Why We Keep Clothes We Don’t Wear + How to Let Go

Why We Keep Clothes We Don't Wear

I love my small closet. I’ve made a capsule system and rotate with the seasons. But there were several pieces lurking in my wardrobe that I just couldn’t part with. That too expensive dress that no longer fits, the maxi skirt I thought would look killer, the baggy t-shirts I wore before I lost 30 pounds. They were all still there. Why? Why do we keep clothes we no longer wear?

I am proof that small wardrobes work and I will help you – busy parent, teacher, entrepreneur, straight up boss – create a wardrobe that you love so that you can dress every day with less stress and get time back in your day.

In 2017, I eliminated over HALF of my wardrobe. We had started our minimalist journey and I felt it was time to own less. The first items out the door found a new home with a friend of mine. At the time, I thought “Wow! Look at my empty closet and dresser!” I still had well over 100 pieces of clothing.

As a recovering spendaholic, I still shopped often. It just wasn’t out of boredom. It was more “well, I’m already at Target. Let’s go look at clothes.” Damn you Target. Damn you and your brightly lit stores, colorful displays, and playful advertising.

Just this weekend my (retired) mom said “Oh yeah, I keep busy. I work about six hours a week at school, I have lunch with friends. You know. It keeps me out of Target!” That elicited a laugh and a “mhmm” out of my dad.

Returning to my original point (I can go on about advertising and why I’m breaking up with Target, but that sounds like I should write that for another day): we all have items that we keep but we no longer need. We have clothes we don’t wear, kitchen gadgets we don’t use, and papers that no longer serve a purpose.

So why do we keep clothes we don’t wear?

It’s been said, that for the average woman, we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. Meaning, that out of all the clothes in your closet, you only wear a small fraction on a regular basis.

We have favorites. Our favorites make us feel good. They make us feel confident, comfortable (which can be felt at the same time – I promise).

At one point, you purchased that garment (or someone gave it to you) because you “loved” it. It looked great when you tried it on at the store. Or maybe you bought it because it would give you the motivation to lose that last 10 pounds. Yet, once it was hanging in your closet it soon became lost in the throngs of all your other clothes. It never shined bright enough to become a favorite. It didn’t make the cut into the “20%”.

This happens all the time. Here are FIVE reasons we keep clothes we don’t wear.

#1 – You saved it for a certain occasion

Aside from a wedding dress, most of us have outfits for special occasions. A cruise vacation, your best friend’s baby shower, fancy holiday parties, and the list could go on. We’ve all purchased an outfit we intend to wear only once.

This is my guiltiest reason for saving clothes. I am the person that had a new outfit for everyday of vacation. We love cruises and being from landlocked Oklahoma, I just had to purchase some beachy clothes. Man, I looked good on vacation. But most of the dresses I purchased ended up in the back of the closet once we returned – never to be worn again.

Isn’t that Old Navy dress cute?! Yeah… I only wore it twice before I sold it.

#2 – It no longer fits you

There are two sides to the “no longer fits you” reason for keeping clothes:

1 – You hope to be that size again
2 – You save your too-big clothes because they are comfortable and hide any still visible imperfections

You are doing no favor to yourself by keeping clothes for either reason.

Hiding in my too-big clothes that I wore before I lost weight and while I was pregnant was all that I knew. I was comfortable in them and afraid that if I wore anything smaller that it would show that I’m still not the size I want to be.

I loved this shirt, but I was 20 pounds heavier when I bought it. It was too big, and made me look like a frumpy mom (which no mom wants). Also, my wee babe is only a few weeks old here 🙂

#3 – They hold sentimental value

I held on to tons of shirts from high school and college. I loved them because they held so many precious memories with friends. Did they fit? No. Did I want to been seen in public wearing them? No. Did I keep them? Yes.

Shirts from important events, special occasion clothes from a dear friend’s wedding, high school shirts and uniforms, and clothing that was purchased for us by someone special can be hard to part with. If you loved them because of this reason, wouldn’t you want to see it regularly?

I would! All of my high school shirts were made into a quilt by my grandmother. I used it in college on my dorm room bed. And it is now used as an extra blanket on our bed in the winter and a blanket on our guest bed. We use it so often that I get to enjoy those memories all over again.

Just because a garment was worn during a special event doesn’t mean you need to keep it. All you need to keep is the memory (more on this in a minute).

#4 – It’s a waste of money to get rid of it

I spent so much money on clothing just to be worn once (see #1) or for it to live in the back of my closet for months, I could have purchased a decent used car by now.

Think about all the money you’ve spent on clothing this year? Mint is an easy way to do this – they categorize your transactions for you! (More on budgeting HERE). Could you have purchased something you really wanted instead?

While it can be seen as wasted money to get rid of clothes you purchased with your hard-earned cash, think about all the time you waste in the morning getting ready, all the time you waste shopping for clothes, all the space you lose in your home because you’re storing all this clothing you don’t wear.

