What’s on your summer to do list? Organizing your closet

Sorting, categorizing, and purging clothing are not activities just for springtime. If your goal is to simplify, unclutter, and to keep only the things you need and use, summer is an opportune time to reveiw and edit what’s in your closet. A new season gives us a reason to check if our style and tastes are still the same as the year before, to see if we have duplicates, and to organize things in a way that helps us find what we want when we want it. You will also get a good idea of the colors you tend to stock up on so you can find ways to introduce others that flatter you (or to streamline your options). And, if you read Erin’s recent post on “material saturation,” you would have learned that our closets (as well as a few other places) are bursting at the seams, so this is just a good a time as any to figure out:

How much clothing you have

This is typically the first step in the clothing review process. You can’t really know what you’re going to keep or donate until you find out exactly what and how much you have. If you have clothes in several places, gather them together so that you can really see how large (or small) your stash is. Sometimes we forget where we store things, so check on high shelves, under the bed, in the guest room (in the closet and under the bed in there, too, if you have a guest room), basement, attic, outdoor storage units, and the laundry area. Once you have them all together, use a flat surface like a table or your bed as a staging area for sorting and categorizing.

Now comes the hard(er) part, making decisions about what gets the boot and what gets lovingly placed back inside your closet.

How many clothes do you really need?

So, how often do you really wear all your clothing? Frequency of use can be used as a benchmark when you’re deciding what you’ll keep. Some things may only be worn once in a while (e.g. for special events) while others are not worn because you no longer like them or because you haven’t seen them. If the latter statement refers to you, give them until the end of this season to see if you reach for them. If you don’t, they are probably good candidates for your favorite charitable organization. Do the same for clothes that you just don’t fancy anymore.

Are you still holding on to clothing that you used to love?

You don’t have to get rid of everything in your closet and there’s nothing wrong with keeping a few items because they have high sentimental value. But, if your closet is filled with many clothes that you used to love but don’t wear anymore, it’s time to look at things a little differently. And, don’t just buy something because it’s on sale. It has to “make your heart sing,” so says Stylist, Stacy London. You might also want to think about which item will leave your closet so that your new purchase can move in.

Do your clothes still fit and flatter you?

Look with a critical eye at each article of clothing. Are they flattering to you now at your current size? Try them on to see how you look and feel in them, especially while you’re still at the store. It will take a little more time to do this, but consider the time you’ll save by leaving something unflattering at the store instead taking it home only to return it later.

Do your clothes still fit your current lifestyle?

Think about your current lifestyle while you’re in decision-making mode. Do you need to attend a variety of diverse events that require several types of clothing, or can you wear some of the same outfits? Has your style evolved over time? If the prospect of searching for clothing that will make you look your best is a bit daunting, you can use an in-store stylist to help you select a few core pieces. Many stores, like Nordstrom, offer this service (for both men and women) free of charge. This doesn’t mean that you have carte blanche to buy any and everything. But, you may get advice that will help you make wiser purchases and help keep your closet from being filled with things that you will never wear.

How will you put everything back?

Before putting everything back in your closet, first figure out if any of your items need to be laundered or taken to the dry cleaners. Some things, even though you may have already worn them once or twice, can go directly in your closet. A recent article in the Star Tribune noted that it’s okay to wash your jeans “intermittently” but jackets and blazers can be worn up to six times before needing to be cleaned. You can also take a look at Real Simple’s The When-to-Wash-It-Handbook for “when to wash” tips on various items, including delicates and everyday wear.

As you return things to your closet…

  • Group like items together (e.g., all the pants together, all the shirts together, all the dresses together, and so on) and keep in mind that not every item should be put on a hanger. Sweaters, for instance, keep their shape best when they are folded (find more clothing tips in Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook).
  • Color coordinating (i.e., keeping similar hues together) the clothing in each category will help you to find what you’re looking for more quickly and see the colors you tend to gravitate toward.
  • Consider using hangers of the same type and color to give your closet a neat and orderly look. By maintaining a uniform look, you’ll be more likely to things back where they belong.
  • Keep donation basket or bag in your closet or laundry room for clothing that you haven’t worn in awhile or simply don’t like anymore.

No matter what structured elements you decide to include in your closet, put things back in a way that makes sense to you. Avoid creating a system that is too complicated to keep up with and the next time you decide to organize your closet, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much easier the task will be.

