Will clearing your clothes clutter make you happier? Oh yes.

A few days ago, I was helping a friend clear out her closet (one of my favorite things to do), and I made a new observation about the nature of clutter.

This seems counter-intuitive, but it makes sense: people who aren’t very interested in clothes (like me and my friend) are far more likely to have clothes clutter than people who love clothes.


First of all, “clutter” is stuff that you don’t like or don’t use. So people who love clothes may have bursting closets, but because they love the clothes they have, it doesn’t feel like “clutter.”

Many people who love clothes (not all, but many) are scrupulous about weeding out clothes that don’t work. This subset tends to have a highly edited collection of clothes, because they only keep things that look good, are useful, and are in great shape. People who love their clothes less ruthlessly may have packed closets and drawers, but they revel in the abundance.

On the other hand, people who aren’t interested in clothes are often overwhelmed by clothes clutter.

Because they aren’t interested in clothes, they can’t be bothered to make decisions like “That pair of brown pants is more comfortable than this pair of brown pants, so I’ll get rid of this pair,” or “This sweater is looking pretty tired, so I’ll retire it.”

Because such folks often hate to shop as well (again, this is me, unless I go with my mother), they dread the possibility of having to run out and buy something for a particular occasion. So they refuse to let go of any stitch of clothing, for fear that some circumstance will arise when they’ll need it.

People who love clothes have less clutter, too, because they like to think of different ways to wear the clothes they have; they get more use out of their clothes. People who don’t like clothes don’t spend any time thinking about them, so don’t realize that there’s a way to use that black sweater or those corduroy pants – and because those clothes aren’t worn, they turn into clutter.

If you’re drowning in clutter, and you’re not much interested in clothes, the best thing to do is to pare down your wardrobe – dramatically. Aim to get rid of at least half the items you own. How many t-shirts do you really need? How many pairs of jeans? Does that jacket really fit? When was the last time you wore that shirt? Brace yourself: you’ll find this process boring and anxiety-producing, but you will be amazed by how energized you’ll feel after you get rid of the bags and bags and bags that are headed to the trash or to the Salvation Army.

For me, clearing clutter is a key in striving to be happier. Outer order makes it much easier for me to find inner serenity. Not to mention that it’s easier to find my keys.

I love a follow-your-bliss story, and my friend Marci Alboher has a great one. She had a successful career as a lawyer, then began to think about making a switch to journalism. She started down that new path by taking a writing class at her local Y – and yesterday, she started a new gig as an on-line columnist writing about “Shifting Careers” for the NEW YORK TIMES. Check out her first article, When It Comes to Careers, Change is a Constant.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Kate

    I see your point about people who like clothes vs. people who aren’t interested. But I take issue with the statement, “they [folks who love clothes] get more use out of their clothes.” Every one of us can only wear one set of clothes at a time, so the only way to get more use out of your clothing is to own less so that you wear each item more frequently.
    I have a one-butt theory of housing–why have a dining room AND a kitchen eating area when you only can only sit at one at a time? Why have two seating areas (living and family rooms) when you only have one butt? Looks like I could extend my theory to clothing, too!

  • Emmy

    I so recognise myself in this particular blogpost Gretchen! Being one that does not like to go shopping for clothes. Thanks for the inspiration…and reflection, will take a look at my closet today.

  • Megan

    Gretchen, so true. I am down to so few clothes that the guy who designed my wardrobe asked “where do you keep the other stuff?”. I love it, it makes me happier and I still don’t wear all the clothes I have. Kate (previous post): your theory holds if it is only butts that need seating. My dining room table is for folding clothes and spreading out the broadsheet newspapers; the chairs are beds for pets and the walls are for hanging art. Excellent and necessary uses in my book. The kitchen table is for meals.

  • Veerniliel

    Hi Gretchen,
    I’ve been reading your blog with delight for about two months from now and I love it. Today’s post made me think of another one I’ve read somewhere else which in my opinion is perfectly relevant here. You may want to have a look at it:

  • Kathleen

    I am one of those that has a goal of having a very small but functional wardrobe. I decided this a few years ago and it really does make me happy, not only to weed the collection twice a year, but to get good use out of the clothes I have spent my money on. Comfort and appearance are the key sorting measures for me as I believe one can look good and be comfortable.
    I do actually feel happy when I pull out an outfit that meets my criteria and wear it once again with confidence and can therefore concentrate on other areas of my life. Kind of liberating….

