How to Declutter Your Closet

Clothing is one of the toughest things to declutter. It is a basic necessity but also a burden. Clothes saved for years just because, shirts with tags sitting there taunting us, and stained shirts. I’m going to show you how to declutter your closet by sharing the simple system I use.

When I was in college, my mom counted over 200 t-shirts in my closet. And that was just t-shirts! This is my fourth year doing 40 Bags in 40 Days and now I’m at a point where I declutter my closet and dresser monthly. I have 37 hangers in my closet, 3 bins stored, and four drawers of clothing.

If I decluttered and got to this point, you can declutter and get to this point. Follow these simple steps and you’ll be freed from the excess weighing you down.

Ahh, I need this! How to declutter your closet and stop letting clothes consume you.

Start Sorting

Start in sections. First I’ll work on my dresser, drawer by drawer, and then my closet. I prefer to take ALL of my clothes out instead of only taking things out that I don’t want. I find this helps me be a bit more strict with what I decide to keep. As you are taking everything out, sort it into the following three piles:

  • Keep
  • Don’t Keep
  • Store (optional, see below)

Once my clothes are sorted into those piles, I sort each pile!

Ahh, I need this! How to declutter your closet and stop letting clothes consume you.

 

Make a Keep Pile

Now let’s take another glance at this and make sure these are items you really want to keep. I want you to ONLY keep the things that make you feel and look like the hottie that you are. Don’t keep it because it was a great deal or expensive. As you hang it up or fold it, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I love this item?
  • Does it fit me?
  • Have I worn it in the past year?
  • Is it stained or damaged?
  • Does it make me look and feel good? (ask a friend or spouse if you are unsure)
  • Would I buy it today?
  • Would I buy it today if it wasn’t on sale?
  • Will I want to replace it with something newer?
  • Will it make someone else happier?

After you’ve answered those questions carefully and strictly, add them back to the closet or dresser. You might want to try the hanger trick: hang clothing on hangers backwards and if you wear it, keep it. If you don’t touch it after a certain period of time, get it out.

Ahh, I need this! How to declutter your closet and stop letting clothes consume you.

Set a timer on your calendar or phone to remind you to go through your closet again. I like coming back a second, third, fourth time… or even monthly! In time you might be ready to part with things you truly don’t need.

Ahh, I need this! How to declutter your closet and stop letting clothes consume you.

Make a Store Pile (Optional)

If you have a small closet space, you might want to store some of your clothing in plastic bins. Some examples include: out of season clothes and shoes, maternity clothing, pre-baby clothing, too small, too big (post baby clothing).

But don’t save everything and don’t shove stuff in bins! Think of your store pile as a future keep pile and edit it with a careful eye. If you are storing more than a few bins, re-think what you are saving. If you brought this bin out (warmer weather, having a baby, lost/gained weight):

  • Do I love this item?
  • Is it stained or damaged?
  • Does it make me look and feel good? (ask a friend or spouse if you are unsure)
  • Would I buy it today?
  • Would I buy it today if it wasn’t on sale?
  • Will I want to replace it with something newer?
  • Is it still my style?

Be just as selective of your bins as what you have in your closet because one day, they will be the items in your closet. Do you need your bin of high school t-shirts? Will you ever make them into a t-shirt quilt? Do you need 40 sweatshirts? No. No you don’t. ;)

Remember that with body changes, you will likely want to buy a few new, thrifted, or on sale items. Keep basic items like jeans or shirts, only the ones you love and that fit well.

Ahh, I need this! How to declutter your closet and stop letting clothes consume you.

 

Don’t Keep Pile

This can be tough for even the most detached people. When sorting, put your “don’t keep” clothes into bags, and put those bags in the car. Don’t let your bags sit around, clutter things up, or deter you from donating them. Just get them out!

Here is a list of what to do with your stuff. It has everything from donating, selling, a list of charities, or even how to recycle your damaged clothes.

Ahh, I need this! How to declutter your closet and stop letting clothes consume you.

