How to Learn from Your Shopping Mistakes with a Closet Purge

how to make a closet purge a learning tool

a closet purge isn't always easy

“How long have you had this?”


“I’ve never seen you wear it. Have you ever worn it?”


“We are getting rid of it.”

But it still has the tags on it!!!!!!

“Well it’s ugly.” And with that she tossed it into the ever-growing mound of discards. By that point I was just hoping to have something left to wear the next day.

No, I wasn’t having a Gollum/Smeagol episode with myself. Everyone needs that friend who will come over and tell them their clothes are ugly and need to go. I have a friend like that (love you!), and she won’t let me lie to myself about what is in my closet and why. Or about how my butt looks (terrible) in those pants.

I take mistakes as a personal failure. I feel them deeply. Each one is significant to me, even if it’s small to everyone else, and my cheeks burn with shame over the smallest missteps. I especially hate making shopping mistakes because I hate waste. Buying something I ultimately end up not liking or wearing is a waste of money, and in the past I’ve held onto those mistake purchases because if I got rid of them, I would be admitting my mistake. But by giving them a home/grave in my closet where they never see the light of day, my mistake is hidden from view among all the other mistakes. For a long time my closet was the island of misfit clothes.  And they were all still wearing their tags.


how i use my shopping mistakes to become a better shopper

Instead of beating myself up for buying the wrong things, I’ve decided to focus on what I can learn from the items I purge from my closet. There is a theme in the items I’ve pulled out, and now I know what to look for so I avoid purchasing things with those same qualities. I’m in a refining stage of my wardrobe and style, and it’s the little details that make the difference now.

I realized that I go through stages of fixating on things and buying multiples of the same item. I shop Nordstrom like it’s Costco. “Does this come in a multi-color ten-pack? No? Just black? Fine, I’ll take 10 of those then.” Last winter my fixation was windowpane plaid rayon button up shirts. I wanted ALL THE COLORS because I found a black and white one that I loved. The next obvious step was to buy a rainbow assortment, right? I only ended up with 3, thankfully, but only for lack of opportunity.

What once seemed like a great idea, I now realize was me liking how something looked on someone else, but it wasn’t right for me. I’ve gotten pretty good at distinguishing that, but I still fall prey and need the occasional reality check. I am prone to style envy, but I know what looks and feels best on me, and I stick to it. Pinterest, I’m becoming immune to your adorable outfit collages!

By releasing things that I don’t love, that don’t love me, that are in sad shape, or make me feel bad, I’m left only with the items I LOVE, the items I wear, the items that make me look and feel my very best. My goal with each purge is to be left with a wardrobe I love, and that loves me back by flattering my body and my skin tone. I’m left with a wardrobe that tells a true story about who I am, how I expect to be treated, and what you can expect from me. I’m left with clothes that make me feel confident, secure, and put together.

My closet is curated and cohesive, making getting dressed incredibly easy and fast. I can get ready in 20 minutes or less because my wardrobe isn’t full of a mishmash of random things that don’t go together. It all goes together. Instead of failures, these items were successes because they taught me something! Through them I’ve been able to refine and define my style even more! As I whittle it down, it becomes a more powerful tool in defining myself. Now when I shop I know even more about what I do and don’t want to wear.

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how to do this in your closet

As you pull things out be honest about:

a. whether or not you actually wear it.

b. how you feel about the item.

If it’s something you put on and take off every time, or never put on at all, it’s not right for you. What emotions come up when you think about wearing it? A few years ago I had a large collection of flared skirts. They were soooo cuuuute on the girls on Pinterest, so naturally I had 15. Not one time did I wear one outside of my closet. I’d put it on, take it off and pick a pencil skirt. Why? Because in my head they felt like Scarlett O’Hara’s ball gown. I could see them out of my peripheral vision. I felt like a Christmas ornament. I kept trying to smooth and flatten them, and when that didn’t work, I took them off and changed clothes. Now I know not to buy that style of skirt. Ever. No matter how cute it is on Pinterest.

