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)
✅ 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:
- a full-length mirror
- a rolling rack (helpful to organize and see what you have)
- bags or storage boxes for items you’ll be tossing or storing out of sight.
✅ 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 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!