Reader Question – Help With Paring Down a Large Wardrobe

I recently received an email from a reader who is struggling with paring down her overly large wardrobe.  She has too many clothes and would like to reduce the volume, but her difficulty lies in the fact that she still likes most of what she has.  Since I’ve struggled myself with a similar dilemma and I believe many of you can relate to this reader’s challenge, I decided to address her question in a blog post.

Overstuffed Closet

Is this what your closet looks like?  Do you want some help to pare things down?

I’ve written on the subject of reducing wardrobe size previously, most specifically in this post, but it’s an important topic that bears revisiting.  In today’s post, I’ll share some additional tips and suggestions for downsizing our closets.  If you have other words of wisdom to offer, I invite you to share them in the comments section.  There is no one right way to approach this issue, so the more tips the merrier! What feels off base to one person may totally resonate for another, so it’s helpful to get as much information as possible onto the table.

Flashback and Flash Forward…

I remember when I was storing the bulk of my wardrobe a year ago in preparation for my first term of Project 333.  I tried to pare things down a bit so I wouldn’t have to store as much, but I really struggled with letting go of my clothes.  Like my reader, I felt that I liked most of what I owned and I didn’t want to send any of it out the door.  I also felt deep pangs of guilt and regret when I considered the many wasted dollars I’d spent on clothes I rarely or never wore.  All of these feelings led to a complicated sort of “emotional soup” that paralyzed me from taking action.

In the ensuing year, I’ve been able to reduce the size of my wardrobe by one half.  Hopefully, some of what I’ve learned can help the reader who posed the question, as well as the rest of you who are still struggling to downsize your packed closets.

Step One – Stop the Bleeding

Before I move into my tips for paring things down, I need to mention the proverbial elephant in the room.  While there are lots of downsizing tips that can help, they won’t do much good if you keep bringing an overabundance of new pieces into your closet.  So the best tip I can provide is to dramatically reduce your shopping.  If you bring less in, you’ll find it much easier to reduce your overall wardrobe size.

While I made a lot of progress in paring my wardrobe down last year, I would be in a much better place today had I curtailed my shopping to a larger degree than I did.  I still brought 76 new items into my closet last year which, while half or a third of my previous number, was still too much.  As a result, I’ve decided to limit my 2014 closet additions to 38 (half of last year’s number), which will help me in my wardrobe reduction efforts.

I recommend that you also set an item limit for yourself.   Set a monthly or yearly target that’s a stretch for you but that still feels doable.   Having a one-in, one-out (or even two out) policy is also extremely helpful in terms of “stopping the bleeding.”  These limits will assist you in being more mindful about your shopping and will push you to carefully consider both what you buy and what you keep.  Win, win!

You Like It, But Do You Wear It?

The next point I’d like to mention relates to the difference between liking things in theory versus liking them in practice.  We often like garments or shoes when we see them on a hanger or shelf, but we don’t feel as warmly toward them once we have them on our bodies.  In some instances, we may have really liked certain wardrobe pieces in the past, but people and situations change and our wardrobes need to adjust accordingly.

If you haven’t worn a particularly garment in a while, my first recommendation is to try it on.  Once it’s on your body, look in the mirror and do the “first impression test.”  Quickly rate the garment on a scale of one to ten in terms of fit, comfort, and style.  Don’t take a lot of time to ruminate on how much something cost or who gave it to you.  Just consider whether or not you like the garment today in the here and now.

Why Aren’t You Wearing It?

If you rate an item at a level “8” or higher, then ask yourself why you aren’t wearing it.  Did you forgot about it because it was buried in the deep recesses of your packed closet?  If so, then place it front and center and challenge yourself to wear it within the next week.  Make a commitment to get this garment into your regular wardrobe rotation if it’s something you truly love.

One reason why you should wear items you think you love as soon as possible is that you might not really love them once you wear them for an entire day.  Some garments look great while we’re standing still but bunch, slip, and bind when we more around.  If something is so “fussy” that it annoys you while you’re wearing it, it’s going to collect dust in your closet instead of making it out on the town.  I used to hold on to a lot of fussy clothes, but now such items go immediately into my donation bag once I get home.  No need to hang them back up in my closet, as I know I’m not going to wear them!

If a garment in question isn’t fussy, are you not wearing it because it doesn’t fit your current lifestyle?  If that’s the case, then can you foresee wearing it at any time within the next year?  If not, then there’s really little reason to hang on to it.  It will just “muddy the waters” in your closet and obscure the pieces you actually have the occasion to wear for your current lifestyle.

“But It Was Expensive…”

The objection that generally arises right around this time relates to money.  Perhaps an item doesn’t suit your current lifestyle or even your present style aesthetic, but you hold on to it because it cost a lot of money.  Well, I have news for you.  Keeping an unworn item in your closet won’t bring back your lost dollars. I know, as I’ve been down that road more than a time or two.  Hanging on to such pieces only serves to perpetuate guilt, which does you little good. I know that I’ve felt infinitely better once I removed these types of albatrosses from around my neck, and I believe you’ll feel a similar sense of relief if you push yourself to make the change.

“Well, I Might Need it One Day…”

Now some of you are probably thinking you should keep some of the things you’re not wearing “just in case” you might need them one day.  This is a common thought pattern that occurs when we consider getting rid of things.  But think about it… Just how many of those “just in case” items do you ever end up needing?  Chances are it’s very, very few.  The rest of the items you keep end up gathering dust for years until you finally feel it’s safe to let them go.

One special circumstance relates to weight issues.  Sometimes we hang on to garments that are either too small or too large because we think our weight might change such that we’ll end up wearing these pieces again.  It can make sense to keep some clothing in the event of weight fluctuations, but you need to be honest with yourself.  If you regularly go up or down a size or two, keeping a box of garments in alternate sizes makes sense.  But if we’re talking about a wide range of sizes or the “fat clothes” you’re holding on to should you regain lost pounds, think about what you’re doing to your psyche.  Are you telling yourself that you don’t trust yourself to keep the weight off?  Is that the message you want to be sending to your subconscious mind?

Also, you need to consider if you even like the “skinny clothes” you’re keeping around.  Perhaps they’re now outdated or no longer suit your personal style.  Be honest with yourself and only keep the clothes you’d want to wear if they fit you today.  Get rid of everything else.  If you do end up losing your excess pounds, you can fill in the gaps with some new (or new to you) pieces that you can’t wait to wear.

