If decluttering makes you feel anxious, relieve the stress and pressure by creating a ‘maybe’ box. If you’re not totally sure you’re ready to get rid of something, put it in a box and store it somewhere. Make a note to go back to the box and check the contents in a month or two. Do you feel ready to make a decision on whether to keep the contents yet?

Use the ‘maybe’ box with caution. This decluttering strategy isn’t so you can avoid making ALL decluttering decisions, otherwise you’ll end up procrastinating with your clutter and many ‘maybe’ boxes!

However, it is a helpful and ‘safe’ solution if you’re really struggling on deciding whether to get rid of something.

Instead of making decluttering decisions based on your emotions, be ruthless in getting rid of clothes by using the space you have available to you to measure what to keep and what to get rid of. This is a practical way to decide what to keep and removes the burden of responsibility from you.

I have a drawer for my knitwear. When this drawer is full then I know it’s time to declutter my cardigans and sweaters.

Being ruthless when decluttering your clothes is about removing the emotions from your decisions wherever possible and focusing on your end goal and why you want to declutter in the first place.

How to be ruthless when decluttering clothes

13. Decide where you’re going to get rid of your unwanted items

How often have you decluttered your home and then been left with boxes and bin bags of unwanted stuff cluttering up your home? Maybe your family see these and have a root through or you’re tempted to do a last check just to make sure you’re not getting rid of something you might later regret?!

The easiest way to declutter ruthlessly is to prepare before you declutter and, particularly, have a plan for what you’re going to do with your unwanted items. There are several options including selling, donating, gifting, recycling. Make your decision and get rid of your unwanted items as part of any decluttering session.

14. Decide what to do with high value items

If you have items which are worth money then it might be more difficult to decide what to do with them. It can seem a waste of money just to donate or recycle them but it’s hard work selling items and making any decent money on them.

If you have time and energy, or your budget requires it, you can definitely make money from selling good quality, well looked after items.

Make sure you have somewhere to store them whilst you’re waiting for them to be sold and perhaps have a deadline by which they need to be gone or else donate them.

15. Discard anything that you haven’t worn in one year

A simple method for being very ruthless when decluttering clothes is to get rid of anything you haven’t worn in a year.

16. Discard anything that is damaged, stained, worn out and can’t be repaired

Another quick tip for being ruthless when decluttering clothes is just to get rid of anything that is past its best in some way. Get rid of these items by sending them for textile recycling or even just as rags for dusting, cleaning etc about the home

17. Discard anything that needs repairing but you haven’t gotten around to repairing yet

I’ll play devil’s advocate here but if you really love something then you’ll look after it. If you’ve been meaning to mend an item of clothing for a while but haven’t, could this mean that a) you’re not bothered that it needs repairing, or b) you don’t love that garment enough to spend time repairing it.

Being ruthless when decluttering is about asking yourself some pretty hard questions and facing up to some equally hard truths!

18. Put sentimental clothing in your memory box

I mentioned this above, but I have kept a couple of sentimental clothing items back in the past. I don’t keep them in my wardrobe though, unless I’m wanting to wear them. Instead I put them in a memory box as a keepsake for the future.

Your wardrobe is not a storage container, it’s for items that you put on your body only

19. Try on every item of clothing you own and discard if it’s uncomfortable or doesn’t feel good

Another way of being ruthless with your clothes is just to get rid of anything that you don’t like to wear.

Try every item on, wear it for a whole day if you need to and make a mental note of how you find it. Do you readjust it often, does it feel scratchy, too tight, too loose, do you like the fabric and the feel? Do you feel good in it?

Use these answers to help you decide if the item deserves a place in your wardrobe and on your body.

20. Put a donation box in your wardrobe and use it to put unwanted clothes in

Successful decluttering is about making it just as easy to declutter as it is to keep the items. So, put a box in your wardrobe and every time you come across a garment that you don’t want to keep, chuck it in the donation box instead of hanging it back up. Empty the box every now and then.

How to be ruthless when decluttering clothes

21. Ask family or friends to tell you what you don’t look good in

Depending on how honest your friends and family might like to be, you could ask for their opinion on whether something suits you or not.

