Want to learn how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes? Years ago, I thought more clothes equaled better. I liked having options and variety and feeling like I was (sort of) keeping up with the latest styles.

The problem was I hardly ever wore the majority of clothes I owned. And yet, I felt like I had nothing to wear.

Having too many options can create decision fatigue. If you’re tired of looking in your closet and seeing a bunch of clothes you don’t wear and wish you’d never purchased, this post on how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes is for you.

In this post, you’ll learn:

  • How to be ruthless decluttering your wardrobe
  • The best questions to ask to help you decide which clothes need to go
  • What do to when you get stuck decluttering clothes
  • How to maintain your decluttered closet
how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes

Get in the Right Mindset to Be Ruthless When Decluttering Your Wardrobe

Decluttering is a lot about mindset. How successful you’ll be with your decluttering process depends a lot on your state of mind.

If you are mentally prepared to let go and get really honest with yourself, it will be easier for you to be ruthless when decluttering your clothes.

Know why you want to downsize your wardrobe

Before you begin the decluttering process, it’s important to know WHY you want to downsize your wardrobe. What will simplifying your clothes do for you?

What are the outcomes you are hoping for? The more clear you are on your end goals, the more likely you are to get there.

I wanted to simplify my wardrobe so that I didn’t feel so overwhelmed when getting ready. I was also tired of looking at clothes that didn’t fit or that I regretted purchasing.

My goal was not to end up with a capsule wardrobe.

I simply wanted to clear out the things I wasn’t wearing and only to keep the pieces I loved and felt confident wearing.

Be clear on what you want your end goals to be for your wardrobe after you’ve ruthlessly decluttered your clothes.

how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes

How do you know when it is time to declutter your closet?

It’s time to declutter your closet if you have a feeling of dread every time you look in it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, guilty, or sad when looking at your clothes then it’s time to make a change.

If you have clothes that are overflowing from your dresser or closet, that’s another sign that you have too much stuff for your space and some things need to go.

How do you organize too many clothes?

You don’t. It’s tempting to want to jump straight to the organization piece, but most people’s dressers and closets aren’t just a mess due to lack of organization.

The problem is trying to cram too much into them. You want to create a space that looks great and functions well? The answer is to really focus your effort on decluttering, not organizing first.

How do you know if you have too many clothes?

Most people have far more clothes than they need. Most people wear 20% of their clothes 80% of the time.

That means we are storing a lot of extra stuff that isn’t getting worn. It’s time to get ruthless with decluttering it.

how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes

How to Declutter Your Closet

After getting clear on your end goal, start with one type of clothing and take all of that type out of your closet and drawers.

You could start with t-shirts as your first category. As you take them out you may notice right away that they are some you didn’t even remember you still owned or ones you are sure you don’t want to keep.

Go ahead and set aside any you know need to go. While some items are a clear yes or no, there are likely quite a few that end up in the grey area that you’re not sure of.

Use the questions below to help you make decisions on the maybes. You can learn how to be ruthless when decluttering your clothes!

When you’re done with one category, move onto another one until you’ve gone through everything.

Four Tried and True Questions for How to Decide What Clothes to Get Rid of When You Declutter:

1. Have you worn it in the past year?

There are some exceptions to this rule. For example, going through a pandemic may have changed your wardrobe this past year but you may have things you haven’t been wearing that you still want to keep.

You may also have a warm coat that isn’t worn each year but is still needed for if/when it does get cold.

Or perhaps you have a formal dress you like but don’t wear often. The point is, the one year rule will have some exceptions, but by and large if you haven’t worn it in a year (and it’s been a normal year) that likely tells you something.

2. Why do I keep clothes that don’t fit?

This can be a tough one. Keeping clothes that no longer fit, but why oh why do we do this to ourselves?

It does not feel good to have a visual reminder every time you look in your closet of clothes that don’t currently fit.

how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes

If you’re being honest with yourself, how likely is it that they will fit again? And even if they did would that still by a style you’d like?

If you’ve recently had a baby or are planning a big lifestyle change and really love the clothes, take them out of your closet and box them up and put it in storage until a predetermined end date you’ve set and put on the box.

If they don’t fit then, it’s time to let them go.

3. How many duplicates do you really need? 

I’m very practical when it comes to decluttering clothes. I don’t think you need to get rid of all of your duplicates.

