Home » Closet Cleanout 101: 7 Things to Purge

Closet Cleanout 101: 7 Things to Purge

In between our spring travels, I’ve been doing a LOT of closet organizations. Mine and other people’s. While I sort of have a playbook of how I tackle closets, I’ve never actually written it out. So I’m doing it now! If the thought of walking into your closet stresses you out because it’s looking like a disaster zone, this post is for you. If, like me, you are on the brink of shifting your fall/winter closet into spring/summer (or vice versa): this post is also for you. I tend to let go of things seasonally, because that’s when I’m actively moving things around in my closet. Ready to clear out the clutter and get a little closet zen in your life? Read on!
First step in the closet cleanout: LET SHIT GO. This is the toughest part–and yes, it has to come first. Set aside at least 3 hours to get the purge part of the process over with.

Closet Cleanout 101: It's gonna get messy before it gets organized!
Closet Cleanout 101: It’s gonna get messy before it gets organized!

I am NOT a fan of emptying everything out into one giant pile first thing, but if you want to try that, go for it. It just looks a mess and stresses me out even more. The way I do it, things will end up on the floor. And it will probably look like Cher’s bedroom above. However. Those are the things that end up leaving the closet. That being said, don’t cheat! Pull out, look at, and touch every individual item. Do not worry about styling or moving anything around yet.

You’re going to be creating piles. Get the Post-its out, get the laundry baskets or bins over if you want to be more tidy about it.
Categories for your piles: Tailor, Consign, Donate, Time Stamp.

7 things you absolutely need to let go of in your closet cleanout:

1. Damaged, Stained, Ripped, Snagged.

Girl, you know you're not fixing that dress. Purge it.
Closet Cleanout 101: Girl, you know you’re not fixing that dress. Purge it.

This is likely a pile or section of closet you’ve already quarantined. If you’re going through your closet cleanout and you get to an item that has a stain, or is missing a button, or has a hole. . .add it to the existing items.

Take a hard look at all of these things. I’m telling you right now: if it’s been in this condition for any amount of time, odds are good that you are not actually going to nor will you be able to fix any of these pieces. If it was your fave shirt, and you know that stain’s not coming out? Well. You got some good wear out of it and now it’s time to let it go. Ditto that sweater with all the snags that you keep snagging every time you wear it.

If a critical button is missing and you don’t have the button to sew back on? Let it go.
If you do have the button, and you do love the item? It goes into the “Tailor” pile.
Ditto anything that is ripped or torn.
Let it go or actually take it to the tailor for repair. (And if the tailor can’t fix it: definitely let it go!)

Bottom line: those damaged clothes are taking up space that could be utilized for nice, new, non-damaged clothes.

2. “Other You” clothes: anything that doesn’t actually fit you in the Now.

I know. That dress/pair of pants/blouse fit you once–and someday it will again. And you probably spent good money on it, which is just another reason to let it take up space while you wait for “someday” to happen. I get it.

But here’s the thing. Chances are good that when that day comes–you STILL won’t wear this piece of clothing. Fashions will shift, fabrics will be upgraded. You won’t even wanna wear it anymore.

If you’re on the fence or feeling stubborn? TRY IT ON. Look at yourself and get honest: Do you really actually love it? If so, can it be tailored to fit you? Yes: add it to the “Tailor” pile. No way in hell it’s going to fit your current body? LET IT GO. If it’s in great condition, toss it in the “Consign” pile. If not, toss it in the “Donate” pile. Let someone else find and enjoy it.

3. Neglected Clothes: Anything you haven’t worn in the past year.

Why haven’t you worn it? Time to try it on and figure this out. Does the color look better on the hanger than on you? Is the fit awkward? Is the style dated? Bad juju from the last time you wore it? If you just do not look OR feel amazing in this piece–if it’s not making you feel like a rockstar–it needs to go. Consign or Donate pile.

