5 Excuses that Stopped me Decluttering (here’s what happened when I stopped listening to them)

5 Excuses that Stopped me Decluttering (here’s what happened when I stopped listening to them)

My ideal wardrobe looks something like this…

…A small selection of clothes that I like, that fit me, and that I wear regularly. I can remember the last time I wore everything, and think of an occasion where I will wear each item again in the near future.

…Everything fits in the space, it does not feel crammed in or squished, and I can see at a glance everything that I own. Choosing an outfit is easy. I do not spend hours trying to piece together an outfit, or trying on and taking off multiple items before choosing the same old thing I wear every day. I have a clear idea of what goes with what, and most items I own can be paired with a number of other items.

…The clothes I own are comfortable, and I enjoy wearing them. That does not mean I will ever win prizes for fashion awareness, style, or colour coordination. It does not mean my clothes are perfect. But I am happy with the things that I own.

For three years I worked on decluttering my wardrobe. It was a slow and thankless process, and progress was slow. Very slow.

July 2014… [Everything on the rail to the left of grey trousers hanging near the suitcase, plus the two shelves immediately under the towels are mine.]
wardrobe decluttering and minimalism in progress
Jan 2015… [Everything on the rail to the left of the ties hanging on the right, plus the two shelves immediately under the towels are mine.]
Decluttered Wardrobe October 2015
October 2015…  [Everything to the right of the dress hanging in the centre and the two shelves on the left underneath the towels are mine.]
It was only when I really thought about why I was decluttering my wardrobe, and my home in general, that I began to formulate a plan, and over the next six months my wardrobe went from that…

…to this:

Wardrobe Decluttering August 2016 Treading My Own Path SML
My half is everything to the left of the long dress.
Wardrobe Decluttering Drawers Treading My Own Path August 2016 1000px
Everything that isn’t hanging on the rail fits in a single drawer.

There are 26 items hanging on the rail, plus 2 jackets. I’m wearing another pairs of jeans, a t-shirt, a jumper and a scarf. The drawer contains exercise wear (2 pairs of cycling shorts, a cycling top and cropped leggings) plus 2 pairs of shorts, another top, 2 scarves, underwear (2 bras plus the one I’m wearing, 7 pairs of socks and 8 pairs of underwear) and a pair of leggings. There is a top in the laundry basket. In total, that’s 60 items, and excluding underwear, 42 items.

Do I have a perfect wardrobe? No. It’s not as mix-and-matchable as it could be, and I’m clearly no style queen. Do I feel that it is enough? Definitely. I wear everything on the rail. And I know that as things need replacing, I will choose better.

For 3+ years I chipped away at my wardrobe. What finally pushed me to declutter to a place I was happy with?

Firstly, I drilled down to what I wanted from my life. More time, and more freedom – who doesn’t want that? But what did it mean to me? What did it look like? And how was my stuff getting in the way of that? (I wrote about this in my last blog post, so here’s the link if you missed it.) This is what I did next.

Long-time readers will know that my wardrobe has been my biggest struggle, but these tips can be applied anywhere. A laundry closet piled high with towels and bedding. A toy cupboard so full the door won’t quite close. A garage or shed stacked high with boxes, some of which you’re not entirely sure what they contain.

I took everything out of my wardrobe and into the lounge, as I had done several times before, and one by one I went through each item. I asked myself – did I wear it (and more specifically – could I remember when I last wore it, and think when I might wear it again in the near future), did I need it, and did I like it? There were only three possible answers: yes, not sure, and no.

Everything that was a resounding “yes” went straight back into my wardrobe. The “no” pile was put aside for sorting – those items for selling or donating, and any rags. What was left was the “not sure” pile.

Now I went through each piece and asked myself: what story or excuse am I telling myself about this item? What is my reason for holding onto this? Why was I “not sure”?

I found there were a few common excuses I was telling myself.

Excuse #1 :I’ll lose weight and slim back into the clothes that used to fit.

