How to Declutter Your Wardrobe After 50

Happy Monday, ladies. What’s on my mind this week is clutter. No drawer is safe from me at this time of year. In early January, I declutter with more gusto than at any other time of year. Anything I pick up gets analyzed and either placed in its proper spot or put into a donation pile. I move through the house without a schedule and edit as I go. What does take a little more planning is my clothes, so today, I’m sharing how I declutter my wardrobe.

After helping my husband get started on his, I realized my closet needed cleaning out too. A change of season is the most popular time to edit your wardrobe, but I like to also declutter throughout the year because I live in a 2-3 season climate, so many of my things get worn year-round.

Hardest clothing to declutter

Some categories are easier to declutter than others. The pieces you struggle with the most will likely be your favorite type of garment. We often own the biggest quantity of them, and because we love them, it’s easy to justify keeping them. For me, that’s jeans, so that’s where I started.

woman wearing jeans, cashmere sweater and scarf

Jeans are a wardrobe essential for me, but how many pairs of jeans can one woman own? Apparently far too many. The more important question is, how many pairs do I need?

Here’s how I decluttered my jeans collection last weekend.

Since I hang my jeans on wooden clip hangers (similar), it was easy to transfer them all to a portable rolling rack. Getting them out into the light, away from everything else, allowed me to be more objective. From there, I grouped them by category, and no surprise, I found that the largest group are all in a similar style. Slim, ankle-length jeans are my downfall. I made myself try on every pair.

Questions to ask while decluttering your wardrobe

  • does it fit you properly?
  • does it send the message you want to send with your wardrobe?
  • is it still in good shape?
  • does it still flatter your current body?
  • do you feel fabulous wearing it?
  • is it still in style?
  • does it work for your lifestyle?

Next, I wean them down by color. I don’t need four pairs of straight-leg black jeans, yet that’s what I owned, so two pairs got folded and put into a donation bag. Then I moved on to blue jeans. I need a few more of these (justification happening here) because of the variety of washes. I was able to remove four pairs that had gotten too snug. Then I separated them by leg shape. Since skinny jeans have never been my favorite and are not on trend these days, I packed them all up in a bag to donate. Minimalism is not my end goal but an organized wardrobe made up of things I feel great in is my goal.

I put the keepers back into my wardrobe in categories ranging from light to dark. Now I can actually see what jeans I own, and it feels less claustrophobic when I walk into my closet.


Tips to help declutter your wardrobe

What you paid for an item can affect how hard it is to remove from your wardrobe, so consider consigning pricier items to earn a small commission.

Before you declutter, be sure you just don’t need to reorganize what you own. If your closet is messy, it’s hard to find the pieces you need to put a look together.

Before you start eliminating things from your wardrobe, organize things into categories. Hang all shirts on a rod, all facing in the same direction. Group all jeans together and all pants together. The same with skirts, jackets, sweaters, and knit tops. You can further categorize them by color (light to dark) or formality level (casual to dressy).

Have bags or boxes at the ready for:

  1. definitely donate
  2. too worn to donate, need to dispose
  3. needs repair or cleaning
  4. not sure if I want to keep this

The not-sure box is super important! You can bravely place things in this box because you know it’s not leaving your house. The decision is temporary and allows you to revisit the pieces later, but they aren’t hanging in your closet to see each day. Tape the box closed and store it in a guest room closet or the garage to examine in 6+ months.

Mistakes to avoid when you declutter wardrobe

Many people like to attack their wardrobe, ala Marie Kondo, but that’s never appealed to me because it’s too easy to make mistakes. If the job is overwhelming, decision fatigue can set in. You end up feeling burned out and start making poor decisions. Here are some mistakes to avoid:

Don’t rush the process

Listen to your intuition. If you’re unsure about an item, remember that it can go into your not-sure box #4 above.

Not having a plan

Do you want to have an edited wardrobe that makes it easier to get dressed? Are you hoping to change the clothes you automatically reach for? Have an end goal in mind.

Being overly emotional about an item

Is this the scarf your aunt gave you, but you dislike how it looks on you and never wear it? Is this the suit you wore when you got that fabulous promotion but have retired and live a casual lifestyle?

Decluttering essentials without a plan to replace them

Your basic black pants are shabby looking because you wear them so often. Be sure to make a concrete date to replace them before you donate your worn-out ones.

Not bothering to try things on

You may assume something doesn’t look right, but trying things on and looking in the mirror is the only way you will know for sure. Taking the extra time to try things on can help prevent second-guessing yourself.

Allowing what you paid for an item determine its value in your wardrobe

This is a slippery slope. Just because you paid a lot for something doesn’t mean you should keep it. And if you got a smokin’ hot deal on something that doesn’t look great on you, it’s not serving you well either.

