6 Reasons Why We Hold Onto Clothes We Never Wear

47% of women say they have trouble choosing what to wear everyday! I think much of this is because our closets are full of clothes we no longer need or want.

Okay, let’s admit this together: the vast majority of us are holding onto clothes that we haven’t worn in forever! There are several reasons why we hold onto clothes, and I want to help you get past them! 

A recent study by the company ClosetMaid reveals that the average American woman has 103 items in her closet. That might sound like a lot, but it gets even more interesting!  

Of those 103 items, the average woman considers 21% of her clothes to be unwearable, 33% to be too tight and 24% too loose. Another 12% of her wardrobe consists of new, but unworn items. That’s a full 90% of her clothes that she doesn’t LOVE enough to actually wear. 

Wow. Let me tell you right now that I believe you deserve to love the clothes you wear! 

There are 6 major reasons why we hold onto clothes


My Story

There was a time in my life that I definitely did not love my clothes.  At the age of 35, I’d just had my fifth baby. I felt so out of touch with my body. My self esteem was sinking, and I finally had an a-ha moment: how I felt about myself on the outside was having a huge impact on how I felt about myself on the INSIDE.

So I started to do some research – over the course of many months, I learned what clothes to wear to flatter my new rectangular body shape. I’d always been an hourglass shape, but try as I might, I no longer had a defined waistline. (To find out about styles that flatter every figure, read this post here.)

I also hired an online color consultant who worked with me to develop a color palette for my clothes and makeup that would be most flattering to my natural coloring. 

Purging my clothes was definitely worth the effort!AND I PURGED MY CLOSET. 

I read article after article about the reasons why I was holding onto my clothes. Almost all of those reasons were mental. As I processed these reasons, I was finally able to get past them and let those clothes go! It was a huge victory! 

Friend, I want you to feel the same sense of accomplishment, and I want you to find it SO MUCH MORE quickly than I did. So I’ve created a free 13-minute video training that teaches you how to purge your closet in an afternoon. There’s an accompanying PDF that comes with it that is super helpful too. Seriously, give it a try this weekend!! You will NOT regret it! 

Now let’s talk about why we hold onto clothes we never wear.


1. Sentimentality

One of the most common reasons for holding onto clothes is that they remind us of a specific event or person. Think of all those concert tees, or rec softball team shirts, or the dress you bought on vacation in Southern Spain. Over time, they begin to occupy space in our closet but seldom get worn. 

One of the reasons we hold onto clothes is because of sentimentality.Some clothes remind us of people we love. Consider the sweater that once belonged to your older sister or the glittery silver heels your best friend gave you as a gift for her wedding day. You know what I’m talking about, right?

If you aren’t wearing these clothes on the regular, it is OKAY to let them go! Letting go of the reminder does not erase the memory. Let me just say that again: letting go of the reminder does not erase the memory! 

If you are concerned about forgetting that special event or the memory of that specific person, first consider what other mementos you may already have. Did you save the program or buy a magnet? Do you have letters from or photos with that person? If so, you are covered!

If you don’t have any keepsakes from the event or of the person, take a photo of the clothes you associate with it! Then simply create a folder in your photos called “Memories from Clothes.” No longer will you have to dig through your closet to find that old concert tee. You’ll know right where you have these memories stored. Ahh, sign of relief. 

2. Guilt over an unused gift

One of the reasons why we hold onto clothes is due to guilt over an unused gift.This happens SO often!! It is very easy to harbor guilt for items we’ve been gifted but never use.

You may have a relative that likes to give you clothes. And it is perfectly possible that your beloved relative may or may not share your fabulous sense of style. You may feel guilt about giving away clothes that were given to you out of love, even though you know there is absolutely zero chance that you would wear the pink and purple sequin puff-sleeve satin blouse! 

So what to do? If the item is really out there, think of a way to incorporate it into a costume. Have a fifties party coming up? Use that neon scarf as a pony tail wrap or tie it around your neck. Be sure to thank your relative by letting them know how you used their gift to make your outfit a success. 