However, you should be ruthless in decluttering them just as you would anything else. If you love those jeans and have them in three different washes, keep them.

If you liked that top so much you bought it in all five colors available, but you really only wear two of them, then let go of the other three.

The whole point of learning how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes is to be very realistic and honest with yourself.

4. Is this stained, ripped, faded, stretched or shrunken?

No one wants to wear clothes that are in bad condition. Unless, of course, you paid extra for those jeans with holes and really love them.

An item could have been your favorite so it’s tough to let go of now that it has an irreparable hole or shrunk beyond recognition.

If it doesn’t look good and you don’t feel great wearing it, it’s time to say goodbye.

Clarifying Questions That Will Help You Learn How to Get Ruthless When Decluttering Clothes!

Still not sure about an item? Ask yourself these clarifying questions.

how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes

1. Do I love wearing this and feel good/happy/pretty/relaxed in it?

An article of clothing can fit and be ‘fine’ but you can still feel blah about it.

Most people have an excess of clothes, so focus on keeping what you love and letting go of the blah.

2. If I had to chance to buy it all over again, would I?

It’s time to face the buyers remorse. Knowing what you know now, would you have bought it?

If the answer is no, out it should go.

3. Does this flatter me and do I feel comfortable when I wear this?

You should feel good in the clothes that you’re wearing. If you don’t, let them go.

Life is too short for uncomfortable clothes.

4. Would I be unhappy being caught outside wearing this outfit?

If you run into someone you know on your quick Target errand, will you be embarrassed wearing this?

If you’ve answered yes, it’s time say bye.

5. Do I think this article of clothing will come back in style this decade?

Do you have trendy pieces that are no longer on trend? Consider letting them go now… or planning to hang onto them for another twenty years until they come back around again. (I’m kidding – please don’t actually do that.)

I still can’t believe some of the pieces I wore growing up that have come back around, but I don’t regret having let them go!

Focus on keeping more classic pieces that don’t go out of style (and yes I AM including skinny jeans here!)

6. Do I love this or the memories I have from it?

Will you actually wear that college sweatshirt again or are you just holding onto it as you fondly remember your college days?

It’s ok to keep a couple pieces based on sentimental reason, but those should be few and far between. Your clothes are meant to be worn, not admired on a hanger.

7. How many times have I thought I’ll wear that next time?

If you keep skipping over a certain item thinking you’ll wear it later, but later never seems to come, that shows you that it’s definitely not a favorite and it’s a good candidate for ruthless decluttering.

8. If I don’t want to wear it now, when will I want to wear it?

If you can’t create a realistic and probable scenario for when you’ll wear the item then it’s time to let it go.

Again, be honest with yourself. Don’t hold onto excess waiting for what-if or someday.

Bonus Decluttering Clothes Tips For When You Can’t Decide 

Have you heard of the “reverse hanger trick?”

Some people really enjoy the reverse hanger trick. At the start of a year or season, hang all the clothes backwards and once you wear something, turn the hanger back around.

Once some time has passed that will help you see which items you are wearing.

This isn’t a method I prefer because, for me, it feels a bit fussy and doesn’t tell me if I’ve just worn something once versus a dozen times.

Some have found it to be a useful practice though, so it’s worth trying if you think it may help.

Make a point to wear every item you own

If you try on an item that fits well, but you aren’t sure you love it? Try wearing it for a day.

I’ve found it eye opening to intentionally select an item I’m not sure about and notice how I feel wearing it.

In most cases, when I’ve done this, I decide at the end of the day that I don’t want to keep the item. If I’m not reaching for something wearing it for a day usually tells me why I haven’t been wearing it.

It might be that it isn’t as comfortable as I’d like, I don’t feel good enough in it, or it just isn’t practical for my life.

Get an outside opinion

When you’re learning how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes, it can be helpful to have an honest straight forward friend help you with the process.

Pick a friend who will tell you the truth (in a way that isn’t insulting). It can be really helpful to have an outside perspective particularly when you’re an indecisive person.

You can declutter clothes quickly with a friend helping to make decisions. As you get practiced at it, it gets easier to decide what stays and what goes.

how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes

Why Do I Buy Clothes and Never Wear Them?

