Whittle Down Your Wardrobe Without Stress

Reader Chad shares his gradual way of cleaning out his closet. What he does his shove everything to the left side and places hangers in the middle. Then he goes through and picks out his outfits like normal. When laundry happens, all the clean clothes go on the right, but he forces himself to only wear clothes from the left.

There are a few exceptions like shirts for work but, “Basically, I’m forced to wear stuff I haven’t in a long time,” writes Chad. Eventually he gets down to “The Unwanted.” Those get sold, donated, or become new gym clothes.

A nice organic process for figuring out what to toss and what to keep, without the mental anguish of trying to decide all at once. What methods do you use for cleaning out your closet? Sound off in the comments.


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  1. alSeen says:

    I think I’ve seen it mentioned here.

    Take all your clothes at the start of the year and hang them in the closet backwards. Then as you take them out and wear them, hang them up normally. Then at the end of the year get rid of all the clothes that are still hung up backwards (excepting things like suits that you didn’t have the occasion to wear).

    • SteveZim1017 says:

      much better idea for those of us who arent able to squish all our clothes into a 3rd of our closet

      • jesirose says:

        You don’t have to move everything to one side, just put all your hangers at one end (say, the farmost left.) When you put up clean clothes, they go to the farmost left, and the hangers slowly move more middle.

        I prefer the backwards hanger method.

    • MercuryPDX says:

      I do this (hanger flip). Works great.

  2. summerbee says:

    I do the same exact thing, basically. All clean laundry gets hung up on the left, and all of my “eh” clothing eventually migrates to the right. I try to wear right-side clothes at least once per week so the truly unwanted stuff gets pushed over even farther.

    I’m in my third year of doing this, so I have quite the collection of Goodwill-worthy items over there.

    Before I’d tried this method, I did the H&M thing — I hung my clothes by color, thinking that it would inspire me to pair certain tank tops with certain cardigans in a new way. It didn’t, really.

    But it was sort of nice having a rainbow in my closet.

  3. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    All of the clothes that end up in the “meh” pile are usually the ones that don’t fit anymore. Unfortunately, altering jackets can be difficult and expensive. A few years ago, I cleaned out an entire closet of suit jackets because they were all too big. I donated them to Goodwill.

    • Back to waiting, but I did get a cute dragon ear cuff says:

      Hopefully, it was a planned size reduction. If so, congratulations.

      I am working on one right now and was just able to pull stuff out that would not fit before.

  4. goodfellow_puck says:

    I do the same thing, but with drawers. Cleaned shirts go in a new drawer until I clean out everything in the first drawer, then repeat. I only have this issue with cleaning out shirts, though. Pants I keep pretty minimal, and hung clothes are easy for me to toss. It’s those damned t-shirts that are so addicting…

    • goodfellow_puck says:

      Oh yeah, it helps if you don’t have many places to go with clothes. I have exactly two turn-of-the-century-tiny closets in my entire house. If you have less places to “hide” things, and you care about having a nice, uncluttered house, you tend to get less picky about getting things out of the house.

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        Oh God, I need to do that. With the drawers and the closets. My teeny-weeny house also has only two closets (little ones) and I have a TON of old t-shirts I need to clean out. It’s getting kind of hoardy in there.

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        Oh God, I need to do that. With the drawers and the closets. My teeny-weeny house also has only two closets (little ones) and I have a TON of old t-shirts I need to clean out. It’s getting kind of hoardy in there.

    • Not Given says:

      ‘Frequency of use test’ works for any drawer or shelf in the house. Put everything in a box, clean out the drawer. Put things back in the drawer after you’ve used them, after a month or so go through the stuff still in the box and pick out anything you know you’ll need but not very often. Find less valuable storage space for that and get rid of whatever is still in the box.

  5. chiieddy says:

    I go through my closet and look at the clothes. Hasn’t been worn in a year or more? Two small? Into the rag rug pile.

  6. hoi-polloi says:

    I have hung shirts organized by types, so this wouldn’t work well for me. I have casual button-downs, short sleeves, long sleeves with patterns, then plain. I generally know what I wear and what I don’t.

    I just sorted t-shirts. I have my drawer organized by junky shirts, shirts with graphics, and plain shirts. It’s a matter of settling. Those on the bottom have settled there for a reason. I may keep some despite the fact that they aren’t worn much, but a large number went in the donate stack. If I can’t remember the last time I wore something and there’s no sentimental attachment, out it goes.

