Let’s talk about how to clean out your closet. Really clean it out. Get in there, get it down to the barebones, and rebuild it with a wardrobe you love and want to wear every day.
It can feel like an overwhelming task, but, if you follow my steps (the same ones I used with private clients for years) it won’t be.
The best part is that once the work is done and you have a functional closet space that works for YOU, it is so much easier to keep it that way.
I do a deep clean and reorganizing twice a year. I take some time right after the holidays as a way to reset for the new year, and then again mid summer.
How to Clean Out Your Closet
The Challenge of A Messy Closet
When you can’t find your clothes, when things are everywhere, when you’re digging through boxes and drawers looking for an accessory, you waste so much time and energy.
The good news is, with a little bit of time you can easily get your closet in order.
Even if all you have is an hour, you can make serious improvement and immediately benefit from a more functional space.
Your Closet is the Nucleus of Your Life
If clothes are pouring out of your closet yet, you wake up with “nothing to wear” it’s time for a closet detox.
For me, when my personal items are a mess, it’s a indication that other things are out of wack. I’m usually over committed, and running on empty.
When I spend the time getting back on track, I immediately feel better and more focused.
Below is what my usually tidy closet looked like right after last Christmas.
My Closet: Before
I’ve been in thousands of closets from my time as a personal stylist, so I’ve seen worse. But the holidays always do a number on my closet. I end up just dropping stuff and running out.
By the time my closet reaches this point I’m too busy and overwhelmed to care.
But once I can’t find my things, and start wasting time getting dressed I end up being annoyed before my day even starts.
It was time to reevaluate my current system and get back on track.
How to Clean Out Your Closet
Create a Manageable System
Most of us have to work with the space that we have. Thankfully, by editing down to your must-haves and favorites, and investing in a few organizing tools, you can create an oasis of inspiration and practical functionality.
You can see some of my process in my own closet over in my Instagram stories.
In my experience, I’ve learned that most women’s closets are in decent shape. You need to go through everything with a dedicated eye, make quick decisions and organize your items into like categories, but you can do it in about an hour or two.
It’s amazing what an organized space can do for your mood and how you navigate your entire day when you start off less frazzled.
This closet clean out can be a refresher if you’ve already done the work in our Wardrobe Challenge or be the kick in the butt you need to dedicate more time to purging and organizing.
A Little Prep Work Goes a Long Way
First, it’s helpful to be able to articulate your personal style.
How else will you know what to keep and what to “toss”?
The better you understand what you like, and the look you are trying to create, the easier it is to complete an edit. We talk more about that in How to Define Your Personal Style.
To start your closet clean-out you’ll need:
- Rolling rack : use this as your “keep” pile.
- Trash bag(s): for any trash or damaged items.
- Your dry cleaning bag: have it ready for items to have cleaned or mended.
- Empty laundry baskets: have a few of these around so you can easily create piles.
- Vacuum, multi cleaner, rags, etc.
- Notebook and pen or take notes on your phone.
- Storage option for out of season clothes.
- Flocked hangers These are the BEST. I’ve used them for years. They are in every closet in my house.
- Wine (optional, but helpful)
Tip: Want to resell some pieces? This article will help you figure out where to sell, donate and recycle clothing. I keep a Thred Up bag handy and add garments to resell as I go through my closet.
Set Up Your Work Space
My rolling rack gets a lot of use. I keep it under my bed and pull it out whenever I pick up a big dry cleaning haul.
I use it when I pack for trips and find it extra helpful when tidying up my closet. You’ll be surprised how many times you use it once you have one.
I also like to have a few trash bag and my dry cleaning bag on hand so that I can work quickly.
If you plan on storing your out-of-season pieces elsewhere, be sure to have your bins ready as well. A simple plastic storage bin with some cedar inserts works well. I also like these under the bed storage bags.
Having an extra laundry basket to collect items that do not belong in your closet is helpful.
Be sure to have a space for all of your piles, including: keep (rolling rack), trash (trash bags), storage (bins), donate (basket), sell (basket), and clean and mend (dry cleaning bag).
Finally, have a notebook and pen hand, or the notes app opened on your phone, so you can jot down a quick shopping list as you notice items you need or pieces you have to replace.
