7 Questions to Ask When Cleaning Out Your Closet

It can be difficult to let go of pretty little things that once made your heart flutter. The sparkly sheath you wore on NYE ’12, which soon felt the wrath of champagne overfloweth and a rambunctious dance floor. Worn-down denim that once were favorites, but have since retired to the back abyss of the closet. The pair of gorgeous heels scored during a massive sale that have yet to leave the shoe box due to being a half-size too small. But hey, you never know—feet may randomly shrink overnight, right?

On the other hand, justifying keeping pieces you no longer need—particularly ones that involve hard-earned money or sentiment—is easy. Plus, let’s be real; there are plenty of other, more appealing ways to spend a Saturday than sorting through clothing and shoes. Yet when closet space fails to expand correspondingly to a growing wardrobe or the thought “I have nothing to wear” persistently runs through your mind despite an overly stuffed dresser, it’s time to assess which items still fit, in terms of size and style.

First step? Steely resolve. Clear time in your schedule to really get down to the nitty-gritty of purging what you no longer wear. Dedicate a hefty chunk of the day to go through every single item in your wardrobe, while keeping in mind you will need additional time for the follow-up duties (e.g., driving to the post office to mail out packages or dropping off bags brimming with clothing at a local charity). Or, if the idea of tackling everything in one fell swoop is terrifyingly overwhelming: divide and conquer. Sort through your shoes one day, followed by tops and outerwear the following weekend.

As you scrutinize each piece, ask yourself the 7 following questions:

  1. Does this fit?
  2. Have I worn this in the last 12 months?
  3. Is it likely I will ever wear this again?
  4. Is this currently in style, and/or does this still accurately represent my style?
  5. If this is damaged in any way (e.g., piling, rips, stains, missing buttons, broken zippers, fading, etc.), will I actually make the effort to get this repaired in the near future?
  6. If I was shopping right now, would I buy this?
  7. And most importantly: Do I feel confident when I wear this?

If you answer a firm “no” to any of the above, it’s time to say sayonara and decide whether to sell, donate, swap, or toss the item.

Option 1: SELL

When balling on a budget, it’s typically not financially possible to get rid of a mass amount of clothing and shoes and then immediately purchase brand new replacements (alas, a girl can only dream). Particularly when the items in question are still in style, brand new, or just gently used, selling through a third party business is a way to make profit with ease.

Besides going the classic route of selling goods on eBay, there has been a more recent, thriving emergence of social marketplaces for buying and selling fashion. Each online community provides a streamlined experience, guiding users step by step. Simply list your items, ship them out to buyers when sold, and then earn money or credit toward your own on-site purchases.

One of our favorites is Poshmark, which has a 20 percent commission fee, flaunts Pinterest-like boards, and hosts virtual “Posh Parties” for users to list, browse, and buy with friends. Another is Threadflip, which also has a 20 percent commission fee and utilizes a comparison shopping-esque feed.

Option 2: DONATE

Consider donating unwanted items that are still in good condition to those who could truly use them. In addition to Goodwill Industries International, Inc. and The Salvation Army, there are many worthy, not-for-profit institutions that appreciate your help.

  • Dress for Success sponsors the financial independence of disadvantaged women, providing not only support and career development tools but also professional attire. They ask for new or nearly-new and cleaned interview-appropriate attire. Find your closest Dress for Success location here.
  • Pick Up Please is a national nonprofit organization that concentrates its efforts on American veterans and their families. It asks for all clothing styles, regardless of current trends, and will even conveniently pick up donations from your home.
  • Still have your dresses from prom or evening wear that could be appropriate for a high school dance? Check out the Cinderella Project and its sister organizations around the country. They collect surplus gowns and accessories and allocate them to disadvantaged girls. The Cinderella Project explains that all young girls should be able to experience prom’s special rite of passage, no matter the personal or financial circumstance.
  • Local homeless shelters, battered women’s shelters, community outreach centers and thrift stores are also constantly in need. Women’s Shelters is a nationwide directory that offers listings of various female-oriented services, which is particularly useful if you would like to donate in person and simplify the distribution process.

