tips and tricks for purging the closet

It was time for another lazy gal’s guide! We were way overdue.

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Remember the time there was a beercanmoldpocalypse in our bathroom/bedroom, so things had to be um… removed? And in the process of that, I had a freak attack and decided that while we were at it, we may as well do our closet? Because I literally couldn’t handle it anymore, and it makes perfect sense to add more to the list, right?

This weekend, we cleared it out. We were all, Down with the wire shelving! And the builder’s beige. And soon to come? The florescent light. FOR. E. VER. {Who’s idea was it to put the most un-flattering light in the world in the havoc-ridden place where I try on clothes and then feel bad about myself because my propensity for blaring white in the winter is multiplied by said florescent?}

DIE, florescent light. Die.

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And so the house looked like this. {As if the bathroom and bedroom weren’t already out of control.} This is what happens when you store paintings, art, all things clothes, and a preserved wedding dress in your closet. 

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And I felt like this.

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It has to get worse before it gets better… it has to get worse before it gets better… She sang in a creepy voice as she rocked in the fetal position, eating her third Hershey’s bar.

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If you remember this summer, we changed our master closet over to the family closet, for everyone. So this is our entire family’s clothes. Read: no judging. Because this weekend, we purged even more, and then moved the remainder of the little bits’ clothes and pajamas that were residing in their dressers, to their new home in the closet. Everyone’s clothes in one space. Do you know how easy it will be now to put away the laundry? How quickly we can get ready? I couldn’t be more thrilled. But it’s taken us a while to get there.

I was amazed at how much a little purge, and a little organization can free up that valuable real estate that is our closet. But it all starts with the purge. So today, I thought we’d cover what we’ve learned in the process. Because we’re practically pros now. I mean, this is our third round, after all. And purging a closet is not for the faint of heart.

1. Purge it. And then purge it again. And again.

I find that I reach for the same old clothes over and over again, even though my closet is filled with lots of options. Why? A. They’re familiar faves B. Too many choices can be overwhelming. There’s also other subtle reasons, like maybe it looked better on the rack. Or maybe it was a good deal. My closet is literally a graveyard metaphor for buyer’s remorse. It’s also that cliché moment of bemoaning that I have nothing to wear while I stare like a hopeless ingrate at one hundred frocks. So I have two choices. I can either 1. Diversify my choices or 2. Purge them all. I’m going for option 3. Purge the unnecessary so that I can see my new diverse choices while maximizing my space and ensuing stress level (since I’m obviously not a zillionaire with the ability to replace everything). Tada! It’s a win, right? {Maybe just semi-win, since I’m sans zilloinaire.}

But how?

Reducing the stuff in your closet can feel a lot like the never ending process of laundry… because it’s just that. A sophisticated (?) way of managing your laundry. And with the styles, your changing preferences and body, comes the purge. Over and over again. This coming from the girl who up until a little over a year ago, had never really parted with anything. I was still holding on to the pre-pregnancy clothes, the the clothes right after baby three… the clothes in between… even a few tops from college {ew} and so it was time. And as it turns out I was in lethal combo with Jamin, who is a bit of a clothes horse himself. We were practically drowning in cardigan sets and youth ministry t-shirts complicated with bad bad ties from the 90′s and questionable dress suit choices. Recipe for disaster. So it was time to take a good, hard long look at our closet.

It was the most freeing process in all the world. And then a few months passed, and it was time to do it again. And again. Because that’s just how our closets work. Don’t completely repeat the past, but stay diligent, and be ready to be a part of a continual process. Get past the initial purge, and then look critically at your closet from then on out.

And if you still feel overwhelmed after purging bag after bag, maybe it’s time to rethink your system… See: the insanity that we are currently entrenched in. More on that, coming soon.

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2. Ask yourself the hard questions. 

Now that we’ve established that this happens in stages, be ready to give yourself a good afternoon to go through your closet, the first time around. Be willing to try on your clothes and evaluate. Should you part with everything? No. Should you not hold on to those Birkenstocks in hopes that they’re coming back around? Probably.

{Guilty.}

Work in groupings: A definitely keep pile (you need to feel passionately about it) Maybe, (with a limit of a given number, and only if you’re torn) and definitely out pile. Note: Don’t sub-divide the sections. I tend to do this. Maybe: after I lose five pounds, or Maybe: because I feel guilty that I purchased this and then decided I didn’t like it. Keep it black and white (with little bit of grey) and you’ll thank yourself for not over-thinking it. After you’ve gone through the first time, go through the maybe pile and definitely pile, again. If you’re still not sure, set the piles aside for a few weeks to revisit. With major promises to actually follow through.

