My name is Darlena Cunha, and I am a clothing hoarder. I fooled myself for years about it because I hardly ever think about clothes. I never matched or put a thought into my appearance, but at the ripe old age of 32 after asking a few friends about my style choices, I finally looked at my overflowing closet of junk with fresh eyes.
Cheap skirts from chain stores like Weathervane and Rave stared out at me, half covered by crop-top cardigans and shirts that were popular in 1998. I had slacks from size 6 to size 14 and I wore them all indiscriminately. If I owned it, I wore it, and I had every cheaply made fashion trend from 2000 to today. Hell, I even had a few items from back in high school. Why? I never knew.
Until last month. I kept them because I am a clothes hoarder. And, honestly, getting rid of three quarters of that stuff was the best, most freeing thing I’ve ever done.
After an article went live and strangers tore my fashion choices apart, I took stock of myself. I gathered a group of no-nonsense friends around me who I knew would be blunt about what needed to go and what could stay.
They weren’t going to spare my feelings and they weren’t going to give out compliments I didn’t deserve. When I posted old suits my mom gave me that I thought maybe could work in some kind of setting, a conversation took place.
“With some color under, I think we could make this work, and you’d look like the president’s wife,” Teresa commented.
“If you’re talking about our first lady Michelle Obama? You shush your mouth,” Janel replied. “She would never wear this skirt.”
A dress that was too short and too tight but that I clung to anyway in case it was in any way sexy got the nope. “And how many ‘90s clubs will you be attending?” Krys asked.
Several shirts I really loved got the axe too, including this casual business shirt that my six-year-old daughters had warned me was ugly before I got it.
“It’s like a pajama shirt got off its ass and got a job,” said Courtney. “Nah.”
I defended this one, though. I was sure. “I felt like this is what classy working ladies wore at home?” I asked. The answer was no, and I had to take it out of my yes pile.
And this short-sleeved blazer-like thing that I thought made me look classy and skinny and modern and business-y.
“This is the most confused shirt I’ve ever seen,” said Ameya.
“Girl, you love articles of clothing that have morphed into each other. Suit jacket/blazer/shirt? Just so many nos,” Courtney chimed in. When I told her I wanted to wear all the clothes at once, she said, “Well, you are certainly trying.”
So with great sadness, I tossed the vest I’d bought in 2003 and worn ever since to impress people.
But it didn’t end with me. The group grew to over 150 members who all knew each other. Other people tried on their clothes, or asked fashion questions. What was the best shade eyeshadow for their complexion? Could they wear heels with those jeans?
We are all different height and weights and have all different styles, and yet we still manage to make it work. We developed tags like #lookhowcuteiam for when we didn’t want “constructive criticism,” or #mymomgavemethis because these atrocities popped up so often.
It’s a judgment-free zone of judgment, and it’s miraculous. I suggest getting one yourself if you need fashion help.
Regardless, after hundreds of messages like this, I managed to pare down my hideous closet, and I figured out some of the signs I’d been exhibiting that set me apart from your everyday clothes wearer. I’ve written them down in case anyone here can relate. If you’re a clothes hoarder, these signs might apply to you.
10) You know the backstory of every piece of clothing you own.
This striped turtleneck was a hand-me-down from my mom my senior year of high school. This sequined tank top was a gift from my neighbor for my birthday four years ago. This was the first shirt I bought to go clubbing in 1997. This cardigan is from Dots, and they're out of business now, but I used to love them so much.
Not everyone attaches specific memories to clothing or maps a route in their brain around the items. Many people just wear them, then stop wearing them as fashion trends indicate.
9) You have any sort of system at all that dictates how you wear your clothing.
This could be anything from color days: blue on Monday, green on Tuesday, etc. to not allowing yourself to wear a certain cut of clothing too soon after you wore something similar. My system was particularly extreme.
I called it the pile system and I’d used it from the age of 15 until two weeks ago. All items of similar nature (T-shirts, skirts, tank tops, sweaters, blazers, dresses) went in a respective pile.
On any given day, I could only wear what was on the bottom of each pile, ensuring that I wore every piece of clothing I owned in sequence, that no clothing was ever left out.
Most people understand that clothes do not have feelings you can hurt by not wearing them.
8) You own multiple pieces of clothing from more than 10 years ago.
You refuse to understand that fashion doesn't stick forever. You remember that compliment you got on those pleather pants 12 years ago, and assume they must still garner that kind of admiration. Plus, if they don’t, the fashion is sure to come back around, right?
Most people can part with their clothing with the understanding that fashion trends change and that’s okay.
7) You don't return bad purchases.
You feel like you should "own" your choices, so that if that pair of linen slacks from Groupon doesn't fit quite right, too bad. You chose it, you own it.
Most people understand that a bad fit or an unexpected gold plastic button right in the front is not a choice that they made, and they don’t owe the clothing anything. They get their money back.
6) You want to save pieces that have gone out of style because "they'll come back in."
No, they won't. And if they do, you can probably buy another $7 skirt to replace the one you're getting rid of.
5) You don't buy quality pieces.
They're too expensive, you won't wear them enough, you don't deserve them, they shouldn't be so snooty about your other $4 choices, who even cares if the stripes don't match up or the hem comes out or it rips on cheap stuff. It was cheap and you can just get rid of it.
Most people understand the value of a staple closet—a few pieces, well-made and bland, that are worn a lot and hence worth the money you shelled out for them.
4) You DON'T get rid of it, even when it's ruined.
You'll wear clothing with undone hems, rips, tears, holes, or things you've stretched beyond recognition. They're still good, you reason. There's a lot more material to those pants than just a silly hemline.
3) You don't get rid of clothing that no longer fits.
It's not your Dr. Who T-shirt's fault you gained / lost 30 pounds, or grew six inches. It's not your slacks' fault you got pregnant and your hips changed. Why punish them for your life and choices?
2) You use clothing as representation of memories you don't want to lose.
Memories should not be tied to clothing to this degree. If you ever find yourself thinking something like this: “If I toss this Husky T-shirt with the ink-stain on the shoulder, I won't have any clothing from UConn left. It will be like undergrad never even existed,” which is a thought I actually had, you might be a clothing hoarder.
1) You don't shop that much.
You already have so many pieces you're beholden to, you don't want to add more pressure to the list. You feel obligated to cherish all the stuff you already have. You don't want to introduce strangers to them unless you have to. This means probably most of your wardrobe is made up of gifts and/or hand-me-downs.
None of these signs is ever at the front of the hoarder's mind, and that's an important point to make. I didn't know I knew where all my clothes came from, or how much I owned from 15 years ago, or that making sure I wore all your clothing equally was a strange thing to do.
And getting rid of it did cause anxiety because now I have to take ownership of my choices in style. Before I gave that job to the clothes and just blamed them when something didn't work.
But with the help of my friends, I think I’m looking more put-together than I ever have in my life. Here are a few of the yes outfits I’ve gotten since starting this experiment, since everyone loves a before and after:
I can’t recommend making a social group to help you enough, be it in person or via Facebook like mine.
Once you’ve gathered your friends, listen to them. If they say no to something, toss it out immediately. Do not put it in a pile in your closet to get rid of later. Do it now.
Buy new clothes. Basics. Classics. Things you can mix and match together. Spend money for quality when you have it. Go through your wardrobe at least once or twice a year to make sure it is up to date. Don't let this happen again. Wear what you want, when you want to.