How to Clean Out your Closet

By Sally Holland

dresses coathangers

Take everything out of your closet. First remove the clothes that fit and are in season because they are easiest to reach, then remove the clothes that fit but are not in season and finally remove the clothes that are neither in season nor fit–these are in the back. To get the clothes out of the way, put them on top of the dirty clothes that are already on your unmade bed.

Vacuum the closet.

Wipe down the shelf and walls.

Appreciate the starkness of the empty closet. It’s like a blank canvas ready for you to add the colors of your wardrobe. Imagine that when your clothes are hung neatly, your sweaters folded perfectly and your shoes aligned in pairs, it will be a work of art.

Consider repainting the walls.

Consider adding shelves or a complete, new organizing system so that everything has its own place.

Go online to look for ideas for your new closet. Believe the advertisements that say that the shelving systems will change your life. Ignore the complicated engineering skills required for installation. Ignore the fact that in the pictures, the shelving systems only hold a fraction of the number of clothes that you have. Slowly realize that there is no way you can afford a new system. Wish that you could.

Sleep on the sofa as your bed is still covered in clothes.

On the next rainy Saturday afternoon, send your boys off to the movies and get back to the closet project. Hang up the fuchsia formal you wore to your high school prom–a memorable night. Also, hang up the white eyelet A-line that you wore for high school graduation and the dress you wore on your first date with your ex-husband. Hang up your wedding dress. Also hang up the wedding dresses of your mother – from both ceremonies. Hang up your grandmother’s wedding dress.

When your sons decide to marry, their future wives will want to wear one of the dresses. You, your mother, and your grandmother all wore different sizes and styles so your sons’ future wives will be able to choose the one they like best.

Hang up the peach organza dress with the beaded bodice that your second cousin wore to visit the White House two decades ago – it’s had a glamorous life. Hang up the sweater that your husband bought for you on your first anniversary and the cardigan you wore on your first date with him. Don’t worry that they don’t fit you anymore. Don’t worry that they are out-of- style. Don’t care that they lasted longer than your marriage. Know that fashion repeats itself and believe you will lose 25 pounds.

Go through your tee shirts to decide what to toss. Keep all your white and black ones because they go with everything. Keep all your concert tees because they are cool and they remind you of how cool you used to be. Include in that mix the Rolling Stones one that you bought at Target even though you never actually saw Mick Jagger perform in person. Keep the shirt that your friend bought you at the Blondie concert that you missed because you had the flu. Remember how nice it was for her to remember you, even though the tee shirt isn’t one you particularly like. Keep the tee shirts from church camp, your high school reunions and the family reunion–a shirt you only wore until your Mother told everyone about your divorce and you left early.

You may as well keep all the tee shirts – you can never have too many. You will wear the stained ones under sweaters or while cleaning the house or while painting. Separate those out. Count them. Thirty-four.

Divide other tee shirts by color and fold them. Count them. Forty-eight.

Carefully fold the shirts, put them on the top shelf of the closet. Press them down and jam them into the space to make them all fit. Don’t worry that when you try to take one off the shelf, all of the tee shirts will fall out. Appreciate how much better they look now.

Refill your tea mug and take a break acknowledging that getting rid of things is tiring.

After dinner, try on remaining clothes on your bed. Divide them into those that fit and those that don’t. Promise yourself to lose 35 pounds.

Answer the phone. Ask your mother why she is calling. Listen to her talk.

Lie to your mother and tell her you are going to church in the morning so that she won’t show up and try to help you clean. Know that given the chance, she will throw away your stuff. Get off the phone.

Put the clothes that fit on the right side of the closet and the clothes that don’t on the left. Note that the closet looks full even though you are only half finished.

You are exhausted. Sleep on sofa again as bed has too much stuff on it.

The next day, make a plan to move some of your clothes to the dresser drawers to make space for the clothes in your closet.

The following weekend, go on a long bike ride with the boys because the sun is out. Don’t begin emptying the drawers of your dresser until after dinner.

In the first one, find flannel, cotton and satin pajamas, a short terry bathrobe, a long terry bathrobe and five cotton nightgowns of various lengths. Smile at the pair of pajamas with cats on the fabric that was purchased for a New Years Eve/slumber party several years back. Remember how they were somewhat itchy but the cats made everyone laugh.

Shove all the nightclothes back in the drawer and hope that you can create space in the next one.

Decide to wait a bit before you tackle the drawer with workout clothes. Step over the dirty socks on the floor and look for the home decorating magazine you left on the kitchen table. Spend time thumbing through the pages and wishing your house looked like that.

Late at night, go to sleep on the sofa so you will be ready for the new week at work.

