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The Comprehensive Closet Cleaning Guide

Sometimes it takes me at least 20 minutes to find an outfit in my closet because I’m looking for a specific piece that’s gone missing. Literally. I can’t find it. Hamper? Closet? Ah, might as well be the same thing.

Finally though, I cleaned my closet (the case of the missing red pump—which turned out to be in the closet all along—was my breaking point). Here are the steps for how to clean out your closet so you can finally start wearing all the stuff that’s in there!

How To Clean Out The Closet

Step 1. Get rid of these 9 things

1. Target-weight clothes

You know that teeny-tiny little black dress in the corner of your closet that tantalizes you every time you look at it? It’s two sizes too small, but it was 80 percent off at Bloomies. You bought it thinking you’d finally lose that freshman 15 that’s been around since, well, your freshman year of college.

It’s time to say goodbye. Buying clothes that are too small in the hopes that you’ll get into them eventually is sooo 1990s. You look great the way you are, and you don’t need that dress hanging around trying to tell you otherwise.

2. Clothes you haven’t worn in a year

If you haven’t worn it in a year, it’s gotta go. Yes, even if it’s new with tags. Even if it’s a well-intentioned gift from your boyfriend’s stepmama.

Now I know I’ll never where the t-shirt I got for free from Qs bar on my 21st birthday — but I’m not ready throw it in the trash either. So I have a plastic, lidded container in the attic for those clothes I don’t wear, but I still want to keep. The point is, that Qs t-shirt no longer resides in my closet. And that leaves a little extra space for the pieces I use on the regular.

3. Old sorority gear and team jerseys

Unless you graduated from college last month, there’s no sane reason why you need 43,282 pieces of sorority-related clothing. Ditto for the 22 jerseys from the various soccer teams you played on between the ages of 6 and 18.

We get it. It’s Delta Kappa Alpha Beta Gamma and San Diego Surf Soccer forever. But if you’re over the age of 22, those days are over, honey. Keep your fave hoodie for sentimental value and round up the rest for Goodwill.

4. Your ex’s clothes

Just because you have a freshly-manicured profile on eHarmony and you tell your friends you’re ready to enter the dating rat race doesn’t negate the fact that you’re still not over your ex. Stop torturing yourself! Yes, his Snoopy boxers are comfy, but you don’t the reminder that your former flame is now with Ms. Moved-From-Brazil-to-Pursue-Modeling.

5. Painful shoes

Tall black shoes

I fondly refer to these as kill shoes. They may be the sexiest darn things to grace your feet. But if wearing them makes your feet such a medical nightmare that even your podiatrist gasps in fear, it’s time to set them free.

6. Old bridesmaid dresses

Your BFF swore she’d pick a bridesmaid dress that was re-wearable. Ha! Three years later, you know that’s a lie. You haven’t touched that Pepto-Bismol-pink ballgown since the night she got married. You’re not going to wear it again. Donate it or sell it.

7. Items torn beyond repair

Some items are obviously not worth keeping. Socks with holes, for example, earn a solid place in the “no” pile. But if there’s a top or a pair of pants that just needs some minor stitching, you should hang on to that—and take care of the problem, stat. Anything else that you’ve been meaning to fix for years, however, belongs in the goodbye group. Odds are if you haven’t gotten to it by now, you probably never will.

8. Promotional shirts and gear

Whether through corporate events, fundraisers, or a music festival from another lifetime, you may have amassed quite a few promotional T-shirts and related gear over the years. You don’t have to think too hard about this one. Eye it up, think about the last time that you wore it (if ever), then put it into your toss or giveaway pile. The same goes for other extras, like tote bags and baseball caps.

9. Spendy items you never wear

This is a tough one, primarily because you probably threw yourself quite the celebration when you scored a Marc Jacobs dress on the cheap at Loehmann’s all those years ago. But if the item in question still has its tags and you really just bought it because it was a great deal…it’s probably time to let it go. Give it to a friend, sell it online, or donate it. You have options that will ensure it falls into deserving hands (and you can trust your amazing find won’t go to waste that way).

Step 2. Remove stuff that doesn’t belong

Congratulations! You’re more than halfway through the challenge of cleaning out your closet. The next part of this goes beyond clothes. I’m guilty for stashing anything but clothes in the closet. We’re talking flatiron, Febreze, suntan lotion, and Swiffer refills. Move that stuff to a different closet.

You should also relocate anything that is ridiculous or way out of season (um, Rudolph slippers, which falls into both categories). Stick those in a bin in the attic or toss.

Step 3. Reorganize what’s left

I’m a big believer (now anyway) of putting things where they belong. Undies belong in drawers, not on floors. Jeans should be folded with jeans, blouses hung next to blouses, skirts with skirts. Don’t worry about getting all color coordinated and matchy-matchy. Just focus on putting like items with like items.

If you help creating defined sections, see our post on fashionista-approved closet organizers.

Step 4. Clean the floor

Whether you have a walk-in or a toe-in closet, a cluttered floor sets the stage for bumping, tripping or shoe-scuffing. Plus, you might be surprised what you find lurking on your closet floor!

That’s our answer on how to clean out a closet, and then keep it that way. If you have closet-cleaning tips to share, let us know in the comments!

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