Stop “Splitting Your Wears”

When we have too many of the same types of items and make an effort to wear all of them, it results in a phenomenon called “splitting our wears.”  In such instances, we only wear our favorites once in a while because we force ourselves to wear our less fab items out of guilt or obligation.  Deep down, we may only truly love two pairs of jeans, for example, but since we have ten pairs, we feel we must wear all of them.  Or maybe we don’t really wear the other eight pairs, but we tell ourselves we’re going to wear them. In either case, we don’t feel free and happy to wear those items in our wardrobes that we truly love.

If you don’t feel ready to get rid of your less than stellar wardrobe duplicates, try this.  Move those pieces to another closet or into boxes and bags for the next three months (or however long feels right for you).  See if you get the urge to pull any of these items out to wear them.  If you don’t miss the items in question over a period of months, would you miss them if they were out of your life completely?  Chances are the answer is no.

Free yourself up to wear your favorite clothes as often as you want without guilt.  Letting go of their lesser “cousins” will help you to get more joy out of your closet favorites.  If you need to hold the second-best items in a sort of “clothing purgatory” for a period of time, go ahead. But get the “less than” pieces out of your main closet so you can focus your attention where it should be, on the clothes you actually love and wear.

Take on Project 333 or a Similar Challenge

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned Project 333.  I’m coming back to that topic now because I believe taking on that challenge was instrumental in helping me to pare down my wardrobe.  It helped me to see that I really don’t need as many clothes as I thought I did and I can get by with far less.  As the three months of the challenge went by, I found myself going through my stored clothing and letting go of items bit by bit.  I liked far more of my outfits when I was dressing with my closet favorites, so I became more comfortable with releasing the pieces I didn’t like as much.

If you’re not ready or willing to take on something as drastic as Project 333, create your own challenge. Perhaps you’d consider dressing with 50 or 75 items instead of a mere 33.  You can create whatever scenario feels right for you.  You don’t even have to do the challenge.  Sometimes just selecting the items you would pick for Project 333 is enough to get you thinking about which pieces you really love in your closet.  Then maybe you’ll be ready to let go of some of the things that don’t make the cut.

The Evacuation Game

Before I sign off for today, I want to offer one more suggestion.  I can’t take credit for this somewhat morbid idea, as I read it on a style forum awhile back.   It may be a bit unseemly to consider, but I believe it’s a helpful exercise.  Imagine that there’s a fire or other natural disaster and you’ve been told to evacuate your home within an hour.  Pretend that you only have the time and space to gather up half of your clothing within that timeframe.  Which items would you take?  Which would you leave behind?  Your answers can lead you toward identifying the wardrobe pieces that you really love.  What would it be like to release the other half of your wardrobe?

One of the readers of “Recovering Shopaholic,” Terra Trevor, has been through the process of evacuating her home several times, as she lives in an area with a high fire risk.  She wrote about her experiences with evacuation and what it taught her in this powerful and insightful blog post. Perhaps the rest of us can learn from Terra’s experiences and consciously decide to live with less moving forward.

Have These Suggestions Been Helpful?

I hope some of my ideas have been helpful for those who are struggling to reduce the size of their wardrobes.  If you think you like all or most of what you own but still want to pare things down, why not try a few of my suggestions to see if they help?  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, there’s no ideal wardrobe size.  We all have to determine the numbers of clothes, shoes, and accessories that work best for us.  If you have a full closet and it’s working well for you, who am I to judge?  But if you want to unburden yourself of some of your closet clutter, I hope you’ll decide to try at least one of my ideas.

I know that there must be other tips that have worked for readers in terms of wardrobe downsizing.  If you have ideas that were not mentioned in this post, please share them with me and your fellow readers.  We can learn a great deal from each other!  Because of the suggestions I received from some of you, I’m now much happier with the way my closet is organized.  There is a wealth of knowledge in this group, so please do share!  If you’re reading this post in email or via a feed reader, click here to leave a comment.

71 thoughts on “Reader Question – Help With Paring Down a Large Wardrobe

  1. As always your posts are very helpful and very insightful. Thank you again for your honesty about your own experiences. I definitely relate to owning things I love but never wear. If I’m trying to decide if I should keep an item or not I think, “Would this shirt (skirt, dress….) ever be my first choice or will I always choose something else instead?” If the item is “never a first choice” it gets donated or consigned.

    • Great question to ask, Leah! I’m going to start asking that, as I’m sure it will help me to pare things down even more. I knew that once I opened this up for comments, there would be LOTS more useful tips to add to the ones I gave!

  2. These are really great suggestions, as always, Debbie!

    Last year I challenged myself to wear all of my clothes. Anything that I didn’t want to wear for a full day went straight to the donation bag. This was a helpful strategy for me because when I do the “first impression test” I often default to “keep it,” and it can be difficult for me to see what’s fussy/uncomfortable/unflattering about a garment just from wearing it for a few seconds. This made it really easy to get rid of stuff because I was usually so frustrated by whatever it was that I was wearing that I was glad to see it go!

    Along the lines of the “what would you save in a fire” thought experiment you could do a “pretend you are moving abroad” exercise and imagine that you can only take a certain volume/number of suitcases full of clothing — what would you pack?

    Finally, an observation — I think the usual narrative about “splitting your wears” or having duplicate items says that we tend to have one favorite and ignore the other similar items. But lately I suspect that when I have duplicates I am having trouble getting rid of, it’s because *none* of the items in a category are quite right. (For example, I own two long black summer-weight cardigans. I like the cut of one, but the material is not very good quality. The material of the other one is nicer, but the cut is not as flattering. Yes, yes, I know I should get rid of both! But it took a while for me to realize what was going on here.)

    • I very much agree about the possible reason why we may have multiples of a certain type of item. In reality if we don’t really enjoy wearing it then it should be donated but it’s difficult, if not impossible, to find the “perfect” garment. For some things you don’t really want to donate all of the items (for examples jeans) if it leaves you with zero to wear. I feel like if I donated all of the items that weren’t exactly what I hoped they would be I would be left with only a few things to wear! And sometimes it’s the item that doesn’t fit us but sometimes what’s bothering us isn’t really the item but our body. Not to say there’s anything wrong with our body, I just think self-love and confidence really plays into how we “see” clothes on our bodies.
      Something I’ve been thinking about regarding clothes is if “good enough” can be enough. I don’t want to spend so much time thinking about, analyzing, or obsessing about my clothing but I don’t want to discount the fact that clothing affects how I present myself and how I feel about myself. In the end, I want to be content and accepting of myself and my choices.

