The No-Stress Guide To Cleaning Out Your Closet



This is it. It’s time. It’s time to attack, head-on, the looming problem you face each morning: your closet.

You clear you schedule, set aside a weekend and vow that this time, THIS TIME, you will purge. You will be reasonable, sensible, and not be distracted by emotional attachments to inanimate objects.

You will take a good hard look at yourself and only choose the items you love. The items that represent you as a person.  The items that bring JOY.  And when you are finished…..ahhhh.

Visions of white, light-drenched spaces filled with a single eames chair and sheepskin rug (casually tossed onto the chair) come to mind. A single flower in a simple, colorful vase, matching hangers (rose gold, perhaps?) from which your artfully curated wardrobe will hang….yes. You can see it. You can feel it. You are almost there….



You turn to your closet, wardrobe perfection shining brilliantly in your mind. You start off strong: Wrinkled blazer that you haven’t worn in 5 years? GONE.  Red sweater that washes you out because it’s not the right shade of red? GONE. Ugly skirt that was a gift? GONE. Bootcut jeans? GONE. No, wait. They might come back. Ok, keep those. Onward!! Stained tee? GONE. Plaid shirt you only wore once? GON- oh, it’s missing a button. Hunh. Maybe you didn’t wear it because it was missing a button? I mean, how can you evaluate it honestly if a button is missing? Ok, keep and fix the button, THEN decide.

“Stay strong!!” you vow, and continue….riiiiight up until the tshirts. I mean…they’re perfectly good tshirts. There’s nothing wrong with them, you paid good money for them, you just… don’t…. wear….them.
But it’s OK!!  You need to wear something to bed, right? And around the house?  Or to work out? OH THANK GOD. THE TSHIRTS CAN STAY. They are now just repurposed into house/bed/workout shirts. How clever you are!!

Then, you turn to your jeans. Most of them are designer. You can’t get rid of DESIGNER clothes, right? Shouldn’t you keep them for posterity? Your daughter/daugher-in-law/grand-daughter? Yes, of course you should. She will thank you later. Oh crap. What’s this?  A shirt with the tags on?  Ouch.  Maybe you could sell it?  Speaking of, maybe you could sell the designer bootcut jeans?  Shoot – you’ll need to start a “sell it” pile now.

Before long, after constantly second guessing and dithering and worrying (am I making the right choice?  am I facing future devastation years from now??)  the closet cleanout looks like this:



Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Pretty much all of the closet cleanouts I’ve worked on have followed this pattern. Here’s how to break the cycle, and create a working closet you LOVE. I can’t promise pretty Pinterest anything, but I can help you conquest the wardrobe mess once and for all.


Step One:  Understand the Ultimate Goal

The goal here, in a closet clean-out, is to arrive at a functioning closet, capable of inspiring outfits that fit the life you are actually living.

For most of us, a closet capable of inspiring new outfits needs to be a manageable size – where each item can be easily viewed.

Secondly, these outfits need to represent you.  An understanding of how you define ‘good style’ – what is your own personal style? – will be really helpful.  For a quick and easy method to determine your personal style, you might want to run through this exercise.

Step Two:  Remove the Fear

The biggest hurdle in any closet clean-out is fear.  Will this come back into style?  Will I like it better once I lose 10 lbs?  Is it cool and I just don’t know?  Will I regret giving this away?  et cetera, et cetera.

So let’s remove the fear.  For this method, you will not be throwing anything away.  Let me repeat:  YOU WILL NOT BE THROWING ANYTHING AWAY.

I know this seems counter-intuitive, but just go with me.  The ultimate goal is to end up with a well-functioning closet, right?  To do that, we need to get rid of the fear, and listen to our intuition.