Of course this could be true. But I’d been telling myself that I was going to slim into my clothes for three years. I’d set myself a 3-month deadline, and when I failed to meet it, extend it by another three months. The truth is, I wasn’t increasing my exercise or giving up chocolate, and when it came to it, I didn’t really want to. My weight was unlikely to change. If it did, would I even want to wear those clothes that had been languishing in my wardrobe for 3+ years?

Why allow myself to be reminded of what I hadn’t achieved every single time I opened my wardrobe doors?

Excuse #2: I’ll wear it someday/it might come in useful.

The real question is: why didn’t I wear it now? I found that my reasons included: because I already owned something similar that I preferred, it wasn’t comfortable, it wasn’t appropriate for the weather, or it simply wasn’t practical. In the past I’ve been guilty of keeping items of clothing for the time when other, preferred garments wear out, and I’ve learned that well-made clothes take a surprisingly long time to wear out. When they do, will I even want to wear that garment that sat in the closet untouched and unloved for 3+ years?

Uncomfortable clothes rarely (or ever) become comfortable. The weather is unlikely to change much (I’ve no plans to move), and the clothes I own need to be practical for where I live and what I do now.

When I drilled down to it, this idea of “just in case” was generally linked to these next excuses.

Excuse #3: I’ll never get back what I paid for it, so getting rid of it would be a waste of money.

I have purchased items that I then haven’t worn, or have only worn a handful of times. It was never my intention not to wear them, but because they weren’t comfortable or practical, I chose not to. Some of these items were expensive to buy, and others had taken a while to track down, so they had cost me time and money. I didn’t want to feel that I’d wasted my money, and I kept them.

The truth is, I had wasted my money. I wasted it the moment I made the purchase. Whether the item sat in my wardrobe or was given away, that didn’t change. I’d made a poor choice – it happens, and we’ve all done it! But rather than forgiving myself for making a poor choice, I’d keep the item hanging there, unworn. It didn’t persuade me to wear it. It simply reminded me every time I opened my wardrobe doors that I’d wasted my money, and left me feeling guilty.

Excuse #4: If I could find the right shoes/haircut/accessories, it would suit me.

I kept items that didn’t really suit me because I loved the look of them. I loved the fabric, or the design, or the colour – but sadly it didn’t love me back. I was holding onto this idea of my “fantasy self” – the me who looked good in these clothes.

However, the reality was, they didn’t suit me and I didn’t wear them. They weren’t flattering, and didn’t suit my skin tone, body shape, or my age. I realised that loving the style (or the design, or the brand) doesn’t always translate into wearability. Just because it looked great on the model in the catalogue, or in the shop on the rail, that didn’t necessarily translate into looking great on me.

Excuse #5: I hate waste, and getting rid of stuff is a waste.

This was the excuse I struggled with most. I’d justify keeping things that I didn’t wear because “I didn’t want them to go to waste”. Yet there is no rule that says decluttered items need to go in the bin. With a bit of effort, it is possible to find new homes and uses for old clothes.

I turned my idea of waste around. If I had items that I didn’t use and didn’t wear, surely keeping them was a waste? The idea that by sitting in my home unused they were not going to waste was crazy! If I could donate them, that was a far better use of resources.

What about the really tatty stuff? At some stage clothes need to be gotten rid of. I’m happy to darn holes and wear old clothes, but there comes a point when I start to feel miserable and frumpy. For me, that’s when they have to go. I have to let them go. Keeping them and hating them is not healthy, nor is it helpful (and they don’t get worn). It’s fine to have a set of old ugly clothes for the garden (if you actually garden) but there’s no need to have a wardrobe full of them. (That doesn’t mean they need to be binned. They can be cut up into rags for cleaning, composted or recycled.)

As I went through each item one by one, I reminded myself why I was doing this. What the end goal was. Why each choice mattered. Did I want to keep unnecessary items in my home? No. What would the costs (in time, energy and money) be? I’d attempted to declutter my wardrobe over and over. It really wasn’t that much fun. Did I want to go through the same process in another six months, and then another? What would the time spent decluttering be taking away from?

