A few months ago, I finally tackled a project I was putting off for quite some time. I went through all my old clothes and decided what to keep and what to donate. Normally this type of activity does not cause me any angst. In fact, I love getting rid of things and making more space in my home. But there was something about the clothes that made me feel uneasy.

There were a lot of clothes – old blouses, sleeveless summer tops, nice work clothes from stores like Talbot’s, pants, jeans, skirts, even a suit. But truth be told, I hadn’t worn any of those clothes for many years. And as I was sorting through the stuff, I realized why I was holding onto these clothes, which amounted to two reasons.

The first reason had to do with taking financial responsibility for myself and the purchases. You see, I bought the majority of those clothes using credit cards and a Talbot’s charge card; essentially using money I did not even have. In fact, there were a few outfits that still had tags attached to them.

Bryan and I took fiscal responsibility for our lives and haven’t used a credit card since December 2008. Even though I feel less financially-burdened, seeing all those clothes in my closet made me feel so irresponsible and guilty. I had no business buying them in the first place. So I hung on to the clothes because getting rid of them felt like admitting to failure.

The second reason had to do with when I wore the clothes last, which was before Sophie was born. I fully acknowledge and accept the fact that our bodies change after having children (especially those of us who have children in our 30s and beyond). I worked SO hard to get myself in shape and lose weight in the years proceeding pregnancy. It truly saddened me to realize I will likely never fit into the petite medium blouses I used to wear. That some of those very cute petite pants will never fit again due to my post-pregnancy tummy. It was as if a part of my life (and my clothes) were over and I didn’t want to move on.

I didn’t realize I was still “mourning” my old body. It made me sad that I couldn’t wear all those nice clothes anymore. And since we started getting real about our finances, it’s not like I had the money to go out and buy a new wardrobe (although I didn’t years ago either). So I kept the clothes, thinking maybe – one day – I can wear them again.

I’m not quite sure why I was finally ready to move on. All I know is one weekend, I decided to get rid of the clothes and make space in my life and closet. When I finished sorting, it came out to FOUR large garbage size bags of clothes! I stared at them, feeling ashamed, telling Bryan it was such a waste of money.

But then Bryan said something profound that changed the way I looked at the situation. He told me to think about all the people who truly can’t afford clothes who will benefit from my generous donation. Those nice name-brand clothes will go to people who can’t afford to shop in the stores I bought them. (Even I’d be thrilled to find a pair of barely used dress pants at the Goodwill!) And by donating all the clothes, I was helping Goodwill keep employees and save jobs.

Bryan’s statements completely shifted how I saw the situation. I suddenly felt confident. Even though there were negative connotations attached to the clothes, I felt happy knowing the items would make someone else’s life better. Someone who couldn’t afford a Talbot’s suit would now feel good wearing one she can afford. I happily loaded the bags into the car and drove to Goodwill.

I don’t have the sadness or guilt when I go into my closet anymore. I know that I really can afford whatever comes into that space now. And I don’t have to be constantly reminded of the past (and my pre-pregnancy smaller size). Now I only see what’s literally in front of me. And that feels good.

39 Responses

  1. Leah, I’ll follow your lead and give away my work suits, finally. I’ve been holding onto them “just in case” I climb back onto the career ladder. But that only tethers me to my past when I’m supposedly in midlife reinvention. I gotta walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Being an avid thrift store and yard sale shopper, it only makes sense to make it a two-way street: give, as well as find. And my finds are only possible thanks to people like us who part with our quality clothes!

    1. Good for you! I’m glad I’ve inspired you to do the same. It felt so great when I’d done it. And you’re right about it being a two-way street. I buy so many great things at Goodwill stores. I’m glad others can benefit from me.

  2. I always feel more optimistic when I clean out a closet or cabinet. It’s not easy to let go of the past and what my “stuff” means to me, but when I do, my brain feels less cluttered, too.