Anything that requires me to adjust it once I’m wearing it makes me anxious. I get actual anxiety about it. It becomes the front and center thing in my brain for the entire time it’s on my body. Now I know not to buy anything that won’t stay put.

After you pull things out, do you notice a trend of things you purged? Were they all itchy? Too small? High waisted? Too short in the sleeves? Too busy? ALL PURCHASED ONLY BECAUSE THEY WERE ON SALE AND IT WOULD BE DUMB TO PASS UP SUCH A GOOD DEAL EVEN ON SOMETHING YOU DON’T LIKE OR DOESN’T FIT (YET)? I only ask because I’ve never done that, but I’ve heard that some people do….*shifts uncomfortably and looks sideways*.

What are patterns you’ve noticed? What do you buy and not wear? WHY? If you can answer those questions, you will know what your shopping mistake is and your mistake will be a success!

In the first two videos of my closet purge, you’ll see a trend. I was surprised when I was editing the videos that everything I got rid of had a theme, and I’ve officially learned my lesson. I WILL NOT BUY THOSE THINGS EVER AGAIN. (No matter how good the sale is. Pinky promise).

In this closet purge video series you will see what I got rid of and why. I broke each category into its own video so they aren’t too long, and so you can watch the ones that interest you most or watch them one at a time as you have time. You’ll see 2 today, 2 next Tuesday, and 2 next Thursday, so be sure and check back!

winter closet clean out part 1 - shirts

winter closet clear out part 2 - sweaters and vests

a quick and easy make up tutorial that i wore in these videos

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more resources for your style journey

21 thoughts on “How to Learn from Your Shopping Mistakes with a Closet Purge”

  1. Watched your videos on closet purging last night. Funny, how I happened to be home from work and decided to purge my closet and drawers earlier in the day. The buying stuff because it was on sale, looked great on the girl in the ad and didn’t make me look like the girl in the ad, lol. Guilty of all. I hate waste of my time and money and won’t keep what I absolutely love and makes me feel good. Bought your winter capsule e-book which has been so helpful. Strong work, April!

  2. Thank You for articulating so well the feelings associated with hiding poor purchases and ill-fit issues! I need to find that honest (non-judgy) friend for purging…
    What did you use to determine most flattering lengths on yourself – full length mirror & camera? Thnx 😀

  3. I can only articulate it because I’m so, so guilty of it. In the last year I’ve really stopped it. Mostly. Sometimes I still catch myself, and that is why I go through my items toward the end of each season.

    To find my most flattering lengths I put on shirt and marked measurements with pins. Then I took full length pictures to find my range. Mine is 23-25 inches. Lower than that and it accentuates my hips. If I want tunic length, I need a mini dress, mid-thigh. So I avoid that middle range. I don’t remember if I said it in the video, but I’m a pear shape.

  4. Rebecca, I’m so glad the Stunning Style Wardrobe Guide has been so helpful to you! It’s my goal to help everyone build a cohesive and curated wardrobe they love!

    Walking way from a good deal goes against my soul. It’s so hard for me, and I still catch myself walking to the register with items that I don’t need. I’ve gotten a lot better at stopping and considering how it fits in with my wardrobe, and being an intentional shopper, but I do get caught up in the moment sometimes.

    P.S. I’ve never looked like the girl in the ad. No matter what I try, and that’s ok. I’m finally ok with that.

  5. Nailed it! This is exactly how I feel about mistakes and poor purchase choices. I’ve gotten much more selective when shopping but I do hate trying stuff on so I return things. Oh well. I’m getting better at it!!

  6. Julie, I also hate trying things on, and often take things home to try on. If I’m going on an intentional shopping trip (instead of an accidental shopping trip. They’re a real thing). I wear things that are easy to take on and off so I’m less inclined to buy without the try.

