My 4 Fundamental Rules For Cleaning Out Your Overstuffed Closet

Or how I'm forcing Marci to stop being a clothes hoarder while I stay with her in New York this week.
Publish date:
September 3, 2014
hoarding, cleaning, organization, closets, donations

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HEY, I'M IN NEW YORK CITY, BABY! I'm learning lots of cool things here. I went to the zoo and learned about lots of different animals (did you know red pandas use their fluffy tails to help them balance while they nap on tree branches?) and I went to the flea market in Williamburg and learned about WHAT IS COOL RIGHT NOW. (If you were wondering, not trying is still cool, which is why I will never be cool. I am the ultimate try-hard.)

I'm also learning a lot about organizing and storage in small apartments. I have no idea how anyone affords to live in this place, but I know lots of people who do, and I've been visiting all their apartments and nosily asking about their rent and proximity to pizza. I love seeing how different people make small spaces work for them in the city. Some people go the minimalist route, some people pay extra for storage units. Everyone owns a lot of IKEA stuff. (I'm super-jealous. We don't even have IKEA where I live. Ugh! Moving to NYC ASAP!)

While I'm here this week, I'm staying with ya girl Marci! Marci's got an adorable apartment in Park Slope, where she lives with her two pups and her thousands of clothes. Let's talk about that. (The clothes, not the pups. Sorry, pups. Your day will come.)

When I first got here, Marci realized she couldn't find her wallet. We searched her apartment high and low, to no avail. Her purse seems to have gone the way of the frosted lip, but we had a very good and scary time searching through her immense collection of clothes. I'm a very polite person (I live in the South, come on) but even I couldn't help myself from being a bit too blunt in the moment.

"Marci, you have way too many clothes," I told her as I stuffed yet another garbage bag full of early 2000s mall apparel and gifts from her mom.

Marci knows she has too many clothes and has decided to embark on the very personal and rewarding journey of Cleaning Out Her Closet. (I'm not linking to the Eminem song because I hate Eminem.) I've decided to help Marci while I'm here because I'm literally the most amazing friend in the world and also because I get a strange joy from organizing other people's crap. I'm nosy.

Just a few years ago, I gave away literally 90% of my wardrobe. It felt amazing, freeing, liberating, empowering and all the other feelings I miss out on by shaving my legs every day and letting my boyfriend pay for dinner. Over the next few years, I gradually bought more dumb clothes and started overstuffing my closet yet again. Last month, in a fit of rage and caffeine, I filled four garbage bags with clothes and drove them promptly to the neighborhood Goodwill.

Keeping a streamlined and organized closet is important satisfying. First of all, let's go back to the whole "Trying Isn't Cool" thing I'm learning in Brooklyn. Can you think of anything that screams "TRYIN' TOO HARD" more than a huge closet full of trends? No! Trends are the lamest! The ultimate cool kid closet is just, like, some expensive jeans, white tees, and black boots.

Having too many clothes actually makes getting dressed harder. It's sort of like how yesterday I freaked out and started almost crying because I didn't know where to eat lunch because I just kept wanting to walk one more block and see which restaurants were down there, in case I missed out on something great. There's just too many options in NYC and I ended up eating pretty average tacos on the Upper West Side. Clothing works the same way. The more options you have, the more stressful putting together an outfit can be, especially if you can't mentally keep track of all the clothes you own.

Also, apartments are small. Marci's place is actually quite spacious, but a big apartment by NYC standards is actually just a pantry by average American standards. Keeping too many clothes around leads to clutter, which looks bad and hoarder-ish. Marci's apartment has a lot going for it, but the piles of clothes are distracting and off-putting.

I'm here to help. Here are my four golden rules for cleaning out your closet. (Take notes, Marci!)

Rule #1: If you haven't worn it in a year, it has to go.

I know some of y'all are like "Buttttt waaaiiiit," because that's what Marci said, but this rule is a No Exceptions sort of thing. The only thing you're allowed to keep but not wear is your wedding dress.

It's a good rule to only keep clothing that you get a lot of wear out of. Blouses, dresses and pants that you wear every day are much more deserving of your precious square footage than that sequin blazer you bought that one time you got drunk and ordered a bunch of stuff on ASOS. (We've all been there.)

If you're having a hard time with this rule, set aside the clothes you haven't worn in a year but can't bear to part with. Give yourself three months. If you can't force yourself to wear each item of clothing at least once during that stretch, then TOSS IT.

Marci has a lot of clothes she hasn't worn in YEARS, which is totally unacceptable! She's holding on to things for sentimental reasons, which I sort of understand but it's also sort of hoarder-y soooo... that ish has gotta go.

Rule #2: If it doesn't fit, it has to go.I know this one is tough. I'm always telling myself I'm about to lose that last 10 pounds, but when it comes to clothes, it pays to be more realistic. Whether something is too big or too small, or just not flattering, it's doing you no good in your closet.

Assess your pieces not only by size, but by the way they work on your body. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes and smells, and not every trend is going to work on every body. Don't get down about it. Just get excited about all the other stuff you do look good in.

I know Marci has been trying to lose weight, and she's doing a fantastic job and I support her 100%, but it's important to dress for the body you have now while you work towards the one you want. Wearing the wrong size actually makes you look bigger, so don't do yourself a disservice!

Rule #2.5: If it will fit after a bit of tailoring but you've never actually gotten around to tailoring it, it has to go.

Just be honest with yourself. Tailoring is great, but it can be expensive, and if you haven't taken care of it in the past year, you're never going to.

Rule #3: If it doesn't fit your lifestyle, it has to go.

I own way too many cocktail dresses for someone whose lifestyle is more semi-charmed than semi-formal. When I last cleaned out my closet, I had to let go of a bunch of these dresses. There's no need for me to own all of them.

Assess your lifestyle. Do you go out a lot? Do you work in a very professional office? Are you very outdoorsy? Don't hold onto clothing pieces that are meant for lifestyles you aren't living. I know it can be fun to buy things and play pretend, but that's a waste of money and space. Just play the Kim Kardashian iPhone game instead.

Rule #4: Figure out how much room you really have in your closet, and go from there.

Get out your measuring tape and do some real math. A hanger with a dress on it takes up an inch or two. (NO WIRE HANGERS.) Figure out how many hangers your closet can feasibly hold, and work from there. This goes for drawers and all that too, though I prefer the way clothes look hanging.

Once you've limited yourself to a certain amount of hangers, divide that up by the types of clothing you have. If you lean more towards dresses than pants, than allot dresses more space in your closet. I've found that actually writing out lists and making charts makes this whole process much easier and makes it feel much more productive. It's like a sassy montage in a movie about a woman who is "finding herself" or whatever.

Those are all my rules, and Marci BETTER STICK TO THEM or I will be pissed and tell everyone about the time she lost her wallet the day I came to visit. (Whoops.) Cleaning out a closet is difficult and time consuming, but definitely worth it in the long run.

How do you feel about clothes hoarding? Do you own Too Much Stuff? You should get rid of it. Fill the comments with personal struggles, success stories, or ideas for fun stuff I should do in NYC.