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How to Declutter Your Wardrobe When You’re Too Emotionally Attached To Your Clothes

Published December 4, 2022
A neat and tidy space is the end result when you declutter your wardrobe.

There’s a strapless black flapper-style dress hanging in my wardrobe that I bought in 2006 and that hasn’t seen the light of day since.

Everytime I do a wardrobe clean-out, I put it in the ‘donate’ pile but inevitably it makes its way right back into my wardrobe, just in case I get invited to a Roaring Twenties themed party. Of course, I haven’t been invited to a Roaring Twenties party yet, but when I do, I know I’ll thank for myself for being so prepared.

Then there’s the short tartan skirt that I bought unironically in the late 1990s when punk was in (and I was young enough to be into it), but that I now hang onto in case a situation arises where I need a sexy punk type of outfit (yet another occasion that I seem to wait in vein for).

The super expensive dress that an ex-boyfriend bought for me in 2013, and that now only fits me in the days immediately after I’ve had a stomach flu. A pair of gold glo-mesh covered Oroton heels that I wore to a wedding in 2014, where I also learned that I don’t do well in heels higher than 8cm. A pair of satin pants I bought last year because…I don’t know why.

How many items of clothing do you own that you haven’t worn in the past 12 months?

If you’re the average Australian adult, you’re likely to have about 20 pieces of clothing totaling almost $700 just sitting there, idle in your closet, according to recent research commissioned by Uber in partnership with Australian Red Cross.

I am above average; I started counting my unworn clothes but stopped when I hit 40 pieces totaling around $1500. Admittedly a good portion of those items are corporate garb and I’m no longer in an office 5 days a week. But still, it doesn’t make me feel good knowing I forked out money to have pieces of material taking up valuable space in my wardrobe.

I could just donate them. I want to. But I am very much like the 63% of Australians who say they experience barriers to giving clothes to charity, citing one of these as being an “emotional attachment’ to them. Guilty as charged.

Celebrity stylist, Red Cross Ambassador, and expert wardrobe declutterer Alex Van O says an emotional attachment to our wardrobes is a beautiful thing because it means we value and connect with our clothes. This is fine if we’re wearing everything we own but it creates more than just waste and space issues if we’re not.

“When your wardrobe is so full and cluttered with clothes that you no longer wear it can be difficult to see what your ‘active’ wardrobe is,” Alex says. “This can make you feel overwhelmed by the grand size of your wardrobe or like you have nothing to wear.

Alex Van O shopping at Red Cross

Stylist and Red Cross ambassador Alex Van O.

“People can recognise when this is happening by noticing if they do one or more of the following things: Justifiying why they aren’t wearing an item to themselves or to others, reminiscing about the time they wore it or purchased it and basking in the emotions that the clothes evoke when you see or think about it- but then not following through with actually wearing it and it continues to hang there for months or years without being worn.”

How to emotionally detach from those unworn items so you can let them go, in peace

“Come up with a certain time frame of what you consider appropriate for not wearing an item (for me that’s 1-2 years). Keeping that time frame in mind, go though every item in your wardrobe and pull out those pieces which exceed it. Then one by one ask yourself the following questions and you must answer honestly based on who you are right now and the lifestyle you currently live. Remember clothes are meant to be worn!

  • Can you remember the last time you wore it? How long ago?
  • Why have you never worn it since?
  • Does it suit your current/true sense of style?
  • Does it fit you now, the way you want it to fit?
  • Does it’s use suit your current lifestyle?
  • Does the shape/colour/print/fabric feel like who you really are?
  • Would you spend time or money to alter it to suit your current wardrobe needs?
  • And ultimately- if you were to see it in the shops right now, would you purchase it again?

“I believe when we answer those questions honestly and objectively we know deep down whether an item of clothing should stay in our closets or if they would be better donated and worn by someone who would frequently wear and cherish the garment.”

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