A Guide for Cleaning Out Your Closet

Whether it’s big or small, your closet needs some serious attention from time to time.  I was recently hanging up freshly washed clothes in my closet when I realized I was all out of hangers.  Rather than purchase more hangers, I decided it was time to demote some clothing items and strip them of their privilege to hang around.  (Ha- get it?)  As I began sorting through my clothes (mainly tops this time), I noticed I had not worn some items in many years!  But does that necessarily mean they should hit the box?  I’m giving you a guide for cleaning out your closet.  See the end of this post for information on how to determine which method to use for getting rid of items: donate, consign/sell, upcycle, or trash.


Do you feel good when you wear the item?

guide for cleaning out your closet
Taken via Basic Apparel’s Instagram page- See it here.

Have you ever put on a piece of clothing- top, pants, skirt…you name it- and wear it all day, despite the fact that you just didn’t feel cute wearing it?  We all have clothes that we bought because they were good in some theory, but something has never been quite right about them.  You know what I say?  Ditch them!  Even if it is something as simple as the color of the item that is throwing you off, say goodbye.  If you are irritated with your outfit, you are going to be irritated by life throughout the day, because you just don’t feel on point.  You don’t need that, so get rid of items that fall into this category.  

Consider the last time you wore the item.

Do you even remember the last time you wore the item in question?  If you can’t remember, or if it’s been years, ask yourself why that is.  Did you have a big life change (say, leaving your job to become a stay-at-home mom or gaining/losing weight) that keeps you from wearing it?  Maybe most of the pencil skirts in your closet have no place in your life anymore, or the baggy pants need to move on.  Whatever the case, if the item doesn’t really fit into your life anymore, send it packing.  If you think the item can still fit into your lifestyle, try it on to further assess.  Some closet-cleaning scenarios can turn into a (free) shopping spree!  If the item in question still fits like a glove, start imagining outfit combinations to make sure it can stay in your closet and in your life.

black prom dress
Incorporate a blazer you used to wear to work into a chic night-out outfit.

Is the item still in good shape?

If you see holes, stains, or pulls that can’t be fixed, the item shouldn’t be hogging a hanger.  You will never feel polished while wearing clothing that has visible imperfections.  And when you don’t feel polished, you won’t be productive. (See this post for more information on why polished = productive.)  But don’t be so quick to throw it in the trash.  If the item isn’t completely worn out:

  • You can ask your local charity organization if they accept raggedy clothing for textile recycling.  This is a great way to do your part to keep landfill waste down.
  • Give clothes a second life by turning them into a DIY project.  You can either use them to refashion other clothes by adding pockets or patchwork with fabric that is still in-tact or use them to make belts, hair ties, scarves…Do you have upcycling ideas that don’t involve creating other garments?  I would love to hear them!
guide for cleaning out your closet
Photo taken from Her Campus (Brandeis University). Visit this article to see how to make these shorts and other summer clothes.

 If you come across an item that is completely worn out, trash it or use it for cleaning.  T shirts are perfect for dusting!

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Does the item wash easily?

When you take the item out of the washing machine, is it extremely wrinkled?  Some clothes look beautiful on the rack in the store but are difficult to care for. (Hello, linen and rayon.)  If you don’t have time for steaming and ironing, you probably need to get rid of high maintenance items.  Also consider if the item requires dry cleaning.  If you don’t have time (and/or the money) to drop by the dry cleaner all the time, you might want to think about demoting the item.

This is especially true if you have a small closet.  You don’t need any permanent, dust-collecting placeholders. And you want to know what to REALLY avoid???  Any item that says the dreaded SPOT-CLEAN ONLY.  I made the mistake of buying (and wearing) the formal dress below to a wedding in the rain, which means that by the end of the night, my train was covered in mud and booze.   Little did I know it couldn’t be cleaned!

a guide for organizing your closet- spot clean only

Do you have multiple items that look just alike?

guide for cleaning out your closet

This can be true of black cardigans and other coverups.  If you have more of a certain type
of clothing than you actually use, try them all on and choose your favorites.  And be careful not to purchase anymore of that kind of item in the near future!  Ask yourself these questions before buying any new clothing.


Sort your jeans.

Have you ever barged into your closet in a hurried frenzy, searching for a pair of jeans that were in a never-ending pile?  It can be good to have a lot of jeans, but you need to keep them organized so that you can more efficiently get ready.  Sort them into different piles (You can use a hanging organizer or built-in shelves if you have them.) according to style.

