Simple Rules for Cleaning out a Closet – Create a Closet you Love

If you are looking for an easier way to clean out your collection of clothes, then this list of rules for cleaning out a closet will be a huge help.

Sometimes when learning how to declutter a list is all you need to guide you through each step.

rules for cleaning out a closet

When we talk about the rules the first thing we do is panic and a myriad of paralyzing thoughts run through our heads.

  • Will I have to get rid of all my favorite things?
  • I don’t want to try all of those clothes on!
  • What if they don’t fit? Will I have to toss them because they are too small?

Contrary to what most folks believe, I truly feel that a closet is one of the most difficult areas to cleanout. Why? Because so many of the things that we wear come with an emotional attachment.

woman sitting in the middle of a messy closet

Go into your closet right now and take a look around at what you see inside. I am sure you can easily pick out a handful of items and tell me when you purchased it, why you purchased it, and something that happened when you wore it. And it’s these feelings and memories that may have us keeping some of our things long past their “use by date”.

Here are a few more examples of clothes that bring with them a bit of emotional pull.

  • A highschool jacket
  • A favorite pair of jeans
  • A skirt we wore when we met our husband
  • A comfortable t-shirt
  • Our partner’s clothes that they no longer want but we just can’t part with yet
  • A special outfit we wore to a wedding, or social event, or memorable outing

With such big memories, it can be difficult to even consider letting go and for that reason, we need to take our time when we go through them. In a room that is so small yet packs such a powerful emotional punch, attention must be paid to the memories that live there.

Does this sound like you?

I have probably 6 pairs of jeans in all colors and styles. But there is one that is my absolute favorite. I love how they feel on and even more, I love how they look on me. They are comfy and the perfect feel and color.

They are my “go-to” choice every time I am on the hunt for a pair to wear. So much so that when I look and see they are sitting on the shelf and not lying in the hamper, I actually smile because I get to wear them.

That right there, that feeling you get when you see your favorite outfit all ready and waiting for you. That is your line in the sand. Your cue to keep rather than toss.

As you go through the things in your closet, remember that feeling and use it to guide you when the decisions get hard.


Rules for Cleaning Out a Closet

Tackle these rules one at a time and watch your closet take shape without any stress or overwhelm.

Rule #1. Take it One Season at a Time

More often than not the clothes we wear for the entire year are kept in our closets. And the amount to go through alone can make things incredibly overwhelming when so much is stuffed inside.

Let’s make this a bit easier and categorize our things just a bit. I like to call this seasonal sorting. To do this simply make a pile of your clothes out by the season that you wear them in.

  • Summer
  • Fall
  • Winter
  • Spring
woman holding a stack of sweaters.

You can use a box for each season or a clothes basket(s) to keep things sorted out more easily. Whatever sounds as if it will work best for you to help move items around. I prefer clothes baskets to use as my sorting tools and find these to be my favorites.

Label each basket, box, or bin for the season it will hold and begin filling it up. This is my favorite way to sort because it is simple and pretty straightforward. The easier we can keep things in our sorting setup the more likely we are to keep working through all the items in our closet.

DM Pro Tip: Do not put your tried and true favorite pieces in these bins. We are only dealing with the excess at this point and the pieces you love will usually stay in your closet for most if not all of the seasons.

Continue sorting through your closet until most of it if not all of it is gone through. Our goal is to keep current items in this space giving us more room to see just what we have. I think the reason why we continue to buy more and more clothing is that we simply cannot see what it is we already have.

By weeding out items that we are not going to wear in the current season we free up a bit of breathing room and, in turn, help us to see more easily just what it is we have to choose from each day to wear.

Rule #2. Keep Only What You Love

Just like with my example above if you love it…. you will wear it.

Over and over and over again.

And when you are in such a small area why waste that valuable space on clothes you don’t love, or even hate? Use this rule of thumb and do a quick purge as you go.

Each time you touch an item you should be able to decide if you love it within just a few seconds. If you do, put it back in your closet (or set it in a clothes basket labeled KEEP). If you don’t put it in the donate pile. If, however, you touch an item and cannot immediately say you love it or hate it, then stop.

  1. Examine it. Is it stained? Do you see any tears or is it stretched out or snagged anywhere?
  2. Look closely at the item. Do you like the color? The style? Are the arms too long or maybe too short?
  3. Feel it. Do you like the material? Is it soft or scratchy? Trust me on this one, if you hate the feel of it, no matter how nice it looks, you simply will not wear it.
  4. Smell it. (Yes, not kidding) Does it smell nice? Some clothes have a distinct odor and if it smells a bit funky and you hate it…get rid of it.

As you ask yourself each question and be quick about it. If it’s yes (meaning a positive response such as it feels nice or is in good shape) move on to the next question. If it’s no, (meaning you hate the look, it has a snag, you are not loving the way it hangs around your hips) put it into the toss or donate or the give-away box and move on to the next item.

Don’t overthink things. Make a decision and move on.

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Rule #3.  Remove the Duplicates

This is something I found when I did my very first closet declutter. I had a few duplicates of some of the shirts that were in there. Now when I say duplicates I am talking about the same style but a different print or color. The problem was I didn’t LOVE this shirt. It didn’t fit quite right. The sleeves were too short or it was too tight in the waste and that meant it was never my first stop when getting ready in the morning.

To be honest, I am not sure why I bought more than one of them but it was worse than that…I had 3.

Woman putting clothes into a box labeled donations

Since I knew I didn’t love this shirt I could (more) easily let them all go.