How to Clean Out Your Closet
Start to Edit
Now you’re ready to edit!!
First, remove everything from your closet.
I just throw everything on my bed, and line shoes and bags around the room.
Then begin to edit, working as quickly as possible. Don’t give yourself too much time to think or you’ll talk yourself out of getting rid of anything.
You don’t need to relive the life history of every garment you’ve ever bought.
First, pull any pieces that are out of season and place them in either a pile or directly in their storage box.
Next, pull anything that is dated, damaged, or that you just don’t like anymore and sort into your piles accordingly. This is where we start to lose our minds.
What if it comes back in style?
It won’t, the idea of it might, but it will not be the exact same translation. All styles evolve. Holding on to dated clothes make you look dated, and you loose the opportunity to be chic and modern.
But I spent so much money on it!
Yes, you did. The money is spent whether the item lives in your closet or not, so donate it to someone who can get better use out of it.
I can wear it, I just need to loose 20 pounds.
I’m a big believer that all the items in our closet need to fit. Nothing is worse than waking up on then morning and going through all the clothes that are too small for you.
What a bummer.
So at a minimum, move these pieces to a different closet or pack them up until you reach or goal. But also, hold them to the same standard as you would if they did fit. Would you LOVE it if it fit properly? How much use would it get? Does it reflect your style.
A lot of times we use future fit as an excuse to hold on to a garment that doesn’t work for us for a number of other reasons.
Touch every piece of clothing
Keep moving through your pile. Touch everything, and immediately action each piece.
Once you are done, you should be left with a rack of only things you love.
Care for your closet the same way you care for the other rooms in your home.
Before you place your keepers back in, clean it up. Wipe down the shelves and vacuum the floor, clean out the light fixture and sanitize the doorknob and any other surfaces.
You will be shocked and maybe a little grossed out by the amount of hidden dirt in your closet space.
Replace Your Hangers
Keep your space visually tidy by using the same hanger. I love velvet hangers. They save space and help you see everything you have.
Uniformed hangers are my #1 game changing tip for a more calm closet. It’s amazing what happens when your space is perfectly organized. You’ll be calmer and see more outfit options instantly.
Pack Up and Put Your Clothes Away
If you have items in plastic dry cleaning bags, take a second to remove them and put them on new hangers. Plastic bags hold moisture and can damage your items if you let them stay in them for too long.
Properly put back the items you are keeping in your closet, neatly.
I organize closets by category (sleeveless, short sleeve, long sleeve, etc.) and then by color within each category. This way, my eye goes almost instinctively to what I need.
My Closet: After
Before you run and buy new organizing tools do an inventory at home. Then see what your space needs.
Below is what I use to keep my small space high functioning:
Velvet Hangers: Keep everything neat and eye level.
3M Hooks: to keep favorite necklaces in view and untangled.
Stackable Jewelry Box: For all my other jewelry I purchased this customizable jewelry box – it’s fantastic!
Shoe Drawers: I love these. As you can see above these really utilize the shelf space I have. I’ve since added even more and it makes a huge difference.
Shelve Dividers: I use these to help separate my jeans and sweaters and keep them stacked neatly. I use to think they were a waste of money but they have made huge difference in keeping my space neat.
Purse Organizer*: This acrylic purse organize is perhaps my favorite purchase. For years I kept my clutches and smaller, occasion bags in a basket. But I edited them down to just my favorites and properly displayed them and now I am using them more frequently and can put them back where they belong without thinking about it.
Keep the Edit Going
I keep a small basket tucked away for donations. Often I’ll try something on and realize I don’t like it anymore, or it doesn’t fit well, and drop it in the basket. Once it’s filled up, I sort it, send what I can sell to ThredUp and donate the rest.
A friendly reminder from my accountant: be sure to keep track of your donations for your end of year taxes!
Finish the Process
Before you finish, gather up any trash and dispose of it. If something needs to be dry cleaned or mended, add it to the proper pile and put it in your car.
Organize donations and pack them up neatly.
Drop them off as soon as possible. Whatever you do, do not leave items hanging around or they will never get actioned and may end back up in your closet.
That’s it! In a few hours you will have turned your closet from chaos to inspiration!
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