How to keep clothes clutter under control

Learn highly effective techniques I have developed over 35+ years to declutter all your clothes, organize your closet, and manage this entire aspect of your life better from now on.

Clothes clutter

Whenever you buy a new item of clothing, it will need to be stored somewhere in your home. If your clothes closet is already full, that can be a problem.

New one in, old one out

I was in a department store once, standing in line to pay for an item of clothing I wanted to buy. The chatty middle-aged cashier was telling the customer she was serving that her mother always let go of an item of clothing whenever she bought something new. ‘But I don’t expect most people do that’ she lamented.

‘I do,’ said a woman standing behind her in the queue and in front of me.

‘So do I,’ I said.

‘I do too,’ said the woman standing behind me. ‘It’s the only way to not become a hoarder.’

And suddenly the shop assistant was outnumbered three to one. Or four to one if you include the advice of her absent mother.

The customer at the front of the queue had not said a word but was eyeing the cashier keenly to see what her reaction to this would be.

‘Well, of course, fashion is always moving on, so it makes sense to let old things go when you buy something new,’ the cashier hastily back-pedalled. But you could tell she had lived her life ignoring her mother’s wisdom and had been caught naked in the spotlight, like a stunned rabbit, by the unexpected responses to her casual remark.

It’s anybody’s guess whether this conversation caused her to reassess and declutter her wardrobe but you could see that it at least gave her pause for thought.

A clothes closet has finite space

Whenever you buy a new item of clothing, it will need to be stored somewhere when you get it home. If your clothes closet is already full, that can be a problem. You will either need to go to the expense of creating more storage space or reduce the quantity of clothing you already have. New one in, old one out.

But that’s usually not what happens. Usually, if someone’s closet is already full, the new item gets put on a pile nearby “just for now” and there it stays. Then it’s joined by the next new item and the next, and the pile grows and grows. If this gets really out of control, price tags are not removed. The thrill of the purchase becomes the goal rather than actually wearing the garments.

One woman I met had accumulated so many clothes and accessories in this way that she bought the house next door to use as an extended closet. Most people can’t afford such a luxury or would want to even if they could. The trick is to match the quantity of clothing you own to the available storage space you have.

Most people only wear 20% of the clothes they own

In my book, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, I explain that most people wear about 20% of their clothes 80% of the time.

If you doubt me, do this test for a month: each time you wear something and launder it, hang it at one end of your wardrobe. At the end of the month you will find (unless you have deliberately changed your habits to beat this exercise or have a job that requires you to vary your outfits often) that you are wearing these same clothes most of the time.

What this means is that 80% of your clothes are just taking up space and you don’t really need them all. Of course you’ll want to keep some items for special occasions and various other purposes, but I’ve never yet met anyone with a bulging wardrobe who wore everything in it. It just doesn’t happen.

Help to declutter your clothes

The techniques for clearing all types of household clutter are included in my Fast Track Clutter Clearing online course.

The techniques for decluttering clothes are similar but different enough to warrant a separate course called Declutter Your Clothes for those who specifically need help with this or would welcome some expert tips to speed up the process and make it easier.

The last opportunity to take this interactive 21-day course this year is November 5-25, 2021.
More information & Booking

Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd 2020, updated 2021

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About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fourth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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5 Responses to How to keep clothes clutter under control

  1. Karen — I have enjoyed and benefited from your book Clear your Clutter with Feng Shui for years. One thing you shared has been so true for me — that is our choice of colors has to do somewhat with where we are in our personal development — you mentioned wearing a lot of purple when you lived in Bali. When I turned fifty I had a career meltdown & my mother died — I started wearing orange. I also developed an affinity for Buddhism. 🙂

    The orange phase lasted a couple of years and then I donated them to a resale store that supports women involved in domestic abuse. Over the years, I have donated a lot of clothing to this organization if the item is in good condition. I think we constantly need to evaluate what’s in our closet and if clothing still represents our lifestyle. I retired five years ago and am just now letting go ‘career clothes’ — a lot of black pantsuits! 😉

  2. Dear Karen,
    I live on my own in a relatively spacious flat and I have three large closets as well as an old, tall chest of drawers. But since I only buy good quality stuff (I SO agree with you about natural fibres and non-treated materials!) it is relatively expensive, so I don’t necessarily buy an enormous number of things, while still feeling a bit guilty about the spending. And though I take well care of my clothes (airing, brushing, mending, handwashing, etc.) of course things do get worn out and discarded at times. And sometimes I come to the conclusion that a certain garment was a mistake, that it doesn’t suit me as well as I thought it would and has to go. Since the stuff is good quality and well taken care of it can usually be sold or gifted, though, so it’s very, very seldom that I actually throw anything away.

