25 Ways to Clean Out Your Closet

Closet photo by Mr. Thomas.

Have you ever wanted to clean out your closet? To get rid of unwanted and excess clothing? Do you open your closet and breathe a sigh of defeat? Like television, your wardrobe is full of options, few of them appealing. More to the point, what you own doesn't reflect who you are––or who you want to be.

But the idea of getting rid of everything you don't want fills you with dread. What, go through every drawer, take out every singe thing I don't want and get rid of it? No, it's not exactly writing War & Peace, but it's still a daunting task.

The problem is, you're thinking about finishing an entire project at once. Most projects, from War & Peace downward, aren't finished in a day or a week-end. Properly speaking, you can't do a project.

You also might be thinking of clearing, cleaning and organizing your closet at the same time. This may work for some people, but generally, it leads to a lot of wasted energy. It's better to focus on cleaning out your closet of excess junk before you organize, label and color code everything. Otherwise, your brain will constantly be switching between different thought processes, making each one less efficient.

Here's the basic process, which everyone goes through, when cleaning out their closet:

1. Put all your clothes in one place. This would usually be the bedroom, if that's where your closet and/or wardrobe are.
2. Sort all your clothing into three piles: Keep, Throw Out, and Undetermined.
3. Go through all the "Undetermined" clothes. Make a definite decision either way.
4. Get rid of your excess clothes, either by giving them to charity, to friends, selling them on ebay or throwing them in the trash.

Of course, it doesn't sound daunting, but many people (this author included) are daunted even by the first step. With that in mind, here are a few strategies to help you get rid of all the dead weight in your wardrobe.

1. The Long Weekend. This is what most people think of when they think "clearing the closet." You schedule two uninterrupted eight-hour blocks of time on Saturday and Sunday, get everything done, and then collapse on Sunday evening, after making the rounds to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and even the dump.

Understandably this is not so attractive to most people. For one, it's too much like work. If you work nine to five from Monday through Friday, why do you really want to spend your two off days working eleven to seven? There's also no guarantee that one week-end will entirely clean out your closet––or that you need an entire week-end.

Instead of focusing on the task at hand––clean this drawer, organize this shelf, clear out this section––people see the whole project looming before them. And of course you can't do a project, making it all the more overwhelming.

Many people also think of clearing and organizing their closet at the same time. This might not seem like multitasking at first glance, but multitasking it is. If you clean out your closet of unwanted clothes, and try to figure out how to organize what you want, you'll be using two very different thought processes. If you're feeling overwhemed, think of clearing and organizing your closet as two different projects, to be completed separately.

If you like the idea of the long weekend, then do it, by all means. But there are other options, detailed below.

2. Batching. Devote 10 minutes (or 15, or 30, or 45) per day to cleaning out your closet. After the time has elapsed you're free to stop. Keep doing this, every day, until you're done.

You can also "batch" by devoting every day to clearing one small drawer, shelf or area. Once you're done, you're free to stop.

3. Purge and Party. Devote Saturday to cleaning out your closet; spend Sunday doing something fun, like going on a picnic, seeing a movie with friends, getting a massage and manicure––whatever fits your tastes and budget. You can also do this in one day: spend the day working and the night partying.

4. Reward Yourself. Give yourself a small treat after every (half-)hour of working: a piece of fruit, a chapter in your favorite book, one episode of your favorite TV show, an article on your RSS feed.

5. Ten Minutes, Two Minutes. Put a timer wherever you keep your clothes. Then, set it for 10 minutes and work until it runs down. Take a two minute break; then, set it for 10 minutes again. Do this a set number of times (five times makes an hour) or until you want to work uninterrupted. Do this if you find yourself easily distracted.

6. College Quota. Make every item in your closet "apply" for acceptance into your new wardrobe. What will it bring to You-niversity? (What? I can make bad puns on my own website.) Will it improve the quality of your life? Try to get a certain number of items in every color; lower your standards for any color that's underrepresented.

7. Big Gay Dance Party Load up a playlist of campy, upbeat music: Madonna, the Wicked soundtrack, "It's Raining Men," "Single Ladies," et cetera. This will make cleaning out your closet even more enjoyable, and the high pace of the music will help you get it done more quickly. If you don't like this kind of music, however, you can always do...

8. The Carlton. Same as the Big Gay Dance Party, only put on Tom Jones instead of Madonna. Wear the preppiest, dorkiest outfit you can find. Don't forget to do the dance:

9. Absolutely Fabulous. Invite a few of your friends over; bring out the Martinis and/or Bloody Marys. Conduct a "worst-dressed fashion show" using only castoffs from your closet.

10. The Super-Long Weekend. An alternative to The Long Weekend. Call in sick Thursday and Friday; spend four days, instead of two, cleaning out your closet.