For example:

  • Skinnies (If you have a lot, sort even further into light, dark, distressed, cropped, dressy,guide for cleaning out your closet etc.- and do the same for the remaining categories.)
  • Bootcut
  • Flared
  • Boyfriend
  • Embellished
  • Relaxed
  • Cropped

You will now be better able to see what you have when choosing outfits, as well as see what you no longer need or want.

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Rules to follow when deciding whether to donate, consign/sell, upcycle, or trash:

  • Only donate items if you would give them to a friend.  If you drop the items off yourself to a donation facility, leave small batches in your trunk at a time.  This way, if you pass a facility, you have a bag ready for drop off.  Some organizations will even pick up the goods curbside, depending on your location.  Find out if the following organizations will pick up in your area via these links:


Salvation Army

Purple Heart

Green Drop

Give Back Box:  Get a box, print a free shipping label, fill it with clothes, and send it off!

Dress for Success:  Donate women’s work clothes.  I don’t think they have a pick up option.

  • Consign/sell if the item is designer or high-end and in tip-top shape.  You will likely receive less money than you initially paid, but if it cost you a lot of money, the compensation could still be significant.  If the item isn’t necessarily designer but still a name brand (say Abercrombie or Roxy), there are stores that purchase (for a small amount of money) gently used clothing to resell.  Such stores include Plato’s Closet (which I have used in the past) and Buffalo Exchange.  You could also try selling items on eBay (I have had great luck with selling shoes.) or Poshmark.
  • Upcycle if the item has an interesting pattern that could revitalize a boring pair of shorts or top, accessorize a purse, become a headband, etc. (and if you are a DIYer).
  • Trash the item if it is completely worn out and unsalvageable, or, as I mentioned earlier, use it for cleaning!  You can also ask your local charity if they accept raggedy clothing for textile recycling.  This can help you feel like you’re not just throwing away money, and it can help the planet.

That’s what’s up in organizing.  Using this guide, you’ll be able to more efficiently clean out your closet, which will save you a ton of time!  Now you have a point of reference for beginning your clean-out and ample ways to purge your closet of unwanted clothing items.  Plus, you’ll gave a better understanding of your inventory, which can save you from purchasing unnecessary items.  Hello, money and time!  Don’t forget to share your upcycling ideas in the comments.  I am not a DIYer, so I would love to hear them!

Special thanks to Leslie Gifford for collaborating with me on this post. Leslie Gifford is a Professional Organizer and owner of Leslie Gifford Organizing. For further information and tips on how to keep your closet (and your life) organized, visit Leslie Gifford Organizing and follow the company on Facebook

i tip hair extensions

*This is a revived archive post, which first appeared on my site in 2016.



A fashion, beauty, and lifestyle blog written by Jackie Mikkelson, Instinctively en Vogue is a source of inspiration for busy girls, especially moms like her, who want to be chic while staying comfortable. #stayCHIComfy

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  1. 10.17.16

    Such a great article! I am moving soon therefor having a massive clean out and I’m stoked about it. I try to clean out my closet once a year.

  2. 10.18.16
    lovejennyxo said:

    this is so great- I find myself cleaning out my closet and drawers often but when its all said and done I ended up only getting rid of like 2-3 things. I have that “i might wear this again” fear. i’ve now bribed myself with, if i get rid of this then maybe I can buy something new(;

    Also your little excerpt about not liking what youre wearing for the day- oh god, that will literally throw my day offff, especially if im stuck wearing it ALL DAY at work. the worst feeling! glad im not the only one! LOL

    xo, JJ

    • 10.18.16

      I have had that same fear. And still do sometimes!! I actually am still finding items from my recent clean out that I think I should get rid of. And oh man how many of my days have been mediocre because my outfit got on my nerves. lol glad I’m not alone!!! Xo

  3. 10.18.16

    I love this!! I’ve had a good clear-out lately and it’s such a good feeling getting rid of things that you never really liked in the first place… I’ve got pretty good at being ruthless haha!

    • 10.18.16

      Haha! I didn’t used to be able to say goodbye to stuff until I realized that clothes have to be pretty darn comfortable or cute in order for me to feel good.

  4. 10.19.16

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  5. 10.20.16

    I am busy decluttering and organizing my whole house. Clothes are the hardest for sure! Thanks I will use some of these tips.

    • 10.20.16

      Agreed! If you start your day with a decluttered closet, you will have a clearer mind for the rest of your decluttering!

  6. 10.27.16

    So many great ideas! It’s good to know now that I’m going to change a little bit my closet.
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  7. 12.8.16

    Great article! 🙂

  8. 2.3.17

    I’m glad I could help! I need to do it again, too. I feel like maybe 3-4 times a year is good! Xoxo

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