Every mother knows how quickly kids grow, and how hard it is to keep up with their clothing needs for school, sports, and home. Sometimes it seems as if you just bought your son a new pair of pants the week before, and he’s already grown out of them! Because your kids are your first priority, you always make sure there’s enough money to get them the shoes and clothes they need, and you’re probably used to finding bargains for kids’ clothes. But what about your own wardrobe?
It’s easy to forget that you need clothes for yourself, sometimes. You get used to wearing the same thing over and over, and if it’s not falling apart, it’s just fine. If you don’t work outside the home, you might not even have a professional outfit that fits you any more. If you do have an outside job that requires you to wear a uniform, you don’t have to worry about what to wear to work – you either have to wear the same basic outfits every day, or buy the company-approved uniform. Either way, you’ve probably been neglecting your own closet while you’ve been keeping up with your family’s clothing needs. However, it’s a good idea to take some time to go through your own hangers and drawers. Here’s why:
- First, if you have an office job, nice clothing improves your professional appearance and makes it easier to get noticed, respected, and promoted.
- Second, even if you wear a uniform at work, you can make room in your closet for comfortable clothes you like to wear when you’re not working.
- Third, though you might be staying at home or working at home, you never know when you’ll have the opportunity for a job interview or a meeting with a potential client, and you’ll need to be prepared with a good outfit.
- And finally, you just might find ways to make money from the things you’ve forgotten you even have stored in your closet!
Before you head to your bedroom to start tossing clothes on the floor, read through this easy ten-step routine and learn the best way to trim down and smarten up your clothes collection. Then get some bags, and get going!
Step 1: Locate everything you’re not wearing or that you need to replace
There are people who actually make money helping their clients cut down the clutter in their closets, and the first thing they usually say is this: If there’s something in your closet that you haven’t worn in over a year, get rid of it. Why are you holding on to that item? Is it because it has sentimental value? Are you hoping you’ll fit into it again some day? Did you just forget it was there? Pull everything out of your closet and drawers that you can’t remember wearing, and set those aside. You can sort through them later to make a final decision.
Next, look at what’s left, which should be the clothes that you tend to wear every week or at least every month on average. Go through these items and pull out anything that has missing buttons, torn hems, or other problems. Put those in a different pile – you’ll deal with them in Step 6.
(By the way, if you think that a part-time job as a professional “clutter counselor” is right for you, click here to get information on how to start your own consulting business. For other part-time or full-time jobs that are great for single moms, read this article about turning parenting skills into freelance jobs or this article about the best jobs for single moms for more ideas.
Step 2: See if anyone else in your family can use the clothes you’ve just set aside
Look through the big pile you made of clothes that you haven’t been wearing. If any of them need more than a little fixing up, they may not be worth saving. If all you need to do is remove a stain or sew up a small rip in a sleeve, they should be in good enough shape to pass on. If your daughter is old enough, she can probably fit into some of your old clothes – especially if they’re the ones you’ve been keeping in the back of the closet for years. Don’t worry about fashion, because vintage and retro is in! You’d be surprised at what kids find fashionable, and your children can always start their own fashions using quality used clothes. T-shirts that aren’t too “girly” can be used by boys as well; jeans that have too many holes in the knees can be turned into a pair of shorts, if you know how to sew. Don’t force your kids to wear these clothes, though. Go through the pile with them, and see what they want to take.
(Are your teenagers taller than you are already? There might be some things in your daughter’s closet that she doesn’t want any more that would look just great on you. Even your son’s old sweaters can turn into comfortable lounge-around-the-house outfits for you – and they’re free!)
Step 3: Organize a clothing swap with friends and other family members
Your old baby-blue cardigan might not fit your fashion sense any more, but it might be just what one of your friends is looking for to go with her new heather-plaid skirt. Take the clothes that are in good shape and invite your friends to bring over the clothes that they’ve sorted out from their closets. You’ll find new styles and new looks, and you’ll have a fun afternoon with your friends. Don’t forget to bring out things like old prom dresses – you might never wear them again, but you can have fun dressing up for a laugh! Here’s a good article that gives you a clothing swap checklist to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Step 4: Sell what’s left at a consignment shop
You may be able to sell anything left over from your clothing swap, if it’s still in good condition. This is especially true for vintage clothes, or things that have come back into style. You can also sell shoes, purses, scarves, and other accessories. Consignment shops won’t usually pay you up front for your clothes unless there’s something that is really in demand. Instead, you’ll get paid when someone buys the clothes from the consignment shop, minus the commission.
There are a few things to consider before taking clothes to a consignment shop:
• They may only take the things they know will sell easily, so be prepared to take some or all of your clothes back home with you.
