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How My 13-Year-Old Helped Me Declutter My Clothing

I have a lot of clothing filling up my closet. I probably don't need it all. I certainly don't wear it all. When I look for an outfit to wear, I sometimes stand there, surveying the choices and get stuck in the overwhelm. I know it would be good to pair down. I can think of all the benefits. Besides making it easier to choose what to wear on a given day, I would have breathing room in there. Clothes would not be squished and wrinkly. I would not feel so guilty for over-abundance. So why don't I just do it more often?

Like me, have you attempted to de-clutter the clothing in your closet only to have dismal progress? Maybe you set aside 3-4 pieces of clothing that you don't like anymore, slating them for donation, but the majority remains. And to make matters worse, you buy new clothes b/c you need them - aka need a new look, need a new size, need a coordinating piece, need to save money and buy something b/c it's on sale.... I've been there. The struggle is real! Even though this is a situation which will re-occur many, many times, it does get easier.

Before we understand what the solution is though, it might help to understand the root of the problem. Why is it so difficult to de-clutter our clothing? The answer is probably a little different for each of us, just like the clothing we choose to wear is different for each of us. It's personal. So...speaking from personal experience, some of the difficulty likely stems from fear and anxiety.

Maybe clothing wasn't a priority for your family growing up so you feel a sense of control when you accumulate it, in order to never feel that wishing or pining which consumed you every Birthday and Christmas as a teenager. Maybe you fear that your uniqueness will be diminished if your wardrobe is, too. We bargain with ourselves: "If I just got a shirt to match this skirt, I'm sure I would wear it!" Or we reason "I spent money on that dress and I would feel guilty if I got rid of it, so I'll save it for the right opportunity." We wonder "What if I regret decluttering that piece and I can't find anything like it again, or I can't afford it again? What if I lose that weight and I can actually wear those jeans again? What if I don't have enough variety in my clothing options and I can't find something to wear?" Wait...WHAT?! Circle back to the present time... standing in front of all those clothes overwhelmed by the choices. Sigh. Time to put these fears and anxieties to rest.

Cue my young teen-aged daughter. Lately she has been re-inventing her wardrobe and giving me bags of clothing to donate. We don't spend a ton of money on new clothing for her b/c she loves to go thrifting and to have clothing "swaps" with her cousin who is the same age and size. Well, we were shopping at Costco the other day (Costco & Sam's Club do have good deals on name-brand clothing, not just giant boxes of cereal), and she asked if she could pick some things out for me. She says she's been wanting to help me change up my wardrobe for some time. Hmmm...Thinking of my full closet, I said that I didn't really need more clothes and she would have to help me figure out what to part with. Yes, she said she would definitely help me with that, so I went along with it. Lest you think there's a 50+ year-old woman dressed like a middle-schooler now, let me give kudos to my daughter. She tried to pick styles and colors that would flatter me but not make me look like a wanna-be teenager or an "old lady going to a garden party" (her words).

She was so excited to help me in the closet when we arrived home... I was thinking we needed to lose 12 pieces, since that was the number of new pieces I was bringing in. But to my surprise, we eliminated 40+ items of clothing! Since she has a "keen eye for fashion" (don't all 13 yr olds?), she had an understanding of what "basic pieces" would help me in my new style and what ones would not. She had also observed what I had been wearing regularly and what she hadn't seen on me at all. She told me what she thought was cute and what was not-so-cute. We went piece by piece, pulling each item out individually and holding it to the standards of "cuteness", necessity, fit, and whether I loved it or not. She tried to console me that I could embrace my current weight and just keep what fits me, is comfortable and looks good on me now. She compared some pieces that were very similar and asked if I could let go of one of them. She reminded me that I had gotten a lot of use out of some clothes, and could feel good about letting them go - just like I would with an old worn out car. (Ie: I was holding on to a few old, tattered tops in my favorite color but I can buy new things in that color, and I may even like them better.) When we came across a cute item I liked, but could not figure out what to pair with it, she offered to help me style it later. The deal is that if we can't find a way to make it work for me, then I will let it go.

I was surprised at how intuitive the de-cluttering process seemed for someone so young. I'm sure if you are still reading this that you've heard many "rules" and "tips" to aid you on the de-cluttering journey. So have I, and they are helpful. But what I discovered this time was that it's even more helpful to have another person join you on the project. That person can be more objective than you, taking some emotion out of the equation, and help you process through decisions, and feel good about them. Whether that's your 13-yr-old daughter or a friend who knows you, or even a professional organizer whom you allow to get to know you, the decluttering process is easier with support, and it's also more fun! (Just in case you want a refresher on de-cluttering questions to ask yourself, I've included those in the "p.s." at the bottom.)

So grab another person and bring them into your closet for a de-cluttering session. Bring them into your head, too. Share with them your preferences, be willing to open up about your fears, and even try on some of the clothes to get their opinion. This one thing might be the best thing you can do to get past the overwhelm, and get to the business of lightening the burden of the extra clothing that has been taking up space in your home and in your brain. Both need breathing room! And, don't worry, if you love the garden party outfits the most, then that's what you keep! I kept one, too.

PS. 10 questions to ask yourself while de-cluttering clothing. If you can answer "yes" to 1-8, then it's a keeper!

  1. Do I love it (or need it for a specific purpose)?

  2. Do I wear it? (Not too much work, ie: needs ironing)

  3. Do I feel great in it?

  4. Does it fit well?

  5. Is it comfortable? (Not itchy or scratchy)

  6. Is it in good shape? (Not worn, pilled, stained)

  7. If I didn't already own it, would I spend money on it today?

  8. Do I have a home for it in my container (aka closet) or would I rather use the space for something else?

  9. What's the worst thing that would happen if I let it go?

  10. . Might someone else enjoy it more than me?

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