How to Purge Your Closet

I’ve bought almost no clothing for the past year and a half.

I’ve hosted several clothing swaps with friends to help with the changing seasons and keep things frugal.

But this ongoing challenge is about a lot more than just not buying clothes.

It’s about knowing what to purge too.

Without purging, my closet will look like an extensive mishmash of hand-me-downs that don’t fit my body or my personality.

Purging costs nothing, but it’s the key to looking put-together on a shoestring budget…or no budget!


There were some helpful ideas in How to Get Dressed by Alison Freer. She is a costume designer for Hollywood and knows all about how clothes are supposed to fit, look, and feel. 

No kidding, after reading this book I immediately went up to my closet and got rid of a couple of things. Once I understood how my clothes were supposed to fit, I instantly thought of items I owned that didn’t fit right.

Freer explains which items are worth tailoring or mending and what problems are simply not worth the hassle. There’s a lot of good information in here and it’s a quick, easy read if you’re interested in this kind of thing.


My Tips to Purging Your Closet:

1. Allow Several Hours

Reevaluating your entire closet is a pretty big project, so make sure you give yourself ample time to actually do a thorough job. If you can, have a friend who will tell-it-like-it-is come over and help you make the tough decisions. Have healthy snacks ready and don’t forget to drink water while you work.

2. Define Your Style

The task will be a lot easier if you actually have an end goal in mind. What do you want to look like? What represents you? Freer recommends finding two or three words that define what makes you happy and what you want to look like. Some examples from the book are “Classic Pop,” “Austere Glam,” and “Librarian Noir.” I like to think of mine as “Minimal with a dash of Punk,” if that’s even a thing. I guess it is now.

3. Take Everything Out

You probably have a lot more clothing than you realize. Nothing tells all like putting every article of clothing you own out in the open. Without closets and drawers to hide it away, you might realize how much you have – and probably don’t need – right away. Take inventory and notice if there are any unnessesary redundancies. Too many black shirts or white tees? It makes the next step easier.


4. Sort the Love, Donate, Recycle, Not Sure

The “Love” should be easy to determine. These are the staples of your wardrobe that you wear nearly everyday and can’t imagine letting go of. Great! For me this is my favorite wool sweater, favorite T-shirt, and my fleece-lined leggings. These are no-brainers and should go right back in the closet.

Likewise, the “Recycle” items should be fairly easy to identify because they are the ones that are simply worn or trashed beyond repair. But these two categories probably don’t account for much of your wardrobe. There’s still a lot of things out on the bed and the floor. The “Not Sure” is where you need to spend most of your time.


5. Try Everything On

Does this item truly fit? When you think someone has great style, really it means their clothes fit them and fit them and fit them well. “When you banish ill-fitting clothes from your life you open the door to having great style – forever,” says Freer. Here are some of her tips on how clothing should fit.

If you have a long torso, get a higher cut of denim that hits closer to your natural waist.
If you like low-cut denim, make sure it stays put and isn’t so tight it causes your middle to bulge.
Make sure zipper doesn’t come undone on its own.
Make sure the pockets don’t flap open. Sew them shut if you must.
Make sure front of pants don’t bunch. There is no good way to fix this.

Check for buttons that come unbuttoned. Otherwise you’ll be safety-pinning it every time you wear it.
Bust size. Shouldn’t be too tight or loose across the chest. Darts should point forward and be in the middle of the chest, not above or below.
Shoulders should fit without bunching in the front of back. It is difficult to fix shoulders that don’t lay right, so it’s better off you pass it on.

Jacket fit:
Wearing it open is fine, but it should look neither too tight or too boxy. Add a couple darts in the back for a more tailored look if you or a friend can sew.
Sleeve length is personal preference. Short is okay!
Make sure shoulders have structure but don’t go beyond your natural shoulder. Another thing that isn’t worth fixing if it’s wrong.