#5 – But it’s still perfectly good!

While you’ve spent your hard-earned cash and your precious time on an item, I bet it’s still perfectly good. Because you probably haven’t worn it much! Remember that you only wear 20% of your clothing 80% of the time?

Sure it’s still good, but is it benefiting you in any way? Do you wear this on a regular basis? Does it make you feel confident?

How to let go of clothes you don’t wear

We’ve realized why we keep clothes we don’t wear, but how do you let go? Why is it hard?

Clear your space and start some piles.

Clean up your room and get started with letting go of clothes. Make the bed, put clean laundry away, and get any trash out ASAP.

Start by designating a space for 5 different piles:
1 – Toss (things that no one else would want – think ripped undies, hole-y socks, really stained shirts, etc)
2 – Donate or Sell
3 – Everyday keep (things you wear on a daily basis and make it into your weekly or bi-weekly rotation)
4 – Special occasion keep (things you wear on a semi-regular basis like to all the weddings, baby showers, church, etc)
5 – Maybe (things you’re on the fence about but don’t want to let go of just yet)

Try it all on.

Take a Saturday and try all of your clothes on. Gym clothes, fancy outfits, underwear… you have it – try it on!

If you have an item that you take off the hanger and don’t even want to put it on your body should immediately go into your “donate or sell” pile. Any garment too stained, hole-y, or ripped should be tossed.

If you try on a dress you like, but it doesn’t fit quite right, you have two options: 1) get the garment altered to fit correctly or 2) donate or sell the item. If you don’t intend to spend the extra money to get it altered, it shouldn’t have a place in your closet. Why waste space with something that doesn’t fit?

Items that you keep should make you feel confident, be comfortable to wear (no tugging or fighting to keep in place), and look good. Invite a friend over that speaks their mind (or an honest spouse) and get their opinion. But at the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide what you feel your best in.

Don’t forget shoes and accessories.

Shoes and accessories are part of our wardrobes too! The same rules apply to them – if they don’t fit, don’t look good, or don’t make you feel good – they’ve got to go!

Deal with sentimental clothing.

Sentimental items in general are just hard. They are attached to the memory of a loved one or a special time in our lives. If you’re ready to let go, you should do so. But if you aren’t ready to let the physical items out of your life just yet, there are several ways to bring them front and center.


I absolutely love my t-shirt quilt that was made by my grandmother. It means so much because it was made my her AND it has all of my favorite shirts sewn into it. If you don’t have a sewing friend but still want a quilt made out of your sentimental clothing, there are companies and local artisans that will do it for you!

If you want someone local to make it for you, get on a local Facebook group (for me it would be my local moms’ group) or Facebook Marketplace and start asking around or searching. More than once I’ve seen this asked for in my groups and there are always several people that offer their services.

A quick Google search of t-shirt quilt companies yields many results. Project Repat (not affiliated) is a popular company that advertises their services. Looking at their website, the process is fairly simple: select the size of quilt, send them the required amount of shirts, and they make it.

Shadow boxes

I’ve only recently started to research this option for preserving but displaying sentimental items. We were married seven years ago and I’m finally ready to do something with my wedding dress (but not get rid of it).

Placing special items in a shadow box (like a wedding dress) is such an unique way to use a garment you love.

Remove the clothes you’re don’t want immediately.

If you chose to get rid of over half of your wardrobe (like I have), get rid of it right away. Whether you want to drop it off at the local charity shop or take it to a consignment store is up to you. But it needs to go. Otherwise, you will find yourself reverting back to your old clothes that don’t make you look or feel great.

The “Maybes”

I had a big pile of “maybes” when I went through my closet. They were the items I thought I would regret if I let go of them, but didn’t regularly wear. I packed them in a suitcase and set it in my closet. When I thought of something specific I wanted to wear from my “maybe suitcase”, I pulled it out and it stayed hung in my closet after I wore it.

After 6 months, I decided that I could finally let go of the rest of the “maybes” in the suitcase. I don’t regret letting go of a single thing!

Organize and store your clothes properly.

You’ve removed all the unwanted clothes from your closet, but now what? You should organize the clothes you love so that you’ll actually wear them and enjoy dressing in the morning!

The majority of my clothes are hung in my closet. This includes:

My dresser contains:
Out of season clothing
Gym clothes
Hiking and outside clothes

However you decide to organize your clothes, it should make your life easier – not harder. If you hate folding – hang everything up! If you despise hangers – fold it!

At the end of the day, my wish for you is for you to feel your best in the clothing you own. I want you to have simple mornings and less stress over what to wear.

Have you let go of the clothes you no longer need or wear? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear your story!

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  1. I took a 30 gallon trash bag full of clothes to Good will. Makes you feel good.
    Don’t miss them.

    1. That’s great!! I love the space decluttering gives me back – plus we are able to give the items to someone who needs them more than we do.

  2. Insightful exploration of why we hold onto unworn clothes and practical tips for letting go.

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