How to declutter clothes according to style experts

Learning how to declutter clothes to improve the functionality of your wardrobe

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Learn how to declutter clothes and you can create one of the most user-friendly wardrobes around. Getting rid of what you don't need, and reordering what you do, will help you finally see what your style options are and make getting dressed the fun it should be.

We're all guilty of overloading our wardrobes, but while it's great to have options, having too many clothes in your closet will stop you from being able to truly see and enjoy what you have. Once you learn how to declutter clothes, you'll be able to create a capsule wardrobe that will ensure you never suffer from those 'nothing to wear' moments. 

Many of us have sentimental attachments to clothing, as they represent so much more than just what we wear. The clothing we choose is part of our identity, making how to declutter clothes a potentially emotional experience. In order to declutter to maximum effect, make sure to set aside plenty of time to carry out this activity, as depending on how much you need to sort through, it could take several hours. We've compiled our top tips for how to declutter clothes. 

How to declutter clothes

Learning how to organize your closet goes hand-in-hand with decluttering clothes, as before you can organize your closet, you need to make sure you have room for everything. A cathartic experience for many, learning how to declutter your home from top to bottom offers a fresh start - an ideal way to kick off 2023. 

If you're looking to revamp your look or simply maximize your fashion investments, learning how to declutter your wardrobe is integral, but beware, you're going to have to get ruthless. We promise, however, that it will be worth it in the long run. Not only will you end up with a brilliant capsule wardrobe, but if you download the best apps to sell clothes then you might even be able to make some money from your clear out too. We've broken the process down into 9 sections to make decluttering clothes a breeze.

1. Assess & Plan

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Before you start, be honest about how many items you have and how long decluttering your clothes could take, as you don't want to get to the end of the day and find everything still in disarray. Make sure to start early in the day, once you've eaten and are fully awake and this will need your full attention.

Set out goals of what you would like to achieve with your decluttering process. If you're looking to create a minimalist capsule wardrobe, you may need to get pretty ruthless, but if you're looking to ascertain what wardrobe essentials you're missing, have a notebook close to hand so you can keep tabs.

 Before you begin to declutter your clothes, think logically about how you're going to contain and store items after the process. Do you need more hangers, storage drawers, or drawer liners to maximize the end result? Having matching hangers can make your closet feel like its own shop, making getting dressed from it instantly more appealing. 

You may also require black sacks to help you categorize items, or containers, so ensure you have these at the ready to avoid distractions, and if you're nervous about going it alone, invite a kind but ruthless friend to help you achieve your goal.

2. Remove everything from your closet

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Remove everything from your closet. While your primary concern here is how to declutter clothes, everything needs to come out to start with, we can deal with how to declutter jewelry and accessories another time. 

Decide if you're going to separate clothes out by season. You could create a winter capsule wardrobe, decluttering only winter items now, before going through the process again, creating a spring capsule wardrobe later down the line. If this is the case, you should now store all items of clothing that aren't suited to the current season in boxes or vacuum bags, ready to declutter those clothes when the appropriate season rolls around. 

If you're looking to declutter all your clothes at once, get every item out and onto the bed. Use this opportunity to give your closet a thorough hoover and clean, before placing moth repellent in, so you start with a fresh wardrobe.  

3. Sort

It's time to sort, this is probably the longest part of the process and ideally, you will have a full-length mirror close by. Start by immediately discarding the clothing you know you do not want to keep in your closet. This includes any items that no longer fit, suit you, are beyond repair or, if you're particularly style conscious, have fallen out of the latest fashion trends.  

This is the time to be ruthless, particularly if items no longer fit. It's easy to hold onto items, hoping to one day 'get back into them', but it is rarely a mindset that improves our body positivity. If an item has particular sentimental value, we have a plan for keeping these items safe, but they shouldn't remain in your active daily wardrobe. If however, it's just about getting back into a size, if you ever do end up that size again, the items will probably be out of style anyway, so treat yourself to a new pair of the best jeans, or a sharply tailored blazer instead.

Still wondering if it stays or goes? Fashion writer & stylist, Abby McHale has this advice.

"When it comes to decluttering your wardrobe think about the three ways method - will I wear it with at least three different things, if the answer is yes then it's a keeper, if not then think is this worth the space in my wardrobe. It's also worth looking from season to season, so if towards the end of winter you realise that you've not touched a certain jumper, then it may be time to say goodbye."

4. Group: What to keep, fix, donate, sell

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Now it's time to try on everything that's left to check that it still fits and if it needs any alterations. We'd also suggest at this point that any items for keeping are grouped by type, e.g. the best dresses in one pile, your winter coats in another, and your best sweaters can be folded into their own section, you get the picture. This is a great time to think about new outfit combinations and any pieces that you realize you are now missing. 

Any item that no longer fits or suits should be divided up according to whether you're going to donate it, or learn how to sell clothes online, to help fund new items for the upcoming season. 

You should also create a pile for items that need to be washed, dry-cleaned, or have any repairs or alterations needed. This needs to be actioned as soon as possible to stop these clothes from turning into clutter. 

