If you’re like most of us, your closet is likely jammed with garments that fail to make your regular outfit rotation because they’re either outdated, don’t fit, or no longer spark joy.
In fact, the average person only wears about 20 percent of the clothes in his or her closet, says Sheri Spielman, a professional organizer and member of the National Association for Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO). She helps people bring order into their lives by organizing the chaos in their homes, and this often includes organizing and discarding what’s crammed into their closets.
While it sometimes takes a professional like Spielman to help identify and purge the excess clothes, it’s also a challenge you might tackle on your own. Here are her tips for a successful “spring cleaning” of your closet, and where your unwanted and under-used clothes might find a second life.
COMMIT TO THE PURGE
Making the decision and committing to a closet purge is a huge step unto itself. “It’s like exercising: You just have to get started,” says Spielman.
BLOCK OFF THE TIME
Get started by putting it on your calendar, just like any other event. Set aside several blocks of time to be undisturbed and focused on this project. Perhaps invite a trusted friend to help, one who can make it fun but also hold you to task.
BREAK THE PROJECT INTO CHUNKS
Big projects can be more manageable when not tackled all at once. Spielman recommends isolating each category of clothing (such as tops, pants, sweaters, t-shirts, etc.) and organizing each category one at a time, perhaps over a series of days or weekends. “I am a proponent of taking all the tops out of the closet, for instance, and putting them on the bed,” she says. “Only put back into the closet the ‘winners.’” Do this for each category of clothing, relegating the clothing that does not elicit a resounding “Yes! Keep!” to a separate pile or box. Do this with all categories of your clothing over an extended period of time, not just in a single day, especially if you anticipate the exercise to be an emotional one.
BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF
If you find yourself on the fence about what to keep, ask yourself some key questions. “If you’re shopping today, would you buy it again?” suggests Spielman. “When’s the last time you’ve worn it? There must be something you like better if you’re not wearing it.” If you’re holding on to clothing because they were gifts, Spielman encourages you to consider this: “It was given to YOU, so now it’s up to YOU to decide if you want to keep it.” In other words: If you never wear it, don’t feel guilty about saying goodbye to it.
GIVE YOUR OLD CLOTHES A SECOND LIFE
Once you’ve identified all of the “Goodbye” items, act fast to remove this clothing from your home before emotions and second-guessing inspire you to change your mind. Feel good about potentially inspiring somebody else’s happiness in how you choose to make the purge. After all, what you no longer need or want could prove to be somebody else’s fashion treasure.
- SELL IT
Your clothing could translate into cash. Apps such as Poshmark, Mercari, The RealRealand, and ThredUP allow you to conveniently sell your clothing, with the app taking a commission fee for each item sold. Facebook Marketplace, a free resource, is another avenue to sell your gently used clothing. Even better, however, are the Buy-Sell-Trade (BST) communities on Facebook for specific brands. If you join a BST Facebook group for your favorite clothing brand and post your clothing from that brand for sale within the BST community, you stand to generate more interest and make more money due to the highly-qualified following.
- DONATE IT
Your clothing could help to support some very important causes. Plus, your charitable donations are tax-deductible. “I like to take a personal, local approach to donations,” says Spielman, who encourages her clients to consider giving their gently-used clothing to local charities with a meaningful cause, homeless shelters, churches, or synagogues. “It also helps motivate people to let go, knowing that they’re doing a good deed.”
- SWAP IT
Gather your closest, most stylish friends for a clothing swap. This is where everyone comes to the table with clothing they’re looking to discard and swap for each other’s used clothing. However, if you’re truly wanting to scale down the amount of clothing in your closet, you might just invite your friends to grab what they like, no trading or bartering necessary.
- STORE IT
Sentimental garments such as a wedding dress, grandma’s questionably fashionable-but-oh-so-adorable hand-knit sweaters, or your prom attire might be hard to part with. And that’s OK. Spielman says that they shouldn’t take up precious closet real estate, however. Find another place to store sentimental items that are never worn.
KNOW WHEN TO BRING IN THE PROS
Feeling anxious and overwhelmed? Consider calling in a professional organizer. “I usually get called when someone is at the point of not knowing where to start and being overwhelmed,” says Spielman. “Or, there’s been some life transition, like a new baby, a death in the family, or a merging of families.” A professional organizer will bring an unbiased eye, trained expertise, and gentle touch to the closet purge process, helping you to confidently let go and lead a more organized life…starting with your closet.