They may not want to hurt your feelings, or they may delight in being blunt, but try explaining to them what you’re wanting to do and how their thoughts could help you.

Constructive advice from a fresh pair of eyes can be very helpful. After all, they probably look at you more than you look at yourself!

22. Discard any items that you don’t like

This is exactly what it says on the tin. If you don’t like it and don’t wear it, get rid of it.

23. Try a wardrobe decluttering challenge

Sometimes we respond well to the gentle pressure and motivation of a fun challenge.

The 10×10 challenge and Project 333 are both brilliant ways to explore what a simplified, capsule wardrobe could look like for you. They both have time limits so you could try them out, without needing to get rid of any clothes, and just get a feel for what a smaller wardrobe could offer you – more time, more outfit options, more fun… anything else?

  • The 10×10 Style challenge is an exercise established in 2015 by Lee Vosburg from StyleBee encouraging oneself to get more creative with our clothes. The concept is essentially a mini capsule closet of 10 items that you work with for 10 days, creating new looks and styling your clothes in ways you might not otherwise try.
  • Project 333 is a challenge designed by Courtney Carver from bemorewithless.com. Courtney challenges us to choose a capsule wardrobe of 33 items for 3 months. This is a great introduction to the concept of a capsule wardrobe and whilst I personally can’t stick with the 33 item rule (I don’t like fixed numbers), it is a great and very insightful challenge to understand the benefits of living with less.

24. Slide all items to right and when worn put them on the left

This method is a good way of working out what you wear and what you don’t. Over time you’ll build up a picture of the clothes you tend to reach for and those that never see the light of day. You can then declutter the clothes you never wear with more confidence.

Slide all your clothes on the rail to the right and when you’ve worn them and are putting them back, put them on the left hand side. Over time you’ll see what you wear (moved to the left) and what you don’t (still on the right).

25. Turn hangers backwards and when worn put hangers round the right way

A similar idea to the one above. Give yourself a timeframe and after that’s up, get rid of any clothes that are still hanging backwards. If you haven’t reached for those clothes until now, are you likely to want to wear them in the future?

I tend to do this exercise seasonally and at the end of the season look back to see what I haven’t worn. This way I’m not assessing whether I’ve worn hot weather shorts when it’s freezing outside.

26. Pick just 7 items from each clothing category and work out why you picked these 7

A fun little exercise for you to try. Pick 7 items from each clothing category – tops, bottoms, knitwear, loungewear etc and lay them out on your bed.

Why did you choose these specific items, and not the others that are still sitting in your wardrobe? What’s special about these?

Think about whether you regularly choose these items to wear and ignore the other items in your wardrobe. Could you get rid of those items that are ignored?

27. Decide your favourites, define the common theme and discard anything that doesn’t fit the theme

My theme for my own wardrobe is neutral, jeans and a top and maybe jacket or sweater. I don’t like to wear patterns, bold prints or bright colours so I got rid (and don’t buy) anything that deviates from that. Call me boring, but it’s simple and effective! This is just my preference but you might like skirts, florals and neons.

The point is not so much what makes up your style but to get rid of anything that doesn’t fit that theme.

28. Choose 40 items, excluding underwear, outerwear, accessories and loungewear and get rid of the rest

Another fun way to be ruthless when decluttering your clothes, if you enjoy a real challenge then maybe this will appeal.

Choose your favourite 40 staple items from your wardrobe and get rid of the rest (or at least box them up for a bit and see if you can live without them).

29. Set a timer and get rid of as many clothes as possible in that time

This decluttering strategy may be a bit of a last resort but sometimes we respond best to a challenge and to see what we can achieve in a small window of time. With too much time on our hands and no end goal in sight, we can put decluttering off… until another time, until we have more energy, more motivation, more confidence.

Decluttering requires action and you have to start decluttering somewhere to bring about change so why not start today!

You know what you like to wear and what you don’t. Trust your gut, set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and commit to decluttering a few clothes in the timeframe. Don’t overthink, go with your instinct and see if you can create a little space in those few minutes. Once you start, you may be encouraged to continue…

How to be ruthless when decluttering clothes

MORE ON THIS TOPIC

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

If you want to be ruthless when decluttering clothes you’ll have to shift your thoughts around what to keep and what to get rid of and get into the decluttering mindset. Making do, choosing well, buying mindfully and understanding that decluttering comes with tradeoffs.