5. Be decisive

woman holding up two items of clothing by her wardrobe

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Around this point in the process, you may have some items languishing in between piles. Should they stay or should they go? 

If there are some maybe items you're not quite ready to see the back of, over the coming weeks try this idea by fashion editor and stylist, Antonia Kraskowski and then make your final call, you may even find there will be more pieces you can show the door.

"You've heard of turning your hangers around but what about taking photos of your daily outfit to find out what items you really wear? Not only will you quickly notice patterns in what gets aired regularly, but you'll also soon know what doesn't. It might even serve to inspire you with new looks going forward, once you know what really suits you".

6. Remove sentimental items to store separately

Clothing can carry emotional attachments, the dress from your graduation, or that first date outfit with your now-life partner, but if you aren't still wearing these items, they shouldn't be taking up space in your current, working wardrobe. That doesn't mean they have to be donated though. Instead, get an air-tight storage container and fold these items away with tissue paper and add an image from the occasion, or of you in the look and put this away in a separate storage space. This way you can still look back on these items, but they aren't clouding your current fashion judgment. 

7. Categorize

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Categorizing items offers an amazing opportunity to tidy and make your closet more workable. You might choose to reorganize according to the latest fashion color trends 2023 so you can see everything in color order, or you may choose to categorize by tops, pants, dresses etc, but sorting these pieces into groups that work for you, will make putting an ensemble together so much easier. You might also want to sort according to outfit, hanging pants and skirts that work with particular tops and jackets to make it easier to grab a look each morning. And while we are focusing on clothing here, you may want to get a selection of storage bins to store accessories, putting the latest handbag trends and shoe trends at the front, with more classic or staple pieces towards the back. This will be invaluable if you're trying to learn how to organize a small bedroom, as everything will have its place.

8. Return items

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Now that everything has been categorized in a way that suits you, return items to your closet. Make sure everything is returned on its appropriate hanger - you may want to get matching hangers for all your items, but definitely discard any wire, dry-cleaner hangers, as long term these can damage clothes. Think about clever storage solutions for scarves and belts and invest in the best shoe organizers so that you can see these items more clearly and make sure to have a space for your best sunglasses so they're accessible when the sun suddenly makes an appearance. 

In order to manage clothing clutter, you may want to choose a set amount of hangers to own, this means that you can create a one-in, one-out policy so that you have to discard one item with every new purchase. This will help you maintain your hard work. 

9. Deal with items to fix, donate or sell

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We know we've said it already but deal with the extra piles immediately. If it's dry cleaning that's required, take them in the same or the very next day. This also applies to booking that alterations appointment, and taking items to donate otherwise it's likely to end up dumped back in your wardrobe as you 'forget' about it. 

When it comes to selling clothes online, take those pictures immediately and set a time to deal with uploading and listing those items on your favorite reselling app within the new week to ten days. Just think about all the money you can make and perhaps have a goal of how you'll spend it for extra encouragement. 

How do you be ruthless when decluttering clothes

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One of the hardest things to do is to be ruthless when you're decluttering as more often than not, doubt begins to creep in. The best way to avoid this is to set yourself some ground rules. Here are some of our favorite decluttering clothes tips:

  • Invite a friend to help: Got a friend who always gives you a kind but honest opinion? Get them to come and help with your big decluttering process and offer to do the same for them. It means they can hold you to account and make sure you follow through.
  • Decide on how many items you're going to keep: Some fashion experts believe that a capsule wardrobe should have a finite number of pieces. Depending on your space available, pick the number of hanging and folding items you can realistically keep and use that as your benchmark. 
  • The holding pen: If you're really struggling to be ruthless, create a holding box. In here put all the pieces you aren't sure about getting rid of, but certainly haven't worn in the last 6 to 12 months. Remove these from your wardrobe, and stored them in a separate space entirely. If over the next 6 months, you don't go and get any of the items, they should be donated, sold, or placed in long-term, sentimental storage as documented above. 

How do I stop being overwhelmed when decluttering?

Decluttering your clothes can certainly be an overwhelming experience, especially if you're looking to create an over 50s capsule wardrobe and have a closet full of clothes that have been with you for over a decade, but the rewards will be huge. Planning is key to minimizing how overwhelming the process can be, so set aside a day to action this and have someone help you with the clear out, put back and the decision making. Ensure you take regular breaks and have breaks for refreshments to keep your blood sugar level, as trying to do this hungry and tired will likely make this process harder.  

Rivkie Baum
Fashion channel editor

Rivkie is a fashion editor, writer and stylist with twenty years' experience in the industry. Rivkie studied design and pattern cutting at the London College of Fashion, and fell in love with styling and journalism, and has covered fashion weeks in London, Paris and New York, as well as shooting editorial all over the world.

Specialising in plus size fashion, Rivkie has long championed that style is for everyBODY and has appeared on a host of radio stations and television shows, pushing for greater representation for plus size women and fashion throughout her career.