And ask yourself:

1. Would I buy this now?

Don’t hold on to it because you might need it later. It’s simple: If you may need it later, then you would buy it now. Right? I have these visions of holding on to truly great, potentially vintage clothes because my kids might need them for a book report in Jr. High one day, and I won’t have to go to the thrift store. Isn’t that when we all dug through our parent’s closets? I have issues. Jamin had this horrid Hawaiian shirt (that I stayed on him about ditching) and now I’m kinda bummed he parted with it even though he hasn’t worn it in twelve years. (This was a big step for him.) And maybe I did hold on to two of my prom dresses (after I tried one on and couldn’t get the zipper to move past my ribs, just for kicks and dress up parties and I have a secret weirdo fantasy my only daughter may wear it one day.) There’s a few exception to the rules, but really. Try to stick with it.

2. Does this still fit me? If not, why are you holding on to it?

It’s that easy. If it doesn’t fit you anymore, throw it out. If you’re close, put it in the ‘maybe’ pile for a while.

Exception to the rule: Prom dresses (duh) and did you have a baby in the last two years? Or maybe some major life change like a surgery that’s knocked you off your feet?

I tell my friends all the time to give your body two years. Honestly, everyone is different and it may take three just to feel your new normal again. You may never return to those old clothes, and that’s fine. My point? Give yourself some grace. We live in a culture of get-it-together-Vogue-ready-models three months post partum. And goodforthem, but I’m pretty sure those chicks also have personal trainers, nannies and nutritionists along with a nice healthy dose of photoshop… so enough already, for the love. Everyone is different. My point? I gave away a few of my pre-baby clothes because I was over it six months after our youngest was born. Guess what? I gave them away because I thought I’d never wear them again in a pity party for one, and I was wrong. Just don’t go crazy and throw out all your clothes because you’re having a down day. Wait a while. You’re totally allowed to hold on for a bit. And wait until your hormones have leveled off. I’ve also had meltdown sessions after baby, and those aren’t fun either. There should be a three-month rule to stepping in that closet again. Because nothing feels right and there’s nothing as hard as adjusting to your (new) body. Life is hard enough after this huge transition. Your body just made a miracle, so remember that… and take it easy on yourself. Rant over.

3. If it still fits me, does it make me feel awesome when I put it on?

Obviously there are different levels of awesome. Awesome yoga pants are not the same as awesome little black dresses. Acknowledge your clothing go-to-weaknesses and just try to keep each section to a reasonable, manageable amount. When in doubt? Ask a friend or significant other to help you sort. And stick with your gut… because when you put it on and it makes you feel weird, your opinion probably won’t change.

4. When is the last time I really wore this?

If it’s guilt… (see: gifts or stupid purchases you now regret) gladly donate. This should compensate for the guilt: someone will probably be grateful to receive it.

I was told that you should go through the process of turning your hangers around a separate way, or hang them in a different place once you’ve worn them through a certain amount of time. If you still haven’t touched them, out they should go.

5. After all that, is it still worth the real estate in your closet… or your mental sanity?

A little less clutter can go a long way. Consider that alternative.

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3. Cut back on what you’re bringing in. 

Obviously this is something you’ll want to try to stick to, once you’ve cut down on your closet. It’s one of the biggest rules to help simplify your life, anyway. We’ve drastically cut back in the past year, and have noticed a huge difference in the level of satisfaction, simplicity and all out clutter in our lives. (Yes, I know the photos are certainly not evident of this – I’m keeping it real, so trust me with the ‘reveal’.) I’ve found that I shopped more after I was through my child-bearing phase of life, trying to find my identity, in a way. And while a new shirt with a girls night out can certainly brighten your day, knowing when to reel it in with shopping a sale just for the sake of shopping a sale… can make you feel pretty great, too. Be a little more sensitive to what you’re bringing in your home, and make sure those purchases really count. It can help with those feelings of clutter overwhelmption. (If models can be photoshopped, can use non-words if I want to) And that’s just the beginning.

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What are some of your favorite tips for purging those clothes? Have you tackled that oh-so-intimidating master closet yet? We know we couldn’t possibly cover them all in one post, so spill it! We’d love to hear some of your tips!