  7. If I’m the friend you’re referring to up there, I’m not always that blunt, right?! 😉 Or maybe I am, in which case I’m glad I’ve been able to help you so much in your purging process! Now I need to go purge in preparation for some good shopping coming up soon!

  8. Oh Brittney, I know I can trust you to be honest with me, and that’s why I always ask for your opinions, but no, you’re not the friend I’m referencing in the conversation above. I love you both. And I love this friend for her directness and tough love. This happened 7-ish years ago, and she did me a big favor. I still had clothes from HIGH SCHOOL. The situation was dire. And I asked her to do it.

  9. I spent the last two days posting my wrong-type clothing on ebay. I was feeling so much guilt, looking at what I spent in contrast to how much money I could salvage by selling it. Your post showed me that this is something that everyone deals with, even those with a finely honed sense of style. Thanks… I feel better now!

  10. Girrrrrrrl! Let me tell you the tale of woes….

    There was a wrap dress from Express, in the late 90s, that was perfect. So I bought it in every color. They were amazing. I still wish I had them. This was the only time in my life that "buying one in every color" was successful.

    One of the items I keep purchasing over and over are flowy white linen shirts. I know they don’t look good on me, I know I won’t wear them, but I want to. It’s one of those things where I have to accept that I can love them… but on someone else. Sometimes I miss not knowing better. Lol! It’s be lady without your style guides, though. You’ve given me the parameters I need.

  11. Linda I’m so glad it relieved the guilt for you! A change in perspective can change everything. I’ve been in that exact place, and felt that same guilt. You are not alone. Everyone makes shopping mistakes. EVERYONE.

  12. I don’t think I’ll stop buying in multiple colors. It’s a good strategy when it’s the right item, like that wrap dress you had!

    Good for you for recognizing your linen shirt problem and doing something about it. No more! I’m so glad the guides are helping! Intentional shopping is the way to go.

  13. April, thank you so much for these helpful videos! You mentioned visiting Paris in the summertime. I’m curious if you will have a wardrobe guide or tips for summer travel – especially shoes! I’m interested! I know it’s still early but thinking ahead! Thanks for all you do!

  14. Margot I’m so glad they are helpful! I’m rethinking how to do the travel wardrobe guides, but it’s good to hear there is interest in a summer version. I’ve done Paris in July and August, and the weather is always a surprise.

  15. Thank you so much for these videos. I purged my winter wardrobe a while back,now I’m looking at my spring and summer clothes with fresh eyes. Listening to your reasons for discarding eitems felt so affirming to me. Over and over I was thinking yes that’s what I like/don’t like – even down to the flattering and unflattering lengths. This was all really helpful!

  16. Excellent Post! It was entertaining to read, funny, and honest. It got to the nuts and bolts of how to really be brutally honest with yourself in a closet purge and actually make it effective and worth the time and effort. You softened the blow by your empathy for the process and then you gave us the exceptional step by step videos of your journey. This is the most comprehensive post and video I have seen on the topic and it has me jumping to get started and make my closet something that honors and represents me! Thank you April! Beautifully done!

  17. Cheri thank you so much! I really appreciate your thoughtful comment. I am so glad this has been helpful to you and others. I can’t wait to hear about your journey to a perfect for you closet.

  18. I love the videos. I feel so guilty when I get rid of something, even if it is showing signs of having not been worn. I purged my closet last spring, and now I find that it needs done again. Thank you so much for these guidelines I feel like I can proceed with less guilt and more direction that will suit my taste in clothes, not my conscience. I am also guilty of buying what looks good on someone else, and sale items. I still have a number of mistakes I will donate to Goodwill. I am looking forward to finding out what really suits me, so that my wardrobe is a pleasure not a burden. Thanks for the great videos.

  19. Judith, the more I do this, the more honest with myself I am. And also the more realizations I have about WHY. Finding the why is everything so I don’t repeat the mistake. I’m so glad I could help you release some guilt. We get enough of that in other parts of our lives. Consider it a learning process and those items taught you something.

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