11. Too Good To Leave, Too Bad to Stay. Make every item in your closet (or at least the ones you aren't sure about) pass a "question filter." If an item snags on any one question, get rid of it. Example questions include:

  1. Does this fit me? (Life is too short for ill-fitting clothing. Yes, that includes your "skinny jeans.")
  2. Would I ever wear this?
  3. Does wearing this make me feel good in some way? ("Good" can include: sexy, happy, young, mature, carefree, cool, and so on)
  4. Does this item reflect my personality or my aspirations?
  5. If I woke up tomorrow and this item was gone, never to return, would I be upset?

12. Let God Sort 'Em Out. Get rid of all your clothing. All of it. Go shopping in a bathrobe and foam sandals. Rebuild your look from the ground up.

13. Daily Dump. Get rid of one item of clothing per day. I don't mean put it in a "drop" box, get it out of your apartment or house. Give it to a friend, the Salvation Army, a clothing drive. Put one item up for sale on ebay every day. Either make this a 30 day trial or do it until you have no more clothes left that you can bear to part with.

14. Reverse Psychology. If you wanted to feel miserable, depressed, unlovable, unsexy and fat, what clothes would you pick out? Try to design the perfect wardrobe for a frumpy, fugly alter ego. Then take every item in this perfect wardrobe and burn it in a bonfire. Or, give it to Goodwill. Your call.

15. First Thing In The Morning. Every day, just after you've woken up, before you've even had coffee, find one objectionable item of clothing and put it in a "drop" box. The first time you get a chance––after you've had your coffee, before you go to work, on your lunch break, whenever––do a 20-second evaluation of its fitness for sale or donation. If it's fit, list it/donate it right away. If not, dump it and move on with your life.

16. Get Attention. Tell your friends. Put up a blog. Take photos. Enlist your boyfriend. Or girlfriend. Or both, you rake! The more publicly you commit to cleaning out your closet, the more pressure you'll feel to actually do it. Document your trials and travails. Try many different strategies to make a more entertaining blog. Who knows? You might actually inspire someone else to make a positive change.

17. Two Minutes. Dedicate yourself to clean out your closet for two minutes every day for a week. No more, no less. You may want to do more, but don't let yourself. This is an especially useful approach if you constantly find yourself procrastinating. After your 2 minutes is up, give yourself a small reward: play your favorite song, do your favorite stretch, give yourself a gold star on a chart. Which leads me to...

18. The Gold Star Approach. You may remember how, in preschool and kindergarten, your teacher would put a gold star on your chart if you did something good. Why not do this for yourself? Write up a chart with some milestones, e.g. "completed 5 10-minute 2-minute cycles," "dropped off a full box at Goodwill," "listed an item on eBay" et cetera. Every time you hit a milestone, give yourself a gold star.

19. See a Professional. Are your friends nominating you for an episode of Hoarders? Do you have a psychological trauma that keeps you from cleaning out your clutter? If so, I recommend you see a professional. Visit the National Association of Professional Organizers for more information.

20. Visualize your ideal self. You may be blocked because you aren't sure what you want your clothes to say about you. In that case, stop stressing and take some time out to meditate and visualize who you want to be. Here's a good article on how to get started. Try to visualize what kind of image you'll project, and keep that image in your mind as you go through your closet.

21. Commit. Most of us lead busy lives. We want to do so many things, from writing a novel to having children to getting a better job to going on vacation. It's very hard to hold all these goals at the same time and make headway on any of them. So commit––to cleaning out your closet. Become single-minded and focused on that one task. Put everything else on the back burner. You'd be amazed at how just making this mental shift can change your approach.

22. Slow Down. Set aside some time to clean out your closet. But before you do, take a few minutes to meditate, stretch, do exercise or simply sit and do nothing. This will help you get in a place where you're less anxious and more centered, which makes any task easier.

23. Build Anticipation. Make a goal like this: "One week from today, I will spend 2 hours cleaning my closet, and then drop off all the unwanted clothes at the Goodwill on (street name)." Post it somewhere where you can see, with the date of the Goodwill run. Then do nothing about your closet until that day comes. This will whet your appetite and motivate you to work when the day comes around.

24. The Teacher. Turn your closet-cleaning into a learning experience. Whenever you pull out a turquoise shift dress with shoulder pads, try to figure out what motivated you to buy it. Whenever you feel emotional about an item, step back and ask yourself where the emotion comes from. What mistakes do you make the first time you try to hold a yard sale, or donate to Goodwill, or post a listing on ebay? How would you advise someone else to avoid them? This approach will allow you some emotional distance from the task, and will provide more motivation to do well.

25. Do It Now. Get up and do one task related to this right now. No, not after you finish reading this list. The list is over. You're done.

These are just a few strategies for cleaning out your closet of excess clothing. Which strategy you'll use depends on your needs and the size of your closet. I invite you to try as many strategies as you can; see which one works for you.

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