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Spring Cleaning 101: 3 Major Tips For Cleaning Out a Messy Closet

Expert advice for organising your closet without wanting to give up halfway

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By Self US | October 17, 2023 | Bedroom

For some of us, an afternoon dedicated to organizing tees and sneakers is the stuff of colour-coded daydreams. For others, taking stock of our closets can be a straight-up nightmare—a dreaded chore that you keep avoiding for fear of ending up sobbing into a pile of mismatched socks. Regardless of whether or not you get off on putting things in their place, closet organization can be incredibly overwhelming. Where do you start? How do you figure out what stays and what goes? Most crucially: How can you make it more functional so it doesn’t turn into a hot mess again in a couple of months—thereby having to start the hellish process all over again?

To help sort out your wardrobe woes, SELF asked therapist KC Davis, LPC, author of How to Keep House While Drowning and creator of the mental health platform Struggle Care, for her best advice for organizing a closet without wanting to give up halfway through—or lock the door and throw away the key. Oh, and if even thinking about your closet already has you feeling overwhelmed, take comfort in this reminder from Davis: “Any amount of excess [clutter] you can declutter will make your life more functional—so aim for progress, rather than perfection.” On that doable note, let’s get organized.

Ditch anything that’s torn, stained, or doesn’t fit.

It can be hard to let go of old clothes—even ones you don’t wear anymore. Davis recommends starting with the simplest decisions to help ease yourself into the closet organization process. That trusty pair of walking sneakers with the way-worn-out soles? Your beloved threadbare sleep shorts that now have a hole in the crotch? That half-zip pullover with the ink stain that just won’t budge (and frustrates the hell out of you every time you see it)? Put ’em in the trash pile to lighten your load.

“This is an easy step, and you might be surprised by how much you were holding on to,” Davis says. Same goes for socks without mates: Even if you do find their other half someday, they’re probably not worth your physical or mental space.

To keep closet organising from getting too overwhelming, start with the simplest decisions to help ease yourself into the closet organisation process. Image via Unsplash.

Add anything that’s too big or small, stretched out, or otherwise not working for your body to the donation pile, Davis says. This should be simple, too, but thanks to diet culture and its oppressive body ideals, it’s completely normal to feel attached to clothes that you wish still fit. Of course, you may need different sizes for practical purposes (pregnancy and PMS come to mind), but if you’re keeping a pair of jeans that make you feel uncomfortable every time you try them on, Davis strongly advises that you free yourself from their torment by giving them away to someone who might be a lot happier to wear them. “You may experience weight fluctuations and legitimately need a couple of sizes on hand, but you deserve to have a closet that dresses the body you have,” Davis says.

Set aside any items that simply aren’t your style.

If you’re not going to wear it, it probably shouldn’t be taking up your precious closet space. “Remove gifts you didn’t love, trends you’ve outgrown, and, most importantly, anything you bought to cover up because you didn’t believe you deserved to look stylish or sexy or handsome because of the size or shape of your body,” Davis says. “In my case, this was the step where I finally pitched all the oversized matronly shirts I was using to hide my belly.” Ideally, you want to fill your closet with clothes that fit you—both physically and emotionally. (We’ll briefly come back to this step in a second, though, so don’t actually get rid of this pile just yet.)

It’s not ideal to keep the stuff you don’t love, and maybe you can go thrift shopping or save up for some new items down the line. Image via Unsplash.

Decide how many outfit options feel right for you.

“You may decide you want to pare things way down so you aren’t as overwhelmed with laundry or paralyzed by decisions when it comes to getting ready in the morning,” Davis says. “Or, you may decide you love to have a lot of options, and that a bigger wardrobe is functional for you.”

Once you have a general sense of how big of a wardrobe you want, Davis recommends cutting down on any duplicates, as needed. “For example, if you have seven pairs of jeans, you may decide that, since you only really wear three of them regularly, you can get rid of four,” she says. “You may also decide that having three blue sweaters isn’t necessary.” However, if jeans and a navy sweater is your go-to comfort outfit, you might instead choose to donate some other clothes you rarely wear and keep your entire blue-on-blue collection. Again, you want to curate a wardrobe that makes sense for you.

According to experts, cutting down on any duplicates, as needed is a great way to ensure your wardrobe is functional for you. Image via Unsplash.

If you find that after taking the above steps, you don’t have enough clothes for a functional wardrobe and you don’t have the budget to invest in new ones, Davis says you can add back in some of the clothes you set aside in step two—the ones that fit, but aren’t necessarily your style. (If you do have enough outfits to wear, you can donate the not-quite-you pile).

It’s not ideal to keep the stuff you don’t love, and maybe you can go thrift shopping or save up for some new items down the line, but at the end of the day, they’re just clothes. You’re still your wonderful, unique self, no matter how you’re dressed—or how organized your closet is. (Truly: As long as you can find what you need and have room for the essentials, all of this is 100% optional.)

This story originally appeared on Self