Once you have honed your personal style and signature look, and defined your wardrobe basics, you’re ready to purge your wardrobe of the excess. This process is much more straight forward if you’ve spent some time developing your style concept/shopping list first – you’ll know immediately whether an item fits with the look you’re going for or not. If it doesn’t, it can go. It’s much easier to let go of items once you realise you don’t actually want them to be part of your look.
A couple of notes: (1) be sure to allow for seasonal variation i.e. don’t throw out all your polo necks because it’s currently the height of summer. (2) Bear in mind that your style concept can be fluid, and if this is the first time you’ve ever tried to define it, know that it will probably change a little. Get comfortable with this as a work-in-progress.
1 | make space and designate three separate areas: (1) Keep, (2) Discard, and (3) Maybe
2 | decide how you want to start, then gather everything together: either go big and empty your entire wardrobe onto the bed or floor (I did say make space!), or go category by category, i.e. start with all your tops, then do all bottoms, then all dresses, etc. Either way, make sure you have all of your clothes together in one place. Go and get every last item out of storage. This way you can see just how much you have of each type of clothing. Don’t be tempted to sub-categorise too much either. T-shirts, vest tops, shirts, blouses, jumpers all come under the “tops” category, because they represent the same component of an outfit – think of it as all of your top-half options for outfits.
3 | process one piece of clothing at a time and decide what pile it falls into. At this point, don’t decide whether you want to throw something away, decide whether you want to keep it. Only put items you’re sure you want to keep in this pile. Keepers are different from items you don’t want to throw away (more on that later). Most keepers will be easy to identify, because they evoke a positive reaction; they’ll be your favourites, the ones you love and that make you happy, and that you reach for regularly, or in the words of Marie Kondo the items that “spark joy”
Clothes that aren’t clear keepers will fall into two main categories:
(1) DISCARD: Certain items will evoke some degree of negative reaction: maybe you’re bored of them, they’re just not your style, or you realise you don’t even like them etc. Discard these. If they show signs of wear, you can bin them. If they are in good condition, give them away to charity or sell them.
(2) MAYBE: Other items may be more difficult to part with. The decision will be less clear-cut: you don’t love them, but you’re not prepared to bin them either. These are your maybes. Often we have lots of rational reasons for holding onto clothes, even if we haven’t worn them for a long time:
- Clothes are a sunk cost – clothes represent money we’ve spent and if we haven’t worn them (enough) then it can feel like a waste to throw them away. But that money is gone, and keeping the clothes won’t change that. Better to move on, see if you can make some of the money back via eBay and the like, or give them to someone who could actually use them, but ultimately, let go. Keeping those items in your wardrobe will only reignite feelings of guilt every time you see them. There’s really no point having a constant reminder of a bad investment every time you look in your wardrobe.
- Clothes represent a person we want to be – Sometimes we buy clothes that we like the idea of wearing, but then we never do. Maybe they’re impractical for our lifestyle or simply too far out of our comfort zone. These items often pass the “keep” test, because we do like them, even though they’re not necessarily right for us. Much better to figure out and fall in love with our own sense of style and buy/keep clothes that we feel most comfortable and confident in.
- Clothes represent the past – Some clothes hold sentimental value and we keep them for that reason. Personal judgment has to come into this one – if something makes you really happy every time you see it, you don’t have to bin it because it has holes in it. But remember, your memories aren’t in your things. Throwing out an old leavers hoodie doesn’t equal forgetting your friends from school and the fun times you had there.
Tip: Resist the urge to try everything on. You know which things you love and wear often. By trying clothes on you will find more rational reasons to keep them: “this looks perfectly nice on me”, “there’s nothing wrong with this”. Even if you can find lots of logical reasons to keep something, that doesn’t mean you should. You have equally valid, if less rational reasons, why you choose not to wear it on a regular basis.
