How to Declutter Your Clothes the Mindful Way (2019)

Clothes are extremely difficult to declutter.

That’s why, in this article, I’ll give you a step-by-step guide to declutter your clothes in a mindful way.

This is the same approach I used to declutter 80% of my clothes (without getting rid of too much or too little).

Let’s get started.

Cluttered closet full of clothes

Introduction to Mindful Decluttering

Clothes are among the hardest things to declutter in our lives.

One reason is because our clothes are very personal to us. The way we dress is a reflection of our individuality. Our clothes remind us of our past, our present, and sometimes even our future. They also carry a significant amount of sentimental value.

Ayla smelling the flowers in a garden

Society’s cultural norms are another reason why decluttering clothes is so difficult. All our lives we are told that we need certain clothes for certain roles. This teaches us to desperately hoard clothing in case the situation arises that we may need them.

With all this pressure, it’s no wonder that the average American spends about $1,800 on clothes every year.

Clothing department store

That’s why I’ve created this step-by-step guide to help you declutter your clothes.

The method I have developed to simplify your wardrobe is a more mindful and more gentle way to declutter. Its structure enables thoughtful consideration for each article of clothing to ensure you do not declutter too much, or too little.

This technique is unique because it has many steps that traditional decluttering does not. Each step is designed to help you take on a different perspective. It is decluttering through these different perspectives that is the key to sustainable change. Decluttering in these stages helps you think more deeply about your clothes and declutter more mindfully. Breaking up the process into steps also prevents against becoming overwhelmed and burning out while decluttering.

If you follow these steps, you’ll be able to declutter your clothes effectively, efficiently, and sustainably.

Let’s move to step one.

Step #1

Get All of Your Clothes Out in the Open

This step is easy.

Throw your clothes on the bed. Throw your clothes on the floor. Get everything out of your closet, out from your dresser, and into one enormous pile.

Also, make sure you have enough room to sort your clothes into seven categories. We’re going to do this in step 3 and want to make sure you have enough space to move around.

Man standing by clothes on the bed

It’s impossible to fully understand just how many clothes we have when everything is tucked away in closets and drawers. As a result, we buy more clothes we don’t need. When things get full, we assume we need more closet space rather than less stuff.

That’s why this first step is so important. By taking everything out of the closet, you get a much better picture of the sheer volume of clothing you own. You might even find some things you thought were lost or that you just haven’t worn in forever.

Empty closet with colorful hangers

When decluttering, it’s important to separate your clothes from the space where you keep them. If you don’t, you may be tempted to only get rid of as much as you need to make things fit. This, of course, completely sidesteps the problem. Decluttering our clothes isn’t a matter of making them fit into our closets. It’s a matter of making them fit into our lives.

So, get them out in the open where they can’t hide.

Step #2

Sort Your Clothes by Type

Next, it’s time to divide your huge pile of clothes into these ten types:

  1. Underwear (panties, boxers, briefs, bras, undershirts, etc.)
  2. Workout clothes (shirts, shorts, workout socks, etc.)
  3. Jammies (nightgowns, robes, pajamas, lounge wear, etc.)
  4. Shirts (t-shirts, dress shirts, polos, etc.)
  5. Sweaters (cardigans, turtlenecks, crewnecks, knitted sweaters, etc.)
  6. Bottoms (jeans, joggers, shorts, skirts, etc.)
  7. Hang-ups (dresses, suits, skirts, blouses, jackets, dress pants, etc.)
  8. Special occasion (Formal wear, costumes, etc.)
  9. Outerwear (Jackets, snow pants, hats, gloves, mittens, etc.)
  10. Shoes (sneakers, high heels, boots, etc.)

Give each type its own space in your room and make sure each pile is clearly separated.

10 Types of Clothes to Declutter By

There are four main benefits to sorting your clothes by type before decluttering:

Benefit #1: More Structure to the Decluttering Process

Step two provides structure to the decluttering process. It allows you to think more deeply about your needs for each type of clothing you own. For example, I love matching pajamas sets and used to own several of them. However, when I divided up my clothes, I realized I always end up sleeping in the same shirt every night and that I rarely use my pajamas.

Benefit #2: Helps See Clothes Proportions to One Another

This step also helps you evaluate the volume of each type clothing in proportion to the others. You might realize you have five pants for every sweater or 10 pairs of socks for every underwear garment. Numbers like this that seem a little disproportionate provide you a good idea of where you need to pay some extra attention in the decluttering process.

