It’s a new year over here on the blog, and have we got a lot of exciting things coming your way. Style at a Certain Age is going to roll out some big surprises out over the next few months, so make sure you stay tuned. In the meantime, New Year’s Eve has come and passed, the holidays are over, and my Christmas decorations are put away. Thus begins the great rebirth: January. I used to dread this month; it always felt cold and dreary. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to view January as an opportunity to reset, refresh, and renew. That’ll be our focus this month on the blog—ways in which we can reboot our lives starting with our wardrobe but extending far beyond into our daily habits and exercise routines. As a fashion and lifestyle blogger, my closet can get a bit unwieldy: so “resetting” for me definitely involves a closet cleanse. I get it, though: organizing your closet might not be on the top of your to-do list, especially if you haven’t tackled a closet purge before. But today, i’m going to show you the best way to clean out your closet in three easy steps, with an optional “pre-step” for those wanting to take that much more control of your closet.
Let’s kick things off with that optional pre-step. For those of you seriously wanting to get control of your closet, I can’t recommend enough installing custom shelving and cabinetry. Shelves and cabinets will provide you with both the horizontal and vertical space to truly find a home for all of your wardrobe items. (Vertical space will eliminate what I like to affectionately refer to as the “pile problem.)
I know what you’re thinking, “too expensive!” Sure, that can be true, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. I’m using the term “custom” here loosely: it can simply mean grabbing a measuring tape and heading over to Target for their extremely reasonably priced closet systems. Or it can mean hiring a professional to build out custom shelves and cabinets. Whatever your price point, a few questions to ask yourself before getting started:
If you’re living in a short-term rental, it probably doesn’t make sense to hire a custom designer. Target is gonna be your friend. But if your mortgage is almost paid off, and you’ve found your forever home, it might be time to seriously consider hiring someone to help build your closet. Depending on your answers to those questions, I’ve put together a few resources for you sorted by price point.
Personally, I’ve done it all. And I will say this: whatever route you go down brings its own pluses and minuses with it. For my long-time San Francisco followers, you’ll remember I added an Ikea closet system to my closet purchased years before when living in Shanghai. And others might remember the total rebuild of my closet here in Athens by Inspired Closets Athens. Just to give you a sense of what shelving and cabinetry can bring to a closet, I’ve provided you with a short project timeline of my most recent closet build.
Whether you’ve decided to add custom cabinets and shelves to your closet, the next three steps are applicable to anyone and everyone looking to clean their closet. First, dedicate an afternoon to your busy schedule to assess your closet and go through every item in your wardrobe. I know, I know: a million other priorities compete for space on our ever-expanding to-do list. No one wants to sort through pencil skirts, cardigans, and that swoon-worthy dress found on the final sale rack. But I promise, devoting an afternoon to sort through your clothes is time well spent.
If you’re like me, you’ll uncover fashion mistakes made throughout the season, weight lost or gained (let’s face it, ladies, weight fluctuates), or maybe, just maybe, it’s finally time to retire that beloved go-to blazer (you know the one, it has a shiny sheen on the elbows due to years of love, but you’re reluctant to part ways). It isn’t easy to rid your closet of items that no longer fit or have sentimental value, especially when you’ve shelled out major cashola for the purchase in the first place. But keep calm and carry on.
The first step of any major closet cleanse is to separate your clothes into two piles: “keep” and “get rid of”. Since I am a bit of an organization addict—I’m a Virgo by birth and have a strong penchant for planning and systematizing—I wanted to share my method for a reset and refresh with a closet cleanse. I try to keep things as fun as possible, so I put on a great audiobook, podcast or a Spotify playlist first—The Doobie Brothers or Steely Dan usually—then I pour a glass of wine (or coffee depending on the time of day) and ask myself three questions:
If the answer is “no” to (1) or (2) or “yes” to (3), then it’s time to part ways with those items by dividing them into three sub-piles:
The items that make it to your sell pile are the ones that are currently in style or gently used. It could even be a pair of brand new expensive jeans that were bought with the goal of losing ten pounds. Sigh. But take heart, these clothing items have the potential to make you a profit with little effort, thanks to an emerging online marketplace for buying and selling clothes. (Check out places like thredUP.)
If, by chance, some of your unwanted items are still in good condition, consider donating them to a good cause. Of course, Goodwill Industries and Salvation Army are always good reputable choices for your orphaned clothes. But other organizations deserve and appreciate your contributions as well. Personally, I love and support Dress for Success—a non-profit organization that addresses and fulfills the needs of low-income women who have left welfare and are interfacing with the challenges of the workforce.
But also consider local homeless shelters, specifically ones that cater to battered women. Blogger, The Midlife Fashionista, opened a non-profit in the greater Boston area called Uncommon Threads with a mission is to empower women. Trust me on this: it’s easier to let go of clothing when you know it is going to someone in need.
