Closing the closet door doesn't make the clutter disappear. You know it's there, and it's still affecting you, stealing your time, energy, and space. If only you had a bigger closet! But you don't. So, how can you best take advantage of limited space and make it work for you?
Space: The Closet You Have is the Closet You Have
We simply can't wish ourselves more square footage. I've tried. Your house is your house. Your space is your space, and the closet you have is the closet you have. This is the closet you're going to be looking into every day, and this is the closet you get to fill with the clothes that deserve closet space: what you actually wear.
"Yes. Thank you, Jen. I'm quite aware of my closet space."
But are you? How stuffed are the clothing rods? How much has overflowed onto the floor? How much hasn't made it into the closet? What's still hanging out in the laundry room or hanging over chairs or over (GASP!) exercise equipment that doesn't get as much use as we planned. The problem is simple: you have more clothes than your closet can handle. And the closet you have...wait for it...is the closet you have. This is the space we're going to fill, and this will be our limit.
Your first task is to decide - really decide - that having a closet of clothing you love and wear and being able to find things easily is more important to you than things you might wear one day, you spent good money on, that are in perfectly good condition, etc. Which do you value more: your time, your energy, your space, and your serenity or your piles?
Your Clothes: Love Them or...
Take a moment to think about why you need your clothes. Aside from being legally obligated to be clothed in public, that is. Maybe you work. Or workout. Or you attend a lot of formal functions. Or you're recently retired. Or you're a stay-at-home parent. Or you hike a lot in your spare time. Think about your reality as it is now - the job you have now and the activities you do now.
If it helps, make a list. Note the types of clothing you need to do different activities. Not the activities you've always meant to do or what you did years ago. Concentrate on the reality of the life you have now, and use this as a guide when you get stuck.
Let's Get Started Organizing Your Master Closet
Grab a trash bag and a donate box. Just to make it easier, make sure the donate box is something you can donate. It makes drop off much easier.
There are two different schools of thought regarding basic method. I'm a huge fan of taking everything out of the closet - either entirely or section by section, depending on the time I have with my clients and the size of the closet. There's a certain magic that happens when something has to justify going back into the closet. That extra step really helps us part with things we're really not into or not using.
The second method is a great option for those of us with only small blocks of time to devote to a project or those of us who are often interrupted and not sure how much time we can honestly promise to our closets before life intervenes (e.g., we have kids). In these instances, we want to avoid a huge mess that we have to climb over until we have more time to devote to the closet. That would only cause to discourage and frustrate. If this is your reality, that's fine. You can still get your closet organized - just in smaller increments. Don't take everything out. Sort section by section, taking out what's trash and what's donation.
Step One: Take Out the Trash
There's probably not a lot of trash in your closet, but you never know. Broken hangers, retail tags, dry cleaning bags, kleenex from pockets - you'll find something. No need to dig too deeply, If there's nothing, there's nothing. If there's something, just grab any trash you see and dump it in the bag. You've just started decluttering!
Step Two: Easy Stuff
There are three categories in your closet that are easy to declutter: stuff that obviously goes somewhere else (how did that get in there?), stuff that you instantly know you want to donate (why do I even have it?), and stuff that doesn't quite make the donation cutoff (how do I let myself be seen in that stained shirt with the ripped arm pit?).
(DONATION NOTE: As a general rule of thumb, if you wouldn't wear it in that condition, don't donate it. However, some charities want your clothing that needs repairs. Give them a call and ask!)
If you hate it, if it never fit correctly, if it's from another time in your life and you have no plan to wear it again, it goes in the donate box. If it's trash, trash it.
If it goes somewhere else, either put it there, or put it in a bin or bag with everything else that belongs elsewhere. Know thyself! If you know you won't touch the bin later, just put everything back as you find it. You'll run a bit more, but you'll be making progress without having yet another bin to deal with.
Step Three: Like with Like
The master closet can be the home of many, many things other than clothes and shoes. The methods you learn can be applied to anything and any category in your closet.
After you've removed trash and easy stuff, you have more room. Now be honest, can you easily get to the clothes you want to wear? If you pull out one thing, does the neighboring stuff come out with it? Can you see everything or are some things still hidden and stuffed into corners?
Your closet is not going to grow just because you want it to, and while there are ways to make better use of the space you have, it's still the space you have. That's your limit. You can keep whatever you want, as long as it fits in that space! If you're lucky enough to have an additional space - either another closet or attic or basement or under-the-bed storage or whatever, to store your off-season clothing - awesome! If you have any off-season clothing in your closet, take it to that space. If you don't have a space and have been meaning to figure that out, do it NOW. If you simply don't have any space to store clothing outside of your closet, that's fine. This is the space you have.