      • I’m sitting here worrying about my comment: “And sometimes it’s the item that doesn’t fit us but sometimes what’s bothering us isn’t really the item but our body. Not to say there’s anything wrong with our body, I just think self-love and confidence really plays into how we “see” clothes on our bodies.”
        Just to clarify and give an example of what I was thinking about- I may shy away from a sleeveless shirt, not because there is anything “wrong” with the shirt but because I wish my arms were more toned. In reality I only live once and I only have one pair of arms. I try to remember that need to rock what I wear! Confidence shines brighter than any perceived “flaws” we may have. 🙂

    • Sarah and Emmy, you both raised excellent points. I have often struggled with having multiples, none of which were quite right. That’s how I got 9 black skirts, as I kept searching for a black skirt that would truly meet my needs. I don’t think we should be aiming for “10”s all the time. Sometimes we can find them, but I usually aim for “8”s or higher. I still have some pieces that are not quite “8”s in my closet, but I keep them because they fill a wardrobe need. I am aiming to replace them as soon as possible, but some things (for me, bottoms…) are very hard to find. Emmy, your point about only living once is really good. I’ve held back from wearing a lot of things due to body image issues, but as I get older, I’m really working to overc0me that tendency. I don’t want to regret the things I didn’t do out of fear.

      • I have so many multiples of imperfect things! I’m always looking for the one true bag, or the one true coat, the one true pair of jeans to rule over all other jeans… (sorry, I was about to start quoting The Lord of The Rings there!)
        I have 2 purple rain jackets because I was looking for a “better” rain jacket than the one I had, lighter weight and cuter. But when I found it, the hood wasn’t as good as on the one I had, so I kept them both. But the fact is, I hate rain jackets, I hate the rain, I hate the texture of waterproof garments, so any jacket I wear is going to be one of my least favorite pieces. I’m busty and short waisted, so I’m not going to look like those long torsoed juniors in their cute North Face jackets. Ugh. Maybe I need to move away from the rainy Pacific NW! 🙂 LOL

      • Love the Lord of the Rings reference… The multiples of imperfect things phenomenon affects many of us. I had to chuckle at your purple rain jacket example, as I could definitely identify with it! It takes patience to wait for what will truly work for us – and self-trust, too – but that will serve us much better in the long run. Still working on that one…

    • Don’t be depressed. That’s how I felt the first time I did the BIG purge. I looked at all that stuff (not just wardrobe, we did/are doing the whole big family of five house from top to bottom including outbuildings) and was appalled and ashamed of how much we had that we didn’t need/want/use. But then I realised that I had had the Eureka moment, the only way to go was up. I had reached the lowest point and from thereonin it was good. Good to release myself, good to realise what I did want and need and good let go.

    • Congrats to both of you for doing “big purges.” Several thousand items is very impressive, but I “get” the depression piece also. But I read your blog and I can see that you’ve come SO far. Try to look ahead instead of backwards. That’s what I’m trying to do, too. If I think too much about the money I’ve wasted, I get depressed, too. So I try to remember my progress and trust in the fact that I won’t repeat the many mistakes I made in the past.

  3. I found it helps to start small. Maybe your goal is to reduce your wardrobe by 50 percent. This can feel so overwhelming that you never get started. I finally realised that I could maybe discard 6 things. If that still feels too scary try for 2 things. Once they are gone look for 2 more (or 6 or 10, whatever makes sense to you). You didn’t bring them in all at once so why should you expect to let them go all at once. Once you get started it does get easier.

    • Excellent suggestion, Marion. Big changes can happen a little bit at a time. That’s how it’s worked for me and the changes are more lasting as a result. Like you said, it’s easier to set smaller targets and move forward from there. Before you know it, a HUGE amount of progress has been made!

  4. Yet another well-written article! I really do enjoy your writing Debbie. Of all the people I have ever read, you are one of the most deserving to get a book deal!

    I think you did a great job with this list. Every point here has been something that has helped me do the same thing. I had a very large wardrobe at one point, with hundreds of clothes. It took many, many steps to get it to a manageable size. In my experience, I started out in steps, like ‘beginner, intermediate, advanced, expert’. Beginner for me was letting go of the ‘easy’ stuff- things I didn’t like, never wore, and grossly didn’t fit (and if they did, still wouldn’t wear). Intermediate was letting go of things I ‘liked’ but didn’t fit or look good on me (such as the wrong shape or color). I also let go of all my ‘fat’ and ‘skinny’ clothes- some items I have are looser and some tighter, but all the next size up and down items are gone. If I lose weight (doubtful), I’ll re-buy. If I gain weight, I’ll have a powerful motivator to get back to my current size or re-buy. Advanced was letting go of the duplicate items and only keeping the favorites, letting go of things that I really liked but were ‘fussy’, felt ‘off’, or didn’t work well for me for whatever reason. My newest next step (maybe ‘Expert’) has been figuring out what the ideal SIZE of my wardrobe for me should be. I figured out, based on how many times I wanted to wear something a year and how many opportunities I had in a year to wear each item, how many skirts, dresses, casual tops and bottoms, and dressy tops and bottoms would be ideal for me. I’m using those numbers as a goal and to focus both my purging and purchasing efforts.

    I think there’s no right or wrong way to do this. If you take two months, or two years, progress is progress and should be celebrated. I hope anyone struggling with this can use Debbie and other readers with similar experiences as inspiration! My only advice- stop beating yourself up over wasted money. That $xxx item in your closet that doesn’t fit right- sell it or give it away. It’s only making you feel guilty, and is helping no-one. Keeping it however long will just keep you feeling bad- let someone else who needs it have it! Charity is a wonderful thing- you’ll feel better, and while you can’t recoup your lost money, you CAN learn from it!

    • Thank you for your kind words about my writing, Meli. I hope I do get that book deal one day…

      I love what you wrote about the levels of wardrobe purging. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I think that’s how it’s progressed for me, too. I’m in the Advanced/Expert phase now, just like you! Your last point about not beating ourselves up is very important to remember. Self-flaggelation never helps anything! We have to look forward instead of backwards and take things one step at a time. Everyone has their issues and makes mistakes. Shopping just happens to be the Achilles Heel for many of us, but that doesn’t mean we’re bad people. We also can change and help others to change, too.

