How to edit your wardrobe: sorting your clothes

by Sylvia

How to edit your wardrobe

As you discovered in my last article where I asked you the question if you could have a minimal wardrobe,

I came to the conclusion that I probably could not.

What I can do, however, is to make my wardrobe a lot more manageable and only keep pieces that I absolutely love and wear in daily life. But how to edit your wardrobe successfully so that you have one that excites you and that gives you plenty of options for all kinds of occasions?

Starting the editing process

Although I very much doubt that I will become a minimalist when it comes to clothes (I like variety too much!), I absolutely believe that a clear uncluttered wardrobe filled with items you love and are truly you, is essential to good dressing.

Here is what Tim Gunn says in his guide to quality taste and style:

“Who has not suffered that particular depression brought on by a closet full of clothes when one feels that she has nothing to wear? It is our theory that this feeling arises from the discrepancy between your perception of the image your clothing projects and the idealized image you’d like to project in a given situation. The goal is to maximize the correspondence between what you feel conveys the proper image and the items you actually own. This task can only be accomplished when your closet is rid of those items that do not truly make you feel happy and confident when wearing them. …. The eternal task of discovering what makes one happy is closely linked to the idea of discovering one’s “authentic self”.

This is why it’s important to truly understand your style and personality, topics I have discussed several times here at 40+Style and which can be found in the finding your style section.

So to feel happy about your wardrobe, editing is absolutely essential. I have now decided that I have enough clothes, need to edit more and shop my own wardrobe until I drop. Of course I picked the time to do this strategically, as I have just done my major shopping for the year in the  summer 2012 sales!

Which clothes to keep?

My rules for clothes that absolutely must go still apply. Only keep clothes that:

  1. Fit you
  2. Make you feel great
  3. Suit your body type
  4. Are in good condition
  5. You wear regularly (tricky one)

So which clothes should go?

The general rule is that you discard clothes that you have not worn for 1 year. I have never applied this rule before, because I would simply lose too many clothes! But it’s a solid rule and I think that clothes you have not worn for a year should leave your main closet.

Another trick you can use is that you put items that you still like, but never wear, in a very visible place in your wardrobe. If you still have not worn these items after a few weeks, then perhaps it’s time for them to go.

When you start doing your sorting, divide your clothes in piles:

  • Clothes that must go (make a note of clothes that need to be replaced, like good basic black pants for example)
  • Clothes that can be (temporarily) stored
  • Clothes that still deserve to be altered
  • Clothes that definitely stay!
  • Clothes that you want to keep for sentimental reasons. (be ruthless here and just store them away; you don’t have to SEE them every day)

Easier said than done, right? If you find it hard to donate clothes straight away, store them in a secondary cupboard first. When items still never get looked at after a few months, then they are up for donation.

Please make sure that you take action straight away for clothes that need to be altered. If you don’t then they are up for donation as well.

You may want to arrange the clothes that stay by colour in your closet (which is what I do). That way you can easily find your clothes and mix and match.

Evaluate after editing

After you are done with your editing, have a look at your closet again.

It should now only contain the items you love and feel confident in. Can you see a pattern? Do you get a clearer sense of your style? Is there a colour pattern or a particular silhouette that keeps coming back?

Good closet editing may give you lots of clues about your personal style!

Next week I will have a look at storing solutions for your clothes, so that you can have the most fun in shopping your own closet.

Have you done any wardrobe editing yet and if yes, how did you find it?

This article is part of my wardrobe editing series. Also in this series:

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Doris

Thanks for some great tips. I review my wardrobe twice a year and that involves getting rid of things I haven’t worn for sometime and plus moving things around like packing winter clothes away.

Its very satisfying as you sometimes discover something that you may not have worn for sometime but would work perfectly with something you just bought. Plus like you I will never have a minialist wardrobe – I have the basics and add to much extra!


2 Sylvia

Sounds like you already doing everything right Doris!