  7. Miss Dev (The Beer Sherpa) says:

    My father puts a sticky label on every hanger (or on folded clothes in the closet / dresser). After a year, any items with a label still stuck to them go out to charity. He tried doing it every six months, but that caused certain seasonal items to get tossed out prematurely.

    I try to do an item-in, item-out system. If I buy a shirt, I get rid of a shirt. If I buy pants, I get rid of pants. Unless I’m specifically trying to supplement and area of my wardrobe (i.e. I need more blouses because I only own one), it works pretty well.

    Another really fun way to get rid of a bunch of clothes at once is to go through the closet and lay out everything I don’t want/doesn’t fit and invite my girlfriends over. They can go through and take whatever they want, and I donate the rest. It’s a really fun night and it cleans out the junk.

    • pop top says:

      “Clothes swaps” have become huge since the recession started. Women will bring stuff they don’t want anymore (clothing, jewelry, knick-knacks, etc.) and then everyone swaps and the rest gets donated or sold. I think it’s a great idea.

  8. SugarMag says:

    Wow, the above posters are all so organized.

    I am unfortunately ruled by emotions when it comes to clothes – I am having a deep personal relationship with many of my items, whether they get worn or not. I did just part with two expensive items just yeserday though – to a friend who has an ebay business. I need to pay off my xmas CC bill. I wasn’t paying attention after expenisve dental work, egads.

    My system is pretty much “this section I wear constantly,this section is in transition, and this section I am attached to but likely will never wear again.” I keep a donation bag in the closet at all times so when I am feeling strong I put in clothes I can part with. If the items are too ratty a say, cotton, I put them in the rag pile. It’s v. hard for me throw out clothes into the garbage, even if covered in grease for instance and ruined.

    So that is my lame “system”. For shame.

    At least I’ve gotten better about buying things I will actually wear until they fall apart.

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      Do yourself a favor, and just get rid of it. 1) its taking up space. Sure it may have “sentimental value” but really, its just stuff. I just had to move cross country, and there were many things with which I hated to part. But it wouldn’t fit in my car. Sucked, and it hurt, but I now feel I have a much more healthy relationship with my belongings, that being I can get rid of them at will. 2) it will prevent clutter 3) it won’t turn into a problem with other objects later down the road.

      Or, do yourself a favor and watch a season of hoarders in one day. If that won’t get you to get rid of everything in your house… haha.

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        I LOVE that show but every time I watch it, I get the urge to tear through the house and throw everything out except furniture and books. I gotta be careful; I’m kinda pack-ratty.

      • hoi-polloi says:

        I have to say I have at least one shirt I’ll never wear and that I won’t part with. It’s an old dashiki that my father wore way back in the day. I wore it in my own long-haired days, and it’s still in my dresser. Whenever I see it, it reminds me of a different way of thinking about my dad. Some degree of sentimentality isn’t a bad thing.

    • pop top says:

      If you have a lot of shirts that you can’t wear but don’t want to get rid of, have them made into a quilt. Shirt quilts are awesome.

      • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

        I did this when I was in college with all the random college shirts I got. It’s awesome. Unfortunately for me, I had a pile set aside of commemorative shirts from band functions and what not. My mom mistook it for a donate pile. Ah, well.

    • goodfellow_puck says:

      I used to have this problem, even though I knew it to be totally irrational. Memories are with you, even if the object isn’t! So to break myself of this issue I keep a box that I put “sentimental, but no longer worn” clothes in when I clean out. I put that box in the attic or closet. When it’s time for another clean-out (once a yr) I pull the box out. If I haven’t thought about the stuff in it in that time, then I feel much, MUCH better about donating or tossing! I’ve come across clothing boxes that I put in my parent’s attic years ago and thought, “Wow, I don’t feel attachment to ANY of these things and I thought I’d miss them…” Once you start that realization, you need the box method less and less. It’s just a neat security system that lets you “save” the “special” clothing in case you actually can’t live without it. Trust me, you won’t miss it. You’ll be too busy making new memories in your new clothes and cleaned-out closet! :)

  9. TripleTimeStep says:

    What do you do with perfectly good items you know you’ll never wear again… and no one else will, either?

    I’m thinking of a jacket I have from when I taught dance. It has the studio name (now defunct) embroidered on the back and my name embroidered on the front. I just can’t see someone wanting that at Goodwill. Or what about graduation robes? Something tells me I shouldn’t toss them, but do I really need two sets of blue ones (from eighth grade and high school) and two sets of black ones (from college & grad school)?

    Clearly I have a problem….

    • foofish says:

      I would buy it because it would be ridiculous to do so. Never underestimate the people of Goodwill.