• They might only be looking for seasonal clothes, so you probably won’t be able to sell a wool coat in the middle of July.
• The clothes need to be in good to nearly-new condition; consignment shops are more “high end” than standard used clothes stores, so only take your best discards to the shop.
• It’s your responsibility to check that the clothes have sold. Many shops have a policy that if an item is unsold for three months, the shop will get rid of it unless the owner comes to pick it up again.
Some stores allow you to trade in your clothes instead of putting them up for sale. This article will explain some of the tricks to getting the most out of your used clothes.
Step 5: Donate anything else to a charitable organization, and get a tax writeoff
If you can’t sew up, swap, or sell a piece of clothing, rather than putting it back into your closet, put it to work for you by donating it to a charity-based used clothing chain like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Estimate the value of the clothes and other items and keep a record or receipt to include in your tax filing at the end of the year. If you’re not sure where to start, watch this video on how to estimate clothing value for IRS deductions.
Step 6: Make a list of what you need now
Congratulations, you’re halfway there! Now that you’ve gotten rid of everything you aren’t using, you need to start thinking about what you need to create a closet full of clothes that fit you, that are fashionable enough that you look professional, and that are in good enough shape that you can wear them for at least another year or two.
Go back to the “needs fixing” pile you set aside in Step 1 and decide whether you have the time and the sewing skills to fix them up so that they meet the “fits right and fashionable” standard. If not, you have two options: you can look for someone to fix them for you, or you can try to get rid of them using one of the methods in Steps 3 through 5. What you decide will depend on whether you can sew, how much time and/or money is involved, and whether the piece of clothing is really worth saving.
Now that you have pared your wardrobe down to the minimum, it’s time to check for holes. Make a list that includes:
- things you need for work
- things you need for nice occasions like church, restaurant dinners, or parties
- things you will be wearing at home or on the weekends
Do you have enough clothes in good condition in each of those categories? If not, you’ll need to go shopping.
Step 7: Look for the least expensive options
Go back to Goodwill or another discount clothes store, but instead of spending hours looking through all the racks, just focus on the missing items on your list. You should be able to find good-quality skirts, trousers, dresses, shirts, and sweaters for a few dollars each. Remember, function and fit are more important than fashion, and price is always something to keep in mind. Fashion changes so quickly that this year’s hot items will probably end up at the resale stores anyway, so just wait a few months!
Step 8: Buy essentials like socks, underwear, and t-shirts on sale
We probably don’t even have to say it, but you don’t really want to be buying things like socks and underwear at a used-clothing store. However, most large supermarkets and chain stores have regular sales where these unsexy but very necessary items are put on sale for 50-85% off. Look for those sales and stock up on as much as you think you’ll need for the next year. This is a great time to buy the same items for your fast-growing kids – in fact, you’ll probably have to go to these sales twice a year for their clothes!
(Unfortunately, bras are probably not the best things to buy on sale OR at a used-clothing store. Since a badly-fitting bra is not only uncomfortable but can lead to physical or even health problems, it’s worth it to spend a little more on a good bra and then take care of it. You can find some good advice on budget bra-buying here.
Step 9: Put your wardrobe together
It’s not new advice, but it’s still good advice: making your clothing purchases by thinking about things you can mix and match. If you have a several pieces that you can wear in different combinations, or one or two basics that you can dress up with different shirts and accessories, it will look like you have a much bigger selection of clothing than you actually do. Use color, pattern, and fabrics to find a fun set of clothes that all go well with each other. Here are some ideas:
- Buy black trousers or a black skirt, and pair it with tops in any style and color.
- Buy a well-fitting white shirt that you can wear with anything, either alone or with a vest or sweater.
- Look for color combinations that go well together: blue with green, red with brown, grey with pink. When you find one that you like, look for tops and trousers in those colors. Even fabrics with different patterns can look good together if the colors match.
- Use inexpensive scarves to add a bit of color to your outfit. If you don’t know how to tie a scarf, check out this video tutorial.
Step 10: Keep one good, professional outfit
Even if you don’t currently have a job where you need to look businesslike and professional in the office, you never know when you’ll get the chance to apply for a job like that. You’ll need to have something on hand for interviews, and later for work. You can always use the good-quality mix-and-match clothes you’ve got in your closet after going through Steps 1 through 9, but sometimes it’s good to have a really professional-grade suit. Unfortunately, these can be expensive. Fortunately, there are organizations that help single mothers who are getting back into the workforce, by providing clothes suitable for interviews and office jobs. Look for one of these organizations in your area:
For a list of local organizations in each state, this article is a good place to start.
If you’re thinking of starting – or restarting – your career, read this article for helpful tips on how to find the money to do it.