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Home organization & decluttering

The Essential Closet Cleanout Guide: 5 Ways to Maximize Closet Space!

 (modified Nov 8, 2023)

Closets can be messy. They're where we often hide things we just can't find a home for. It seems like a great idea when we're doing it, but not once we notice things starting to pile up. Learning how to clean out your closet can be the first step to a decluttered life.

The question is how do you keep your closets organized and still find a place for all of those essential items? We're going to take a look at 5 steps you can take to maximize your closet space, but before we do there are a couple of important questions we'll look to answer first.

Organizing a Closet Cleanout

What is a Closet Cleanout?

Simply put, a closet cleanout is the task of clearing out all of the clutter and unwanted things in your closets. We’re talking about a deep cleanse — not just taking out one or two items and calling it a day.

The idea of a clean closet is to maximize your closet space so that you have room for possessions you really need and a place for new items when the time comes.

What Should I Get Rid of When Cleaning Out My Closet?

When administering a closet cleanout it’s best to get rid of the easy stuff first. If you haven’t cleaned your closet space out in more than a year, you’re bound to find things that jump out at you as you go.

After you’re done with the easy part you then have to decide what you’re hanging on to for sentimental value or other less than practical reasons. It isn’t always easy to let go, but it’s necessary.

A good rule of thumb is to set a time frame. If you haven’t used something in the last 6 months you probably don’t need it.

It might be easier to set your time limit at a year though. There aren’t too many things that sit in your closet for more than a year that you actually need — with the possible exception of seasonal items.

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5 Steps for Clearing out Your Closet and Maximizing Your Available Space

Step 1. Clear Everything Out

When you’re staring into the abyss of an overloaded closet it can be hard to picture how it could ever be organized. A sure sign of trouble when cleaning out closets is if you can’t see the floor and you can’t squeeze even one more item onto the close rack.

The best approach when you’re dealing with a runaway closet like this is to tear everything out and start from scratch.

Find a good spot whether that’s on a bed, a couch, a kitchen table or any other surface with enough room and use that for the clothes. You don’t want to just drop all your clothes on the floor.

If you have any kind of temporary clothes rack that you use in a guest room when you have visitors you can put it to good use during your closet cleanout. If not, any flat surface off the ground will do.

Everything else you can start to organize into different piles on the floor. You might have one pile for shoes, another for games and another for family photo albums. It all depends on where in the home you’re cleaning out a closet and how organized it was when you started.

If your closet clear out is part of a whole home decluttering project, you may want to consider renting a dumpster to make it easier to deal with unwanted and broken items.

Emptying a Closet cleanout

Step 2. Organize and Assess

Now that you have everything out of the closet and organized into different piles the hard part really begins. You need to start assessing what you want to do with each individual item.

Some things may simply have been placed in your closet for convenience when you were in a hurry. If you know there’s a better home for something, add that to your relocate pile and move on to the next item.

Some professional organizers suggest using bins for this step of your closet cleanout. It’s not necessary, but it will make things a little easier for you. If you do decide to use storage bins at this stage, consider labeling them with what you want in each one.

At first, we don’t recommend throwing anything out — simply categorize it and move on. Clothes go in the clothes bin, board games go in the games bin and shoes go in another. After you have everything separated you can move on to deciding what stays and what goes.

Now that the contents of your closet are separated into categories you need to develop a system for deciding what you’re going to keep, what you’re going to donate and what you’re going to throw out.

At this point, the 6 month or 1 year rule we discussed earlier makes a lot of sense. It can be hard saying goodbye to a favorite pair of pants, but if the zipper’s broken and they’ve been sitting in your closet for two years, it’s time for them to go.

If you are clearing out all of the closets in your home, tackle one at a time. Things don’t usually go well if you try to move back and forth between jobs. Chances are you’ll just end up frustrated and you may give up before you finish the job.

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Step 3. Clean Top to Bottom

Once your closet’s cleared out make sure you clean it top to bottom before anything goes back inside. That includes the carpets, the walls and the inside of the door. If it looks like it needs a fresh coat of paint now’s the time.

A closet will always look bigger when it’s nice and clean. Besides, you probably don’t want your clean clothes rubbing up against all of those dust bunnies. Physical cleaning may not seem like an important step in maximizing your closet space, but it’s an essential step in the process.

Step 4. Add Closet Organizer Hardware

There’s one more step before you begin to move the things you want to keep in your closet back inside. At this point you should look at whether you need to add an organizer to your closet to prevent the clutter from coming back. Organizers are an excellent way to maximize your closet space and remember where everything is.

There are literally hundreds of options out there. Storage bins are also a great addition to any closet to keep everything organized moving forward. This can be especially helpful when organizing small spaces. After all, not everyone has a walk-in closet in their home.

Storage for a Closet Cleanout

Step 5. Group Items and Restock

The last step in maximizing your closet space is to decide how you’re going to group items. Perhaps your shoes will go on the floor and your games will go on the shelf. Whatever you decide needs to work well for you and your family.

When you start putting clothes back on the rack, consider grouping them as well. Pants can go in one section, shirts in another and dresses in another.

If you’re really organized you may even want to consider grouping each category by color. This will make it easier to quickly organize your outfits in the morning.

How Often Should You Clean Out Your Closet?

Now that your closet’s clean again, you don't have to worry about asking how to cleanout your closet again! The only question left is how often should you go through the process? That comes down to individual preference. Some people like to tidy up their closet on a weekly or monthly basis. If you’ve created a good organization system this shouldn't be necessary though.

Usually every 6 months is a good target. It’s best not to let it go more than a year at the most. After that, even the most organized closet will start to look a little cluttered.

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