Ask Unclutterer: Managing a wardrobe of many sizes

Reader Petra submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

Uncluttering is not a huge problem for me — with one exception: my wardrobe. I’m a stress-eater and easily gain weight, nevertheless I try to get rid of the extra kilos whenever possible. Those ups and downs expand sometimes over periods of a year.

My clothes are of high quality and just prime, timeless wear. Due to my weight problem I have every item needed in three to four different sizes. How can I unclutter this huge amount of clothes without the need to shop whenever my weight changes ? (Yes, I know I should do something about the weight problem permanently…) I would love to hear from you.

To begin, I want you to know that you are doing two things right already — your wardrobe is full of well-made and classic clothing. You will get many years of use from your clothing and won’t have to replace what you will ultimately decide to keep. You’re definitely on the right track.

Next, I recommend going through all of your sizes and identifying the pieces that look best on you at each size. You know these pieces because they make you feel good when you wear them, people compliment you when you wear them, and you never hesitate to put them on when they’re clean. These items should go into your keep pile.

If you still have some space in your closet, I recommend keeping your most classic pieces — for instance, a black suit that can be worn to a meeting, dressed up to attend a dinner party, and is also appropriate for a funeral. These extremely versatile, classic items will be fine to keep in all of your sizes. I call these items the basic wardrobe, and you should create one that best meets your needs.

Beyond these two types of clothes, you won’t really need much else. You may find, however, that you want to increase your accessories — scarves, jewelry, shoes, and drapey cardigans that can be worn at any size. Use these items to give color, spice, and a trend to the current to all of your outfits. Fortunately, (well, except for the shoes) these items are considerably easier to store.

Thank you, Petra, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

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37 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Managing a wardrobe of many sizes”

  1. posted by Liz on

    I have a similar problem. I’m battling some chronic health issues and due to meds and the disease itself my weight fluctuates quite a bit. Plus, I get very bloated.

    My solution has been to wear a lot of a-line skirts and wrap dresses since I can usually wear those through a few sizes — unlike most pants, which sometimes I can’t even wear through the day due to bloating. Knits are your friend!

    Also, I almost always buy solid colors when I’m buying tops. That way I can mix and match a lot easier.

    Enjoy accessories because those are the things that can turn a few pieces into many, many different outfits.

  2. posted by Whitney on

    Great question!

    I’ve struggled with the same problem due to pregnancy. There’s my early pregnancy wardrobe, late pregnancy wardrobe, early post pregnancy wardrobe, and late post pregnancy wardrobe. Seriously! Even now, my body isn’t the same as it was before I got pregnant. I would have lost the weight sooner, but he had some special needs that needed my attention. So, the question is, I can’t afford to get rid of them all (especially since it might happen again or I might lost weight). It’s hard to deal with!

  3. posted by RML - Being More Through Having Less on

    I have exactly the same problem- related to pregnancy and stress eating. I am currently on a journey which will take me down 4 sizes and I have the clothes for each size! I think what I will actually get rid of things as i go down- the pregnancy clothes have already bit the dust- or will soon on ebay!

    Thank you for this thoughtful article- I will take some of your tips onboard.

  4. posted by Dasha on

    I would recommend treating “out of size” clothes just like “out of season” clothes. I have a rather small wardrobe and all of my “out of season” clothes live in plastic bins on the top shelf of my closet. I also keep my pants and skirts that no longer fit there, in case I lose the weight that I recently gained. If there is a bunch, I would label the bins with what they contain.

    On the other hand, it is important to keep everything accessible, so if your closet is physically large, maybe you could get some dividers and organize clothing by size, like in stores. You could do the same with drawers and shelves too. Labeling is the key?

    Good luck!

  5. posted by Craig on

    Get rid of the larger size clothes. You are only giving yourself a safety net and excuse to overeat. If you know that gaining the weight means not having any clothes it may help to curb the problem.

