How to Clear Out Your Closet

A lot of you agreed last week on why it feels great to clean out your closet. This week, let’s talk about the how.

Letting go of clothing can be an emotionally complicated issue. But I gave away seven trash bags of clothing and shoes to charity last week, and I don’t regret one thread!

How did I know what to give away and what to keep? The following rules helped me cut the nostalgia and get down to business.

Ask Three Questions of Each Piece

If you answer no to any of these questions, the piece is history.

1. Have I worn this in the last year?

2. Do I feel good in this?

3. If I didn’t feel guilty for some reason, would I still be hanging on to this?

These questions helped me chuck about one-third of my clothing. And what of feeling bad about getting rid of something I spent money on or someone gave me? It lasted about two seconds. Then all I felt was relief.

If in Doubt, Try it On

After trying some stuff on for my 20th college reunion coming up this weekend (yikes!), I collected another pile to give away. Why? Things still looked good — they just didn’t look good on me.

Yes, my shape has changed, but so has my style and station in life. Midriff? I’m not so hot on showing it anymore, and some of my glittery, vintage sweaters were just too darn short. Plunging necklines? Maybe for a night on the town with hubby, but do I really want to flash the playground every time I pick up a sand toy?

When It Hurts Too Much

If giving stuff away is really just too painful, here are some alternatives:

Put it on hold

Bag up the questionable stuff and keep it in your attic or basement. After three months, if you don’t miss it, toss it.

Go the wrong way

Turn all your hangers the wrong way, as Jenny suggested in the comments of my last post. After you wear something, turn the hanger the right way. After a year, toss anything on a backwards hanger.

Beat wardrobe fatigue

If you really want to save money and not completely say good-bye to your clothes, organize a clothing swap. If you exchange pieces with a group of friends, you can get free new clothes and your old stuff will be in good hands.

Keep it in the family

My daughters’ dress-up bin is a lot more interesting now that it has disco dresses, frilly black slips, and beaded purses.  And  I know that they’re not too far away should I change my mind.

So I hope I’ve given you some ammunition to wage war against the clutter. If you tackle your closet, please come back and tell me how it went!

I’m interested in your own tactics. How do you decide what to give away?

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  • Little Linz March 15, 2015, 5:26 pm

    Hi again! Since my last closet i’va managed to purge And have reduced the amount of clothing I own from 4double wardrobes (closets) to 2 and a half! But I keep asking myself, “are there still too many clothes?!” What is a normal amount of clothing for a thirty two year old to own?!


    • Amy March 18, 2015, 1:39 pm

      Hi Little Linz,

      Are you able to wear all those clothes? If so, and you don’t need the space for anything else, then maybe it’s fine. But it sounds like you think you might need to purge more. After every season, try getting rid of any clothing you didn’t wear during that time. If you don’t wear it this year, chances are that you won’t next year.

      You’ve made great progress!

  • Linz February 15, 2015, 7:07 am

    I’m laid in bed ill staring at an overly full wardrobe (closet- sorry im english!) and have decided that as soon as i have the strength i shall clear out again! I had a big purge three weeks ago and got rid of loads (we were downsizing from four double wardrobes to 3) but my new wardrobes still overspilling really must get tough with it lx

    • Amy February 17, 2015, 11:16 pm

      Hi Linz,
      If the whole closet is overwhelming, try tackling one section at a time. For example, one day only go through pants. Another day, only tops. Or set a timer for 15 minutes and see what you can get accomplished. More than you think, I bet!
      Good luck,

  • Patty July 25, 2014, 2:22 am

    I’m giving myself 15 minutes twice a week…should be done in 9 months (at time of remodel…a new closet forcing me to get rid of things I’ve hung onto for 10 years at least). I have been donating over the past year, and tonight your site has given me “boost” to continue. I enjoyed reading this! I will print and take to the closet! Thank you.

    • Amy July 25, 2014, 10:11 am

      Dear Patty,

      15 mins twice a week is a great way to break the big task into do-able portions. You’re going to love the results!

      All the best,

      • Patty July 25, 2014, 11:17 am

        I thought I was the only one…Thanks!

  • Elizabeth May 22, 2012, 12:16 pm

    i just did this and it feels amazing. I do a lot of photography for fun and I just graduated college last week and am now mostly working nights and relaxing during the day… so I have a lot of random pieces of clothing (vintage dresses and crazy hats for photoshoots, sweatpants and uggs from college days, and lots of black pants and black tops (work uniform), my closet is pretty much a hodge podge.
    Decided it was definetly time to purge and realized I had a bit of a shopping problem in the process, and resolved to not buy anything else unless i had a true need for it.

    Sold a bunch of stuff on ebay and donated much of it. Used the cash and paid off my student loans, currently paring down the credit card of doom! Now down to the stuff I really wear and use. Nice to have air between your hangers and empty space! Even nicer to be nearly out of debt!

