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How To Declutter Your Wardrobe: Tips for Simplifying Closets & Clothes

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I bet you’re wondering where the heck tiny house people put their clothes?!

That’s easy. They don’t have a lot.

Before you toss in the towel as you have no idea how you’re going to pick a complete wardrobe from an entire closet and dresser(s) of clothes, relax.

Other people have done it. I’ve done it. You can do it.

I used to have two dressers, a full closet, and several boxes in the attic. And I don’t even like fashion!

Now, with the exception of some boots and coats, all my clothes can be packed into a couple of gym bags.

My goal is to get everything in one bag. Your goal might be similar. Or maybe you just want to get rid of the dresser.

The fun part about clothes is that no one has the exact same wardrobe. We all have different lives that require different types of apparel. For example, I have four pairs of boots: cowboy boots for line dancing (don’t judge), waterproof winter boots, everyday sweater boots, and a classy pair of boots with heels for dress-up occasions. To some people, that’s a lot. To me, it’s just right for where I am in my life.

Downsizing your wardrobe is a matter of asking yourself the right questions about your clothes and taking small actions.

Ready to declutter your wardrobe? Let’s go!

How to Declutter Your Wardrobe

Questions To Ask Yourself:

“What do I wear on a day to day basis?” Jeans? Leggings? Suits? Dresses? Pajamas? If you work in a garden every day, you probably won’t need many dressy clothes. If you work in a corporate office five days a week, you may need more business casual attire than other people, but less clothes for lounging around.

“What is the weather like year-round?” Is there a cold winter? Do you have one great, thick winter coat and one coat that you can wear for spring and fall? Or do you have five winter coats? Do you really need five winter coats? Boots? Or do you live in the desert year-round?

“Do I work out?” You might need a couple workout clothes on hand. Do you play sports? Can you get away with having the same two or three outfits for workouts?

“Do I really need four pairs of gloves?” You probably don’t.  And you probably don’t need four black t-shirts either. This concept can apply to every type of item you own (gym shoes, scarves, coats, jeans, sweatshirts, etc.).

“How often do I have to do laundry?” This is huge. Laundry habits affect how often clothes need to be worn. How often can you wear clothes before they’re considered ‘dirty’? (Hint: Jeans are pretty much never dirty until they get something actually spilled on them. I wear mine two weeks straight before tossing in the wash.)

Since my husband and I have been apartment dwellers for the past few years, we have to use quarters for our laundry. It’s not cheap. So we invested in a WonderWash. I can wash my clothes in my bathroom if I need to. Can you do something similar? Can you have smaller loads by wearing clothes a few times before tossing them in the pile?

Actions for Simplifying your Clothes

Anything else you need to ask yourself that is unique to your clothes?

Actions To Take:

1. Take everything out of your closet.

2. Make space on the floor for three different piles: keep, donate, toss. Sometimes I break up my ‘keep’ pile into ‘yes’ and ‘maybe’ if there are a few clothing items I’m not sure about yet.

3. Find your favorite signature items and accessories (if any). Keep those. Build flexible outfits around items you wear often.

4. Decide what to get rid of:

  • If you haven’t worn it in the past six months (with the exceptions of seasonal items), get rid of it. If it’s a seasonal item you haven’t worn in the last year, get rid of it. Items in good shape should be donated. Items that are falling apart can be tossed or re-purposed as rags, quilts, etc.
  • Not sure how you feel about certain items? Pack them up, put them out of sight, and go back to it in three months. If you find yourself digging through the box for particular items within those three months, keep it. If you never open the box, donate them. (I need to get around to finding those boxes in my parents’ attic and donating what’s inside.)
  • If it does not fit you anymore, get rid of it. Don’t wait until you ‘will fit in it again.’ Make your wardrobe fit your current body.
  • Are your clothes comfortable? Do they flatter you? Do you love them? If the answer is no, get rid of it.
  • Keep track of what you wear and don’t wear. Put all the clothes that you’ve worn back in the front of the closet. As time passes, notice if any clothes consistently stay in the back. If you’re not wearing them, get rid of them.

5. Don’t forget your accessories. How many belts do you really need? Earrings? Necklaces? Depending on how much you like to wear, some people find that one or two of each or enough. Or maybe just owning ten pieces is extreme for you. It’s up to you. (Accessories are easier to keep, though, since they can be stored in smaller boxes/space.)