  6. posted by lola meyer on

    Great advice Erin- a classic, clean solution! Petra, I know how you feel about the stress thing. I try different ‘comfort’ techniques, such as yoga, deep breathing, massaging fragrant oil into my hands and feet, etc…

  7. posted by Anna on

    I have that problem too. And no, getting rid of the bigger clothes doesn’t help, us women usually lose weight best when we feel good about ourselves and clothing is an important factor here.

    My other problem is that I love to dress, hmm, creatively.

    So, accessories are my best friends. Colorful tights as well, they don’t mind size changes.

    For the rest, I use the “out of season” strategy.

  8. posted by Chris on

    how about putting those little Size Number rings on the hangers – Like department stores use. I’m not sure where you could get some. though. Maybe use homemade ones?

  9. posted by Celeste on

    Out of season storage is THE WAY to go, simply because it’s hard to feel good when you’re choosing what to wear if you have to sort through to find the right size, as well as lament that the smaller things don’t fit. Give yourself the gift of self-acceptance.

    It can take a while to swing to a different size–typically about 17 pounds in either direction for me. There just isn’t any need to have everything all available, all the time. I have never really found that getting rid of the larger clothes helps me not to rebound. Stocking the closet with too-small items for “motivation” doesn’t work at all, either. Accepting what is, seems to me the only emotionally healthy way to approach it.

    I think retaining the larger clothes is okay in this situation–because they’re classic and well-loved. I would not agree if they were too trendy or something just bought as a stopgap.

  10. posted by gypsy packer on

    Purchase classics in a larger size. A jacket will still look OK if a little loose, never if too tight. Take up your skirt seams when you are more slender, let them out if you gain weight. Ditto chemise nightgowns and dresses.

    Wear wrap dresses and, if you can get away with them, skirts. Hip-covering sweaters are another adherent to the rule that large is good, small is not.

    Jeans are unforgiving. Damn the fashion fascisti for taking away our heavy leggings, which can be tucked at the waist and hip.

    That said, I keep only job-hunting clothes in multiple sizes. If I’m out of work, I’ll definitely lose weight from grocery-budget cuts.

  11. posted by Sylvia on

    I’ve lost a bit of weight over the last few months and its so fun to put on a loose pair of pants or a formerly unforgiving shirt! If I had gotten rid of these too-tight or too small clothes I wouldn’t be able to put them on now and rejoice in the fact that they’re loose ๐Ÿ™‚ It just gives me more motivation to keep going because I can see progress.
    As for anything that just doesn’t fit at the moment, definitely use out of season storage containers. I especially like the rollable under the bed totes.

  12. posted by Marie on

    I have the same problem. Every ounce I put on goes right to my butt, and so if I’m up even five pounds I’m unable to wear about half of my pants. I lose weight the same way–everywhere else first. I’ve already been at the point where my cheeks are sunken in and my collarbones are jutting out, yet my butt is still too big to fit my regular clothes.

  13. posted by Anita on

    I second the ideas of investing in clothes more flexible to size changes and getting accessories to spice it all up.

    I’d also suggest getting rid of (or packing away) your clothes that ONLY fit at your highest weight, but keeping the smaller size ones. That way, you have clothes that fit well at any size (i.e. the flexible size ones), but a more diverse wardrobe at your ideal weight.

  14. posted by Tamra on

    I face this challenge with pregnancy (I’ve had three children and hope to have two more with time). What works well for me is ONLY keeping the current size in the closet and the other sizes (skinny, early pregnancy, pregnancy, after pregnancy, and working down to skinny again) organized in clear under-the-bed storage bins. I can easily pull these out and switch things up. I generally try to put away anything that doesn’t fit in the closet under the bed when I take something new out. And ONLY SAVE the very best stuff. If you don’t really like wearing it this time around, next time you are that size you won’t like it any more! Purge anything that makes you feel frumpy or ugly!

  15. posted by Rebecca on

    What about creating another closet in the home? My mom made an off-season cedar closet with shelves in her basement- less expensive than paying for storage, and keeps the clothes free from moths, etc.

  16. posted by Gina on


    Weight gain isn’t always about overeating, especially for women. Due to hormone fluctuations, women can naturally swing in weight. For example, eat the same salty thing at different times of the month, and during one time of the month it won’t make a difference but another time of the month it will bloat her up a size.