Finding clothing pieces that still have tags attached can be painful. Let’s look at why this happens.

Why did I buy this?

Ever find yourself looking at something in your closet and think why did I get this? People end up bringing things into their home that they don’t love for a variety of reasons.

Maybe you didn’t try the item on in the store and then waited too long and can’t return it. Perhaps you were looking for a certain type of thing and settled on something that was ‘good enough’ but that you never really loved.

It also could be that you were shopping and just wanted something new so you tried a style that wasn’t really you. Impulse purchases are a real thing and rarely end well.

Why do we keep clothes we don’t wear?

So then why do we keep those items that we didn’t love? One reason is because of guilt. You feel bad that you wasted money on it so you keep it hoping that one day you’ll realize you love it.

Other times you hang onto clothes you don’t wear because of the memories you have attached to them.

There are many reasons people keep clutter. Identifying why you have it can be the first step in finally letting it go.

Why Does Decluttering Your Clothes Feels So Good Anyway?

Once you’ve finished ruthlessly decluttering your wardrobe, enjoy how much more space you now have!

It feels so good to open a drawer or your closet and see only clothes that fit well and that you love. It’s easier to get ready when there are fewer options to choose from.

Gifting your decluttered clothes to friends, family, your Buy Nothing group, or to a local organization you want to support feels good too!

How to Keep Your Clothes Decluttered

Once your wardrobe has been simplified and decluttered, you want to keep it that way. Being more intentional with shopping is key for maintenance.

Be very picky about what you add to your closet. Consider letting something go if you bring something new in.

Decluttering helps to create a greater awareness of how you feel in clothes. When you put something on that you haven’t worn in a while, notice how you feel wearing it.

If you don’t love it, let it go. Have a small box or basket in your home where you can quickly and easily put items that you want to donate.

Reassess your clothes seasonally. That will help you maintain your streamlined wardrobe.

Now You’ve Learned How to Be Ruthless When Decluttering Clothes!

I hope that these tips have helped empower you to be ruthless when decluttering your wardrobe! It really is so nice to have a clutter-free closet.

A lot of space and emotion is wasted on clothes that are no longer a fit for your life. Let them go and embrace the here and now.

Have you decluttered your clothes? Let me know how much of a difference it’s made for you in the comments section!

Want to keep up to date with The Simplicity Habit? Sign up on the form below and get tips on decluttering sent straight to your inbox each week! You’ll also get the Your Home Decluttered Jumpstart which includes 100 easy items to declutter and 12 high impact areas to declutter in 10 minutes.

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  1. I love what you have to say here because it is measured, but makes perfect sense. I’ve been working through this process, and feel I’m doing okay now. Most of what’s in my wardrobe is now stuff that I love to wear!
    Having intentionally lost 2 stone (28 pounds) in weight recently, I’m now 9 stone 2 (126 pounds) I wanted to say that the clothes that we have that don’t fit, are not always too small. Sometimes they are too BIG. I have a winter jacket that is 3 sizes too big, that I can’t quite let go of yet, because it is the only truly wind and waterproof one I have. It doesn’t look great though! 🙄
    Thanks for what you do. It’s a huge help. x

  2. If every time you put an item on the rail that you have worn you put it to the right hand side. After a few months everything you don’t wear will be on the left hand side. It then shows what you wear and what can go. If an item has been on the left hand side over a year do you really need it?

  3. Another consideration is ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ I know in this day and age we can wear what ever we like, feel comfortable in or feel good in but there are some outfits you hold on to knowing it really isn’t your style any more. Also age of some items, such as shoes and bags. Check that the materials haven’t deteriorated over the years kept ‘ just in case’. I will hope to start my drawer clear out soon.

  4. Hi Julianna – I have only just recently found your site and am enjoying it. This particular article spoke to me but I do have some questions/troubles with it. I happen to be someone that likes classic styles and quality (willing to buy a higher price because it’s constructed well) so the items don’t wear out as quickly. Yes I feel guilty having spent the money and it’s still in good shape. Having spent the last year and a half in my sweats because of the pandemic, being retired and not too many places to go at present I’m having a VERY difficult time trying to make choices. With the clothes all fitting, they are classics with a variety of colors I haven’t had to buy anything for well over two years. I know I have too many I just don’t know where to start. Any help would be most appreciated!!!