  5. Great advice. This is, as Meli22 points out, a multi-step process of some duration. I occasionally think about what I would rescue in case of an evacuation — pets, photos, artwork, and a few other things would come before any of my clothes. I’d add one other piece of advice from Henry David Thoreau (Walden Pond): “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.” Thoreau also said “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” Food for thought.

    • I would rescue the same things you would, Dottie. My clothes would actually be fairly low on my list. I hope none of us ever have to face such a situation. I’ve never heard the quotes you mentioned, but they definitely provide powerful food for thought. Thanks for sharing!

      • I guess Walden Pond has dropped off high school English reading lists. Too bad, because, in his own way, HDT was WAY ahead of his time in thinking about economic issues. The “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes” has been my mantra for a long, long, long time.

      • I didn’t even read it and I’m not exactly a “spring chicken”! But the quotes you posted have me wanting to read it now. I especially like “beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.” Just think of h0w much money I would have saved if I had known and heeded that one!

  6. I definitely struggle with this too. My clothes are very organized in my closet and dresser, but are so smooshed together that the hangers don’t even move! I would love to par down my wardrobe so that my closet wasn’t such a hassle to get things in and out of…

    BUT I also fall into that “I might need it someday” group too. I am currently a SAHM, but I do plan on re-joining the workforce in another 2 years. Because of this, I am holding onto a sizable number of work-appropriate garmets that I’m not currently wearing. Do I hold onto these? It seems like a waste to just rebuy them in another 2 years…

    Another problem I encounter (and Debbie, you’ve touched on this before) is that when I do a closet purge I will then miss the clothes I have gotten rid of and end up shopping to fill it back up :-/

    • When you go back to the workforce will the clothes you are hanging onto still be appropriate? I am a WAHM, for the most part I can wear what I like because I am at home, but occasionally I have to look smart. I kept my working clothes for years and never wore them because although they were “work” clothes, they didn’t fit my style and way of life 10 years later. So out they all went, I gave the suits and dresses to a charity who provide clothes for homeless women who are getting their lives back on track and need smart clothes for job interviews etc. They are doing a lot more good there than they were gathering dust in my wardrobe!

      • Yes, I do think they will be useful in 2 years. They are mostly classic pencil skirts, slacks, and silk blouses. I think those types of work clothing will be perpetually in style… Also, I have a very petite frame and had many of the pieces altered to fit me properly. So I have quite an investment in them (time and moneywise). It’s a tough spot because I have 100% certainty I will be working again soon, and I know I will need these clothes, but I also need to par down my wardrobe…

      • Hi Chelsea! I’m going to push against the trend here and suggest that you keep those work clothes. Assuming that they still fit you–or that you remain a more or less constant size–that’s what I would do. When it’s hard to find good clothes that fit, and you have made an investment in tailoring as well, it just doesn’t seem to make sense to get rid of them when you are certain you will use them. Will any of them mix with what you currently wear? Maybe what’s bothering you is that they are in the way? Can you store them somewhere else in the interim? It’s rather like storing off season decor–you don’t want those Christmas ornaments now, but come December. . . I adore this wonderful blog and its mission and was surprised to find I have street cred. I have never considered my closet minimal, and yet I find I own less than 50 items, including shoes. And one smashing suit that still fits and can be used for “back to work.” 😉

      • You do indeed have “street cred,” Amy. Congrats on keeping your wardrobe at a more manageable size! I’m glad you like this blog and its mission. Your advice to Chelsea is very good and I agree with what you wrote.

    • You’ve gotten some good advice, Chelsea. I think you should evaluate those work clothes and see which ones you still like and which ones still fit you. Keep those clothes, but put them somewhere else. Since you said your closet is jam-packed, you need to free up some room so you can better see the clothes you want to wear for your current lifestyle. Someone else in later comment mentioned putting away half of her wardrobe and using just that for the time-being. That might be a helpful tip for you. I might even try it, too, as I still want to pare down!

  7. Great tips on closet purging here. I have also found creating capsules helpful in identifying wardrobe items that ‘stand out’ in my closet. If I cannot incorporate an item into any of my existing wardrobe capsules, it may be time to purge the piece since it is an ‘outlier.’

    This is not to say that every wardrobe item has to remix in multiple ways among pieces in a closet. However, I have found that I’d rather have more of my clothes be able to remix, rather than less. For myself, I’ve noticed I like an item to remix into at least 3 outfits, pieces that remix less rarely work for me, so I own very few ‘outlier’ pieces now.

    • This is another good piece of advice, Lisa. I don’t think enough people think about wardrobe capsules, but that concept can be very helpful. I’m eliminating my “outliers,” too, and working to only buy new items that will work in multiple outfits. I think that if one wants a smaller wardrobe, that’s really the way to go.

  8. I loved this post. Just this morning, I have a sweater that I always liked and a pair of pants that I bought that have been a little snug. I have toned up a bit so I decided to wear them today. I put the sweater on and I kept fussing with it. I kept pulling at the bottom and the panst are nice but I do not like tight in the bum area. I took them off and wore something else but put them back in the closet. These are 2 things that I need to get rid of. I bet it has been 3 years since I wore the sweater and I bought the pants on sale about 6 months ago and have never worn them. Your posts and website are helping clear out the closet. I have 100’s of items like this that I keep for one of the reasons you stated. I also have a shopping problem so shopping my closet has allowed me to find some of those gems that I do love to wear and get rid of some of the dust covered items.

    • I can really relate to your pants and sweater story, Debbie. I used to keep those types of items, too, but I’m getting better at releasing them these days. It’s hard to know when we buy things if they will be “fussy” or not. We can move around in the fitting room and do a bit of a “test drive,” but that method isn’t foolproof. We need to forgive ourselves and pass on the pieces that don’t work for us. That will free up space and energy to wear our closet favorites! I’m so glad my blog is helping you to clear out your closet. My readers help me a lot, too!

