Out with the old: Closet cleaning tips for petites

With Black Friday sales in full swing, it’s that time of year when I actually venture online and shop the sales to purchase some new clothes. It was time to make way for the new by cleaning out some of the old. Yep, this weekend I did the dreaded closet clean.

I’m not a pack rat

Contrary to popular belief, I’m not actually a pack rat. I’m a traveller who prefers to spend money on experiences, not things. I can happily live out of a backpack for weeks or months at a time, and I naturally tend more towards minimalism than anything.

Oh, don’t get me wrong: I do get sentimentally attached to some things. I have concert tees from the 90s in my pyjama drawer, and some special occasion items that I find it tough to part with. I’m not Marie Kondo; I’m not going to purge everything I own in some sort of kick. But overall, my problem isn’t holding onto stuff due to emotional attachment. No, it’s far more practical than that.

The disappearing petites section

See, the thing is, we petites have more to think about when clearing out old stuff than simply whether something is still in fashion. Unlike our straight-size counterparts, every time I toss something in the donation bin, I have to seriously think about whether it’s replaceable at all.

Twenty years ago, petite sizes abounded in many, many retailers that are now either defunct or have eliminated their petite sections altogether. Furthermore, regular sizes were made in shorter proportions then. If I toss out a set of petite MEC base layers, a Jones New York petite dress, or a suit from Petite Sophisticate, I have to concede that those items simply cannot be purchased anymore. There’s far less available today in our sizes than there was back then.

And there were years or entire decades when the fashions were far friendlier to our petite bodies than today’s oversized, shapeless styles. The 90s had cropped jackets, babydoll tees, and short a-line skirts, for instance. Trends come and go, but not every trend works for every body type. Many, many times, I’ve reverted to wearing items I’ve owned for years or even decades because nothing found in stores at the moment works nearly as well.

Another note about older clothes: They were better made. Fabric choice, stitching, seam allowance and overall quality were much higher thirty years ago and certainly fifty years ago. Vintage clothes are simply easier to tailor, which is a big consideration for a petite like me who has to shorten, hem or alter literally everything I own.

So you can see why I’m not so anxious to toss out old favourites to make way for new purchases. My wardrobe is largely made up of classic pieces I’ve owned forever. If I inject a few new on-trend items every season, it’s with great difficulty. The stress of finding something to replace an item I tossed in a fit of minimalism is just not worth it.

Purging tips for petites

That doesn’t mean that everything should be held onto forever. Even petites have to sort and get rid of stuff from time to time. Here are a few rules of thumb that I follow:

  • Have a two-step purging system. Before I get rid of something altogether, I transfer it from my closet to my storage bin in the spare room. It lives there until the next round of purging, which may be months or even a year or two later. It’s a failsafe that comes in handy: I’ve had to go back and rescue items from storage before, when I realized I was too quick to part with them.
  • Toss the trendy; keep the classic. Some items probably won’t ever come back into style — or should never have been in style in the first place. Others, like a classic suit, may never go out of style. I’m still wearing a denim jacket today that I bought over twenty years ago. Keep those anchor pieces that fit and flatter you, and get rid of that ill-conceived midi skirt that was a terrible idea from the minute you bought it.
  • Get rid of destroyed items first. If an item is still in good condition, I keep it around longer, just in case. If, however, something is ripped, stained or otherwise unwearable, it’s an easier decision to toss it.
  • Consider replacement costs (including time, energy and stress). Before I throw something out that I used to wear a lot, I think about whether I have something suitable already to replace it with — if not directly, then at least something that can serve the same purpose or occasion type.
  • Keep those favourite items in the wrong sizes. Every woman knows that weight can fluctuate over time. If you lose some weight, resist the temptation to throw out everything in larger sizes just because it’s too big on you; finding new smaller items in petite sizes may take a while, and if you do gain back the weight at some point, you’ll really regret your haste. Likewise, if you do gain a bit of weight, keep those smaller items around in case you lose it again. This is not necessarily good advice for straight-sized women who can more easily find new items in their new sizes. But for us petites, it can be a lifesaver to be able to go back to those favourite tried-and-true items when your size changes.
  • Shop the secondhand stores. Vintage clothing can be much more petite-friendly than modern-day items. If you’re purging, so are other petites. Check eBay or local secondhand stores for finds.

What to do with your old stuff

  • Resell the good stuff. Plenty of petite women struggle to find clothes in their size, so there’s a thriving resale market for lightly used good-quality brand-name petite clothing. As a Canadian, I don’t have the same access as you Americans to sites like Poshmark or Thredup. But I have had some moderate success reselling on eBay over the past few years. It’s not for everyone: eBay comes with hassles of high shipping costs, high fees, and a lot of work — you can’t expect to make a profit if you’re just an individual selling off your old stuff. But I’ve managed to recoup some small amounts of money. And hey, every little bit helps.
  • Donate the re-usable stuff. Many local charities will accept donations of used clothing in good condition. A few to look for: Women’s shelters, refugee organizations, charity-run thrift stores, and community bazaars. I always recommend researching the charities you give to; some of them sell items in bulk by the pound and end up just contributing to the trash problem in developing countries, and others have discriminatory agendas that promote hate against certain individuals or groups. So, do your homework. But if you find a worthy cause, then by all means, bring them your things.
  • Have a petite clothing swap. Clothing swaps — where everyone brings their lightly-worn old stuff and swaps with other people — are tricky for petites. Since we’ve probably hemmed or shortened everything we own, and won’t fit into everyone else’s old stuff, it can be a bit of a lost cause to attend large citywide organized swap events. On the other hand, if you have a circle of petite friends or acquaintances, you can try hosting a petites-only or petite-friendly clothing swap. You may end up with some new finds, and your old stuff could find itself a new home.
  • Get creative with everything else. This is where I break out the sewing machine. If I have an item that is really destroyed to the point where it can’t be resold or donated, I use it as source material for projects. Upcycling old clothing is a fun — and environmentally friendly — way to use the fabric or pieces you have on hand to create something new. An old t-shirt can get stitched into a patchwork bag; a dress can be turned into a skirt. Obviously, skill level will determine what’s possible. But who cares, if it’s something that was just going into the trash heap anyway? Some stuff will work; some won’t. Have fun with it.

Ultimately, even petites need to do a good healthy closet purge once in a while, to make way for new items. We just have to scale it down — like everything else in our lives.

Whew. Now doesn’t that feel better?

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