3 Heather Fonseca

I do what Doris does – seasonal editing! I totally rearrange my closet a few times a year. This keeps my looks fresh and weather-appropriate.


4 Amy

For some reason which I don’t understand, I continually edit my wardrobe, so although I think I dress quite well for the most part, I don’t keep a lot of clothes around! All of my clothes hang in a 6 ft closet, absolutely everything, even tshirts, jeans, and winter coats, and it’s not crowded at all. Intimates and sleepwear are in drawers, boots and shoes are elsewhere. I don’t seem to get attached to clothing most of the time, and I don’t mind tossing items.
…Although I did just lose my most favourite top while travelling. That hurt!
I think this habit of mine is curious because my mother always needed two huge walk-in closets! I guess it’s not hereditary!


5 Sylvia

Wow Amy I’m impressed. Some of the best dressers only have small wardrobes as they are very good at filtering out what works for them.


6 Anja van der Vorst

Lots of practical suggestions, Sylvia. I practice, and agree with, most of them, although I do not agree with nor follow the 1-year-throw-away rule. You may find a new item that matches perfectly with an old, long not worn one, making you wear it again.

I have one suggestion to add, and that is about clothes that you keep for sentimental reasons. It is often suggested to do something creative with those, like take a picture of it and frame that nicely. Or cut out a piece of fabric or detail and frame that. That way it takes up less space, (just a frame on the wall) and after that you can get rid of it completely or at least of what is left of it after what you did with it;-).
Personally I like this concept.


7 Sylvia

It is a tough rule, for sure. But I’m going to be tougher on my wardrobe (I try). The thing is if you leave too many of those items, your wardrobe is not current and unmanageable.

Very good suggestion Anja. Sentimental items have never been much of an issue for me (I don’t keep clothes for sentimental reasons), but this is a great tip!


8 Greetje

I agree with Anja. Great tips, also the one by Anja. I do donate a lot, but there are so many sides to my dressing caracter that I cannot choose one style. It is all over the place. And I too have clothes which are good but do not match anything now, but will probably sometime in the future.


9 Greetje

Also (forgot to say this), I am quite insecure. For instance the white dress with the purple polka dots, was an item for a while, which I considered dowdy (is that the right word?), old fashioned. And when I put it on again, everybody loved it. Now I do too.


10 Sylvia

See but this is dangerous “probably sometime in the future”. That is what I think also and you end up with too many unwearable items (for now) in your closet. When that future finally comes, you find that your item is just not right and you buy something else anyway….


11 Heidi

Good advice. But I have just moved to Singapore, and am staying for a few years. Do I really toss my winter clothes? Or do I squirrel them away in some wardrobe to become mold fodder? Agh.


12 Sylvia

Yes, that makes it even harder. I keep a cupboard full of winter clothes and jackets as it doesn’t make any sense to buy those for the few weeks that I usually spend in a winter climate. Since you may be here for a short time only, I would hold on to your good winter clothes. So hopefully you have space for that and yes make sure to put a few dehumidifiers (which you can buy in supermarkets) in the closet as well. That helps.


13 Odyssey Home

It took me a good couple of years to edit. The edit was a long time coming, and I started it after a major relocation. During these approximately two years, an evolution occurred in my thinking concerning shopping, style and aesthetics.
I never set out to be a wardrobe minimalist but I guess that’s what it seems when I look at my closet. I really just like good design with a slightly dark edginess, and I’ve learned to delete things that don’t meet my standard.
Great post. 🙂


14 Sylvia

Very interesting! I understand what you mean by gravitating towards really good design. Let’s see where my editing takes me…..


15 Heather Fonseca

I have always been a ruthless closet editor, but now I look back and wish I had kept some things I gave away. My closet is very, very small, and storage is a constant struggle, but these days I’m attempting to not edit as much. Who knows, maybe I’ve gotten to the point where I really love everything in my closet.


16 Sylvia

Yes, perhaps you have. Well done!


