Wardrobe Purging: Why You Will Have More to Wear When You Own Less

Wardrobe Puring Nothing makes my husband laugh more than when we go somewhere that has a buffet.  I turn into an absolute moron and he gets a kick over my daunted panic when I see people lined up with plates.  I hate buffets for one simple reason, there are way too many options.  Sure, for some, limitless choices seem incredibly liberating, but, for me it isn’t.  My brain literally shuts down.   Despite all the food options laid out in front of me, I always come back to the table with the most mismatched plate of food, like a sprig of asparagus, some slab of meat, a spoonful of something I don’t recognize, a jiggly piece of Jell-o (and I don’t even like Jell-o)….and that’s about it.  As I have come to find out about myself, the more options presented to me the less choice I seem to feel I have.

Too many choices creates paralysis

I know I have talked about Barry Schwartz’s amazing TED talk about the Paradox of Choice, based on his book: The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, before, but I wanted to revisit it again because I have a whole lot of new readers of this blog since writing about it the last time.   Basically, in the video, Schwartz talks about how it’s easier to make a decision when we have less options to choose from, and that the more choices we have the longer it takes to decide what we want.  Additionally, when we have more options and feel we chose wrong we tend to blame ourselves for the choice we made, whereas, when we are presented with less options, we feel less responsible for choosing poorly.  More choice = less freedom and more guilt.

When I first watched Barry Schwartz’s video I was really relieved to find out that I wasn’t the only one who found themselves paralyzed when presented with too many options.  This affliction doesn’t just happen at buffets with me, it happens everywhere.  My brain shuts down in thrift stores (I don’t even bother going in them anymore), at sale racks in stores, and in restaurants with multiple page menus.  Even when scrolling through the channels on TV I can’t find anything to watch, but always found something prior to having cable.

More is not more, it’s less

You could literally go to a store once a week and find something new to buy.  The shopping habits of the American consumer have changed simply due to how quickly merchandise turns over in the stores.  Worse, we have become to conditioned to believe that more options in our closets will give us more to wear.  Sure, in theory, it’s true, more things more choices.  But does it really solve the problem?  Does buying more really get you dressed any faster or make the time spent staring at your closet in your underwear shorter?  Probably not.  Just like it’s easier to settle on something to watch when you have eight channels versus 800, it’s much easier settle on what to wear when you have less to choose from.

 How to know when you have too much choice in your closet

I have a monthly jewelry subscription to Wantable.com, which I love and, in all honesty, I get for free because I write for them.  Every month I get a box of accessories to add to my collection.  Just today I opened my new box.  I always love everything they send me, and, while I loved what I got today, as I put my new things away I got the sense that a jewelry purge was in order, even though, as you know, my jewelry collection is smaller than average.  How did I know it was time to cull down?  There are a few things that tipped me off that I am happy to share that might help you whittle down your own wardrobe.

Duplication – You may know that I have a one and done approach to my wardrobe.  If I have one thing that plays a specific role I don’t buy multiples.  I have one pair of tall cognac boots, one long gold necklace, one pair of hoop earrings, and so on.  I don’t add new until the thing I own is ready to be replaced.  If I notice I have duplication I purge.  If I don’t I start splitting my wears.  

Take, for example, these two silver pendant necklaces.  They may look different enough, but they essentially do the same thing.  I only need one.  I think I am going to keep the leaf necklace.  Does anyone want the other?

Wardrobe Purging

If you are looking to cull down, look for sneaky duplications that on the surface don’t seem to play the same role but actually do.

There aren’t enough days to wear everything I have

The next thing I consider are how many days there are in a year and how much stuff I actually do need.  My birthday was this week, I’m a Capricorn, and likely too pragmatic for my own good.  I hate tchotchkes, things that are superfluous and unnecessary.  You would think I was a Native American in a past life who believed in using the entire animal when killing it, that’s how bad I am about extras that I don’t use.  They go.

You don’t have to be as practical and discerning as I am.  Some people do feel like they need to be surrounded by pretty things for the sake of being pretty, but if you feel you have tipped over the edge with too many options, you really need to consider just how much of it you really need and if it is humanly possible to even wear all of it.  Keep in mind, statistically, most women wear 25% of their wardrobes 75% of the time.

I will grab something else first

The next thing I consider is if I will grab something else before the item I am getting rid of.  No matter how many choices most of us have, we all gravitate towards the same few things over and over again.  Keep in mind, these multiple options don’t even have to be similar in look.  I recently had a client resist parting with a grey dress  until I helped her identify that she had a blue one that she would always grab before the grey one because she liked it better and it served the same function.  One of the best ways to cull down your wardrobe is to seriously ask yourself if you have something that you like better that already fills the spot.  You probably do and don’t need both.  The simple question to ask yourself is: Under what circumstance will I grab this before something else I prefer?  Trust me, if you have something else you like better you never will.

