How to cull your closet, even when you’re a clothes horse

Guest post by Ruth
Me in a home-made skirt.
Me in a home-made skirt.

I’ve always been a bit of a clothes horse. My family pastime is second-hand shopping — we pride ourselves on finding unique, high quality items at very small costs. This has led to quite the “hoard” of items, each awesome and unique in their own way. I am highly invested in fashion too. I definitely use my clothing as a way to express my identity. I take great pleasure in matching outfits in eclectic ways, and mixing aesthetics to make an impact when I enter a room.

But over the years my collection has burgeoned to the point of a hoard, where, on laundry day, I don’t have room to put everything away. I couldn’t make outfits or utilize the awesome pieces, I had because I could barely find anything in my overflowing drawers and closet. So I recently did a massive culling of my huge collection of clothing.

I’ve been through the purge and grow stage many times before, and this time I am taking a somewhat different approach.  Awhile back I read the Life Changing Magic of Tiding Up — book that helped so many people. I loved it, and did a major culling. But those sparks of joy weren’t enough to control the coursing river of my fashion binging.

More recently I’ve been reading and watching a number of videos about minimalism. In particular I’ve been enjoying Break the Twitch, which focuses more on minimalism as a filter or frame of mind, rather then a specific system of rules. I also discovered Into Mind, a blog and book about applying the ideas of minimalism to your closet and creating a curated closet that fits your needs and lifestyle that is purposeful and purpose-driven.

I purchased Anushka (of Into Mind)‘s book, and am utilizing it some as a guide curate my clothing…  I’m currently focusing tracking what I actually wear each day. And I’m getting rid of things that don’t fit my body, my lifestyle, my fashion sense, or my standards for construction and materials. While I distill what it is I currently wear and like, I will develop a sense of what I want to move towards, if I decide I need to make changes to the status quo. (The answer there will probably be yes!)

With the help of my dear friend Elena, I managed to rid myself of five bags of clothing. I also had a tub for off-season clothes, and a tub of sentimental clothing to be stored.

Two tubs for storage on the top, five bags gone on the bottom.
Two tubs for storage on the top, five bags gone on the bottom.

Here is what worked this time:

Don’t think too long on any one item

I found if I could decide right away, I wouldn’t talk myself into keeping something I didn’t really want.

Don’t force yourself to be binary!

Have multiple bags for multiple purposes. I sorted clothes into: keep, toss (aka bring to clothing swap or give to charity shop), off season (summer), sentimental, and Oregon Country Fair memorabilia. I eventually lumped the sentimental and OCF clothing together in one place to be stored and eventually made into a quilt.

If in doubt, put it on

Sometimes just seeing a piece of clothing on my body that I hadn’t worn in awhile was enough to remind me why I either did or didn’t want to keep it. Maybe it’s itchy in a weird way, or has a funny length. Maybe it feels cozy, or looks amazing on, even though it’s not much to look at on the hanger.

Go through it ALL

I dumped out every drawer and removed every single hanger. I had to look at every single piece, and then really react to how much I really had. Seeing how massive my clothing collection was really helped me to let go of items.

Clump similar pieces

Put button ups, sweaters, long work pants, etc. all in piles by similarity. You may have repeats of things you don’t realize. It’s okay to have more then one of something, but you should KNOW you have multiples. If you have several of the same item, it’s also a good indicator that it’s a mainstay of your current wardrobe.

Look for items you don’t own, but that would allow more use of wardrobe

For example we brainstormed, and realized that part of why I don’t wear many of my t-shirts is that I don’t like the look of t-shirt and jeans. But if you add a classy blazer, or put it with a skirt and tights, I like it better. So I decided I needed to add some blazers to my wardrobe and see if that helps me wear my t-shirts more. I also decided to get a turtleneck to wear under a beige wool dress that I loved, but was both itchy and too close to my skin shade!

Burgundy tights and turtleneck under wool dress.
Burgundy tights and turtleneck under wool dress.

What’s my next step?

Plan a time to go through other elements of my “look”

We did clothing, but not hats, shoes or scarves. I also need to go through socks and underwear and dump anything that’s falling apart. Since the weekend of the great culling I also made time to go through my toiletries, make up and beauty products.

Continue to document my daily outfits

Then do a summation at the end of my two week experiment.


Continue to collect images of outfits that inspire me

…from Instagram, Look Book and other fashion sources. These should be truly wearable outfits, not high fashion.

Boil all these elements down into a style that is absolutely me

Newly organized and cleaned out closet!
Newly organized and cleaned out closet!

What other places could I look for inspiration either for the crafting of my curated look, or to continue to apply the attitudes and ideas of mindful minimalism to my life?

What are the rules you consider when you cull your possessions?

