How to Painlessly Clean Out Your Closet
Save time with these easy cleanout tips to figure out what to keep and what to toss.
Closet Cleanout: Get Rid of Clutter for Good
Cleaning out the closet is a daunting project that’s often put off. But with crammed clothes and hangers sticking out every which way, finding the shirt you need — among outdated fashion options — can be exhausting. Get rid of the clothes that are wasting space with closet cleanout tips from the decluttering experts including Sarah Giller Nelson at Less is More, Kristen Ziegler of Minima, Barbara Reich of Life Organized, Rebecca Crespo of Minimalism Made Simple and Tracy Lynn of Declutter in Minutes.
How to Get Rid of Clothes in Your Closet
It’s time to get yourself into the organization mindset. Tackling a closet cleanout is no simple task, so use these tips to help you work through the job.
1. Schedule Time for Your Cleanout
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably either started thinking about tackling this project or have committed to finally getting rid of all the clothes you don’t wear. But you might be asking yourself, “How do I start cleaning out my closet?”
Cleaning out your closet can be overwhelming, so go in with a plan. Prepare by setting aside some time and marking it in your calendar. Scheduling this as an essential task will make it difficult to avoid. Clear the whole day if you need to. You might even hire a babysitter so you don’t get distracted. Play some music that will keep you motivated over the next few hours, put away your phone and dive in.
“Work in smaller blocks of time. Set a timer for 30 minutes to two hours, select a clothing type to go through and declutter until the time is up.”
2. Empty Your Closet Into One Giant Pile
What is the best way to clean out your closet? Start by taking every last item out, including your hangers, and place them on your bed. Now you can’t go to sleep until you finish the project, giving you no excuse to stop until you’re done. This will also give you a visual of the space available in your closet so you can see what will fit comfortably as you put back pieces you want to keep.
“This may seem a bit intimidating, but starting fresh is the best way to create lasting change and do a thorough review of what you own. If you have clothing overflowing into other areas of your home, pull that in to sort as well.”
3. Give Your Closet a Good Scrubbing
Next, clean the inside of the closet while it’s empty. Dust and wipe down shelves and racks, vacuum or sweep the floor and clean light fixtures. Leave the door open so the closet can air out while you decide which clothes to keep and which to get rid of.
4. Sort Clothes Into Keep, Give Away and Toss Piles
It’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. Create three distinct groups as you go through each item on your bed:
- Clothes you’re going to keep.
- Items you don’t need that are still in good condition.
- Anything that needs to go straight to the trash.
Once you’ve put an item into a pile, don’t second guess yourself. Keep moving so you don’t lose momentum.
5. Refine the "Keep" Pile
Sorting clothes into the “keep” pile is the easy part, but remember not to get too carried away — you can’t keep everything. Stick to this list to help you figure out what should stay in your closet.
- Layering pieces that are good for any season.
- Things you want and have actually worn in the last year.
- Clothing and accessories you can incorporate with any trend.
- Staple and everyday pieces that you wear seasonally.
How to Decide Which Clothes to Keep
If you’re still wondering, “what should I keep in my closet?” then answer the following questions or check out our closet cleanout quiz to decide if a particular item is valuable to your wardrobe.
- Would I buy this today?
- Does this fit my lifestyle?
- When was the last time I wore this?
- When will I wear this in the next few months?
“Hold your wardrobe to a very high standard. When we look good, we feel good, and you deserve to always feel your best. When decluttering, be very picky and honest.”
Try the Marie Kondo Method
“Does this item bring me joy?” That’s the main question famous Japanese organizing consultant Kondo says to ask yourself when decluttering your closet. So, as you’re cleaning out your clothes, think about each item. Does a certain top make you feel less than your best? If it doesn’t make you feel good, you’re not going to wear it. There’s no point in letting it take up space in your closet.
Kondo also says to think about what you want to keep, not what you want to get rid of. Shift your thoughts to focus on items you truly love instead of worrying about some old clothes you don’t want.
6. Toss What You Don’t Need
Now it’s time to figure out what’s not going back in your closet. Use this list to decide what to purge.
Clothes to Get Rid of in Your Closet Cleanout
- Clothes that don’t fit.
- Anything you have multiples of.
- Items that no longer suit your style.
- Apparel you haven’t worn or only used once.
- Things you used to wear often but now dislike.
- Accessories and items that can’t be styled with other clothing.
- Anything you tell yourself you’ll get repaired or altered but haven’t.
“Be bold. Most people wear the same few items over and over, so just let the rest go.”
