How to Clean Out Your Jam-Packed Closet Once and for All

It's time to free yourself from staring at the dark hole that is your closet every single morning. You deserve better.
October 25, 2018, 2:40pm
Messy dresser with a drawer overflowing
Martí Sans via Stocksy

The bedroom chair is a miraculous object. Allegedly bought to sit upon as you read under a lamp, chat with a friend, or apply makeup, the chair eventually meets its true fate: a keeper of the clothing that has made it off your body but not yet into your closet. Too lazy to fight our clothing into drawers already stuffed to their limits and hangers squeezed tight day after day, we concede, casually tossing them onto the chair, which has long since disappeared under outfit after outfit.

Why can’t we resist the chair as temporary storage for garments in transition? The answer is simple: We have too much shit. You don’t need all seven T-shirts from your high school sports team or those pants that stopped fitting three years ago—and yet, there they are, taking up the very space that the garments you actually wear (yes, the ones on your chair) deserve. To save us all from this immoral, excessive lifestyle, I spoke to KonMari tidying consultant and Minimize With Purpose founder Caitlin Roberts, who offered some practical, refreshing words on how to let go of the clothes you don't wear once and for all.

How to Start Decluttering Your Wardrobe

Unfortunately, if you’re just beginning to declutter your closet, your first task involves setting aside a Sunday (or a whole weekend, depending on the state of your closet), to face your wardrobe all at once. According to Roberts, this “tidying marathon” isn’t something that you want to do over time; designate a day and get it done.

Begin by literally pulling every item of clothing out of your closet and setting it all out in front of you. Don’t forget the clothing in your gym bag, your car, and anywhere else you tend to hide or keep stuff you wear. “It's really powerful to stack everything in your workspace, typically on your bed, and really get in touch with just how much you have,” says Roberts. You may be concerned with just how much you have, but don’t blame yourself, blame capitalism. “Clothing comes into our life so easily with fast fashion, sales in general, styles changing…it's just kind of a thing we purchase a lot of and we don’t make the time to go through and get rid of things when we're done with them.”

Roberts suggests setting a vision for your lifestyle before you begin sorting through your clothes. Maybe you want to keep pieces you know will last in quality, and recycling your fast fashion items is the first step; maybe you’re ready to give minimalism a try and only want to keep the basics—up to you.

How to Decide What Clothes to Keep

Cleaning out your closet when you have a hard time letting go of objects, a shopping problem, or just need to do it can be daunting and emotional. That’s understandable—“People showcase their personalities and their identities through their clothing,” says Roberts. To make the process less dreadful, Roberts tells her clients to focus on what they want to keep instead of what they want to toss. “It's more fun and positive,” she explains. Think of it as cleaning out your wardrobe to accentuate the items that feel the most you, instead of parting with half your closet. Roberts suggests sub-categorizing your clothes (e.g. pants, tank tops, fancy shirts, etc…), and choosing your favorite item from each. Then, use that item as a measure of how much joy the other items bring you. Ask yourself, How do these pants make me feel in comparison to my favorite pair? If they come close, they’re probably keepers. If not, you might have an easier time parting with them.

Another question to ask yourself when you’re torn about an item is if you would buy it again. If not, it’s probably not worth keeping. Remember, finding joy in a piece of clothing doesn’t just mean you think it’s beautiful. Maybe it brings you joy because it goes with everything and makes your mornings easier, or maybe, even if you wouldn’t wear it today, the item has sentimental value. If the latter is the case, “Perhaps a closet isn't where it should truly be,” says Roberts. “Maybe it should be something that actually goes into a memory box.”

According to Roberts, people can feel guilty about getting rid of items they haven’t yet worn. “They know they spent money on it, but it just didn't work for them,” she says. In this case, she advises people do one of two things with items that still have the tag. One, let go of the guilt by thinking about the joy it will bring someone else who may not have been able to afford it brand-new when you donate it. Two, “I actually encourage them to take the tag off and really commit to wearing it,” says Roberts. If you still haven’t worn it after a while, then you know it’s time to let it go.

“It's really powerful to stack everything in your workspace, typically on your bed, and really get in touch with just how much you have."

Lastly, if a clothing item you would never wear was a gift that you feel too bad giving away, or otherwise holds sentimental value, consider repurposing it. Even if the item is super ugly, there are ways. Sometimes an ugly sweater makes for a perfect throw pillow. Earlier this month, after going through my own closet, I stuffed some of the clothes I don’t wear anymore into Moroccan poufs, which are essentially large leather pouches that can be used for storage, comfy seating, or fun decor.

How to Keep Your Clean Closet Clean

Once you’ve gone through every piece of clothing in your closet, take yourself on a date or something, because it wasn’t easy and you’d been dreading it forever! The good news is, you’ll never have to do it again if you follow Roberts’s advice for keeping your wardrobe up to date with who you are.

The process of maintaining the organization of your now-cleaned-out closet is far simpler and less daunting than what you’ve just accomplished. “If you're doing laundry and putting your clothes away, every time you go into your closet, you're touching base,” she says. “You're re-deciding what you want to wear. If there's something you start to notice you're skipping over, then you should pull it out.” Roberts suggests that everyone keep a small donation basket somewhere in their home. Every time you realize you don’t want or need a piece of clothing anymore, throw it in there, and whenever the basket is full, take it to the donation center. You may also consider donating your items to a place that’s close to your heart, instead of just the nearest donation center, for extra motivation.

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You’re constantly changing, so your closet should do the same. Roberts recalls a client who used to be super into Pilates, but now prefers running for exercise. Roberts helped them realize that they really didn’t need their pilates socks anymore because their interests had changed. What stuff are you keeping around that no longer has a place in your life?

Personally, staring at my overflowing closet and my desk chair—or, at least its vague outline, the rest of it no longer visible under a week’s worth of outfit trial-and-errors—makes me anxious and irritated. To my 15-year-old self’s dismay, my mom was right: A clean, organized home really can make you feel better. Like face masks, safe sex, and eating well, cleaning out your closet is a form of self-care. So address the excess in your wardrobe for your own well-being—you deserve it.