How to Clean Out Your Closet in 5 Easy Steps

The first step in building a wardrobe that you love is to clean out your closet.  While it’s not the most exciting part, you have to know what you’re working with in order to move forward.  

It’s not about space

While it always looks better to have some space in your closet, that isn’t the point here.  

No matter how stuffed your closet is, I’m willing to bet you only use 25% of the clothes in there at most.  We all have the go-to items that we throw on whenever they are clean (or clean enough) while the rest of our clothes remain untouched.  

But what if your closet could be 100% clothes that you love and can’t wait to wear?  

That’s the point.  Get everything out of there that isn’t going to be an all-star player.  Here’s how you do that.

1. Examine your lifestyle

Before you take one item of clothing out of your closet, you need to think about what is practical for you.  It’s easy to end up with lots of clothes you don’t wear either because your lifestyle has changed or your body has.  

How many days a week do you wear casual clothes? Business casual? Date night clothes? Bear that in mind when sorting through. You may LOVE your eight sparkly tops, but do you actually have a life that requires them.

You have to dress for the life you have. It doesn’t mean you can’t look great! Just be honest about what you will actually be dressing for.

woman in fancy dress
Come children. Let’s make mud pies.

2. Take everything out of your closet

Now is the time for energizing tunes.  Pick a happy playlist off of spotify that you can sing along with and turn it up.  This will help make the experience much more fun.  Nothing depressing even if that’s your favorite music.  You need a happy headspace for this.  No TV.  I want to watch Bravo as much as you do, but it’s distracting.  Save it for the end as a reward.

Remove everything from your closet.  Everything.

Take every article of clothing out and put it on your bed.  Put shoes somewhere nearby.  If you also keep clothes in a dresser, dump all of them onto the bed too.  

If you’re low on storage like me, there may be many things in your closet that aren’t clothing related.  Take them all out too, and put them out of the way for now.  

3. Actually clean your closet

Don’t give me that face. It needs to happen.

Now that you’ve got a clean slate, take ten minutes and clean that sucker.  It probably hasn’t been empty like this since you moved in.  Do it in this order:

  • Dust from left to right, top to bottom.  This keeps you from having to clean any area twice.  I love using the Swiffer duster.  It keeps the dust from flying in your face.
  • Use a vacuum with a hose attachment or a dustbuster to pick up the dust that is stuck in corners and on the floor.
  • Spray your closet lightly with a fresh gentle cleaning solution like Mrs. Meyers, and wipe down with paper towels.  
  • Feel like Martha Stewart for a second until you look back at your bed.

4. Be ruthless.  Zero Ruths allowed.

Set up four boxes. – Store, Donate, Recycle, and a spare (optional)

Go through each item of clothing one by one.  Pick it up and hold it in your hands.  

What do you feel?

         Marie Kondo, in her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” likes to hold each item of clothing and ask “Does it spark joy?” While it sounds really cheesy, it actually works.  Clothes aren’t around to prevent you from being naked.  They should make you happy.  

I feel like “Does it spark joy” covers a lot of these, but if that doesn’t do it for you, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I love the way I look in it?
  • Have I worn it in the last year?
  • Does it fit?

Not only “can I get it on” but… 

  • Does it dig in, ride up, pull, etc?  
  • Do I need to suck in my stomach to close it?  
  • Can I sit down, bend, crouch, etc
  • Is it in good shape? 

(Pilling, rips, missing buttons, loose threads?)

  • Does it fit your lifestyle? (Check“lifestyle assessment” sheet.)
  • Can you wear it around your kids?  or;
  • Is it office appropriate?

Manipulative clothing

There are some clothes that are just manipulative.  You take them out of the closet KNOWING you don’t wear them, and somehow convince yourself year after year that you WILL!  

Most of the time these are what I call “aspirational clothing”.  They are clothes that you would wear if your life were different than it was today.  If you were thinner.  If you were someone who went to fancy wine bars.  Or someone who could wear oxford shirts without looking like a cater/waiter.  

“But what if I DO go to a fancy wine bar one day?” you ask yourself.  If it happens then try and borrow something from a friend.  Or learn to dress up casual clothing with accessories.  

Two tricks for those who hate getting rid of clothes

1. The hanger trick

hanger trick
Looks weird but it works!

When you set up your closet, turn all your hangers around so the hook is facing the front.  Yes, this looks weird and is a minor pain in the ass.  BUT here’s why it works – when you wear something for the first time, you can turn the hanger around after you’ve worn it when putting it back in the closet.  At the end of the season/year, get rid of anything where the hook still faces you.

2. Out of sight out of mind

Ok if you really aren’t sure, go ahead and store it.  Put items of clothing like this in the spare box, and tape it shut.  Set a reminder on your phone to open it a year from now.  If you haven’t had to go digging in the box to get any of these items, just donate it without opening it up again. 

I find every time I do this, I forget every item of clothing I put in the box and live perfectly happily without them.

If it helps, you can pin or print out the following infographic and use it to keep you honest while you go through everything.  

Keep or Toss Infograhic
Pin me!

5. Assess (aka I have nothing to wear!)

Don’t panic when you see that you have very little in the “Keep” pile.  It doesn’t mean you need to hang on to anything else just so you don’t go naked.  Chances are, these are the things you have been wearing anyway.  

Now you know what you are actually working with and can start to fill in the gaps.  There are ways to do this without spending a fortune.  While I am a big fan of investing in quality basics, you don’t have to get them all at once. Start by hanging everything up and see what outfits you can put together from there.

How to organize your clothes

Organize by type, then color.  Here’s how I do it:

Tops (Blouses/Button-downs)

Bottoms (Pants, skirts)

Dresses

Completers (Vests/Cardigans/Blazers/Jackets)

Outerwear

Go light to dark.  

Plan a few outfits

You probably have a few go-to outfits already.  The good news is that everything in your closet is now something you LOVE, and you can SEE all of it.

Keep your eye out for neutrals.  These would be Black, White, Gray, Tan, and Navy.  You can generally pair any neutral top with any bottom you own and vice versa.  

Have a red striped top?  Pair that with black pants.  Or a tan skirt.  Or navy shorts (although you’ll look a bit fourth of July…)

What about a floral skirt?   Try a white tank top and a denim jacket.  Or a black tee, etc.  

This is something that will come more naturally with practice. 

You did it!

Now you are in the ideal position to build a wardrobe that you love.  A good first step is to create a capsule wardrobe of basics and build from there.  Or if you’d prefer a seasonal capsule wardrobe, you can get started there as well!  Once you have built up your basics you will be on your way to looking great every day!

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