decluttering clothes after 50

A lot of people, including myself, have fallen hard for the “Konmari” craze. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, the trend – which has spread like wildfire – is the result of the enormous success of Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

The book has also sparked a television series where Kondo is invited into people’s homes to help them sort through their “stuff.” Much of that stuff involves clothing.

Seeing What You Have

The first thing she recommends is to take all of your clothing – and I mean everything – out of your closet, drawers, shelves, anywhere it is taking up precious real estate, and put it all in one big pile.

It’s a revelation. Most of us have no idea how much we have, let alone what we have, until we see it all piled up. It can also be somewhat embarrassing.

For someone like Kondo, who comes from a tightly packed island like Japan, closet space and ownership of things comes at a steep price. Each thing demands careful consideration.

What impressed me about her is the deep and genuine respect she pays, both to the actual home itself, and to the sensitivities of the inhabitants. She never says, for example, “Puh-leeze, get rid of THAT!”

No, she is very soft spoken and gentle, because frankly, letting go of things brings up a lot of emotions: loss, grief, memories we’d rather not revisit, happy ones we’d rather not let go.

Some people find tremendous comfort in being “cocooned” by their stuff, especially their clothes, even if to others it looks a lot like hoarding. This can be especially true for someone who grew up impoverished. All those things tell the psyche, “We have made it.”

How to Decide What to Keep

So, to help them decide what to keep Kondo asks the simple question: “Does it spark joy?”

It’s an important question. I have learned how to apply this successfully when sorting through books, papers, household items, etc. But for clothes it’s more nuanced and personal. What does it mean for an article of clothing to spark joy? Do clothes have to spark joy?

A lot of the clothes that sparked joy in me in the past did so because they made me feel sexy and attractive. But many are things I would never again wear. I have no desire to show that much skin any more. These days I value comfort greatly. I also value longevity and usefulness.

For those reasons it’s been easier for me to say, “This no longer brings me joy, or actually never did,” and then let it go, than to say, “This brings me joy.”

A blouse, jacket, or dress might make me feel good about myself; it might serve an important purpose, or it might have sentimental value… but I can’t always say that joyfulness is part of why I keep it.

Some Other Questions to Ask

But still, the concept of “What sparks joy?” inspired some corollaries that I found very useful. They also offer good suggestions about why to keep pretty much anything, but are especially valuable when it comes to our clothes:

  • Do I need this?
  • Do I wear this currently?
  • Does this reflect the life I want to live?
  • Does this reflect the person I want to be seen as this year, next year, five years from now?

Along with the idea that something we wear makes us feel good about ourselves it should also be useful… and used. That’s why I always encourage clients to buy the best they can afford or similar pieces to those they love and then wear them to death.

It’s what people in many parts of the world who have small closets, or no closets for that matter, understand and value. And that brings us to another important consideration.

How Much Do We Really Need?

Maybe that is the crux of it. I just read an article by a woman I know who, after being treated for breast cancer, decided to leave it all behind and grab as much life as she possibly could. She and her husband sold their home and most of their belongings and bought a boat.

They now sail throughout the Caribbean and are planning to circle the globe. In reading her missives from tropical and sometimes challenging locations, it became obvious just how little we need to be happy… and to survive. Maybe as we age our joys are just more “quiet.”

I think Marie Kondo would approve.

What clothes do you have that spark joy? Why do you love them? Have you done any of Marie Kondo’s clearing of your closet? Please join the conversation below!