Let go of the past from your wardrobe

Yesterday, I finally got up the nerve to say farewell to what was left of my corporate wardrobe. No longer taking up space in my closet are suits, long-sleeve collared shirts, or “business casual” sportswear. My dresser drawers are free of pantyhose, trouser socks, and sweater sets (wait, I did keep one black sweater set — but all the rest are gone).

I haven’t worked in a traditional office in 3.5 years, but I was holding onto many of my corporate clothes out of fear. What if this writing and organizing thing doesn’t catch on?

After the book went on sale Tuesday, it was like the clouds cleared and the sun came out — I could relax and let them go.

Truth be told, I didn’t own many clothes before I started this process. I’ve pretty much only been wearing the same 10 t-shirts and three pair of jeans the past six months. The rest of the stuff in my closet was just hanging there, waiting on a giant “what if.” They were a security blanket I didn’t need. Also, most of the clothes were two sizes larger than I currently wear. If I had needed to change careers, they wouldn’t have even fit me.

So, I cast them off — the Brooks Brothers suits are going to consignment and the shirts and sweaters are heading to Goodwill. I kept a very small handful of dresses and slacks for media appearances and when I do productivity training and organizing for corporate executives — but only five of those items. I weeded out my shoes, too.

I feel lighter, more comfortable.

In Unclutter Your Life in One Week, I talk about setting guidelines for your wardrobe to help you decide what can stay and what should go. The eighth item on this list is “You should have an occasion in the next year to wear it.” Thankfully, none of the clothes I’m getting rid of meet this definition.

Here are the guidelines, from page 24 of the book, that I’ve set for myself when sorting through my wardrobe:

  1. The item should represent your current style and the image you wish to project to others.
  2. The item should fit you well and complement your body type.
  3. The item should work in coordination with a minimum of two other items in your wardrobe.
  4. You should be able to wear the item with shoes you already own (for shoes, you should be able to wear them with clothing you already own).
  5. The item should be in good condition and should not need to be repaired.
  6. There should be space for the item to be properly stored.
  7. You should like how you feel when you wear the item (for shoes, they should not cause blisters).
  8. You should have an occasion in the next year to wear it.

Do you have similar guidelines? Are parts of your past lingering in your wardrobe, acting as an unnecessary security blanket? Is it time to let them go?

60 Comments for “Let go of the past from your wardrobe”

  1. posted by Rebecca on

    I’ve been a reader for a long time, and I’ve noticed that every time Erin makes a point of mentioning her weight, several people focus on that (totally off-topic) aspect, wanting weight-loss tips, ideas, clues, hints, or as above, photos. Or a clothing post will devolve into an argument about how women gain or lose weight as justification for keeping or purging clothing. Quite frankly, I don’t see why anyone would inquire into what Erin weighs besides Erin and her doctor, or ask for photos as if she was a pin-up, and last time I checked this wasn’t a weight-loss blog. How about more unclutter from the readers, and less Erin-weight-watching? Let’s give the woman a break from the microscope, shall we?

  2. posted by Michele on

    @RV — hear, hear! There isn’t one item of my mother’s wardrobe that I would want to wear, whether you’re talking about an item she has now, or an item she had in the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s, or whenever.

    Not even her wedding dress. She kept it, and the length was OK for me because I’m only about an inch taller than she is. But my shoulders are wider. There is no way her dress could have been altered so that I could wear it for my own wedding.

    Old clothes are old clothes. They’re shabby or out of style, or both, when you quit wearing them. If they’re suits or special-occasion wear, they’re likely not tailored to fit anybody else. My daughter won’t need an interview suit for another 10 years; here’s what she’ll say to me then if I keep one of my 2008 Banana Republic suits “especially” for her and she tries it on in 2018: “Gee, Mom, thanks for keeping this suit for me for 10 years, but the cut went out of style at least 5 years ago, and this is not a stylish shade of brown anymore, and, oops, is that a moth hole right in the seat of the slacks? And the jacket arms are too short for me because you had to get them altered for your own munchkin proportions. Uh, mom, there’s a parking ticket in the pocket here dated March 23, 2014. When was the last time you had this suit cleaned? Can I have a couple hundred dollars now so I can get my own suit, please?”

  3. posted by Beverly D on

    Ha ha! this discussion reminds me of an incident I had with my then teenage daughter. I let her look through some clothes I had been unable to part with but were too small for me. She chose a skirt that I just loved, and wore it, but she wore it on her hips, not at her waist like I thought it “should” be! Her response was that the skirt didn’t know the difference, and I had to just shut up. It was a beautiful well made piece that got a great deal more wear before she passed it on to a friend.

  4. posted by Karyn on

    I’m pretty sure I’ve referred to this in past posts, but it was very freeing for me when I started working at a grocery store as a cashier (and later as a Customer Service Manager), because all I needed for work was a black (T-shirt = OK) and black jeans (or other black pants) to wear under my black uniform smock (which actually looks more like a boxy suit jacket than like some of the more unfortunate retail smock designs). I’ve actually found myself wanting to wear slightly nicer clothes on my days off, because I dress so casually for work! But it’s very freeing–monetarily as well as mentally and spiritually–not to have to keep up with a corporate “professional” image.

    So, yeah, I hear ya. And until that darling baby outgrows the messy stage, I’d keep lots of “don’t care if they get fooded on or puked on” T-shirts on hand. ;-)

  5. posted by Karyn on

    That was supposed to say “black shirt.” Something got lost in my editing… been reading too much about minimalism, maybe….

  6. posted by msue on

    I just lost 55 pounds (consistent exercise & healthy eating) and got rid of nearly all my clothes. I donated most things, though I admit to tossing the undies – ick on sharing those. I’ve loved buying new clothes for the thinner version of me, but have focused on essentials that will wear well in a variety of situations.

    A good tailor helped remake some favorite items at a fraction of the cost of new clothes – he remade one skirt 4 sizes smaller and it looks like new. He even remade my button-down blouses – far less expensive than buying new.

    Symbolically, giving away the clothes was a personal commitment to keeping the weight off.

    Your post made a lot of sense to me – and I wanted to share my little story.

  7. posted by DebraC on

    Interesting topic that you touch on about the issue of what to do with your corporate wardrobe. I have recently transitioned to working at home, and I put away my corporate clothes to a separate pile. But its still early days for me to part with them. At least I have made a start!

  8. posted by Pre-loved fashion shopping in Santa Monica: A Walking guide | green LA girl on

    [...] most of, and most money from, your eco-fashion adventure from Erin at Unclutterer, who shares some great guidelines to help you clean out your closet, and from One Paycheck at a Time, who shares 10 steps to take to make money at a consignment shop [...]

  9. posted by 10 Steps to Zen [Part Six]: Declutter and Organize | [re]evolver on

    [...] A really good guide for streamlining your clothes [...]

  10. posted by Losing a Cupboard « a little more mittaipink everyday on

    [...] I’ve been rather ruthless with the kid’s clothes which were in the cupboard.   But then , I have to rethink mine  too . It’s always easier to be tough with other people’s things.  I liked these rules on unclutterer.com in Let Go of the Past. [...]

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