How to Declutter Your Closet Step-By-Step + Free Checklist

Opening an organized, curated closet feels great.  Has it been a while since you’ve gotten that warm and fuzzy feeling from taking a peek into your own bedroom closet?  Then you’re in just the right place.  I’m going to walk you through the process of getting your closet from “Ugh” to “Ahh”.

colorful organized closet

If you’re new to decluttering, or want a refresher, take a look at our article about the Simple Steps of Decluttering.  You’re going to use these basic steps as you work your way through your closet.

Step 1: Take 5 minutes.

What are your goals for this closet?  It’s well worth taking a few minutes to get clear on how you would like it to be after you declutter and organize.

  • What will you stop storing here?
  • What isn’t working well now and how will you change it?
  • How do you feel when you open your closet now?  How would you like to feel about it?
  • Would you like to spruce it up a bit?  Add some color to the walls?  Add a light? New hangers?

Step 2: Pick your target.

It’s usually better to have a plan.  A simple plan.  And decluttering is no different.

Some people like to conquer an entire closet in one day.  For others, doing it a little at a time works best.  You can be extreme in either direction, or anywhere in between.  But give it a little thought before you jump in the deep end, so to speak.  

Should you declutter all-at-once or over time?

It’s great to be able to declutter a closet all at once, and it does make the job easier in some ways.  No need to worry if you want or have to do it a bit at a time, though.  There are pros and cons to each approach.

Either way you’ll get there!

What you don’t want to do is pull absolutely everything out of your closet and not be able to finish the job.  Then you’ll have more chaos and confusion to live with in your bedroom!

Ask yourself a few questions to make a realistic decision about how to approach this project:

  • How big is your closet?
  • Is your closet very full and disorganized?
  • How much time do you have to spend decluttering it?
  • How motivated are you?
  • Will you have dedicated, uninterrupted time to work?

Pick your best choice and just move forward.  Neither decision will make or break your efforts.  And you’re going to be learning as you go.

Step 3: Grab your supplies.

You only need a handful of things to declutter your wardtobe effectively, so gather them up now before you start.

For clothing, laundry baskets are great for sorting.  Of course you can always sort on the bed or the floor.

Always have one or two trash bags for items to be thrown away.  And they work well to transport your decluttered clothing to be donated. 

Cardboard boxes (think of all those Amazon deliveries) work well for transporting too.

Don’t forget something to give the closet a quick cleaning, a bold marker, a pen and paper, and Post-It Notes (just because there’s always a use for Post-It Notes!).

Step 4: Empty and sort.

You’ve got an idea of your goal.  You have a plan.  And your supplies are nearby.  Now it’s time for the heart of decluttering.  You’re going to handle every item and decide whether it will stay or go.  

Completely empty the area you're working on.

Go section by section:  shelves, drawers, hanging rods, the floor, the walls, and the backs of the closet doors.  

Remember to only work on as much as you have time to finish.

You can put things into a giant pile then sort, or sort as you pull items out of the closet.

Sort every item into one of these 5 groups.

  • Trash/Recycle
  • Return to Lender
  • Donate/Give
  • Sell
  • Maybe/Keep

Keep the groups separate so its clear what items belong to what group.

With some of the items you pull out of the closet, you’ll know immediately what to do.  Others will take a little more thought.

As you’re sorting, separate the Maybe/Keep items into piles by type:  Jeans, Pants, Slacks, Shirts, Shorts, Workout Clothes, T-shirts, Blouses, Skirts, Dresses, Sweaters, Sleepwear, Underwear, Socks, Belts, Scarves, Ties, Hats, etc.

This will make it easier to see the variety of each item that you own.  Don’t underestimate how helpful it is to see all your jeans, or skirts, or workout clothes (or other item) at once!  It can be eye-opening, and will help you make better decisions about what to keep.

Work your way through the Maybe/Keep piles.

You’ve already made many of the easier decisions about what “isn’t” staying.  Now it’s time to decide what “is” staying. 

Take one category at a time from the Maybe/Keep piles.

Use the questions below to help you make a decision about each item.

11 Clothes Closet Decluttering Questions to Ask

Be strict with yourself.  Challenge yourself to make a case for why something deserves to take up space in your closet!

And there’s one more question to ask that I find often puts things in perspective.

Can this item be a blessing to someone else who really needs it?

Step 5: Replace, remove and relocate.

Congratulations, the hardest part is over.  But you’re not done yet, so hang in there with me.  You’ve made the decisions, now you’re going to enforce them!

Replace the items that you're keeping.

There are no Maybe items now, only Keep items.  

Back into the closet they go, folded or hung nicely, and organized with other like items.

Remove and relocate everything else.

It’s important to get everything else out of the room when you’re done decluttering, then out of the house as soon as reasonably possible.