If the item just doesn’t suit your taste, give it away. Yes, I said it. Let’s think this through: If the gift-giver loves you enough to give you a gift, they will love you regardless of what you do with the gift. It’s not about the object, but the feeling that came with giving and receiving it. 

Should your relative ever have the gumption to ask you about the item, just be honest. You can say something like, “I held onto it for awhile, but I wanted it to be used more often, so I passed it on to someone else.” Sure, your family member or friend may be a little taken aback.  But remember, they loved you enough to give you the gift, so they will love you enough to let this pass.

3. Fear

Ooh, fear is a big reason why we hold onto clothes, isn’t it? Not so sure? Let me explain.

If you ever find yourself holding onto clothes because you think “I might need this someday,” you are likely operating out of fear. 

You might be thinking, “No, Jen, I’m just a planner.” Okay, I get that. I’m a planner too. But I’ve learned to plan for actual events that I know will actually happen, not some imagined possibility far off in the future.

The reality is that we often have very little idea what our lives will be like in five years. We don’t always know where we will live, what shape we will be in, where we will work, and even whether certain items in our closet will even be in style! 

Some things we wear rarely are worth holding onto, like rain boots. If you know that you will DEFINITELY wear a piece within the next year multiple times, you should keep it. For example, if you have rain boots that you rarely wear, but you do wear them when it rains, keep them. If you have gardening clothes or painting clothes and you actually do garden or paint a few times a year, keep those too. 

But if you have a closet full of formal dresses that have been sitting there for five years and you know you prefer to not re-wear them, you can really start letting these things go! Just as you haven’t needed them in the past several years, you aren’t going to need them in the next several years! 

Finally, remember that when you err on the side of being generous and giving away things of value to others, you are more likely to receive generosity in return. 

we hold onto clothes we never wear for many reasons


4. Guilt over money wasted

Another reason we hold onto clothes is because of guilt over wasted money.I think we’ve all wasted money on clothes we never wore. Did you know that the average woman purchases 5 new things for her wardrobe EVERY MONTH?! That’s 60 new pieces a year, y’all! (I know you can do the math, I’m just amazed by that number!) When we are buying at that rate, there will inevitably be things we bring home that we only wear once or twice before deciding we don’t really like them all that much. 

Can I just say one thing? Unless you have the option of returning the item, the money you spent is gone. Keeping it hanging in our closet won’t ever bring the money we spent back into our wallets! You may be able to consign high-end items, list them on a website such as ThredUp.com, or sell them in a garage sale. But none of that will happen until you get that piece out of your closet in the first place! 

And just an aside: Cutting down on shopping is one of the biggest reasons I love my capsule wardrobe. It leads to laser-focused, intentional shopping and saving SO MUCH money! Now that my capsules are firmly established, I only buy one or two items every season of the year. It is freedom!

(My online course The Confident Closet opens for enrollment again on May 5th! In the course, I teach you exactly how to create a personalized wardrobe based on your body shape, coloring, style preference, and lifestyle. For more info, click here!)

5. Overwhelm

Sometimes overwhelm is a reason we hold onto our clothes.Your closet may be in such a state of disarray that the thought of trying to dig your way through makes you want to run screaming in the opposite direction. And it just becomes easier to let it continue to build over time, doesn’t it? 

We have a tendency to overestimate how much time it takes to complete an unwanted task. This is especially true when we don’t have a plan to accomplish that task. It is just human nature. Before those piles of unworn and unused clothes grow any taller, give my free mini-class called How to Declutter Your Closet in an Afternoon a try! It’s a three-bin, three-step process that even comes with a little insurance to make sure you get it done in a day. I can’t wait to hear what you think of it and how it helps you get past the overwhelm! Sometimes you just need a process with simple, actionable steps so you can get started, you know?