This time, there were no excuses. There were no ‘if’s or ‘but’s or ‘maybe’s. There was plenty of guilt. I’m not someone who lets go of things lightly. But this time, guilt wasn’t a reason to keep things. It was a reason to let them go.

What’s next for my wardrobe? I’m looking forward to building a capsule wardrobe, with more flexibility and things-that-go-with-other-things. I’m planning to try experimenting with less. But for now, I’m enjoying the simplicity of my wardrobe exactly as it is: no more can’t-find-anything-to-wear sulking, no more guilt, definitely no excuses, and no more weekends spent decluttering…again.

[Want to see the rest of my house? Next week I’ll be sharing how we’ve decluttered and what our minimalist living space looks like, so if you’re keen to have a virtual nose around, stay tuned!]

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you struggle with wardrobe decluttering or do you find it easy? How do you feel about your wardrobe right now? Are you happy, or do you feel like you have a bit of work to do? Tell me about any wardrobe decluttering experiences… the good, the not-so-good and the downright terrible! What have been your biggest struggles? Are there any excuses that you tell yourself? What have been your best wins or greatest realizations? Do you have any tips to share? Is there anything you need help with or ideas? If you were going to add to this list, what would your advice be? Anything else you’d like to add? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts so please leave me a comment below!

32 Responses to 5 Excuses that Stopped me Decluttering (here’s what happened when I stopped listening to them)

  1. After several rounds of decluttering and a very long period of buying nothing new, I thought I was about done. Then after one of Courtney Carter’s newsletters, I realised there was very little that I actually loved. I had decluttering but I didn’t have a capsule I loved. So, 3 more rules. 1: I could buy a new item for every 3 I got rid of. 2: after learning about microplastics/fibres, I removed almost all remaining synthetics from my wardrobe. 3: any new items must be 100% natural (hopefully organic) or have a strong technical reason for any synthetic component. It’s actually fairly restrictive, and is slowly moving me toward a capsule I truly love.

    • Thanks so much for sharing this Mel! I have wondered about this. I would not go as far as to say that I LOVE everything in my wardrobe – but “like” is good enough for now. Would I buy them again? Not all of them, but that’s okay if I still wear them and like them.

      I did wonder about ditching everything I didn’t love and starting again, but I want to buy my clothes second-hand, and that is more effort than just popping into the shops. (And something I’d prefer to avoid altogether!) I also didn’t want to waste what I already had.

      My long-term goal is to have a capsule wardrobe that is much more functional than the one I have now, but I am happy to take my time and wear what I have. I feel that now my wardrobe is so much smaller, it won’t take so long to wear things out and replace them! I have the same rule as you that everything must be 100% natural unless there is a strong reason. I still have some synthetics. Looking to forward to moving further towards all natural too!

    • When I had my first baby I had only a couple of maternity outfits by he end and the best of the two was a Laura Ashley summer dress which I had bought second hand. By the end of the 9 months I hated that dress so much I made it into a nappy bag. Funny that i should remember it now!

      • That made me laugh Gillian! I went backpacking in my early twenties and I must have had about 6 outfits, which I wore for the entire year. By the end, how I hated them all! I have to say, it drove me to have a massive shopping spree : / I only remember a couple of the t shirts that I bought. I wonder what happened to the other stuff (and if i even wore it)?

        I love that you were far more resourceful with your dress! : )

  2. After retiring a few weeks ago I have been gradually going through our house, packing up and donating unwanted stuff. Each bag makes me feel a little bit lighter in spirit. Can’t quite face culling my books yet!

    • Hi Judy, that IS exciting! It’s definitely true that less stuff makes us feel lighter – it’s like a weight being lifted off the shoulders, too! I have found that decluttering gets easier, and sometimes it takes a couple of “chipping away” attempts before we have a breakthrough. Have you joined your local library? Knowing that your library carries some of the books you own and don’t read might assist you in allowing yourself to let them go!

      Good luck with the decluttering!