    The same hormone fluctuations can also mean differences in appetite. Do you really want somebody to go hungry when their body is craving food?

    Weight is never as simple as “oh, I’m overeating” for women.

  17. posted by Gina on

    My way of solving this is I don’t plan for different sizes — I also don’t have a seasonal wardrobe except for a few season-specific items. I have a minimal approach to my wardrobe, and I keep it to only what fits. I pay attention to fit, not size, so my clothes are in a range of sizes but I don’t care.

    I don’t like super-fitted stuff, so my clothes are usually forgiving of small weight fluctuations.

    One caveat — I’m working out with a personal trainer and have lost a lot of weight this summer — about 2 dress sizes. I’m still losing weight. I have no intention of regaining the weight, so as soon as something becomes “unwearable” because it’s too big to be decent in public, I weed it out of the closet. I expect to be in this mode for several months still.

    This makes it impractical to have a planned wardrobe — the best I can do is try to target an optimal wardrobe as I build a new one, item by item.

  18. posted by Rue on

    @Craig: She shouldn’t get rid of all of her “larger” weight clothes, because she may need them between now and the time she gets to her “ideal” weight. Maybe most of them, but not all of them. If she got rid of all of them and gained weight again, she’d have to buy a new wardrobe anyway.

    Petra, I’d say if you have a large enough closet, separate the closet by sizes so you know where every size is. (Maybe put each size on a different hanger so it’s visually easy to identify.) If not, keep the current size that fits in your closet, and put everything else into “storage.” (Whether in the garage, basement, storage room, etc.) That way you can swap out wardrobes easily.

    As far as decluttering goes, keep only the simple things that go with everything. Solid tops, jeans, black pants, a suit or two and maybe a few other things. If you have an “ideal” weight in mind that you would like to get to (or stay at), I think keeping more of your wardrobe in that size would be a good idea. Of course, keep only the things you love and actually wear when you are at that size.

    Good luck!

  19. posted by Sara on

    I have a similar problem, which is actually working out really well. I’m halfway to losing 60 pounds, and it’s a very slow and steady process. This summer I invested a good bit of money in new clothing (the old stuff was all too big!), and now that winter is coming, it’s all getting loose and very comfy. By next summer, most of it hopefully won’t fit at all. However, I’m planning to get pregnant in the next year, so I’m planning to save it for the various stages of pregnancy.

    It’s kind of nice to know that my money won’t go to waste, and that I’ll hopefully get more years of wear out of all these nice pieces that otherwise wouldn’t fit.

  20. posted by Michele Connolly, Get Organized Wizard on

    Hi Erin,
    I think your advice to keep what looks best at each size is fantastic. A very smart solution.
    M ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. posted by WilliamB on

    Petra, the way you describe your clothes doesn’t sound like your wardrobe is cluttered, although it might be stuffed. Add my vote to the recommendation to store out-of-size clothes away as if they were out-of-season. I particularly like the suggestion to store away the sizes at the far ends of the spectrum.

    If you feel you have extra in each size, then maybe get rid of that but since your pattern is constant over the years, getting rid of entire sizes sounds like a bad idea.

    And ignore Craig’s comment.

  22. posted by Ruth Hansell on

    To the excellent advice already given, I’d add this: have someone give you some Fashion Expert advice, not as to whether what you have is the latest, but what looks good on you and what doesn’t. If you’re already liking how you look in the clothing, great, but if you have any doubts, ask a friend (who dresses well her or him self) to go through your wardrobe with you.

    Not all shapes look good on everyone, nor do all colors. Having only things that are the best for my body type/coloring takes a lot of guesswork out of the morning. Black and white make me look close to death and dressed funny to boot. Navy and light pink or peach, now, that makes me look really good.

    Maximize the impact/versatility of every piece of clothing you have by making sure it’s the right piece for you.