If wary about donating, we recommend using tools such as Charity Navigator and Charity Watch to thoroughly evaluate organizations and quell any concerns.

Option 3: SWAP

Outside of websites in which you sell and buy clothing, there are also ones that encourage “swapping” instead. Bib + Tuck has a highly curated selection (i.e., doesn’t allow items from fast fashion retailers such as Forever 21 and Target) and doesn’t give the option of cashing out. Rather, you can sell no longer wanted pieces and fund your next find.

Swapping can also be a fun in-person social experience. Play hostess for a swapping party of making one Everygirl’s trash into another’s treasure! Include a simple spring brunch spread if during the day, or ask attendees to bring a bottle of vino and cheese if at night. It’s enjoyable to see how something that no longer strikes your fancy can make someone else ecstatic with retail-induced delight.

Option 4: TRASH

This option hardly warrants an explanation. Nevertheless, think of it this way: If you personally would not want the item due to substantial tears, stains or scuffs, throw the item in the trash pile rather than the sell, donate or swap piles. However, if a broken zipper or a missing button is behind the deliberation, consider getting the minor flaw corrected and then weigh out all of your options once more.

For items that still don’t quite match any of the aforesaid routes, such as a teetering stack of T-shirts from high school soccer, Greek social events and the like, keep a few for nostalgia’s sake — but you probably don’t need an entire drawer full of them. Upcycle the remainder into cleaning rags or perhaps create a cozy and sentimental DIY quilt out of T-shirt squares.

So, what’s your strategy to manage annual spring cleaning? Know of any other great charitable locations deserving of fashion items or user-friendly websites for selling unwanted clothing and shoes?

 

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  • Does anyone remember the sex and the city episode when Carrie went through her amazing closet? She had three piles I believe, keep, donate, trash….

    I read a book on simple living a long time ago. Since then, I’ve gone through my clothes to do a thorough closet cleaning about every 3-6 months or so. The only times I’ve been able to successfully sell my things online are when I’m selling brand name stuff. I usually take my stuff to local consignment shops and thankfully, they end up donating what doesn’t sell. Recently I’ve taken my donations to a local refugee center. As an immigrant, it makes me feel good to help (in a very small way) new immigrant families.

    http://apersianrose.blogspot.com/

  • Christina Kwan

    This is a great article, reminding me that spring cleaning is definitely in order. Love it!

    <3 Christina / tide & bloom

  • Great timing for this article! I was planning on cleaning out my closet sometime this week.

  • I absolutely love this post! It’s so helpful because I have the hardest time cleaning out my closet. When I do, I end up just re-organizing everything instead of getting rid of clothes I don’t need because I convince myself that I just have to keep them by making up different scenarios in my head. With these helpful tips and tricks I am fully ready to take on the project now. Thanks for sharing.
    xo,
    Dana Kay
    danakay16.blogspot.com

  • Such great questions! Will keep this in mind when doing a closet update.

    Catherine | The Single Diaries

  • #6 [insert Hands-in-the-air-Emoji] Yes. Yes. & Yes.

  • I turn all my hangers backwards, and when I wash clothes I’ve worn I place the hangers back correctly. It makes it very easy to see what I have or haven’t worn. If I go three months without wearing something, I decide whether to keep/sell/donate.

    I sell my brand name items on Poshmark, and I made over $1000 in less than a year doing that. I also keep a large reusable tote in my closet, to collect clothes for donation. I inventory the clothes before I donate, so I can deduct their value on taxes!

    • Wow, very smart and efficient, Aubrey! Unfortunately, my closet space is limited, so the majority of my clothing is tucked away in a dresser + trunk. But if I ever live the closet dream again, I will absolutely give that strategy a try.

      Thanks for your insight!

