How to Declutter your Closet for Good (+ Save Money and Reduce Waste)
Paring down the closet. Does the thought give you chills? I have heard from so many people (and experienced myself) how overwhelming the thought of decluttering your closet can be.
Why is that?
Our closet holds a lot of emotions. When I decluttered my closet, a lot of guilt came up over buying things I didn’t need and didn’t necessarily even want. I also experienced sadness. I was holding on to a lot of pre-baby clothes- you know, for when I got my ‘pre-baby body’ back. Why would we want to purposely dive head first into sorting these emotions when it is much easier to just shut the closet door and keep going on with life?
Getting rid of these items meant I had to accept that I had spent money I didn’t necessarily have on things I didn’t need or want. It also meant I had to accept that, after two years after having my son, I may not get back to my ‘pre-baby’ body. It also meant letting go of my ‘pre-baby’ life, which was something I was unintentionally holding on to as well. Not that I didn’t love my son, but I struggled post-partum and in a way did miss those times.
Of course, there were other emotions hiding in my closet, but those were the two main ones. Ultimately though, I realized that this was a lot of negative emotions that I didn’t need going through my head each time I got dressed or put away laundry. And if you’re like me, those thoughts don’t go away once I was dressed or the laundry was done. They lingered and bothered me. It may not seem like a lot, but all those thoughts and emotions add up throughout the day.
While it wasn’t always easy getting rid of some of the items, I knew ultimately it would be for the better. And you know what? I honestly felt so free and light after I got rid of them. And imagine how much mental clutter I was/am avoiding each and every day!
Emotions are the only thing holding us back from decluttering our closet. Here are some other common reasons:
- You have items that probably can’t be donated (too worn), but you don’t want to throw them away because they are still usable, so you just hang on to them. But then you never actually wear them again.
- You have items that you *might* use these someday, even though you don’t love them, but you hate to give away a perfectly good pair of shoes or pants or whatever. But then you never actually wear them again.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you can relate. And that’s why decluttering the closet can be one of the harder places. But with a little guidance (hi!), you can do it just like I did!
I always start out my decluttering projects by doing the same prep work (which I will get into in a moment). Note that there are tons of different decluttering methods. There is the KonMari method, Swedish Death Cleaning, and more. I do a combo of all of them. If there is a method that works better for you, great! Otherwise, feel free to pick and choose different components from the different methods to find a way that works best for you.
Prepare your space
First, I want you to gather six bags/boxes/piles and label them with the following categories:
- give away to friends/family
- move (if an item doesn’t belong and needs to be moved somewhere else)
Having these ready to go makes it a lot easier to keep track of what you are doing, and less likely to get overwhelmed. It also can help to track your progress and keep you motivated by seeing all the things you are giving away/selling.
Have a plan
The second thing I always recommend is to have a plan for where the particular piles/bags/boxes are going to go. Make sure you have specific people or places in mind for the following categories:
- give away (to whom)
- donate (where to)
- sell (where?)
- recycle (where?)
- host a clothing swap
Knowing this ahead of time gives you fewer excuses to keep the items (trust me, I told myself all the excuses in the past), and ensures that you DO SOMETHING WITH THE ITEMS as soon as you declutter, so they don’t just become clutter in another area of your house (like the garage/attic/top of closet).
If you are in need of some ideas on where to give away/donate/sell particular items, I have compiled a giant list of places in my post on how to declutter and stay eco-friendly and ‘How to Recycle and Get Rid of Clothes (Responsibly)’.
The idea is to actually do something with the items so they don’t end up in the landfill. Americans throw away an average of 82lbs of clothing a year! I know what you’re thinking: “I’ll just donate them!”. However, I’ve got some bad news. Just because you donate an item doesn’t mean it won’t end up in a landfill (up to 40% of clothing donated ends up in the landfill according to Goodwill). I’d imagine this number is similar for thrift stores as well.
That being said, the two posts listed above will show you how and where to give away/donate/recycle clothing and other textiles so they don’t end up in the trash.
Ok- back to decluttering.
After doing a bit of prep work, you’re ready to get going. I like to have some energizing music or interesting podcast going, a yummy snack and beverage nearby, and get to work.
Declutter by category
One thing that helped me break down the work was going through each category of clothing one-by-one. This helped me stay on task, and also allowed me to break up the project in chunks in case I couldn’t work on everything all in one day.
For each category of clothes, take them all out and put them in a pile, KonMari style. Then go through each item one by one. Try it on if you need to. I personally don’t like trying on clothes, so if that became a sticking point (which it sometimes would), I skipped it. For the most part, I knew if a piece of clothing fit or not.
