by Susan McCarthy
Marie Kondo’s books and Netflix show has a lot of people convinced that the only way they can declutter their clothing is to gather every stitch of their clothing and sort through it all at once. This isn’t a new technique. Pretty much ever article or video you’ll find on decluttering your closet suggests that you need to go through the process at one time. And, yes, it’s easier to see what you have and compare items when you bring everything together.
However, depending on how much clothing you own, it’s a downright intimidating prospect to face every stitch of clothing sitting in a big pile in the middle of your room. I’ll discuss how to sort through your wardrobe in a day as well as how to sort through your clothing category-by-category over multiple days.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods.
Before You Start
Don’t buy any organizing tools or closet systems before you declutter. You don’t know what you’ll have after sorting through what you really wear. You want to keep the clothing that you enjoy wearing as opposed to keeping items just because they fit in your closet.
When to Sort Off-Season Clothing
If you pack away off-season clothing, you don’t have to don’t have to sort through those items now, unless you want. Use the change of season as your opportunity to sort through these items.
Before you pack away these items, consider if you wore everything and if the items are still in good condition. Then, when you pull out the items to integrate into your closet and drawers for the appropriate season, check through the items again to confirm that you are looking forward to wearing the items in the upcoming months.
Closet Declutter Option 1: Everything All at Once
If you have a day (or at lease a good chunk of a day) to devote to your closet and drawers, fill your water bottle, grab some snacks, put on some upbeat music, and turn on all the lights in the room and open the drapes to let in the sun. Then, take a deep breath and dive in. Every half hour or so, take a drink of water, go to the bathroom, walk out of the room for five minutes. Have something to eat every couple of hours.
What’s up with all the breaks and snacks? You’ll be making a lot of decisions and there are some theories that suggest lowered glucose (blood sugar) levels can make it harder to make decisions … and making numerous decisions lowers your willpower (fueled by glucose). Think about it. Even if you touch two items a minute, in an hour you’ve handled and made decisions on 120 items!
Chances are, just pulling everything out of your closet and drawers … and checking to make sure you didn’t have stuff stored in another closet or room, made you feel a bit overwhelmed by the quantity of stuff you own. Unless you regularly declutter your closet, you’ll have a lot of stuff.
Sorting your entire wardrobe in a day allows you to make comparisons, notice duplicates, and see what your style is. A weird perk is identifying all the places in your home where you store clothing. Except for off-season clothing, you want everything in a single place. If you keep clothing in numerous rooms, maybe using a part of your spouse’s or kid’s closet, then you’ve been trying to hide from yourself how much clothing you really own.
However, this is a fairly exhausting method because once you have clothing piled up on your bed and the floor, you have to push through to the end or you'll have no place to fall into bed to rest.
Closet Declutter Option 2: Sort Clothing Category-by-Category
If you dread the idea of pulling out every stitch of clothing and spending the day sorting it all, you can also work category-by-category. This may take a little more time, but the advantage is that you can squeeze in 10-to-20-minutes every evening for a week or two and be done with the process without feeling quite as overwhelmed.
Also, if you have health issues that affect your energy level, this way is a kinder, gentler method.
The key to sorting and decluttering your clothing in this way is you still want to remove items from your closet or drawers. No rearranging items hanging in your closet. So, on tank top day, gather all your tank tops on your bed and sort through what you have. Work your way through tee shirts, blouses, cardigans, jackets, skirts, dresses, pants, jeans, shorts, undergarments, socks, footwear, group-by-group.
Don’t worry if you overlook an item and don’t discover it until you’re working on another category of items. Check the condition of the item and put it in your donation bag or store it with its group.
Piles of clothing are heavy, so don't toss your donations in the largest bags that you can buy. If you want to sell some items or give a few pieces to people you know, don't put those garments back in your closet.
Attach a note to the items, specifying what you want to do with them and by when. Give yourself that deadline so you don't hold onto the items for another six months!
However, if you aren’t actively losing weight, consider if you really need multiple sizes of items that don’t fit. A little tight or a little loose may work on different days. Keeping items two or more sizes tighter or looser only makes it more difficult to get dressed, not to mention demoralizing when you pull on something that doesn’t fit.
Ultimately you want a wardrobe filled with clothing that you enjoy wearing and that suits your activities. If you're concerned that decluttering your closet will leave you with nothing to wear, my downloadable PDF, Simplify Your Wardrobe, is filled with worksheets that help you identify what you really wear, what items best support your lifestyle, the colors you love to wear, and shows you how to create a capsule wardrobe for a signature look.
Get the free guide, How to Declutter when You Have No Time, and receive weekly emails about clearing the clutter from your home and creating space for the life you want.
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