If you try something on that you haven’t worn in the past year and–surprise–it looks and feels GREAT on you? That goes into the “Time Stamp” pile. Meaning: you gotta wear it in the next fashion season cycle. We will take a deeper dive into this later. For now just focus on the closet cleanout.

Closet Cleanout 101: Pull out every item in your closet and if you're on the fence, try it on.
If it feels like you’ve got a ton of clothes, and nothing to wear, it’s time for a closet cleanout! Pull out every item in you own. Try it on.
Decide to keep or let go based on how it looks and feels on you NOW.

4. Acquired but Rejected: Anything with tags still attached that you haven’t worn in the past year.

This is, like, a way harder version of #2. Once upon a time, you spent your hard-earned cash money on a piece. Maybe you scored it at a crazy good sale price. Or you were shopping with friends and they pushed you to purchase. Maybe it attracted you in the store or online, but IRL it’s not really practical for your lifestyle or flattering on your body.

Whatever the reason–it’s still in your closet because you paid for it and you feel like you can’t let it go now. You haven’t even worn it! Right?

Hard Truth: you need to let it go. There’s probably a very good reason why you haven’t worn it.

If you’re on the fence or feeling stubborn about an item? It’s time to try it on. Get it on your body and get in front of the mirror.

Go through the same steps as #2: Does it look great on you and do you feel amazing? Well then damn–toss it into the Time Stamp pile.

Not feeling it? BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF. Take mental (or get a pad and pen and take actual) note of why you bought this item–and ultimately why you never did and never will wear it. Color, pattern, material, shape or style: something turned you on in the moment but the reality is that on you. . .it’s not so hot. That’s okay! We all do it. But now that you’re aware. . .toss it into the Consign pile and tell yourself you will NOT make this shopping choice again.

5. Ghosts of Fashions Past: Anything that is not in style anymore.

You’ve been hanging onto those low-rise flare jeans since 2001, convinced that someday they’d come back into fashion. Congrats–Y2K has been having a major resurgence the past couple seasons!

Ditch the old fashion items. If it comes around again and you actually want to rock it, you can pick up the revamped and probably improved versions!

However. Odds are pretty high that the denim you’ve been dragging around through multiple moves, or that has been lurking in the bottom drawer, is not nearly as amazing as the current versions of this denim style today. Today’s fabrics are more comfortable, more forgiving, more washable–just better–versions of what we’ve been hanging onto from 20+ years ago. And really. Are you actually happy with the way your Today body looks in the stuff you bought for your Past body? Would you even want to wear that style from your past, even if it becomes trendy again?

TRY YOUR OLD SHIT ON. I guarantee you’ll be ready to let the 3-button suit jackets and baggy front-pleat pants (guys), the prairie skirts and layering tanks (gals), and yes, even the denim–let those dated fashion items go.
Unless it’s a rad suede fringe moto jacket that a vintage store may want, these items are headed for the Donate pile.

6. Gifted but. . .not really your style.

This is a category to consider beyond your closet. If someone gives you a gift, of course you are happy and appreciative that they took the time to think about you and pick out something they thought you would like. But. . .if you don’t actually like it? It’s OK to let it go.

Darling Mark Darcy . . .and his ugly sweaters from Mum. If you feel you must. . wear it once.

Give someone else a chance to find it and own it who actually does love it! Keeping things out of guilt was probably not what the gift-giver had in mind. You don’t have to confess you never liked the damn sweater. Just drop it into the Consign or Donate pile. If it comes up in conversation, don’t lie and say you still have it. If you can’t admit it looked awful on you, then fib and say it was itchy or you burned a hole with the iron. Whatever. There’s a reason they say “it’s the thought that counts”.

Let the item and the guilt go. If the same person buys you clothes and consistently you don’t like them, you need to get bold and be honest right away. “It means the world that you bought this for me. . .but it’s just really not my style. Do you want it/want to return it/care if I exchange it?” You can even take it a step further and point out a brand or style you do love at some point, so your gift-giver has a better idea of what to purchase in future.