As I was going through each item, I would ask myself the following questions:
- Do I LOVE it?
- Is it an item I constantly reach for when it’s clean?
- Have I worn it in the last six months?
- Does it fit how I like it to?
If the answer isn’t a resounding ‘yes’ to any of those questions, then I donated/gifted it.
Here are the categories I broke my clothes into. I did one or two each day, depending on how many items were in each category. This helped prevent overwhelm and too much stress. If that works for you, great. If you’d rather tackle them all in one day, go for it!
- Pants, skirts, and shorts
- Undergarments and socks
- Dress clothes (see this post for information on what to do with bridesmaid, bridal, and prom dresses)
- Workout clothes
- PJs (which I realized had become a catchall for old t-shirts I felt guilty getting rid of)
- Accessories (jewelry, purses, wallets, scarves, ties, etc)
As you’re going through each category and item of clothing, remember to sort according to the boxes/piles you set up at the beginning of the process. Here is a reminder in case you forgot:
- give away to friends/family
- move (if an item doesn’t belong and needs to be moved somewhere else)
Really, that’s it. Remember to remain patient with yourself as you work through. And if you find yourself getting overwhelmed or hitting roadblocks, take a break.
Here’s a hint. You WILL hit roadblocks. But don’t worry, I’m sharing ways to get through the most common ones below.
Hard to declutter items
You may come across some items that you really struggle with for whatever reason. Maybe they are sentimental, or maybe you just don’t know if you should get rid of it. Here are three of the roadblocks I came across during my decluttering journey.
If you have items you are holding on to because they are sentimental, check out my guide on how to get rid of those items here (guilt free). One specific example I came across in my closet was vintage jewelry.
If you have vintage jewelry that you’re not interested in holding on to any longer, a quick Google and Pinterest search (‘what to do with vintage jewelry) brought up a ton of ideas for me. Otherwise, check with a local community theater group, local high school or middle school theater group, or daycare/schools for dress up pieces. Finally, you can try giving it away in a local community group online. You never know what someone may be looking for!
“I might need this…”
If you are holding on to an item because you just aren’t sure if you’ll need it, or you’re feeling anxious that you WILL need it in the future, put the item in a box, write a date on the box for 3-6 months from now (set a reminder in your calendar), and wait. If at the end of the 3-6 months you haven’t missed the item, move forward knowing you can gift/donate them.
Note that I’m not talking about seasonal items here. I’m talking about that item you haven’t worn in a year but you’re still holding on to it ‘just in case’. In my case, it was my ‘pre-baby clothes’.
Overwhelmed with guilt or another emotion
Feeling guilty about the money spent on an item? I get that. But guess what. The money has already been spent. Letting the item take up physical and mental space isn’t going to change that. What helped me in this scenario was asking myself if it would make me happy knowing that there was someone ‘out there’ who would be able to use and enjoy the item. 99.9% of the time, the answer was yes. So, I accepted that I was feeling guilty about it, but accepted the joy in imagining someone else using the item, and let it go.
Moving forward: Tips to further reduce clutter, save money, and/or reduce waste
I already mentioned some ways you can help avoid clothes clutter from coming back in. Ultimately though, you’re going to be in a position where you will need new clothes, shoes, and accessories. So what can you do to remain clutter free and eco-friendly?
One item in, one item out rule
Follow the one item in, one item out rule. If you are tempted to buy something, think of something you already own that you will get rid of in its place. And no, you can’t swap a pair of pants for a necklace. Like items only! This trick has helped me avoid buying things ‘just because’. It has helped prevent impulse buys as well. It forces me to be mindful about my purchases. Now, because I only have things in my closet that fit me and that I enjoy wearing, when I DO need a new item, it is to replace another item.
Limit one-time-use items
You get invited to a fancy work party, but you have nothing to wear! In the past, you would go out and head to a bunch of different stores and spend a ton of money on a dress you’ll likely only wear once (although you’ll tell yourself you’ll wear it more often than that). But chances are, you’ll buy that dress and after wearing it that one night, it’ll sit in the back of your closet until who knows when.
If you do find you need a particular item for a one-time occasion, be honest with yourself about if you’re going to wear it more than once. If the answer is ‘no’, consider the following:
- asking a friend if they have anything you could borrow (this goes for jewelry, shoes, clothes, etc)
- putting a ISO (in search of) post out in your local community groups (Buy Nothing, Freecycle, Nextdoor, Facebook Marketplace, etc).