6. Size

Now this can be a little touchy, but it’s one of my goals to always be real with you. It is very common to hold onto clothes that used to fit us when we weighed less or before we had babies. We often cling to the hope that we will be able to workout or diet our way back into those clothes. Certainly there are times that this does happen! 

BUT. If you have decent clothes that are more than 2 numbered sizes away from your current size (either too big or too small), it is best to give them away. There is also a time factor: if you haven’t seen a difference in your sizing in the past year, it is time to start giving some of your clothes in your old sizes away as well. 

Holding on to items that are too small can add to the negativity we may feel over the weight gain rather than functioning as a motivator. And for sizes that are vastly different from what we are wearing presently, the likelihood the items will still be in fashion when we work our way back to that original size is rather low. 

Okay, friends, one more statistic for you: 47% of women say they have trouble choosing what to wear everyday! I think much of this is because our closets are full of clothes we no longer need or want. Trust me, you can get rid of your unwanted clothes with confidence! Go through these reasons for holding onto unworn clothes, determine which ones are affecting you, and check out my video training.  I’ll walk you through your closet decluttering step by step!

Before we get to work, please tell me: what are the reasons why you hold onto your clothes? I’m so curious! 

Related articles:

-7 Reasons ALL Moms Need to Get Dressed Everyday

-6 Simple Ways to Look More Polished as a Mom

one of the reasons we hold onto clothes we never wear is fear

Jen Bradley is the creator of The Confident Closet

Hi there! I’m so glad you’re here. I am a mom of five kids who is trying to live a stylishly intentional life and help other moms do the same. Read More …


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16 thoughts on “6 Reasons Why We Hold Onto Clothes We Never Wear”

  1. I am guilty of holding on to clothes that I NEVER wear, but just can’t part with. But I do raid my closet every so often and donate at least a few items to make more room and get rid of things I don’t wear.

    1. I totally get it, Lauren! It is so common to keep clothes we never wear – we often attach emotions, memories, or guilt to our clothes. That can make letting go really difficult!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Catherine! Of all the reasons we hold onto clothes, this one is really common. Something I do is put things I’m afraid to let go of out of sight for six months to a year – often in the attic, up in a closet, or under the bed. If I haven’t even thought about it in a year, then I feel better about letting it go.

  2. I have kept some clothes my dad gifted me once. Neither I wear it anymore nor it fits me! Still, every time I see it, it brings back good old memories with my him.
    And , the ‘I might wear it some day’ fear is totally real. I used to be that person who kept all the clothes because of that fear. But, In the recent years, I am travelling a lot and which helped me to learn about a capsule wardrobe. Much easier to decide what to wear now! 😀

    1. Hi Ashwathi! I totally understand holding onto those sentimental items! And I’m so glad you’ve found life to be easier with a capsule wardrobe – I couldn’t agree with you more.

  3. I needed to read this post! I have so much stuff in my closet and over half of it has not been worn in years. I am going to make an effort to purge soon.

  4. I feel attacked! lol
    I have got better over holding on to things.
    Right now, I am saying that it’s my motivation to lose the weight I’ve put on over the last year because on my tight student budget, I can’t afford new clothes.

  5. Girllllll, I’ve got at least 5 pairs of super nice jeans hiding in my closet just waiting for me to drop 20 😂. I will never be that weight again, ever! But the way those jeans made me feel makes it hard to say goodbye. Maybe I’ll give away 2 pairs to start with, progress, not perfection!

  6. Great post. I’m guilty of holding onto clothes for sentimental reasons. I’m THE WORST with my kids clothes. Thank you for these helpful hints. Cleaning out my closet has been on my list for awhile. Looks like it is about time to do it. Thank you!

    – Stephanie | http://www.snippykit.com

  7. This is a great start to helping me get through my closet! I’m currently pregnant with my second, and recently went through my clothes and found I haven’t worn most of my wardrobe in over two years. Now I just have to figure out if I will ever wear them again haha

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