The ideal closet holds clothes you wear regularly, with enough space around your pieces so they don't get crushed or wrinkled. If your closet is very far from this ideal, you need to go through your clothes and get rid of anything that isn't working for you.
Empty your closet Take all your hanging clothes out of the closet. (I stack mine up on my bed.) Then go through the stacks and evaluate each item. If you wear a piece regularly, hang it back up in the closet.
Right away, this should give you a pretty good idea of where you stand. Don't be surprised if the stack of clothes you rarely or never wear is five times bigger than the stack you put back in the closet. It happens.
Clothes that don't fit Make a stack of clothes that you're not wearing because they don't fit. Are they too small? Unless you're within 10 pounds of their fitting again, I'd say get rid of them.
Remember--we're recovering frumpaholics. The lure of the past is very strong. Resist it. If you have to lose 30 pounds before a pair of jeans will zip again, shouldn't they be jeans from this year, and not jeans from 2004?
I understand the desire to zip up your old skinny jeans. Keep a pair if you must. One pair. And don't wear them in public. I don't want you to look like you've been doing the Time Warp.
If the clothes are too large, good for you! Now get rid of them. OK, you can save one pair of fat jeans to wear when you pose the cover of your weight-loss memoir. But larger size clothing is pure gold for thrift shops.
Clothes that are dated This is where women of a certain age run into problems. We seem to lose our sense of what's current and blithely go on wearing clothes that are five years out of date. So evaluate each piece based on what you see in stores and catalogs right now. Trust me, you're not seeing ankle-duster coats, tapered pants, witchy-toed shoes, embroidered jeans, hooded sweaters, or mid-calf-length skirts in stores these days, so you shouldn't see them in your closet.
Timeless basics What about classics? Aye, there's the rub. You might not be wearing them right now, but good wool, cashmere, camel's hair, and silk are expensive. If they're in a classic style, you won't want to get rid of them. OK, we'll deal with them later. For now, you can keep them.
Upkeep issues If you haven't been wearing a piece because it requires expensive dry cleaning, hand-washing, or fussy ironing, think about it. Not wearing your loveliest clothes and sticking to wash-and-wear t-shirts and jeans every single day is like packing away your good china and crystal and eating off paper plates. Clothes are meant to be worn. If you're not wearing them because the upkeep is too time-consuming or expensive, maybe these pieces shouldn't be in your closet. Let them go.
If a piece needs needs repairs/tailoring, take care of it. Then enjoy.
Mistakes Then there are the pieces you bought in some kind of clearance sale feeding frenzy. Some of them still have the tags on them. Keeping those clothes is false economy. It won't get you your money back. If it's a mistake--wrong color, something's off about the fit, it turns out you don't have a garden party to attend--what's it doing in your closet? It's a squatter. Get rid of it.
Seasonal/Special Occasion clothes Are a lot of your clothes out of season? I live in Chicago and have to buy clothes for freezing cold winters and hot, sticky summers. I have tiny, old-fashioned closets, so twice a year, I go through the ritual of packing away out-of-season clothes. You might not have to do this, but at least set aside a section of your closet for rarely- or seasonally-worn clothes. It will cut down on the visual clutter.
The next step OK, now. The clothes you actually wear are back in the closet. There's a pile of stuff to clean/mend/repair. What to do with the rejects? You can hold a clothing swap with your friends; bring your too-big clothes to a Weight Watchers meeting; sell the clothes on eBay; or bring them to a consignment store.
You can also donate them to non-profit. My church holds a huge rummage sale every year. Prices on sale day are so low that people come from miles around to shop the sale. The proceeds benefit various local agencies, including shelters for homeless women. I pack my rejects off to the rummage sale drop-off knowing that every piece I donate will find a good home. Which makes me feel not just lucky, but smug. I love that.
Final thoughts Clearing out your closets is hard work. You'll find yourself playing the blame game--beating yourself up for having gained weight or wasted money. But think about it--by getting rid of the evidence, you'll have a fresh start. You won't have dozens of pieces of clothing hanging in your closet making you feel bad every time you try to put together an outfit. Doing a major clear out is like ripping off a bandaid in one go, rather than teasing it off in tiny little tugs.
Trust me. The sight of your closets filled with wearable, comfortable clothes that suit the life you're living now will fill you with nothing but joy.
(Oh, and before you get rid of everything, please blog about it. With pictures. Like my friend Badger did here.)
This is Part 2 of a two-part post. Part 1 is here.