16 Comments for “What’s on your summer to do list? Organizing your closet”

  1. posted by SAHMama on

    I’m currently expecting my third child, and am 4 months along and in that stage where I still fit into some regular clothes but need some maternity items also. However, I have a ridiculous amount of maternity items that were passed along to me or that I swapped for during my previous pregnancies.

    My first pregnancy had a due date of mid-fall, my second pregnancy was mid-summer and now this one is early winter, so I’ve needed every season and style of clothing. I worked during my first two pregnancies so I needed office clothing, and now I’m a SAHM so I needed more casual stuff this time. Oh and I grew a size or two between my first pregnancy and this one, so some summer stuff didn’t fit!

    However, just this morning I went through my summer maternity items and removed 6 shirts. 5 had fabric that were great for cold offices but not ideal for my warm house or playing outside with my kids. So those are in the “to sell” bag for the upcoming winter when the consignment store takes summer items (I’ll have more to add to it). One won’t pass consignment muster so it is in the freecycle bag.

  2. posted by Another Deb on

    At this point, “flatter” is not a useful culling tool. The closet would be bare. :-)

  3. posted by Rosalie Donlon on

    I have a large storage closet for out-of-season and special-event clothes. I sort through the storage closet and my bedroom closet every time I swap out clothes for the season — sometimes with more success than others. It is hard to let go of many of my office clothes, but I now work from home and don’t need suits. They go to Dress for Success (http://www.dressforsuccess.org/), an organization that provides professional attire to disadvantaged women. If you have professional clothing to donate, this is a great organization.

  4. Profile photo of

    posted by chacha1 on

    I reorganized my closet a few weeks ago and it made me very happy. :-) Had to find a replacement storage solution in order to make the reorganization work, but once I found the right thing the job went quickly and easily.

    I didn’t get rid of much in the process. Almost tossed one simple dress before realizing it was pretty much my ONLY simple dress (as opposed to a dress made for dancing) and I needed to have something simple for the inevitable function at which I ought not to look like a showgirl.

  5. posted by Cristina on

    I’m having a hard time figuring out what to do with all these event-related type t-shirts, you know the ones that have your name on them (like being a part of a play, concert, etc.). I have so many from back when I was involved in a lot more stuff. I don’t really wear them anymore, but I have no idea what to do with them. Right now they’re taking up space in my closet.

  6. posted by anon on

    I have the opposite problem. I don’t have anywhere near enough clothes. I didn’t want to get rid of the things I have that didn’t fit because it’s almost literally the only clothes I have. After my last baby was born, I gained a lot of weight (as in, even my full-term maternity clothes are too small now).

    I finally went through and got rid of (most) of the stuff that didn’t fit, and packed up the maternity stuff “just in case” (there is only one box). I had one pair of pants, two pairs of shorts and about 5 t-shirts. That was it for the longest time. I found a couple things this summer at yard sales, but its still slim picking.

    Just to say, it’s possible to get away with a lot less than most people think.

  7. posted by Nana on

    Another suggestion is to put things back into the closet with the hangers turned backwards. When you do wear something, turn the hanger right side out. At the end of the season, consider anything that’s still hung backwards…if you didn’t wear it this year / season, will you next?

    Also helpful to do this with a friend / audience. Someone who can help you reality-test that almost-OK item, the just-a-tad-too small one, etc.

    As for T-shirts, you can have ‘em made into a quilt.

  8. posted by Carol Swedlund on

    @Cristina – If you are in need of more bedding, you could make the T-shirts into a quilt. Or if you are sewing-challenged as I am, you could find a friend to make the quilt. I saved T-shirts for both my sons and friends made quilts for them right after high school.

  9. posted by Jack on

    Hi. My name is Jack. I am an extreme clutterer. I don’t qualify for Hoarders. Barely.

    Last fall, a friend helped me go through ONE closet (walk-in, approximately 8-10′ depth. One side of the closet is almost all hanging clothes. I donated roughly 120 shirts (no t-shirts) and 50 pair of pants. I threw away about 30 shirts that were not wearable any longer, though I did keep swatches of some of these shirts as a keepsake. My friend was very helpful when I was conflicted by saying, “You’ve appreciated this shirt for a long time; now someone else can enjoy it.” This was extremely helpful to me: she acknowledged my emotional attachment but gently freed me from the need to have to keep it around. I kept four shirts from that closet.

    Recently, I went through the rest of my hanging clothes (another walk-in closet plus more). This was much easier to go through by myself, probably because I had prepared myself to cut back tremendously (for me). I prayed for strength to release these items as needed. I kept what I wanted and got rid of the rest. Another 80 shirts and 20 pair of pants.

