Every time I looked at my closet, I could hear a peppy infomercial voice saying, “Too much stuff, not enough space!” I wondered how I let it get so full, but then I remembered all of those impulse Target purchases, seasonal shopping sprees, and the accumulation of random items from the past ten years. My closet was overwhelming and impossible to navigate.
This past summer, I worked with a professional organizer—yes, someone who is paid to clean out and organize someone’s home—and the experience was eye-opening. Merciless yet practical, I witnessed her make miraculous changes in her clients’ closets, and I learned to do the same for myself.
After applying some of her closet-cleaning tips to my own wardrobe, I freed up some space in my room, but, more interestingly, the way I dressed changed. My morning routine became quicker, and the outfits I chose became more streamlined. Interested in learning these wardrobe cleaning hacks, too? Follow these steps.
01. Set a Goal
Mark your calendar, make your playlist, and stock up on trash bags because you’ve got some serious (but fun) work ahead. Before you even start, make sure you set a goal for your deep clean. Whether it’s to make getting dressed less stressful or to finally not be embarrassed of your messy room, keeping a goal in mind helps you achieve it. Better yet, make a quick Pinterest board full of organized closets to get you excited. It’s all about keeping your eye on the prize.
If you can, invite a friend or sister for moral support. It helps to have a (nonjudgmental) person to be honest throughout your wardrobe detoxing process. You can trust that they will be real with you when you’re holding up an item to be kept or tossed.
02. Judge Every Piece
Most sites are going to recommend taking everything out of your closet—do not do this unless you are dedicating a whole day to this venture (and if you don’t get overwhelmed easily). Take each item out one by one. If you do decide to rip the Band-Aid off in one go, place it all on your bed. This will motivate you to finish before bedtime.
Create three piles: (1) keep, (2) donate, and (3) maybe. Analyze one piece at a time until you’ve gone through your whole closet asking yourself these five questions:
- “Have I worn it this year?” If no, then do you honestly think you’ll ever wear it? It can be liberating to admit that you made a purchasing mistake. If the piece was given to you as a gift, but it doesn’t fit your style, don’t feel pressured to keep it. Donate it to someone who might really love it.
- “Does it fit me well and complement me?” How many of us stow away items that are either too big or too small? Usually, they’re items that are too small that we hope to fit into one day. Building a wardrobe of where you’re at right now is super-important. Instead of feeling depressed about having clothes that don’t fit, create a wardrobe that is tailored to you just as you are.
- “Is it stained or damaged?” Is it worth it to try and remove the stain or fix the damage? Do you actually foresee yourself doing it? If not, throw it out—I promise you won’t wear it again. If yes, put it in your "maybe" bag.
- “If I saw it in a store now, would I buy it?” This is a super-helpful mental trick. If you’d pass up on that dress now, maybe it’s time to donate it. This is a bit of a Marie Kondo tip, but if it doesn’t bring you joy, why keep it?
- “Do I feel beautiful and confident when I wear it?” If an item is making you feel less confident, it’s definitely time to donate! When we dress ourselves, we should feel excited to put something on because of how great it makes us feel.
After you apply these questions to each item in your closet, you might find your maybe bag fuller than the others. It’s hard getting rid of clothes if you’re attached to them, so make a firm deal with yourself to try wearing these maybe items once for the next week. After wearing them (or not), you’ll quickly realize if you want to actually keep or donate them.
03. Remove What Doesn’t Belong
Over time, we usually shove things into our closets that don’t belong there. So once you’ve cleaned out your clothing, start pulling out what doesn’t belong in there. This includes suitcases and bags pushed into corners or shelves, random books that may have piled up, knickknacks and mementos that don’t have a designated space, and shoes that are all mixed together in a jumble on the ground. If you keep your shoes in your closet, organize them accordingly or put them aside and invest in a shoe rack. For everything else, apply the questions above to start eliminating items from the space.
04. Organize According to Category
Now for the fun part: reorganizing your closet so that you can clearly see everything that made the final cut. Start separating the clothing by category. It’s easier to rehang an item next to its same type (i.e., skirts with skirts and pants with pants) rather than trying to color coordinate your wardrobe every time you wear something.
Store miscellaneous items separately, such as your workout and formal wear. Fancy dresses should be hung in plastic bags toward the back of your closet, and workout leggings or T-shirts can be kept in drawers.
Try hanging up as much as possible. This will clear up drawer space and make things more easily accessible. Thin felt hangers are great because they take up less space and hang your clothes without leaving marks. Because drawers can be especially tricky to keep organized, consider investing in dresser drawer dividers that will always help you find the exact black tights you’re looking for.
Congrats, you’ve finally done it. Now that everything has a place, it will become so much easier to keep it clean—and hopefully never get that bad again.