  9. Just wanted to say how much I enjoy your insightful, well-articulated posts – excellent, relevant points, as always!

  10. Figuring out WHY I wanted to pare down my closet was instrumental to me in making changes. I was an avid Ebay shopper that bought 20+ items that were “great deals” most months. Even though I went through my closet and purged regularly I still had over 500 items. The first thing I did was what you suggested, stop the bleeding. After I didn’t have a ton of new things coming in at all times I realized it was still overwhelming. So many things didn’t fit correctly or were not a flattering color. That was one of the things that kept driving me to buy more-I couldn’t find the things in my closet that looked good because there was just too much volume. So my motivation was two parts. I wanted to buy less and I wanted to spend much less time and energy on clothes. I was able to do this by passing along 300+ items. I first got rid of things that had seen better days, didn’t fit sizewise, and things I really didn’t like. Next I moved on to things that technically fit, but were not flattering on me and things that I used to love that no longer looked the same. After Dottie’s helpful posts I went through everything again and concentrated on color. In between going through my closet I also had a donation bag in my bedroom and if I tried on something that didn’t thrill me I wouldn’t put it back in my closet. Now my closet is full of things that fit me, I can find and see everything, and they are in colors that are flattering on me. This has helped me to accomplish both of my goals. I don’t buy nearly as much and it’s easier to get dressed with less time and effort on my part.

    • Wow! 500 garments! I have a hard time getting my mind around that. It sounds like you have been very hard at work, Tonya, to get rid of more than 60% of your clothes. I am glad that I could help from my remote location. The permanently present donation bag is a trick I’ve used to. Works a treat.

    • I used to have over 500 garments, too, Tonya, but my progress has been a lot slower than yours. You’ve really made a lot of progress quickly and I think that being in touch with your “whys” has played a large role in that. Keeping a donation bag in the closet is very helpful. Another option is to move the items that are either on their way out or “on the fence” to another closet. That’s what I’ve been doing lately and the fence items almost always end up going. I think the important thing is not to put those “meh” pieces back into our closets. We don’t need as many clothes as we think and we deserve to only wear things we really like and feel good in. We’re worth it!

    • I totally get it – I think I keep on shopping because I can’t find anything in my closet and half of the time can’t even remember what is in there. I always have multiple shopping bags around my closet with recent purchases. Sometimes they stay there for weeks as I don’t want the new stuff to merge into my closet, never to be seen again. I’m gearing up for the big purge but I don’t think I’m quite there yet. I’m still at the point of wanting less and more at the same time. i’ve tried to do an inventory of my clothes a couple of times but gave up halfway through, the numbers are just panic inducing. I thought it might slow the shopping down knowing (roughly) how much stuff I have that I don’t utilise but so far no joy. I’ve also noticed that I get bored of clothes much quicker than I used to. Is anybody else experiencing this? Sometimes it feels like I’ve only worn something once or twice and I’m already done with it.
      Debbie great post as usual!

      • K, everything that you said described me exactly one to two years ago. Not only did I get bored with things after one or two wears, I bought things that I didn’t even expect to wear more than that. The thing that has helped me change that mindset is instead of buying 15 tops at $10-$20 each because they were cheap and adequate, I don’t mind spending $80 on just one if I love it and it fits me perfectly. Since I love it and I really thought about it, it tends to stick around. I do still struggle with the more is more attitude, but the results I’ve seen usually keeps me from getting too out of control.

      • I can identify with much of what you wrote, K! I still struggle with wanting more and less at the same time, too! And I still get bored of some of my clothes quickly, but what Tonya wrote about buying fewer but higher quality pieces has helped me, too. If I buy what I really want instead of several lesser facsimiles, I end up liking and wearing it more. Case in point, the AGL flats I got in December. I wear those all the time but really cringed at the high price tag at first! As for your closet inventory, you’ll do it when you’re ready. Or perhaps you can inventory one section at a time (type of garment or wardrobe for a given season). That might be less overwhelming. It took me quite a while to do an intentory, too. Yes, I did it at the beginning of my blog, but I had already been working on my recovery for over two years at that point. Baby steps get us there. Just make one change at a time and you’ll eventually get to where you want to be!

  11. Thanks for all your great posts 🙂 I am also trying to reduce my wardrobe, (and shopping!!), but really feel like I’ve gotten it down to a point that I like all the items that are left. However, there are still too many and a lot of them fall into the duplicates category. So… this will probably sound a bit crazy… But I divided my wardrobe into two. Two wardrobes that in theory I like equally. One is in my closet and one is boxed up. I’m hoping that by having less to choose from, it will be easier to see what I have and discover if I really do like everything. And then when I’m feeling like I really want to shop for something new, the idea is that I will switch out my wardrobe – pack up my whole closet and unpack the boxed up half of my clothes. We’ll see! So far I’ve definitely done better with shopping less.

    • This is SUCH a great suggestion, TJ! In fact, I called another commenter’s attention to it in my response to her. I actually considered doing something similar last year and calling it the “Half Project.” But then I was challenged to do Project 333 and went that route instead. Because I still want to pare things down, I may revisit the “Half Project” at some point. I can imagine it’s very helpful. Congrats on being creative and shopping your closet instead of the stores!

  12. I love this post! Even as I have stopped compulsively buying things, I still have been trying to reduce the number of clothing items I own. I’m slowly getting there, but I want to be able to get dressed for anything in two minutes because I know that anything I grab will look good.

    My current lifestyle means I need to maintain business, evening, casual, and gym wardrobes, which complicates things. I’ve found that for me (and my 1920’s home with tiny closets), what works best is to keep each wardrobe in its own place. My work clothes in the bedroom closet, my casual clothes in my dresser, my workout clothes in the bathroom closet, and my evening clothes in the hall closet. That way I’m not looking at cocktail dresses when I’m trying to get out the door to work, and I’m able to limit each mini-wardrobe to the essentials.

    • It seems you’ve come up with a really workable solution for yourself, Mrs. M. You’re basically doing “capsule wardrobes” for the various areas of your life. I think your method would be helpful for a lot of people, especially those with tiny closets or those who need to get dressed in a hurry. Thanks for sharing your organizational method with all of us!

