How to detox your wardrobe (& why you should...) - une femme d'un certain âge

How to detox your wardrobe (& why you should…)

A neatly arranged closet organized by color.

If your closet is bursting at the seams but you often feel like you have “nothing to wear,” it may be time for some serious intervention: a wardrobe detox. The goal? A wardrobe that includes only what you love and wear.

Photo: Annie Castaño, used with permission.

Why “detox” your wardrobe?

An oft-quoted statistic says that most of us wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. “Detoxing” your wardrobe means clearing out the unworn 60-80%. There are many reasons we hang onto clothes and accessories that we no longer wear. Some are emotional, some are financial.

But here are a few of the reasons I love a good wardrobe detox, and find it essential to personal style.

Too much choice can be overwhelming and paralyzing. Our brains can only handle so much stimuli. In what’s known as “decision fatigue,” the quality of our decision-making deteriorates when we are presented with too many choices or decisions.

Mood lifter. Having too much “stuff” weighs us down emotionally. Maybe we’re confronted with those shopping mistakes, or the clothes that no longer fit. Clearing out the “stuff” can make us feel lighter and more confident.

Reduce spending. How many times have you bought something, only to later realize that you already have a similar item in your wardrobe? Once you can SEE what you have, it’s easier to assess what you really need.

Someone else might benefit from what you’re no longer wearing. Organizations like Dress for Success can often make good use of business and business casual wear. Many brands like Madewell will accept your used jeans and recycle them.

How to detox your wardrobe (without getting overwhelmed)

Prepare

Block out time and remove distractions. Set the “do not disturb” feature on your phone, shut the door, let your family know you’re “in a meeting” for a few hours.

Have on hand:

Break it down. It might take several sessions to go through your entire wardrobe. I like to work by item type (pants, sweaters, jackets, shoes). If you have seasonal wardrobes, you can also work by season. Finish whatever section you start…don’t leave it in a pile for another day.

Get a friend to help. This process can be physically and mentally demanding. Having someone help bag up clothes and lend a loving but objective eye can help with decision-making.

Open the windows, let air circulate. Clothing that’s been sitting in a closet for some time may have developed a stale smell, which can negatively impact your assessment. Fresh air will also help your focus and attention.

The Process

👗 The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. Don’t overcomplicate the process.

  • The Good: it fits, I love it, I wear it. Keep. (This can also include items you don’t necessarily love but need for work or a specific situation.)
  • The Bad: doesn’t fit, worn out, wrong color, wrong style, never wear. Toss.
  • The Ugly: needs alterations to fit properly or be updated. Put aside and decide if it’s worth being altered.

🧥 If you aren’t sure...maybe it’s a special occasion piece you may or may not wear again, or something you have an emotional attachment to. Store somewhere out of sight and re-visit again in a few months.

👒 Also if you aren’t sure: try it on with some of your “keepers.” You’ll usually get a clearer sense of which pile it belongs in.

💦 Drink lots of water and take a break or two to eat. Being hungry or dehydrated can lead to overwhelm and poor decision-making.

Organizing what’s left

Everyone has their own system for organizing, depending on your closet space and needs. I’d suggest having current season items in the most visible and accessible space. I don’t have separate work and off-duty wardrobes, so organize everything by item type, then color, with patterns and solids each grouped together.

A few more wardrobe organization tips:

🪐 Spaced out. You want some space between items. Not only does it help you to better see what you have, but air circulation is good for your clothes. I find it so soothing to open up a closet with items neatly spaced!

🙀 No wire hangers! Mommy Dearest aside 😉, get rid of the wire hangers and invest in some rubber or velvet hangers. (I use some that are similar to these for tops, and these for pants.) Having all of your clothes hanging at the same level and with the same dimensions makes my closet feel more like a lovely boutique. And they’ll keep clothes from slipping off and winding up on the closet floor.

🦋 Storing sweaters. Before you put your sweaters in storage, be sure they’re clean! Moths are attracted to oils and dirt in the fibers. (Annie recommends these storage bags from Total Clothing Care.) We don’t have a lot of shelf space in our closet, so I use this method to hang my sweaters without stretching.

👡 Shoes. I keep my shoes in clear plastic boxes to keep the dust off. Some people store in their original boxes with a photo of the shoes taped to the side. My experience is “out of sight, out of mind,” so I like to have everything visible.

Closet & storage solutions

More wardrobe detox tips

If you missed it, here’s the Instagram LIVE with Annie Castaño of Castanohel, sharing lots more tips for a successful wardrobe detox:

The Over 50 Style Team is off today, but we’ll be back next Friday, sharing our top travel packing tips!