    • This is so smart, i think I’m going to do this starting this weekend!

  • Definitely a great way to start spring, but I don’t think trash should have been the last option since those clothes in landfills take decades to decompose.

    I’m really glad you mentioned upcycling those t-shirts to use as cleaning rags because I think that is a much better use of clothes we don’t want!!
    Hanna
    goldpolkadots.com

    • Hm, good point! Do you have any other ideas of recycling items in the (figurative) trash pile? Would appreciate your input! 🙂

      Thank you Hanna!

      • Thanks, Valerie!! Besides kitchen rags, old clothes can be turned into grocery bags, dog/cat toys, possible Halloween costumes or a heat pack. These are a few things I’ve seen and will try since my husband has tons of shirts he doesn’t wear. We are going to make a quilt out of the majority of them, but with the rest I will use them as dog toys and kitchen rags.

      • Jen West Steen

        H&M has a fabric recycling program. Year round you can take bags of torn, used or otherwise clothing, towels, socks (not worthy of donating) and in return you get a coupon for percentage off of purchases, during Earth week they give bigger incentives. Even if you don’t shop at H&M, you can still take items there knowing it will be repurposed into jeans, insulation, etc. instead of heading to the landfill.

    • Mindfulstylr

      Thanks for mentioning that the problem of clothes in landfills is as bad as the plastic water bottles! recycle as much as you can since Goodwill and other charities often send clothes to third world countries and the clothes end up in their landfills! shop mindfully! thats why I am starting a biz named Mindful Style- mindfulstyle.com-to help people pare down and use less in more ways!!

  • Pulling a Carrie Bradshaw and cleaning out my closet today 🙂 Great helpful article!

  • Extra option would be : recreate. Figure out what it is you don’t like and see if you can alter that. I have switched long sleeves blouses with too tight sleeves to short sleeves or tanks. Even hemming a shirt can make it work better.

  • Great article. I needed to read this b/c my closet is getting jam packed and it’s in need of a major spring clean. Thanks for the links and info in regards to donating too!
    -Becky
    The Pumpkin Spot

  • Tuck

    Great article! Just a note, Goodwill Industries is not a 501C, it is a business just like Target or Walmart. We give them stuff and they sell it for profit and pay their workers like Walmart, not a living wage. Salvation Army on the other hand is a great place to share as well as all the church centers for recycling clothing and other necessary items!

    • AMD

      Goodwill is, indeed a 501C nonprofit organization; please don’t put out information that is incorrect for such an important organization.

  • btwmommy

    Well written and helpful article for cleaning and purging closets. I am going to be purging three closets today and tomorrow. I agree that “trashing” should always be a very last resort, after all other avenues are exhausted. Many organizations use clothing to sell by the pound for shredding and recycling. I have been able to use old clothing in so many ways, and have made some really wonderful things from them. Pinterest is a great help for that – there are hundreds of things to make from old clothes. My favorites include grocery bags, headbands, scarves, “ribbons”, and artwork.

  • I would love to know where the cheetah print dress is from! Anyone?? I keep putting off my closet cleaning.. maybe this weekend it will finally get done!

    Amanda

    XO Strawberry Chic

  • Jewell Edwards

    i have so many clothes and shoes that i never wear so this is really helpful

  • Marta Ford

    I’m going to bookmark this post for the spring!It’s going to help me with my big spring cleaning!

    Best regards!

  • Silva Bradley

    Is it flattering for my body shape?
    Can you wear it in a way that flatters your figure? Like for example,
    if you have a couple of simple skinny jeans that you almost never wear
    because of your hips and thighs, consider doing the trick – wearing clothes to balance out your body shape.Silva

  • Sam

    Brilliant post! Thank you!
    I’m sorting through soooooooo many clothes this week and this is EXACTLY what I needed for inspiration and motivation!