  13. Helpful as always, Debbie! One of these days I may do Project 333.

    I think for those of us that are struggling, realizing that it is OK if this takes a while is a big step. Rome wasn’t built in a day. When I first tried to get rid of things, the decision of whether to keep or toss every single item felt like a battle of wills. But it has gotten easier, although I think I will never be able to do a big purge. So far, it’s been 2-3 years and I’m still going. For me, I did several things:
    1. Clothes never go straight out the door. I put them in the closet in the guest bedroom, and there they stay for several months. If I haven’t gone and got an item back after a few months, it can be donated. Sometimes I have “rescued” something as I was bagging up the clothes to go to Goodwill, but mostly that pause breaks the emotional connection to the item.
    2. As well as having a “one in, one out” policy, I occasionally count items and then try to get the amount down a bit – for instance, if I count 47 tops, I’ll try to get it down to 42, or 40. I like multiples of 7 because there are 7 days in a week, and I like to think “wow, I could go 6 weeks straight wearing a different top every day…that’s crazy!” Then next time, I’ll set a lower target.
    3. I started asking myself WHY I liked certain items. One top I liked because it didn’t need ironing (really) and I could throw it on without thinking. But I took a photo of myself in it, and it was not flattering. Another top I liked because I got compliments when I wore it. But the shape of the top made me feel frumpy. It took wearing it and actually listening carefully to the compliments, which were all on the COLOR, to be able to part with the top – now I look for better fitting tops in similar colors.
    4. I started really asking myself about the type of clothes that I like wearing and that are practical to wear. For where I live (a very warm climate), and my job (lots of hand washing), short sleeved tops work well. I can wear a jacket or cardigan over them if I am cold. A 3/4 sleeve top is perfect for winter. But I find long sleeves mostly hot and annoying – once I made that realization, it was easier to part with the long sleeved shirts and tops that were mostly gathering dust. Similarly, I found I really wasn’t wearing pencil skirts much – I like to be able to move around, and pencil skirts felt limiting.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your very helpful tips, Sarah! You’re right that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that it takes time to pare down an oversized wardrobe. We all need to proceed at our own pace. I think your tips really add a lot to this discussion. I love the “game” you’re playing with item numbers. I might take that one on!

  14. Hi, Some good pointers on this site. A lot also depends on a person’s age, lifestyle, the climate of your country as to how your wardrobe is arranged. A home bird living in colder climes wouldn’t have need of strappy party dresses, but would get more wear out of long or 3/4 sleeved items. There would be more knitwear than summer attire too, plus coats & jackets. Considering age, modesty may apply the older a person is, so cardigans/shrugs to cover the shoulders & for warmth. Boots & low heeled footwear would get more wear too. Having said that, maybe owning one party dress & high heels with matching bag ………?

    • These are some very good points, Rufonious. It’s true that there are a lot of “it depends” situations when it comes to what we need in our closets. Having self-awareness is an important key, not just in terms of paring down, but also when it comes to shopping. Knowing ourselves and our lifestyles can save us a lot of trouble when it comes to our wardrobes.

  15. Hi Debbie! I’m following your blog for quite a while and really love to see your progress. I enjoy reading your posts (I do not follow any other blog ;-)) and it’s great that you could build such a big and great community. I also appreciate that you reply to every single comment! In my opinion this makes your blog even more valueable.

    I’m not actually a compulsive shopper, but I have difficulties parting with things. My closet is packed with clothes, that I do not wear. But I’m also learning and purge from time to time. Lately, I purged a lot of tops which are too short and ride up while I’m sitting in the office.

    What came to my mind reading this post and the comments is, that I often ask myself when I look into the mirror trying to evaluate if I should keep or toss the garment, if I bought it at that moment. Would I spend money on it again? If not, it’s easier for me to let go of it. Life is too short and we should not waste our time maintaining things we don’t need.

    • I ask myself the same thing! “Knowing what I know now about it, would I buy this item again?” or for things that are nearing the end of their lifespan, “Would I buy this item in its current state?”

      • We should turn our bedroom into a changing room and shop our wardrobe! It would make purging a lot easier. When I have something outworn, I also re-think if I really need to replace it or if I can live without it.

      • “Would I buy this item in its current state?” is a REALLY good question for thrift shoppers like me! Since I buy things already used, I have a tolerance for somewhat-worn-out. But then, eventually, those things get really worn out. So if I wouldn’t buy it for $1.99 in its current state, I shouldn’t be keeping it and wearing it!

      • Very good point, Joanna! I think that when the price tag is low, people “tolerate” a lot, both when they are buying the item and later on. We sometimes keep things for too long because it was either expensive or cheap (works both ways). Your question can help increase clarity, for sure.

    • I’m glad you like my blog, Sandra. I enjoy responding to the comments and will do so for as long as I’m able to do so (I get more comments than I used to, but that’s a good thing!).

      I love the questions you and Emmy posed and I ask myself similar things. Often, the answer I get is NO. Then the handwriting is on the wall, so to speak. When we’re honest with ourselves, it often becomes much easier to make decisions.

  16. Debbie, thank you for reading and caring enough to post a link to my article.

    For me the “thought” of wanting to own less clothing and to have only what I loved and needed came first. It was a thought that kept returning over a period of years until one day I knew for certain that it was a goal I wanted to obtain. But I had no idea how to do it. This was years before Courtney published Project 333. I have always edited my closet at the end of each season, letting go of what I wasn’t wearing. But I still had too many clothes, and getting dressed was stressful. Then after I read about Project 333 I needed more time to “think” about doing it. I resisted for a while, then spent a few more months letting go of an item or two or three each week until finally the day came when I knew I was ready for the big purge. I’m writing this to encourage anyone who wants begin parting with clothes, but needs to do it in baby steps. It’s OK to take your time. Remember, if you have the desire to have less clothes it means you can and were meant to do it, otherwise you wouldn’t have the desire.

    As an aside, each time we have been evacuated I have brought an odd assortment of clothing that don’t go together and are not wearable together. But I’ve had to wear them anyway. Case in point is the funny outfit I had to wear to my grandfather’s funeral, which took place while we were evacuated once. Within the gloom and sadness my family and I also laughed a lot about my attire. We have a family tradition of bringing laughter and good memories to our funerals. And one of the best things I’ve learned from your blog Debbie, from your readers comments, and from doing many cycles of Project 333, is that now much of my wardrobe mixes and coordinates well together, so if I’m packing for a vacation trip, or packing up to leave for a less good reason such as fire, chances are at least I will have pants or a skirt and top that go together.