Ayla and her sister organizing clothes in a drawer on the floor

Benefit #3: Makes the Decluttering More Manageable

Another benefit of dividing your clothes into these ten types is that it makes the decluttering process much more manageable. It’s easier to stay focused on one small pile at a time compared to one huge pile all at once. Having 10 smaller piles also provides the opportunity to track your progress, and celebrate the completion of each pile along the way.

Benefit #4: Opportunities for Breaks

Focusing on one type of clothing at a time also provides natural opportunities for breaks between each pile. When I’m done going through my underwear pile, I can easily take a break from decluttering and know exactly where I left off. Taking breaks during the decluttering process allows us the time we need to refresh ourselves and maintain our motivation.

Step #3

Categorize Your Clothes on the Decluttering Scale

Right now, you should have 10 groups of clothes divided based on their type.

The third step is to go through each pile one at a time, pick up an article of clothing, and place it into one of these seven categories:

  1. Let it go (clothes that don’t fit or that you don’t wear)
  2. Pretty sure I don’t need this (clothes you haven’t worn or thought about in a long time but you might want to wear sometime in the future)
  3. Uncertain (clothes you’re really on the fence about)
  4. Sentimental value (clothes that you won’t wear, but that have sentimental value)
  5. Wear pretty regularly (clothes in your regular rotation)
  6. Keep (clothes you absolutely love and wear all the time)
  7. Needs mending (clothes that need repair)

These seven categories create a spectrum that I call the Clothing Decluttering Scale. It’s a way of categorizing each garment you own based on how you feel about it.

The Clothing Decluttering Scale

As you can see, this step has you sort the 10 type piles into the 7 piles of the Clothing Decluttering Scale.

To do this, create a sign for each of the seven categories and arrange them in the order they appear on the scale. Make sure each pile has enough space to avoid mixing with other piles.

I like to place pile 1 (the let it go pile) closest to the door and pile 6 (the keep pile) closest to the bed, with the rest of the categories arranged in order in between these two. This organization simulates the practice of keeping things you love and use in the heart of the room, while throwing the items you don’t want out of your room and therefore out of your life. Pile 7 (the needs mending pile) can be placed anywhere. These items are sorted separately from the rest of the clothes. More on why later.

Red decluttering sign that says let go

The Clothing Decluttering Scale has more groups than the traditional decluttering system. This is because using more groups and having more opportunities for gray areas is a gentler way of working ourselves up to letting go of the things we don’t need.

Additionally, having more levels on the scale speeds up the decluttering process by avoiding the hemming and hawing that occurs with items we are less certain about. Having several piles within each category (keep, uncertain, and let go) enables us to sort faster and more effectively without overusing the uncertain pile.

Ayla considering which shirts to declutter

As you go through your clothes, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I wear this?
  2. Does it fit well?
  3. Does it make me feel amazing?
  4. Would I take this with me on a trip?
  5. Would I take this with me if I was moving across country?
  6. Does this item hold significant sentimental value?

These questions will help you declutter some of the more difficult items as you go through the process. If you find you are getting stuck on a certain item, put it in the uncertain pile.

A good guideline to help know if a single article of clothing is taking up too much of your time is the one-minute rule. If you cannot decide where the item should go after one minute, put it in the uncertain pile.

It is important to declutter and sort thoughtfully, but it is also important to trust your gut and to know yourself. Now is the time to be realistic with yourself. Will you really ever wear that shirt again? Do you really need five shirts that are all basically the same?

Step #4

Merge Your Piles of Clothes

You should have 7 or fewer piles of clothes at this point, arranged in the order of the Clothing Decluttering Scale.

Now it’s time to combine piles starting from the right side of the spectrum.

First, combine pile 5 (the wear pretty regularly pile) and pile 6 (the keep pile). These are the clothes you’ll keep.

Green decluttering sign saying wear pretty regularly
Mint green sign for decluttering

Next, set aside pile 4 (the sentimentals pile). You’ll merge this with the rest of your sentimental items, such as books, pictures and other memorabilia. Pull any items you may want for craft projects.

Blue decluttering sign saying sentimental

Finally, we’re going to combine pile 2 (the pretty sure I don’t need this pile) and pile 1 (the let it go pile). These are the clothes you’ll get rid of.

I understand this can be hard, so I’m going to let you pull one item from pile 2 to put into pile 3 (the uncertain pile), but only if you know exactly which one you want.

Red decluttering sign that says let go
Orange decluttering sign saying pretty sure I don't want this

By merging piles this way, we’re acknowledging two things:

  1. Clothes we think we don’t need are clothes we actually don’t need
  2. Clothes we use often and enjoy are clothes we should keep

You may worry that you’re going to regret getting rid of some clothes. You might be tempted to dig through the pile just to double-check that you don’t need anything. Resist. Going back through your let go pile is like going back on a test to change your answers. 99% of the time we had the answer right the first time and changed it to be wrong when we went back because we started overthinking things and panicking.