  23. posted by Personal Organization Web Watch [11 October] | Get Organized Wizard on

    […] Managing a wardrobe of many sizes | Unclutterer […]

  24. posted by chacha1 on

    This has been an interesting discussion because it illustrates very clearly how we conflate “weight” and “size.” I think a lot of women want to be a certain size, but the weight they would have to maintain in order to achieve that size may not be a healthy weight.

    Women can also be “overweight” (i.e. carrying excess body fat) without getting into “oversized” territory. I think it’s more important for women to be really conscious of how they feel and to choose a certain size at which they feel vigorous, healthy, fit, and capable.

    Just as an example, the smallest I’ve been as an adult was a size 6. My photos look great from that time. But that was at the end of a nine-month period trying to get an ex out of my apartment and I’d been living on coffee. I was not healthy! Since my life calmed down I’ve been a steady size 8. If my 8s feel tight, it’s usually because I’ve had too much sugar in my diet, and I adjust accordingly.

    Craig’s comment was tactless, and not 100% accurate, but what, when, and how you eat is crucial to overall health and not just to size/weight. How much you eat (how many calories) is a different measure and may not address nutritional issues. If most of your calories come from processed foods high in sugars, size/weight management will be much more difficult than if most of your calories come from natural foods. For one thing, you can generally eat a greater volume of natural foods for the same calorie load as a smaller volume of processed/manufactured foods.

    Sorry, this is long, but so many people chimed in with similar comments that I thought it might be useful.

  25. posted by Sky on

    I manage my clothes by sticking to black and khaki pants, skirts and jackets with bright colored tops, scarves, etc. Same for my shoes, only neutral colors. Everything mixes and matches. Then I have a few dresses and outfits that are completely different for special occasions so I’m not always boring. I know what style looks and feels best on me and stick to it. It cuts down on impulse buys and wasted money.

    I guess it goes without saying, I don’t care what is in “style”.

    Craig, I’m sure you meant well but you don’t understand what women go through daily, monthly, etc. with swelling and weight.

  26. posted by Dawn F. on

    My mom has struggled with this problem for many years. She keeps her current clothing size color-coordinated in her closet and then the smaller and larger-sized clothing stored in a nice cedar chest in her closet. She has battled with weight gain and dieting for a long time and goes through many cycles of different sizes.

    She has found that it is best to keep favorite, timeless pieces along with some pajamas in several different sizes. The clothes store very easily in our old cedar chest in the back of her closet – like you would store out-of-season clothing.

    She wants to be comfortable in her clothing so she’s not going to force herself into tight clothing or baggy clothing, so I completely support the fact that she has multiple-sized clothes.

  27. posted by lahope on

    Instead of focusing on clothes, Petra needs to eliminate the clutter from her diet. It’s doable. Many of us have done so. When you are responsible about what you eat and maintain a healthy BMI, preferably on the lower end, you look cute in anything you put on. You can then get rid of the *fat clothes* to demonstrate your commitment to a healthy lifestyle.

  28. posted by sue on

    You’gve gotten lots of advice about the clothes. Is there any way to declutter some of the stress that is triggering the eating?

  29. posted by Karyn on

    Just a reminder: Petra’s not asking for advice on how to fix her weight problem; she’s asking for advice on how to live with her current reality of fluctuating weight. As she herself said, “Yes, I know I should do something about the weight problem permanently…” She’s aware that it would be optimal to stabilize her weight (and kudos to chacha1 for pointing out that might not be at the lowest possible weight) and apparently will deal with that issue herself, in her own way, privately. So how about a bit of respect for the boundaries she’s drawn instead of telling her what she “really” needs advice about? The last thing women in our culture need is more shaming “Ur doin it rong” messages about our bodies and our weight.

  30. posted by Cecelia on

    I have this same problem, and stocking up on dresses has definitely worked for me. Dresses give me a much larger weight range to work with, and I stock up on simple leggings and sweaters to make summer dresses last through the fall and winter. I do have a collection of too-small jeans stored away, and hopefully I will get back in them soon enough. I made the mistake of throwing out all my larger sized clothes and regretted it, so I’m holding on to my smaller clothes just in case. They don’t take up much space and will be worth not having to buy a new wardrobe when I drop the weight.