  • cindyp1

    Great post! I’m currently dealing with a more limited wardrobe due to my
    2nd pregnancy, but I’m still trying to be more conscious about what I
    decide to add to my closet. I’m an avid thrift shopper, but low prices
    can lead to major closet clutter — especially since we are blessed with a
    large closet. With that much room, it’s easy to buy too much.Cindy

  • Taylor Parker

    This is such a great post! In anticipation for Spring, I’ve been gathering ideas for the best way to clean my closet, and store away all my winter clothing. I especially like your first suggestion to take everything out of the closet. I get the feeling that I would miss a lot of little things shoved into nooks and crannys if I didn’t take the time to literally pull everything out. Sometimes little things got tossed away and forgotten about!

  • Maria del mar

    So accurate for me to start cleaning out my closet! I literally will stay with just a few clothes.. I need new clothesss. By the way, I love shopping. Was I so obvious?

  • Top Shelf Closets

    I like this read. I personally look to donate unwanted items to clear out some space. This personally helps me a lot.

  • Nancy

    Refreshing to see someone be precise. No fluff, just factual information that is helpful. My closet is long overdue, now I have a plan. Well written, great
    job!

  • Sariya

    As a my point of view donate option is very best.

  • This is an awesome post. I suck at trying to organise my clothes, I either get fed up and throw everything out then regret it, or, I keep everything and get annoyed!

    Jaynie Shannon | Beauty & Lifestyle

    xx

  • I clean out my wardrobe twice a year when the weather goes from hot to cold and from cold back to hot, most of my old clothes if they are in good nick get donated if they are trash they get trashed

  • Kim B

    I absolutely love swap.com, it’s gently used, Salvation Army-priced items shipped directly to your door! Can’t beat that!

  • I always love reading closet cleaning tips, especially when I find brand new tips! I love the idea of asking yourself if you would buy an item if you went shopping right now! Such a good idea!
    Thanks for sharing!
    XX -KK
    http://www.KayleeKarcher.com
    #ObsessedWithEverything

  • Tammy

    Great reminder and methods. However you didn’t mention the option of selling items to a local resale store. There’s plenty of them in most cities. I sell for myself & my family to Once Upon A Child, Plato’s Closet, Style Encore & Clothes Mentor. While these are franchises, they keep dollars, jobs & wages in our local community and economy. My daughter’s friend works at Plato’s and a neighbor at the Mentor. With many stores closing it’s important to keep as many people as we can working in our local areas. I’m off my soap box now. Good article.

  • Great article! I just did a clean out of my closet. One additional question I would add to your list is “does it comfortably fit?” In the past four years my body has changed shape slightly (aging from 21 to 27! lol) and I found that some of my staple pieces no longer fit like they once did. I donated a good chunk of my wardrobe and have slowly been replacing it. The replacing part is the hardest! Trying to replace items that you love is grueling especially if you hate shopping like I do 🙂

  • I have recently gone through my closet and I definitely need to apply #6 more when I am going through my clothes =o)

    https://dreamofadventures.com/

  • I used to have a rule that every time I bought something new, something else had to come out of my closet to go into the give-away pile. I don’t stick hard and fast to this rule anymore, but I do still consider it whenever I get new things. Keeping the closet organized ensures that I can find and wear all the pretty clothes I own.
    http://www.homedeconomics.com/closet-organizing-tips/

  • Georgia

    Hi Valerie,
    Just wanted to say what a great article! Spring cleaning can be such a daunting task but with your tips, the wardrobe clean out will be a breeze. I love that your options for disposing of unwanted clothes promote sustainability. Even your ‘trash’ option suggests how you can reuse damaged clothes so that they don’t end up in landfill. I feel that the upcycling of clothes is a project that many feel they don’t have the skills for, but it is so easy to do. That’s what I’m trying to promote through my blog. As well as make people more aware of the impacts of clothes in landfill and how easy it is to reduce the amount that ends up there. I would love if you checked it out!
    Thanks, Donate Recreate 
    https://donaterecreate.wordpress.com