    • drmk says:

      You might be able to sell the grad school robes on eBay or Craigslist, or donate/sell them to a local university/community college. (Faculty often need robes for commencements, and sometimes their departments have a small stash of them available for faculty who don’t own their own robes.)

      The others you could probably donate to a theater department; they sometimes need things like that.

    • smarmyjones goes cattywampus says:

      If you have a local Community Theater, you should ask them if they would like those items. Graduation robes especially could come in handy in various plays, etc.

    • hymie! says:

      What do you do with perfectly good items you know you’ll never wear again… and no one else will, either?

      I have some clothes like this. I’m planning to see if either a local church or a local homeless shelter might want them. I figure, if your house burns down, and you own **nothing**, then at least it’s a shirt.

    • ARP says:

      Graduation robes= costume
      Graduation robe= you might be able to donate to some schools where the students can’t afford their robes (there’s a similar thing for prom dresses).
      Dance Jacket- Ironic Hipsters

    • TripleTimeStep says:

      These are all great suggestions. Thank you!

      (Unfortunately, that means I have to actually DO the much procrastinated closet cleaning….)

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      If you need a jacket, who cares what it says on the back. Many kids can’t afford grad robes, I’m sure they’d look at Goodwill in that case.

      don’t hold back from donating just because you don’t think someone would want it. In dire straights, even a paint splattered shirt is a shirt.

      • goodfellow_puck says:

        Does the robe thing really happen at other people’s schools? At both my HS and college we were REQUIRED to buy robes from the designated robe-rip-off company. If they didn’t have you on the list with that company, you didn’t get to walk! The grad kids said that you couldn’t even re-use your undergrad robes, and the profs most certainly couldn’t since their robes were a different cut. I guess that’s the school’s way of making sure everything is uniform….and making bank. Ugh.

    • Carlee says:

      You can still donate or sell the dance jacket. I was in a ballet class once and another student was wearing a shirt from the studio that I first attended. I asked if he also went to that studio – nope, he bought the shirt at a garage sale!

  10. ellmar says:

    I love that in Ben’s house “laundry happens.” I wish I could get that kind of domestic magic to go on at my house!

  11. jimmyhl says:

    Good post. Any method is better than the one most of use: rat-holing every item of clothing for years until you are so overwhelmed by your own stuff that you either need to start throwing stuff out or go looking for a bigger house, I spent some time recently at my mother’s place while she recuperates from a broken wrist. Her apartment is congested with so much crap I wanted to jump out the window. It’s a form of mental illness. No joke.

  12. earthprince says:

    I wish I could apply this routine to my roommates clothes, but they might get a little annoyed with me.

  13. meechybee says:

    I watch and episode or two of “Hoarders” before cleaning out anything. Hearing myself using the same phrases as those on the show (“but it was a great deal!”, “I plan on using this in my crafts”) helps make those border-line decisions that much easier!

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      Yeah, I did that this weekend and before I knew it I was cleaning out drawers of dvds and packing up clothes.

    • JulesNoctambule says:

      I love ‘Hoarders’, because every time we watch it my husband ends up in the kitchen, loading the dishwasher. ;)

  14. meechybee says:

    I watch and episode or two of “Hoarders” before cleaning out anything. Hearing myself using the same phrases as those on the show (“but it was a great deal!”, “I plan on using this in my crafts”) helps make those border-line decisions that much easier!

  15. framitz says:

    I do exactly this, then after the unused stuff builds up I ask the wife to toss it so I don’t see it and change my mind on any items.
    Increased my closet space by two thirds and I haven’t had any remorse.

  16. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    This year, I decided that all my summer clothes (which are admittedly years and years old) are going to Goodwill as I bring out my winter clothes (which are just as old). This will force me to actually buy new and somewhat stylish clothes, instead of living in this frumpy state of old clothing I’ve been doing.

  17. mobiuschic42 says:

    I recently did a big cleanout of my closet and got rid of things that I’ve, ahem, out grown over the years and am basically giving up on fitting into again the near future.
    One thing that made it easier was giving the nicer clothes to skinnier friends of mine. It made me feel good to see them in all the cute clothes that would’ve otherwise been sitting in my closet attracting dust.

  18. brownhb says:

    This may sound a bit silly, but I just found a local homeless youth shelter that takes everyday items like clothing. We just moved, so we have been paring down everything and taking boxes upon boxes to goodwill. But I’m excited to start giving to this shelter now. I know things at Goodwill go for a good cause, but it’s good to imagine really needy people getting these things directly instead of in a roundabout way. Also – since they are kids/teens, they need some interesting items. . .I know people will appreciate some of my more youthful clothing. Also – I got word that they are looking for prom dresses and formal clothing for upcoming spring dances. It’s just great to visualize things being used and makes me more willing to part with things I am on the fence about!