      • I stumbled across inter library loans a couple of years ago and have been able to get every single book I thought I would have to buy because my local library didn’t stock it! It is just fantastic being able to source books even my bookstore didn’t stock and it’s made giving away my favourite books so much easier because I know I can reread them from the library

  3. Great post!

    “I’m happy to darn holes and wear old clothes, but there comes a point when I start to feel miserable and frumpy.”

    This is where I get stuck, too; it’s worst when clothes are a little too shabby to donate, but not nice enough that I feel good wearing them. It feels a bit like doing penance, wearing out clothes I shouldn’t have bought in the first place. See also: all the cosmetics and beauty products I’m trying to gradually use up. Sigh! Live and learn.

    I’ve been daydreaming about Bea Johnson’s wardrobe for days— so simple! So efficient, but still stylish! Time for me to head in that direction.

    • Thanks Rebekah! I decided I would buy nothing new until I’d worn my old stuff out, and three years later, I still had way too much stuff! But all the “nice” things that were waiting for me once I’d worn out the old stuff were now 3 years old! So I decided that if I insisted on wearing out the old stuff, then I would donate all the good stuff and when the old stuff did wear out, I would invest in some new stuff that I liked / fitted me / suited me on THAT day. It really helped! And made me feel like there was an end in sight. It does feel like a penance, you are right!

      I’m not sure I’ll ever quite get to the “stylish” part, but I can dream! ;)

  4. I have been through three bigger decluttering session in the last 18month. Now I feel I am mostly happy with what I have in my wardrobe. But still I don’t wear half of the clothes that are there. I have kept my maternity clothes and a few items that are actually bigger than what I am now. I am keeping these because we would like to have a second baby and I don’t want to rebuy all these. So now they take up space in my wardrobe. And of course there are some real summer outfits and real winter piece. Here in Ireland we usually wear the same trouser+top+maybe a jacket/hoodie all year around. But! There are days in the winter when you need warm clothes and you need a few pieces to wear when you go on holidays to warmer countries. What I most like about having so much less than before is the ease of maintenance. I cant believe how tidy my wardrobe looks and I only spend 2 minutes every night to quickly adjust a few bits that are untidy.

    • Thanks for your comment Timi! I think that keeping your maternity wear makes perfect sense if you intend to wear it. (I do hate unnecessary waste, and totally agree with your sentiment!) I’m not a fan of the idea of getting rid of all my winter clothes in summer and summer clothes in winter as some minimalist blogs suggest. My wardrobe would be half the size (literally!) but I have space for it all and don’t want to need to go shopping on the first day of summer! I’ll be interested now to see if I will wear out clothes in a season and need to replace them by the end of it…

      When I lived in the UK I had way too much summer stuff – because I really wanted it to be sunny! Realistically most of it got worn 1-2 weeks a year. I agree that it’s helpful to be prepared, so long as you keep things realistic! I am so much better at that now!

      Thanks so much for sharing! Agree with you completely about the tidiness too! : )

  5. For me, it’s about memories. Everything in my wardrobe gets used a lot – or at least this was the case in the past. Most items are 5+ years, many items close to 10 years old. Looking at them reminds me of all those amazing moments, trips and experiences. I bought a summer top with my friend in Barcelona (when we were both still studying, over a decade ago), I bought pants and pullovers in Paris when I lived there in 2003 – the list goes on. Throwing out those items feels like throwing away a memory. And yes, they do fit (my body hasn’t changed much). But fact is that I tend to keep items for a VERY long time and they DO accumulate over time. I love and wear all those things, but I have too many (unless I dress in a different outfit every day for about two months…). Sigh.

    • Thanks for sharing Andrea! If it’s just the memory you want to hold on to, and not the item, you could take a photo and let go of the item. I’ve read about people who make clothes that have memories but they don’t wear into cushions or other decor that they see every day. I’ve even seen t-shirts framed and hung on the wall! The thing about memories, the stuff is just a prompt. It isn’t the memory itself. And personally, I like the idea of clearing space to create new memories.

