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Closet Cleanout: How to Declutter & Organize your Closet Effectively

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I once heard that the average person only wear about 20% of what’s in our closet, and the more we have in there, the less we actually wear. It’s like we get decision fatigue about something that should be fun and easy every day. If you’re feeling this way, it’s time for a closet cleanout!

closet cleanout

Doing a regular closet clean-outs several times a year—usually once in the new year and once in late summer as you prep for the school year and fall is a great time to do it. Best of all, you don’t need to be a professional organizer or hire one to do this effectively.

When you clean your closet at least twice a year you end up with a wardrobe you love that’s not overly stuffed and getting dressed is fun—not stressful. This also makes it easier to keep your closet clean.

Throughout the year, I like to clear out my closet seasonly. This is a much quicker closet cleaning and organizing session and is a great time to quickly go throw your closet and get rid of any clothing items you haven’t worn, are ripped or stained, doesn’t fit or you simply don’t like. Doing this also makes it easier to decide what to buy and leads to less buying in the long run.

How to Do a Closet Cleanout Effectively

Cleaning a closet can feel like a daunting task, but wow, the weight of relief and freedom you feel when it’s done is pretty epic. It’s like you’re shedding your old skin and coming into a brand new version of yourself. And, be warned! This feeling might spill out into other areas of your house—just make sure you only tackle one area at a time to avoid overwhelm.

Step 1: Define your Personal Style

Defining your personal style is essential to your closet cleanout because it helps you hone in on what pieces truly resonate with you, allows you to see what your core colors are, and enables you to curate a wardrobe that reflects your unique aesthetic and makes getting dressed a more enjoyable and intentional process.

Earlier this year I found that the pieces I was gravitating towards the most all had a similar theme—easy to mix and match, mostly neutrals and mostly casual. Knowing what you like to wear and what you feel confident in before you get started will make decisions much easier.

closet cleanout

Try a Minimalist Capsule Wardrobe

A minimalist capsule wardrobe can be a great option for keeping your closet clean because it focuses on quality over quantity, helps you define your personal style, and makes it easier to combine your favorite pieces in different ways. Plus, you’ll open up some valuable real estate in there!

I still have some statement pieces in my closet and you definitely don’t have to only have a capsule wardrobe, but editing my closet down to be more of a capsule wardrobe with core colors (neutrals, blues and greens for me!) has made getting dressed more fun and simple.

Step 2: Set Aside Time for your Closet Cleanout

Setting aside time in your schedule for a closet cleanout is essential because it will take a few hours to go through all of your clothes and make decisions about what to keep, donate, or discard. If you try to do this in pieces, you end up not getting the full experience and typically don’t get rid of nearly as much.

While it can be hard to find the time—I know, I have little kids—it’s best to do it all at once to ensure that you have a clear and organized wardrobe by the end of the process. I promise it’s worth it!

Step 3: Clear Out Closet & Create Piles

The first thing you’ll want to do for your actual closet clean out is take everything out of your closet—YES, I know this sounds like a nightmare, but honestly, it is so cleansing and makes it so much easier to add things back when you start with it totally clean!

If you don’t have a ton of space you can work in sections—for example, hanging clothes first, then drawers or shelves, but I recommend you do it all at once. Often times pulling it all out makes you realize just how much stuff you actually have and how much of it you don’t need.

Once you have everything out of your closet, we’ll create three piles, here’s what goes into each one.

closet cleanout guide

Pile 1: Get Rid of Pile

When cleaning out a closet, items that should go into the get rid of pile include clothes that are stained, torn, ripped, don’t fit, are out of style, and things you don’t like. These will be donated, sold or tossed.

For clothes that are actually destroyed—toss them, no one, not even Goodwill wants your stained dirty clothes—they have so much stuff as it is, make sure that anything you’re donating is in good condition.

For higher end pieces or pieces that are in great condition but no longer fit your personal style, you can sell them if you have the time. Again, you’ll want to set aside time to sell these on sites like Poshmark, eBay or ThredUp, otherwise, they’ll just sit around your house. Believe me, I know this from personal experience!

Pile 2: Not Sure Yet

This is that middle ground pile where you think, “oh, well maybe I’ll wear this, or I totally love this and forgot I had it!”. For anything that’s not an absolute yes or a hell no, you can put it in this pile for now.

Pile 3: Keep

This pile is the stuff you love, wear all the time and sparks joy if you’re following the Marie Kondo style of cleaning.

If anything in this pile hasn’t been worn because it’s damaged, needs cleaning or tailoring, then put them in a separate pile and have them claned or repaired so you can start wearing them again. There’s no sense in keeping things you can’t wear, so get them fixed.

Step 4: Closet Cleanout—Go Through it Again

For our “get rid of piles” and “keep” piles, I don’t touch them. We’ve made monumental decisions about that stuff and we don’t need to hash through it again, especially the get rid of pile. Hide it from view or skip to step 7 if you’re feeling tempted by these items.

For anything in your “not sure yet” pile, it’s time to go through it again, and after doing he whole closet, I find it’s easier to make a decision this go around. With a fresh mindset and more clarity, go through this pile again, most of the time I find that almost everything in my I’m not sure pile, ends up going out the door. I’m almost always more cut throat the second time around.

