You’re not the only one wondering how to downsize your wardrobe. It’s a shockingly common problem: our closets are overstuffed yet we have nothing to wear.
Surveys have shown that our bloated closets are making us sad, making us late, and wasting too much of our time. Just take a look at a few of the startling statistics:
- 28% of the items in the average person’s closet have either never been worn or have been untouched for over 1 year
- About a third of US women report owning more than 25 pairs of shoes
- 1 in 10 women say they’re depressed each time they open their closet doors
- Half of Americans said they’d give up sex for 6 months for more closet space
Most often, the best answer isn’t more storage space—it’s less stuff. If you’ve landed on this article, then you’re on the right track to a sustainable solution.
I spent time downsizing my wardrobe as part of a whole-house decluttering effort, and it was one of the areas that had the most impact once complete.
The job of decluttering clothes isn’t always easy, but the feeling you’ll get in the end will be worth it. The steps outlined here provide a roadmap to feeling lighter and more organized with your downsized wardrobe.
Ready to get started?
How to Downsize Your Wardrobe
This systematic method for how to downsize your wardrobe is designed to keep you from getting stuck or discouraged. If you are ever feeling overwhelmed during the process, it’s OK to step away for a little bit and take a break, then come back with renewed vigor.
1. Get in the Right Mindset
By researching how to downsize your wardrobe, chances are you’re already well on your way to being in the right frame of mind for decluttering clothes. Still, getting in the right mindset is an important step that I don’t want to skip over.
According to one survey, three-quarters of Americans admitted that they have clothing they either don’t ever plan on wearing or don’t think they’ll wear anytime soon, but they really don’t want to part with it anyway. Yikes!
Being stuck in that mindset can doom your decluttering efforts. Those seeking to declutter clothes often fall into three traps that can derail their efforts:
- The “I might wear it one day” trap
- The “I spent so much money on it” trap
- The sentimental attachment trap
To overcome these, I want you to start out by setting an intention for why you are seeking to declutter clothes. This intention will be what you come back to whenever you start to struggle in your efforts.
Try to remember what prompted you to look up how to downsize your wardrobe in the first place.
I am downsizing my wardrobe because ___________
When I’m done, I want my wardrobe to feel ___________
Nice work. Next, I want you to know that you can totally do this. A more manageable wardrobe is within your reach. You just have to put in a little work to get there.
So, let’s dive into how to downsize your wardrobe.
2. Get All Your Clothes Out
Yes, I mean go and get all of them. Empty your closet(s), dresser drawers, under-bed storage, and anyplace else you have clothing stashed. You need to get the full picture of how much clothing you actually own in order to decide what to keep.
Create a staging area where you can work on this decluttering clothes project. You’ll need space to make a few different piles of clothes. Pro tip: if you’re not likely to finish your work today, don’t pick your bed.
When you’ve gotten all your clothing out of its storage spaces, take a moment to look at the volume of clothes. How does it make you feel? The more shocked or distressed you are, the harder you’ll have to work but the bigger the potential payoff.
3. Sort Your Clothes by Type
Make stacks for each type of clothing, such as dress slacks, jeans, t-shirts, blouses, shorts, skirts, sweaters, etc. Sorting by category will help you see where you have too many of one type of item.
I also want you to go ahead and create spaces where your items will go during the next decluttering step. Grab a hamper, bin, or box and mark with each of the following categories:
- Keep: This bin will be for items you like and wear that have earned a space in your closet.
- Sell (optional): This bin will be for top condition, brand name items that you want to try and resell. We’ll go over options for reselling them later in the article.
- Donate: This bin will be for good condition pieces that can be passed on for someone else to enjoy (to be dropped off at Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc).
- Recycle: This bin will be for clothes that are damaged, stained, or too worn to be passed along to another person. They will go to a textile recycling center.
4. Start Sorting and Eliminating Clothes
Downsizing your wardrobe starts now. You’re going to go category by category and pick up each piece of clothing to assess if it fits any of the following criteria:
- Should not be worn in current condition: is broken, overly worn, stained, torn, or has holes; needs alteration or repair
You’ve been meaning to get those pants hemmed for the past 3 years, and it hasn’t happened. It’s time to let them go. You also might need to admit that some of your favorite or most comfortable pieces are past their prime and need to be purged.
Look, if there’s something you really think a tailor could fix easily, you can try giving yourself a short deadline (eg, 1 or 2 weeks) to get it done once and for all, but be honest with yourself whether this is feasible or whether it’s time to move on.
- Out of style or don’t like it
Use your gut for this one. If you pick up an item and it feels like you’ve gone through a time warp, it’s time to go. Don’t try to wait for it to come back into fashion.
If you look at something and have a negative or “meh” reaction, it’s not worth taking up space in your closet. You should get a good feeling from looking at the clothes you keep—they should feel like your style.
- Isn’t comfortable: too scratchy, stiff, bulky, hot, etc.
You should know which items this applies to. You probably wore it once but hated the feel of it. You keep thinking you’ll wear it again because you hate to waste money. Save yourself the torture and say goodbye to it.
- Doesn’t fit: too tight, too loose, isn’t flattering
This category can be challenging. Generally, it’s not a good idea to keep clothes that don’t currently fit you. If you change sizes in the future, it would be time to get new clothes anyway. Sizing changes can be hard to predict in advance. You don’t know what will look good on your body then or what will be in style.
However, there are exceptions to every rule. I’ve had four kids and have gone through more sizes than I care to count. If you are in an active transition period, such as had a baby within the past 6 months, you can consider storing some clothes of other sizes.