    • I was happy to post your article, Terra, as I loved it and knew others would, too. I enjoy reading your perspective on wardrobe minimalism, as I know it’s been a long journey for you. You’re right that it’s okay to do it in “baby steps.” We’re all on our own path and there is no right amount of time it should take. We need to be ready to make the next step. It took me over a year to do Project 333 and I haven’t made it a way of life like some people (but it did help me a great deal). I love your comment about the funny outfit at the funeral. Perhaps your attire brought some much needed levity to a somber occasion… In any event, I’m glad your wardrobe coordinates better these days. It’s always an important consideration, but even more so when you want to maintain a more minimalist closet.

  17. I purged about half of my closet in the past year. I have kept more items in total than Debbie, but I enjoy having a lot of choice. One thing that helped me was to decide what colors I wanted to have in my wardrobe. I currently have five neutrals and five accent colors. Anything that didn’t fall into one of these categories left. I would like to limit the neutrals down to two or three, but I am having a hard time with it. Maybe that is my next step.

    One thing that was so helpful was that as I purged I also added practical pieces to my wardrobe that allowed what was left to work together. I had quite a few special pieces like leather jackets and cashmere sweaters, and I had wonderful accessories but I didn’t have the right basics to pull it all together. Adding black, grey and coffee colored jeans, a selection of basic long sleeve tees in my favorite accent colors and black, grey and saddle colored short boots created a wardrobe that really started to work for me this past fall and winter. I also added a few accessories. I realized that all my handbags were unusual and that they, unfortunately, went with very few items. I slowly collected black, grey, red and saddle hand bags. I had many wonderful belts, but nothing to actually hold my jeans up so I bought 2 or 3 belts. Now when I shop, I know that if I stick to my accent or neutral colors, I have what I need in place to make an outfit that goes with my new purchase.

    In the past I did a lot of impulsive shopping where I bought things that really appealed to me and then I would peter out on the follow through of finding the workhorses to make my favorite new purchases usable. I’d get all dressed up and realize that the shoes choices I had looked all wrong. I’d have to take it all off and start over. In my current wardrobe there is always an appropriate shoe and handbag choice.

    Current assignment– I am going to apply what I learned to my summer wardrobe. A few more basics and a few more accessories and I am good to go, especially as I started purging and adding basics during last summer’s season.

    One thing that I am realizing is that this is always a process. As styles change (for example, skinny and straight legged pants become popular) you need to do a little shopping to keep the overall wardrobe working. Also, the purging is an ongoing thing. It is constant and takes a vigilant eye and a ruthless attitude to regularly review the closet and remove what is no longer serving you well. It’s all taken a lot of thought and effort, but I’ve actually enjoyed the process and find that it is such a pleasure to get dressed now or to pack for travel.

    • Thanks for sharing your process with us, Happy Forgiver (love that name!). I can identify with a lot of what you wrote. I also used to buy special pieces without really considering how they would work with everything else in my closet. Narrowing down one’s color palette is very helpful and I have done the same this year. I need to work more on my summer wardrobe, too, but there’s time to do this. You’re right that the purging never really ends. Maybe we won’t need to do so much of any overhaul, but there will always be a need to bring a few pieces in here and there and let some other items go. I think it’s good to try to enjoy the process, as you recommend.

  18. One more thing–I found it helpful to have a portable clothes rack in my bedroom for the month or two I was working on my big purge. Some items would go directly to the give-away pile. However, if I was on the fence about something it hung on the portable rack for a number of weeks or more. I did find that certain things on the rack migrated back into my closet. Also, items I initially thought I wanted later moved to the rack. Eventually the entire rack got donated. This allowed me to do a big purge in a matter of months but I had a chance to really live with each decision before it became final. Somehow my husband tolerated the rack even though our bedroom is small.

    • This is an excellent tip. I’ve used a second closet for a similar purpose, but I like the idea of using a clothes rack, too. Sometimes people aren’t ready to let things go right away and need more time to work through feelings or a decision process. I’m sure your tip will be useful for a lot of people (hope they read it, but perhaps I will mention the best tips for the comments on this post in a future post).

  19. Wow, there are some great tips from everyone here! I don’t have any to add but want to say this is such a wonderful group of people posting. Everyone sharing to help each other. It’s an ongoing process of purging for me and I think this week might be time for another big purge. I finally came to the realization that here in the South I really only like to wear casual dresses once the temperature reaches 70. To that end I’ve recently purchased some good quality dresses and got rid of some lesser quality ones. I made sure I already had sandals (and toppers for when needed) to match and the dresses are all in my chosen limited color palette. I believe it may be time to let go of some shorts and capri pants since I’m gonna be wearing dresses!

    • I’m excited about the great tips that have been shared, too, Kim! This is really a wonderful community filled with caring and engaged people. What a blessing!

      I think it’s great that you’ve come to a realization about your summer wardrobe. It’s very helpful to understand what we truly love to wear. Narrowing things down can go a long way toward decreasing overshopping. Kudos to you and enjoy your dresses!

  20. I’ve written a couple of times about how I reduced my wardrobe last yearr by limiting the color palette.I had bought clothing in every neutral as well as a myriad of colors and consequently I had a huge wardrobe of clothes but struggled every day to dress. My bedroom floor would be littered with the caste offs while I tried on outfit after outfit. I would then end up wearing the same thing over and over – trusted garments that I knew worked. I would then shop more in the mistaken belief that I needed such and such to fill in the gaps of my unworkable wardrobe.

    I got sick of it and sick of constantly organising and reorganising a closet full of stuff. I had tried different ways of paring down and organising but in the end I decided to eliminate by color. At the beginning of last winter I decided to only keep in my wardrobe a core wardrobe of black, (winter) white, pale grey and denim and 3 accent colors.

    Doing this made it incredibly easy to purge (box up) as I didn’t need to go through the usual turmoil of whether I liked it, how much etc – what could stay was purely based on color.

    For me, this has worked brilliantly. My wardrobe is harmonious, smaller and everything goes together. It makes it easy to dress, pack and to shop. I’m doing the same for summer. Same colors but different ratio (eg more white) and more jewel tones.

    • I can really identify with your first paragraph, Carolyn! I used to have far too many colors, too. Thanks for sharing your success story here. I’m sure that many others could benefit by doing something similar. You mentioned that your wardrobe is now “harmonious.” I think that’s what we all want, so congrats to you on achieving that goal!