A small proportion of your clothes may not fall into the category of regular wear for other reasons:
ALTERATIONS: You might have some clothes you don’t wear because they need altering or repairing. Again use your judgment here – how long has the item sat waiting to be hemmed or for that lost button to be sewn back on? If it’s been there months or years even, maybe it’s time to let it go? You can’t be that desperate to wear it. If you decide to keep them, see this as your last chance. Put the item by the door ready to go to the tailors, or leave it out so that you remember to complete your DIY repair job. If you haven’t dealt with it within a reasonable amount of time, and certainly by the next time you have a purge, then it should be discarded.
OCCASIONWEAR: Some items are worn only very occasionally. Eveningwear, for example, is not something most of us are going to need to wear every week. Items like this should ideally be stored outside of your everyday wardrobe, to keep your wardrobe functional for everyday wear. However, don’t just keep these types of items by default. Ask yourself the same questions: Do I love it? Will I wear it when the occasion arises? Is it still in-keeping with my style?
Tip: unless your wardrobe varies dramatically across seasons, be wary of storing away seasonal clothes. It’s very easy to forget about those summer clothes you stored at the back of the wardrobe last autumn. If you find that you only remember having something when you’re having a clear out, consider keeping all your clothes out so that you have the opportunity to either wear them or make the decision to get rid of them completely.
Once you have sorted and categorised every item:
4 | put the keep pile back in your wardrobe. Take stock: look at how many keepers you have – these are the clothes you most love having in your wardrobe.
5 | go and store your occasion-wear and sentimental items somewhere outside of your wardrobe.
6 | put any items that need professional alterations by the door, ready to go to the tailor. Add any DIY repairs to your to-do list and get to it!
7 | sort your discard pile: Put clothes with no monetary value in a bin bag and get them out of the house ASAP. Then decide which clothes you’re going to give away and which you’re going to sell. Deal with these piles as quickly as possible – put items in a bag or lidded box so you can’t see them, and don’t allow yourself time to have second thoughts and start pulling things back out.
Tip: Don’t gift your unwanted clothes to family members to help assuage your guilt about getting rid of “perfectly good clothes”. Unless it’s something they’ve told you they love or that you know they would appreciate, don’t hand your burden over to them. Take it to a charity shop or sell it.
8 | Finally, tackle the “maybe” pile. If you’re still having trouble letting go of items in this category after having looked closely at your motives in step 3, it’s probably for one other reason: a fear that you won’t have enough left. Maybe your pile of keepers is looking pretty small, so you’re keeping some clothes you don’t really like because you’re worried you won’t have enough to wear. Or maybe you need a certain item, say a smart jacket, and you don’t love the one you have but it’s better than nothing. That’s fine, you might be right. For now, keep these items separate from your keepers though. Next, you have two options: If you feel like you are being irrational and you just need one last push to get rid of these clothes, put them in a storage box or bag and store it somewhere out of sight. You’ll probably forget about it and when you do come across it again, hopefully, you’ll be ready to let go of its contents.
Alternatively, put these maybes in a different part of the wardrobe. Monitor how much you actually use them. Try incorporating them into outfits and see how you feel. Note items that you think you need; first make sure you actually do need them and don’t just think you need them, because you are supposed to have so-and-so in your wardrobe. You don’t need it if you don’t wear it. Second, if you do need it and use it but don’t like it, start looking for alternatives. Come back and discard it later, when you have found a replacement or you decide you don’t actually need it that much.
9 | Don’t forget your accessories and smalls i.e. underwear, socks etc. If you haven’t sorted through these, do it now!
10 | Lather, rinse, repeat. A minimalist wardrobe is a work in progress. The first time you purge your wardrobe, you might not part with as much as you’d like. This isn’t a one-time thing and you’ll get better with practice. The better you know your own personal style, the easier it is to edit and maintain a curated wardrobe – you’ll know what you’d miss and what you definitely won’t and what is enough.
You’ll begin to find that your perspective shifts when you shop as well. Having a more focused wardrobe will make it easier to find new pieces that fit well within it, and you’ll start to recognise items that are bound for your discard pile in six months time, feeling like a sunk cost, before you even buy them. Eventually you’ll have less to throw out, and more that you love.
The next step in this process of wardrobe simplification is to rebuild your wardrobe with conscious and considered purchases.
Continue to Step 4: REBUILDING YOUR WARDROBE