    1. Hi Andrea. The pandemic has thrown an additional challenge into deciding what stays and what goes. For people who go by the one-year rule, they may only be keeping sweats and pjs at that point ;). I would try to be realistic about what you’ll still want to wear again once you return to regular activities in the future. If you have the storage space, you could also simply box up what you aren’t wearing now and revisit it later.

    2. Hi Andrea, I happen to be in the same boat. Finding a charity that will give my good clothes a wonderful future was the impulse I needed to let go. For me it was Oxfam and Big Sisters, what will it be for you?

    3. There are non-profits in most communities that offer help to women launching into the workplace for the first time without the resources to shop. I have donated many pieces of my career wardrobe to help women feel good about themselves. And it makes me feel good, too. Sort of takes the sting out of feeling that it was money wasted and changes my attitude to one of charity.

  5. All great advise and tips. I would only add one thing to the process. Try clothes on while going through the process of “maybes”. Often times, when you actually put clothing on that you have not worn in a while they are ill-fitting or dated. That helps to make a decision.

  6. Extremely helpful article. Have attacked my huge closet last winter during the pandemic. I’m a pack rat and really find it hard to get rid of anything. I went online for resources and Pinterest as well. This took me days to research. I read about many strategies. This article encompassed everything I learned. Wish I read it first! Excellent job!

  7. I have a huge mess and an even bigger list of reasons/excuses why I haven’t purged or decluttered. Please help!
    1) I have gained 50 pounds since “lockdown” & am losing but don’t know which of the 4 sizes in the closet I will end up being. Or how different my shape will be. Maybe 10 things in my closet fit out of 250. None are nice pieces.
    2) I have been out of work and don’t know what new job work attire will be somewhere new so I keep suits, dresses, casual workplace plus all the unemployment clothes like yoga pants. (Side note: resale stores don’t want my clothes. Not even Buffalo Exchange. All places want pieces from the last two seasons or super high fashion designer.)
    3) Aspirational living: when I had work and a salary and friends, I needed cocktail dresses and costumes for parties and serving pieces and candles and cooking utensils. I don’t lead that life now but I hope to again.
    4) And probably most important – being out of work so long, I have spent most of my life savings keeping my house. If I get rid of things, I truly don’t have money to replace them if I decide I need them again. Not new clothes (even resale) or makeup or extra sheets or a party dress or a heating pad.

    1. Hi Karen. Lots of second hand stores rejected my designer clothes. I knew I would never wear them again, so I bit the bullet and put them on E Bay. I listed 6 items at a time to see how it went. I made over £200 on my first batch! Nearly everything sold for far more than I thought it would. I relisted three times and what didn’t sell I took to my local hospice shop, who were delighted. Good luck. xxx

  8. I’ve been going through my clothes over the last few months….clothes went to a girl from church for her girls….4 bags n counting….I never take them to goodwill or thrift store….there is always some one at church needs them….back at it when fall n winter comes..might be another 3 bags then…ya me…

  9. Loved your post. It was very helpful since I’m struggling to just get started decluttering my closet. I love the idea about hanging the hangers backwards, however my parents had a house fire before I was born and because the hangers were all facing the same direction they were able to salvage some of their clothing.

    1. I’ve been decluttering for the last year but not making the progress I’d like to see. I didn’t realize how stuck I’ve become. These steps and questions have really motivated me! thanks so much

  10. @Judy Michalak – Hadn’t thought of that escaping a fire consequence, thank you for placing it in the consciousness, so maybe not turn the hangers around, but place a marker on the rail and like mentioned in the post – place clothes regularly worn to the right of that marker, or whichever side works for you. I’m sure you can purchase one, but one can be easily made from cardboard, card stock, vinyl or just tying a scarf or shoelaces on the rail. I am a big proponent of “doing just one thing” from each of the post advice that I read and making it into a habit (trying to do everything tends to stall me into paralysis), so I am planning to put this to the test immediately, seems like an easy change to make and with big benefits if it works – easy visual to help one to divorce themselves from the clothes that no longer work for them.