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10 Responses to tips and tricks for purging the closet

  1. Linda says:

    Congratulations on going back into your closet and making those hard decisions! I’ve purged closets more times than I can remember, because we move house (and occasionally country) a lot and I regularly get tempted by “bargains”. ! Currently I have small and separate winter and summer closets, and just did another purge. I have realized that I keep making the same mistakes over and over again, and finally decided that I have to force myself to buy some great clothes (both kids now grown up and off the payroll!) and stay away from sale rails and discount stores. Not that sale rails and discount stores are a bad thing, but I need to make some serious purchases of clothes that look great on me, and not be tempted by clothes that are just ok and a “bargain”. Some people have the knack of putting outfits together but I don’t, and need the help of a department store personal shopper.
    I do have a “keep pile” of great jeans and trousers that will stay until the end of the summer in the hope that I can fit into them again, and attending WeightWatchers is helping me towards that goal. If I don’t get there by Labor Day they are going to the thrift store. In short, I’d rather have an organized closet with a few wonderful clothes that I wear often, rather than just “so-so” things that don’t really hit the mark.

    • Brooke says:

      Linda – You are so.right.on with the buying ‘so-so’ things just cause they’re a bargain (and don’t we all live to brag about a great deal!?) but I have to keep reminding myself that with all of the bargain so-so purchases that are just ok I could have bought something really fabulous that I’ll love for much longer!!

  2. Cecilia says:

    I just did our closet…actually talked the hubby into getting rid of stuff he never wore! Woohoo! I like your two year rule! I’ve decided to get rid of the so-so clothes and things I’m not 100% comfortable in. Sounds like another purge!

  3. Em says:

    A friend and I did a closet challenge after our initial purge…we started at one side of the closet and went straight through. If you couldn’t wear the item for one day, you had to toss it. (We did shirts only since we were both in baby-having season and need to save those bigger pants:). I realized by the time I got to work one day that I should have tossed the Gap yellow argyle sweater circa 2001;)…not a good look!

  4. Tennille Mykula says:

    Great post! I’m a little more vicious than you in the purging process, no maybe-him-and-haw pile for me but that’s ok. Different strokes, right? My only piece of advice is one I just recently completed myself. I recently experienced an abnormal increase in my weight due to hormonal imbalance and thyroid issues. tThe clothes hanging in my closet that didn’t currently fit were a constant reminder of the out-of-control state I am currently experiencing. Unwanted weight can be such a stressful issue without the added stress of seeing all those tiny outfits everyday. After a year of looking at all the jeans that no longer fit me, and knowing that getting the weight off is less important than getting my health back on track, I simply got a clear bin, took all the jeans that I still love and will wear later, packed them away and took them to the basement. I know I’ll get back into them as my health issues get figured out but I felt like they were taunting me every time I opened the closet. I removed them and I feel much better when I’m choosing from a selection of clothing that I know fit and flatter for right now. Secondly, figure out what sort of laundry management style you are. My husband is a hanger, I’m a folder. Make sure when you’re re-doing your closet to include storage options that work for both of you. We have a lot more hanging storage than I’d like and I’ve had to get used to a whole new system of dealing with my clothes. There are much bigger fish to fry than dealing with clothes so find a system that is efficient for everyone using the closet. Happy purging!

  5. I absolutely love that you put these “real” photos of your gorgeous home. All great things start with a giant mess, don’t they!?

  6. Erika says:

    Very practical and pragmatic advice. With regards to tip #3 I buy way too much yoga wear (I can’t resist good yoga pants), shoes, and handbags. I need to re-think my priorities. Good article.

  7. Linda says:

    I purged my husbands/my closet recently — 1. I took my time! 2. I made a “maybe stack” and waited until the next day to purge this! 3. I then hung all dresses together and color coordinated blouses, pants, skirts! 4. I purged shoes and purses last (because they are my fave!) The job was a success! I gave myself 2 days to complete this so I wasn’t overwhelmed and feeling the need to throw in the towel ! (I did hang on to a few of our HS tshirts…) and the following week, a friend called “My son is selling tshirts to help their baseball team out, will you buy one?” My answer “No, but I would be glad to donate $” Happy purging!

  8. Pingback: how to survive a renovation | the handmade home

  9. Amanda Hes says:

    I have purged closets more than anything else in our lives. Somehow a beautifully clean closet goes right back to insanity in a matter of months. I am not a big shopper so i am not sure where the clothes appear from, but i do use my guest bedroom closets as a “store-for-several-months-if you-want-them-they-go-back-in” whirl-pool of disaster. This i have to stop, if i am willing to go put it across the house for any period of time then it needs to go.
    Progress is progress none-the-less. And less is more, right? right!
    Thanks for the constant inspiration, i adore this series!