One of the big reasons this can be so tough is that when decluttering, your clothes are a reminder of money spent or lost. If you don’t love or wear an item that is new, let someone else love it. Okay, so you spent $50 on a shirt and you never wore it. Stop feeling bad about it or letting it get to you, move on. Could you sell it? Maybe. But not for what you paid for it. Give it to a friend that might love it and pretend you bought it for her. Or just donate and let someone else love it.

And guess what? After this experience you might be a little bit more careful, at least that’s how it’s been for me. Shop at thrift stores, consignment shops, or my favorite, garage sales. Not only will you will save money, but you will be less attached to things and more willing to donate when you are done with them. If you spend less, you can afford to splurge on items you will wear often, like shoes or jeans.

 

When Decluttering Clothes Gets Emotional

This is where it gets even tougher.

Maybe you aren’t the size you’d like, or maybe you had a hard time getting pregnant again. Maybe some clothing is from a loved one who passed or marks a happier period in your life. I could go on and I wish I could give you a hug right now. Many people have an emotional attachment to clothing and it’s NOT silly, nor are you alone.

But DO NOT let those pieces of woven fibers control you or make you feel miserable. Because really, that’s what they are: fibers, fabric, thread, buttons.

If you have something memorable that makes you happy, keep it. If it smells like your loved one, keep it.

Do so with careful editing because you can’t keep everything. Have a friend help you out. Take pictures of items or look for pictures of the piece when it was in use. You may find that the picture holds more of a memory than the clothing.

Think about the good you can do with the clothing, and maybe make up scenarios. You can help a single mom preparing for a new job, a young mother with a new baby, or an elderly lady looking for some pieces to update her wardrobe.

 

Most importantly with all of this,

Don’t Be Hard On Yourself

If sorting the clothing gets to be too much, take it bit by bit, that’s what the 40 Bags in 40 Days challenge is about! Chip away at your clothes until they become less overwhelming. It has taken me years to get to this point.

Start now, and I promise, you will feel a whole lot better.

Ahh, I need this! How to declutter your closet and stop letting clothes consume you.

 

Do you have any suggestions for decluttering clothing?

I’d love to hear them, leave them in the comments.

 

Comments

  1. Denise Jackson says

    I am loving this project. I will be ahead of schedule for my move April 15, and I’ll be forever indebted to you. Thank you.

  2. Anne says

    I have a good friend that was VERY attached to a pale blue linen blouse. Well, it finally died (too many worn spots). She decided to cut and frame a couple of small pieces of that shirt in a shadow box with a few shells that she collected on a beach trip. It was a nice way to keep a special article of clothing but get it out of her closet.

  3. says

    The best advice I have heard, is would I buy this item today? Often I hold on to clothes because at one time I really did love them, even if I never wear them now. And I think going back and doing it again several times is the best advice. I often find (in all decluttering) what once holds value to me will often be easier to get rid of the second (or third, or fourth) time around!

  4. Jennifer Ponte says

    This is so helpful. Thank you for taking the time to do the step by step instructions. Also thank you for being transparent and showing us pics of your closet and drawers. My closet and drawers are full of stuff i never wear. I keep all the clothes I wear on top of my bureau in a huge pile. I don’t even use my closet. It all goes in a big pile and I have a Tshirt bin at the end of my bed for all the tshirts coming out of the dryer. It is shameful. I used to be so organized and what I have going is an abomination to my previous lifestyle. I am a single mom with physical and emotional problems. My 4 year old son’s father passed away 2 1/2 years ago. I am on a SSDI limited income and am overweight since my pregnancy so all of my “normal clothes” in my closet and some drawers are too small and not appropriate for my age and status of a mom (not slutty or anything lol). I am slowly and steadily losing weight. I feel overwhelmed with the project and overwhelmed with how tired I get so quickly. I will try to approach this in small spurts. I will set a timer and maybe do a drawer or two at a time. I have a feeling that once I get started it will be hard to stop me. I also know I will use your suggestion of going through it over again shortly down the road. I was thinking I’d allow myself 5 favorite tops that are too small since I’m steadily losing weight rather than getting rid of absolutely everything. Thanks Anne Marie! :)

    • Myra Symons says

      I really like the idea of one drawer at a time and take everything out. I need to get my hands on a bin for stuff I never ever wear but might. I think it’s less depressing to got into a closet with only clothes that actually fit now.