In my experience, after decluttering about 80% of my clothes, I can barely remember most of the items I got rid of. Even the ones I was really unsure about. I can honestly say with confidence that I do not regret a single article of clothing I decluttered.

Step #5

Re-Evaluate the Clothes You’re Uncertain About

Now it’s time to tackle the big boss: the uncertain pile. Pile 3. Here we go.

Move your uncertain pile to the center of the room, pick up a garment, and ask yourself these questions:

  • What is it about this article of clothing that makes me want to hang onto it?
  • What identity am I trying to present through having this?
  • Is it a representation of who I was or who I think I might want to be in the future?
  • Is this piece for me or for those around me?
  • Am I keeping this just in case I’ll need it?
  • What is the worst possible thing that could happen if I didn’t have this?

Based on your answers to these questions, sort each item into the appropriate remaining piles.

Yellow decluttering sign that says uncertain

I’ve found that the uncertain pile is like a net, catching items from our past identities and idealized future styles. The trendy shirts that aren’t all that complementary end up here. Clothes we spent too much money on and never wear also find themselves in this pile. Garments we used to love and imagine we might use again but never do also get caught here.

I like to allow extra time for this pile to really assess each article of clothing and to reflect. This is the perfect time to confront yourself and try to understand the underlying beliefs and ideals each of these items represents. Reflect on who you are and how you want your closet to work for you.

Don’t live at the mercy of ever-changing trends and crazes. There is nothing wrong with appreciating a style on others without having to own it yourself. I personally love the bohemian style and its colorful prints. This type of clothing, even though I love it, isn’t a good fit for my lifestyle, so I stopped buying it. I stopped trying to make it happen, and instead allow my wardrobe to be what it wants within the structure of what I need it to do for me.

Step #6

Sort the Clothes that Need Mending

Next, it’s time to go through the pile of clothes that needs mending. This step is usually pretty quick.

You might not have any clothes in this category, but if you do, ask yourself these questions for each item:

  • How long has this needed fixing?
  • Am I willing to fix this?
  • Am I willing to fix this right now?
  • If I fix this will I wear it and love it?
Ripped turtleneck sweater that needs mending

If you’re not willing to fix it or not willing to wear it once it’s fixed, it’s time to get rid of it.

If you decide it’s time to let something go, you can always use the fabric for your own projects and crafts, like these oven mittens I made out of an old sweater.

Ayla holding a pair of oven mittens she made from decluttered clothes
Finally, don’t let sewing projects clutter up your closet. Keep the fabric with your arts and crafts supplies or consider donating it to a local art studio.
Step #7

Donate the Clothes You’re Letting Go

Donation is a nice way to say goodbye to the clothes you no longer need. Just make sure that you wash and fold them into a box to increase the chance that the clothes will be accepted by the organization. No one wants to open a box of clothes that just looks like a pile of dirty laundry.

Ayla sorting through decluttered clothes ready for donation

Remember to ask for a donation receipt. If you submit a U.S. tax return, you may be entitled to deduct parts of your donation from your taxes.

Alternatively, you can try to sell your clothes.

Step #8

Follow a Guideline to Prevent Future Clutter

You want to prevent your closet and dresser from becoming cluttered in the future. The only way to maintain an intentionally designed wardrobe is to be mindful of what you are allowing to enter.

This is why it is important to create a system to prevent the accumulation of excess. I like the one-in-one-out rule.

The One-In-One-Out Rule for a Tidy Closet

The one-in-one-out rule is simple. Every time you get a new article of clothing you have to trade it out for something you already have.

This technique is especially effective after you have thoroughly decluttered your clothes so the only things left are your favorite items.

Step #9

Reflect on the Decluttering Process

You’ve just decluttered your entire closet. Congratulations! The next step is to follow our foolproof step-by-step guide to organize your clothes back into your closet and dresser.

Ayla sitting upside down in a yellow chair

However, before you do that, take some time to reflect on the decluttering process of your clothes. Think about the clothes you’re getting rid of and why you’re getting rid of them.

Reflection is important to curb any temptation to buy new clothes to fill the empty space in your closet. It helps you remember why you decluttered in the first place.

Stay decluttered, my beans.

Ayla

Ayla

Ayla is a co-founder, writer, and designer at Bloopy Things. She helps individuals embrace simple living through practical and actionable guides in all areas of life.

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Ayla & Atle

We're a husband-and-wife team who help you simplify your life so you can focus on the things that truly matter and still have some time left for the bloopy things.

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