The Closet Makeunder: Out with the Old

The floor in my closet. Don’t judge.

How could I have a closet filled with 4 different sizes of clothing and still feel like I had nothing to wear? All of my clothes ended up on the floor.

I have maternity clothes and post-maternity clothes. I have my regular clothes. And I also have smaller clothes since I went on a gluten and dairy-free diet several months ago. Very few of my old clothes fit anymore, so I was heading into summer with what felt like two shirts and one pair of jeans.

Plus a bikini that’s older than most sixth graders.

It’s hard to clean out your clothes when you worry you’ll have nothing left. At some point I think I’ll be in those different sizes again, so I don’t want to get rid of everything. I don’t have an arbitrary rule about getting rid of something if I haven’t worn it in a certain time. I think more about the possibility of wearing it in the future, with a couple of sentimental exceptions.

It was time to go through those clothes, so I could figure out what I had and make some space.

The Worn Out

(This shirt used to be pink. This is not a black and white photo.)

It’s easy for me to identify what’s worn out. Faded or stained, or maybe misshapen, stretched out and saggy. Those old clothes I can go through and clean out by myself. For a while I thought I would wait until I found replacements, but I just cleaned them out and freed up the closet space.

The Shopping Mistakes

Reading the book Color Me Beautiful several years ago helped me to avoid shopping mistakes. It was published in the eighties, but I still use the color principles today. The book groups colors by seasons and helps you identify your most flattering shades. I know I look good in blues and pinks, and I avoid burnt orange and olive green even when those clothes look good in the store.

I still had a couple of clothes in my closet that would not work, even though I had stayed hopeful. I reluctantly admitted they weren’t right for me and I would never wear them. They finally landed in the donation pile where they belonged.

The Questionables

I needed a trusted friend to help me with the rest (and majority) of the clothes. Otherwise it would have taken me a year to go through them. I needed someone who could quickly and honestly assess what looked great on me, and tell me what didn’t.

I needed Doug.

Yes, I know from his burly exterior and his experience working in a meatpacking plant that you would never guess he has amazing taste in women’s fashion. He can also create fruit and cheese plate masterpieces. He is fantastic to go clothes shopping with.

I tried on each item so he could give a thumbs up or down.

First I tried on a turtleneck shirt that was too big. I raised my arms and the sleeves flapped in the breeze from the fan.

“Whoa, watch out for the tent sale!” Doug shouted.

“I’ll be blogging this.”

The Faux Classics

Next I tried on some pants.

“Those pants don’t look good.” Doug told me.

“I know, I never wear them. But they’re gray pants, they’re classics.”

“Your new jeans look better.”

It was true. The pants were ten years old and they made me look older and frumpy. They weren’t doing anything good for me. The fit and style were outdated.

Are there true fashion classics like the magazines still say? Or does “classic” mean the clothes will be stylish for a few years instead of just a few seasons? What’s truly classic? I don’t know… a wrap dress? a cardigan? Those pants weren’t, for sure.

My closet now had a few key pieces, several empty hangers on the rod, and the maternity clothes were packed away. The sentimental pink Patsy Cline cowgirl shirt stayed.

What clothes are challenging for you to clean out? The wrong sizes? The classics? The shopping mistakes?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. I get rid of things I don’t like easily and our closets still runeth over–it’s time to get brutal. It would be so nice to be able to see all things that fit and look nice hanging in there. Thanks for the motivation!

    Tracey´s last post…Goodwill Chair Makeover

  2. I have a hard time getting rid of designer label “steals.” Like the Christian Dior silk skirt I found for $20…the fabric was to die for! But then my hips grew and the skirt didn’t, so after hanging onto it for a year thinking I’d “make something else” with it, I finally donated it.

    I try to go by Tim Gunn’s principles…keep only “soul stirring” items. Like this crisp white button down shirt I’m wearing…I’ve had it for years but it still looks brand new and makes me feel like a million bucks! I tossed the other “classic” white shirts that just didn’t do it for me.

    Kait Palmer´s last post…My Seatmate, Ethel.

  3. LIke Kait above said, creativity can be a big enemy when it comes to getting rid of clothes. I have several things that I could envision as working for me if only I made some alterations. But I never do.

    I also have a hard time getting rid of clothes sometimes because I think I should like it, even though I really don’t. For example, there’s one sweater, a gift from a relative, that technically should look good, because it’s in a color I normally wear a lot. But the shade is just too light, and I never feel good when I’m wearing it – rather, I feel slightly annoyed and discouraged. I also have a pair of cargo pants that looked good in the dressing room when I bought them, but now, they just don’t hang right, and make me feel huge.

    I think the rule of feel should be a major one, though, in determining what you buy – do you feel great? Do you feel slimmer? Do you feel nicer to your kids and husband? (I actually do in some clothes.)

    Jenni @ Life from the Roof´s last post…Read and recommended: Keeping House

  4. I find the seasonal switch-offs (in fall and spring) a great time to cull and be realistic about what i’ve worn, what I will or won’t, and organize it at least once to be useable. A friend put me onto a new website: She loves clothes and has a great eye, mixing vintage and new and so on. But also a lot of good advice about how to work with your body/budget as it is now, not at some ideal future time. I’ve been having a lot of fun looking at the pictures and posts and getting ideas – thought you might be interested too.