    • Jennifer Ponte says

      YAY! Mary Anne this is a follow up post. So far I have gotten rid of 9 big full trash bags: 5 to donate and 4 to trash from my personal closet, tall bureau, all of the clothes on the top of my long bureau (I mentioned in my original post that I had a stack of clothes on top that were the only clothes that fit me (4 foot high?) and they were just piled on top of my bureau).!!!!!!!!!!!!! I feel so proud of myself! I am still not done. I have to finish up one last quarter of the closet , a bin of t-shirts on my floor and my long bureau. And even though I got rid of tons (since I’m a distracted busy mom), I put things back into my tall bureau/closet without organizing them, dusting and cleaning etc. I feel so great even though I still have a big job in front of me. Who would have known I had so much stuffed in places???? I also need to not only organize but cut down some more while I’m organizing them. I found some great clothes that as I am steadily losing weight I have plenty of great workout clothes to move down into. :) Shamefully, I also found a handful of fabulous clothes with tags still on them because they got lost “under the piles”. I’ll keep you posted!

  5. says

    Love this! I noticed the shelving for your shoes/boots and jeans… may I ask where you found them? I am moving to an apartment with a not-ideal closet set up and this size/shape shelving would be perfect for my shoes. (the one on your closet shelf is also fantastic) Thanks again for all the great tips

  6. Patti says

    Thank-you for sharing your suggestions. Today when I went through my clothes I noticed an emotional pattern to some, just by asking myself: how does this ‘item’ make me feel? Some of the things I am not wearing are perfectly good items, but there is a certain negative feeling attached to them…the T-shirt I wore when we put our 21 yr old cat down at the vet….or a gift of clothing from someone I’m not fond of…or an item I wore to work when I worked at that not so great workplace. It was then an easy decision for me to say “out it goes’! Life is too short to have bad memories attached to clothing!

  7. says

    Thanks so much for your decluttering posts. I get emotionally attached to things and have a hard time parting with them. I like the list you gave us – Do I love this item? Does it fit me? etc. It will help me go through the mounds of clothes in various sizes. Part of letting go of my “things” is finding someone who can use them, rather than donating them to goodwill. Thankfully, I have found a woman who I can give all my clothes to, which she gratefully accepts. What she can’t use, she has clients she passes them on to. It’s a win/win.

  8. Robin says

    Any tips for decluttering kids clothes? I have one son who is 11 and have stored 8 bins of his old clothes. At first it was in anticipation of having another child but now its because I just can’t part with his baby / toddler clothes. I have not really been keeping clothes past toddler sizes.

    • Flickster says

      I look at the baby clothes and ask myself, “what will he /she be interested in seeing when they have kids or have grown up?” My mum recently gave me bags and bags of my old clothing and only one or two items I was really interested in seeing. (Sadly she does this so I have to purge for her, so I get the task of throwing things out – not her!!! arghhh). I have tried to keep only an outfit or two, and maybe a tiny pair of socks or booties each. It makes it more special because we get them out occasionally and play with them, then put them back in their box. I have tried to keep photos (digitally) of the kids in the cute outfits as a way to remember them….Its hard, but the “stuff” does weigh you down. Hope this helps. Cheers, F.

  9. MamaToBe says

    I am so thankful
    I found the 40 bags info! I haven’t stuck to it daily but am making progress and it feels great! I am due to have out 1st baby in August so I am motivated to pair down my vintage dishes, tablecloth, cookbook collections etc to make room for baby items in my kitchen and dining storage units. The hard part is the clothing… I LOVE fashion and compared to most people I have way too many clothes. Part of the issue is I’ve been the same size for 15+ years so I keep collecting. I do go they and give things to my younger sister or one of my 9 nieces on a regular basis but still have a lot. I have wanted a walk in closet my whole life. We finally built one and I moved in all of my goodies. A coupleonthsnlatwr I found out I was blessed to be pregnant. My issue right now is that due to being pregnant NOTHING FITS. I have no idea how to pair down my pile of jeans as an example when I can’t try them on? I have no idea if post baby anything will even fit ever again? I’m hoping so but any tips at all would be so helpful. This is a big transition time for me and I’m not sure the best way to tackle it. I hate to keep and store thighs that will never fit again and I do need to buy some maternity items. Any moms have tips for me? My gorgeous new closet is full and I can’t wear any of it right now. Ha ha. I did go thru and pull out normal items I own that will work for during maternity like elastic waist skirts and stretchy tank tips so I do have those gathered into a wear me now section as a start. Thanks!

