Your Closet Might Be a Mess, Here’s How to Declutter It

Jon Fesmire | August 4, 2021 @ 8:00 AM

Remember Monica on the sitcom Friends? She was a compulsive cleaner and kept the girls’ apartment looking immaculate, but she had a secret. If you were to look in the living room closet, you’d find it stuffed with everything she didn’t have a place for. And we mean stuffed. It’s like she took all the chaos you might find in an apartment and channeled it into one hidden place. When her friends discover it, a visibly mortified Monica screams, “No!”

Now, think about some closets you’ve seen in your lifetime. Sometimes they’re messy, though rarely as disorganized as Monica’s, and sometimes they’re perfectly organized. Whatever state your closet is in, let’s go over how to organize it so that when you go to pick out a jacket, a dress, slacks, or shoes, you’ll go away with a smile.

Give Yourself Time

Ideally, set aside a few hours. If you focus on your closet for two to three hours, you should be able to get it done in one session. If it takes longer, that’s all right, too. Put on a podcast, an audiobook, or your favorite music and get started. The larger the closet, though, the longer it can take. If you have a cluttered walk-in closet, we suggest taking several sessions to get it organized. You’ll be so glad when you’re done, though, and you’ll feel an enormous sense of accomplishment. Keep that in mind.

Sort and Declutter

Some will tell you to take everything out of your closet and put it in a large pile. If you want to do that, you can, but as long as you don’t put things back in your closet until you’ve sorted through everything, you’re doing it right.

We recommend you collect a few things before you get started. Here’s what you’ll need, and how to use them for sorting and decluttering.

  • Two Laundry Baskets

One is for clothes you’re keeping and one is for things you might keep. Call this last one a “maybe basket.”

  • One Garbage Bag

This is for clothing and other items that you don’t need, can’t recycle, and afterward, you can throw it in the trash.

  • Several Document Boxes

These are a good size for storing clothes. They’re sturdy, stack well, hold many rolled or folded pieces of clothes, and each box will be light. Use as many as you need for your off-season clothes. In the summer, this means your bulky jackets, sweaters, thick boots, and so on. In the winter, it means your shorts, tank tops, and skirts. Use as many of those boxes as you need for items you plan to donate. Use another for things that aren’t in good enough condition to donate, but that you can recycle.

So yes, that also explains the process. Put the clothes you plan to keep in one basket, and those you’re not sure about in another. Throw out the stuff that’s truly trash. Put your off-season clothes in boxes to go to storage, things in gently used condition in donation boxes, and clothing items you can recycle in a recycling box.

Make sure the boxes you plan to use for storage have never had food in them. Crumbs and food stains can rot in storage and attract rodents and bugs.

How to Decide What to Keep

Chances are you have some stuff in your closet besides clothes. We often keep these on shelves above the hanger line. Think hard about each item to decide if you want to keep it, donate it, or throw it out. Of course, there may be things you can sell. Selling can take time, but if something has value and you want to put it up for sale, you can do so on sites like Craigslist, eBay, or OfferUp.

This process should get your closet cleaned out and you almost know what to put back away, what to store, and what to get rid of. But it’s time to decide what to do with the clothes in the “maybe basket.”

Go through it, and for each item, ask yourself these questions.

  • Will I wear it?

  • Do I have similar clothing?

  • Is it my current style?

  • Does it look good on me and feel good to wear?

  • Is it in good enough condition to donate, or does it need repairs?

  • Does it belong somewhere else? Do I need to return it?

  • Do I want to keep it, and why?

As you answer these questions, you’ll know where to sort each item, whether it’s into the keep bin, the donation box, or the trash.


You can put the boxes bound for storage in another closet or a self storage unit. Perhaps you have a guest room in which the closet is empty. That’s a good place to stack them. A small storage space is also a splendid choice, and for most, a 5x5 unit is a perfect size. In fact, it’s big enough to store the off-season wardrobe of a small family.

Organize Your Closet

Now, you can put everything back in your closet. The standard way is to hang the suits, shirts, dresses, and so on by type, and to have a few racks at the bottom for your shoes. Fold your sweaters and sweatshirts and stack them on the shelf above the hanger. Of course, if you have another method, use it.

Schedule Your Next Closet Cleaning

We’ve talked about storing off-season items somewhere besides your closet, so we recommend repeating this process every time you get your off-season clothing out of storage. Go through the clothes in the closet and decide if you’ve outgrown some. Pack those you plan to put in storage, retrieve your clothes that are now in season, and put those in your closet.

If you need a storage space, we have extensive listings on this site. We suggest getting one with climate control, which will keep your outfits in great shape until you retrieve them.

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