Lots of people are talking about HOW to clean out your closet, but all the tips in the world won’t help unless you make up your mind to do it.

Updated Oct 30, 2016 @ 4:45 pm
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Getty Images

Cleaning out your closet. It’s in danger of becoming a daily discussion point, both here at xoJane and elsewhere. But although people are just waiting in line to offer their tips on how to do it, I don’t see nearly as many people talking about the why.

All of the tips are useful, no doubt. And yet, it seems to me like a part of why there are SO many people presenting helpful hints on purging your closet of excess items is because SO many of us need to do just that — and are not. It may be a thought you’ve had, even frequently, but it’s a task that tends to get put off for way too long, or until or a wonderful friend comes and does it for you.

It makes sense — your clothing probably does not smell like garbage or something else that will force you to get rid of it for reasons of pure sanitation, and it can feel like a big, overwhelming job even if your closet isn’t some massive, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills–style walk-in situation.

Still, you can get it done, and filling up those Hefty bags or making the trips to the Container Store will be easier to accomplish once you’ve made up your mind to do it, so let’s talk about some motivation to make that decision in the first place:

You probably need the space.

This is the most pressing and practical reason to get rid of stuff you’re not wearing. We’ve all heard different people’s math about if you haven’t worn it for a year it has to go, or if it’s seasonal and you haven’t worn it this season, say goodbye.

That, or whatever formula makes the most sense to you, will certainly help, but I encourage you to take a look at your closet, dresser drawers, and shoe- and clothing-storage situation and imagine how much more space you could have in there if you got rid of things you’re not using and no longer want or need.

Think outside the traditional role of closets; if you get rid of everything that you can stand to lose, you can free up space not only for more room for your clothes, but for other uses altogether. If your living space has both linen and clothes closets, maybe you can consolidate linens and clothes into one and use the other for storage of a different kind, or for a whole other use altogether.

Being born and raised in New York, I’ve seen a tiny closet used as a “bedroom” (with rent charged and everything), but I've also seen less tenement-ish uses, including a desk/office space, bar, reading nook, and changing station. You could get fancy and make yourself a mini mudroom, craft room, or pantry.

As for your actual clothes, there are elegant wardrobe racks meant to be displayed and inexpensive standing wardrobe options — and you can even make your own.

Someone could probably use your stuff.

Donate things you are not using. I cannot emphasize enough the simplicity of bagging some things up and taking them to your local Salvation Army, or a church or other charitable organization that helps those in need. Many of them will even come to you for a pickup.

Or maybe you have a friend or coworker who could put something to better use than you have been. Just be careful to never give someone something based on your assumptions of what they need or want. Saying to a friend, “I only wore this blouse once because I think I look washed-out in it, but with your complexion, I think it’d look great on you” is better than dumping a sack of your old maternity clothes on a pregnant coworker’s desk unsolicited.

And please make sure your items to donate are in only gently used; when I was training greener volunteers at one of the drop-in homeless shelters I used to volunteer at regularly, I made a point of doing my best Eileen-Brennan-in-Private-Benjamin and telling them, as I had once been told, "Don't donate anything that you couldn't possibly imagine still wearing. Our guests here are human, just like us, and they don't have to settle for your overly filthy or irreparably stained or damaged garments just because you happen to have a roof over your head right now and they do not."

You could probably use some money.

Yup, nothing wrong with turning a profit from your excess if you can. Whether you happen to have great designer pieces or hard-to-find trendy items that can fetch a pretty penny, or just lots of things to unburden yourself of, extra coins are another great incentive to minimize.

You probably need way less than you think you do.

Editing our wardrobes can be a major challenge for some of us, and I know I can personally justify keeping any and everything in one word: auditions. I might not ever wear something, but what if it’s perfect for a character some day?

If you have a naturally Spartan collection of clothes and shoes already, then perhaps this is not you, but I know that many of us can justify holding on to all sorts of various and sundry items, if not because of hypothetical auditions that may come one day, then because we think we might have a change in weight that would make something wearable, either again or for the first time, we bought a dress we thought was cute and have yet to have an appropriate occasion to wear it to, even though years have passed and the tags are still on it, and on and on and on…


Those of you who know my writing know that I couldn’t write about purging your closet without honoring the struggle of those dealing with clinical hoarding. I have a hoarder in my family, and although multiple reality shows of the past decade capitalized on making a gross-out spectacle of the condition, few things are as heartbreaking as actually being with a clinical hoarder as they try and explain why they simply MUST hold on to something that looks to the rest of the world like irrefutable trash.

I don’t want to diagnose any of you with hoarding disorders, nor do I want to make light of the seriousness of hoarding by likening it to me having too many clothes hanging in my closet with tags still on them. I do, however, want to encourage all of us, myself included, to unburden ourselves. I have no intention of discarding all material possessions and living like a monk, but a merciless approach to trimming the excess from your wardrobe can feel freeing.

Holding on to that Perfect Party Dress might be a manifestation of mentally holding out for that Perfect Party you’ll get invited to (maybe?) one day or that Perfect Date or that Perfect Life of your dreams. However, we know that perfection as a goal is torture, and I know I’ve missed out on some great life moments because I was busy preparing to look perfect(ish) for some hypothetical event that never even came to pass.

One way to look at cleaning out your closet might be to get rid of things, but also to just let some things out to see the light of day. Wear your “nice” stuff out for no good reason, other than that you can be as fabulous as you want whenever you want — what are you waiting for?

This article first appeared on xoJane. For more stories like this, visit xojane.com now.