  3. About 1/2 way through reading your post, I was going to suggest finding a consignment store that would sell your never-worn or seldom-worn clothes and help you recoup some of the money. But then I read further and realized Bryan was right. Your “sacrifice” – giving up clothes that you bought – will benefit so many others. I, too, have been holding on to clothes for similar reasons. I feel a closet/dresser purge coming on! Thanks!


    1. Thank you for commenting! I guess I could have “sold” them to a consignment store. But like you said, I feel it was more appropriate to give them away so someone else could really benefit. Good luck with your purge!

  4. It is a great feeling when you know you can help someone!!! ….and I solute you on
    1) embracing your new body and
    2) the strength of not using credit cards.
    I abuse them constantly and then pay a hefty price for it.

    1. Thanks, Rada. While I would not say I have fully embraced my body, I do think giving the clothes away was the best thing I could do.

  5. Bryan’s advice was wonderful! And I hear what you’re saying — about not being able to wear those clothes but especially about helping others and only wanting to see what’s in front of us. I really really need to declutter right now, and you’re helping me get inspired to do that! Thanks!

  6. Good for you for letting go of those things you won’t use anymore & blessing someone else with them 🙂 So many of us can definitely relate to the pre/post pregnancy bod issues!!

    I also have issues with letting go of things because I grew up with this “I might need it” mentality. We were very close to my grandmother who experienced WWI up close when she was still a girl in Finland. Though we never wanted for the necessities, we just always were taught “not to waste”. So getting rid of anything, even clothes that don’t fit me, goes against my personal “grain”!

    p/s Hope you have a terrific weekend!

    1. Thanks, Denise. I can understand that mentality of not wasting. My parents are like that too. I try to remember that by giving the things away, it will help others who may really need the items. Hope you’re weekend was great!

  7. Leah, what a great post! I’m happy to report that I participated in the closet purge about five years ago. Like you, I was hanging on to clothes from bygone eras–times where I was thinner, younger, hipper! 🙂 But really, when exactly am I really going to get into a hip hugger, black sequined mini skirt? I didn’t think it was going to happen any time soon, so into the donation pile it went. And like you, I felt that while my closet was almost bare, I was free; free of the guilt for having purchased the items in the first place, for not having wore most of them, and for having spent money that I could’ve spent on other more vital things. I speak the truth when I tell you it’s been five years to the day and my closet remains slightly bare. However, I never have to wonder what I will wear, I never have to spend time on nonsensical activities like “planning my weekly wardrobe,” and I never have to stress because of dry cleaning fees. It is what is is and I”m okay with it. Seriously, not having an attachment to material things can have a liberating effect and when I do get the blues from time to time for not having a lot of pretty clothes, I think of how I was never quite happy when I had them.

    1. Wow, thanks so much Bella. I’m so glad to hear that you still feel “free” from the materialism. That’s really my goal in life right now. And you are so right that it is so nice not to worry about what to wear!

  8. Good for you! It’s funny how something like cleaning out the closet becomes such an emotional process.

    I’ve found that keeping those “if I can JUST get back to that size” clothes just gets depressing. Instead, find pieces that suit the new you, that make you feel confident. (Slow process when you are on a tight budget -believe me, I know)

    And it IS a good feeling knowing that you are helping others. Your hubs is wise man highlighting the positive aspect of purging your wardrobe.

    1. Thanks for your comment. It is a nice feeling to help others and feel less depressed about seeing things you’ll never wear again.

  9. It’s hard to go thru all the stuff and get rid/donate it. I try to make a habit of looking at everything whenever I open a closet or drawer…if I’ve not worn or used it in a year – it’s gone! I really work hard at being unsentimental, but easier said than done.

    The only exceptions are pictures and specialty kitchen items.

    1. I’m with you on the pictures and kitchen items. It’s funny because I really don’t have any problem getting rid of things. I love going through books I don’t want and other random stuff. But I think because there was so much emotional baggage tied to these clothes, it was tough for me. But I feel better because of it now.