Comments on How to cull your closet, even when you’re a clothes horse

  1. This is really interesting! I also find this sort of culling quite difficult, both on a practical and an emotional level. I’m also a dressmaker and occasional theatre costume maker, so in addition to my wardrobe, I have a (modest) hoard of fabrics which I keep track of using an app called Cora. I’m not particularly tech savvy, but I find this app so useful – it allows you to photograph pieces of fabric and record information about them. I’ve also photographed some of the vintage pieces I have that need altering and some half-finished sewing projects. It’s so handy for keeping track of any extra supplies that I might need to make use of the special bits in my stash.

  2. I absolutely LOVE your style. I would follow an Instagram account with just your outfits. 🙂

    One Youtube channel I love is My Green Closet. She talks about minimalism, but is more concentrated on sustainability, “green” living, etc. She studied fashion in school so also has a number of videos on fabrics and picking out quality pieces.

    In a similar vein, I really like Denby Royal’s posts on minimalist wardrobes that also allow for movement:

      • Thank you guys so much! I do have an Instagram, though I post more then just outfits! With comments like this maybe I’ll post more of my ootd! Follow me on Instagram @Blaze2242

    • Swooning over here for clothing that moves.

      Since becoming a massage therapist several years ago, my ENTIRE wardrobe has become movement-friendly, nearly without exception (a few extremely fancy and/or costume pieces, but even these are worn rarely and briefly, or I’m replacing them with more comfortable choices). If I can’t move freely in it, or its uncomfortable, it’s out.

      And also, this article is super awesome and helpful. Thanks.

  3. One thing that has helped me in keeping my clothing hoard to a manageable size is by making sure I’m actually storing things nicely and appropriately. I realized I’d been holding onto waaaay too many crappy t-shirts and leggings that were long gone because I was just cramming everything into a dresser. Same goes for tops, dresses, and skirts that were haphazardly hung on all sorts of crappy hangers and shoved into my closet.

    It hurt a bit (especially to a cheapskate like me) but by buying pretty wooden hangers and repurposing a few nicer baskets from around the house, I realized my clothing storage could actually look as nice as the rest of my home. I try to think of it as a bit of a display to myself, and I want it to stay just as organized and nice as the racks I see in stores. I don’t want to shove something in there that I don’t really like or is ill-fitting or worn out because it would ruin the nice organization and (now slightly smaller) collection of clothes I keep.

  4. The lesson I’m still trying to learn that is impacting my closet is that even if a clothing item fits me well, is my style, looks great, is a good price and is basically great in every way – it doesn’t mean I need it. If I already have (more than) enough sweaters that are also really great, it doesn’t really matter how great a new sweater is because I just don’t need it.

    • YES! That is such a hard lesson to learn! I run into this all the time, especially when second hand shopping. I have to really think, is this better in some way then the ones I already own? What I can I get rid of if I buy this instead?

  5. YES! I’ve been trying to be more conscious/thrifty/minimalist/economy friendly/everything, and try to cut down on the size of my wardrobe and the rate at which clothes get cycled through. I want to stop accumulating clothes just to give them away. So many of the resources I’ve found have been written by the ascetic type of minimalists who don’t seem to really like clothes or who want to streamline choosing what to wear in the morning. Which is awesome for them, but I really like clothes. I really like shopping around and finding styles I enjoy. And I really like getting dressed. It’s good to hear there are others like me!

    I’m getting better at not refilling my closet with new stuff after a purge. I’m pretty pleased to say that my wardrobe at this point is smaller and more functional than ever and I’m learning to be very picky about letting new things in. I don’t have to store unseasonably items separately because everything fits! The editing process never ends, but it’s a labor of love of fashion and clothes.

    One last thing is that I’d like to add to the chorus that you have great style! So often minimalist lifestyle writing is hand in hand with a minimalist aesthetic, and I have no affection for solid neutral everything. Your clothes have a lot of personality without sacrificing functionality. Girl, you look GOOD.

    • Oh man! You hit the nail on the head! I’ve been struggling with that same thing. Every blog I find seems to be folks who only wear neutrals with a splash or red or pink or something. And I will never exist with only 30 items of clothing, lol!

      Thank you so much for the encouragement! Maybe I should write more about my clothing and journey towards a colorful ‘minimalism’.

      I do have my 2 weeks of outfits review on my blog if you want to check that out!

  6. One extra consideration with regards to what to keep and get rid of: Maintenance.

    I sometimes find that the reason I haven’t worn something for so long is because it needs hand-washing and/or to be painstakingly ironed.. and I’m a bit (a lot) lazy about doing both of those things! Now I am much better at simply avoiding clothes that I know will be high-maintenance!

    P.s. Really helpful article, thanks!

    • That is such a good point! I have a beautiful silk party dress that I bought years ago, and loved, and wore maybe 3 times, but now it has some small grease stains on it (probably from food! Damn you parties!) I haven’t worn it since, but I still love it. I pulled it out during this most recent culling with a commitment to either wear it with the stains, or take it to be dry cleaned, and see what they can do.

      I’m a little ashamed to admit it’s still hanging on the back of my door.

      You know… I have a dinner date tonight with my boyfriend to celebrate the end of his term, perhaps I’ll wear it tonight! Thanks for the nudge!

      I’m so glad you found it helpful!

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