    • Emily M. says

      MamaToBe, I’ve had three kids and found it’s best to stick with basic items for maternity clothing. It can be pricy, so I recommend shopping at thrift stores for jeans & shirts. You’ll still need to wear maternity clothes for a time after your baby is born, and if you nurse, you’ll need tops that are easy to open. :-)

      As far as your pre-pregnancy clothes go, try going through them in spurts. Sort through your shirts (summer & winter could be split) one week, then sweaters, then pants, etc. If you don’t live it, don’t keep it

      I hope this helps you! Congratulations on your baby! :-).

  10. Eva Krantz-Willig says

    Thank you!
    This is the best advice for clearing out the closet I’ve read, and I can’t tell you how good it feels to know I’m not alone – that I’m not the only one forming emotional attachments to my clothes. I will start sorting through my dresser, my closet, my bins and my keep-just-for-memory pile today, and whenever I feel overwhelmed I will take a break, a deep breath and read this again.
    Thanks again!

  11. Melanie E. says

    A good tip I heard was, “just feel guilty once.” Maybe you love buying clothes (or magazines or books) on impulse, but then you never wear them. Instead of feeling guilty every single time you look in your closet and see those clothes or see that pile of magazines, just give them away. You can feel guilty when you’re doing that, but it’s just the once and then you don’t have to see them anymore!

  12. Judy Liberty says

    Love all of your ideas and suggestions. I am a clutterholic. It frustrates my husband to no end. I am slowly but surely getting through some of the stuff. I read about parties that people are throwing for their friends and relatives. Each person draws a number when they arrive. When their number is called, they can choose 3 of my “clutter” items in 3 minutes. Then the next number is drawn, and so on. If you decide to swap among yourselves, go for it. I will feel better letting go of my stuff if I know it was chosen by a friend. I know it sounds silly, but I think it will work out fine. There are no items of clothing, just lots of things I have accumulated over 50 years of marriage. Now, I just have to DO IT! Since another nasty habit I have is procrastinating, it may be awhile before the party takes place.

  13. Brooke says

    Any items I run into that I’m on the fence on whether to keep or donate get put onto a rack that is in my primary sightline. Everyday until that rack is empty, I have to either choose an item from the rack to wear or I have to get rid of one item. If I wear it and like it, it stays. I usually end up dumping most of the rack after 3-4 days because I want to get back to my favorites.

  14. says

    I find that reminding myself that donating these clothes really does do a lot of good for others who are struggling. If you like the clothes and are reluctant to get rid of them then that means that someone will probably like it too so you get to help these people too. Love your articles too thanks.

  15. says

    I always find myself asking, “do I feel good when I wear this?” when I do seasonal closet clean-ups. This is a great step-by-step method to take control of my closet! Thanks Ann Marie!

  16. sharron says

    I hate waste no matter what the price i am a huge hoarder of clothing i started by refusing to buy any more great start
    i sorted a chunk of my wardrobe out
    two piles keep and wear and bin
    i only wore the items in the get rid pile till they needed washing then put them in the bin every time i did a load of laundry i would find another item for my wear and bin pile this is slowly getting rid of the clothing and think this is good for people who are finding it really really hard to get rid of items it also stops the washing pile mountain up as well :)

  17. says

    I never thought of taking out all the clothing from your drawers and sorting them instead of going through them one by one. Like you said, there is less emotional attachment to each individual piece when you are looking at everything. While reading, I got an idea and I wonder if you can apply the same technique to furniture, decorations, and other larger stuff lying around the house. Because of their larger size it’s inconvenient to lay them all out in one place like clothes but what you can do is snap a picture of everything you have and placing the photos on the floor. In the same way you’ll be able to declutter your house and not just your closet.

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