Step Three:  Block Out A Day (or Two)

There’s no getting around it – a thoughtful closet clean-out takes time.  Even a method as easy as this one.  So:  Block out a good solid day, find someone to watch the kids, and when the day comes take a shower and do your hair and makeup.  You’ll be staring at your face in the mirror all day – it helps if you like what you see.  (Also, if an item of clothing doesn’t look good when you look your best….it’s not gonna get any better at 6AM when you’re rushed and trying to get out the door.)


Step Four:  Create Three Zones In Your Room

I like to use laundry baskets for each zone, but piles around the room work just as well.  The zones are simply:




Zone 1:   LOVE IT

This zone is only for the pieces that make you swoon with joy, the pieces that give you a little rush of love.  I don’t care how often you’ve worn something (or not), or whether it ‘fits’ with your current lifestyle.  If the piece makes you happy, it goes into the LOVE IT pile.  Once the closet clean-out is complete, the LOVE IT pile will be hung back up in your closet.

Zone 2: HATE IT

These are the pieces that you’ve always secretly (or not so secretly) hated.  They are the odd colors that do nothing for your skin tone, the stretched out, shrunk in the wash, stained, or otherwise totally unattractive pieces.  If your first reaction when trying something on is “UGH!!”….throw it in the HATE IT pile.  Once the closet clean-out is complete, I strongly suggest throwing these into a garbage bag and donating them.  This is the one pile I do suggest getting rid of.

Zone 3:  DON’T KNOW

The DON’T KNOW pile is everything that didn’t spark an initial gut reaction.  It is the clothing you once liked but doesn’t currently fit.  It is the clothing that you are keeping in case you get pregnant again, stop nursing, or start nursing.  It is the clothing that may see new life if tailored.  It is all of the confusing pieces in your closet, and the likely culprits of past closet clean-out fails.  Based on experience, this will be the biggest pile by far.  That’s good!!  We’ll deal with this pile later.

Step Five:  Try On EVERYTHING, Assign To A Zone

Your job is to try on everything in your closet.  Put something on, look in the mirror, and give yourself only seconds to decide if you love it, hate it, or don’t know.

This gut reaction is important.  Why?  Because if we want to avoid getting bogged down by dithering and second guessing, we’ve got to clear the path somehow. Remember, there are no wrong answers – nothing will be thrown away.  So assign items to their proper piles without fear.  Go with your gut.  Don’t overthink.

A few other tips:

  • Start with pants and skirts – they’re the foundation of every outfit.  Wear one of your favorite (or most-worn) tops, and your fav shoes.  Try on every pair.  Pants that don’t fit (but you once loved) go into the Don’t Know pile.  Pants that need to be tailored go into the Don’t Know pile.  The only pants that can go into the LOVE IT pile are the pants that you currently wear and love.
  • When you try on tops, try them on with your favorite bottoms and high heels.  If your gut instinct is still ‘NOPE’ in heels, you won’t like that top any better in flat shoes.
  • Don’t forget to try on pajamas, workout clothes, and random bedtime sleep shirts.  They all get the same treatment – LOVE IT, HATE IT or DON’T KNOW.  Socks, tights, and underwear, too.  (You probably don’t need to try these on, but you do need to consider every single pair.)
  • Alternatively, you could try asking yourself, “Does this item bring me joy?”  This question is from the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  We used this method throughout the house before we moved last summer, and while it did bring clarity to my sock drawer, staring at my tired face in the mirror – clad in anything – did not bring me joy.  But it is another way of getting to your gut-level intuition.


Step 6 – Put Back Everything In The LOVE IT Zone

Once you’ve gone through all of your clothes and assigned them to a zone, anything in the LOVE IT zone can be hung back up in your closet.  For now, this is your entire wardrobe.

I know what you’re thinking:  “S!!  I don’t love anything in my closet!  I won’t have anything left to wear!!”

First of all, I hear this all the time.  Most people are pleasantly surprised by what they have left over.  And there’s still that DON’T KNOW pile we can raid, if we must.  But the goal is to try and live with nothing but “LOVE ITs” for two solid weeks.  (A month, if you can.)