Getting dressed feels like pressure

I know it is time to purge when getting dressed feels like pressure because I should be wearing something that I’m not.  These things stare at me like, “pick me, pick me!”  When I get these feelings I know I have too much and it is time to start giving things away.  It all goes back to my need to get good use out of what I own.  If something just sits there, pressure and guilt sets in and, honestly, I’d feel more freed up if I knew that someone else was getting wear out of it instead of it just hanging in my closet or jewelry box.

It’s my guess that you probably could get rid of at least 25% of your wardrobe and never miss it.  I am not saying you have to, but to honestly look at just how little you actually need.  If you can’t get rid of anything you currently own, at least try to implement an input/output rule where when something new comes in something old has to go.

Lastly, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have to get rid of stuff.  I think the pendulum has started to swing the opposite direction and this extremism in minimalism has begun with things like The 10 Item Wardrobe, etc..  The truth is there is no magic answer to a perfectly culled closet.  I have weighed in on this and if you are are looking for more on purging and just how much you need, you might want to read it.

Got any wardrobe purging questions or some tips for how you do it?  I would love to hear from you below!



  • Andrea

    Great article! Thanks! I read the Paradox of Choice a few years ago and it has really stuck with me. Great book, and I’m glad to see there’s a TED talk about it, too.

    • I am glad it helped you. I really enjoyed how insightful and funny Barry Schwartz’s talk was. The story about buying jeans really made me chuckle and really sheds insight into the whole guilt thing we feel when we choose poorly when presented with too many options. I always explain to my clients how much easier it is to pick something to eat at a restaurant that has one page of a few choices vs. a diner menu that has several pages. We really do have more freedom when we have less.

      • Andrea

        No doubt. The issue of too much choice was driven home this year as my husband & I built a custom home. Nearly every single person we talked to said they’d be terrified of making that many choices. We really did ok, though, as we set out to make our choices from a limited number of options. In other words, I refused to shop online. When we picked faucets, we said ‘show us what’s in our budget range in this showroom’ and we picked from those. Pretty easy, actually.

        • I totally get that! I think we all can use an objective eye to help us decide. I swear it’s probably why half of my clients hire me. I don’t have kids, but I have heard that you never say to them something like, “What do you want to wear today?” and, instead,”Which of these two things do you want to wear?” because kids don’t have the ability to make a choice when presented with too many options. I really don’t think we ever grow up from that.

  • I’ll take the circle one 🙂 I was hoping you were going to rehome your silver link chain that was $15 years ago – so dibs on that one, too, when you’re ready!

    Amother great article Bridgette! My husband has difficulty when presented with too many choices also.

    • Oh, haha, that one. Yea, it’s gold and I have no plans to get rid of it until I find a replacement that I prefer. Email me your address at bridgette at bridgetteraes dot come and I’ll pop it in the mail. I will warn you though, I am horrible about getting to the post office so expect it sometime next year. LOL.

      • It’s gold? Oh well then…

  • Patricia

    It’s always easy to dress when I’m on vacation. All the clothes I have are what’s in the suitcase! Everything goes together and the not so great pieces aren’t included. I’m currently on a “shopping diet”. No new purchases (okay, I did buy a leopard belt because it smartens up so many looks … but I’d been looking for that for a while). Now I want to start putting together capsules of “wear all the time” and have a much smaller section of occasional pieces…

    • So true and great example of how much better we do with less choice! I didn’t really shop either this fall. Sure, I could cite some things I could use and got a little tired of what I already had but I think when we’re forced to make it work we realize how little we need.

  • Renee

    Interesting how this spills over into other areas of life. Eating the same thing for breakfast leads to weight loss. Eating simpler meals (think single ingredient foods) makes it easier to stick to a plan. I only have so many 51 year old brain cells left and they seem to like the simplicity of “breton stripe shirt/chambray shirt/scarf/jeans/boots” 🙂 I did a jewelry purge over here as well. My 2 favorite places to send jewelry are my granddaughter who loves to play dress up and my mom who takes it to some mentally handicapped adults who love receiving gifts when she visits them. (Oh and I think the leaf necklace is the keeper!) Hugs!

    • So true Renee! As they say, keep it simple, stupid! Like you, my wardrobe is super simple and I tend to gravitate towards the same looks. At this point I’m just glad to know what works and what i like. Sometimes it is fun to step out but, really, having that base really is easier.

  • Stacie

    Great article!!! I’ve always been that way about my home…I love photos of friends and family around vs tchotchkes, however, I am learning to do this with my wardrobe…The last article you did on accessories really hit home and I purged once, but now I’m ready for the 2nd purge!!
    I know I said this before, but I am soooo glad you are back to blogging!! I missed you!