Relying solely on whether a garment gives you joy

A functional wardrobe needs items that serve a purpose, and they don’t all have to spark joy…sorry Marie Kondo. Wardrobes need functional basics that we may feel neutral about but complete some outfits. That said, do not keep anything you don’t like!

You keep too many duplicates.

My hand is raised on this one. It’s so easy to justify another great pair of black pants because I like and wear them so often. Keep a few best of the best, and release the rest.

You declutter before you know your style

We talk about finding your personal style often on AWSL. Our style evolves as we learn and grow, so getting rid of large portions of your wardrobe before you’ve at least narrowed down your style words can lead to remorse. This is when I recommend copious use of not-sure boxes.

I’d rather have three not-sure boxes than regret donating a piece prematurely. Packing things up and removing them from your daily wardrobe often helps clear your mind so you can get a better idea of how you want to look going forward.

The one category I seldom declutter from my wardrobe is accessories. They take up very little space, and I often change my mind about them. You can also create a not-sure box for accessories.

I now need to repeat this process with tops, pajamas, sweaters, shirts, etc., but none will be as challenging as my jeans were.

What item of clothing do you struggle with the most when decluttering clothes?



  1. Wonderful post Jennifer, I know I will refer back to this one often. I also find jeans the hardest thing to let go of. I literally have a tote full of jeans in my quest to find the ‘perfect pair’.

    1. This is a keeper post! I am so glad I signed up for your newsletter! This post gives very good guidelines for organization and purging my closet. As stated before my waistline is disappearing and very little fitted not stretchy clothes fit me anymore. Thanks for the help.

  2. What a helpful and much needed post. I recently went through all my jeans and tried on each pair. Some were actually worn out. That showed me how much I wear jeans. I never want to part with any but I do know that I will always be buying new pairs so that made it easier. I like the idea of putting things you are unsure of in a box. On the spot decisions are hard so that can ease your mind. Thanks for being so helpful.

  3. A terrific post. I love the organized, reasoned approach. (I’ve never been able to relate to spark of joy…). I do relate to others in their comments about how work clothes still hang in closets long after retirement. I’m inspired to tackle my closet. Thank you for the nudge. And Happy New Year.

  4. One reader mentioned a question I had and forgot to ask…. How DO you store your clothing… tees, pants, sweaters, scarves, purses. I’m sure we all would love to see your closet as well! Come on ladies…let’s cheer her on!

    1. My closet is tiny! I hang tee shirts too. If I fold things they get wrinkles 😁 I’ll see if I can get some photos.

      1. Visuals are everything! Please do share how your closet looks and how you store shoes and accessories. It’s so helpful to see a closet that works and your closet is busier than most of us who are retired. Thanks!

  5. I enjoy decluttering and organizing my closet by color and type of garment but this has not always been true for me. I do love good cotton socks so I hang on to them past their prime as it’s hard to find good cotton socks. I also hang on to shoes even when they are worn out or uncomfortable. I have challenged myself to declutter shoes and socks over the last six months. And lastly, I am hanging onto my good ponte pants that fit well even though I am now retired. They are hard to find in a high quality fabric at this point, so I reasoned it would be better to save them. And they still fit, are in style, and look great.

    1. Ponte pants are some of my favorites so I certainly hold on to them!!

      1. It so hard , I KEEP trying.

    2. I’ve found that Eileen Fisher Ponte items fit and last well; worth the extra money. They also have petite sizing – important to someone who’s 5’2″!

  6. Melinda Beckett says:

    Jennifer, this post on decluttering is the best I have read. I moved last year and I had some of the issues you discuss. I think it is great that you include jeans in our decluttering. We keep way too many. Thanks for posting this timely article🥳

    1. I wish I’d done more decluttering when we moved. It’s the perfect time!

  7. Great read!! I am about your size and soon turning 64. We live and work on our dairy farm. Jeans that fit always get moved to the work pile. I work I more than I go to town, so my theory is be comfy and love what I work in! I lost 20 lbs in 2022! I had donated all my smaller sizes before I decided to loose those excess pounds. I kind of wish I still had some of them! I am a soft summer color palette and shopping for smaller sizes has been fun!!! Thanks Jennifer for advice and inspiration!!!

  8. Great ideas here! Thanks so much for allowing me to have my not-sure box without guilt. I tried on all of my jeans recently and found a couple of pairs I did not remember I owned and that now fit perfectly.

    1. That’s a fun discovery!

      1. What a great post! I have to declutter 10 at a time as I tend to get rid of things too quickly. I absolutely love your method. Not sure what I have the most problems with. Maybe tee shirts and sweaters. I have too many.

  9. Excellent tips Jennifer, so pinned for future reference as ’tis the season being winter’ ‘ for me to declutter paperwork as use the fireplace instead of shredding otherwise for garments I try to do it at the end of each season. On that note though, do hope you kept at least one pair of your straight leg slimmer cut and/or skinny jeans which IMHO work/look best with tunic length tops.

