Cleaning Out Your Closet (and Shopping Your Wardrobe)

5 Guidelines to Discard Items + 6 Classic Pieces to Keep When Cleaning Out Your Closet

cleaning out your closet

PHOTO: Sex and the City.

Admit it. It’s the middle of the summer, and you still haven’t gotten around to spring cleaning. If you read All’s Fair in Love & Wardrobe (or even just my book report on it), you might have the urge to edit your wardrobe (before editing your love life). The good news for you slackers is that I just did a major overhaul of two closets thanks to my move, and I learned some things in the process.

Cleaning out your closet is beneficial for a) making room for new things, b) taking inventory of what you might have forgotten you have, c) making a little extra cash, and d) feeling emotionally lighter. A well-edited closet gives you the opportunity to know exactly what you have and streamlines the getting ready process and your options of what to wear. Now where to start? There are the tried and true rules for what you should discard, but where can you draw the line? Read on for your guide to what must go as well as what should stay in your wardrobe.

Getting Started

When you’re simply looking for space to add a new dress to your closet, it’s acceptable to flip through hanger after hanger pulling out only what you know you don’t want anymore. When you’re cleaning out your closet, it helps to take out sections of clothing at a time to really consider each piece and its place in your wardrobe. This allows you to shop your own closet and easily try on long-forgotten items so you know immediately if it should stay or go. It forces you to work for each shirt, dress, sweater that you decide to keep.

Find a system that works for you; it’s helpful to use 3 categories: Keep, Sell, Donate. Piles work fine if you have the space available to stay organized, or have shopping bags handy for the discards. Sell-able items include items that have tags still attached, look brand new, hold a name brand, or have minor imperfections (as a rule of thumb, ask yourself if you would take the item from a friend). More on what to do with them later.

cleaning out your closet

PHOTO: Clueless.


You should put the following into the Sell or Donate piles:

  • Anything that no longer fits you: Be real. Your body changes over time, so ask yourself it that skirt will actually fit even if you lost 3 pounds?
  • Anything you haven’t worn in the last year: How easy it is to be loved by you! I know how you can talk yourself into buying anything or talk yourself out of throwing out the blouse that still has price tags 2 years later. If you really can’t part with it, try it on to see if fits… then use the old trick of coming up with a minimum of 3 outfits or occasions you can wear it.
  • Anything that needs repairs (stains, holes, unintended rips, etc.): If you would be embarrassed for your friend to borrow or even to see the pit-stained t-shirt, it’s time for it to go… unless it holds sentimental value, in which case you can opt to upgrade with a DIY project: turn that shirt into a tank top or those pants into shorts.
  • Anything that reminds you of someone/something you’d rather not think about: That one time at band camp. That one time you humiliated yourself in college. Get rid of the bad juju.
  • Anything that doesn’t reflect YOUR personal style anymore: We are always evolving! Just because that dress is in perfectly good shape and you wore it every other day a few years ago, if it doesn’t feel like you right now don’t let it hold you back any longer.
cleaning out your closet



Every now and then, there are pieces that need to stay—in anticipation of the woman you’re becoming or for the sake of your future granddaughter. If a couple of the Discards guidelines above apply to an item, consider the loophole that says you should keep:

  • Real leather: In case you didn’t get the memo, genuine leather gets better with age. That handbag, that jacket, those boots… KEEP.
  • Classic designer items: Those of us who don’t work in the fashion industry may at one time have made a purchase merely for the designer name or logo attached. However, those purses and shoes we chose with a little more discernment should stay whether or not we have used them in the last year or two. (Make sure to utilize dust bags and boxes to preserve these.)
  • Quality denim: Remember that fashion is cyclical, so you may want that jean jacket or bell bottoms that you’re so over right now in a few years. I’m still kicking myself for not keeping my perfectly fitted GAP denim jacket from high school.
  • Tailored jackets: By the time you’re 30 you should have a go-to collection of mature outerwear. Think trench coat, blazer, pea coat, dress coat; as long as it fits you well, it should stay.
  • Quality basics: Tanks and tees that have kept their color and shape over years of wear and wash should stay. I’m going against the grain and saying it’s okay to have 10 black tanks if you wear a black tank more than once a week.
  • Well-fitted dresses: You can continue re-wearing dresses with classic hemlines for interviews, work or networking events.
cleaning out your closet

PHOTO: Tumblr.

Get That Money, Honey

If you’re like me and generally donate your old clothes to a nonprofit, I urge you to consider selling first. I have had great experiences with ThredUp. They send you a bag that you can fill to the brim with clothing, accessories, shoes and bags (items that still have tags attached are best—hello, dress from Urban Outfitters I never got around to wearing) and send back at no charge to you (give the bag to your mail carrier or drop it off at a post office or FedEx). Their stylists go through the bag and pay upfront for most low-end items (check out their clothing calculator for brands they accept and estimates on what they pay). The best part is that they graciously donate items they decide they can’t sell (unless you choose to have them returned to you for a shipping fee) so you can rest assured none of your items go to waste.

I made close to $90 for a bag of clothing I normally would’ve parted with for free. No fuss is the name of their game. Plus every time they sell one of your items, you receive an email notification… And you can smile at the thought of someone else enjoying something you once loved. (Let me tell you, getting your payout email the first time and hearing about your old clothes selling is the biggest motivator in discarding even more.)

Here are additional options for selling your clothing that may be a better fit for your wardrobe discards.

What items in particular have you had trouble parting with when cleaning out your closet?

Originally posted on The Single Diaries. With special thanks to Colleen Viana.

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