How many times have you gone to throw something away (maybe a t-shirt or a pair of jeans) and stopped at the thought of “what if I need it someday?” How many of these items are now still hanging in your closet without any more wear?
Holding on to things gives us a feeling of safety and control, even if those things are something like clothes. We fear throwing out something because we might regret it after realizing we really did need it after all, even if that means keeping it in our closet for years.
The problems with clutter
Extra clutter has its own risks, that go far beyond having an aesthetically pleasing wardrobe. It’s clear that having things pile up and occupy our space adds to our anxiety and stress levels: suddenly frantically searching through a pile of short-sleeved t-shirts to look for the right one, racing to clear a stack of unironed clothes laying in a chair when we have friends visiting.
It’s also very distracting: it wears down our energy and reduces our productivity. It also affects the quality of our sleep: a 2015 study found that a cluttered bedroom goes hand in hand with a poor night’s sleep.
For some, letting go is painful. A 2012 study from Yale School of Medicine demonstrated how having to let go of things triggers feelings of conflict and pain in some people, motivating you to look for an opportunity to prevent harm or relieve anxiety (similar to smokers wanting to quit, for example). That’s why holding on to something makes us feel safer and calmer, and why it can become addictive in some cases.
But what if…?
The clothes that hang in our wardrobes should be a reflection of our current style, body, and lifestyle. Hanging onto clothes that we’re not wearing (not wearing in the foreseeable future that is) because one day we might is not worth the toll it takes on us and our spaces.
Keeping clothes that we wish we fit into or are too big for us now, is more debilitating than motivating. Our bodies constantly change, and letting go of old pieces to welcome new ones is okay. Clothes should fit and make us feel comfortable and confident every day, not just in an imagined future.
Learning to let go
Fearing the scenario of regretting something we discarded is real and normal. We might need something we’ve let go of, but let’s be honest: we probably won’t, especially if we’re not making use of it now. And even if we do, we’ll probably handle it just fine.
Research has shown that most action-related regrets (like actively decluttering and letting go of things and then feeling like we’ve made a mistake) spur people to learn from them and move on right after.
Even a minimalist wardrobe can be forever changing while being mindful and strategic about what’s being bought and discarded. Pare away all those items that no longer fit you, your style, or your way of living, and then think of what’s missing. What do you need to buy that will serve your everyday life? How can you add value to your wardrobe? Investing in higher quality pieces is a great way to make the most out of your clothes, as they last longer and look better on. Rethinking our clothing choices after we’ve decluttered is as important as the actual decluttering.
Still not sure?
A great way to know if we’re going to wear that piece of clothing we’re not sure about discarding yet is to put in a bag and put it away. If a year has passed and we haven’t used it yet, it’s maybe time to let go. Giving it to someone we love, to charity, or selling it online are also ways to avoid the dreaded regret: even if you end up missing it in your wardrobe, you’ll know it’s making someone happy somewhere else.