  5. I love getting rid of things. I go through my closet every couple of months…and since I haven’t bought anything in about 6months…all that is left is mostly stuff I love. It’s my husband who has the problem :) (And he’s in serious denial.)

    Alisha´s last post…Workshop Mid-week Progress Report, Week 3

  6. I LOVE Jenni’s analysis of “Do you feel nicer to your kids and husband?” Isn’t it funny how you feel in your clothes can really be reflected in how you treat other people?

    I have a confession to make. My husband has a shirt that I HATE. It’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s Snow White in a blue snowstorm. Kinda like the fuzz on old TV’s, except its blue.

    Can you believe that it puts me in a bad mood when he wears that shirt…especially if it’s to a place where we will be taking pictures.

    I almost got rid of it this weekend when I saw that he packed it for the family reunion. Then I decided that I would not stoop that low.

    I need help!

  7. I wear things out quickly. Maybe because I don’t have enough items in my wardrobe? Either way it’s such a pain to get rid of something I only bought a year ago and have to go shop for replacements. Can you tell I am NOT a shopaholic?

    Southern Gal´s last post…New Mercies

  8. As far as clothing mistakes I’ve made…hmmm…you name it!

    I’m enjoying your blog, I’m glad I found it from a friends blogroll. I’m a simple girl too, no need for all that fuss and clutter. Looking forward to a closet transformation…

    Michelle´s last post…Classic book of the month – June 2010

  9. Denise C. says:

    My wardrobe was/is very limited to begin with. I owned 2 jeans (one with holes in the knees- shameful I know), 3 tee shirts, & a black cocktail dress. Why so little? I really, REALLY dislike clothes shopping. Back in Feb. I really did not like the way I looked, so I began running & eating much better. To date, I’ve dropped 22 lbs. My goal is 40 lbs. all together. Since I’m now smaller, I can finally get some new, hip clothes, for the hip 32 year old that I am. So far, I’ve added 2 khaki shorts, scoop neck shirts, skirts, and jeans. All approved by my husband. He too is my go-to person when it comes to my wardrobe. :)

  10. I love to get rid of stuff – a little too much. I had lost weight and kept it off for over a year, so I got rid of all my ‘big’ pants. I’m also a bit of a minimalist, so I only had two pairs of khakis and two pairs of jeans. Well… you wear those every day and they wear out, so I went to buy new. I found out (unhappily) that I was no longer my smaller size. My clothes had stretched with me, and I hadn’t noticed!

    So I had to rebuy in the larger size. Embarassing and expensive… but if I had it to do again, I’m not sure I’d keep the ‘big pants’ even knowing that. I just hate clutter. :-)

  11. I have been having a huge clearout but I still find it hard to part with my smaller sizes as if I lost the 15kgs I need to I would still wear them.

    Jodz´s last post…No new clothes

  12. I have a little sister who is 18 years old and very fashionable. I recently invited her over to help me sort through my closet. We got rid of all of the old/ugly/ill-fitting items, and identified a few “staples” that I needed to buy to help me get better use out of the pieces I had left.

    I have a hard time getting rid of clothes that were gifts, or nice brands that I found on a good sale, even if I hate the way I look in them. It’s helpful to have a second opinion around to help make those hard decisions! You’re lucky to have a husband with honesty AND good taste!

    Lindsey´s last post…Maybe My Favorite Gift Ever

  13. I had a major closet purge a few months ago. I eliminated about 80% of my clothes.

    I finally got rid of the stuff that i should only be wearing if i was 12. And the stuff that looked great back in the 90’s. And the stuff that fit before 100 washings. And those items that should have just stayed on the hanger at the store, they looked better there anyway…. And the list goes on and on….

  14. I enlisted my husbands help a few weeks ago to do the same – he was so eager and I was amazed by the strength of some of his opinions. He was brutally but lovingly honest and I was given some really clear insight into the things he loves to see me in – which actually boosted my confidence even though I’m struggling and the larger end of 4 different sizes at the moment!!

    I’d highly recommend it – he might just be dying for you to ask for his help (and to respect his opinion!)

    Glenda´s last post…Holy Matrimony

  15. Vanessa says:

    Welcome back!
    I need to do a closet purge right away! I find it hard to get rid of clothes that don’t suit my lifestyle at the moment but might down the road. I also regret a few items I got rid of in the past which makes it harder to get rid of items in the future…the ‘what if’ it’ll come back in style and I’ll wish I still had it. Two such items that I donated actually did come back in style and I never thought they would again. I also didn’t replace them so I missed out on wearing them.
    I find the classics hard to define too. There’s a fine line between classic and boring.
    As for colors, do you only wear colors that are flattering? I would have maybe two things in my closet that are actually flattering if I threw the unflattering colors away. I’d probably look better but I wouldn’t have anything to wear. I also hate clothes shopping…shopping in general.
    I enjoyed your post!

