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7 Questions to Ask When Cleaning Out Your Closet

written by VALERIE CHEN

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 shoebox 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:

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.

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 or Becca’s Closet. 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. Try a site like Swap Society or check for Facebook for local swap groups.

Play hostess for a swapping party of making one girl’s trash another one’s treasure. 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.