7. A Moment in Time: Something you wore that carries a memory.

Good memories or bad, we all tend to hang onto clothes we wore for an occasion.

If you haven’t worn it since.
And you know in your heart of hearts you will never wear it again.
And you’re keeping it just because it reminds you of that one time. . .you need to let it go.

This is probably the hardest category for everyone. Myself included. I had a one-shoulder, sapphire blue mini dress I wore for NYE over 10 years ago that I finally gave up. I had worn it to a few other parties within the following year, but hadn’t worn it in ages and moved TWICE with it.
When I looked at it I remembered what an epic New Year’s night I’d had, and how killer I had looked and felt in that dress. Did I still look killer in that dress? I finally tried it on when I had an event I was thinking I could wear it to.

Guess what. I didn’t look as hot as I remembered. So I finally let go of the dress. But you know what else? I still have my memories. And now someone else has a chance to make memories in that great dress. Which makes me feel better about letting it go.

Let go of the clothes if you're only keeping for the memories.
Just think of all the wearable clothes Jane could have fit into this closet! Don’t be like Jane. Let them go!

If you come up on an item that you really, truly, cannot bear to part with in the moment, consider moving it to another place. Fold it and put it in a box, with a label, and DATE it. If you were able to acknowledge to yourself that you will never wear it, that you’re keeping it for sentimental reasons only, then treat it like the sentimental piece it is and box it up. It doesn’t need to take up space in your closet.

At some point when you come across your boxed item(s) again, you can re-evaluate your feelings. And maybe then you will be able to let go of the material thing and just cherish the memories you have.

You’ve cycled through your closet cleanout. Now what?

Let’s take a look at those labeled piles on the floor.

Closet Cleanout Piles #1-3: Tailor, Consign, Donate

Hang or fold your items, bag and pop the Post-its or otherwise label them for their destinations. All these things need to exit your closet, your room, your house ASAP. Ideally load everything into the car and add these stops into your next outing.

Closet Cleanout Pile #4: Time Stamp

Alrighty. So the clothes in this pile are the ones you’ve tried on and you’ve re-kindled the love for how they look on you and how they make you feel. So now you need to actually incorporate them into your life outside the closet and wear them! Put them back on hangers–and make sure while you’re taking the time to do this that yes, you really, truly, love and want to wear each item.

Since you’ve probably (hopefully!) off-loaded a bunch of stuff, you probably (hopefully!) have some room in your closet. For now, hang the Time Stamp pieces all together–but take a page out of Oprah’s book and flip your hangers so they’re going backwards.
This is a strong visual cue: these are the pieces you own that you haven’t actually worn in the past year of seasons.

Spoiler Alert: if you get through another season and you have that season’s items you haven’t worn? You need to LET THEM GO. Right now we are headed into summer, so any summer items I didn’t wear last summer–but I’ve decided to keep–those hangers are flipped backwards. When September rolls around if I’ve still got flipped hangers indicating summer pieces I didn’t wear? I’m consigning or donating. There’s a reason I didn’t rock those frocks. Now it’s time to let someone else enjoy them.

Doing a closet cleanout tends to be one of those balancing acts between tough love and gentle insistence.

Closet Cleanout 101: You may need outside opinions to help you purge. And that's ok!
If you’ve got friends like Clinton and Stacy, recruit them to help you decide what to keep and what to purge.

If you’ve been resisting the closet cleanout, you probably do need a buddy in order to tackle this project with total honesty and ultimate success. And that’s OK! Getting organized isn’t for everyone–it’s staying organized that really requires the personal, consistent attention. I promise, once you have your closet under control, it will feel like a weight has been lifted.

Ready for the next steps? Right this way!
Subscribe below to stay tuned for the final segment: Capsule Wardrobe

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