  11. Thank you for these wonderful insights. I actually purged my closet a few weeks ago. But after reading this, it became apparent to me the task was not completely and thoroughly accomplished. I’m heading back into the closet now. 😊

  12. The hardest part for me in decluttering clothes (and I don’t have an abundance) is that there are those items that I don’t particularly LOVE but every time I wear them people tell me how good they look on me — the color not necessarily the style. And it happens every time. I guess I look good in pastels with my white hair, but my taste always gravitates toward earth tones which I guess don’t look as good but I wear them anyway because I love the colors! UGH.

  13. Great article!! I have been following you for a while and always find helpful tips. I have just finished round one of my closets. I recently moved and downsized. I now reorganized the clothes by color and sleeve type (sleeveless, short, 3/4, long). I even color coordinated the hangers (pink on pink hangers, blue on blue, green on green, etc. I tried everything on and got rid of a lot but still have to many maybes. Some due to gaining weight recently and some I was not ready to let go. I am going to try the move to the right when I wear something and revisit another purge come spring.

  14. Karen, re not being able to sell things to consignment stores: try having a “rag” party where you invite women who are within a size up/down from you and everyone brings things to swap. No money needed and you may end up getting some different things, or at least finding a good home for some of your things. I found people on local NextDoor site online.

  15. Loved and appreciated your article. I’m still a work in progress but have a long way to go.

  16. I donated 3 big bags of clothes & several boxes of household items today! I am so proud of myself! Shoes, bathing suits, brand new robe my sister bought for me out of state, but too small now, with tags still on it, tee shirts & on & on. I moved 2 years ago into a smaller place & I am re-thinking so many things to keep or not. I am so thankful that your site popped up unexpectantly one day, as I read every article & find them very useful! I’m even trying to wash my dishes immediately after each meal! Thank you so much!

  17. Hello,

    I have far too many clothes and shoes, it feels completely overwhelming and suffocating and we don’t have the space for it all, it is a complete mess. Every time I get rid of a few bags it feels amazing but doesn’t even make a dent.

    I have a baby and am pregnant again so many of my work clothes won’t be needed for some time so this is tricky. I used to to have a job where I wore suits and heals but no longer do. I have always fluctuated over a couple of sizes.

    If it was just a case of taking them all to the charity shop it would be easy but many of them are expensive labels and large coats we which if I had more time could be sold potentially but it’s not that easy after lock down with no dress agencies local to me anymore.

    Any advice would be appreciated, I’m desperate to have a super clear out especially with another little human coming into our lives but for physical and mental space.

    Thank you so much.

  18. Wow great advice ! I change my lifestyle by moving to the country and being retired. So I need to find a new fashion style that I will love. I am collecting images from Pinterest of the style I like and then will try to shop my wardrobe to create different style that I never knew could look and feel good. The problem is that I clearly don’t know what is my style anymore has I get older (64) and I love fashion and creative style. So, I will start with my panties drawers it will be easy to try and get rid of the one I don’t like ir feel good in it. Then I will work my way up to bras and camisole and so on and then when I will try them on and decide to keep I will then (a week later) try to create different outfit that I will look good or if not then I will either get rid of it or buy something I am missing. I hope this will be fun it has to be !!! I do want to feel good and I think that when we feel good we look great !

    1. I hear you. I’m recently retired as well. I have so many ‘office’ clothes I’m likely never going to wear….so I’ve started getting rid of duplicates. I too am figuring out a new style for retirement that is fashionable….I’ve never been a sweats/track pants person. I have thus far bought a few pairs of nice jeans…and a few new tops. I need to get rid of lots yet. I do use the technique….would I buy this today? if it’s no, I’m letting it go.

  19. I pulled my dresses out of the closet and laid them on the bed. 31 spring/summer dresses. I also counted 92 spring/summer tops. (This doesn’t include the t-shirts of which there are dozens.) All purchased within the last three years so perfect fit and new in appearance. Clean silhouettes, tailored cuts, minimal detailing, neutral colors, natural fibers. There is no way I will wear all between May and September. It’s not reasonable to think that I can. And as my style changes, it’s not reasonable to think I will want to. It may take the season to identify what to keep vs. what to sell at which time I will seek guidance on how to do so. The decluttering process is an eyeopener, forcing me to address the weird notion of “investment” clothing. It’s a poor investment if I’m likely to get bored and boredom is the thing that brought me to declutter. You have helped me tremendously. Thank you.

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