Now for the hard part. those items that can’t be repaired or have significant wear and tear must be tossed into the rubbish bin. It’s hard to say goodbye to your beloved LBD or your favorite graphic tee, but don’t let your emotions get the better of you. It must be thrown away. Say it with me, “it must be thrown away.”
It might take more than one try to get into the swing of downsizing your wardrobe, but the reward is a streamlined closet that makes getting dressed in the morning easier and maybe even fun. But in order to do that, you have to know what clothes are working for you and which ones don’t.
Ok, now for step two. After your closet purge is complete, it’s time to organize what’s left.
Organize by skirts, pants, sweaters, blouses, jeans. Then arrange pieces by item and color so you can see exactly what you own. The same holds true for shoes, jewelry, and the like. Hang sleeveless dresses or shirts first, then short sleeves, and then long sleeves.
Colocate shoes, scarves, hats, and handbags
Store your shoes and handbags where you can see them. Use clear shoe boxes or, better yet, store them on closet shelves or a bookcase. Right toe out left toe-in is a space-saving technique. I like my handbags out of their dust bags and visible, otherwise, I end up in that dreaded out of sight, out of mind. Hatboxes are perfect for storing hats with the larger ones resting on top. scarves are color-coded, folded, and stacked.
Jeans, sweaters, scarves, and lingerie are all items that I fold and stack on the shelves. Arrange cedar strips or mothballs on those shelves to prevent moths from snacking on your cashmere or wool sweaters. Jeans can be folded lengthwise and layered one on top of the other. Same for chinos and leather leggings too.
Lingerie is organized by color, size, and type. These are folded and tucked inside lingerie storage units. Place a linen sachet inside for a special treat.
Upgrade your hangers.
Who else remembers the movie line, “no wire hangers!” Well, we don’t have to be quite as obsessed as Joan Crawford, but I would advise upgrading your closet hangers. It’s a simple style trick that will extend the life of your clothes. And it gives uniformity. Whether you prefer thin velvet hangers or wood hangers, there is a hanger for you. Don’t forget space-saving stackable skirts or pant hangers.
Recently, Amazon invited me to create an online storefront. I’m just getting the shop up and running but my closet organization favorites are here.
And that’s the best way to clean out your closet in three easy steps, including an optional pre-step for those looking for a more complete solution. To recap, to cleanse your closet:
Remember ladies, January’s slogan is: reset, refresh, and renew. So stay tuned as we’ve got a ton of fashion and lifestyle tips to get you started on that journey.
is the Founder and CEO of Style at a Certain Age. She writes Sundays-Fridays on all topics ranging from fashion, health, wellness, home design and more.
She’s 63, 5’8, and size 8.
Thanks Beth, I so needed this incentive today!
I think that the “If I haven’t worn it in a year out it goes” doesn’t apply to a year and a half of Covid! I did a fall inventory of my wardrobe and realized how little I have worn with no outings, concerts, gatherings etc. But my sweatpants have gotten quite worn out.
I totally agree, this post made sense before Covid. I have some things that I haven’t worn in about 2 years, but I’m not getting rid of them.
I agree. I normally follow the 1 year rule ( maybe 18 months😆) but with covid and my traveling, entertaining, going out to dinner nights so curtailed; I’m giving my summer and winter clothes one more. Year before I toss.
I usually donate even my new clothes. My husband and I are heavily involved with a local charity that does excellent work for those in need. I figure the dollars I’d get from resale would be better used going to help a family pay their rent ( all
Profits from their thrift store go to help local families in need).
But excellent post, Beth. Saving it for next year!!!!!😊😊😊
That’s what I’ve been doing. Purging is freeing. I have no intention of feeling guilty when I see my mistakes so out they go to a thrilled sister in law, 😊 or Goodwill. Great post!
I love the “no intention of feeling guilty” frame of mind!
Beth, please address closets in dusty climates such as AZ desert. Clothes are three season, so aren’t in storage bins but rather readily accessible. Would love ideas for budget-friendly dust covers. Ideally we’d wear things often so dust wouldn’t settle, but not always the case.
I love a well-organized closet too! I have written a couple of blogs on this subject. One trick that I use is at the beginning of each season I turn all of my hangers backwards. Once I have worn an article of clothing the hanger gets flipped around forwards. If at the end of the season any of the hangers are backwards I need to seriously give some thought to whether the piece should be donated or maybe it is a classic piece that I just didn’t have the opportunity to wear…in which case it stays one more season (usually in another closet) If at the end of season two it’s still backwards…it is definitely time to get rid of it. I love the company you keep in your closet BTW!!! LOL..my sweet pup, Tank keeps me company in mine too. He has his own fur mat in there and a little bowl of treats too. xo
Thanks for this post, Beth! I regularly do a closet purge and re-organization in Spring and Fall. My strict rule is: anything in my closet has to fit, be flattering, and have a solid purpose in my wardrobe (i.e., I do wear it.). There’s such satisfaction in seeing everything in it’s place and readily accessible. I agree with the other ladies that Covid has thrown a monkey-wrench into the “if you haven’t worn it in a year” rule. So many of my lovely pieces just didn’t make it out of my closet this year, even after things opened up. I’m finding that although we’ve emerged from sequestering, our ways of dressing seem to have shifted—even the offerings in stores and online are different. I’d love to hear your comments and observations on this. Hope you are enjoying the holiday weekend!