  31. posted by Emily on

    I agree with what Dasha and others have advised – I keep a box on my top closet shelf labeled “clothes other sizes.” It contains the most versatile pieces I own in various sizes, for instance, jeans in four sizes, slacks in two, secretary skirts in dark neutral colors in three, and a few sweaters and camisoles.

    What makes this work for me is that I attend clothing swaps seasonally, so I have motivation to sort through things on a regular basis. Whenever I am going to a clothing swap, I pull down the box and see if anything can be recycled, or anything swapped out from regular rotation.

  32. posted by Petra on

    I want to thank all for the helpful hints and advice.

    Most of my clothes are uni in different shades of brown up to beige and some black pieces for formal occasions. As I’m not that keen on accesoires but have to look formal at work I’m a big fan of jackets. Those are the colourful parts of my warderobe and I can wear most of them during two sizes without looking wrong in it.
    I’ll follow this concept now more consequently and will throw out some pieces permanently and store clothes of those sizes, that are wrong for me at the moment.

    @Sylvia – I don’t like storage under my bed – we are sweating during our sleep (usually 200ml per night) and in my opinion air circulation around my mattress is important to me.

    I’ll look for more flexible clothing like wrap dresses in future – that’s a great idea!

    And just one comment about women, weight and especially my weight:
    8 years ago I had shedded all those extra pounds and reached the weight, that is ideal for me as I feel good at it. And I was strong and relaxed enough to stay there for 5 years. But the last years have been like a rollercoaster : illness of myself and loved ones, death and unpredictable changes at work took over all my emotions and energy. Whenever I tried to focus on myself again (and my health and weight) another bad news hit me. While others might drink alcohol or smoke or live on caffeine I eat in situations like that. I hope, that I’m now on my way “back to normal” both for my life and my weight.

    (Please excuse any mistakes, as I’m from Germany an my English is not the best.)

  33. posted by Melinda on

    Agree with Karyn! She’s not asking for your comments on her weight, she’s asking for help with her wardrobe.

    There’s been some great advice so far that I can use myself, thanks for this interesting topic.

  34. posted by Melinda on

    I want to add…Petra, I can sympathise, I’ve been through similar troubles and I too eat in times of stress. I hope it gets better for you. ๐Ÿ™‚

  35. posted by Flora on

    Here is a website for the plastic clothes dividers: I have been meaning to purchase these, but haven’t got around to it yet, so I can not vouch for the store or the product. But it’s such a great idea!

  36. posted by Louise on

    @Petra: Your English is very good; I wish I could speak German that well!

    Thank you for being willing to talk about your situation so that we can have this interesting conversation. I sincerely hope things get better for you soon.

  37. posted by Diana on

    I’m seven months pregnant, and the same as everyone else who’s every been pregnant — I have about 10 different sizes of clothing.

    What I have been doing through my whole pregnancy (as both a way to unclutter and to keep from crying when staring into my closet at all those things that don’t fit) is boxing up clothes as I grow out of them. I’ve labeled them with sizes and whether they’re maternity or not.

    I can flip through the clothes hanging in my closet right now and know that all of them fit me. The boxed up clothes are smallest sizes on the bottom and bigger on the way up, so as my weight transitions, I can unpack them one by one.

    For those of you who mentioned weight problems with illness, I went through that with IBS (and occasionally still do). Instead of organizing my closet by colors or by pants, tanks, blouses, etc. I would organize them by small, medium, large (whether those are the “real” sizes doesn’t matter). Start at one end and put all your clothes that fit when your super bloated, then work your way down to the smallest on the other end.

    I may be a little touchier about clothing sizes than others, but for emotional sanity, I always put the larger clothes on the end of the closet I see first when I look into it. When you have to dig into the back for “fat clothes,” it makes you feel bad. However, if you get to dig around for slim clothes, it’s a little bonus. Plus reaching straight in for those “fat clothes” takes away some of the self-imposed hatred of them.

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