Two weeks later, you still sleep on the sofa because the clothes are still covering your bed. Try to overcome the discouraged feeling that the Closet Project will never end. Feel depressed when you see the neat stacks of tee shirts that were on the top shelf of your closet are now a mess. Remember that when you pulled out a couple of shirts, the stacks went wonky and you couldn’t get them back to the way they were.shirts

See that your dirty clothes from your workweek are on the floor because your good intention to pick them up when you have time hasn’t worked out. Wish that you could sleep in your bed tonight. Know that it will take time to get it cleared off and the boys want you to take them shopping for a new video game.

Become accustomed to rifling through the pile of clothes on your bed to look for something to wear. Stop wearing shoes when you go into your bedroom because you don’t want to step on the clothes that are on the floor. Stop trying to close the door to hide the mess from the living room because the dirty clothes keep it from shutting.

Stop making an effort to find time for your closet clean-up project. Let daily life take priority–your boys need you to stand over them so they will do their homework, your mother needs you to pick her up when her car breaks down, you need to make cupcakes for the church supper. In spite of the chaos, pat yourself on the back for looking clean and fashionable when you leave the house.

Hear a knock at the front door, open it to find your neighbor Mrs. Wilkins. Appreciate that her plain dress and comfortable shoes suit her pleasant face and that she still carries with her a sense of organization and structure honed during her years as a public librarian. Be happy to see her, but don’t invite her in.

Notice she has a piece of paper in her hand when she says, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

Respond with, “Now isn’t a good time…”

Try to gracefully block her when she steps around you into your entryway and before you can stop her, into your living room.

Say, “I have to go pick up the boys,” although you don’t really need to leave for another thirty minutes.

Note that Mrs. Wilkins isn’t talking as she looks around your cluttered living room. See what she sees and realize that the mess has gotten completely out of hand–it’s no longer just in your bedroom. See that the clothes have spilled out onto the living room floor. See that there are fast food paper bags, unfolded blankets, a broken shelf that has spilled books onto the floor. See your magazines everywhere. See the popcorn machine that you purchased for movie day at the boys’ school and haven’t used since, birthday gifts that have been unwrapped but not put away–the paper still crumpled beside them. See junk mail and bills and drinking glasses and other stuff. Want to explain that you are cleaning out your closet, that you are in the midst of organizing and that is why things look so messy.

Before you can open your mouth, hear her quietly say, “You can clean this up.”

Take the flyer she hands you for the neighborhood Easter egg hunt. Agree that your boys are too big to actually hunt this year but they would be perfect for hiding the eggs. Nod yes when she says something else and say goodbye when she leaves.

Hear Mrs. Wilkins’ quiet voice, “You can clean this up,” every time you walk into your bedroom. Know that she believes this to be true. Know that it is true.

Start with the dirty clothes on the floor. Stack them into a pile and then launder them. Go through the clothes in your closet and on your bed and this time really get rid of the ones that don’t fit and the ones that you will never wear again. Decide that your sons’ future wives can choose their own wedding dresses. Donate the ones in your closet to charity. Whittle down your tee shirts to the top twenty. Keep only the number of clothes that will fit into your closet and dresser. Throw away the fast food bags and fix the broken shelf.

Take an inordinate amount of time to get things organized–not days or weeks, but months. Every time you begin to feel overwhelmed, hear Mrs. Wilkins’ voice again. You can clean this up.

Feel free when the burden of disorganization has been lifted.

When she next visits, let Mrs. Wilkins look around the room and through the door of your bedroom. Accept a motherly hug for what appears to be no particular reason although you and she both know she is proud of you. Wish you could thank her, but fumble when you try to put your gratitude into words.

That evening after she has gone, open your dresser drawer and choose some soft blue pajamas. Put your dirty clothes into the hamper and sleep in the bed that you made.


6 thoughts on “How to Clean Out your Closet

  1. Oh I’m feeling a sudden motivation to get rid of my high school prom dress. I gave away my wedding dress long ago. I think I have some purging to do not limited to my clothes closet. Thanks for the encouragement


    1. June, this is hilarious! When mika bought a house and moved out I invited a friend to move in. Then all the clothes I had stashed in my room and in containers under the bed exploded into the guest room where I discovered Lisa had taken out the closet system before she left. All those clothes piled on the bed 3 feet high. Then a dear friend ended up spending the night. All those clothes thrown into the closet 5 feet high to get to the guest bed. Now I need to get them out again to have someone install a closet system . Meanwhile I’m using a clothes rack on the balcony over the great room. And buy new clothes because all the old clothes are way too big. Maybe I’ll get it done by next year!


  2. I love this! I just recently redid my walk in closet and it looks so beautiful I could sleep in there. I purged a lot and agree with many of the tips you gave. Thanks for sharing. Now everyone will have beautiful closets.


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