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30 Comments

  1. Janet
    July 16, 2021 / 4:45 am

    I am trying to buy less plastic and keep my shoes on open shelves in my closet. A quick dusting with a feather or synthetic duster keeps everything dust free and tidy in between deeper cleanings (clearing the shelves and damp dusting, about twice a year.) Only a very small percentage of recyclable plastic actually gets recycled so I believe we all should think carefully about whether we really need to purchase certain plastic items.

    • Lagatta de Montréal
      July 18, 2021 / 10:55 am

      I use wooden hangers. Not plastic ones with or without “velvet”. I don’t have enough shoes to need to put them in plastic boxes. (My feet are hard to fit, and I have no occasions requiring heels, etc.)

  2. Anne
    July 16, 2021 / 4:57 am

    After a major detox, I only hang up my current season favorites in my closet, and use another closet for everything else. Now it’s so easy & fun creating outfits from my favorites!

  3. Valerie G
    July 16, 2021 / 5:14 am

    This was so very helpful, excellent information thank you. Lately I’ve been going through and finding things I totally forgot I had. I definitely need to detox my closet. I am going to buy the slimline hangers I know they will help.

  4. Maria
    July 16, 2021 / 5:17 am

    Appreciating your sound advice for purging and organizing the closet. I think it’s time for just that. Always enjoy your blog immensely.

  5. Mustangs
    July 16, 2021 / 6:51 am

    This is a great post! One thing I would add that works for me: if you live in an area with distinct seasons weather-wise, do not cull the opposite season. If I tried on any of my wool sweaters in this Summer heat, I’d want to donate them all!

    • Lee
      July 16, 2021 / 8:07 am

      I heartily agree. Here in the sweltering South I can’t even look at the impossibly early “new fall arrivals”.

      • Lagatta de Montréal
        July 18, 2021 / 11:04 am

        Well, I live in Montréal. Winters very cold, but summers can be sweltering with climate change. There has been extreme heat in northern Canada and in Siberia. I lost a lot of weight (I was ill, hospitalised). Divested myself of several jeans and a couple of coats – those can’t really be altered. Made someone happy at the charity shop.

        I don’t really have (paid or volunteer) work vs non-work clothes, but I do have some stained or worn clothing that I use for housework or gardening.

        • Laura
          October 12, 2021 / 10:40 am

          I used to save worn clothes for gardening, etc., until I was called on to do something very important wearing old clothes. I went to the sporting goods store and bought durable and yes, fashionable work clothes. We deserve that.

  6. susan
    July 16, 2021 / 7:12 am

    Susan, I regularly benefit from content on your blog. Today, particularly so. All of the information was useful, but your instructions for hanging sweaters alone was worth the reading time. Thank you.

  7. Mary Alice
    July 16, 2021 / 9:17 am

    I really enjoyed your instagram live! I have been detoxing over the last year, and it’s incredibly freeing to get rid of stuff! I love looking into my 1/2 empty closet, because EVERYTHING in there is now something I love. Somebody once said, opening your closet should be like walking into a party and seeing a roomful of dear friends you are happy to see 🙂

  8. Linda
    July 16, 2021 / 9:25 am

    I realize that it’s only $24.00, but a rolling rack? My feeling is if you need a rolling rack you are either a fashion blogger or have way too many clothes. The purchase of a rolling rack is just buying another “thing” which is the opposite of what your post is about!

    • Mary Alice
      July 16, 2021 / 9:35 am

      I use my rolling rack every day, and I am neither a fashion blogger nor do I have way too many clothes (not anymore!) I have a rolling rack I keep set up in my garage next to my washer/dryer. It’s super handy to hang things to dry that shouldn’t be put in the dryer. I have also found it to be really handy to hang out of season clothes so I don’t have to tap into my limited closet space!

      • Susan
        July 18, 2021 / 4:55 am

        Same here, Mary Alice. The rolling rack in my laundry room is used on the regular.

      • Lagatta de Montréal
        July 18, 2021 / 11:43 am

        That means you have a garage, something I neither have, need nor want. We have a garden shed at our co-op, but it isn’t for clothing except sturdy gloves and kneepads.

    • Susan Blakey
      Author
      July 16, 2021 / 9:45 am

      I find it very helpful for travel wardrobe planning, closet re-organizing, and doing seasonal evaluations. (Our closet is small and dark, and I prefer to work in natural light.) Mine folds away when not in use. But it’s a personal preference, and not everyone may find it helpful.

  9. Deb
    July 16, 2021 / 9:40 am

    Susan, REALLY enjoyed the closet detox with Annie! Thank you for giving us food for thought. I am confused about what season I am…I’ve decided I am gamine….and need to detox the closet. For what it’s worth, I would keep the Eileen Fisher jacket…I thought it suited you.