    Still, after all of that purging, I have about 6′ of shirts, and 15-20 pair of pants. But I feel this is a much more manageable set to deal with.

    Shorts and t-shirts are a whole different matter. Suffice to say I had a major culling there, also, and still have plenty. (one story here: I discovered I had 10 red t-shirts. I kept two, one nice and one that had paint on it — work shirt!)

  10. posted by WilliamB on

    I find it really helps to have someone with you during this process. For one, it helps make this tedious chore more pleasant. For another, the friend can tell you things you might not see yourself: this white shirt is dingy, the cuffs are too frayed on that one, do you really want three sweaters in similiar patterns (did you even realize those three were so similar)? Your friend can be your full-length mirror, too.

    The other thing that helps is a portable clothes rack so you can pull everything (or a subset of everything) out at once.

    Finally, a way to determine what you wear a lot and what you wear only a little. Say you have all your suits in one spot. After you wear each one, put it on the left of the spot. The suits you like will tend to be on the left, the ones you don’t on the right.

    @Christina – there are ads for people who makes quilts from t-shirts in back of every running magazine. Probably other sports mags as well.

  11. posted by Diane on

    Lots of good points in this post about closet organization, as well as decluttering~

    I use matching hangers in each closet, with each person having a different color. Each closet looks neater & less distracting, plus it’s easier to sort clothes with 4 adults in the house. Clothes are sorted right out of the dryer & each person can grab their color hangers & know they have the right clothes.

    I also sort clothes by color & type when hanging, which keeps the closet neat & makes it easier to find what you’re looking for.

    I’ve done the “hang things backwards” to see what I’m wearing, and it did help me to let go of some things I was keeping. If I pick something up 3-4 times & decide not to wear it, I know I really don’t want that item.

    I also try to only buy items I really like that are flattering. This sometimes means that I get home & realize something doesn’t work for me, so I return it (keep the receipts!). If you don’t have enough clothes that fit & flatter, start adding items slowly & make sure they’re things you like.

  12. posted by laura m. on

    I declutter closets several times a year. Since I live in a hurricane zone, there are drop off points which are taken to the areas effected. This motivates others I know to purge the closets and other household items too. Group homes get some. Handicapped homes need work type clothes like t- shirts with logos printed, etc. Cristina, this is where I took the t shirts, shorts, etc. Kitchen and linen items are great for women’s shelters as they need items to set up housekeeping.

  13. posted by Layla on

    This is how I found unclutterer in the first place – looked up how to organize your closet, found something on missminimalist, and eventually ended up here.

    Two years later (ie now), I opened my closet and finally thought “here’s a wardrobe full of things I wear now, and comfortably on its way to being coherent with the style I’d like to have.” That’s the first time I’ve had such happy thoughts about my closet. I always thought that was an unrealistic dream, that my closet was destined to always be full of things that don’t fit right and don’t match my style, but that I can’t get rid of. It isn’t! It’s do-able :)

  14. posted by Elspeth on

    I reorganized my closet a while back and was very happy with it. Then over the last couple of months I lost a significant amount of weight and now have the glorious inconvenience of none of my clothes fitting anymore. Of course this has made getting dressed in the morning exceptionally time consuming, because I might put on a pair of pants that fit a couple of weeks ago and now they look ridiculous and baggy on. B

    ecause I lost weight quickly, and I might still be getting smaller and have no idea how long I’ll be this size, I’m reluctant to buy anything new or get attached to any clothing right now. I guess it’s a blessing in disguise, really, because all of those clothes I was SO attached to before are absolutely worthless to me. I just wish I could get rid of them already! I ended up putting them in plastic bags to store in my attic until I maintain a steady size for a while.

  15. posted by Deb Lee on

    @Jack: Kudos on continuing to work on your closets — not an easy task to do by yourself, especially when you’re sorting through a high volume of things.

  16. posted by catmom on

    Just this week, I donated 3 bags to a local thrift store, yay! Gave away books, knick knacks given to me by people who meant well but they were clutter and clothes that I no longer wear. The clothing I had for many years, felt no guilt getting rid of them because I got my money’s worth and wore them a lot. My new thought process for donating: “Whatever I donated maybe someone will go in that store and it might be the very thing that they are looking for and hope they enjoy it”. I love win-win deals! Happy decluttering!!!!

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