6. Keep your clothes in view. This is a tip my husband actually gave me a couple weeks ago. When you can see your clothes, you get a better sense of what you wear and don’t wear. So, hang them up. Put them on visible shelves. Whatever. Organize your closet space so that everything stays in view. This also discourages you from hoarding items in bags or shoving them into drawers.

And you’re done! It’s OK if you’ve only removed five articles of clothing the first time around. You can do this again. And again. I do it constantly. I’m about to do it again after finishing this post as I’m feeling inspired again!

It’s OK to buy new clothes. Don’t fret if you’ve gotten rid of too many clothes and your closet is too bare, or if you’re afraid to get rid of clothes in case you may need it in the future. You definitely have permission to buy something in the future. (I mean, come on, you’re not going to wear the same underwear the rest of your life.) The best way to bring new clothes into a wardrobe is by using the one-in, one-out rule. For every item you’re bringing into your closet/home, donate one or two other items.

My favorite part of going through my wardrobe is being creative with my outfits. (For example: what things could I pair together that I didn’t think of doing before? What about layers?) I’m also more willing to shell out some money on a high-quality clothing item that will outlast some cheap shirts from Target that I’ll have to buy again next year. With that in mind, I can have more favorite pieces that last instead of a full closet that ironically screams, “You have nothing to wear!”

The more you do this, the quicker you’ll see how easy it is to have a small closet in a tiny home or any other small space.

Still not sure if you can do this? Interested in cutting back on your wardrobe but are afraid to do it alone or need some community encouragement? Courtney Carver’s Project333 is a great place to start. She outlines guidelines and ways to connect with other like-minded closet declutterers.

This post contains affiliate links.

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Laura Norcross is a twentysomething woman that lives an ever-changing life and writes about it over at this luminous life. With a BA in Creative Writing and Film Studies and a Master's degree in teaching, she currently works in the special education field. Besides chatting about tiny homes and simple living, Laura enjoys devouring books, drinking tea, hooping, and creating happy every day moments in life. Laura and her husband currently live in a studio apartment outside of Chicago, IL with two cats, a rabbit, and a bearded dragon.
{ 42 comments… add one }
  • Kelley Chambers
    January 23, 2013, 9:47 am

    Hi guys, I was notified if new comments but don’t see a one! Is it because I’m viewing the site on my tablet?

    • January 23, 2013, 5:38 pm

      As far as I know, you’re the first comment! 🙂

      • Kelley Chambers
        January 23, 2013, 5:55 pm

        Odd ball! But hey, it’s me we’re dealing with so I suppose I should expect weird stuff! 😉

  • January 23, 2013, 10:27 am

    Dear Laura: Thank You for writing this article. I have been inspired and will go through my 2 closets and 6 dresser drawers this weekend 😉

  • Keyra
    January 23, 2013, 11:35 am

    Laura, can you vouch for the Wonderwash instead of hand washing? I may have to invest in one of these. I also use the one-in-one-out rule when our child receives a new toy as a gift.

    • January 23, 2013, 6:04 pm

      Last year, when we lived in a two-bedroom, two-bath house, one of the bathrooms was converted into the laundry room. We pretty much did all of our laundry with the WonderWash (WW) — three or four times a week. For me, the WW can hold a week’s worth of clothes. However, my husband pretty much used it every other day as his clothes are bigger and the WW could only hold so much. We rinsed them by hand and hung them up to dry in the shower (so the tub could catch water drip). Clothes pretty much have to dry overnight. Outfits kind of had to be planned. We also lived in an apartment without an outdoor space to use — that makes a difference.

      I am sad to say we haven’t used it much lately in our studio apartment, but I’m determined to use it again. Starting tonight! (I have hand-washed a few items in the sink, though.)

      Hand-washing is a good option if your hands won’t get too tired from kneading/rinsing clothes and you want to save money. If your sink (or tub?) is big enough to hold clothes and/or you have space to put a bucket and deal with some splashed water, that works well!

      It all comes down to personal preference, really.

      • January 23, 2013, 6:06 pm

        I’d like to add that the reason we haven’t used it much this year is because of our crazy schedule (lack of time) and how quickly the clothes pile up! My husband puts a pair of jeans in the hamper every day (because he works with grease and oil) so I’m often overwhelmed with all the clothes.