D/M PRO TIP: If just donating clothes puts you in a place that keeps you questioning your decisions, why not give your clothes away to a friend or family member? When you do this you remove the guilt of, “I paid so much money for this outfit, I just can’t justify giving it away!” and instead replaces it with “My friend loves this shirt and she will be so excited to have it for her very own!”.

I have found that not only does this new option make it so much easier for me to get rid of some of my things but the recipient loves it as well. Remember, to always ask before you give. We really do not want to pace our clutter struggle onto a friend or family member.

Rule #4.  Keep Out What You Have Room For

If you live in an area with 4 very distinct seasons, it may not be possible for you to keep all of those clothes in your closet at all times. Try to be realistic here and only keep what you can comfortably house.

Remember, less is more when it comes to a closet and our clothes.

Let’s face it, clothes are pretty expensive and it just doesn’t make sense to crush your things in a closet that is overstuffed. To help, keep the current 2 seasons in your closet at a time so you can hang those items freely without the risk of wrinkling.

The off-season clothes you can keep in a tote stored below your bed, a bin on another closet floor, or in a zippable bag store on the top shelf in a closet.

Each month you can then swap things out refreshing your space with a new supply of options to wear. This rule for cleaning out your closet can really help to keep a more reasonable collection.

Rule #5. Use this Trick For What is Left

A closet is one of those areas that can get quickly cluttered up if you don’t stay on top of things. Let’s face it, we all love clothes and for that reason, we tend to buy new options quite often. If you are not one of those people that use the “one item in one item out” rule then you may just find yourself in the same cluttered situation again before you know it.

Once you have your closet decluttered and organized it is a good idea to keep things from getting out of hand again, to help you can implement the hanger trick to keep this space under control without freaking out and having to do things all over again. By using hangars it helps to make the decision for us letting us know the clothes we wear over and over again and the clothes we simply do not. Let’s see the hanger trick in action.

How to Use the Hanger Trick to Keep a Closet Clutter-Free

  1. Turn all the hangers in your closet so they are on the rod facing backward. This means the open part of the “hook” is facing you.
  2. As you wear an item and then replace it back on the hanger, turn that hanger the other way so it is facing correctly on the rod.
  3. Continue doing this routine turning hangers as you wear each item in your closet.
  4. After a month or two examine the hangers. Those that are still facing backward are the items you rarely wear. Those facing the correct way are your favorite items.
Clothes hanging on a rod. Hand holding a sweater on a hanger

Rule #6.  Keep Only Clothes in your Closet

I know it can be tempting to use those upper shelves to store other items. After all, storage tends to be a hot commodity in a home, and leaving a shelf, even in a closet, underutilized may seem like the wrong thing to do.

However, I suggest saving these spaces for clothing-related items only. This will allow you to always be aware of just how much clothing you own and keep you from getting cluttered up again.

Instead of keeping holiday decorations on that out-of-the-way shelf, why not use that space to hold your winter gear or vacation-only outfits. By keeping like items all together you will make it easier to find what you need just when you need it.

Invest in a few storage containers that you can keep other clothing items that you then house on an upper shelf. Not sure what to keep up there? Here are a few ideas:

  • Out of season clothes
  • Hats, gloves, scarves
  • Purses, totes, wallets
  • Shoes that are out of season
  • Coats, sweaters
  • Vacation gear

To help keep things easier to find, you can set up a storage container by theme and label it big and bold so you can easily see just what is inside from down below.

Rule #7.  When Things Aren’t so Cut and Dry

I know I have said this before, but I think it is worth repeating. The emotional pull that some of our clothing brings can be a bit overwhelming no matter how uncluttered you are. For that reason, I want to encourage you to be kind to yourself and give yourself a plan B.

Let me introduce you to the “Maybe” box.

Box labeled maybe full of clothes in a closet

This is my secret weapon for anyone that finds an area or an item more difficult to declutter than they planned. A maybe box is just what it sounds like. A box or a bin that holds items you are just not sure you are ready to let go of yet. They “may be” leaving and they “may be” staying, you are just not sure which one it is yet.

How it works.

As you are going through your things you stumble on an item that you are not quite ready to let go of yet but at the same time, you aren’t sure you love it anymore either. When this happens, take that item and put it into your maybe box. On the outside of the box, you will want to write a summary of what is inside, such as “Clothes” or “Footwear” along with the date that you fill the box up.

Then, and this is key. I want you to close the box up and walk away.

That’s it. There is nothing more to it.

Keep this box in your closet on the floor in an out-of-the-way corner. If you find yourself looking for an item to wear that you have inside, go ahead and get it out. You just answered the question, about whether or not you still love it.

Set a reminder on your phone or mark it on your calendar. Once every 3 months, I want you to go through that box and make a final decision of what you find inside. Ask yourself, “Do I love this item?” I bet at this point the answer will more clear than it was a few months earlier.

By letting those items sit and giving yourself time to live without that item you will make this decision process a bit easier. If you did not look for that item or even think of it in the last few months then it may be time to let it go.

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This temporary decluttering tip for cleaning out a closet is a game-changer that can take away all of the overwhelm some of our things tend to bring with them.

When trying to get rid of clothes in your closet it may be easier to switch things around a bit. Keep what you love and store what you like. Give away what no longer fits and treasure those things with the strongest memories. For what you have left follow these rules for cleaning out a closet and you will never be overwhelmed by too many options again.

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  1. Hi Tracie, many thanks for your wonderful and valuable advice; it is so needed & appreciated right now.

    1. I have taken clothes to consignment expecially in the beginning. Now I find that it is easier for me to send them to donation. Our consignment is so picky they send back over half of what I sent in. So for me, the work did not justify the income. When my kids were little I did take their clothes to consignment and that was definitely worth the work.

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