You can donate, host a garage sale or give a friend any of the above items that are in good condition. Don’t waste time getting them out of your house — you just went through all that hard work paring down your clothes, so don’t let them continue cluttering your space.
Anything you haven’t decided to keep, give away or sell likely needs to be tossed. If it’s in poor condition, send it to the trash or find a local textile recycling organization that can reuse your old clothes. This means getting rid of anything ripped, stained, faded or otherwise unwearable.
7. Put the "Keep" Pile Back in Your Closet
Now that it's time to neatly refill your closet, make a plan to keep your clothes organized. Consider installing new shelves, buying organizing drawers or adding additional rods if space allows, helping you create a cohesive system. As you put things back, store them in a way that compliments your daily routine.
For example, if you work out every day, try putting athletic wear near the front of your closet with the items you regularly wear to work. Your more casual weekend clothes don’t need prime real estate because you won’t need to access them quickly as you’re rushing out the door during the week.
“Fold or hang like items together, such as pants, long-sleeve tops, short-sleeve tops, etc. Within each category, group items by color. Also, consider moving out-of-season clothing to another closet, a rack in the basement or in storage bins under your bed.”
5 Fast Tips for Cleaning Out Your Closet
Here are a few quick pieces of advice to help you clean out your closet and tie up some loose ends on the items you're still unsure about.
1. The One-Year Rule
If you haven’t worn it in the last year, you likely won’t ever wear it. Don’t hold onto a T-shirt or a pair of shoes hoping you’ll use it again and don’t try to convince yourself you will someday. It’s time to let it go. Stop letting it take up valuable space.
“When cleaning out your closet, choose the items that reflect the person you are today, and separate the ones that reflect who you used to be. We all naturally grow and change overtime, and our clothes can highlight our transformation."
2. Force Yourself to Wear the Maybes
Try wearing clothes that you're still on the fence about. Choose a day in the next week to wear them and take note of how you feel in them. Do these jeans make you feel good? Will you wear this sweater again? Can you find a way to style it?
3. One Thing In, One Thing Out
Moving forward, for every new article of clothing you buy, something has to go. This will help you prevent your closet from getting cluttered again.
4. The Hanger Trick
When you’re putting your clothes back in your closet, make sure all your hangers are facing the same way. After you wear an item, turn the hanger around when you put it back. Wait a month, then take note of which hangers are still facing the original way. Reevaluate your need for these clothes and consider donating them. This will help you keep your closet clutter in check.
5. Slow and Steady
If the idea of spending several hours cleaning out your closet is just too overwhelming, try making it part of your daily routine. Set up a donation box in or near your closet and aim to put five items in every day.
“As you’re grabbing a shirt for the day ahead, find another that you no longer wear. Looking for a belt? Donate any that are out of style. By doing the decluttering as you go, you will turn an intimidating project into just another simple task on your daily to-do list.”
Closet Cleanout FAQs
Reich answers some common questions people have about cleaning out their closets below.
How often should I clean out my closet?
"At least twice a year, but every season is preferable."
How can I keep my closet clean?
"Label everything in your closet. When you take something off a hanger, move it to the front of the closet so you always know where your empty hangers are."
How long does it take to clean out a closet?
"This depends on how much clothing you have. It could take an hour or a whole day."
Time to Wear Your Favorite Clothes
You made it through the project! Your bed is cleared off, your closet is clean and you have the tips you need to keep it organized. Now you can reach into your closet as you get dressed every day and always wear the clothes that make you feel your best.
Sarah Giller Nelson
Sarah is the founder and master organizer for Less is More, a professional organizing company started in 2010. Based in Miami, Sarah helps overwhelmed people find time, clarity and a sense of accomplishment. She has helped thousands declutter their home and has been featured in Martha Stewart Living and Real Simple magazines.
Kristen is an organizing expert and owner of Minima. Based in Richmond, Minima offers professional organizing and redesign services. Since 2010, the company has developed a clear process to ensure lasting results for its clients.
Based in Manhattan, professional organizer Barbara has over 20 years of experience in organizing people, their lives and spaces. She has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the New York Post and countless other publications. Her book, Secrets of an Organized Mom, is the 2014 winner of the Mom's Choice Award.
Rebecca has three years of experience with minimal living. The blog is dedicated to simple living, an intentional lifestyle and minimalism. She works to inspire individuals to explore their own journey of minimal living that is not defined by others.
Tracy Lynn is the founder of Declutter in Minutes in Philadelphia uses techniques to help her readers learn how to take charge of overwhelming projects and break them down into small steps to make progress. She has helped thousands of people clean out the clutter and organize their homes.
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