Spring Cleaning How To: Closets


Happy Spring! Now that Winter is (finally) over, it's time to get into one of my favorite activities - Spring Cleaning! While it's not as big of a deal in sunny SoCal, I generally like to do a closet shift, bringing forward all those breezy tanks, and banishing wool turtlenecks to the back of the rack. 

Closets are a great place to start any reorganizing effort. Why? Well, they are inherently contained spaces. It's a lot easier to get through a closet in one go than a big open space like a spare bedroom or (gulp) the garage. Plus, you probably use yours every day, so the feeling of satisfaction is palpable - great motivation to start tackling other problem areas!

Phase One: Decluttering

Start by pulling everything out of the closet. Have a couple boxes or bags available, and sort clothes into categories like; Keep, Donate, Throw Away, Sell, and (of course) the Maybe Pile. 

Time estimate: 2-4 hours


I like to use the bed as an area to sort all Keep items into categories - grouping all similar items of clothing together.

Start with only the clothes you love and you wear all the time. The Pareto principle states that we only use about 20% of our closet regularly, so if your initial distribution looks like more than that, think again about what you're selecting. 

Try on everything else (should be about 80%). If it looks great and makes you feel great, it's a keeper! Sort everything else into the following categories:


Donated clothing should be in good condition, so anything that's out of style, doesn't suit you, or doesn't fit. Further, items that are itchy, uncomfortable, or unflattering can be donated. Think also about getting rid of shoes that hurt your feet, or over sized handbags that encourage you to cart around more than your daily necessities (lookin' at you, bulky hobo purse from 2004).

Throw Away:

Toss anything that's ripped, stained, torn, or damaged beyond repair. I cannot tell you how long it took me to learn that socks with holes in them are trash. They are! Throw them away! Items that have been stretched out of shape, or whose elastic is no longer functional, are similarly goners. Get rid of them. 

What's tricky here are items that can be fixed. My Achilles heel are shoes that need to be resoled. If you haven't brought the particular item in question in for repairs in over two years, let it go. It's probably not going to happen. Everything else, stick in a box with a due date on it. If it doesn't get fixed before the date, it's time to toss. 


Some items, like expensive designer dresses, handbags, shoes, or jewelry, can be sold or consigned. Putting together a garage sale can be hard work, and having the stuff around in the meantime can tempt us to put it back into our closets, but if that works for you - go for it!

There are tons of resources for online selling. We all know about Ebay, and there's also great opportunity for local sales - by selling in lots on Craigslist, or even advertising items through neighborhood social media platforms like Nextdoor. To consign high value items like jewelry or well preserved shoes/handbags/clothes, check out the experts over at The RealReal

The "Maybe Pile":

Ah, yes, the Maybe Pile, everyone's perennially postponed clothing decisions. This is the pile for items we just aren't sure we are ready to get rid of. Perhaps it's clothing with sentimental value, but we just don't wear any more (in which case, it should be stored in a separate container someplace that's not the closet). Maybe it's stuff that we never wore, but was expensive, so we feel we should keep. Sometimes it's clothing that no longer fits we are sure we'll be able to diet back into. Here's a handy guide to help make decisions about all those pesky Maybes:

  • "But I might wear it again someday." - If you haven't worn it in over a year, it's time to let it go (with the exception of black tie or formal wear). Think of the joy it could bring someone who really appreciates it, and donate to a second hand store of your choice. 
  • "If I lose 10 pounds, I'll need these sizes back in my closet." - If you aren't wearing it, it doesn't belong in your closet. If you must keep "just in case" sizes on hand, store them in a separate container somewhere else, so they aren't taking up space. Better yet, why don't you get rid of the old clothes, and reward yourself with something new when you lose the weight?
  • "This piece was such a financial investment, that I feel obligated to keep it." - First, ask yourself, is this item causing you emotional stress? Perhaps you feel guilty about your purchase every time you see it, and realize how infrequently it's been worn? If so, it's time to get rid of the burden and move on! Donate it for a tax deduction or consign, either way, the financial situation will be better than it was with it just sitting in your closet.
  • "My great aunt bought me this, and it's not my style, but it was so thoughtful." - Do your duty as a polite human, write a thank you card explaining how much you love it, and how useful it will be, and then donate. At this point, it's both physical and mental clutter. Someone else may truly love it, so give them a chance to find it!
  • "I love this, but it doesn't match anything else in my closet, so I rarely wear it." - Make sure that everything in your closet has at least two or three things to go with it. If it's hard to work into an outfit with what you already have, it's not worth the aggravation of keeping around. Make your mornings more streamlined by making sure everything can be mixed into outfits.

If all else fails, and you still have items in the Maybe Pile, put them in a box, and write a date at least six months in advance on the lid. Open the box on the date, if you haven't missed anything inside, it's time to get rid of it.

Phase Two: Organizing

Time estimate 2-3 hours

First, I like to divide what's getting hung vs what's getting folded. Remember, hanging clothes up at the end of the day is much easier than folding them, and it's a snap to keep hanging items neat, while stacks are far trickier! For this reason, I hang as much as possible, with the exceptions of sweaters (these will stretch if hung), jeans, t-shirts, active-wear and lingerie/hosiery. 

How to categorize your closet? There are a couple of different ways to do it, so think about your habits and what is most likely to work for you. Remember, at the end of the day, your organizing system should reflect your daily routine - and items you use most frequently ought to be the most accessible. 

Hang similar clothing items together:

The simplest way to organize is to group together similar clothing items. Keep pants with pants, blouses with blouses, etc. The advantage to this is that it's a great way to maximize space. You can slide additional shelves, cubbies, or drawers under short hanging items like shirts or jackets. For bonus points, use specialized racks to corral accessories like scarves, belts, hats, and shoes.

Within groups you can arrange by color, or light to dark. Alternatively, you can arrange clothing in segments that represent work, casual, and dressy. To make these categories pop visually, think about buying colorful plastic hangers, and assign a color to each. That way, you'll have a visual representation of how much of your closet is devoted to each category. 

Sort into outfits:

I love this one, because it's great for lazy people like myself, but it does require a bit of forethought. Think of a fashion designer's show-room. Are all the pants, dresses, and shirts together? No! Most of the time, in a seasonal collection, clothing is distributed into outfits, or grouped with items that match. 

Take a look at your clothes (they should still be all over the bed). Start with what you wear all the time. What bottoms do you tend to put with your favorite blouse? What jacket? In this vein, you can start to sort things into groups. Generally, color has something to do with this, so think about having a warm section, a cool section, and distribute basics in black and white throughout, keeping in mind what you are most likely to pair together. 

Pros - this makes it super easy to get dressed in the morning, because everything you are likely to throw together is already in place. Plus, it makes it clear what you tend to gravitate towards regularly, giving you concrete criteria when you go out shopping to fill in wardrobe holes (which you are totally allowed to do now, by the way, because that's what cleaning out your closet is for).

Add embellishments:

Maximize space by using up every square inch for something useful. You can extend the space in awkwardly sized shelves by using containers like baskets, fabric boxes, and shelf dividers. That way, stacks are not falling over on top of one another.

Use hooks to hang a nylon bag in the closet or behind a door for items that need to go to the dry cleaners. Add more hooks for items that need to be aired after wearing, like PJs and robes. 

Instead of moth balls, I like natural insect deterrents like lavender and cedar to avoid moth damage. In my closet I have Sonoma Lavender Sachets by the Yard which is available on Amazon. It's a full yard of lavender sachets you can choose to tie on the rod in your closet, or cut up and distribute throughout drawers. All you have to do is scrunch them together, and the closet smells amazing!