If you’re tired of not being able to find anything in your closet or don’t have space to jam one more sweatshirt into your dresser, it’s time to get serious! Cleaning out your closet will make your life easier, plus, you’ll be giving away things that someone else can enjoy. Whether it’s clothing, linens, toiletries, or canned goods, sometimes you just need to pare down. But here’s the first rule of organizing: “Don’t be hard on yourself,” says professional organizer Ann Lightfoot, co-founder of Done & Done Home. “For example, we all have clothes in a range of sizes or a product that didn’t work for us. This is about letting go of things that don’t serve you, not feeling bad about what we’ve accumulated.”
Empty it out.
If you’re tackling your bedroom or kid’s closet, cover the bed with a sheet to keep it clean as you stack items on it. Then take every single thing out of the closet. This non-negotiable step means you need to dedicate a few hours to a full day to the task, says Lightfoot. Sort similar items into piles: all the jeans into a pile, the sweaters in another pile, the tees, and so on. Then sort each pile into categories: crew neck sweaters, cardigan sweaters, V-neck sweaters, etc.
Start a donate pile.
Now that you can see what you actually own, start deciding what you love—and what you never, ever wear. “We tend to buy the same things over and over because we learn what works for us,” says Lightfoot. “But if you have 10 black V-neck sweaters and you only wear one or two, donate the others.” Same for the stack of jeans; if you always grab the same two pairs, the rest should go.
Other stuff to donate immediately: new bras that pinch, shoes you never wear because the heels are too high, the pants you keep promising to get hemmed but never do, the undies that have seen better days, ratty or lone socks, and any piece of clothing that makes you feel bad about yourself. “Never keep anything because you think you ‘should,’ ” says Lightfoot. “If you’re wavering, make a ‘maybe’ pile. Then go through it at the end of the day.”
Make it a judgment-free zone.
It’s fine to keep expensive items, such as a suit, even if it doesn’t fit if you’re within a size or two up or down, says Lightfoot. But get rid of the inexpensive items, such as tees or shorts; if need be, you can replace these things easily. The most important rule, however, is to skip the guilt trip. “Our bodies change. It’s just a fact of life and part of the organizing process,” says Lightfoot.
Put everything away again.
Wipe down shelves and vacuum the closet. Now put back only the keepers. Dividers give structure to a shelf so you can stack sweaters or tees neatly. Over-the-door bins or shoe bags provide additional storage areas for socks or scarves. To make getting dressed easier, group by style: Hang all the sleeveless shirts first, then the short-sleeved, then the long-sleeved, and so on. You can group from light to dark, if you like. But don’t feel you have to create an Insta-worthy rainbow-colored closet. “This is about function, not beauty,” says Lightfoot.
It’s also helpful to keep a step stool in your closet to reach high shelves. And store items that don’t fit currently (but you want to keep) in another place so they don’t hog space in your primary closet. Also, keep a donate bag handy so you can place items in it throughout the year.
Apply the same rules to any zone.
If you’re cleaning out a linen or hallway closet, follow the same steps. Ditto for all those beauty products that have piled up in the bathroom; load them into a laundry basket and start sorting, says Lightfoot. For almost-new toiletries, ask a friend if she wants to try a shampoo or lotion that just didn’t work for you, for whatever reason. For perishables that haven’t expired but that you know you won’t use (oh, quinoa! I tried to love you!), contact a local food pantry about what they accept. Pitch anything that’s expired.
Stay the course.
Based on what you’ve learned (say, you’re always buying black tees but what you really lack is boot socks), make a list of what you need or don’t need so you won’t keep buying the same things over and over. It’s also a good idea to do a total closet purge about twice a year. And if you need a nudge, enlist the help of a non-judgmental friend or hire a professional organizer. Most of all, “Watch the front door,” says Lightfoot. “Be conscious about what you buy and bring into home in the first place.”
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