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Simplified Closet Decluttering

Updated on May 4, 2020
Susan Caplan McCarthy profile image

After growing up in a home with parents who hoarded, Susan cleared her own clutter and then became a decluttering coach to help others.

The Challenge of Decluttering Your Closet

There’s no one right way to declutter. So, the much-promoted method of decluttering your closet by removing everything and sorting through it, piece-by-piece isn’t the only method for decluttering.

Now, I think that’s a fantastic way to clean your closet if you have the time as well as mental and physical energy to devote a day to this activity. If you don’t, then you risk ending up with a pile of clothing covering your bed when all you want to do is sleep.

Or, you have clothing heaped on the floor, leaving you to do some sort of awkward yoga-dance moves so you can navigate the space without tripping over a rogue sweater.

If you have a chronic illness that limits your energy, you might make it through emptying your closet but have no energy to continue the process of deciding what to keep and what to release.

First, Do Your Laundry

If you have more than a week’s worth of clothing waiting to be washed, you’ll want to do this before attempting to declutter your closet. You can’t accurately judge what your favorite and best pieces are if you can’t compare them to the so-so pieces that you might be willing to let go of.

Make Sure You're Looking at All Your Clothing

Do your laundry.
Do your laundry. | Source

A Gentler Method for Sorting Your Clothing

This method requires about 15-30 minutes a day. The number of days depends on how much clothing you have. The days don’t have to be consecutive, although, of course, your momentum will be stronger if you don’t allow yourself more than one day off in a row.

I’ll explain how to adapt this method if you have more time and energy on some days and how you can continue this process even if you don’t have much time on other days.

When I use the word “closet” please consider this to also apply to drawers, bins, chairs, the treadmill and any other space where you are storing clothing (including other rooms). However, if you have out-of-season clothing boxed up, you don’t have to pull out these items unless (1) you want to or (2) you have some of these types of items in your closet.

Again, you don’t want to waste time by sorting a category of items only to discover that you need to sort through these things again because you weren’t looking at everything you own.

Consider Your Goal

Why are you decluttering? To create a minimal wardrobe or to clear out things that you haven't worn for years?
Why are you decluttering? To create a minimal wardrobe or to clear out things that you haven't worn for years? | Source

Think about Categories

To simplify your closet decluttering, you are going to sort a single, small category of items each day. So, instead of thinking of “bottoms” you’ll break that into shorts, skirts, leggings, jeans, pants. If you have six-to-ten items in a category, you could break it down further – casual skirts, work skirts, dressy skirts.

Each category or subcategory should take you fifteen-ish minutes to sort and organize which means that if you have more time one day, then you can sort through two or more categories or subcategories that day.

Gather Groups of Items

Group similar items during each decluttering session.
Group similar items during each decluttering session. | Source

What to Do with Clothing You Don’t Want

Items in good condition can be donated. Many charities take clothing. If you have a lot of business-appropriate items or dresses that could be prom dresses, there are specialty groups that will take these. An internet search will guide you.

Items that are in poor condition can be shredded and used in other ways – check if your local waste management company recycles clothing.

How to Declutter a Category

  1. Decide what category you’ll declutter during this session. It doesn’t matter where you start unless there’re items that are a priority for you.
  2. Spend the first few minutes gathering all the items in this category/subcategory. This means find all you workout tee shirts or jeans or socks from wherever they may be stored.
  3. Toss or donate stained, torn, pilled, out of style, too small or too tight, or faded items. If you want to hold onto items just in case you lose weight, are you currently on a diet that’s been helping you drop pounds? If you’re simply hoping to start a diet, bag up the items for donation. If you lose the weight, treat yourself to some new clothing.
  4. Do you love the remaining pieces? (you might need to try on clothing to check the fit) Have you worn the item during the appropriate season? If you’re wondering why you have 37 pairs of black leggings, it might be time to donate some of them.
  5. Return the items to your closet or drawers. Keep similar items together (so, don’t hang some hoodies while folding others into your drawers – you’ll lose track of what you own).

Compare Similar Items

When you compare the same type of items or pieces that you wear in the same situations (work, recreations, parties), you'll have an easier time judging what pieces are worth keeping.
When you compare the same type of items or pieces that you wear in the same situations (work, recreations, parties), you'll have an easier time judging what pieces are worth keeping. | Source

Don’t Have Much Time?

On days that are busier, you might still be able to fit in some decluttering. Do categories with fewer items – underwear, socks, dressy items, etc.

Organize While You Declutter

Save yourself the hassle of reorganizing after you've decluttered. When you return items to your closet, keep similar items together. Also, hang the items so they flow in this order (or fold and store in a drawer this way) –

  • Sleeveless tops
  • Short-sleeved tops
  • ¾-to-long-sleeved tops
  • Sweaters
  • Cardigans
  • Shorts
  • Capris
  • Leggings
  • Pants
  • Skirts (short-to-long)
  • Dresses (short-to-long)
  • Outerwear (from lightweight to heaviest)

Of course, you can tweak this order, so it suits your wardrobe and how you store your items.

If you have a dramatically different casual wardrobe and business wardrobe, you may want to group the items from the individual wardrobes together, so you’ll have one area devoted to work and a different area devoted to casual clothing.

Want to Sell Your Clothing?

This step will add time to your decluttering process. Declutter one day and post items for sale the next day.

Keep It Simple

This method allows you do declutter and organize your closet and drawers at the same time. If you don’t have much time, do a category that you know doesn’t include many items. If you have more time, do a larger category or a few smaller categories.

While this might take a couple of weeks, you’ll never end up sorting through an overwhelming number of items all at once. And you won’t have a towering pile of clothing heaped on your bed.


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