The idea of reducing a wardrobe seems easy on the surface. As you dig into it, questions arise. How do you decide what to keep and what to let go? When you’re ready to let go, where do those items go? What about that one sweater you used to wear which is full of memories but no longer fits your aesthetic?
In recent years, the idea of decluttering, simplifying, and reorganizing has gained mass appeal. Personally, I’m a bit of a maximalist. I don’t have a capsule wardrobe, and I definitely have garments that I love but wear rather infrequently. Unfortunately, I moved 4 times over the course of about 18 months, which gave many many opportunities to consider the contents of my closet and decide what to pack (again) and what to let go. After going through this process myself, I am here to offer a set of steps that I found useful in reducing my wardrobe to things that I actually wear.
Optional Step 1:
To kick start the process, I recommend this optional first step. Keep track of what you wear for 2 weeks. It can be as simple as snapping a selfie each day or taking a note on your phone.
Take stock of what you wore and what you didn’t. If you skipped step one, just dig through your laundry or think about what you’ve generally been wearing and notice which items or styles haven’t really been in rotation. This will give you a sense of your current style and what sorts of items you are gravitating to over others. Notice what silhouettes, colors, cuts, shapes, and textures you’re wearing most often. Conversely, notice what you aren’t wearing from your closet.
Let’s dive into your clothing. For me, it is usually easiest to move one season or one category at a time (think sweaters, pants, warm clothes, etc.) Doing more than that leaves me with a pile of clothes on the floor and no clear direction. Once you’ve picked a category, grab all of those items out of storage and arrange them on your floor, bed, table etc.
Look at each item and sort out those pieces which:
**Don’t fit the way you want them to
**Have large rips, tears or stains.
**You haven’t worn in a while
**You think about wearing but then put back
**No longer match your clothing needs.
Set these items aside for further sorting. Everything that you feel ready to keep can go back in the closet.
Step 5: Sorting the items that didn’t make it back into the closet
If you have a sentimental connection to an item and have room to hang onto it, you can keep it or maybe put it aside for upcycling or refashioning. If an old shirt brings you joy and reminds you of beautiful moments in time, there is no harm in keeping it. If you have the time and energy for upcycling, there are great tutorials online for nearly every kind of transformation.
Some clothing fulfills what might be called “occasional clothing.” These garments, while not suitable for daily wear, fill a need for specific occasions. This might be a formal gown for weddings, a suit for fancy events, or fabulous blue slacks that you wear about once a year when you find the right moment for them. If these occasional garments bring you joy and you have room to store them, I see no issue in hanging onto them. I don’t believe that every garment must be worn on some preordained schedule. This being said, if you haven’t worn an item in more than a year, the occasions for which it is best suited may no longer be regular occurrences in your life.
One of my coworkers accidentally shrunk a wool sweater in the wash. I turned it into a tote bag for her so she can continue to enjoy it.
Personally, I’ve been shredding old clothes that aren’t fit to donate and using them as stuffing in poofs and other projects.
Ripped or Stained Garments:
For ripped or stained garments, consider your skills and interest in repairing or refashioning them. If you wish to make the repairs, there are so many great youtube tutorials to help you solve nearly every problem. Definitely watch a couple to get a second opinion before you embark upon a project. If you don’t wish to repair or attempt to revitalize the garment, it’s time to consider how else you can keep it out of the landfill. It might become a great cleaning cloth, or you might fiber recycle it. Earth 911 is a great place to search for fiber recycling options in your area. If you live in the northeastern US, you can check out Helpsy for additional clothing recycling support.
Clothes in good condition that no longer work for you:
Clothes that are in good condition that don’t fit your current style, clothing needs, or physical self are ready to be loved by a new owner. Consider handing them down to friends and family or donating them to organizations like Thrift 2 Fight (please excuse the shameless self plug here) or other local organizations in your area. When donating clothes, ensure that they are clean and folded if possible. This makes it easier to find new homes for these garments. If you’re interested in donating to Thrift 2 Fight, you can check out our donation guidelines here! If you are seeking out an organization in your area to receive donated clothing, look for transparency about where the funds from the sale of the clothes go and who benefits from your donation.
If you are feeling uneasy about the process of donating, recycling, or repurposing clothing, you might try what I like to call a “trial separation.” Sort out the items which you are considering getting rid of and put them aside (perhaps under your bed or in a bag in the corner). Pretend you have gotten rid of them. Let them sit for a couple of weeks. If there is anything you truly miss, fish it out and keep it. Otherwise, rest assured that you have made the right choice and let the rest go.
Refining your style:
Cleaning out your closet can be an opportunity to grow more in tune with your current sense of style. I read and enjoyed The Curated Closet by Anushka Rees (check it out here), but there are many books, podcasts, and blogs on this topic. It’s less about creating or following rules and more about finding clarity in what you like so you can buy fewer items, wear items for longer, and love what you wear.
The process of cleaning out your closet can become a joyous opportunity to relive memories and honor the clothing that served us. Shifting the paradigm of disposable clothing as an infinite resource requires reprogramming years and years of marketing and messaging from the fashion industry. Over time, we hope we can all treat each garment with a greater reverence for the footprint of production and strive to extend the life of each piece already in existence.
Eleni Georgiadis is a classically trained horn player currently residing in Kentucky. Outside of music, she enjoys knitting, sewing, composting, kombucha brewing, and spending time outdoors. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to share her thoughts about sustainability and inclusivity in fashion, weaving together her technical knowledge, passion, and research.