  • I think there is much truth in this article. The theory is sound, and it’s true – the organizing part is a drag, but the getting done part is worth it. I just loved this article; it struck a cord.

  • Hmmmm…by “getting more use out of their clothes” I meant they used their clothes in different ways — they might mix it up more, and so feel like they’re getting “more” out of their clothes by wearing them more creatively. (But I’m speaking from observation there, not from personal experience here — I couldn’t mix and match to save my life.) Because they can get more uses out of the clothes they have, they may not need as many clothes overall as someone who can’t see the possibilities.
    My question — WHY is it so satisfying to clean a closet? The buzz seems disproportionate to the effort or even the fabulous result.

  • MJ

    So true. I got 10 bags of clothes out the door this weekend to charity and they were easy to pack. I’m not that interested in clothes and never tidy closets, so there were 3-4 foot piles and stacks in back corners – no piece of which fits or I would ever want to wear again – and it feels great to be gone. I certainly keep things too long out of lack of understanding of how to combine them all better or interest in editing my collection.

  • Patti

    I agree – I’m not big on clothes and my wardrobe is in bad shape at the moment. You have motivated me to declutter. I think that feeling you get when it’s done is all about ‘personal power’ – how much easier is it, to grab those clothes at the start of the day (when you have already determined you will like them and that they will fit you), when all is neat and organised. Yes, that would make me happy!

  • *blinks* Wow.
    I can vouch for this, though I’ve never thought about it before. I am in the process of transforming from a “Clothes? Who cares?” person to a meticulous, clothes-loving person, and the changes in the state of my closet exactly tally with the differences you’re postulating between the two. I went from being a stay-at-home mom (for twelve rather sloppy years!) to working in a public library, and started culling and improving my wardrobe out of necessity, and found that I actually really love it. I love dressing up every day, I’ve always loved bargain shopping, and I’ve started doing clothing design again after a fifteen-year lull.
    For the last six months or so, I’ve been using the “one in-one out” rule, which gives me the double-whammy pleasure of a useful indulgence, AND immediately turning around and discarding something unattractive that’s been dragging me down!

  • This applies to everything in one’s life and not just clothes. Many of my organizing clients that I had lived in places that they didn’t like, or had something going on that kept them from enjoying their spaces.
    I found that no matter how much work I did with them, unless they changed their attitude (or location) then the clutter would come back and they’d have to bring me back in to reorganize it all.
    Great post Gretchen!

  • Gretchen, I love getting into my clients’ closets! Partly because I’m turning into a girl in my advanced age, and partly because when you declutter and organize your wardrobe, it has an instant impact on your life because you interact with your clothing every day.
    I’ve never been a clothes horse, nor do I like to shop, (being petite and curvaceous makes shopping NOT so fun). However, I am getting more image-conscious so next week I’m having an image consultant come over and we’ll REALLY start cleaning out and putting outfits together. I can’t wait!

  • Christopher Joseph Petersen

    I wish you all the luck in the cosmos on your happiness project!!! I do so because that makes me happy and when you are happy it will make others happy and then when others are happy…. OH MY GOD, HAPPINESS COULD BE THE BEST PYRAMID SCHEME IN HISTORY!!!

  • agree – I’m not big on clothes and my wardrobe is in bad shape at the moment. You have motivated me to declutter. I think that feeling you get when it’s done is all about ‘personal power’ – how much easier is it

  • Wow, Gretchen, I’ve not really taken this perspective before….Very interesting and I agree. As a matter of fact I was with a client yesterday helping her make decisions about her clothes (she likes them) and she was relentless about tossing. I can always find different ways to use ‘old clothes’ so it is sometimes hard for me to encourage my clients to toss, but she was very specific and needed the permission to say good bye!
    It was fun and she has a clear closet and a clear mind.

  • Lindsay