    As for the comfort issue, I used to wear heels a lot and ‘fashion” shoes and now I have four bunions and 2 screwed up painful feet because of it. So consider your future. Bunion surgery and recovery is so not worth the ‘sexy’ shoes!

    Also, consider your essentials: everyone should own a perfect sundress, a pair of black flats, and a simple black skirt. these are pretty much staples.

    While were at this, I chucked my nylons during the closet clean, those are outdated now right? Or do people still wear these things? God Im 21 and I still have to ask these questions. Pshh.

    Love your blog. Enough of my rambles.

    • Amy May 22, 2012, 4:15 pm

      Hey Elizabeth!

      I just had fun checking out your photos on Flicker:

      I’m so glad you had such a productive time clearing out your closet. I love that it left you with new resolve to keep things simple in the future.

      And thank you for listing your wardrobe staples. I think it’s important to invest in high-quality essentials and then just wear them over and over.

      Thank you for your rambles — I loved hearing them all, Elizabeth!


  • Samantha June 21, 2011, 10:13 pm

    My brand new iMac ended up in the repair shop for two days and I was forced, begrudgingly, to find something off-line to do. Thank you for the encouragement because my closet has never been so sparse. When I wavered over an item, I remembered your line about not regretting a thread and tossed it in the giveaway pile.

    • Amy June 22, 2011, 10:34 am

      Hi Samantha,

      So sorry to hear about your iMac! Hope it’s all better now. I love our Mac.
      So cool that you were really able to pare down. I completely stand by not regretting a thread — I’ve even found more that I wish I had given away.

      Thanks for checking in!

  • Daisy May 26, 2011, 11:22 pm

    I just did a 15 minute power toss! It is such a relief. They were mostly clothes that I had held onto for a long time, they had made it through many previous clean outs, but this time I was ruthless.

    It felt so good once they hit the giant bag and once they were in there I didn’t second guess my decision. Now I need to get the giant bag to the salvos asap!

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Amy May 27, 2011, 12:43 pm

      Hi Daisy,
      I like the idea of giving yourself only 15 minutes to do your clearing out. Maybe the deadline forces you to be more ruthless?
      And I agree — the faster you can get the bag to Salvation Army, the better! Even just for the sigh of relief to be free of clutter.
      Thanks for writing in!

      • Daisy May 29, 2011, 7:40 pm

        The 15 minute time limit wasn’t intentional, it just happened to be all the time I had. I think I was pretty ruthless though, I probably would have agonised over the same decisions if I had planned to spend a whole afternoon.

        I like breaking big tasks up into smaller ones. It makes them less daunting and I suppose is a good way to be frugal with my time!

        I think today I’m going to take a look at my shoes. I’m sure I can part with quite a few in 15 minutes.

  • lilsunflowerz May 26, 2011, 9:21 pm

    I’ve been clearing out the house in anticipation for baby number 3 and it’s felt sooo good!

    I have been keeping track of every item I have donated using, for tax purposes.

    • mom May 26, 2011, 9:44 pm

      Maybe it’s my age showing, but one of the things I consider when deciding whether to pitch or hold on to something is comfort. If it’s not comfortable I will likely pass it up when selecting what to wear.


      • Amy May 27, 2011, 12:45 pm

        Hi Mom,

        You are so right — I should have put that on the list of 3 questions. Does it feel good in the sensory sense?

        In the old days, my mantra used to be “It’s better to look good than to feel good.” (That got me through many a pointy high-heel experience.) But these days — really, who has time to be uncomfortable? Life is too short!

        Love, Amy

    • Amy May 27, 2011, 12:47 pm

      Hello there, and congratulation on your upcoming bundle!

      I’ve never heard of

      I don’t normally track my donations, because it seems to be more trouble than its worth. Plus maybe it relieves guilt for not giving enough to people in need.

      But I know a lot of people appreciate this side-benefit of donating to charity. Thanks for the tip and best wishes for your new baby!


  • Jen @ Jen Spends May 26, 2011, 8:16 pm

    I did a lot of research into what kind of clothing flatters my figure as well as the wardrobe basics that everyone should have. I had a bad tendency to buy clothes just because they had interesting details, nice fabric, or a really cheap price tag – whether or not they really worked for me. Once I knew what I wanted my wardrobe to look like, it was a lot easier to part with the clothing that didn’t fit the bill. It is still very difficult giving up the “splurge” pieces that I can no longer afford to replace, but knowing that someone else can enjoy them through a charity makes me feel good. I’ve never regretted getting rid of something, so keeping that in mind makes it easier too.

    • Amy May 27, 2011, 12:51 pm

      Hi Jen,

      I love how you researched what is flattering to your figure and what are essential wardrobe pieces. That would make a great blog post!

      I too buy stuff because I like the fabric or color, but I’m trying to get away from that as well.

      Agreed on never regretting giving something away. Amazing, isn’t it? Considering how long and tightly we cling on to things.

      Thanks as usual for your thoughtful comment,