How to be ruthless when decluttering clothes: 17 easy steps to a minimal closet

by Anousheh

Do you want to downsize your closet, but are struggling with the process? Do you want to find out how to get rid of the clothes you don’t wear anymore easily? You are in the right place!

Now, if you want to get rid of one or two items, this post isn’t for you. In this article, I will talk about a ruthless approach to decluttering. So if you want to downsize your wardrobe quite a bit, and are ready to work towards a capsule wardrobe, then this one is for you.

Let’s find out how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes in 17 easy steps for a minimal closet!

How to be ruthless when decluttering clothes

How do you declutter clothes quickly?

Decide what to keep, not what you want to get rid of

As we said, this is about how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes. And we also want to be quick about it. So when you make decisions, I want you to think about what you want to keep. Don’t ask yourself what you want to get rid of.

Why? Because deciding against something is so much harder to do than actively choosing something.

There’s a difference between making a decision and making a choice.

According to a Forbes article, choice connects to the place of desired intention, values, and beliefs. Decision connects to the place of behavior, performance, and consequences.

That is exactly why we can feel scared or overwhelmed when getting rid of things because we are afraid of the consequences. You might start thinking “But what if I need this for a motto party?” or “I might fit in this once again, and then I’ll regret getting rid of it!”.

However, if you are making active choices, you can choose how you want to go forward. You can choose what you love to wear, what’s comfortable, what’s really flattering. And this will make the process a lot easier and a lot quicker.

Work with categories

When you’re going through your closet, the best way to purge clothes is to work with categories.

Sort your clothes in categories that make sense for you and your lifestyle. This could be “jeans”, “t-shirts”, “activewear”,… Or it could be “work wear”, “casual wear, “lounge wear”, and so on.

This will help you get a good overview of what you already own. And it makes it easy for you to decide what to keep because you can estimate how many of each category you really need. If you only wear your casual wear on weekends, 4 different outfits or 2 pairs of jeans are probably enough.

Don’t feel guilty

This is an important step when it comes to how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes. I know a lot of the time we keep something (and not just clothes) because of guilt. You could feel guilty because you spent so much money on it. Or because you never wore it. Or maybe because someone gave it to you and you feel bad giving it away.

However, guilt should play absolutely no role in your decision on what to keep.

If an item is cluttering up your closet, it doesn’t matter how much it once cost, who gave it to you, or how many times you wore it. It needs to go.

Listen, the whole point why you want to find out how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes is probably because you have way too many. You want to make room for what brings you joy when wearing it. So focus on that joy, not any feeling of guilt.

And I promise you, most people won’t even notice if you give away a shirt they once gave you. Or if they do, they won’t be mad.

Don’t hang on to gifts or clothes that have a sentimental value

person giving another person a gift

Similarly, you shouldn’t hang on to clothes only because they trigger a memory or a feeling. A lot of people have emotional attachments to physical items they own.

However, this emotional attachment lives within you and not the item itself. We are scared to let go of the item because we are scared to lose the memory it brings us. But this won’t happen.

A great solution to this is to take a picture of that item. You don’t need to keep that festival shirt in order to trigger that memory. A picture will do the exact same for you.

If you’re having a hard time letting go of sentimental items, my post on decluttering sentimental items will help you through the process.

Get everything out

A great way to purge clothes quickly is to get everything out on one pile. But hold up a second! I don’t mean literally everything.

I know this is all about how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes. But getting aaaall of your clothes out at once is only going to end up in a disaster. As I have said before, the easiest way is to work with categories. This will prevent you from getting overwhelmed.

So in order to get a good overview of the clothes you own, you should gather every item that belongs in that category and get it all out (yes, completely out of your closet!). Now you can really see everything you own and make quick decisions on how much you really need.

Take it step by step

Okay, you came here because you want to know exactly how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes. But along those lines, we also don’t want to get overwhelmed with the process. That’s why breaking down a task is one of the most crucial steps to move forward without overwhelm.

Let me refer you to one of my favorite quotes here:

“There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”


We already broke down our clothes into categories. I always recommend tackling these categories one by one until you are completely done. This will give you a feeling of accomplishment and show you that decluttering doesn’t have to be overwhelming at all.

Put the “keeps” away nicely

person with folded cloths in hand

While we are trying to get rid of a bunch of clothes here, obviously we are also keeping some. And ideally, we are keeping those clothing items that we love and now want to take care of so that they will last us for as long as possible.

That’s why the last step is to clean your closet, check your clothes for stains or any small repairs, and then put them back into your closet nicely. Organize them the way that helps you the most. This could also be a great time to figure out how to fold your clothes Marie Kondo Style.

How to decide what clothes to keep

Go with your gut first

I know that decision-making is probably the hardest part when you’re going through your clothes. In order to decide what clothes to keep, I would always say go with your gut first.

Our first initial feeling usually steers us in the right direction, we just have to listen to it. So just take an item and see how you feel. Do you remember all the times you wore it and felt great? Or do you feel kind of unsure? Listen to those cues and go with them. Don’t overthink the process.

Put your hangers back the wrong way

This is a great way to figure out what you actually wear and helps you in figuring out how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes.

Put all of the hangers in your closet in the wrong way. Now every time you wear an item, put the hanger in the right way once you put it back in your closet. After a few months, you will get a great overview of the items you wear regularly and the ones that only collect dust.