  16. Rachel P. says:

    I am a minimalist by nature and positively hate clothes shopping. I have broad shoulders, a long torso and am nearly six feet tall so it makes the undertaking a real chore to find things that fit properly. As for maternity clothes, I have one pair of maternity jeans and wear my husbands tee shirts. I am currently eight months pregnant with our third child and was just looking into my everyday wardrobe to see if I needed to make any additions. Sadly, I only have two tops, one skirt and…I need to go shopping. I do have a little black dress I will never get rid of. It is a classic in the sense that I chose a high quality piece in a style that was versatile, flattering and true to my sense of style. To me, that is the real definition of a classic.

  17. Dorothy says:

    I moved everything lock stock and barrel to the guest closet and started hanging back in my room the things which make me feel a milion dollars. The shocking part is how few items I am wearing on a regular basis, it seems nearly all my clothes are “I feel like a change’ or ‘this is a real bargain’. I’m down to several pants and good shirts, a couple of classic jackets, and not much else. I guess the trick will be when to call a halt and donate the remaining items , maybe after one year so I can see how I get throgh the seasons?

  18. OMGosh! This is my first visit to your blog and I’m already in love with it. I’m off to explore further and to add your link to my blog.

    Betty Jo´s last post…no more green fuzzies

  19. Rachel,

    Doug sounds like a great helper, although I am not sure about tent comment :-) Can’t wait to see next post. I am inspired to clean up my closet again. And it needs it, again! I am glad you are back writing.

    Zengirl @ Heart and Mind´s last post…Great read: Link love: Getting over sickness

  20. Hi! Loving your blog. I am getting ready to do the same thing. I usually stick to the rule: If I haven’t worn it in a year, it leaves my closet. The hardest for me to toss are the things that I spent a lot of dough on. Things I know are still awesome but I never wear.

  21. This totally cracked me up, esp. Doug! Everyone should have such a friend…

    I recently did this, five sixes, 6-10 (okay, maybe more) years worth of accumulation, I had to be brutally honest with myself. I learned I had a full wardrobe hidden away in there, things that fit and flatter, and I get all kind of compliments now!

    • I love what Doris said. I’m embarrassed to say that I have at least 6 garbage bags full of clothes, not counting the ones in my closet and my drawers. Most of it doesn’t work anymore.

      But, I do have a lot that really looks great. My husband and I have been blessed not to lose our jobs during the recession. But it’s scary enough that it’s forced me to grow up, let go of my high school and college clothes, and realize that I can’t keep buying things. We just can’t afford it, and thank God! I have more than enough.

      Now it’s time to organize so I can actually wear most of it!

      Just a tip– I’ve maximized my wardrobe by getting vests, costume jewelry, and belts. They aren’t as expensive as new clothes and they barely take up space. I can turn a plain slacks-and-t look into something really nice by adding a belt and a necklace.

  22. Karen (Scotland) says:

    I didn’t get a chance to comment when you came back but I am SO happy to see you’ve returned to the bloggy world.

    Great topic too and scarily relevant to my life at the moment. Having four kids under 6, I had a LOT of maternity clothes which I’ve just freecycled leaving me with… not much. Well, the wardrobe is still full but I fit into exactly two outfits. Not inspiring or motivating. :-(

    I would like to ask my husband for help but as wonderful as he is, his clothing taste for females is fairly simple.
    Red/black/tight/low/short = good.
    And as a very curvy woman, the only one of those qualities I like is black. And maybe red on a cheerful day. :-)

    Glad you’re back,
    Karen (Scotland)

  23. Belinda says:

    Completely off topic – but just wanted to let you know you were missed while you took your break.

  24. When I have trouble deciding if an article of clothing should go or stay, I put it off to the side “on probation”. If I pull it back out to wear it, then it can stay. If a couple months goes by and I don’t wear it, it goes to Goodwill!

  25. Thank you for the jump-start! I rid my drawers of things that should have gone long, long ago this morning. Goodwill thanks you too!

    Zom G.´s last post…Down with pants {as you were, ladies.} A Skirt for week 1!

  26. I have tried and tried, but everytime I whittle the clothes down, they multiply! Its usually shopping and picking up “just one thing” here and there that fill up the closet… sigh… I will try again to get it downsized… its good for me, right?

    angelvalerie´s last post…of world news and other chaos…

  27. I’ve never been one to follow trends, and a lot of my favorite piece I made myself. However, I have tons of clothes that I don’t even remember ever wearing, and lots that don’t fit. But the fit problem is from losing 58 pounds (and counting), so some of the stuff that’s a little too small can stay if its still in good shape. To make it tougher, I moved out of my Mom’s last year, and most of my huge clothes pile is still in my room at her house. One of these days I’m going to go out there and go through it all, take what I actually want, and donate the rest.

  28. shoes… i CANNOT get rid of shoes i never wear. and it’s always ‘oh i paid so much money for these”… but i’ve never worn them in public. thats it… they’re outta here… or are they? !

  29. Thank you. This was just the inspiration I needed!

    carmina burana´s last post…Closet Clean-out!