    • Thanks, Stacie! I really missed the connecting with commenters like you too! I think a lot of my minimalism has to do with living in a super small Brooklyn apartment. So many times I will get a gift in a pretty box and my mom will say something like, “Save the box it’s pretty and you can use it for something eventually.” I always tell her the same thing, that if it doesn’t serve a function there is just no room for it. I also think my mentality has a lot to do with living on a tight budget for so many years. Being a business owner who was struck hard by the economy a few years ago, and never really having limitless money to be frivolous with, I really learned how to make-do. But, even if I had a ton of money I would still not go crazy with little trinkets and such all over the place. Whenever I am in a drugstore and see someone buying some crappy seasonal decor for their home that is so tacky and useless it just makes me laugh. It would never even cross my mind to buy something like that.

  • Kristen Davenport Byrnes

    1 pair of hoop earrings? Wow! I have a jewelry collection worthy of a home shopping channel. Have been using some as “re-gifts” as I have many pieces that came out of the pretty boxes and into “safe keeping”. When you have a volume such as this (I did sell some of my gold pieces), where does one even start?

  • Dianne

    I admire your discipline – they’re both keepers!

    As for purging, I couldn’t help but see similarities during a pantry clean out last weekend. It struck me that a pantry overflowing with cans and boxes of food does not make me a fine cook any more than a closet full of clothes makes me stylish. And many of those cans and boxes were past their Best Before dates, not unlike clothing. The pantry purge was over quickly (and very satisfying). My New Year’s goal is to give much more thought and planning to meals for my family. Just as I try to be thoughtful about my clothing purchases. I love your “one and done” policy, to which I would add “one in, one out”.

    Thank you for this great post.

  • Ryan Smith

    This is such a timely article for me as I’m realizing that all my of my bad shopping decisions over the past year were because I was faced with too many options, got overwhelmed, and picked something in a hurry just to get it over with. I hate going into large department stores, I am easily overwhelmed by the inventory and am so terrified of making a poor decision that I either don’t act at all, or grab something and am immediately dissatisfied. I’ve been trying to simplify my life and especially my wardrobe so that I feel like all my pieces are getting worn and I’m utilizing all the things I have. It’s funny…I have a subscription to Le Tote, a monthly clothing rental service, and when I get my tote, I find it’s so easy to get dressed! I just pick an item from the tote and then build an outfit around it. Definitely proves your theory! 🙂 I am so glad you’re back to blogging, also!!

    • I am so glad that this was helpful for you, Ryan!! I am glad you have found a way of getting dressed that works for you!

  • Stacie

    After reading this article, last night I purged my jewelry, scarves and purses!! I am one of those gals who LOVES Christmas!!! But really, how many Christmas pins, Christmas earrings and Christmas bracelets do I really need:D I took your suggestion about not duplicating items–I have a few sentimental pieces that my parents had bought me years ago ( they are both deceased now) and I put those pieces in a special box—WOW!! I can actually see everything I have and the the things I wear….It’s amazing how doing something just like purging your wardrobe is freeing! Thanks again!!!

    • This is so great!!! You are so right about not needing as many pins as you think you do…unless you are getting a job at a restaurant like TFIFridays. Ha. I’m all for keeping sentimental items. I do it to. As long as it is a healthy relationship to those items, why not? Isn’t it just incredible how much more you feel you have when you can see everything? It seems so counterintuitive, but less really is more!

  • I love a good purge, me. I also fairly diligently rotate my clothes by season (even though I could wear some of them much longer) so I don’t get sick of them. I like to do a purge at the end of a season so I can really see what things I just didn’t wear. For example, I’ve got a barely worn lemon yellow wool cardigan. I’m not going to get rid of it ’till I see if I’ll wear it in Spring.

  • Amanda

    Bridgette – you are speaking to me! I am blessed to be in the process of retiring (my last day of work was Jan 9) and I find I am almost exhausted by the choices in my closet. Now that I am not bound by a ‘business casual’ dress code and the length of my pants (at work I couldn’t show ankle bone – good grief), I want to pare down to things I love and feel great in. Thanks for the timely article. Wish me luck!

  • Tessera

    I guess I shall stand alone as the unapologetically More Is More person. I don’t like getting bored with clothing or accessories, and don’t mind having many choices from items I already know I like (as opposed to combing through store racks packed with all sorts of looks). I probably have the equivalent of a 10+ piece wardrobe in each base color of navy, gray, brown and green, with a fair number of coral/oranges and turquoise/teals thrown in to keep it interesting. No trouble making choices – I just ask myself what color I feel like today. Pattern or solid? Scarf or necklace? Flats, boots or heel? Should the purse blend or pop? There, all done. I love choices!

    • I am glad you chimed in. I think everyone has a different amount of clothes they can handle or need. As you probably saw in the article I linked to about the 10 item wardrobe, where I gave my feelings on it, I have some clients with several closets and they wear everything. The only important thing is that what you have you are using and that you don’t feel overwhelmed!