Getting Rid of a Ton of Clothes Improved My Life

How, exactly, do we accumulate so many items of clothing? I mean, I guess I get how (#onlineshoppingistooeasy), but I’ve been asking myself the more philosophical version of this question for the past few months.

I am someone who LOVES to clean house — kid stuff, housewares, clothes, whatever. I am not a particularly sentimental person, so I don’t hold on to a ton of stuff just for memories.  But, still, one day I looked around at my room and closet and felt suffocated.

How did I get so many things?

As I was getting introspective about this, I realized a few things. I bought new clothes to hide things about my body that I was uncomfortable with. With many body changes over the years came many new clothing purchases. I have a friend who constantly pointed out that I had a new outfit for every occasion. He wasn’t wrong. I think I felt like if people were paying attention to the outfit, they wouldn’t be looking at the rest of me? Deep. I know. 

Staying with this theme, I treated my relationship with money and shopping pretty similarly to how I handled my relationship to diet culture: overly restrict for a long time to the point of discomfort and dissatisfaction, then overindulge immediately after. Throughout my 20s and much of my 30s, I was often on a diet and always on a budget. I would avoid spending money for a very long time, and then when I would actually need to buy something, I’d find a sale or deal and go HAM — mostly on cheap stuff that didn’t last and took up a lot of space.

I’ve finally gotten to a place mentally, emotionally, and physically where I am accepting my body and only dressing her in things that feel good. So, I have released a lot of items and thoughts that did the opposite. If you’re looking to do something similar, here are some tips for you:

Edit

I didn’t have a specific strategy for this. I didn’t do the backward hanger thing or ask if it sparked joy. I did ask myself: Does this fit? Does this feel good? Will I likely wear this again? If I answered no, it landed in the “gotta go” pile.

Sell

I have been known to bring huge bags of clothes and other items to donate. I fully support this. But this time, I was releasing things that were newer, some with tags or worn once. And part of this process was fiscal responsibility. While I mentioned above I didn’t typically invest in expensive pieces, I knew I could get some money back from some items. I used Facebook Marketplace and yard sale sites. I also tried ThredUp, where they give you a mailing label, you stuff a bag or box, and they resell your things for you (for a substantial cut). I used Mercari for some bigger-ticket items, like coats. There is also Poshmark, Tradesy, and The RealReal for those of you who may have more designer items to rehome. It all depends on what you’re looking to sell and the energy you have to sell the items!

Donate

I donated a LOT. I tried to organize by size, type, and wear (gently used or more). I am part of my town’s Buy Nothing group on Facebook plus a few other community “free or trade” pages. And, there are amazing nonprofit organizations always looking for gently used items, like The Wish Project or others collecting professional attire or formalwear.

Organize

Some of the things I hadn’t been wearing but did want to keep weren’t getting any love because I didn’t see them. With much more breathing room, I was able to reorganize my space to get access to the pieces I would use most often and still be able to see the special occasion options as well.

Rent

If I have a special occasion, like a wedding, coming up, I am more likely to rent (or borrow from a friend) knowing I probably wouldn’t wear the outfit again. I have used Rent the Runway, but there are also newer options like Nuuly, Armoire, Gwynnie Bee, and Vince, all with different specialties. It allows you to get a new look without a pile of cheap one-time-use dresses taking up space in your closet (and life)!

Streamline

The cool thing about being almost 40 is that I finally know what feels good and looks good, and I’m comfortable with my style. I refuse to wear things that don’t fit right or are uncomfortable. I buy way fewer items now — and I buy nicer quality, so they’ll last. I got a StitchFix subscription for Christmas and have been able to add just a couple of items into the rotation with each box that I now get seasonally. While I am trying to buy less and rent/borrow more, this subscription service has been great to keep things fresh but not overcrowd my nicely preened space. 

When all was said and done, I had sold five boxes of clothes, two coats, and several pairs of shoes. I had donated a huge box of maternity clothes and many bags of professional and casual items to local groups and nonprofit organizations. It felt good to give these things new homes.

Now, when I look around my room and closet I can actually see what I have, and I like everything I see. I’ve eliminated my urge to distract people from myself with new, shiny things. Most importantly, though, I’ve felt a huge weight lifted — like all the stuff had been physically and mentally weighing me down. I can finally breathe.

Colleen Lubin is a native of Arlington, MA, who dragged her New Yorker husband back to the Boston area after years of splitting the difference in Connecticut. She has 15 years of experience in training, development, culture, and belonging in higher education and recently moved into the marketing industry. Colleen is a fierce advocate for women and families navigating infertility, loss, and postpartum challenges. Colleen uses honesty, authenticity, and humor to break down the stigma, raise awareness, and support the infertility community on her blog and Instagram at @notquiteknockedup. Colleen is a mom of two miracles, Liam and Logan, born in 2018 and 2020, who keep her both young and tired. She loves listening to '90s hip hop and R&B, trying new recipes, Peloton-ing, sleeping as much as possible, and eating New York bagels. She does not love writing about herself in the third person, calling customer service, or bagels from anywhere but New York.

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