Closet purging and decluttering can be a lifelong battle until you are ready for a closet clean out. Before I started dressing with 33 items or less every 3 months, I cleaned out my closet seasonally.
I’d go through my clothes, move things around, take a little out and add more in. I’d drag storage containers in from the garage, swap out items, try to make a little space, and then go shopping to celebrate a new season. Notice the vicious circle I’ve got going here? When I had a big wardrobe (before my closet clean out), I’d get bored with my wardrobe but nothing I added ever “completed my wardrobe” or made me feel better. It was a constant, more, more more. And it was never enough.
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Many years ago, when I finally decided to clean out my closet for good, all of these crazy questions and emotions came up.
- Guilt asked, “Why did you spend so much money on things you don’t wear?”
- Frustration asked, “Are we going to have to do this again in 6 months?”
- Fear asked, “If you let go, will you have enough to wear?”
I listened to each question, filled with emotion. After hearing the same questions seasonally for decades, I knew it was time for a change. If your closet decluttering patterns are feeling a little vicious circle-ish too, this closet clean out guide will help.
Closet Clean Out Tips
This practical guide will walk you, step-by-step through a closet clean out, but here are some quick closet clean out tips if you are ready to dive in. Consider a few of these closet clean out rules too.
- Remove anything that doesn’t fit your body or your lifestyle.
- Make a commitment not to add anything to your closet until the clean out is complete.
- If you haven’t worn something in more than a year, remove it.
- Include anything on this list in your closet clean out.
- See anything with price tags in there? Yep, that can go too.
- Instead of donating clothes right away, hide them for awhile.
Have fun with this step-by-step practical guide for a closet clean out. I know it sounds hard to believe but this doesn’t have to be something you dread doing. You can be gentle or ruthless with your closet clean out and it can be fun. And, instead of doing it every quarter or season, this could be the last time you ever have to do it.
How do I clean out my closet?
Cleaning out your closet can feel like a daunting task, but it doesn‘t have to be! With the right tools and a willingness to be honest about what you have and what you need, you can make your closet a happier space.
Having a clean closet is powerful in many ways. It helps you to find what you need more quickly. It eliminates clutter and decision fatigue. It also makes it easier to get dressed in the morning, because you can see all of your (fewer) options at once. Cleaning out your closet can also help you to get rid of clothes that no longer fit or that you never wear. Additionally, cleaning out your closet can even help you to save money because you won‘t be tempted to buy items that you already have.
There are plenty of ways to clean out your closet. To avoid making unnecessary decisions when you already feeling overwhelmed, use this practical guide for your closet clean out. For extra calm and focus, take few deep breaths before each round. It can’t hurt!
Round One: Empty all the clothes from your closet.
- Put it on your calendar. Depending on the state of your closet, you may need 2-5 hours or more. Clear the day, hire a sitter, unplug and make it important.
- Make two playlists: One with your favorite happy, uplifting, everything is going to be ok music, and one filled with songs that calm you down. You are going to need good music.
- Bring a water bottle. This is a marathon. You will need water. (and snacks)
- Empty your closet. Yes, the whole thing. Completely empty.
- Don’t worry about sorting yet, just move everything to your bed. If you put everything on your bed, you’ll be motivated to complete the project before bedtime.
- If you have clothes in bureaus, storage containers, or other closets or areas of your home, get those too. Dump them on the bed.
- While you are at it, add your shoes, accessories, and jewelry. All the things. It’s important to see everything together so you have a clear picture of what’s really in your wardrobe.
- Wash your closet. Make it really clean in there. Air it out.
- Take a break. This is a great time to take a walk. Get away from your closet, clothes, guilt, frustration, or any other emotions that are coming up. Walk and breathe. Let go.
Round Two: Sort the clothes from your closet.
- Drink water and turn up the music. Let’s make this closet clean out fun!
- Move the clothes on your bed to piles on the floor with a ruthless first pass sort. Don’t give it too much thought, just go with your first reaction. Sort items into the following piles:
- Love: I love these items. They fit me well and I wear them frequently.
- Maybe: I want to keep this but I don’t know why. (you know you have those items)
- Donate: These items don’t fit my body or my life.
- Trash: These items are in poor condition. (repurpose if possible)
- Keep going until your bed is clear and you have 4 piles on the floor.
- Roll around on your bed, kick your feet up in the air and scream, “almost there!”
- Drink water and eat snacks.
- Box or bag up your items to donate and bring them to your car or garage. Get them out of sight immediately.
- Throw out the trash.
- Take a second pass at your two remaining piles. Try on clothing you aren’t sure about and ask the following questions:
- Would I go to the store and buy this today?
- Will I wear this in the next 3-6 months (or ever)?
- If the answer is no, start a new donate pile and immediately add it to your other items for donation. Out of sight.
- Put the remaining items back in your closet, or into seasonal storage containers, OR move on to the bonus round.
- Take another walk before the bonus round.
Bonus Round: Try creating a minimalist capsule wardrobe.
You’ve done enough already, so if you are ready to wrap it up, simply close your closet and celebrate.
But, if you love a good challenge, and really want to redefine your relationship with clothing, emotional spending and the other stuff in your life give minimalist fashion challenge Project 333 a try. I started this challenge in 2010 and still stick to 33 items or less every three months. It’s that good. When you first start thinking about dressing with less during your closet clean out, you might think it will be a sacrifice, or that it will take away from your creative expression, or that you’ll be bored. Weather, laundry and fear may be an obstacle at first too. You’ll likely learn through this capsule wardrobe experiment that none of those things are an issue.
You’ve done the hard work already, so take the next step and experiment with dressing with less. You’ll discover surprising benefits and learn what you really want and need in your closet. Spoiler alert … it’s less than you think. Creating a capsule wardrobe will change the way you dress and the way you think about the stuff in your closet.
If you want to try Project 333
- Do it on your own with the instructions below, or for extra inspiration, instruction, and connection, try the Dress with Less Course.
- Choose 33 items from your remaining 2 piles including clothing, shoes, jewelry and accessories.
- Box up the rest and revisit it in 3 months. You’ll have a whole new outlook on what remains.
- Don’t include underwear, sleepwear, loungewear, or workout clothes, but make sure you are actually sleeping, lounging, or working out in your designated clothes. If your yoga pants go to the grocery store more frequently than yoga class, count them as part of your 33 items.
Check out the official rules here.
Get inspired on Instagram here. I share reels of my current capsule wardrobe and what I’m wearing.
When I finally cleaned out my closet for good, peace replaced guilt, joy replaced frustration, and love replaced fear.
- Peace says, “Mornings are easier with fewer choices.”
- Joy says, “It’s so nice to wear your favorite things everyday.”
- Love says, “This is enough.”
Project 333, The Minimalist Fashion Challenge that Proves Less Really is So Much More is the book I wrote about Project 333 and dressing with less. It’s available wherever you get your books.