How to Clean Out Your Closet

Whether it's a seasonal wardrobe shift or time to tackle the toy storage, try these eight tips to tidy your family's home.

A garbage bag a day. That’s one of Troy-based organizer Patricia Krebs’ simplest – and strongly effective – storage-space prescriptions. “Every day, clean out five things that can be donated,” she explains. “It’s something that’s reasonable – but not hours and hours of agonizing over things.”

Krebs should know: A former middle school teacher and mechanical engineer, she’s also got a houseful of closets belonging to four daughters, ages 3 to 19.

Here’s her Rx for making the seasonal wardrobe swap a more manageable pill to swallow.

1. Give notice

Some unleash a commando-style two-day blitz; others begin chipping away when those donation pick-up notices arrive in the mail. Either way, give your kids a heads’ up – especially the older ones. It gives them time to plan and even get a jumpstart, and makes the cleaning a family affair.

2. Clean sweep

Launch the job with a quick go-through. Plop clothing, accessories and other stuff into one of three primary piles: keep, donate/sell, or toss. As a simple gauge, with her younger girls, ages 3 and 5, Krebs asks, “Do you like this?” and “Are you going to wear this?”

3. ‘Wardrobe clarification’

“Basically, 80 percent of what you have is not being used,” Krebs says, “and 20 percent is what you use all the time.” It’s also called the 80-20 Rule, or the Pareto Principle. Keep it in mind when assessing why stuff’s in your family’s closets, and what you really need (even if it’s not worn every day).

4. Time to decide

So – back to the “keep” pile. True “keepers” can pass four key questions: Do I love it? Is it flattering on me and a comfy fit? Does it give off the image I want to present? And is it in good repair?

The notable exception: quantity. Ten pairs of same color pants, for instance, may deem more scrutiny.

5. Ask – and respect

Getting kids’ input is paramount. “Give them choices, especially tweens and teens, and then support them … even if you don’t necessarily agree.”

Yes, that can mean kissing goodbye that had-to-have, went-to-six-stores-to-find-it gift. But there’s a plus: Four months from now, when they ask where it went, it’ll have been their decision.

6. Off-season storage

For the “keep” stuff you won’t be wearing this summer – winter boots, coats, snow pants – create an off-season stash. Krebs recommends 18-gallon Rubbermaid style containers. Come fall, the contents trade places with bathing suits, tank tops and shorts.

7. Donate vs. sell?

“It all depends on the amount of time you have,” Krebs says. “We donate it and take the tax deduction. I don’t have the time – or patience (for selling old clothes).”

If you do sell, ensure clothes are in good condition, and are things that you “wouldn’t be ashamed to wear,” she says. If eBay isn’t your bag, set up shop at local mom-to-mom sales, which are in full swing around spring.

(Hint: Check our roundup of upcoming mom-to-mom events.)

8. Holding steady

Remember the “garbage bag a day” concept? It’s just one way to create a long-term system. To keep closets tidy, Krebs also suggests keeping “like” items together, such as jackets, and using shoebox-sized plastic containers with snap-lids to keep odds and ends in place.

“As long as stuff is within kids’ reach,” Krebs says, “that should work.”

This post was originally published in 2010 and is updated regularly. 


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