  21. Three years ago I started paring down my wardrobe after I had an allergic reaction to hair dye. As a result , my skin became super sensitive to man-made fabrics. I had to stop coloring my hair and went from brunette to silver in one year. I donated all my clothes made of synthetic fibers and warm colors that didn’t compliment my new silver hair. I also donated all prints with the exception of scarves. My wardrobe was drastically reduced in size now consists of only linen,cotton,silk & cashmere in cool colors including black, gray,navy & white for core pieces plus bright accent colors. Shopping has become much easier. Checking the “fiber content” has helped limit my choices. I still have too many clothes and plan to downsize by donating casual knit tops and replace with fewer tops of finer quality fabrics. Also, I want to purchase everyday dresses which will help eliminate the need for so many separates.
    Counting my wardrobe items by categories as you suggest helped me see the excess. I scanned my wardrobe frequently searching for 10 or 20 items to donate . I would pick a number and sometimes find the items right away & other times I would have to find a few at a time over a week or so. I just made myself stick with it. One year ago I had over 330 items .I now have about 120,my goal for now is 75 items. Owning fewer items of finer quality is a wonderful feeling.
    Many of my donated clothes are being enjoyed by family members and friends which makes me happy! For me paring down my wardrobe has been only a positive experience. I think most people would agree. Give it a try!

    • I didn’t have the extreme reaction that you did in order to radically reduce my wardrobe, but I too now have a wardrobe made up essentially of linen, cashmere, bamboo, hemp, cotton and silk. In my case it was a combination of a love of the fabrics and a desire to dress myself as ethically as I fed myself. It is infact cheaper, because I buy a lot less (if anything at all) I reuse what wears out (boiled cashmere makes wonderful tea cosies, hats and slippers and the cottons and linens are turned into quilts, it is lovely to use a quilt made from fabric from well loved clothes). I have started to make my own clothes. It is easy for me because I love the Japanese deconstructed style so complex fitting is not an issue (great because I am not a great seamstress). I have sourced reasonably priced bamboos and linens and as it takes me longer to make an item than it does to buy it there isn’t that “must have” feeling.

    • What great success you’ve had, Jan! I’m sorry you had to go through the bad reaction to hair dye (I had something similar with a keratin smoothing treatment back in 2009), but it really sounds like you’ve “created lemonade from lemons.” How amazing that you’ve cut your wardrobe down to about 1/3 of its previous level in just one year. I’m glad that my tips on this blog have been helpful to you in the process. Coming up with a target number to pare down can definitely be helpful. I find that when I set such a number, I often exceed it. I can read your joy through your words and I hope your story will encourage others!

      Gillie, I admire your efforts to dress (and eat) more ethically. I am on a similar path in both respects. How wonderful that you are now making some of your clothes! That’s something I’ve considered, but I haven’t taken the plunge as of yet. I love that you are re-purposing your clothes that wear out. What a great example for the rest of us!

  22. I think I have lots of things that I love *in theory* in my storage bin (the place where I keep my off season/non P333 clothes). I was reading some of your posts and watching videos by Bridgette Raes this morning and I realized I still have a lot of things that I don’t wear, that I haven’t even thought of donating. I’m keeping them because I DID love them, and I DID wear them all the time. They are lovely, they are not worn out, and I feel like I go in cycles, so I might want to come back to them next year or the year after…
    But when I stop and think about it, it’s been several years since I wore any of the items, and it’s really unlikely that I ever will want to go back to that style. It’s much more likely that I will evolve in a different direction.
    I wouldn’t think to save them in an evacuation, I wouldn’t buy them again today. The 2 exceptions to those statements are the 2 things I should keep, and maybe get out of storage so I can enjoy them now. (I was splitting my wears with too many sarongs, so when I decided to store them, I forgot just how much I love 2 of them, because I am really over the other ones – because if you wear sarongs, you buy more sarongs, and people give you their extra sarongs, and they buy you gifts of sarongs… sigh).
    It’s so funny that I haven’t been able to see past “I love those! I wear them all the time!” to realize that that was true in 2009-2010, not right now in 2014.

    • Joanna, that’s a lot of analysis and soul searching you did there! I’m impressed by your conclusions and know that what you’ve learned can only help you moving forward. 🙂

    • Aren’t Bridgette’s videos great? I think I’ll re-watch them after reading your comment. I agree with Emmy that you’ve done a lot of wonderful soul-searching. We often hold on to things because we used to love them and assume that we still do. That’s why I always recommend that we try things on instead of just assuming they still fit well and we still like the way they look. I also think people over-estimate how often they wear things and when they last wore it. Tracking what I wear has helped me to see that I wasn’t wearing things nearly as often as I thought. Very enlightening! Seems like you have some more wardrobe purging ahead of you. Best of luck and enjoy wearing your other two sarongs!

  23. Hi – I’ve checked out your 333 project occasionally and today accidently found your blog about downsizing your wardrobe. This is what I’m trying to do at present but I have clothes stored in no fewer than EIGHT wardrobes so it is a mamoth task, especially as I like everything I have! The penny finally dropped today when I took everything out and started re-hanging on clothes rails to help me decide what to keep and what to let go – only instead of hanging in clothes groups (shirts,skirts, jackets etc) I tried hanging by the country my clothes came from. So I have a group of French clothes (Rykiel, Vanessa Bruno and a few others), a group of Italian stuff (Moschino, Armani AX), masses of English stuff (can’t you guess, I live in UK!), lots of American stuff (Gap, Calvin Klein), and a mixture of other stuff (Zara Mango Custo all Spain, Birger Luxzuz Scandinavian, a few German pieces etc). Suddenly my task has become so much easier – I LOVE my French (chic) and Italian (laid back casual) pieces, the best of my English basics mix well with the French and Italian stuff, and my Calvin Klein stuff looks good for casual. That’s as far as I’ve got so far but those who are stuggling to decide what to let go might try it my way – separate out the brands to help you see what you LOVE rather than what you just LIKE.
    I love your blog and your 333 project, it’s a time-killer when I’m supposed to be having a clear-out but I’d rather read your stuff than do the work.
    Best wishes and hallo USA,hope to be back soon!

    • Thanks for your comment, Wichery. It seems you came up with a very useful method for paring down your wardrobe. I never would have thought to separate clothes out by country of origin, but I can see how that could be helpful. You were able to get some powerful distinctions through doing that – good for you! I’m glad you are enjoying my blog. I’d rather read blogs than clear out my wardrobe, too 🙂 Best of luck with your continued journey!

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