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Catching Rae

How to Clean a Closet (Part 1)

This morning, a friend on Facebook asked a question about home organization that made me realize I've never done a series on closet clean-outs. I always meant to do a fabulous post involving a real client's closet and all kinds of bells and whistles (and I'll still do that!), but today I feel that the most important thing is to start with the first phase: a rough sort. 


Remove Everything

The first step - and this is vastly important - is to remove absolutely everything from your closet. Because:

  • You will find things you'd given up on
  • You will find things you'd forgotten
  • It's essential to get an accurate catalog of stuff...
  • ... in order to evaluate your stuff-to-space ratio
  • ... and figure out what you have too much of
  • ... and figure out what you are missing
  • ... and put things back in a way that makes sense

So yeah. Pull all the skeletons out. 


Divide and Conquer

This next process evolved from a variety of different practices I learned from myriad sources. I honed it down to a division of three very easy-to-remember categories based on how much you love your stuff. Your love for your stuff will reflect a ton of information about your item (how well it reflects your personality, how appropriate it is for your lifestyle, etc.) while eliminating The Project-Killing Endless Justification of Purchase. You know what I mean. Don't talk and think your stuff to death, or you will never finish. Just sort into three piles:

Love & Wear - Exactly what it sounds like: you use the thing a lot, and you're happy when you do. 

Love & Don't Wear - You either never wear this item or you force yourself to wear it on rare occasion with poor results, yet something about it makes the thought of giving it away seem pretty darn painful.

Meh. - Pretty much everything else. You wear it because you already own it, but you feel gross when you do. Someone gave it to you for your birthday. You anthropomorphize it and have named it George and don't want to abandon George. You can't remember why you bought it. You can remember why you bought it, but you wouldn't buy it again. They are your only black pants, and everyone knows about the official social mandate to own black pants...


Love & Wear > back in the closet. 

Do you feel queasy yet? Well next you can get a little boost when you take up your entire Love pile and hang all of it back up in your closet. Ahhh... Look at all those pretty things you love and use often. 

Before you move on, take just a moment and soak in how many beloved items you actually own. Is your closet already pretty full? Are you enjoying the boutique-like feel of extra space? Do you feel a little grumpy because you don't actually love very much of your stuff at all? 

Don't dwell on this section now - there is more to do that is more pressing. But file those feelings away for future use. 


Love & Don't Wear > be brutal. 

Here's where some real work has to happen, and here's where you get to really bear down on each piece and think about a) why you love it, and b) why the heck you don't wear it if you love it so much.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Will this item only work after I body-snatch a supermodel?
  • Is this item inappropriate for my actual, real-life, activities?
  • Do I only love this because I saw it look super cute on someone else?
  • Is my love purely sentimental? Should I put it in a memory box or frame it instead?
  • Do I love this item as clothes - or do I love it as art?
  • Is something similar - and superior! - already in my Love & Wear section?
  • Ah, but would I totally wear this all the time if I finally hemmed/repaired/tailored it??

As you evaluate each item, it should become clear what your next step should be. Generally, you should end up with a group of items to alter, a group to move/store (sentimental items or collectibles, for example), and a group to toss/re-home/donate/turn into rags/recycle. 

* Note: Don't return any of these items to the closet until they are up to snuff and ready to be Loved and Worn. 


Meh. > buh-bye. 

No, really. There is no more thinking to be done here - bag this pile up and either drive directly to a donation center or stick it in your trunk to be donated later. 

This may be the toughest part of the clean-out process, depending on your personality. For many, this pile is a physical representation of a lot of purchasing mistakes, trend experiments, body changes, and so on - but none of those facts will change by holding onto the items. In fact, I always find it so much worse to have shopping mistakes staring at you... judging you... taunting you from the closet every day. 

Also, most of us only wear a shocking 20% of the items in our wardrobes - which means you probably will still have plenty of variety in your closet once these things are gone. 

Embrace the clothes that lift you up and love you back - make a clean break from clothes that drag you down. 


Next time: turning your downsized closet into a well-oiled wardrobing machine... stay tuned!