How To Clean Out a Closet

Yesterday I cleaned out my closet. In the past few years I've made this a frequent occurrence . . . at least every six months or so.

You would think doing this with such regularity means it gets easier with time and I only have things I really love and wear all the time and absolutely must keep. 

You would be wrong.

I am continually amazed at what I find I truly don't need (or want, or use) each time I clean out. Yesterday was no exception.

My Basic Process

  • Take everything out. This is a critical step. It all has to leave the closet, even stuff you "know" you are keeping. Trust me on this one.
  • Add back in things that don't need to be accessible: formalwear, shoes you only wear with said formalwear, swimwear in February.
  • Figure out the best home for everything. Are you going to fold sweaters or hang them? Will pajamas live in a drawer or on a shelf? How much space do you need for small items like socks?
  • When in doubt, try it on. Yes, it takes longer and it's a pain. Do it anyway.
  • Group like clothes together and only put back what you really want to keep.

Some Tips

  • Pretend you're packing for a two-week trip. What goes, what stays, and what wouldn't you even consider? Being forced to pick favorites is eye-opening. (I recently packed for a ten-day trip, and can attest that this definitely works.)
  • Look at each piece and imagine what you would wear it with. You should have at least a few options for everything that stays. (Confession: I have one skirt that I like but it's an odd color and so it only goes with a black or white shirt. I keep it anyway, but I wouldn't make that same purchase again.)
  • Start a wish list of specific pieces you might want to add to the rotation or replace. (For me, I realized that since I wear them almost daily I could use a new pair of jeans that I love. I also decided it's time to replace a few staples that are starting to look worn, like a pair of khakis I've had for years.)

What Had To Go

  • Anything with an obvious stain or tear, because nobody's got time for that.
  • Clothes that had been demoted to this must go under something because it can no longer be worn by itself (usually because of—you guessed it—a stain or tear).
  • Anything I haven't worn even once since the last clean-out. A few exceptions slip in here (e.g., formal dresses and outerwear).
  • Clothes I simply don't like for whatever reason. (Confession: I love a good sale, but sometimes I buy something I "couldn't pass up" and then realize it wasn't a smart fashion move.)
  • What doesn't fit. Yep; seriously. I don't keep clothes that are too tight in the hopes that someday they won't be. This one was hard at first, but honestly, if I lost ten pounds I would totally splurge and buy a new pair of pants. I'm dressing current, real me . . . not future, potentially smaller me. 

(Side Note: While the, um, packaging has changed somewhat (thank you, three Agents) my overall (non-pregnant) weight has only fluctuated slightly in the last 20 years. Right now I weigh about 10 pounds more than I claim on my ID card, issued just after our wedding in 2003.)

What Made the Cut

  • 4 short-sleeved shirts (2 black and 2 colors)
  • 6 long-sleeved shirts (although 2 I feel kind of "eh" about)
  • 3 light cardigans (again one of these is in the "eh" category)
  • 4 heavier sweaters (only because we recently moved into a cold climate again, otherwise they probably would have gone, as I'm not crazy about any of them)
  • 1 sweatshirt (Navy, of course)
  • 3 skirts (2 long and 1 short-ish)
  • 2 capri pants (only keeping these until I can replace them this spring)
  • 2 khakis (1 pair is kind of old and needs replaced, but until then they stay)
  • 2 jeans (1 new that I love and 1 old that I hold onto as an extra)
  • 4 yoga pants (because, yoga pants)
  • 3 gym outfits (in case I ever decide to work out again)
  • 3 pajama sets (I let several others go because I just don't use them)
  • 5 formal dresses and coordinating shoes/bags (for now, even though most of them would need serious altering, and I should probably consider donating at least 2 of them)
  • 3 pair of "everyday" shoes (one pair each of sneakers, boots, sandals . . . although I intend to replace the sandals this spring)
  • 3 swimsuits plus a cover-up and a pair of flip-flops (not sure why I own 3 swimsuits?)
  • 4 scarves (bought them in Italy three years ago and finally started wearing them last month)
  • 1 pair of cozy slippers (hey, it's cold here)
  • a reasonable amount of underclothes and socks that I actually like and wear on a regular basis
  • outerwear (which I moved to our coat closet), including 1 heavy jacket, 1 "nice" jacket, a raincoat, and a fleece
Looking at my beautifully pared down closet, it's hard to believe I'll be doing this again by early summer and thinking what the heck? all over again. But I will.

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