Make decisive choices about what actually stays and when you’re set, move onto the next step.

closet clean out

Step 5: Have a Spot for Everything

Now that we know what’s staying in our closet, we need to make sure we’ve got a spot for everything to ensure an organized closet. Having a clean closet makes it easy to find the pieces we love and reduces overwhelm on a daily basis.

  • Utilize storage solutions: Invest in storage containers, bins, and hangers that make the most of the space you have. Look for options that allow for efficient use of vertical space and maximize hanging capacity.
  • Group similar items together: Arrange your clothes by category, such as tops, tank tops, bottoms, dresses, and outerwear. Within each category, organize garments by color or style to make it easier to find what you need.
  • Maximize visibility: Make sure everything in your closet is easily visible. Consider using open shelving or clear storage containers so you can easily see and access your clothes.
  • Seasonal rotation: If you have limited closet space, consider storing out-of-season items elsewhere. Vacuum-sealed bags or under-bed storage containers can help protect and save space for clothes you’re not currently wearing.
  • Maintain the system: To prevent your closet from getting messy again, make it a habit to regularly reassess your wardrobe and purge items that no longer serve you. Set aside time every few months to reevaluate your clothes and make adjustments as needed.

Step 6: Store Away Out-of-Season Clothing

One of the easiest ways to open up space in your closet is to store out-of-season clothes into boxes and take them off the hangers because you’re not wearing them right now anyway. When we lived in Chicago this was especially important because we had a really small closet, and even now, I like to do this because I don’t have to dig through the things that I definitely won’t be wearing. 

I use boxes with lids so items don’t get dusty in the meantime and anything that needs to be hung up, I put in an extra closet—empty kids closets work well for this.

What this really does is allow the items that are in season to shine in your closet and makes it easier to pick out outfits each day because you’re not sorting through the items that aren’t right for that moment.

Step 7: Donate, Sell, or Recycle Immediately

cleaning a closet

Now that you’ve cleared out your closet and organized what’s left, it’s time to deal with the “get rid of” pile. Here are some options for disposing of unwanted items:

  • Donate: Any clothes in good condition can be donated to local charities, thrift stores, or organizations that support those in need. Consider researching organizations that align with causes important to you. If items are really worn or stained, do not donate them! his actually puts more of a strain on these organizations because they can’t resell them.
  • Sell: If you have designer pieces or gently used items that still have value, consider selling them online through platforms like Poshmark, eBay, or ThredUp. Take quality photos and write detailed descriptions to attract potential buyers.
  • Toss: For clothes that are beyond repair or not suitable for donations, it’s time to toss them. Be mindful of proper disposal methods, such as recycling or repurposing fabric when possible.

Bonus Step: Consider What You’re Bringing in Each Time You Purchase

One of the best things about doing a closet cleanout is that you know exactly what’s in your wardrobe, so the next time you go shopping you know what you actually need and what won’t work with your wardrobe. In the long term this keeps you from buying more than you need and from buying items you won’t really wear. 

Whenever you’re thinking about buying a new piece, ask yourself—do I have items that will work with this piece? Does this fit in with my personal style? Is this a quality piece I want to spend money on? It’ll make it easier to decide whether it’s something you want to buy or not.

Closet Organization Tips

I also wanted to share a few ideas for organizing your closet and drawers to keep things tidy and maintain all the work you just did! As a busy person, having items that are easy to find and visible helps me get the most out of my classic wardrobe.

How to Store Shoes

To best store shoes in an organized closet, arrange them on a rack or stackable shelf so you can easily see what you have. Additionally, consider keeping fancier or special-occasion pairs in their dust bags to protect them if you’re not wearing them often.

clear out my closet

How to Store Underwear and Socks

To best store underwear and socks for efficiency and organization, I like to use drawer dividers or organizers to separate underwear, socks and bras. This will make it easier to find what you need quickly and keep everything neatly organized.

How to Store Jewelry

To store jewelry without taking up much space, consider using a hanging jewelry organizer or a jewelry tray with compartments to keep pieces separated and easily accessible.

Admittedly, I don’t have too much jewelry and stick with my favorite few pieces, so I use a flat organizer that works great for me. A few years ago I tossed a lot of the big statement jewelry I was holding onto from the early 2000s and wow did it feel good to let that go and lean into my minimalist mostly-dainty-gold-jewelry-loving self.

How to Store Handbags

Again, I don’t have too many handbags, I stick with classic shapes and neutrals, but I am finding that with a more minimalist wardrobe a handbag is a great way to make an outfit feel totally fresh.

I’ve dedicated a few shelves in my closet for handbags and I use shelf dividers to help them stand upright. To best store handbags, use purse shapers to keep them standing upright, and avoid stacking them on top of each other to prevent damage or misshaping.

I hope this helps you how to clean out a closet if it’s currently overwhelming you and how to maintain a clean closet after you’ve done your major purge.

BTW, how to style a boyfriend blazer, and how to organize your food pantry.

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