  10. I am always cleaning out my closet. Like Bella noted above, I long ago embraced my body and me for what we are. I am not a fashion follower or a big box department store shopper – phew! I loved realizing this about myself, after I dumped everything that didn’t fit my persona. I still struggle with acquisition being a natural born spontaneous shopper. Occasionally something comes home with me that I don’t really need, but want. It’s a fine line, the quest to keep balance in the check book, and with my inner sexy self. Good post – bravo to you for making the tough decisions and breaking free.

    1. Thanks, Brenda. I do feel it’s easier to “embrace” the body without the old clothes staring back at me.

  11. Great post Leah! I so agree with your husband and have been practicing it as my mother tries to pass antiques to me from her family, as she purges, it seems she would feel ever so much better if it could stay safely in the family. I keep telling her, imagine the thrill of the antique lover finding that punch bowl, china bowl, crystal bowl (yeah, lots of bowls!) at The Goodwill Store. I keep telling her, just because it is a treasure does not mean we have to keep it, we can share treasures, thereby sharing joy. That is all so easy when I say it to my Mom. My son was packing up to come home after another year away at school. He called and was going to donate his sheep skin, he doesn’t want or need it any more. I told him to bring it home. Then I thought how silly. I don’t need a sheep skin. Evidently I do. I couldn’t bring myself to call him back! Sheesh! Sharing treasures = sharing joy. Easier said than done sometimes. What am I going to do with a sheepskin? Love your posts Leah!

    1. Thanks so much, Kim! My mom is like yours. She is always giving me her things that she doesn’t want to throw out or donate, but thinks we may need. You are right that it’s part of sharing joy.

  12. This is a really good post. There’s something so freeing about wardrobe purging. Especially if it means doing something good for someone else. I did something similar just before relocating to a new city a couple of years ago. I had no idea I had so many clothes. And some of them were so weird! But I gave some to friends and the rest to a local women’s shelter. Now I don’t have to worry about the ghosts of outfits past every time I open the closet.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Leah. Isn’t it funny to look back and see the clothes you once bought? It feels good to know others can benefit from your funky purchases.

  13. Good for you! As a former Goodwill employee (my first social work job out of college), I completely agree with Brian’s assessment. With so much history behind that clothing, I’m sure it wasn’t easy to move on…but how truly liberating that must have felt.

    Welcome back to having space in your closet!

    1. Thanks, Allison. That’s so cool you worked for Goodwill. And you know, we shop there a lot for hidden treastures and I can tell you I feel so happy if I find something unique for my home. I’m sure others will have that same feeling when they find my clothes.

  14. What a great post, Leah. So happy for you and hubby that you took that big financial independence step and that you’re sticking to it. You’re so right; the new wearers of your clothes are going to appreciate them so much. Like you, I held on to dressy pants suits and outfits for a good 10 years thinking “someday” I would wear them/fit in them again. But when we moved, I realized it was time to clean things out, and Goodwill got my clothes too. Plus, I came to the conclusion that weighing 115 pounds was not realistic anymore. Besides, when we get older, a little more weight works in our favor : -). When I gave my clothes away, it did soften the blow knowing that someone might be able to wear and enjoy nice clothing they otherwise wouldn’t have had.

  15. My body has undergone changes in the last year or so as well. I’ve had several closet purges, and (like you) although it’s sad to let some clothes go, I remind myself that I’m getting older and it’s OK. It doesn’t always work, but I do feel better for giving them away to Goodwill. Thanks for the post!

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  17. I’m just catching up on older posts of yours and found this one- I purge my closet once a year or so and half the time I find things I’ve never worn that have tags- most of the time these are “cheap” things I buy on sale at Target or Old Navy that I didn’t even really want or need in the first place. I’m trying to buy quality, not quantity these days, and that is always eye-opening when I see just how much I waste buying these sale items. And I usually donate- Buffalo doesn’t take much of my stuff most of the time!

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