      Whether you keep the items or not, it depends how much having too many things frustrates you. If you truly love them and cherish them and feel good about them, there’s no need to let them go. But if you feel that you have too much, or that there is clutter, then maybe you do need to let some things go… Only you can know the answer! Good luck with whatever you decide! : )

  6. After 11 months of no clothes shopping, I added some new casual pieces for summer as I realized that I had nothing that I really loved or reflected my personality. I did buy them second hand though. I have a small bedroom with no room for a dresser, so all my clothes, including spring, fall & winter jackets fit into my closet. I am guilty of keeping footwear I haven’t worn in years “in case”. lol Can’t wait to see your house tour!

    • I tried the “buy nothing new” approach for almost 3 years, Holly – and it didn’t really work for me! I did buy some bits that I needed, but mostly I tried to wear out stuff I had. The thing was, despite having a stuffed closet, I didn’t actually have things I needed or wanted to wear. And when you have far too much, it takes forever to wear out! Once I realised that owning stuff I liked was the important thing (in terms of actually wearing it) – well, that was a revelation! ; )

      I didn’t share my shoes actually as they are in the spare room (and I forgot!) – but I think I have 6 or 7 pairs. I’ll add them to next week’s post! I got rid of the excess a couple at a time, but I didn’t have too many to begin with. That said, at my “peak” I might have had 30 pairs… Moving to Australia from the UK meant I let go of a few pairs. A lot of my shoes were worn by my fantasy self rather than me!

  7. Letting go clothes who are too small had the biggest impact in my decluttering journey. No I probably won’t loose 5 kg anytime soon, and if I do, well I’ll deal with it when I get there! as you say very rightly, no need to look at your guilt every time you open your closet, mornings are hard enough as they are ;-)

    • Mine too, Claire! I realised that if I did lose weight, fitting into my dusty old clothes purchased several years ago wasn’t going to be that exciting. And as I was more likely NOT to, they might as well go to someone who would wear them!

      Haha, yes! I used to struggle with stuff to wear in the evening, actually. Mostly when going out to dinner, when too-tight clothing is a very unhelpful reminder of my love of food! When it comes down to it, I love eating more than I love fitting into size smaller jeans, so there is no need to own the size smaller jeans!

  8. How exciting for you to finally have your wardrobe down to a selection you are happy with. I know how hard you have struggled to reach this point.

    I look forward to seeing more of your new home, I’m nosy that way. :-)

    • Thanks Lois! Yes, I’m pretty sure you’ve been putting up with my decluttering struggles for as long as I’ve been airing them! ; ) I’m happy with it, yes, but I’m sure it will actually get even better from here. I’m looking forward to experimenting with less, and building a 100% natural fibres wardrobe (or as close as I can). I do feel like I’ve got to where I wanted, but what’s the harm in pushing it a little further?! ;)

      I’m looking forward to sharing the rest of my home! Shame you can’t just pop round for a cup of tea sometime – I could show you round properly! ; )

      • I’d love to pop over for a cup of tea with you, Lindsay!

        I’ve enjoyed reading about your struggles with your wardrobe as I have my own struggles. I don’t have a large amount of clothes but at least half of what I do have are clothes I have been holding on to until I lose weight. These are items I really like and it’s hard to let them go, but each time I’ve read one of your posts on clothes I passed on a few more of them.

        • You’ve enjoyed my struggles, Lois?! Oh wait, reading about my struggles! ; ) Wardrobe decluttering is hard. It’s been such a mission to get to this point, but ooooh, it feels good! And I somehow know that my wardrobe will only get better from here. I’m definitely not making the mistakes of the past again!

  9. We decided two years ago that we wanted to make a concerted effort to put a dent in our mortgage, so have been decluttering as a way to do this. Most we have given away but weirdly giving it away helps us to save! Last week it was the camping trailer which we have been putting off because it fits all the camping gear inside, it’s neat and out of the way. So by getting rid of it meant we had to now find room for all the leftover bits and that is messy :-). It really IS work, eliminating isn’t it? But oh so rewarding when it’s done! It’s so much better than storing it neatly away because we never have to get it out and sort it again when we move house.
    Right! Now I’m off to pare down my exercise gear, I really do not need a drawer full!
    Thanks for your great posts!

