So what does downsizing your wardrobe have to do with mental health? A lot actually. For some, shopping for new clothes can be an attempt to satisfy a part of their lives that feels unsettled or having a closet full of variety can calm anxiety about not having the right thing for the right event. For others, clothing has an appropriate place in their lives and their closets are not crammed with unnecessary items.
The reality is that often the needs we have cannot be fulfilled with a closet full of clothes. While it makes sense to have some variety in your closet, having an excess of clothing (or other belongings) could signify a deeper issue, most notably an anxiety disorder.
When I was in my early 20s my house was on the UPS delivery guy’s daily schedule. I had fallen prey to the credit card trap and found myself ordering from any and all catalogs that came in the mail. There was something about looking through these catalogs, writing down everything I wanted, narrowing it down (or sometimes not), and placing an order that fulfilled my young life in a way nothing else could at the time. I suppose you could say I had a “problem” with buying too much and it took years for me to find a workable solution.
In my late 20s I moved out of my mom’s house and into my own apartment. By this point I had stopped ordering clothing via catalogs, though I did still frequent the local department store on nights when I was bored. A few years later I got married and moved in with my husband and it was then that I counted just how many pair of jeans I’d accumulated. Let’s just say I could have gone nearly a month without ever needing to repeat. And even though I’d gotten rid of many clothes over the years, I still had too much. I began to place clothes in trash bags, filling four total, and either threw them out or gave them away.
My love for, or perhaps obsession with, clothing didn’t necessarily stop there. It was around then that I realized I was buying clothes for reasons beyond necessity and I’d spent many days and much money that didn’t need to be spent trying to satisfy something I still don’t fully understand. For me, clothing provided a sense of comfort and calm when other areas of my life felt out of control. I loved being able to mix and match items and create a new outfit, but I would find myself spending hours, and I mean hours, sifting through my closet to see what I could put together. By the time I was 30 I recognized that what I said was just “a love for fashion,” was actually a manifestation of my anxiety about various aspects of life.
The difference now is that I know this about myself and I work through it in healthy, less costly ways. And being married, I’m learning more about how to manage finances, a household, relationships, etc. I have other things on which to focus my attention despite still owning more clothes than I truly need. In the past three years, however, I’ve worked to reduce the closet clutter and organize my wardrobe and my life.
Well, it has taken a lot of reading and a whole lot of talking differently to myself about needs versus wants. The feeling of freedom that has come throughout the process is very welcome and I encourage you to find your own freedom from the clothing trap.
Step 1: Assess
Before you even look in your closet or dresser, or both, consider what you do most days. Are you a stay-at-home mom who rarely goes to social events? Are you a career woman who is required to dress up 5 days per week with church on Sundays taking that total to 6 days? Are you someone who wears whatever you prefer or wears a uniform? Do you do a lot of yard work, painting, or other dirty jobs?
Once you consider what you’re doing with your time, you can determine your basic clothing needs. This will include the types of pants, tops, and shoes you need on a regular basis, as well as a few extras for odds and ends projects or outings.
Step 2: Organize
After you have an idea of your basic clothing needs, it’s time to take inventory and organize. Pull out everything you haven’t worn in a year and put it in a “donation” pile. With what’s left, determine what you wear most often. Do you have a pair of black dress pants you wear 1-2 times per week? Do you wear the same pair of shoes with most outfits? If so, lay these items in an “everyday” pile. Any items you wear less than weekly, but more than monthly, can go in an “extras” pile. Create a fourth pile for your “special occasion” attire. This may include clothing worn on dates or to the occasional wedding. Lastly, create an “as needed” pile for clothing items that don’t fit in another pile (casual wear, housework clothes, etc.).
Once you have created these piles, you can now move on to the next step.
Step 3: Eliminate
It’s time to go through the items in each pile and determine what you love, like, dislike, hate. If you dislike or hate an item, put it in the “donation” pile. If you are unsure if you like it, you probably don’t so into the “donation” pile it goes. This will leave you with only items you like or love.
Through all of my reading, I’ve also learned two additional ways to go about the elimination process. One is to ask yourself “If I was shopping today, would I buy this?” If not, it’s time to toss, donate, or give away.
The second way is to turn hangers around or backwards in your closet and after wearing and washing each piece, place them back in the closet with the hanger facing the right way. If after a year you have several hangers that are still facing backwards, eliminate those items from your wardrobe.
Step 4: Simplify
The final step is to once again look through the items in each pile and, considering what you determined your needs to be in step one, shrink these piles to 7-10 everyday outfits, 3-5 as needed outfits, 2-3 special occasion outfits, and 2-4 extras. Hang these items back in your closet or fold them and put them back into your dresser. Anything that remains should be considered for donation.
Be honest with yourself as you go through this process. If you think you are hanging onto an item because you might need it someday, chances are you won’t! Trust me on this! I was the queen of holding onto clothes that I would never wear, some still with tags. Second guessing yourself will likely cause you to hang everything back up! If you notice yourself becoming overwhelmed, take a few deep breaths and walk away for 5-10 minutes. Come back and continue the process. For those items that have sentimental value to you, consider placing in a tote and storing for a period of time.
Organize your closet based on your current lifestyle and simplify the process of getting ready. When you have less to choose from, it not only takes less time select what you’ll wear, but you may even notice a reduction in your level of stress each morning. Not to mention that the items you keep will be items you like or love!
*As with other areas of life, if you are experiencing strong emotions or attachments to items in your wardrobe and are finding this process unbearable, it might be helpful to seek out the assistance of a professional. See Psychology Today to find someone in your area.