  • Trash/Recycle items go to their appropriate containers.
  • Return the items that you borrowed with a great big “thank you”.
  • Donate/Give items need to be separated by destination.  Then pack them up so they’re easy to transport.
  • Sell items can be put wherever you’ll be getting them ready to advertise.

Don’t fall into the common trap of letting items sneak back into your living space once they’ve left.   Getting them out of the house quickly will prevent this.

Closet Decluttering Checklist
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Tips for Success

Here are some great ideas that will help make your new decluttered closet a smashing success.  

  • Handle every item.  Each item should come out of the closet and not be put back in unless you specifically decide it should stay.  Also, don’t forget to empty boxes and other containers to see what’s in them.
  • Give the empty space a quick cleaning.  This is the perfect time to freshen up the closet space, before you begin puttings items back.  It will feel good knowing that your newly decluttered closet is also clean.
  • Only store what can comfortably fit in the closet.  You should have easy access to everything when you’re done.  That means hanging items have space to “breathe” and not get wrinkled.  Shelves and drawers should be used but not overfilled.  And you should be able to see the floor.
  • Store only current items in your closet.  Stick with clothing and accessories that fit your life now, not items from previous (or future) times.
  • Declutter hangers, too.  You don’t need to find space for all your hangers.  It’s better to use the right amount of hangers for your space.
  • Set limits on how many of an item you’re going to keep.  For example, holding on to your favorite 5 pairs of jeans is one thing.  But keeping 15 pairs is more than most anyone will need.
  • Ask yourself what really needs to stay.   An item should deserve to take up your valuable closet space.

FAQ

These questions are asked frequently for a reason, so you’ve probably asked them yourself.  Much of decluttering is very personal, and I believe that there’s not usually one “right” answer.  But there are ways that do tend to work well for many people.  I hope to strike a good and helpful balance here.

How often should you clean out your closet?

Well, that may look different for me than for you.  There are no rules, but there is a really helpful guideline for everyone … do it regularly! 

Clean out your clothes closet regularly, and it won’t turn into a huge job that you dread.  

I’m not suggesting that you need to clean it every day or every week, or even every month.   Take your wardrobe and lifestyle into account as you decide how often would create a good balance for you.

As I said, “regularly” can mean different things.  

Do you live in a climate that changes throughout the year?  Then those times of changing your wardrobe out for the next season are a great opportunity to purge the closet. 

If the closet is a clutter hotspot for you, then definitely tend to it more often.  Monthly?  Weekly?  How often is needed to keep the clutter in check? 

Remember, when you create better habits you’ll reduce how often you need to clean out the whole closet.

Pick an interval and put it on your household to-do list.  The best way to find out what works for you is to try something then adjust.

What is the fastest way to clean out a closet?

If you want to declutter your closet quickly .. as in right now … set aside enough time to do it all at once.

The steps don’t change, but your time frame does.

Other things that will speed up the process are

  • Staying organized and focused as you clean out the clutter.  Avoid distractions and keep on top of each step as you go.
  • Getting the hang of making quick decisions.  Don’t let yourself get bogged down.  Print out a good checklist of questions to go through so you can make decisions faster and feel good about them.  
  • Giving yourself a time limit.  The little bit of pressure that a deadline gives can keep you on track.  Just make sure it’s reasonable.

How can I motivate myself to clean out my closet?

Good question!  This is one almost everyone asks themselves.

Start by thinking about what motivates you for other things.

Here are some common motivators.  If you know that one of these works for you in other areas, get creative and give it a try here as well.

  • Deadlines
  • Goals
  • Rewards

But in my experience the best motivation comes from “doing the first thing”, no matter how small. 

Really, this works wonders for me (and many, many other people!).  It helps me overcome the feeling of resistance and makes me want to put in the work to more forward.

Lastly, this is a good time to remember your “why”, the big goals that go beyond a tidy closet.  It could be to reduce stress, enjoy an easier daily routine, or just to feel good about your home.  You “why” is bigger than your closet, but your closet is part of getting there.  So let that encourage and inspire you to keep going and meet those goals.

What should I get rid of in my closet?

When you’re ready to downsize your closet, it’s easy to think about what to remove.   That’s the point after all, right?

Well, my suggestion is to try asking what should stay instead, and watch what happens.

My how that can change our whole perspective!

After all, there’s an unlimited number of things that shouldn’t be in your closet.  But there’s a much shorter list of things that should be.

Let’s concentrate on the shorter list of items that belong there:

  • Clothing, shoes, accessories, etc. that you will wear currently (not the past or in the future)
  • Only as many items as fit in the closet space comfortably
  • A limited selection of each type of item

Wrap Up

Hooray for a clutter-free closet!  What a great feeling to open the door and have what you need at your fingertips.  I hope this article has given you the direction and encouragement to go ahead and tackle this project.  You can do it, step-by-step, whether in a day or a month.  

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