Dina L. Relles

writer. editor. curious + common.


I recently purged my closet. It felt really good. At first, it may seem like something potentially superficial and relatively inconsequential. But it wasn’t. And here’s why.

Shedding things you don’t need, or don’t like, is cathartic. Liberating. You feel lighter in every sense. And clearing space—both literally and figuratively—will allow you to have more room for what really matters.

Only owning things that make you feel good, or serve a clear purpose, infects the way you approach everything in your life– the way you talk to your kids, deal with a co-worker, interact with strangers…if you’re distracted by the discomfort of pants cinching your midsection, or you spent 30 minutes trying to find a shirt you thought you had, but can’t find, you start your day frustrated and irritable. You’re not your best self. But if you feel good in your own skin, you will reflect that wherever you go.

Now, I’m a hoarder. Not diagnosably so, but I definitely hold on to things well after I should—out of nostalgia more than anything else. I have college term papers, rocks from meaningful places I’ve traveled, hospital bracelets from when my sons were born, and (literally) every note ever passed to me during high school French class.

So trust me when I say I know well how hard it is to let something go.

But after reading up a bit on others’ closet-purging experiences, and realizing I really do only wear a small fraction of what’s in my closet, I was inspired and decided it was time—actually, long past time—to finally get rid of the piles of clothing that may have fit me, and my life, 15 years ago, but not today. I became determined to look forward instead of feeling weighed down by my past.

Ok, so you’re on board. Now what should you do next?

Here’s my advice—take it or leave it:

1. Find a time when you can actually try on each article of clothing in your closet (or dresser, or wherever).

2. Look in the mirror.

3. Ask yourself:  does it make me feel good? Am I happy wearing it? Have I worn it recently? Will I, in fact, wear it in the future? If it’s too tight, too loose, too worn, not your color, no longer your style, lacks a clear purpose in your current life—if it makes you wish your body were any way other than it actually is–it goes.

4. Make a snap decision and move on. Don’t linger or obsess.

5. Organize what you’ve chosen to keep and put it back neatly so everything is visible and accessible, and arranged in a way that’s logical for your life. For example, I have my “work” clothes (i.e. business/business casual items) on one shelf/section of my closet, while my weekend/time-with-the-kids clothing is elsewhere.

6. Donate the rejected items to your favorite charity or organization. Some make it incredibly easy—like Career Wardrobe or Purple Heart. Of course, it feels good to know you’re helping others while lightening your load. You could also consign clothing that’s in reasonably good condition if you want to try to earn a few extra bucks. Just read those consignment contracts and policies carefully to make sure you’re comfortable with the terms.

A few more words of encouragement—especially when you hit a wall:

  • Don’t get discouraged. Trying on clothes that used to fit you before you had kids, or when you were 20 pounds lighter, or were in high school may get you down. To be honest, it didn’t hit home just how much my body had changed until I tried on some of those old tank tops. But think about how far you’ve come since you were that younger version of yourself. Even if those were great times, would you really want to go back? You need things that will work for you in your life now. It’s healthy, natural, and wonderful that you’re different than you were 10 years ago.
  • If something doesn’t look right, or make you feel good, just move on. Let it go. Not every piece of clothing works on every body. You don’t need it, and you certainly don’t need the way it’s making you feel. (As Clinton Kelly of What Not To Wear has said, “If it doesn’t make you feel fabulous; if it doesn’t make you feel beautiful, get rid of it.” Did I just lose credibility? Everyone has their guilty-pleasure shows! Trust me, there’s some value in that one…)
  • You need much less than you think you do. I can’t tell you how good it feels to live with less. And honestly, I could still get rid of more. The trick is to try to own fewer things of higher quality. Madewell has been key to reducing the number of suck-in-my-stomach shirts in my wardrobe that just sit on the shelf, collecting dust. (I know you know what I’m talking about.) Their clothes make you look good—and more importantly, feel good. Which, for a mom who’s been pregnant 3 times in 4 years, is no small feat. Their cuts are somehow just flattering. Now their stuff is not cheap. But it’s not outrageously expensive either. Plus, they have great sales. And remember, you don’t need a lot. Just a few “go-to” items in each category (e.g. short-sleeves, long-sleeves, pants, skirts) that you love and you’re set. (Be bold. Include accessories, handbags, and shoes in your purge. You can do it. And you’ll be glad you did. I promise.)
  • Listen to music. For me, this was key. It made the whole process more fun. Certain songs were just made for blasting during projects like this. Some of my favorites:  Small Town by John Mellencamp, Invisible Touch by Genesis, 1234 by Plain White T’s, Hotel Song by Regina Spektor, Let Her Go by Passenger, and Read My Mind by The Killers.

Still not convinced? Here are some final plugs for why you, too, should purge away…

You save time because you won’t have to wade through stacks of clothes that don’t fit to find the few things that do. (And for a mom of three little dudes, at least one of whom always wakes up before 6am, and well before I’m ready for the day, this is a huge benefit.)

You save money because you know what you have and what you need. And how little you actually wear. And once you’ve cleared that space, trust me, you won’t want to fill it right back up with more purchases. Initially, you may have to plug some gaps in your wardrobe. But then you should be able to resist temptation. And promise me—if/when you do go shopping, you won’t buy something if you don’t love it.

You save energy because you’re not trying on thing after thing, getting exasperated about how “nothing works” or looks good on you. (Which consumes mental energy, too.) Don’t underestimate the draining effect this can have at the outset of your day.

I’ll always remember a dinner my husband and I had just before we left for our belated honeymoon to Tuscany. We were hosted by an Italian doctor my husband trained with to get some tips. “Pack light,” he advised, “in travel and in life.”

We didn’t. We still don’t. I’d like to start to try.

Ok, now you’ve tackled your closet. What’s next?

I would love to hear about your closet-purging experiences. What worked? What didn’t? How did you feel afterwards?

One thought on “The Closet-Purging Post

  1. Shari says:

    Love this post, Dina. Kudos to you for decluttering! I definitely know how hard that can be. My closet is long overdue for a good purge, but I keep putting it off– partly because I don’t have the time, but mostly because I have a habit of assigning sentimental meaning to inanimate objects. I think we all do that, and it’s not always a bad thing– but as a therapist who has helped real hoarders dehoard, I can attest to the fact that there is definitely a point at which holding on to things becomes unhealthy. So, cheers to you for lightening the load and sharing your tips with the rest of us who are in need of doing so…

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