Working with just your LOVE IT wardrobe will force you to get creative, see pieces and combinations in a new light.  You’ll be able to better understand exactly what you need (and take on the tricky ‘Don’t Know’ pile with a critical eye.

So for now, just hang up the LOVE ITs and move onto the next step.

Step 7 – Get the HATE ITS Out

Get ’em out.  If you can, throw them in a trash bag, take them to your car and send them off for donation.  If that stresses you out, then take that trash bag, label it HATE ITS with a sharpie and throw it into the basement.  The point is this:  one way or another, get them out of your closet.

Step 8 – Deal With The DON’T KNOW Zone

Ok, now for the tricky part.  At this point, your favorite pieces are hanging back up in your closet.  Your hated pieces are gone.  But you’re still facing a mountain of clothes in the middle of your room.  Here’s what to do:

A – Pull Out Anything You’ve Worn In The Last Month

If you’ve worn it in last month, pull it out of the DON’T KNOW zone.  These pieces don’t get to go back in your closet (not yet, anyway) but they should be on hand, just in case.  I like to throw these into a laundry basket and keep them next to the closet.  A garbage bag works just as well.

B – Pull Out Pieces To Be Tailored

If you have pieces that just need to be tailored, throw them into a shopping bag and put them by the door.

C – Pull Out Pieces For Your New Body

If you are currently trying lose weight, gain weight (hey new mama!!), breastfeed, recovery from surgery or any other such thing that can suddenly make a perfectly good closet full of clothes NOT FIT, pull out those pieces that you hope to fit into again someday.  Create two piles:  one for 6 months out, one for a year.   Throw into bins (or garbage bags) and label them correspondingly.  Pull them back out and reassess in 6 months, in a year. (Depending on life stage, you might also want to make a bag for Maternity, and another for Nursing / Post-Partum.)

D – Set Aside Emotional Pieces

What about your actual prom dress from the 90’s that you’ll never wear but can’t bear to part with?  Your husband’s old collage tshirt that says, “It’s All Good”?  Your grandmother’s scarf that isn’t your style but you keep around anyway?  Create a Clothing Treasury bin and set it aside.

E – Separate Everything Else by Type

Shirts go into one bin, pants in another, dresses and skirts into a third bin.  Label them, move them out of the closet and forget about them.  These bins are basically safety nets.  They’re not going anywhere, they’ll be there on that random day you freak out and start desperately searching for that one top that – finally – might work!!

And truthfully, sometimes it does.  There have been many occasions where I’ve raided my ancient DON’T KNOW bin only to fall in love with something all over again.  But be warned:  That love affair usually doesn’t last.  And the item eventually ends back up in the bin (sometimes within hours).  You gut instinct is usually best – but it’s scary!  So these safety nets are important.  At some point (heck, even years later) you can donate these bins.  When you’re ready.  No pressure.


Step 9 – Live With Only Your LOVE IT Wardrobe For Two Weeks

Now the fun begins!  Using only the pieces you love, see what new and interesting combinations you can create that fit your lifestyle.  Take pictures of outfits, or potential outfits, and keep a list of items your new wardrobe is missing.  Strategically pull pieces from your most-worn DON’T KNOW bin to fill in gaps as you go.  As you live with a closet you love, you’ll get a better sense of your own personal style, and understand what types of items work really well for you.


Step 10 – Now Onto Your Husband’s Closet!!

Haha just kidding.  Before we moved this summer, Mike did his own.  It took him all of 15 minutes.  He was all “No, No, No, Yes, Yes, Yes, Done.  Babe, what’s so hard about this?”

[deep cleansing breath]


Soooo…ignoring annoying men for the moment…..good luck!!!  I can’t wait to hear how your closet clean-outs go!





