A closet overhaul can be a daunting task, fraught with as much emotion as a high-school reunion. With relics from a thinner you, brand-new purchases left unworn, or favourites from a bygone era lurking inside, the task can feel like you’re tossing out memories and hopes, too. “Clutter therapy is powerful,” says professional organizer and life coach Hellen Buttigieg. “People start to feel more confident, lighter and more control of their lives.” It’s not going to be easy, but here’s how to face those skinny-jean demons and find the perfect spot for everything.
Start the big dig
First, remove every item from your closet (even those dust-covered patent leather heels on the top shelf) and block off four hours. Panic may set in. The room will look worse than before, when you merely had two days’ worth of clothes on the floor. Don’t turtle—it’s part of the process. “This is the point of no return and forces you to make a decision on each item before it goes back in,” says professional organizer Hellen Buttigieg. Label areas of the room as “keep,” “toss,” “donate” and “move.” Make sure there’s a laundry hamper nearby and baskets for items that need repairs, alterations and dry-cleaning.
Be brutally honest
This is the most difficult step. Ask yourself some hard questions: Do I look and feel great in this? Does it fit my lifestyle? Is it stylish? Have I worn it in the past six months? If you say yes to all of these questions, then put the item in the “keep” pile. Otherwise, say goodbye.
If sorting through all your stuff starts to get overwhelming, think about why you want to get organized. Buttigieg, likes to ask her clients what their motivation is. Maybe you want to maintain harmony in your relationship, so you’re inspired to keep the peace with your neater, more organized spouse. Perhaps you want to streamline your morning routine so you can get out the door faster. Everyone loves to feel the satisfaction and calm that come when everything is in its place and visual clutter isn’t impeding your thoughts and emotions, and even a good night’s sleep. “Knowing your unique and specific reason why will provide the motivation to not only get organized but also stay that way,” says Buttigieg. “A dramatic change in environment can also cause an equally dramatic change in the way people feel.”
If you’re on the fence about a couple of items, use a holding-tank approach. “Put them in a garment bag with an expiry date—say, six months from now,” she says. “Put that date on your calendar as a reminder. If you haven’t gone inside the bag by that date, donate the items without going through them again.”
Sort it out
Return the “keep” items to the closet. Hang similar pieces together and, if you’re extra-keen, colour-code clothes from darkest to lightest. The average person only needs about 30 hangers. Look for flat, velvet ones—they create a non-slip surface for your garments and take up less space than wood hangers. “Wire hangers get tangled, are weak and can damage your clothes,” says Buttigieg.
Recycle or throw away items in the “toss” pile (some junk-removal companies can help with recycling, and a few retailers, like H&M and American Eagle, accept clothing for reuse or recycling). Move the “donate” items by the front door to deliver. Shift “move” items, such as memorabilia and off-season clothing, to a spare closet or storage area.
Canvas organizers work well as instant hanging shelves to house everything from sweaters to purses. Small baskets slotted into the compartments can store scarves and socks. Use vertical skirt hangers with clips that hold five or six skirts, as well as tiered shirt hangers that hold several at once. Over-the-door organizers with clear pockets are ideal for jewellery and accessories. Also, consider installing a second bar below the first to create two hanging levels.
Keep everything in sight
Clear, stackable shoeboxes take up much less space than shoe racks and keep footwear dust-free yet still within view. Avoid fabric shoeboxes and forgo garment bags altogether, as it’s easy to forget what’s inside them. Canvas shoulder covers are best for keeping dust off jackets that are only worn occasionally. On shelves, create instant walls with wire dividers to prevent stacks of T-shirts from toppling over.
Move the laundry hamper to where you typically get undressed and remove the lid to make sure it’s dead easy to toss dirty clothes inside. Use hooks, baskets or a clothing tree for clean items you’ll wear again soon. Be sure to purge after every season while it’s fresh in your mind—if you didn’t wear that tweed skirt over the past few months, you’re probably not going to wear it next year. Keep a donation bag and get on the call list for charities that pick up clothing in your area.
Originally published January 2019; Updated January 2020.