The Closet Purge

I’ve been slowly reducing the number of clothes that I own (and store) since 2010. That was the year I closed my fashion business and started moving towards a life of less clutter.

After writing Striving for Less, I felt like I needed to conduct the Ultimate Closet Purge.

motherhood & minimalism: the ULTIMATE Closet Purge

I think as moms or caregivers, it becomes justifiable to not feel great in what we wear.

After seeing our bodies go through so many changes, and having messy children that ruin our clothing with their smudgy hands and messy kisses, for many of us it feels completely reasonable to just accept that we will rarely (or never) feel good about what we are wearing.

However, I think it’s the rare woman who doesn’t care or isn’t affected by this. I think for many of us, putting on ill-fitting, pre-stained clothing at the beginning of our day sets a tone of “not good enough” or “not worth it.” We’ve accepted that we will likely be embarrassed about our appearance if we need to nip out of the house and someone sees the “mom outfit” we have resigned ourselves to that day.

For some of us, I know, that’s all you have. Work clothes and messy clothes. This post is not to shame you – because I’ve been there, too.

This post is for those of us who are victims of the bulk — too much clothing, plenty of nice options that don’t get worn — we need to stop putting on the “mom shaming” clothes.

(And maybe your bulk isn’t with clothes — maybe it’s books or something else, but I think these ideas apply to a wide range of possessions.)

I justify my clothes – I allow myself to have all of these categories and subcategories of clothing, with all of these situation-specific terms of use.

Mom’s Clothing Categories

1. Dressy clothes if I return to an office setting (not getting worn)

2. Special occasion dressy clothes (not getting worn)

3. Nice clothes that make me feel put together and I would be sad if they got stained

4. Nice-ish clothes that look okay outside the house, but I don’t love (and wouldn’t be sad if they got stained) (not getting worn)

5. “Messy activity clothes” which are clean and unstained, but I would be embarrassed to wear outside of the house and don’t feel bad about getting rid of if they get stained

6. REALLY Messy activity clothes, already have paint spots or oil stains on them

7. Work-out clothing (not getting worn)

8. Pyjamas, which are a hybrid of actual pyjama outfits and worn-in clothing that I’ve developed sentimental attachment to

Can you relate?

motherhood & minimalism: the ULTIMATE closet purge - do I really need 8 categories of mom clothes?!!

But what it really boils down to is this:

I hold onto these clothes for the possibilities that they represent – returning to work, attending a fancy party, etc.

I hold onto these clothes from a place of lack – worrying that when I need that type of clothing again, that the cost of replacing them will be too great.

Holding onto those out-of-date, pre-pregnancy skinny jeans? It’s not really the jeans we’re holding onto, it’s the hope that one day we’re going to wear them again – and getting rid of the jeans feels like giving up hope.

The first step for this closet purge then doesn’t even involve touching any clothing – it involves realizing what the clothes mean to us and answering the question of, “what happens if I get rid of this?”

Now, if you own an expensive, gorgeous pantsuit that will still be practical and in fashion if you return back to work – hold onto it! But, if you’re holding onto a closet full of work clothes because you’re scared that getting rid of them is admitting you won’t be returning to the work force anytime soon, you need to let that fear and all that it means about you go before you can hope to be effective with your purging.

For me, the work clothes that I bought pre-baby are mostly out of fashion or wouldn’t fit my post-baby body, even if I start working out again. Also, I bought them on a student budget – chances are if I return to work, I’ll want some nicer outfits!

As much validity as the Kon Mari method might have – we need to connect to a place of wholeness, a place without fear of letting go before we can effectively go through our wardrobes and purge what we don’t love or need anymore.

Do I really need 3 categories of clothing that I would be embarrassed leaving the house in? And, what’s with having 4 categories that aren’t getting worn?

This ended up being the key difference to all of my other clothes purges, which were merely based on if something didn’t fit, or just looked horrible on me (ahem, turtleneck sweaters), or if I couldn’t fathom any realistic situation where I would actually wear it.

In order to stay in my closet, clothing had to fit all of the following criteria:

  • I would be okay wearing it outside the house
  • It fits properly – and not just on “skinny days”
  • It fits my lifestyle OR is one of a handful of “reserved options” for formal meetings, etc.
  • No filler – It is one of the first things I would wear given the activity – for example, I have several go-to outfits for hanging out with friends and chances are they won’t all be dirty at once, so after those initial few outfits, the rest of the options had to go

The fact is, until our children are a certain age, we need clothes that can get messy. Categories of clothing are necessary unless your work attire matches what you’d wear in your leisure time, and you either have no children or have mess-free children. But those categories need to be reasonable in both bulk and how you feel about yourself wearing them.

I also started to adopt a “uniform” for things like bedtime – I have several of the same nightgown and one “family Christmas pyjama set. I don’t need options for bedtime.

motherhood & minimalism: appreciating ourselves and what we put on

I ended up getting rid of 5 garbage bags full of clothing, which is kind of embarrassing considering I just got rid of 3 bags last year, and several bags two years before that.

Funny enough though, I still feel like I may have too many clothes, and that another purge could be completely justifiable, but for now I think things are reasonable. The bulk has been reduced and I have clear delineations in my clothing.

Beyond that though, I appreciate what I put on and it takes less time to sort through the clothing to find an outfit that fits the situation or day. I feel more “put together” even on the days when I reach for the messy clothing.

I have a different relationship to clothing now. I feel I am worth my nice clothes, I am worth spending a bit of money on a nice shirt because it’s not getting lost in an overwhelming collection. I wear them more often and, as a result, feel good about my appearance more often.

And, wearing “nice” clothing for our messy days, clothing that I’m not worried about getting messy but also feel like I don’t look like a total slob wearing when someone comes to the door, it helps me feel validated in what I’m doing day in and day out.

Being a mom and daycare provider is something that I should be able to feel good and proud of doing, and putting on clothing every day that doesn’t undermine my self-worth makes a difference.


What about you? What’s something that you need to purge this year? Do you find yourself wearing clothing you’re not happy in because “the kids will get it messy anyways?”

For more articles on motherhood & minimalism, check out Does it Make You Happy? The Ultimate Goal of Minimalism and the Cost of Minimalism.

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