Our clothes are highly personal, they touch our skin, help present us to the outside world, and reflect our personal and very unique style. It’s no wonder that we find decluttering clothes difficult.

Have you tried decluttering your clothes and did you find it tough or easy? Did you enjoy the experience of curating a simplified, capsule wardrobe or did you get stuck? Do you think the tips I’ve shared might help you be ruthless when decluttering clothes in the future?

If you have any thoughts, tips or suggestions to share which might help others, please leave a comment below as I’d love to hear from you!

A FREE DOWNLOAD

Ready to declutter your wardrobe and sort through your clothes? Grab a copy of my free Wardrobe Declutter Checklist to help you get started. Pop your details in the box below so I know where to send it!

Lillian

Tuesday 26th of September 2023

'Not boring:40 outfits in 4 monochrome colors for 5 seasons including church & HOSPITAL AC. Post menopause means ALWAYS layering ??,?? by the moment for life. 1. Navy/SeaMoss/Aqua\Forrest 2.Pale & deep Cinnamon\Winterberry 3.Coffee (my black, hardest to find) 4.Grey (newest, for new hair) Did all steps but 40 PIECES: a deep plunge! No formal wear. Pieces include long & short sleeved tops, 2 shorts & slacks, 1 skirt, & 1 vest per monochrome. Monochrome can't make me taller than 59.5," but won't make me "shorter." After losing all clothes 1-3 sizes too big & going monochrome, that's all I know or care about style: FUNCTION, including holiday wear. I wear all every month. The multiples really help w/easy changes for exhausting daily hospital visits when those happen.

Balance Through Simplicity

Tuesday 26th of September 2023

Hi Lillian, I think I'd struggle with just 40 pieces too if I'm honest! Thank you for sharing and I agree, sometimes it IS helpful to have multiples, so it's important to find what works for one's own lifestyle. Thank you for reading!

Colette

Tuesday 26th of September 2023

Great article with lots of practical advice! I often have trouble finding time to do a deep purge but you shared several good tips to make it faster. I’ve done a couple things that help me figure out what to let go of. One is, as I try things on to wear and find they don’t quite fit anymore but they’re a “favorite” item, I put them in their own place. If they still don’t fit and/or I haven’t worn them after a reasonable amount of time, that whole stack, box, whatever is already poised for purge. The other thing I’ve done, especially since I have several children including teens with their own wardrobe challenges, is have all of us get used to living with just what we can fit in our backpacks. This has worked GREAT for traveling and after 3 weeks of seeing we could do that on a roadtrip, it makes us much less clingy when it comes to purging and our washer and dryer appreciate the kindness!

Balance Through Simplicity

Tuesday 26th of September 2023

Hi Colette, thank you for your comment and sharing these tips. I love the idea about deciding what to do with your 'favourites'!

Laura

Sunday 27th of August 2023

This article was perfectly timed, Antonia, as once I'm sure we're not going to have any more days of 30C or higher (still happening, unfortunately, but surely autumn weather will arrive soon!), I'm going to do my usual seasonal swap-out of summer clothes for spring-fall-winter clothing. I usually declutter both sets of clothing at the same time. For the set being stored, I ask if it was something I wore this past season. For the set being brought out, I ask myself if it's something I'll reach for. Either way, if the answer is no, into the donation bag it goes. I don't argue with myself that "there's nothing wrong with it". If there's nothing wrong with it, then someone else will love it! It's just not for me.

Thanks for all the tips - I'm sure I'll use them in my seasonal decluttering routine! I've gotten better at being ruthless, but there's always room for improvement. LOL

Balance Through Simplicity

Monday 28th of August 2023

Hi Laura, thank you for this. You raise a really important point about feeling guilty for getting rid of something that's perfectly good. There IS nothing wrong with it but somebody else could get more use out of it than you right now. This reframes the message we tell ourselves, from guilt about waste to acknowledgement and self-acceptance that things change and that what we are getting rid of right now in our age and stage is something that someone else could be moving into. Thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts.