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Question you may be asking: Are wardrobe clean-outs a form of self-care?
Answer: They are if you consider your wardrobe an extension of yourself. (I do.)

And I spend a lot of happy, dreamy hours puttering around in there. Thus, I have been through many a wardrobe org sesh, solo and with friends. And I have learned a little about how to have a successful—and quick—clear-out.

Side note: Like some of you, I have used Marie Kondo’s method. I regret a good 20 percent of what I tossed during that process. Such as a Rick Owens dirty-denim jacket with a rip in it. Like that’s a problem. I try hard to forgive myself for this one.

Anyway! I admire Marie, but am here proposing a more modest approach, in which we take what we need from KonMari, and leave the rest, including those frayed jeans that would look amazing if we were to add a calico Log Cabin patch over the hole.

Here’s when to consider cleaning out/switching up your wardrobe:

  1. With the change of seasons.
  2. With a change of lifestyle, such as a new baby, a new job or after moving house.
  3. When your weight has not changed; when it’s been stable but your closet is all over the scale.
  4. For no reason! It’s a random rainy Thursday and you’re drawn to do it.
  5. Or regularly, because you dig it so much.

My Method, in Three Easy Steps

Step 1: Throw out anything too ratty to wear or repair. This is easy. It probably won’t be a lot, but I suspect there are things at the back you feel too guilty to toss.

The first rule of closet cleanout club? No elaborate disposal strategies. That way lies paralysis. Turns out that donating non-wearable clothing too often means sending scrap bales on barges back across the ocean; not a win for the planet.

Next, if you have things you don’t want that can still be worn: all one destination. Saving this piece for Jane and that other piece for Kira will spiral into complexity and stymie your ultimate goal: putting together a wardrobe that works today, preferably before cocktail hour. And not having a mudroom full of labeled bags all going to different destinations.

VIQ: Are ratty handknits an exception?

A: We often think of things we buy in the shops as machine made, but most clothes are made by human hands, just like handknits. So no. Same rule: if it’s too raggedy to wear or repair, dispose of it.

Step 2: Remove what doesn’t fit the body you have right now. In daily life I often work with people who want to lose weight, and that usually means a closet with a lot of clothes that don’t fit. This makes getting dressed a rebuke (“I should be able to wear this!”) and going shopping a misery. (“I have a closet full of things that SHOULD fit me!” or “I don’t want to buy anything that will fit me now because it’ll be too big in a month!”)

So for the second pass through the closet, put aside anything that doesn’t fit right now. No need to permanently deaccession anything today; we’re going to put anything too small into a box, seal the box, label it with today’s date, and stow it someplace cool and dry. Goodbye (temporarily!) to all that.

Pick a date six to twelve months in the future for evaluation and put an alarm in your calendar. That’s long enough to be a different size; maybe you’ll have changed your habits and lost so much weight that those formerly too-small things are now actually too big. This happens all the time when we create space for ourselves, and is part of the real life-changing magic of tidying up our closet.

Six to twelve months is also long enough to accept that some things are not big enough and may never be. Acceptance will be much easier when we have a closet that doesn’t taunt or shame us. And that’s what we’ll have later today: A nice closet that’s on our side. A friendly closet, not a frenemy closet.

As you face what’s left—those items that are wearable right now—a few scenarios are possible:

  • Maybe nothing is missing. Perhaps you still have a post-purge plenty. (This doesn’t happen a lot, but it could.)
  • Maybe you don’t like what’s there. Maybe there are things that just don’t make you happy when you put them on. (If so, proceed as in Step 1.)
  • Or maybe you’re not left with much, but your few things are well chosen and beloved. Maybe, like Lawrence of Arabia, you enjoy the limitation game, and can let “[austerity] be your luxury.” You win Capsule Wardrobe!
  • Most likely, you’re left with everything you’ve been wearing anyway: the stuff that fits, but is not the stuff of dreams. You could maybe use a few more things? But how much better to see it clearly, without the blinding sideshow of Clothes That Should Fit (But Weirdly Don’t).

And now you can evaluate what’s missing for your real and present body’s needs.

In the likely case there are things you still need, here is Step 3: The French 5. (Oh, Frenchwomen, I just can’t quit you!)

Note: A quick Google search of “French 5” will turn up the absurd idea that Frenchwomen get by with five wardrobe items. I adore those blogs, but any actual Frenchwoman—and anyone who has been to France —will tell you this is wrong. The French have tiny armoires, but they squeeze every available centimeter out of them.

No, the French 5, as I use it, is the idea that limits are good for budgets, people, the planet and wardrobes, and thus planning is essential. It’s a list of desired items to be acquired not tonight, not tomorrow, but over a season or a year or even longer. It’s a considered list which every item must fight its way onto: your Top 5.

Here are some questions to consider (these are not rules!) as you are vetting desired items for your list:

  • Is this wardrobe glue? That is, does it go with virtually everything?
  • Is it timeless and will it thus last more or less forever, practically paying for itself?
  • Or is it of the moment? Will I see it on everyone and quickly tire of it?
  • Is it sustainably made? Or is it something that represents a net loss of human and planetary health?
  • Can I get this, or something close enough, used?
  • Is it a poor substitute for something we can’t justify, like a funny #needmoneyforgucci t-shirt when the truth is we want Gucci, and it’s out of reach?
  • Is it affordable? Or is it just cheap and disposable?
  • Is it affordable? Or does it represent a crime of passion—against my financial security?
  • Is there a version that will actually look and feel good on me, or is it something that will never love me the way I love it?

That’s it: Three steps. KonMari would argue Not comprehensive enough! You’re going to have to do it again someday!

And I would counter: You’re probably right, Marie! And that’s OK. Because when you do it right, it’s fun.


Additional Resources

Fringe Association’s Slow Fashion October series.

The RealReal: Gently used (and carefully measured!) designer clothing.

Wear What You Make, Sonya Philip’s First Person series.

Paper Theory Patterns: Five Things I Learnt from a Year of No Shopping


Image:  Music cabinet and piano with a relic of St Cecilia (detail), Pierre Joseph Hubert Cuypers, c. 1858-c. 1859, Rijksmuseum

About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew. Her new book is Meals at Mealtimes. What a concept!


  • The perfect post for my first official day of retirement! Good-bye suits (and much, much more). Thanks, Max!

    • Congratulations on the newest phase in your life! Happy closet shifting…remember Dress for Success when you offload those suits and you can toss them all with zero guilt.

  • I might add clothes I have had for ages, worn often, and now I am really sick of them…

  • I recently said goodbye to size 6 forever (I’m 58 and tired of starving myself), so I had a good closet clean-out. But I kept some items I loved, and I’ve actually turned them into knitting bags! I took my tiny skirts, sewed them together so that one skirt was a lining, added a straps. One item I haven’t touched. It’s an ornately embroidered blouse from Daffy’s in NYC that is too beautiful to let go. I suspect that there’s an ornately embroidered knitting bag in my future…

    • Wonderful!

    • This sounds absolutely brilliant! A way to keep things that are special, but also functional and space efficient.

      • thx!!! I came up with this idea after reading “Overdressed” and learning about how much clothing ends up on those barges!

    • Daffy’s! What a lovely memory!

      • I know!!!! *has a moment of silence*

  • Thank you for the level-headed, realistic AND FUN! inspiration! I was gearing up to do a closet clean –and there was a link to your article in my mailbox.

  • I find the place I fall down is how I have categories of clothes. Work clothes (relatively casual), everyday clothes (remarkably like work clothes, but more casual/less work appropriate), dress-up clothes (because sometimes life demands more than jeans), exercise/sports clothes (which has varied in amount as I went from team-sports to Mom with no time), and field clothes (for hiking, collecting mosses and slime molds on forays and field trips, gardening, etc). And of course also being in MA means “needing” all this for 4 serious seasons, and living in a tiny apartment. (And do shoes count, because hoo-boy shoes.) Any advice on wrangling our “categories” to help reign in the keep it all mentality?

  • This Thursday! Just a couple of hours. Too many items have been taking space in my laundry baskets, so I’ll start there.

  • Love this!!!

  • Raggedy handknits can become felted mittens or felt squares for a heavy warm rug or blanket. Old jeans with holes can become skirts or cut offs. We can avoid throwing away things that can be re-used. Even look at the fabric of what you are discarding–can you use it to clean or to make into pillow cases or napkins, or as the above poster said, knitting bags? Yes, cleaning the closet can be a chore, but often our clothing can have a second (or third!) life with a little imagination.

    Right now, my heavily worn, threadbare napkins are being used again–as covers for my swiffer. When they get dirty, we throw them in the wash and re-use them and stop contributing to the landfill.

    • These are great ideas, but I have come to see that I keep too many things that would be great if I did this or that to them. When my husband’s jeans get to the point where they would need a whole new seat to keep from being a threat to public morals, then I am sorry, but they are out. Somebody else is going to have to make the Gee’s Bend-ish denim quilt.

    • Hole-y jeans or in my case, my youngest’s hole-y sweatpants, can be cut into bulky yarn-like strips and knitted or crocheted into afghans, baskets, rugs, what have you.

  • This is SO good, and realistic – thank you! I’m obsessed with Marie Kondo on Netflix but when it comes to my closet (and my kids’ closets) her methods are a bit much.

    • That’s IT! I MUST see this show now…

    • Amen. Some of her methods are not new and a little bit “precious.”

  • Oh Max, another keeper just when I need it!

  • You had me at calico log cabin patch.

  • I think a lot of people miss the boat re Marie Kondo. If it sparks joy, no matter how ratty it is, KEEP IT. Some clothing should fall under the classification sentimental because it reminds us of a time or place or person. A lot of handkints are more sentimental than clothing, for example.

  • Thank you for noting that our old clothes become trash someplace on the planet because that has become quite a problem. It has caused me to think more before I buy and to buy what I’ll actually wear. And it has also caused me to learn how to make other items from old clothes, like the really (really!) cute oval rugs I crochet from old t-shirts. I’ve used some in my home, but mainly I donate them to charities for their clients or to sell as a fundraiser.

  • Boxing up the too small clothes instead of tossing or donating them speaks to me. I am at my highest weight after a stressful couple of years. I may lose the weight or I may not but looking at a closet full of smaller clothes right now depresses me instead of motivates me.

    • That part really spoke to me, too. I might actually have better luck losing my unwanted weight without a closet full of smaller clothes taunting me!

    • It’s so uplifting to have all the clothes in your closet fit you right now.

  • I finally threw out a Top I loved. I still loved the fabric but the cut was from the 80s with giant shoulders (how do you even put giant shoulders in what is essentially a glorified t-shirt?) so I knew I would never wear it. But I still regret no longer having the inclination to reuse the fabric as a different garment or to incorporate into a quilt (since I will never quilt). For reference the tee was from Banana Republic. They sure made great casual clothing back then. Chloe P.S. It just occurred to me it would have made a great throw cushion. That I would do. Gosh, the regret never ends, does it?

  • I live in Denver and when I decided to get rid of some yarn that couldn’t serve a purpose, I found a specific place that took donations Three big trash bags later, I got rid of things that could help others !

  • The ONLY thing that I could never part with is a Hermès scarf that my parents bought for me in Paris 30 years ago.
    The colors remain the most beautiful thing that I’ve ever owned and it went with a black gabardine skirt and a silk t-shirt. My ex called it my uniform and always classy

    • …and why WOULD you! Sounds amazing.

  • Thank you bunches for this wonderful idea. It’s simple. It’s not overwhelming of daunting. I can face my closet and make it easier to open that door every day without shaming myself.
    What a life-brightener!

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