  1. But where are the before-and-after pics? I’m trying to enjoy a vicarious closet clean out here! :). I just read the Life Changing Magic of Tidying up and am totally stuck on her idea that clothes are easiest and where you should start. I’m nursing still and about 20lbs under my pre-pregnancy weight since this baby is dairy/soy/egg-sensitive and I have no idea what my body plans to do when we wean and my diet includes things like cheese and ice cream again. I have decided for now just to ditch things I hate (even if they are nursing things) and revisit all this when nursing isn’t part of the equation.

  2. I need to make another attempt at this so thanks for the inspiration! Last time (a couple of months ago) I was still in postpartum fog, spent the day being ruthless, put everything into bags and boxes, went for a shower and came back to find out 3 year old had emptied them all out to make a “clothes trampoline mountain”! Soooo, yeah, ask me where those piles of clothes are now…definitely not carpeting my closet 🙂

  3. Try selling your hate its and don’t knows before donating. There’s nothing more in-your-face then a sales rep at a Plato’s Closet telling you the clothes they aren’t purchasing are out of fashion, too worn, or not their thing. Eek. All of the tough love this gal’s closet needs! Plus, I just made $95 bucks to buy something I actually love and will wear. 😉 LOVE THIS POST!

  4. I did this about a year ago when my last baby turned one. Such an amazing feeling to throw away clothes that make you feel fat or self conscious, and to be able to see all the clothes you actually enjoy! Yes I agree, I’d love to see a picture of your closet. How many pieces do you have in your love it pile?

    • Oh and yes to selling the hates. I made over $300 on eBay! Makes it much less painful to get rid of things when it is turning into cash.

  5. I’m rereading this post a few times. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up has been haunting me too and I gave myself two weeks to get it done.

  6. Once again…what a fun and helpful post. And thanks for linking to your old find-your-style guide. Pinterest has been invaluable for helping me learn what styles I’m drawn to most – both for clothing and for decorating. I tend to LIKE almost anything if it’s done well, so finding out what I LOVE is often tricky. I did a big closet-purge about eighteen months ago and packed away 75% – just living with the favs. Because I didn’t have any pants or jeans that I really loved at the time, and I didn’t have much time to shop, I ended up wearing only skirts and my one dress for almost two months until I finally found a pair of skinnies. The whole thing was an invaluable experience in becoming “mindful” of my clothing and helped so much in developing a personal style. I unpacked the other boxes about six months later…and got rid of nearly everything.

    (Also, thanks for another good one from the Quotable Mike.)

  7. The first part of the post is EXACTLY me, down to a tee (I know, I’m hilarious). Along with getting rid of fear, I need to stop shopping all the sales, what I didn’t like at full price should not change when it is on sale, right?? And PS, my husband is the same, his “curated” collection of tees is hung in the closet (wha?!) and he has 3 pairs of jeans. (double wha?) More room for me I guess 😉

  8. Intellectually, I understand the suggestion to put on makeup, but practically, it’s way easier to try clothes on without it. If I’m wearing make-up, I inevitably end up with make-up stains all over my clothes!

    I do think everything needs to be tried on. If it elicits an uggh or a meh, there is no use for it in your life!

  9. Great post. The only thing I would add is use that seconds to decide gut rule when buying. And same for trying tops with nice bottoms and vice versa. And shop with hair and makeup done! My new purchases must be AMAZING.

  10. This post is awesome! Do the same rules apply with shoes too? Do you think it would be helpful to have a pen and paper handy to make a list of the things you really need to get or replace that would work with your love it wardrobe? I am desperate for a blazer that I could wear with about 10 different things and I need a new pair of black heels, etc., etc?

  11. I did this last year when I read Kondo’s first book and I am in the process of reading the second book since it didn’t quite take with non-clothes items (although I did donate 6 winter coats, tossed/donated 22 pairs of shoes, and got rid of 4 full trash bags of clothes!) For me, paper/mail is my white whale, but I do plan to revisit the clothes after this baby (#2) is born and I can make a fair assessment of what does and doesn’t fit my body/life.