  • ally
    January 23, 2013, 11:35 am

    Great article. I need to do this. You mentioned keeping clothes that fit. This is tough as many women (men too?) have weight swings. The jeans that fit me today might not fit tomorrow. I’m also an odd size (under 5′ tall) and it’s so hard to find clothes that fit. While I am not currently working in the corporate world, I worry what will happen if I get rid of those clothes and then end up back in an environment that require them and I can’t find new stuff! I commend you for being able to chuck most of it.

    • Alex
      January 23, 2013, 3:49 pm

      My suggestion is to do whatever you’re comfortable with starting small. Even if you just start by gathering all of your work type of clothes into one pile. And then figuring out which ones are your favorites and which aren’t. Most likely you’d be able to let go of at least 30% of it without missing it because you’d still have some favorites. Hope this helps you start!

    • January 23, 2013, 6:11 pm

      Alex has a great suggestion. You don’t have to eliminate everything — just whatever you’re comfortable with. If you have five pairs of jeans for every weight that you are (say you have four different sizes and five pairs of jeans in each size) you may be able to eliminate two of each size if you can live on three pairs before washing again. Depends how extreme you want to get. 🙂

  • Keyra
    January 23, 2013, 12:04 pm

    Plus, I keep all my accessories in a 8″ x 4″ compartmentalized screw/nail organizer that can be purchased at Home Depot or Osh. Takes up little space and easy to grab and go when traveling. I don’t even wear accessories anymore, so I may just toss them altogether.

    • January 23, 2013, 6:14 pm

      That’s awesome that you keep all your accessories in one box and grab it whenever needed! I actually hated accessories and only started acquiring them last year when I realized that I could change jewelry to make the same outfit look different two days in a row. So I have two small 4″ x 4″ boxes.

  • alice h
    January 23, 2013, 1:06 pm

    Excellent points, especially about how often you do laundry. If you do a lot of things that involve dirt you’re definitely going to need more changes of clothes and more water to wash them with. I’ve never used a Wonderwash but the main problem with doing hand laundry is spinning or wringing it out and I don’t think the Wonderwash does that. You can easily wash in just a bucket and there are handwringers or small electric spinners that take care of getting excess water out. Wringing clothes out by hand sucks. Especially jeans and sheets.

    • January 23, 2013, 6:16 pm

      We ended up taking our sheets and comforter to our parents’ houses and used their machines. So, yeah, those don’t quite fit in a WonderWash. We’re willing to visit a laundromat once or twice a month for those kind of items, though. The WonderWash doesn’t rinse or spin dry, so I do it by hand. I got used to it although my hands hurt for a few minutes afterwards.

  • Kelley Chambers
    January 23, 2013, 1:29 pm

    I did some research on the Wonderwash and here are two videos that provide a hands on review of the Wonderwash and its and companion, the mini spinner.

    http://youtu.be/R1hD-KYfmIY and a local news “Deal or Dud” consumer report: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yk-CK_2OmHk

    I’ve bookmarked these as they’re high on my list for purchase when I get my tiny house built.

  • Kelley Chambers
    January 23, 2013, 1:35 pm

    Here is one more that INCLUDES the dryer/spinner though. It’s a camping model and I think this

    And a “LAUNDRY LIST” (pun intended) of other washer/dryer/spinners

    • January 23, 2013, 6:17 pm

      After we got the WonderWash, I found about these combo washer/spinners and we’re considering that for tiny house! Thanks for the links!!! Let us know what you plan to do. 🙂

      • Kelley Chambers
        January 23, 2013, 6:21 pm

        My pleasure!! Information is king… and I’m happy to share anything I learn that might be helpful. 🙂


  • Carolyn B
    January 23, 2013, 10:00 pm

    1) Loved the article and the link to your own blog; I signed up for the emails tonight.
    2) I’ve been forming my response to this article from your 1st paragraph.

    I envy nuns who wear the habit as their clothing decisions are already made. My dream secular “habit” is a hot pink matching ensemble of a full elastic skirt topped by a blouse with 3/4 sleeve, cropped collar, & left breast pocket. I wanted 5-7 outfits so dressing would be made simple in the pre-dawn hours of a work day. In my quest for my goal, I purchased several pink blouses at thrift stores.

    When you spoke of donating or tossing clothes, I thought of 2 print blouses hanging in my closet that haven’t been worn in 4 years. They will remain there because of the memories evoked every time I see them. They still fit but because I no longer work outside the home there are fewer occasions to dress up.