  19. Hi_Hello says:

    ppl sure have a lot of clothes.

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      It’s a first world problem, no doubt. However, it still probably merits a mention.

      • lawgirl502 says:

        True, I have enough clothes and shoes to suit up several villages in some destitute village, but I give a bunch of things to goodwill and people I know who use hand-me-downs, so that appeases my guilt.

  20. whyt says:

    Every December I try on everything. If it has “shrunk” or “mysteriously got smaller” it goes to to the Salvation Army. Some years I kid myself that I will fit back into things someday. This year, I used the “if in doubt, send it out” method. I donated 13 large bags of clothes to the Salvation Army and feel great. Even better, I found out about a local organization called “Dress for Success” that gives interview clothes, shoes, etc. directly to women who have nothing to go to an interview in. Then, if they get the job, they get a second outfit to wear on their first day of work. Then they can basically make those two outfits to be their work clothes. I dry cleaned about 6 wool suits and even more top-quality wool skirts that *ahem* have shrunk to the point I’ll never realistically be able to use them. They are all a top name brand, super high quality wool, and barely used. I am directly helping women get a job and although it feels strange to see thousands of dollars of wool suits go out the door, I feel GREAT. That’s my best method of whittling down the wardrobe: to feel GREAT about what it is you’re giving.

  21. Awjvail says:

    My system of figuring out what I don’t wear works quite well.

    The stuff that is in a big pile on the couch is what I wear. The stuff that is still in a drawer/hung up is what I don’t wear.

    Yes, I’m lazy and wrinkled. No, I don’t care.

  22. alexmmr says:

    When I get the inclination to get rid of some clothes, I put them in an airtight bin under the bed. If I miss something, I can retrieve it. If my weight changes again, I can retrieve stuff.

    After a year or more, usually nothing has been retrieved so clearly I didn’t miss it. Off to the donation dropbox and refill the bin with another round of closet rejects.

  23. lawgirl502 says:

    Not sure why this boring article is on here, but as a woman, this would never work. We have clothes for different seasons, some for whether your weight goes up or down, some things for around the house, or for tryinng to get laid clothes, and then there are work clothes and so on…Plus, you can’t forget that trends always come back, so it’s best to hold on to those clothes will soome day be vintage…

    • SugarMag says:

      Oh yes, the “I might get lucky” outfits LOL. Good point.

      I do think women have more of a challenge most of the time. My “I’m getting my period and feel like crap!” crying/bloated clothes takes up a fourth of my closet already.

      WHen I lived in a one season city clothing was much easier to deal with. Now I’m back to four seasons and cramped closets. Sigh.

  24. Chip Skylark of Space says:

    I have two closet rods, running front to back. Short sleeves on one rod, long sleeves on the other. Clean clothes go to the front of each rod, causing the stuff I don’t wear or don’t like to wear to go to the back. Every six months to a year, I look at the shirts the shirts at the back, and do some weeding.

  25. organizedhome says:

    Give Freecycle a try!

    Crafters need fabric, homeschoolers appreciate materials for historical costuming, and just-plain-makers would probably drool over specialty items with embroidery. Newly hired folks need work clothes, children need the next size up–and the local Freecycle community probably has someone looking out for all of the above.

    This is how I got rid of 15 years’ worth of no-longer-needed work clothing and formal wear. Posted an offer and had the boxes GONE within 24 hours, all to happy recipients.

    Works in reverse, too! I recycle neckties into iPad cases … and can always load up on new craft materials by posting a Freecycle “seeking” request.


  26. !caybay says:

    I try to keep clothes down first by not buying new hangers (I hang up all shirts). When I buy new clothes, something old has to go for there to be a hanger. Also, I tend to take a long time to put clean laundry away, and usually wear it again before I ever put it away, so the same clothes get left in the closet. These are the ones I know have to go.

    Instead of just getting rid of them immediately, I put them in a box on the top shelf of my closet. When the box starts to get full, then I look through everything I’ve put there. If I haven’t missed it, then it’s given away. Only once did I miss a shirt and take it back. If I still feel like holding onto it but know I’m not actually about to wear it, I just keep it in the box until one day I’m ready to give it up for good.

  27. HoneyB says:

    I clean my closet out after every winter/summer. if i wore it this past season it stays, if not it goes to Goodwill