Reader question: An abundance of clothing

Reader Olympia wrote us to say,

I have an abundance of clothes… 3 closets full of clothes plus a room full of clothing. I recently lost a lot of weight so it was easy to get rid of the larger-sized clothes but I have saved all of my smaller-sized clothing (20 years’ worth) that I love, fits me, and looks great on me. I know I can’t keep everything but I just don’t know what to get rid of and how to organize it better. Also, over 100 pairs of shoes… Crazy! I would welcome any input.

I’m sure Olympia isn’t our only reader with an abundance of clothing especially since the clothing industry is designed to make us feel out of fashion within weeks. Here are some suggestions to reduce the quantity of clothing in your closets.

First of all, read Erin’s post, Discover your style to keep clutter out of your closet. This will help you determine your preferred style. There is no point in keeping a dozen lacy, frilly blouses if you’re not a lacy, frilly person. Paying attention to the way clothes fit you is important too. Jeri discusses the importance of proper style and fit in her post, Managing your wardrobe: award shows vs. real life.

What about your lifestyle? Has it changed in the past twenty years?  Back then, I was a stay-at-home parent with two children under 5 years old. The clothes I was wearing at that time still fit me and look good on me but very few pieces suit my age or current lifestyle.

If you’re having difficulty determining your style or evaluating fit, Erin’s post, Get rid of the clutter in your clothes closet has some great ideas to help you. You can look through photos of yourself and decide if the clothes really flatter you. You could ask a spouse or friend to toss any clothing of yours that he/she hates to see you wear. It might help to set a “past due” date on your clothes. For example, anything not worn in the past 24 months is automatically removed from your closets — no ifs, ands, or buts.

To help you build a good wardrobe foundation, check out Erin’s post, Basic wardrobes can end clutter in the female closet. Gentleman, please refer to Basic wardrobes can end clutter in the male closet and an Organized wardrobe for men in their 40s. We’ve also answered a question about managing a wardrobe of many sizes and discussed the benefits of uniforms.

One of the things that helped me simplify my wardrobe was living in a hotel for six weeks during our trans-Atlantic moves. I had two large suitcases in which to pack everything I would wear to carry out my normal day-to-day home and working life. Imagine if your employer sent you to work at another location across the country for two months. What would you take assuming you could not return home for anything or buy anything new?

I’m sure our readers have some great ideas too so I welcome them to chime in with suggestions on how to pare down clothing.


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7 Comments for “Reader question: An abundance of clothing”

  1. posted by Nana on

    Another helpful hint: Look at ten items…get rid of two. You might choose just shirts, or go with the first ten things at one edge of one closet. Much less intimidating. [and it works with books and other Stuff, too]

  2. posted by Julie Bestry on

    One of the questions I would ask is, assuming weather-appropriateness isn’t an issue, “Would I wear this today?” That question strikes at the heart of things. Getting rid of things that don’t fit was a great first step, but just because something fits your body doesn’t mean it fits your life (as Jacki noted). But asking — OK, if I were invited out to dinner, “Would I wear this tonight?” Chances are, if you have “three closets and a room” full of clothing, there are still a number of things that you could wear, but you probably wouldn’t wear.

    I think it really helps to start from a position of abundance. Pick a clothing type — skirt, for example, or pants. And move them all to one place — your bed, a freestanding rolling wardrobe, even your shower curtain rod if it will hold steady — and look at just that category of items. You will have favorites, you will have obvious discards (things that were never comfortable) for charity or consignment, and then those items in no-man’s land, ask, “Would I wear this tonight?” If the answer is an unqualified yes, fine; but it’s “Yes, but…” you need to tailor it, or buy a top to match, or lose (or gain) more weight, or get the right foundation garment, you’ve found the sign that out of your abundance, there’s something you can discard unless you’d be willing to go to the effort RIGHT NOW so you could wear it tonight. (Obviously, if someone isn’t suffering from excess, “Yes, but” category can trigger essential actions instead of a toss-out, but if one is being squeezed out of the closets and extra rooms, just loving something isn’t enough. Remember, it’s your clothing. You SHOULD love it all. That’s not a good enough reason to keep it.)

    Follow through with each category of clothing. When you get it pared down, store clothing by category. (You can always split winter and summer things into two separate closets if your seasonal needs require it.) But it can always come down to — OK, would you REALLY wear this today/tonight?

  3. posted by Deirdre on

    I managed to winnow down certain items of clothing by putting them all in one place and saying, “If I could only keep [X number] of these, which would they be?” I don’t necessarily hold myself to it – I have 2 bands I follow and I’m constantly buying t-shirts from them. So I put together all the band shirts and said “If I could only keep 5 of each, which ones would they be?” I actually ended up keeping, I think, 8 of each, but I got rid of 12 shirts. I can usually tell what my favorite of any type of clothing is, it’s the second tier of “oh, I used to love this” that causes the most problems.

