Closet Cleanout 101: How to Transform a Messy Closet

A clean and organized closet lets you start each day on a good note. But doing the closet cleanout can feel overwhelming if it’s been a while since you last sorted through your stuff.

There are many benefits to cleaning out your closet. Closet cleanouts create more space and give you the freedom only to keep items that fit right, look good, and you love. And the feeling of only owning flattering clothes is a good one.

Closet Cleanout 101: How to Transform a Messy Closet

If it’s been a while since you purged your clothes items or need help deciding what to keep, here’s your guide to a thorough closet cleanout.

How to Clean Out Your Closet (Without Regret)

These top rules for cleaning out your closet will help you go through your items in an easy, systematic way.

Step 1: Make a Pile of Your Favorite Things

While most closet cleanout guides have you inspect every piece of clothing you own, that’s not a good place to start.

Instead, go through your closet and dresser drawers and pick out the items that you wear all the time. These are your definite keepers – they fit well, flatter you, and you enjoy wearing them.

If you wear something at least 2-3 times per month, pull it out and put it in your “keep” pile. 

Step 2: Throw Away Stained, Holey, and Ripped Pieces

With all your favorites stashed in a pile, it’s time to go through the clothes you wear less often.

We’ll start with a specific category: clothes you need to throw away. Go through closets and drawers, and look for the following:

  • Shirts that smell bad or have armpit stains
  • Any clothing with permanent stains
  • Pants with unintentional ripping or thinning

If you feel embarrassed to wear the piece of clothing in public, it’s time to let go of it. Refrain from dwelling on your decisions. Instead, grab a black trash bag and if something is in bad shape, toss it in the garbage and leave it be.

Step 3: Get Rid of Items that Don’t Fit

Your closet should be full of items that fit you well. While it’s tempting to hold onto clothes a couple of sizes too small “just in case,” those items take up too much space physically and mentally.

While there are some exceptions to this rule (like, if you’ve just had a baby), it’s better to let go of clothes that don’t fit. If you lose or gain weight in the future, you’ll want to pick out new clothes anyway.

Free up your closet space by placing non-fitting clothes in a donation box.

Step 4: Evaluate What’s Left

You’ve now put your favorites to the side and gotten rid of damaged items and clothing that doesn’t fit. You’re left with pieces you wear sometimes.

Go through each of these pieces with a critical eye. Get rid of the clothes you regret purchasing. If you aren’t sure about an item, try it on and see how it fits. 

Of course, there are some items you’ll need to keep that you only wear occasionally. These include formal wear, black dresses or dress pants, and raincoats. Be mindful to pick your favorites. Donate the rest.

What to do about “maybes” – If you’re indecisive about an item, keep it for now and try one of these strategies. The first strategy is to wear the item for an entire day. At the end of the day, you’ll know whether it’s a keep or toss. The second strategy is to put the piece in a box for three months. If you didn’t miss the item or need to remove it from the box, it’s a donation.

Once you’ve gone through your remaining items and filled your donation box, place it in your car so you can’t pull things back out.

Step 4: Go Through Shoes and Handbags

Shoes, handbags, and accessories are easier to get rid of than clothes – because it’s apparent when you’ve worn out a pair of shoes, or they’re out of style.

Go through your accessories, throw away items in lousy shape, and put the rest in your donation box.

Step 5: Organize Your Keepers

After decluttering clothes, you’ll have only items you love, need, and that fit. You can now tackle the fun part of a closet cleanout: organizing.

Depending on your closet space, there are a few ways to organize:

  • By season – If you have a small closet, make seasonal items the most accessible and then rotate items as the weather changes. You can place out-of-season clothes on a shelf in your closet or in bins.
  • By color – Organizing clothes by color is a popular method. Color organizing allows you to make easy decisions in the morning and is nice to look at.
  • By type – Consider placing all the same clothing together – put your sweatshirts in rows, group tank tops together, etc.

Should You Donate or Sell the Items From Your Closet Cleanout?

Most people fail to follow through when they intend to sell their clothes. If that’s you, donate them. It’s much better to free yourself of the clutter you no longer need. Otherwise, the clothes are still there, taking up physical space and adding to your mental load.

If you are quick to list your clothes for sale on Poshmark or Facebook, then sell them. But if you don’t list your clothes within a week of cleaning out your closet, drop them off at a donation center.