It's time to consolidate. Put like things with like things. Move it around. Long sleeves with long sleeves. Dresses with dresses. As you do this, you may find more easy stuff. Until like items are grouped, you can't see how much you really have. You may discover ten pairs of black slacks, but you only wear the five that fit really well. Donate the rest. Keep this up and see how it goes.
Step Four: The Closet you Have....
How does it look? Can you easily see and access what you want? If it's still overcrowded, it's time to find your favorites. Take out clothing until everything "fits". It fits when you can see what you have and comfortably remove what you want without shoving or pulling. Basically, if it's like T.J.Maxx around Christmas, it doesn't fit. It doesn't matter which pieces you take out. It's just a reference point. Don't spend a lot of time on this. Just take things out until it fits. Be honest!
Now, pick up the item on the top of the stack. Can you donate it? If so, great! If it's a favorite, also great! You can totally keep it. Just pick something else in the closet to donate so that you have room for this one. It's about what deserves space in your closet. Stuff you love, stuff you need, and stuff that makes you feel amazing, definitely deserves space. Stuff that's uncomfortable, stuff that makes you feel awkward, and stuff that's not flattering, doesn't. Keep working your way through the pile until there's nothing left and everything you're keeping fits in your closet.
"But I want to keep more than what fits!!!!"
That's fine too. Do you have room anywhere else? Is there something in another closet or drawer or cabinet that can go to make room for the extra items? Again: no stuffing! The goal is to have it all fit so that you can easily grab what you want when you need it. So you get back the time, energy, and space you've been missing.
Did you just remember there's laundry that will need closet space? Or that there's still a pile on the chair in the corner? Same rule applies. If it's a favorite, keep it. Just take out something else to make the room. The laundry and clothes piled on chairs are probably ones you wear often and deserve closet space. You'll be amazed at how great it feels to open your closet and see only clothes that you love and that make you feel great!
Step 5: Organize
Take a step back and admire your work! Decluttering a master closet is no easy task. If you stop here, you've still taken a giant step forward. You've removed the clutter - the clothes you don't like, want, or need - and you've grouped like items together. It's time to organize what's left.
Organization is like real estate. What matters most? Location, location, location. What you use and reach for the most needs to be easily accessible. Seasonal and rarely used items (e.g. formal wear) can go in places that are more difficult to reach: the top shelf or the sides. Decide whether to separate work clothes from everyday wear and other specialty items. If your work and day-to-day clothes are quite different, this is a good option. Within those categories, separate by type: dresses, skirts, pants, sleeveless shirts, short sleeve shirts, long sleeve shirts, etc. Within those, try going dark to light. The goal here is to make it easier and quicker to locate what you want. If you have to look through every item in your closet for that one short sleeve, white button-up, it takes a lot longer than if you just look through the short sleeved white shirts. See what I mean?
Work the same with shoes and other categories in your closet. Get creative, and don't be afraid to put something in an unconventional spot if it works for you. Try command hooks on doors and walls. Remove a lower rod and add a dresser or plastic drawers. If something doesn't fit in it's new home, exchange that group with another, or again, donate something until everything fits. The space you have....
Step 6: Maintain
You did it! You're finished! For now. You will need to declutter and organize again. More stuff will come into your home. You and your life will grow and change. If you do a little over time to maintain it, the next time you work through this process, there will be much less and the process will go more quickly. Plus, you've already worked your decluttering muscle, and you're accepting that the space you have is your limit. Your mindset is starting to shift. You'll look at new things and ask: will I want to take out something else to make room?
Four ways to keep your closet in tip-top shape:
Things to Think About
Where Can I Donate?
If you're not sure where to donate or if you want more options, don't let this stop your progress. If you're in or near Wilmington, NC, check out donateILM.com. If not, ask around. You're not the only one trying to declutter! Local Facebook groups are a great source of information on different charities and groups in your area. And if you're not sure what items they will and won't take, just call them!
We'd love to see and hear about your before and afters! Tell us about it here or post pics in the JAM Organizing Facebook Group. And until then...
Would you like to live a more organized life? Contact us today to get started!
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I'm Jen, a professional organizer ready to help you take charge of your space, free up your time, and lead a more organized life! (Read more about me here)