Empire waist – make sure it hits below the chest where it should.
Fit and flare – good for those with small chests. It should hit at the thinnest part of the wasit and flare out smoothly over curves.
Shift – make sure darts hit at right spot on your chest.
Strapless – make sure it has enough structure that you don’t have to keep tugging it up. A proper-fitting longline bra can help with this. It’s not worth wearing if you have to fight to keep it up.
Tank – make sure arm holes don’t hang too low, exposing your bra sides (or do an easy strap take up.)

Be honest with yourself. Listen to the opinion of your friend who is helping you. It takes time to actually see which items fit and which ones don’t. Take photos of yourself in the outfits to refer to later when getting dressed. Something about a photo makes it obvious if an outfit is working or not.


6. Ask the Right Questions:

  • How often do I wear this? – If 20% of your wardrobe is doing 80% of the work, you don’t need to keep a lot of items that continually reside in the back.
  • Is it the current season? – I don’t like to over-purge things that aren’t in season because I might miss them once that season actually hits.
  • Does it go with several things? – Mixing and matching is the secret to a stylish, minimal closet. I like to keep items that go with at least two other things.
  • Will I start wearing it now that I know it’s here? – Sometimes there’s real gems hidden in the back of the closet. Simply moving it up into rotation is all that is needed.
  • Is it easy to wear? – If an outfit requires special underwear or special layering to look okay, I’m much less likely to wear it. I’d consider passing it on.
  • Easy to clean? – In the same way, if something other than a suit or evening gown is dry clean only I’m not likely to wear it in heavy rotation. It might not be worth the space it takes up.
  • Do I have enough basics for every occasion? – A minimal wardrobe doesn’t mean you get rid of everything. I like to make sure I can still put together an outfit for a wedding, meeting, or reunion easily and without buying anything new.
  • Will it leave a hole if I get rid of it? – There are some items I’ve regretted purging over the years. Most of them were shoes though. I like to have the proper shoe for every occasion, and my shoe size is a little hard to find. As a general rule, if I’m on the fence about something I like to get rid of it…unless it’s shoes!
  • Is it in style? Do I care? – Don’t purge an item simply because it is whimsical if you actually like and wear it. Having a few statement pieces is okay.”Having good style is all about taking a risk now and then,” Freer says. She also insists that fashion has very few rules other than good fit. Anything goes if it makes you feel confident and beautiful.

7. Sort, Fold, Hang, Launder, or Repair

If there is a reason you aren’t wearing the item, see that you fix the problem and start wearing it again. If you think you can mend the item quickly in order to make it fit properly, go for it! But don’t simply hang onto it and do nothing.

I’ve started embracing the KonMari folding technique. It really is nice to see all the shirts and leggings lined up from the top of the drawer! Part of why we purge is to appreciate and take better care of the clothing we do keep. Treat it with care and it will last a nice long time.


8. Recycle or Donate

There are lots of great places you can donate your clothing that is still wearable – look for a charity or good thrift shop in your area. If the items are beyond repair, you can give it to a recycling company that will turn it into other textiles. If the stuff you’re getting rid of is still great, just not for you, invite your friends over for a free clothing swap.

9. Be True to Yourself

Fashion is an industry that runs solely on dissatisfaction. We could easily take the whole thing down just by deciding to be happy with ourselves!

Alison Freer

You be you and enjoy the benefits of a wardrobe that is easy to wear and easy to navigate!

I’m currently in the middle of a 33-item capsule wardrobe challenge called Project 333. Read about it here and consider taking the challenge yourself if you’d like!


Add yours →

  1. I like the practical tips here a lot. So true about the jeans. I recently bought “high-waisted” jeans that fit at my natural waist and I no longer hate wearing jeans! I have a long torso and very small hips, and just cannot keep up the low-rise ones or find shirts long enough to cover. This made getting dressed and feeling comfortable almost impossible. Now I can wear almost any shirt with either my black or blue jeans without exposing my belly circa 1999!

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