Limit the amount of clothes you are allowed to keep

person going through a pile of clothes

It’s very easy to get steered off in the process of decluttering. You want to downsize, but you also want to keep this, and that as well, and so on. To prevent this, set yourself a limit for the amount of clothes you want to keep before you even start decluttering.

Think about your lifestyle and what makes sense for you. Maybe you work out daily, so you need at least 7 sets of workout clothes. Or you have to wear work attire and don’t wear your casual clothes as much. In this case, 2 pairs of jeans could be enough.

Setting yourself a limit will make it easier for you to decide what to keep and what to get rid of. Plus, you won’t drift off as easily and end up keeping most of the clothes you own.

No “laundry day” clothes

This is my number one rule when it comes to how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes. Don’t keep those “laundry day” clothes! And my friend, I know you have them. Those items you keep for when everything you actually like is dirty.

But also tell me this: When was the last time it actually came to that? Most often, we do the laundry soon enough to wear our favorite clothes again. And you also already made a decision for those “laundry day clothes”. You don’t really like them, you keep them just in case.

That’s no way to live life! You deserve to always wear your favorite clothes, so get rid of the emergency ones.

Think about what flatters you

Sometimes it can be hard to decide which clothes will make the cut and stay in your closet. One way to find out what’s worth keeping is thinking about the clothes that flatter you the most.

Which items make you feel great? You probably already gravitate towards those. And those are the items you want to keep: the ones you feel most comfortable in and suit your lifestyle the best.

The “maybe” pile

clothes laid out on bed

Alright, so we are all about how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes right now. But sometimes, you’re just not sure. With some items, you can’t decide, and that’s ok. Those can go on the “maybe” pile.

Put those items in a box, or under your bed, or whatever works for you. Keep them there for a few months and see what you miss. If you think about an item a lot, take it out and put it back in your closet.

But here’s the key to working with a “maybe” pile: Don’t go through your maybes after a few months and try to re-decide what you want to keep or what to get rid of! If you didn’t miss it, and you don’t remember what’s even in there, everything goes.

Anything with the tag still on goes

If this item has been in your closet for months, but the tag is still on, I’m very sure you’re not going to wear it.

Not even the excitement of it being new made you put in on so far! It’s okay to accept bad buys, it happens to the best of us. But don’t dwell in it, get rid of it.

Those items are usually very easy to sell anyways. I will show you how to sell your clothes and other ways to deal with clothes after decluttering in this post on how to get rid of old clothes.

Try it on

A great way to decide what clothes to keep is to try them all on. I know, this can be a gruesome task. Let me tell you, I haaate trying on clothes. But it’s a very effective way to make decisions.

You will see how you feel in it, or maybe even remember why you never wear that item. This trick will give you those aha-moments you need to find out how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes.

I know this made me go “Ohhh, now I remember why I never wear this, the arms are wayyy too tight for me” many times.

Live in the now and don’t keep clothes out of “hope”

jeans and sweater laid out

One of the main reasons why people keep clothes they rarely wear is out of hope and aspiration. I know a lot of people who even buy for a “future self” they would like to be but just aren’t. Not only does this clutter up your closet. It also makes you feel bad every time you see those clothes.

Why would you want to do that to yourself? Get rid of those clothes that no longer fit your lifestyle or maybe never will. It’s okay! So you used to wear all of those pairs of jeans, but now rarely wear casual clothes because you wear your work attire. That’s fine!

You always went partying in your 20s and have all the clothes to show for it. But that’s not your lifestyle anymore? Get rid of them! Keeping them won’t make you go to parties, and that’s okay.

Accept what’s in the past and adjust your clothes to the way you like to live life now.

Don’t keep clothes for years, only in the hope to once be able to wear them again. You probably won’t. And that is a-okay!

Get rid of everything ASAP

Once you have successfully decluttered all your clothes, I want you to get rid of them as soon as possible. And that’s for two reasons.

First of all, it will give you instant gratification. Our brains love those immediate results. It’s a reward that will make your brain save the task of decluttering as a positive process.

Also, we don’t want to be tempted to take something out again. If you have that pile of clothes you already decided to get rid of, but it’s sitting right next to your closet, it’s always in your sight. And you might start to think “Hmm, maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I should put this back, I remember wearing it once and I think I liked how it looked.”

We don’t want that happening, so let’s get rid of them immediately. I will show you how in this post on how to get rid of old clothes.

Questions to ask when decluttering clothes

a few clothes hung up

Asking questions always makes decision-making a lot easier! Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to find out how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes.

  • When have I worn this last?
  • Is it comfortable?
  • How do I feel when I wear this?
  • Do I have similar options?
  • Would I buy it again if I saw it in a store right now?
  • Do I have something that flatters me more?
  • Does this fit my current lifestyle?
  • Do I know someone who loves this way more than I do?
  • Am I only keeping this in the hope that I will once finally wear it?

Let’s recap!

Ok, by this point I hope you found out how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes and are ready to tackle your closet.

The most important things are staying in the present, breaking up the process with categories, and not feeling guilty for clothes that no longer suit you or you once got as a gift.

What’s the hardest part for you when decluttering clothes? Let’s start a conversation in the comments!

Want to remember how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes the next time you want to downsize your closet? Pin this post to your Closet Organization Board for later!

17 easy tips on how to be ruthless when decluttering clothes

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