    • January 24, 2013, 10:15 pm

      1) Thank you!!

      2) Do you wear these pink blouses often? It really is nice not to think too much about what you will wear today. And tomorrow. And the next day. It’s interesting how much importance we place on our clothes. After all, isn’t it who we are inside that really counts?

      • Carolyn B
        January 24, 2013, 10:37 pm

        Actually I don’t wear these blouses as much as I’d planned. I’d been working when I purchased them but had to quit work & go on full disability. For the last few months I’ve been restricted even further by home health rules so I save all my pretty clothes for the every-other-week doctor appointment or the occasional outing to Mass.

  • January 28, 2013, 4:47 pm

    Hey Laura,

    I really enjoyed the tips! I have a very small closet 24″ to be exact and people never believe it till they see it because they never see me in the same outfit. That’s because I wear everything in my closet. Most people are so overwhelmed with their walk-ins and end up choosing the same go to outfit again and again.

    • January 29, 2013, 8:15 am

      Is it weird that I wish my current closet were that small? 🙂

  • Robert
    January 30, 2013, 9:58 am

    One trick I have used successfully is to base my wardrobe around black. Black shoes, socks, underwear, belt, etc. I don’t need brown shoes and belt for some things. I don’t have whites to wash. I don’t have white tennis shoes.

    I work from home, but I travel to customer sites and wear a sport coat with dress shirt. My shirts are colorful, so I am not just wearing black, but everything goes with black. I find it’s easier to do laundry. I have fewer items in general.

    • February 1, 2013, 7:49 am

      My wardrobe was full of a lot of grays and blacks for the same reason. It does sound like it’s easier to do laundry with your wardrobe! 🙂

  • spec
    January 30, 2013, 8:19 pm

    Have your husband try a jumpsuit. Many professions(plumbers,exterminators…) use these as a way to keep street clothes from being soiled so heavy.

    • February 1, 2013, 7:50 am

      He’s got a required uniform for work — but I do think that would be a great idea! Thanks.

  • Jenn
    March 23, 2013, 9:53 pm

    One problem I noticed I have about getting rid of clothes is my ’emotional’ attatchment. How do I overcome that? For instance, if someone close to me gave me clothes, say, my husband, mom or dad, and I just can’t seem to detach myself. What do I do then?

    • August 2, 2013, 1:28 pm

      Good question. It’s all a matter of personal judgement. If it really means something to you, by all means — keep it! If you’re keeping multiple clothing items from one person, then it might be worth considering getting rid of any that you don’t wear (if that’s the case). Your call. There are no rules. 🙂

    • Janet Diehl
      August 2, 2014, 10:33 am

      After you take a good photo of your “emotional” clothing, you make your gift cloths into pillow covers, or make a lovely quilt from them?

  • pat
    June 13, 2014, 2:41 pm

    Re: emotional attachment, take a picture b4 donating might help. (Responding to Jenn).

  • Jean
    June 23, 2014, 12:06 pm

    One day I felt felt ruthless about all the clothes that I just never wear – I mean never, but still taking up space. So after going through everything, I’m down to 4 pairs of jeans, one pair of dress slacks, 4 tee shirts, 1 black dress, 1 casual dress, 2 shirts and 2 sweaters. They’re all in black, white and grey. I’ve never been happier. No stressing about what to wear. I dress things up with a necklace, broach (I collect vintage broaches) or a scarf. I can’t tell you how many compliments I get when I never received one. Every day I make a conscious effort in dressing and I pay close attention to taking care of my tiny wardrobe.

    Finally, it became simple! My grandmother (who was French) always looked great and now that I think of it, she really didn’t have a lot of clothes. Obviously, she styled herself simply, however impeccably. Why didn’t I learn this sooner? I could have saved literally thousands of dollars and wasted hours shopping for clothing that just clogged by closet.

    Thank you for a wonderful article!

  • Dana Whitt
    October 30, 2015, 12:17 pm

    I just read the comment from.. Jean…..and loved what she had to say. That is what my daughter does. She works outside of the home. She has her clothing in. Black, Gray, White. She dresses the outfit of the day with scarves, necklaces, bracelets. She is always beautiful,very put together and she never stresses out about what to wear. I guess great minds think alike, Jean. Thanks again!!

  • Reni
    April 10, 2016, 4:16 pm

    Why are all these posts from 2013? It is now 2016! Just wondering why no new posts in 3 years?

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