These should be segregated in their own bin and stored somewhere out of the way, such as the garage, attic, etc. If they are still there in 1 year, I say it’s time to give them the heave-ho.
- Haven’t worn it in its most recent season
Even if it has the tags on it. Even if you’ve only worn it once before and it’s in perfect condition. This goes for special occasion pieces as well. We all have them sitting in our closets. You’d like to think you’ll wear that bridesmaid’s dress again, but how long has it been?
If you didn’t wear the item during its most recent season, are you sure it doesn’t fall under one of the other reasons above for purging? Otherwise, you may not have a place to wear this type of garment, so it doesn’t justify taking up space and gathering dust.
Items that don’t fit one of the above criteria for purging should go in your keep pile. That bin should be gathering clothes that you like to wear and that make you feel good.
These will be the clothes you’d be proud to have in your closet and could grab tomorrow or next week to wear.
When You Get Tripped Up
Remember those traps we mentioned earlier? Are any of them becoming sticking points for you? If this happens, pause and remember the intention you set at the beginning of this exercise. Are your choices helping you get closer to what you want to achieve?
Regarding the perceived value of lost money, the money was already spent when you bought the garment. Having it stay or go at this point won’t hurt your wallet any further, but it could keep you from reaching your decluttering goals.
There are also options for resale, which I’ll discuss further below.
If sentimental clothing items are tripping you up, such as your favorite jean jacket from college that no longer fits, you might consider how you can remember the garment via pictures of you in it.
If you are ready to let it go but feel some guilt or hesitation, you might try thanking the item for serving its purpose and for the joy it brought you.
If you still have negative feelings about letting an item go, it’s OK if you are not ready yet. Your decluttering efforts are not intended to make you feel bad. Set a reasonable number of items (ie, 1 or 3) that you permit yourself to keep in this sentimental category and move on.
5. Examine the Items Left in Each Category
Now that you’ve weeded out a lot of the clothes that just don’t work for you currently, you should be left with a manageable “keep” bin. Take the items out of this bin and again sort them by type of clothing—skirts, blouses, jeans, etc.
How different does this volume of clothing look compared to when you started? Pat yourself on the back for all your hard work.
Now, take a look at each category to see if there is any area that feels excessive in number. Do you really need 15 pairs of shorts or can you whittle this down to your favorites that will have you covered for summer?
T-shirts are an area where I commonly experience wardrobe bloat. Yes, you can have too many t-shirts. I seem to accumulate them from various charity events.
You can also keep an eye out for duplicates that may be unnecessary, even if they are in OK condition. For example, do you need 3 red blouses or will 1 suffice?
I can’t give you exact numbers of clothing to own because only you can say how far you want to go in downsizing your wardrobe. I try to think about it in terms of season, style (casual vs business), and number of items I need between loads of laundry.
Remember your intention from the beginning and get to a place that feels comfortable to you. You might consider building a capsule wardrobe going forward to keep the number of items reasonable yet versatile.
Less can really feel like more when you’re through decluttering clothes.
What to Do With Unwanted Clothes
Remember to be choosy about clothes you try to resell. I’ve had luck selling clothes at a yard sale and on Poshmark. There are certainly other options, such as Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, ThredUp, consignment sales/shops, and more.
Whatever route you try, I recommend setting a reasonable time frame for yourself to try and sell them (eg, 2 weeks, 1 month), and if they’re not gone by the deadline, then off they go for donation.
Donation and Recycling
Sadly, textile waste is filling up our landfills:
- The average American throws away about 70 pounds of clothing and textiles per year, equal to more than 200 men’s t-shirts
- 64% of the 32 billion garments produced each year end up in a landfill
Take your other unwanted clothes to a local donation center (eg, Goodwill, Salvation Army) or recycling center. Our city hands out special bags for unwanted clothing that can be placed next to our recycle bins.
Check and see what’s available in your area, but try to avoid the landfill at all costs.
Before You Buy Clothes Next Time
Now that you’ve learned how to downsize your closet and done all this amazing work, how will you keep it this way?
One of the common mistakes keeping your house cluttered is buying things in the first place, many of which you don’t need. Avoid the sale racks, try a no-spend month, enjoy activities other than shopping, or do whatever it takes to curb the spending.
Your wallet and your closet will thank you.
When it is time to get some new clothes, which will inevitably happen, consider purchasing secondhand.
The secondhand clothing market is becoming huge, with more and more people finding they’re comfortable going this route. Saving money and the planet makes shoppers feel proud to purchase secondhand.
I can personally vouch for how successful my secondhand shopping has been (another plug for Poshmark). I’ve gotten many compliments on high-quality pieces I wouldn’t have been able to afford brand-new.
If you need an outfit for a special event, consider renting or borrowing clothes. How many of those special event items did you clear out of your closet after a single wear? A staggering 70% of people say they have purchased an outfit for a single use, which resulted in 208 million pounds of waste in 2019 alone.
You can even rent items for your everyday wardrobe now from a variety of different services. This lets you change your clothing up without being wasteful or undoing your decluttering efforts.
Summary: How to Downsize Your Wardrobe
I recommend going through the decluttering clothes exercise once a year to keep your closet manageable. It will be a lot easier after the first time, especially if you’re careful about adding new items.
You can also do the same decluttering process with shoes and accessories.
I’d love to hear how downsizing your wardrobe goes for you and how you feel afterwards—feel free to share in the comments.
If decluttering clothes gets you looking to downsize belongings in other areas of your home, you might check out the Best Books on Decluttering and Minimalism for more inspiration.