Closet Purging: The Basics

I’ve gotten into a pretty good habit: I purge my closet once a year.  I usually do it during my Christmas break.  The whole process usually takes about a day, but I usually do it over the course of a week.  A couple hours here, a couple hours there, and in the end, my closet is where I need it to be.

Having a packed closet or overstuffed drawers creates unneeded anxiety, and makes it tough to get dressed.  Purging is a great way to handle the ‘out with the old’, so ‘in with the new’ is a little easier.

I usually start with three of the large plastic bins, and note them as ‘Maybe 1’, ‘Maybe 2’, and ‘Gone’.  Since purging is a process, it might take one or two ‘Maybe’ bins to get to a good place.  While the purge may feel like a big mountain to climb, it’s worth it.  Trust me.

Getting Started: The first rule: If it doesn’t fit, then get rid of it.  The only exceptions are if it is a piece that can (or should) be altered.  Be critical here: getting a J. Crew oxford slimmed up may not be worth it…but getting a Hickey Freeman sport coat altered may be money well spent.  Second: if you haven’t worn it in a year, get rid of it.  There is no reason to think that you’ll start wearing anything after it’s been hibernating in your closet for twelve months.  Bye Bye.  Third: if it’s stained/torn, get rid of it.  You won’t wear it.  Stop trying to talk yourself into it.  Forth: be true to your style.  This is the toughest part.  You style changes over time, and your wardrobe should reflect that.  Remember back in the ’09-’10 when colorful argyle socks were all the rage?  Yeah, times change.  If there are pieces in your closet that don’t reflect your style anymore, or would require a forcing event to include it in your rotation, get rid of it.

I attack the purge in a section-by-section process.  I’ll start with button up shirts, and make a goal to get rid of ~10-15%.  Some years it’s more, and some years it’s less.  Through annual normal attrition, I’ll get rid of another 5%, which gives the dress shirts in my closet a ~5 year shelf life.  I look for stains, ill-fitting shirts, and shirts that I don’t wear for one reason or another, and make large stacks on the bed.  80% of the ‘Maybes’ and ‘Gones’ are easy, but the other 20% requires some thinking (and outside council from Mrs. RCS).

I then do the same thing with jeans and pants, then golf shirts, then sweaters, then sport coats, then shoes, then hats.

You will be amazed at how much you accumulate over the course of a year.  If this is your first major purge, get ready: it’s like an episode of Hoarders.

The Fallout: There is going to be an uncomfortably large pile of clothes that no longer have a home in your closet or chest of drawers.  This is OK – it’s the whole point of a purge.  You are going to look at it and think “I can still wear that”, or “it’s still in good shape”…FIGHT THE URGE.  You worked hard to get here, and that old piece that fell through would take the space of something new and great.

The bins will be overflowing.  At this point, employ a judicious process in the ‘Maybe’ bins.  Personally, I err on the side of ‘no’ rather than trying to find a spot in my rotation.  I prefer to dress well, in clothes that I know work.

At this point, call your family/friends that might have interest in these pieces and let them know they have 48 hours to come rummage, then it’s going to Goodwill.  I get a lot of questions about selling old clothes via eBay or other options: shoot low.  The reality is that a lot of your old used stuff that you won’t wear will not generate any significant revenue.  It’s probably more valuable as a write off at Goodwill.  Your call; but do your research.  Is getting $12 for an old shirt worth it?  I’ll give you this little nugget: if I get rid of ~100 pieces, I’ll have about 5-7 pieces that are worth selling.

The Aftermath:  After you purge, your closet and chest of drawers will feel a lot lighter.  Looking through them will have a clensing feeling.  Now is the time to take stock on what you need, rather than what you want.  For example, if you dumped a bunch of white dress shirts because of stains/etc, then that is where you should focus your investment in the new year.  If  you brown leather brogues are headed out, then replace them with a better pair for 2019.  Purging not only clears out the old stuff, but allows a more refined wardrobe, which is money well spent.

Hope this helps?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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  • Trip01/28/2019 - 9:53 AM

    OK, but are you supposed to thank all of the clothes you’re giving away?ReplyCancel

  • Dean Goodrich01/28/2019 - 10:34 AM

    Forwarding this to the wife….ReplyCancel

  • MRS01/28/2019 - 5:17 PM

    some good stuff here, no doubt, but it does also beg the question of “buy less, buy better,” right?ReplyCancel

  • ABW01/29/2019 - 11:55 AM

    Good post. One thing I will say though is that is getting $12 on ebay worth it? In my opinion (maybe broker opinion) is yes lol. I’ve sold plenty of stuff on ebay for $5-$15 and then look at my 60 day total and it’ll be over $100 or almost $200 worth. When i’m looking at selling a few things on ebay I do usually try to have one thing that will bring in some more money though.ReplyCancel

  • Pete01/30/2019 - 12:05 PM

    Big fan of dropping all the half decent pieces and brand-name stuff at a reputable men’s consignment store. Much easier than eBay and the stuff gets donated after 3-4 months anyways.ReplyCancel

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