    1. I do have one pair I really like but they’re shabby looking so I plan to hit Talbots to replace, then I’ll donate my old ones 😁

    2. Elaine Marie ERICKSON says:

      I put all my ‘go to’ clothes in my bathroom, which serves as my dressing room, my panties are in a cabinet drawer by the toilet, along with any necessary hygeine products my bras are in a Victorias Secret bag that hangs next to my bathrobe on a hook, and my exercise pants and sweats hang over the towel rod. I put my tops on the stylish hooks that hang over the door. Right ouside the bathroom, I place my hoodies on hooks, and socks in a cool basket next to my umbrellas. Oh yeah, my favorite pj.s hang next to my robe and over the laundry basket. These minimal articles of clothing have served me well while healing from an injury and now after a year of using a makeshift dressing room I am ready to debulk my stores of clothing that more than occupy my bedroom.
      Start with a dressing room that is small, then declutter, keeping those few extras that fill your heart, for example my Wedding Dress, my Graduation Gown, my babies little walkers, and of course my favorite purses.

  10. Great information! Thank you. I struggle with how to store handbags. Any ideas?

    1. @Marcia: For storing/organizing outerwear winter accessories (scarves/gloves etc.) I invested in ‘hanging closet shelves’ (similar to Jennifer’s link) however also discovered they work well for handbags (and some do come with dust covers or zippers) plus there is the ‘pocket design’ (i.e.: Zober/@ Amazon) which is another option that I use for small scale bags fitting at least two per pouch. Hope this helps. -Brenda-

    2. Many like to store them hanging from a rack. I find they get dusty that way so store them in bags in my armoire. Thanks for reminding me I have to declutter those too!!

  11. Totally agree with Beverly about Poshmark. I do sell some, but buy way too much. Jeans and J.Jill finds are my obsession. Thanks for the gentle reminders and great techniques for decluttering our closets!! Happy New Year!

  12. Jennifer, great tips! When I retired as an educator in 2016 I disposed of twenty pairs of black pants, really!

    After brunch with a friend today I am going into my closet and begin the purge!

    Thanks Jennifer, love your blog!
    You are humble and by the way your hair looks great.

    1. Have a great lunch and happy closer clean out! I have much left to do in mine.

  13. This is the perfect time of year to de-clutter! My closet is over-full of good t-shirts; the kind that form a base layer for outfits. I have too many that don’t fit well, but I keep them because they are just the right color to coordinate with a shirt or jacket. Or I find a bargain, but it doesn’t fit quite right. These will be my first de-clutter project. Your closet-cleaning ideas are really helpful, Jennifer!

  14. Great post! I did the same thing over the week end, starting with jeans. I decided I do no need 34 pairs of jeans (yes I have an issue but in my defense I buy a lot on Poshmark). We have an amazing buy nothing group in my community so I was able to find homes for all of them. Moving forward, I’m promising myself to do better in the new year. Happy New Year to you!

    1. I plan to be much more selective going forward

    2. Sydney Haskell says:

      I use my old tee shirts, for pajama tops. I have knit bottoms for summer and flannel for winter. I have all hanging and divided by color. All blues together, etc. My off season clothes are in large bins. Only hanging clothes are in season. I had to give all of my beloved jeans away a few years ago when at the end of that summer I couldn’t get any of them to close at my ever enlarging waistline! My hips fit in a size 12, bust also or a Medium but I need about a 16 for my 35” waist! So I am wearing knit put on pants and leggings with long tunics now. Much more comfortable in the winter.

  15. Great tips. I have way too many pants. Skinnies, slim leg, flare leg, ankle length, full length, denim, colored denim. My weight can fluctuate 10-12 lbs. so I have many of these in 2 different sizes.
    The struggle is real.

    1. I’m up 8 pounds and not happy about it so understand completely.

  16. Great post! I have also just completed a major purge of everything…tops, sweaters, jackets, pants, dresses, pajamas, work out gear…except…jeans! Didn’t even try them on! I think I have more work to do.

    1. Sydney Haskell says:

      I went from 138 pounds to 141 pounds but it is the redistribution of weight around my middle that is giving me a fit! I was always slim! This is hard to accept. I am disabled and no longer able to walk for exercise so I am dealing with a thick middle. Ugh!

      1. Ditto here. Where is the solution to this? Always skinny but am not now and cannot take those long walks. Ugh is right.

      2. An expanding waistline is so common for older women and so frustrating.

  17. Julie Hicks says:

    Much needed post, thank you! I had no trouble getting rid of work clothes when I retired (from a hospital so the scrubs were easily donated) but pandemic weight gain, a more casual lifestyle and being unsure of my personal style has left my closet a mish mash of styles. Your post inspires me to start getting it together today!