  12. You totally motivated me. I had already cleaned out a ton. Clothes, work stuff, pjs, workout…anything I did not love. Then…i figured out what I needed (good weekend stuff!) and went and bought it, today! Expensive jeans on sale!!!! Interesting sweatshirt, two cute tops that I love. Thanks! Even took a dressing room selfie for my bestie!

  13. I put the Kono and several other methods to use on my closet. I hang up tee shirts, but I only have two. I turned my hangers backwards, but since I pulled my Hate It clothes first, it didn’t take long to either wear items or pull them out. Several small bags for Goodwill, and hangers for my dry cleaners. I haven’t had a chance to wear my wool winter coat yet, but it stays, of course. I still need to try on all of my bathing suits, or just keep the two newest ones. Thanks for describing your process.

  14. Yes! This was totally me! Then, I got a little more serious and started a capsule for my maternity wear, then I read Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and got a little more ruthless, but I love the idea of just putting back the “loves”. I am still doing a capsule and I think that would be a great way to approach spring. Excellent post and loving your blog!

    • Yes to the capsule! Mine just sort of happened before I even knew what a capsule wardrobe was and just decided to wade through the “I’m done having babies and nursing and it’s time to have a closet that reflects that…and me…and modernity….” mess and realized how little I really wanted but how many good basics I desperately needed. Now it’s about filling in the real holes really thoughtfully and infusing my closet with touches of the right trends for me. There’s no Eames chair but ti’s never been easier to get dressed, either. 😉

  15. Great post! It’s hard to think I could add anything to such a succinct and directed set of rules… but, one thing might work that always helps me decide in fitting rooms is: turn away from the mirror while you put it on. Don’t look at yourself for the first few seconds. Can you move your arms? Walk? Does it itch? If it’s an annoying cut, there’s hardly any point in looking – I dump it!

    • How right you are!!! I have found that some items that I tried on or simply held didn’t spark joy but I could quite put a finger on why. So I kept them and when I wore them there was something that made them uncomfortable to wear. Pants needed to be pulled up, capes that restricted movement, shirt that flew up with the slightest breeze showing my mom belly. It took wearing them to figure it out and now I make all new purchases pass the comfort test.

  16. I’ve been following this blog for a couple years. Gotten so many ideas and lots of inspiration. Not just from each contributor’s style, but how you share your encounters with motherhood. Motherhood is HARD. But so awesome. And I love being able to feel good, and myself, while doing it. I’ve set aside Thursday, gotten a sitter, plan to play music i love, and enjoy the process. Thank you for the direction you provided with this post!

  17. Awesome post! We just moved into a house with NO closet… let that sink in… NO closet whatsoever. So, my task will be to ruthlessly edit down my boxes of clothes and artfully place them back into whatever armoire or chifferobe or wardrobe rack I decide to use. This post is genius and I will follow it religiously! Thanks, S! xo

  18. I am doing this today. So far I’ve done pants, skirts, and dresses. Whew, it’s been 3 hrs! I have very little love it and have had to include “really like” in this category. I am finding many things that i love that I did not realize fit me, What a gift! My youngest is now 4 and I guess I am officially back to my original weight. Also, I am realizing that I can’t find what I love because it buried in what doesn’t work! I better get back to it. I only have 3 more hours till the kids get back and then it will probably be another 5 years before I have a whole day to myself!

    • I’m finally done. My brain hurts. I went through everything. It probably took me about 10 hrs total. I had stuff from almost 20 yrs ago! And I’m not even 40 yet!!! I have a mountain of stuff to get rid of but what I have left is awesome. And its nice to have the don’t know stuff in a different place. My dresser drawers open easily and I can actually see what I have to work with. I have a really good idea of what I need to go out and get. Thank you Shana. I am grateful to have had this post to refer to all day!

Leave a Reply