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Toss or keep? How to decide

Categories: basics


I am constantly editing my closet, making decisions about what stays and what goes, based on what I’m wearing and what I’m wanting and what I’m loving. But every once in a while, I find myself staring at a piece — a blouse or skirt or dress — and thinking, hmm, maybe I should keep this … but maybe not.

I know you’ve been there. Right?


I hear from lots of women who say, “I would love to do a big closet purge and edit my wardrobe, but I’m afraid I will get rid of something and regret it later. How do I know what to keep and what to part with?”

The short answer: You don’t, always. Not helpful, I know. But let’s think this through.

The ideal wardrobe is composed only of pieces you really love — and really wear. If you’re lucky, those are the same pieces, but we all have things in our closet that we feel strongly about — a beautiful skirt or a fabulous dress or a super cool t-shirt — but never wear. Maybe your Love It piece doesn’t fit right any more, or maybe you just don’t know how to style it, or maybe it’s not appropriate for your everyday life. Whatever the case, the first thing to do is admit that you’re not wearing that piece.

Baby steps, people.

Start by dealing with things that don’t fit. Those beautiful black pants you wore twice a week before the baby was born? Instead of lamenting the fact that your hips aren’t the size they used to be, say goodbye to the pants and get a pair that fit the body you have right now. (Caveat: If you’re currently nursing or your baby is less than a year old, be cautious about giving things away. Wait until you’ve gotten your body back and then assess what fits and what doesn’t.)

If you’re not wearing something because it needs to be mended or altered, take care of that — but give yourself a deadline. Write your deadline on your calendar and hang the piece in question where you will see it every day. If the deadline passes and you haven’t taken that item to the tailor, then it’s clearly not a priority for you. Time to say goodbye.

What about pieces you just don’t know how to style? Ask a friend for help, or look for inspiration in magazines and catalogs or on the Internet. You may just need to rethink how you’re wearing a particular piece — or you may need to admit that it’s just not working for you. If it’s something you really love, give it to someone who will also really love it; you’ll feel better about letting it go if you know it’s going to a good home.

Still having a hard time parting with that fabulous tee that doesn’t go with anything else you own? Move it to another part of your closet, ideally where you can see it but away from the clothes you always wear. If you find yourself gravitating toward that piece and trying to make it work, then you clearly ought to keep it. But if you put it on a high shelf and never even look that way when you get dressed in the morning … it’s time to let it go.

How long should you hold those maybe pieces before you say goodbye? No more than one year — in fact, I would say one season. If you go all winter without wearing that wool dress (and you have the opportunity to wear it during that season) then it’s time to move on.

What about fancy dresses, the kind you only wear for parties or special events? Those can stay around longer, but if you find yourself consistently passing something over, let it go.

What’s your strategy for cleaning your closet out? Have you ever regretted something you gave away? Or are you hanging on to everything?

Photo via California Closets

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3 comments so far...

  • Setting stuff aside until I forget about it is my most successful strategy for sure. This often happens seasonally since I have to rotate things in and out of storage (small closets).

    Taking weekly outfit photos has also had an effect; seeing garments on me in this way has made me a little clearer-headed about eliminating things.

    Heidi/The Closet Coach  |  January 30th, 2013 at 3:05 pm

  • “Move it to another part of your closet, ideally where you can see it but away from the clothes you always wear.”

    So I’m trying this. I have a fancy, tricked out California Closet. And we have the “Dry Cleaning Rod” - this little nifty slide-out pole where you can hand your dry cleaning or stage an outfit. I have this perfect Ann Taylor top that I haven’t worn since I wore it for the biggest, best public presentation I ever delivered…SIX years ago. SIX.

    It’s a good tip. Let’s see what happens! :)

    Sarah  |  February 11th, 2013 at 12:25 pm

  • I agree with putting a timeframe on anything that needs action - donate those clothes that same day, drop items off for mending or post items online to sell/give away within the week.

    Clearing out is a great time to reorganize your closet too - whether it’s colour coding or organizing by type of garment, you are already halfway there so might as well put everything back in a new order.

    Letting things go makes space (mentally and physically) for new items that define your current style.

    Stacey Vulakh, Timestyle Coach  |  February 17th, 2013 at 2:01 pm