  18. Ellen Arnold says:

    I am a pretty good at decluttering because I buy clothes all the time, but the one thing I haven’t gotten rid of is my work suits. I work from home 100% of the time now, and have for three years, but for some reason those suits are still hanging there. I occasionally will wear a skirt or jacket separately but never together.

    1. I think a lot of people are in your same situation. Working from home requires a very different wardrobe.

  19. I’m all for decluttering my clothes closet. I don’t have a problem (ha!) with ridding myself of clothes but I get bogged down with where to put my clothes. For example: hang sweaters, t-shirts, scarves or put them in drawers? When I put things in drawers I tend to forget them but do the clothes wear longer/better in a drawer? Any suggestions for this Jennifer? BTW, I read a number of clothing blogs and yours is one of my favourites. Sound, reasonable advice at a price point that regular, everyday people can afford. I’m not going to Paris anytime soon so why do I need to dress like a Parisian to go to the grocery store or other errands! Thanks for the great advice and suggestions.

    1. I often forget what’s in drawers so I hang everything but my pajamas, lingerie and workout clothes. Maybe I should hang my workout clothes 🤣

  20. I just ordered a new, updated closet organizer kit for my small closet. I am going to start today by removing everything and at that time, sorting out what to keep. I will donate but I really like your suggestion to have a box/bag for items you’re just not sure about. I will add a fresh coat of paint! My closet became a landing spot for much more than clothing. Why? Because it was just so easy to drop a small bag or surplus supplies.
    This is such a timely post! My word for this new year is “mindfulness “.

    1. I haven’t chosen a word for this year yet! Must get on it.

  21. Cheryl spratt says:

    I retired 2 years ago but have been unable to part with all my beautiful suits. I am making it a priority this year. Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Another reader will have a great resource for you!

    2. Just an idea Cheryl, when you go through you suits, try them on as separates with your other clothes. Depending on your style, suit jacket(s) May look great with a pair of jeans.
      I know office attire can be donated to organizations such as Dress for Success too. Just an idea, it is so easy to donate items and the next year find you need a nice jacket or dress pant.! Yes it happened to me!

  22. I spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s doing the same. For me it’s jeans also. I’m tall and lanky so I’m still wearing my skinny jeans. I’ve purchased a couple pair of bootcut, but returned the flares, they’re just not “me” and at 71 straight legs, unless fitted still feel like Mom jeans to me ,lol! Have adopted your motto, where what makes you feel comfortable. Happy New Year!

  23. I have needed to de-clutter my closet but have kept putting it off. There is something about a New Year that makes me want to be better, to be more organized and your posts and especially the tips have inspired me to get started today! Surprisingly the things that I have the hardest time getting rid of is the old stretched out pj’s and the comfortable clothes that are just worn out that I usually wear around the house. I’m sure 5 pairs of pajamas are too much! Thanks for the help!! Happy New Year!!

  24. Pat Patterson says:

    Happy New Year,
    Excellent, excellent post Jennifer, I always declutter once a year, but now I have a better plan of attack with your suggestions.
    Enjoy the week.

  25. Great article… It is very difficult to part with clothes…though I never give up trying. The world has become so relaxed we no longer need dress up clothes. I have also found inexpensive trendy items are easier to donate after the trend is over. Basic quality items make such a difference to dress up or go casual. And don’t forget comfort… jeans that pinch must be ditched! LOL
    Happy New Year Ladies….

    1. I totally agree. Plus where we live matters. My new hometown is much more casual than my previous one.

  26. Sandy Baron says:

    Last year we down sized to a smaller house, but I up sized my closet. My husband designed the house with a huge walk in closet for me. I love it, but have found since I have so much room I hang on to things I haven’t worn in years.
    When we moved in I put the hangers all facing one way. As I wore something I reversed the hanger. I found the old saying that we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time true for me.
    You have inspired me to pass clothing on to someone who would wear and love things I don’t.
    I look forward to your blog. You do a great job Jennifer. Thank you.

    1. I’ll have to try that hanger trick. I think I’ll be inspired and enlightened.

  27. I am recovering from a bad cold, so this is a home project I can accomplish while isolating. Thanks for the inspiration, Jennifer. Happy New Year!

  28. What is it about January that compels decluttering? I find myself doing the same thing and really appreciate the tips (& tools) you recommend. Happy New Year!

  29. Your tips to de-clutter are spot on. I utilized pretty much the same theory recently when moving. It was so freeing to remove clothing that was not being worn or had so gone out of fashion that it was shocking to find it still in my closet. Not only that, donating clothing in good shape was so satisfying knowing that someone in need would be able to utilize something of good quality, in good shape, for a small, affordable price. Am loving your blog!

    1. I love donating my new with tags (I have most because of my job) to the battered women’s shelter. It feels so good to help in any way.

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