  4. posted by PatMcD55 on

    I found it really helpful to have a second opinion about clothes. My sister knows me, my style, and can be ruthlessly honest with me. She’s also a good role model for winnowing down her own wardrobe on a regular schedule. I was ready to do a major purge, so I invited her for the weekend. Turns out we didn’t need as much time as I though we would. We did it all in an afternoon. Anything that had sentimental value was photographed for my “memory box” album in iPhoto. Anything that was business-wear usable (the nice wool suits, the silk blouses) went to Dress for Success. Coats went to a special charity. Other usable clothes went to the Salvation Army.

    Since I did the big purge a couple of years ago, I’m better at getting rid of things that don’t fit, don’t feel comfortable, don’t like anymore. I’m not as good as my sister about it, but it’s easier than before the purge!

  5. posted by SkiptheBS on

    Five jackets, skirts, dresses, pants for work. Two or three dressy outfits. Great accessories. Several tops plus five shorts, five jeans. Fill one rack with multifunctional shoes. Sell everything else on Poshmark or eBay. Leave sweatshop style A.L.O.N.E.

    Zero Waste Home has a great “capsule wardrobe” (hate that term, sounds like opiate addict’s) template. Do run a budget spreadsheet including your work wardrobe expenses. If you hate your job, it may be worthwhile to take less expensive and less stressful employment.

  6. posted by Cerrissa on

    I love fashion and expressing myself thru clothing, and I can totally relate to Olympia’s dilemma. I’ll just address the shoe problem specifically because I have been tackling them steadily the past few months–When you donate 30+ pairs and still have too many shoes to count that is when you know you have a problem. (Or the best shoe closet ever) Here are my tips that may help on this front:

    1) Shoes take up A LOT of space and are difficult to keep organized & accessible at the same time. I designated a very specific amount of space to keep the total amount in check and everything is way easier to find and see all at once. Not to mention put back away after wearing or trying on 5 pairs before I leave the house in the morning.

    2) Shoes require upkeep. For shoes to stay in good shape, they need lots of care. Cleaning, polishing, moisturizing, repairs at the cobbler, waterproofing, etc. If you don’t have time or energy to maintain all your shoes they will slowly crumble, the leather will crack, or turn hard as a rock, and they will become unwearable. I bet at least some of your shoes have hit this mark. I opened a shoebox to wear a pair of heels I have worn for several special occasions in the past 5 years, and the strap crumbled as I was putting them on 🙁 My grandmother has a closet full of shoes from the 60’s that are so adorable to look at but disintegrate if you touch them. Shoes won’t last forever, so wear them while the wearing’s good. (Same with clothes)

    3) Stop thinking shoes will suddenly fit or be comfortable once they are “broken in”. Why suffer thru the breaking in???? WHY???? We are not Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. The ruby slipper will not magically fit perfectly the next time we try on the shoes. If something requires breaking in, I am just not going to wear it. If I donate them, at least someone else can probably enjoy them without having to go thru painful blisters or smushed toes. Another option is to take them to the cobbler to get stretched, but this totally relates to Julie’s comment about abundance. Why spend time and money doing this when you probably have so many other pairs that are wearable as is 🙂

    4) Vow to wear the pairs you never wear in the next month as seasonally appropriate. You will either remember why you never wear them and but them in the donation bin or why you love them and put them back into the regular rotation. I’m trying to do this at the beginning of each season, so I know what to go ahead and donate or consign while it is still in season.

    Hope these tips help! We are with you there in the decluttering spirit!

  7. posted by Joe on

    Pity that most “uncluttering” tips are always about throwing things away (or to feel less guilty, donate them). If this person says she has already cleaned up what does not fit or does not like, why not keep the rest and actually USE IT UP!!

    Sure, she would be better with only 10 shirts instead of 100. Buf if she throws away the excess 90, she’ll have to buy new ones next year (or whenever). If she keeps then in the closet, and only uses 10 of them, whenever they break down she can just “go shopping” to her own wardrobe and pick a “new” one. Repeat until the excess has been removed.

    This provides benefits to her wallet, to the environment, and also helps to sink in that what she was doing was not productive.

    Same as in a diet it’s better and more sustainable to lose 1kg at a time (while learning new eating habits), instead of 10kg in one go only to regain them quickly, I also believe it’s better to slowly pare down the wardrobe to realize what is the exact number of clothes one really needs.

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