I don’t need more hangers — I need fewer things.

Did you know that the average American home contains more than 300,000 items? Three. Hundred. Thousand. I don’t have similar stats for Canada, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out we’re in a similar situation north of the border, what with our snow boots, paper clips, stray bits of paper, pieces of Lego — and, of course, all the clothes stuffed into our drawers and closets.

I haven’t — shudder — inventoried my house. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. But one morning about six months ago, I made a small, significant dent in the tally: I eliminated 50 articles of clothing from my wardrobe. And I don’t miss a single one.

In some ways, 50 feels like a lot — an embarrassment of riches. But clothes have a way of accumulating. I had shirts in my closet from the mid-1990s. I had beautiful designer clothes that just didn’t look good anymore, despite all the money I spent! There was the black bamboo dress that no longer fit, that T-shirt from that conference I’d never wear anywhere else, the funky wool trousers that made my hips look boxy, business-wear for jobs I’d long since left, the boots bought online for cheap that looked, well, cheap.

In some ways, opening my closet door felt like opening a portal to a world of unrealized hopes and dreams: if only I still fit into that dress. If only I liked my body in those pants. If only I could get back that money, or the feeling I had when I last wore that shirt.

But an ‘if only’ life is a ghost life, one that keeps us from really enjoying the present moment. I need — we all need — clothing that makes us feel good, here and now. We need clothes for our bodies as they are, not in 10 or 50 pounds, that suit our lives, and reflect our sense of style. Anything else is just clutter.

And so, I got ruthless. I tried on every single thing in my closet. And I got rid of everything that no longer fit, that felt dated, that I didn’t love, or made me feel anything less than lovely.

I filled a garbage bag with clothes to take to the local thrift shop. One friend came over, went through them, and claimed a bunch. I cut up a few worn-out T-shirts for cleaning rags and turned a too-small merino wool dress into a tank top. I set aside a few items I thought would suit other friends: the black bamboo dress is amazing on Rebekah, who recently sent a photo of herself wearing it on vacation. The grey trousers that make me look boxy are lovely on Marlene, as is an expensive turquoise tank I never felt right in.

And with those boots and T-shirts, dresses and jeans, shirts and bras gone, I have more physical — and emotional — space.

Now I can see what I have to wear with ease. I can sift through what’s hanging or the T-shirts in my drawers (which I rolled up, Marie Kondo-style, for easy viewing).

Emotionally, I’m not bogged down with constant reminders of clothes that make me unhappy (because they don’t look good), guilty (because I’m “wasting” money I spent), or overwhelmed (because there’s so much to sift through that getting dressed is a chore). The urge to buy new things isn’t as strong — I’ve got outfits that make me happy, and I’m protective of the space I’ve carved out: only items that make me feel beautiful and stylish are allowed in. Plus, I’ve rediscovered items I’d forgotten, so I’m wearing new (old) things and experimenting with new ensembles. It’s fun.

You don’t have to devote an entire morning or afternoon to a thorough closet makeover (although if you can, it’s incredibly satisfying). Frankly, it can be a bit overwhelming — especially if, like me, you hate folding or hanging things. But I’m betting most of us could find five items to let go of in under five minutes. Give it a try — one pair of worn-out shoes, a ratty pair of underwear, those jeans that don’t fit, the forgotten bridesmaid’s dress, and that expensive blouse you never wear. Retire two items for every new piece you bring home. Find a shirt that looks terrible on you but would look great on a friend. Organize a clothes swap (but resist the temptation to bring stuff home just because it’s “free” — it ain’t). Commit to buying quality new clothes, but only if you’ll wear them.

Yeah, tossing 50 (or 25 or 100) articles of clothing is only a drop in the bucket compared to the 300,000 items we have in our homes. But it’s a step in the direction toward a less cluttered (and more stylish) life.

(If you take my closet decluttering challenge, let me know! How many items did you get rid of, and which ones were the hardest to part with? Comment here or on Facebook.)


SUSAN GOLDBERG is a regular contributor to the Whole Family Happiness Project, where she is thrilled to be able to eco-geek out on composting, reducing plastics, and other low-carbon life hacks. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Ms., Toronto Life, Lilith, Today’s Parent, Full Grown People, and Stealing Time magazines,and several anthologies, including Chasing Rainbows: Exploring Gender-Fluid Parenting Practices. She is a regular contributor to several websites, including CBC Parents, and coeditor of the award-winning anthology And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families. Susan is based in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where she can often be seen picking up cans to recycle on her neighbourhood walks.

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The Whole Family Happiness Project is a group of moms exploring our connection to our individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us. Come join us on Facebook.

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