For the past few months, as I’ve been cramming my pajamas into my already stuffed sock drawer every morning, I’ve been looking forward to the opportunity to thoroughly clean my closets. Finally, this past weekend, my wife and I had some free time.
We evaluated every item of clothing we owned and decided whether it stayed or went. At the end of our purge, we had 16 bags of clothes and shoes ready to donate to Goodwill. I had culled more than 50 items of clothing while my wife removed more than 150 items from her closet.
I was happiest about finally saying goodbye to two pairs of pleated khaki pants I bought about seven years ago. My wife finally had an excuse to get rid of an unflattering pair of jean shorts.
Even though we were both sneezing like crazy after stirring up dust in the backs of our closets, it was immensely satisfying work. Here are the 10 steps we followed to reach closet nirvana.
1. Start by listening to the right music. You need something fast-paced but not too distracting. Volume is necessary; now is not the time to listen to Pandora through your phone’s speakers.
2. Have the right attitude. In other words, go ham. Cleaning out your closets is only a fun project if you are in the right frame of mind. Be prepared to be ruthless. Remember that things will get dirtier before they get cleaner. At some point there will be massive piles of clothes strewn throughout your bedroom, and one of them probably will tip over.
3. Give yourself enough time to finish the job. It took my wife and me seven hours over two days to go through our two closets, two dressers and two bins of clothes underneath our bed. I don’t think this is a project that can be done a drawer at a time over many days. You’ll be less likely to finish and less likely to do the complete reorganization that might be necessary.
4. If you don’t wear it anymore, get rid of it. My wife and I didn’t have any hard and fast rules for this cleaning project. Instead we followed this general guideline and it made most of our decisions easy ones. Neither of us had done a complete thinning of our clothes in over five years. Even after we got married and moved, we simply took everything with us. It’s natural to feel guilty about getting rid of clothes, especially if you haven’t worn them very much. But it’s also important to be realistic. Here’s a simple test: Does the item of clothing have dust on it? Then toss it. Remember that thinning your closet can lead to discoveries of forgotten items. Instead of feeling bad about what you’re getting rid of, feel happy about what you’ll be wearing more often.
5. Accept that times, tastes and circumstances change. Many of the items we got rid of had been sitting in our closets, unused, for years. I have not worked in an office for four years. It’s unlikely that I will any time in the near future. I do not need 10+ pairs of dress socks. If I do return to an office job, I won’t want to wear old clothes that I last put on a decade ago. Plus those dress socks were worn out anyway.
6. Store your clothes in a way that makes you happy. I hate wire hangers. I hate how easily they get tangled with other hangers, I hate how they don’t slide well along the closet rod and I hate how they’re different colors, shapes and sizes. Plastic hangers are my hangers of choice. I was thrilled I could eliminate 143 wire hangers from our closets. My wife cares about different things. She is very diligent about keeping her clothes in rainbow-color order.
7. Take advantage of this rare cleaning and organizing opportunity. Right after we emptied a drawer or cleared a closet area, before putting everything back, I vacuumed. This is also the perfect time to organize problem drawers. For instance, my wife keeps all her delicates – bras, underwear, work socks, tights and athletic socks – in one drawer. The only way to keep this drawer for turning into a jumbled mess of cotton and nylon is to have designated sections. Three strategically placed shoeboxes does the trick.
8. It’s OK to keep clothes you don’t wear very often, just move them to a different place. As we were cleaning our closets, we had four piles: Toss, donate, sentimental and costumes. There were some clothes we didn’t wear anymore that we nevertheless didn’t want to get rid of. For example, we saved the first school t-shirts we purchased when we got into college. There were other clothes that didn’t need to take up space on a hanger but were still worth keeping for potential halloween costumes. We packed all these clothes up and moved them to the top shelf of our closet.
9. Everything in the cleaned-out closet should be wearable. In other words, don’t put back anything you like that’s either dirty or broken. This week I took a big pile of clothes to the dry cleaners and six pairs of shoes to the cobbler. I also did four loads of laundry.
10. Remember to keep a record of your exact donations. At least if you itemize your deductions on your tax forms. Just write down the number of each type of clothing item donated. It’s a little bit of a pain, but you’ll be thanking your past self next April.
Now, each time I open my closet doors, I smile. There’s a lot less junk inside, and what’s left I actually want to wear. Best of all – no wire hangers!