  10. Sally
    July 16, 2021 / 9:51 am

    Hi Susan: loved the live IG with you and Annie about detoxing the closet. I’ve made my first pass now and am considering shoe boxes and sweater bags. I love the bags from Total Closet and used to have a couple from years ago (before the Tubb’s fire). I’m just wondering about the taxes and shipping from the UK at this point…..are there options from the US that you like?

    • Jill Ann
      July 17, 2021 / 7:44 am

      I use sweater bags from the Container Store. They are canvas on the bottom half, for breathability, and clear vinyl on the top half so you can see what’s in there. And a zipper half way around. Works well for me.

  11. Lyn
    July 16, 2021 / 9:56 am

    “Detox” is a great term. There are toxic clothes in my wardrobe. I bought them, they fit well, and there is nothing wrong with them other than that I simply don’t like them. They make me feel guilty. My parents grew up in the Depression, and some of that mentality rubs off. It’s hard for me to own up to wasting the money it took to buy them.

    • Lagatta de Montréal
      July 18, 2021 / 11:47 am

      If you can give them to someone who needs them, then they are no longer wasted!

  12. kb
    July 16, 2021 / 10:59 am

    Absolutely, Janet, regarding your comments about not buying plastic. Thank you for mentioning this!!

  13. eve
    July 16, 2021 / 1:47 pm

    I buy too many clothes I like, that fit and are a good color but you can’t own everything and there’s my problem. Deciding what to get rid of when I like them but there’s just not enough days in a year to wear everything. How do you pick favorites if you like everything? It’s like choosing between your children. LOL
    I did pick up some helpful tips though. I probably do have things that don’t reflect my personality and no doubt there are duplicates. Too much color I think could be a problem. Thanks for this post. Hopefully it will help me detox.

  14. Patricia
    July 16, 2021 / 7:35 pm

    Susan, I can safely say that your blog post of 5 years ago on how you hang your sweaters has to be the most useful fashion post I have ever read!!

  15. Chris
    July 16, 2021 / 9:07 pm

    Motivated by your IG chat with Annie and excellent follow up notes, I spent three 2 hour sessions today on my spring/summer detox. A final salute to the dearly departed with Maker’s Mark tonight didn’t hurt! Although I didn’t follow every tip, the general guidance was extremely helpful. First, I cleared out all the worn out tops that had more than done their duty. I don’t know why I’ve kept them so long! Next, I separated all the cheaper tees and tops, putting them in a donation pile. But my big ‘a-ha’ was moving jeans and Eileen Fisher crepe pants from fold over to clip on hangers that allowed them to hang straight. So enlightening! They took the closet space that my former work jackets and suits once occupied. Thanks, as always, Susan for your inspiration. You are hitting it out of the park these days with all your new social media tools, love them all!

  16. Christine
    July 16, 2021 / 9:09 pm

    Motivated by your IG chat with Annie and excellent follow up notes, I spent three 2 hour sessions today on my spring/summer detox. A final salute to the dearly departed with Maker’s Mark tonight didn’t hurt! Although I didn’t follow every tip, the general guidance was extremely helpful. First, I cleared out all the worn out tops that had more than done their duty. I don’t know why I’ve kept them so long! Next, I separated all the cheaper tees and tops, putting them in a donation pile. But my big ‘a-ha’ was moving jeans and Eileen Fisher crepe pants from fold over to clip on hangers that allowed them to hang straight. So enlightening! They took the closet space that my former work jackets and suits once occupied. Thanks, as always, Susan for your inspiration. You are hitting it out of the park these days with all your new social media tools, love them all!

  17. July 18, 2021 / 11:34 am

    I got another good tip. Do you have clothes for an aspiring style? For a lifestyle you would like to lead but aren’t? Get rid of them. You will never wear them. It came as a shock to me, but I do have those items: the high heels, the dresses. Now that my life is so different, I need to adjust. I will start by letting my wide trousers be hemmed to suit lower heeled shoes.
    Greetje

    • Susan Blakey
      Author
      July 18, 2021 / 11:41 am

      That’s a good one! It took me a while to let go of some of my “office clothes.”

    • Jaye Coker
      July 23, 2021 / 6:13 am

      I’m sooooo guilty of this. I’m retired and spend most of my days involved in leisure or volunteer activities that, at most, may occasionally require “business casual” attire. I have donated most of my former work and special occasion clothes but I still have some that I need to get out of my closet because they really don’t suit my current lifestyle. It can be hard to let go but I am encouraged by articles and feedback like this and I continue to make [slow, but sure] progress.

  18. Jan
    September 20, 2021 / 9:53 am

    Adding a photo to the end of a shoe box or replacing shoes in their original box, in my opinion, creates a problem. You have to match the shoe to the box. Clear plastic boxes are the way to go.

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