17 The Style Crone

Your post is timely. I am in the process of editing, which means I will have to try everything on and have a vintage collection, which makes it more difficult. However, I am determined as it becomes a burden to have too much volume. Thanks for the tips!


18 Sylvia

Good luck Judith. I know it’s not an easy task…


19 Aileen

Great subject Sylvia and as usual wonderful current advice. I usually have a good look through my wardrobe twice a year, during March and September. We had a dreadful summer here in Scotland. It seems as if it’s rained every day for the past six months and I didn’t have a chance to wear any summer clothes at all. By the time next summer comes around I’ll feel I’ve had those summer clothes for a long time, when in fact they are brand new.
It’s always a struggle looking stylish living in the chilly winds and rain here. You are so lucky to live where the sun shines.


20 Sylvia

Yes, I can imagine Aileen. I think it’s really important to mainly buy clothes for your weather and keep your summer capsule very, very small. Perhaps invest more in some really fancy rain boots!


21 Greetje

I am doing so well, my wardrobe is getting better and better by donating. I am now more ruthless as Heather calls it. And I look at my clothes checking your boxes: do I look fabulous in it? No? Out. Is it a bit worn and torn? Out. Have I not worn it for 2 years? Probably out.
Hanging on to it for sentimental reasons? Out.
Meanwhile I am also “doing” my cupboards. Getting rid of stuff. Sometimes only one little cupboard a week, sometimes only one shelf. But bit by bit I am getting there. It clears my mind as well.


22 Heather Fonseca

The only problem with my ruthlessness is that I’ve donated things and then wished I had kept them in the attic instead. If something has sentimental value and you have some out of the way storage area, it might be good to keep those instead of giving them away. Also, if something is very good quality but no longer in fashion hang on to it. The look will come back. Everything comes back eventually.


23 Greetje

I know. But I have not got such a storage space.
Sylvia said that although the look comes back, it usually is slightly different and you don’t use your old clothes after all. And I agree.
But sometimes clothes are timeless, like tops, cardigans etc. Or as you say, really good quality stuff. I tend to keep those things for a longer time. But I also hung onto jackets that stung or had stains in them… Because they used to be my favourites… Well not anymore.
Also I am trying to define better if a garment has a style that I really like for me. Which still gives me quite some scope. LOL
But definitely not bohemian. So frilly, lacy stuff: out. That velvet green jacket: out.


24 Sylvia

Sounds to me that you are on the right track Greetje. It’s not easy but I really think it can lead to a more manageable wardrobe which will ultimately give you the feeling that you have more things to wear, rather than less.


25 Sylvia

I sometimes have that feeling as well, but then I look at the things I kept and actually wore again. And they are few and far between. Also, you will usually have to wait at least 7 years. I used to keep my clothes as well (as I’ve written before) but I’ve changed my position in this.


26 Tangobabe

Wow, how good, Greetje”


27 Greetje

I am doing so well. Every weekend I am reorganizing a draw or a shelf or a cupboard. There are 52 weekends in a year and I have a tiny house. I am getting there step by step.
Perhaps you have to keep doing this (no end). Like, when you are done, you start again with the first shelf. Not so bad really as it will be a lot easier to sort out if only six months or a year have past since your last clearing. Even now it only takes me about half an hour each weekend. Not really a difficult or time-consuming task.


28 Sylvia

Well done Greetje. Doesn’t it feel great to be organised. I know I always feel so much better if I can get a good overview. Extra bonus is that you will know exactly what’s in your wardrobe now and I’m sure that is giving you new ideas!


29 sleej

I really need this challenge. I am in a rut. Want a new updated look for school. I will try the dress cha
Kente when school starts back up next week.


30 Lorena

I edit on a monthly basis.
The problem is I must wear at least 95% of the items before I let them go.
Its my own way of making sure I will not have regrets so the process is never ending.


31 Sherry Edwards

Good advice for someone else. I read this article with open eyes and a closed mind. Someday I may need to apply this advice but I still struggle with letting anything go. This applies to everything not just clothes, ha! ha!


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