This is exactly what I’m in the middle of. I have probably as many clothes as in your closet with about a quarter of the closet space! I take everything to my finished basement, have a couple of mobile clothing racks, plenty of hangers and I sort through everything, try on etc.! It’s so overwhelming. I have WAY too many clothes. Just trying to decide what I really love and purge the rest. What I love best is a neat organized closet that is NOT packed to the rafters. That’s always my challenge! Thanks for the great post.
Beth, thank you, for this post! I’ve been wondering about some of the donation options. I’ve hadn’t heard about donating to women’s shelters before and I love the idea.
I would love to know how you organize all your lovely jewelry!
I suffer from closet envy. To have a closet that size would be heaven! Thank you for reminding me that I need to “cleanse.” Not just our master bedroom closet, but the guest room closet (out of season clothes and formal wear). Love the fur babies!
No to moth balls! They stink! Damp Rid is an excellent choice plus it helps with moisture in the closets.
Living in Florida has opened my eyes to this fantastic product.
Okay. Okay. I know that we’re supposed to be focused on the clothes, shoes etc…who is the manufacturer of the carpet in your closet?
Before I read your blog just now, for the last several hours I’ve been organizing my linens. I had way too many afghans, sheets, pillows, etc., big job but necessary. Now that I’ve read your closet inspiration, that’s next on the list. Thank you!
Closet reset and organization is my favorite time of year. I don’t stick firmly to the “one year rule” because some years are different than others as we all now know. One reminder if I may, don’t forget to dust your closet shelves. : )
Great ideas in your post today! I cleaned out my closet last year at the beginning of the shut down but I should go through it again!!! I kept way too many items last time!!! Loved seeing you featured in a nice ad in Real Simple magazine ! You looked great!!!
Petite That’s a lot of work takes more than an afternoon for me my weight goes down and it goes up so hard to get rid of things the quality is not there and I have a good quality of clothes now .
Such an uplifting site, I may not carry out what is suggested right away but the closet organising article looks wonderful.
I’ve not cleaned my closets out in years. I recently started and found that I get tired both mentally and physically. So, I have to do a little at a time. I’m also losing weight and will have to go down a size. Also, there are four seasons here in Colorado requiring seasonal clothing. Hang in there friends, the process may take a year for some of us.
the good news is you decided to tackle your closets! and if you haven’t tackled a closet cleanse in years it will take some time. go at your
own pace knowing that in due time you will have a revitalized wardrobe and a life that’s organized.
Excellent, timely post, Beth. I’ve gone one step further, now 72. I remember my mum having fantastic handy-me-downs, and looking back, i realized how she managed to be so well put together on a relatively limited income. Less is more! Granted that doesn’t work for everyone, but I’ve decided to embrace it. I buy less, but invest in things that really bring me joy. I wear them out or donate, so no major cleanses. The simplicity of my closet and wardrobe, brings me peace and the compliments flow. I do, however, love your closet Reno 👏
Excellent post, Beth! Exactly what I’ve been needing. Love how you have broken down the steps and suggesting affordable closet ideas. Looking very much forward to the upcoming year with you and your wonderful posts.
We are moving into our new house later this week, so I really needed this. I have packed everything (twice since we moved in May, and then again now), and I purged a lot. I know that it will take a year or so to see what clothes I will really wear (we moved from New Hampshire to North Carolina, and I retired, so different focus for clothing). I cannot wait to unpack my clothes (and use your suggestions for organizing my clothes.) I designed the master closet with the finish/trim guy and ideas from fashion bloggers. It includes much of what you suggest here. Ready to move and start unpacking, at last. I will be saving this post for help along the way.
Beth, the new year is the perfect time to sort through and organize my closet. In fact, I sorted through some of it yesterday on New Years Day. I have to say that I’m a little envious, no, make that VERY envious of your closet! I’ve envisioned a closet like that for literally years but to no avail. I keep dreaming though!
I’m glad to read that you put your Christmas decorations away on January first. I’ve always loved doing that because at that point I’m ready to refresh my surroundings and get reset for the new year.
I have 2 questions.
1. Do you have any suggestions for storing boots.? I have way to many taking up tons of closet space.
2. How are you deciding what to purge? There are so many items I Would wear but my covid social life is so limited? I rarely go out now.
This is perfect for January. I did a major purge last year and am in the process of another. Sometimes it takes me time to admit that a piece needs to go. 🙂
I’d only add that it’s possible for items you’d normally trash to be recycled. Some regional Goodwills will take your unusable clothing and sell them to textile recyclers, and there are other options too to keep old clothes out of landfills.
To be safe, I label the bags I put things like that in as textile recycling since I’m like you: it should only be donated in good condition.
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