- check out services like Rent the Runway
- If all else fails, consider buying secondhand and then reselling on ThredUP, Poshmark, or another second hand clothing site
Create a capsule wardrobe
A capsule wardrobe is a wardrobe that consists of ‘x’ number of pieces of clothing and accessories (the rules vary depending on the person). The kicker is that all or most of the clothing items all work with each other – allowing for less clothes overall. Having a capsule wardrobe means you don’t have to think about what you want to wear, because no matter what you pick, they work together. Yay for less decision fatigue! This concept is fairly popular in the minimalism lifestyle for the reasons mentioned above. If you want more tips and resources regarding capsule wardrobes, check out my Pinterest board here.
If you have any clothes that can’t be worn or donated, consider upcycling them. Shirts can become cleaning cloths, ‘paper’ towels, tissues, or reusable produce bags. Same with pants. Get creative and use Pinterest as a resource.
What if the item is still usable but not in ‘sellable’ condition? You can always try giving it away. I often give something away for free as ‘play condition’ (talking about kids clothes and shoes, for example). I’ve never had an issue finding someone to take it. On the other side, I’ve accepted many items in ‘play condition’ that someone was giving away! I love having items that I don’t have to worry about keeping clean for activities such as gardening, playing in the mud, etc.
When it comes to accessories, there are lots of ideas for upcycling items like jewelry. For some reason, I was holding on to a lot of broken necklaces and bracelets. I think I hoped that I would somehow magically figure out how to fix them (note: they weren’t fixable), so I held on to them. I also felt bad through them away, because some pieces were still good.
Someone in my Trash Talkers Zero/Low Waste Facebook group suggested putting the pieces up for free on one of my local buy/sell/trade/giveaway groups because sometimes jewelry makers can use the pieces. So I did, and they were claimed in a couple of hours!
Another option for broken jewelry pieces would be to repurpose as pieces for crafts.
Shop second hand
Buying second hand is the most cost-effective and waste-friendly option because you’re not consuming a new item that required new resources. Second hand is my go-to, personally, because there are so many shopping options!
ThredUP is my favorite for clothes that I buy for myself, because I can find brand-name items where I already know the size I need, but there are many others:
- Facebook Marketplace
- Buy Nothing Group
- Local community garage sale groups
- Garage sales
- Local thrift stores
You can find some amazing deals just by planning ahead and doing a little bit of legwork.
Do you like switching up your wardrobe? Do you have kids that grow out of their clothes every other month? Consider hosting a clothing shop with your friends, neighbors, and/or community members! Clothing swaps are a great way to get new items (for free) and declutter items you no longer want/need- ensuring that the items actually go to someone who wants them instead of in the landfill.
For more information on how to host your own, check out my Pinterest board here.
Textile Recycling & Composting
If you aren’t able to sell, donate, give away, or upcycle, check your local area for textile recycling. Many large recycling facilities will take textiles. Northface, Levi’s and other companies also take any brand of textiles for recycling. Check out my post here for more textile recycling resources.
Got shoes that need to be recycled? Some companies will take them back and recycle. Again, the resource above will provide more info.
Furthermore, if an item is made with 100% natural fabric (cotton, hemp, etc), it can be composted! Check out my mega guide on composting in any sized space here.
Ethical and Sustainable Clothing
If second hand is not an option for future clothes buying purposes, consider investing in some sustainable and ethical clothing pieces. While these pieces may cost more upfront, if you can swing it, the quality is usually better and therefore the item will last a lot longer. I have personally found that these types of items also have a better resale value if you plan on selling after you’re done using a particular item.
For example, I purchased some Keen hiking boots for well, hiking, and I have been using them for over 10 years (and over hundreds of miles). I think they were around $150, so divide that by 10 = $15 a YEAR.
I have two Pinterest boards dedicated to these topics for more info:
Clothes Donation Box
Finally, a great way to keep your closet decluttered is to have a spot for any items you no longer need/want. One thing that has helped my family and I keep closet clutter down is to have a designated ‘donation’ box in the closet (know I say donation losely- this box can be for items we plan on gifting, selling, etc). Anytime we come across an item we no longer want/need, it goes right in the box! When the box gets full, we gift/sell/donate.
Did you know this post is part of a decluttering/waste reduction/money saving series? Check out two other posts:
- How to Declutter your Kitchen For Good (+ save money and reduce waste!)
How to Declutter Your Bathroom for Good (+Save Money and Reduce Waste!)