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Time for a Closet Clean Out? Here's How to Declutter

It's time to get rid of those shirts you haven't worn in two years.

Neatly organized drawer bins
Sometimes all it takes is a little guidance to actually start organizing our clothes. 
Natalia Kostikova/EyeEm/GettyImages

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

Are your closet doors barely closing, or are you tripping on clothes and shoes every time you open them up? It may be time to declutter. 

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It can be tough getting rid of pieces you've had in your closet for a long time -- even if it's literally been years since you've last worn them. But among the regular chaos of living and working full-time, the last thing any of us need is a cluttered closet that prevents us from finding that go-to work blazer or specific belt quickly. The bright side is that it only takes one afternoon to go from an overflowing closet to an organized one. 

It can be tough to part with certain items even if you know you'll feel better with a decluttered closet in the long run. And sometimes we just need a simple push or guidance to get started. With that said, here are four easy and effective tips you can use to get your closet organized -- at least until next year. (If you're on a cleaning kick, also consider organizing your fridge, getting rid of the gunky buildup in your Keurig coffee maker and cleaning your makeup brushes.)

Read more: You're Probably Doing Your Laundry Wrong and Your Energy Bill Is Suffering

1. Pull everything out and take inventory 

The first step in your closet cleanse is to completely empty it and deep clean it. I recommend you remove everything, including clothes, hangers and shoes, and plop it on your bed or floor. Don't forget to grab items from shelves, bins and drawers, too. 

Not only will this give you the opportunity to dust your shelves, and vacuum the closet floors and baseboards with ease, but it will also force you to start completely fresh. Now, you can be thoughtful and mindful about each piece you decide to keep.

pile of clothes laying on a bed

Pile all your clothes up and begin inventory. 

Alina Bradford/CNET

2. Get your decluttering supplies ready

Next, you're going to need to grab some trash bags, a marker and some tape. Put a strip of tape on the first bag and write "Trash" on it with the marker. On the second bag, place a strip of tape on it and label that bag "Donate."

If you have a lot of on-trend or designer clothing, consider grabbing a third bag for items you can sell to a consignment store.

3. Start purging your clothes 

OK, now that you have the prep done, it's time to start being ruthless. You're going to make four piles: keep, repair, trash and donate (or sell). The trash pile and donate pile are the labeled bags. The keep and repair piles can be on top of your dresser, a chair or somewhere separate from the rest of the clothes.

What to toss, donate, consign or keep:

  • If you haven't worn it in a year and it's still in good condition, it goes in the donate bag.
  • If it has holes, worn-out elastic or rips that can't be repaired, throw it in the trash bag.
  • If it needs a button or has a hole you or a tailor can easily fix (and you vow to actually fix it) put the item in the repair pile.
  • If it's not your style, it goes in the donate bag.
  • If it's faded or the fabric is pilling, throw it in the trash bag.
  • If it's fantastic, you love it and you wear it, put it in the keep pile.
  • If it has stains put it in the repair pile and try these tricks to remove spots.
  • If it doesn't fit, donate it. 

Identify those items that give you anxiety 

For a lot of us, we have that one item we always keep as a "goal" outfit, a dress or pair of jeans or swimsuit that is too small, but we keep as a motivator to lose weight. 

While encouraging yourself to achieve a healthier lifestyle is rewarding, keeping an item around that makes us feel ashamed about our body shape or size is not. Clothes should make you feel empowered rather than making us feel bad about ourselves. If you have an item you're keeping as a motivator to reach a certain size, consider donating it so you don't trigger any compulsive or unhealthy behaviors. And if you do reach that milestone, you can always reward yourself with a shopping trip. 

Still struggling? Try this cleaning method.

For the clothing items that you struggle to decide their fate, take a page out of the KonMari method. Ask yourself, does it bring you joy? Do you feel happy with how it fits your body? If the answer is no to both, then toss it. These rules go for shoes, too. Got holes or extreme wear on the soles? They've got to go. Haven't worn them in a year? Off to charity. Love 'em and wear them? They're keepers. 

And if your shoes are just a little dirty, you can easily clean them.

4. Reorganize and take action

Your closet cleaning journey is almost over. Now you just need to put everything from the keep pile back in the closet.

For the rest, it's important to deal with them right away. Taking action will prevent those items from taking up space and potentially making their way back into your closet.

Put the trash bag in your bin right away. Drive the donate bag to your local drop-off point right away. No waiting!

Finally, get to work on the items that need to be repaired or cleaned. If you don't have time to work on them yourself, take them to the tailor or cleaners right after you drop off the charity bag. 

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How often should you declutter your closet?

Now that you've decluttered your closet, when is the next time you should revisit it? This is mostly going to be personal preference based on your cleaning habits, but I would recommend at least twice a year in between the warmer spring and summer months, and the cooler fall and winter months. And if you're really on it, you can sift through your closet seasonally so you can donate or consign items when they're on-trend. 

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