    But my point is that I don’t get rid of a garment just because I have bought something new or because it doesn’t get frequent use. This is where I feel a bit uncomfortable about some of your advice, since it seems to me to encourage an attitude of buying new, more “fashionable” things and trashing perfectly usable ones in a way that to me is both unethical and unsustainable. I would rather encourage an attitude of quality before quantity, knowing what suits you and disregarding what’s fashionable, thinking before buying and of taking care of what you have. If you have good-quality things that you love, all that airing, brushing, mending, investing in good hangers, etc. feels worthwhile.

    1. Ah, I see where the misunderstanding has occurred now. In my Declutter Your Clothes online course I go into a lot more detail than I can in a blog article. For example, if someone has a closet that is bulging with clothes they don’t wear then I suggest they ask themselves a series of questions before buying anything new to make sure they really need it and will wear it, and also which item of clothing will they let go of to make room for it. In How you can help to end the fast fashion fiasco I explain how we’ve been duped by the fashion industry to keep buying more, and how that’s not sustainable. Hence the slow fashion movement, which is about classic styles made from high quality, sustainable materials rather than poorly made garments that don’t last.

  3. I am a woman who loves clothes – and I love my clothes, which is not necessarily the same thing. I buy quite a lot of clothes and I own quite a lot of clothes. I often feel vaguely (and sometimes acutely) guilty about spending as much as I do on clothes. But everything I own is good quality and everything is well taken care of. The idea of putting clothes on a pile or of having things lying on the floor of the closet is frankly incomprehensible to me – not to mention owning unused garments with the price tags still on them. The moment I come home with something new I immediately try it on with several different sets of shoes and accessories to determine what works and what doesn’t, before hanging it carefully in the closet or putting it equally carefully folded in a drawer – giving quite a lot of thought as to exactly where in the closet/drawer it should go and why a certain place makes most sense. I would never hang a garment on a cheap wire hanger, all my shoes have shoetrees in them, and everything is sorted within its own category (dresses, skirts, trousers, blouses, jackets, suits, etc.) according to season, level of formality and colour

    But – I would never get rid of an old garment just because I have bought something new. In fact, this seems to me not just extremely wasteful, but also a way to excuse buying things you don’t really need. If the new thing is exactly the same as the old one, why buy it? And if the old thing was worn out and shabby, why hasn’t it already been discarded? I recently decided to let go of a wool dress which I had owned and used for 25 years but which I had to admit had passed the point of no return. I then took it to a dressmaker together with a length of wool and asked her to take apart the old dress and use it as a pattern for a new identical one, though in a different colour, which I count on being able to wear for the next 25 years. I also own a vintage Harris Tweed jacket from the late 40s, which I bought in 1989 when the garment itself was already about 40 years old and which I have now had for 30 years. Not only do I count on this jacket lasting until the end of my life – I am certain it will serve at least one more person for the whole of her life.

    Which brings me to the 20/80 % rule, which seems to imply that the 80% you don’t wear very often should be discarded – or the somewhat similar advice I see quite often that anything which hasn’t been worn for the last year or so should be weeded out. But if you have good quality stuff that suits you and which stays with you for decades it doesn’t have to be worn frequently to be good value for money. A dress that is worn twice a year for 25 years pays for itself in my opinion. And the joy of owning quite a lot of clothes is that you can afford to let some things simmer on the back burner, waiting for just the right occasion. That Harris Tweed jacket may have several outings one year and none at all the next, but that doesn’t mean that it is time to get rid of it – it is just biding its time.

    1. Hi Birgitta – It’s clear from your comments that your system works for you and you are not considering changing it. I do, wonder, though, how you manage to create enough storage space for everything if you continue to buy a lot of new clothes and so rarely let any of your old ones go?

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