    • I think only a declutter can understand Susan – that giving stuff away can help you save! I know what you mean! For me, the act of giving away stuff I didn’t really use really made me question future purchases, and think much more carefully. I spend less as a result of the struggles I had letting go – I’m not going through this again!

      I think anything that is hard brings the biggest rewards! And yes, it is super satisfying. We have reduced our storage to a minimum, like you, because we have to be ruthless with what’s left! And ask ourselves if we really need it.

      A drawer full?! That is a lot of exercise! ;)

      Thanls for your lovely comment Susan!

  10. Lindsay, you have reinspired me to go through my wardrobe again. I did it at the end of last year and donated quite a few bags (back when I still had plastic bags in the house) to the op shop, but there’s still way too many clothes and shoes still in there. I had been discouraged from doing so because I had seen pictures of wardrobes from the 333 project and Bea Johnson- there’s no way I could wear just 3 classic colours! I need colour! Seeing your wardrobe with some pastels and colour in it has inspired me that I can do it too. Thank you.

    • That’s great, Sarah! To be honest with you, I didn’t look at Courtney Carver’s blog until this year, because I found the idea of Project 333 so completely beyond me (and kind of intimidating). And Bea Johnson is far more creative and glamorous than I will ever be. I’m glad I’ve found my own way. I think I will pare down my colours a little (I’m not sure I need to have ALL of them!) but I do like brights and I don’t think black really suits me. I think sticking to a few – and having block colours that pair more easily with other things – might be the way to go. I still have a couple of tops that only really go with one other thing, and my future test will be that I have to be able to mix them with more than one thing. A work in progress!

      Good luck! And don’t worry, there is no need to be beige if you don;t want to be!

      • Thank you, I’m trying to take photos of everything and categorise all my items on an app I found called pureple so I can what I have that doesn’t match anything. Not sure how that will go but we will see.

  11. Hello! I’ve absolutely loved exploring your blog recently! I am just beginning my transition into a zero-waste/minimalist life-style and so far it is extremely overwhelming! Just as some background, I live in the United States and will be studying abroad at the University of Newcastle in the Fall! I’m an Environmental Science and Chemistry double major and am constantly irritated by our one-use, plastic-convenience culture here in the United States (at least from my perspective)! From what I’ve seen, Australia is going to be such a wonderful experience and I hope to learn much more about sustainability and no-waste living!

    As a college student, I 100% relate to this dilemma! Every time I return from school (I go to school in another state so am only home 3 or 4 times during the school year) I tell myself that I am going to declutter my closet- I tell myself it will be easy because if I didn’t bring it to college then I have no need for it at all- wrong! As I go through my closet I think “but its so comfy” or “but my mom bought it for me!” or “I’ll need that someday” or “I haven’t gotten to wear it yet, I really should!” or “but I spent money on that” or “I don’t just want to give it AWAY and get nothing from it” or clothes that have memories attached but are not really useful anymore (yes, I too am a hoarder) or excuse XYZ like you mentioned. Even worse, I have taken three or four trips to Goodwill over the past couple years and my closet STILL hasn’t shrunk. Coming home from college this year, I have my clothes spread to two closets because it all didn’t fit anymore! Once again I am attempting the clean-put process and will try to sort them into “sell” or “donate” piles, but we’ll see how that goes….perhaps I’ll post if I ever downsize to a single closet again!

    Thanks for the inspirational blog, I love reading all your stuff! I can’t wait to come visit in the fall!

    Jessica

    • Thanks Jessica, and oh my goodness I hear you! This was me for forever. Every excuse in the book. You’d think you could let go of things you’d forgotten about easily, wouldn’t you?! Nope! All I can say is, it gets easier. You’d think it would get harder to minimize when you’ve already decluttered once or twice, but it gets easier. Promise. Think of it like a muscle – you gotta work that muscle to get it stronger!

      You’ll get to that single closet. I know you will! You can do it!

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