Sort out Your Overflowing Closet

Helpful Tips to Sort Out Your Overflowing Closet

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Does your overflowing closet make you CRAZY?  Most posts about organizing your closet just focus on throwing your stuff away.  You do need to clear out some room, but it’s kind of a waste to throw out perfectly good clothes just to make some breathing room.

I will agree that it some clearing out is usually needed, but not as your only strategy for making more room in your closet.  I mean, you paid a lot of money for those clothes and at some point, you really liked them.  So why would you throw them out just because some article says you should?  However, you do need your closet to be functional and organized and I’m going to show you how to do that.

Here are some examples of stuff to toss – you hate it, it looks bad on you, or you inherited it from someone else (sweaters from grandma?).  In those cases, you can dump them guilt-free – it’s OK, tell ’em I said you could!  But don’t just be tossing stuff to make room.  There are other ways to do that.

PRO TIP:  We generally only wear about 20% of our clothes.  You can prove that by turning all your hangers around backwards.  Once you wear something, then you turn the hanger around.  I’ll betcha in 6 months 80% of your hangers will still be sitting backwards!

Sort Out Your Overflowing Closet

First Step – Closet Strategy Session

Let’s start by taking a good hard look at your closet.

  • Is it crammed to the max with stuff falling down onto the floor?
  • Is it pretty orderly or is stuff thrown in there haphazardly?
  • Do you have enough shelves and hangers for the things you need?
  • Can you clearly see what you have, so you can quickly put outfits together?
  • Don’t forget your shoes and accessories such as belts and purses.  Do you need a better storage scheme for them?
  • Here’s a tough one – how ’bout your husband’s side of the closet?  Does he have a fair share of the space?  Note that fair doesn’t always mean 50/50 if you have 80% of the clothes, but guys will be happier if they have enough space to fit their clothes too.

These are some very common types of closet problems that need solving and it will help determine how much stuff you need to cull out or move to another location so your closet can function properly.  Maybe think outside the box a little.  For example, I moved my top closet rod about 4″ higher to accommodate longer skirts and pants.  I also added a wire rack on my husband’s side for extra space for jeans and sweatshirts.

Those closet organizer photos make me crazy.  Mainly because they show about 10% of the clothes people have in a normal closet.  You’ve got to be realistic about the clothes you need for your LIFE.  You need casual clothes, work clothes, party clothes, workout clothes, church clothes, even some grungy clothes for yardwork and stuff.  So be realistic if you are thinking those closet systems are going to change your life!  But let’s be fair, there ARE some clothes you can happily send to the Goodwill or your favorite charity.

What SHOULD be in Your Closet:

  • Clothes that fit
  • Are appropriate for the season
  • Are in good repair
  • Are items that you like and look good in.

What SHOULDN’T be in Your Closet:

  • Everything else!

Just UGLY/Unflattering clothes – Let’s face it, it’s HARD to admit that you’ve made a mistake.  Those skinny jeans that make your legs look like stuffed sausages – goodbye!  That blouse you thought was cute online, but makes you feel frumpy – hit the road!  The dress with the odd waistline or the cold shoulder top that keeps showing your bra straps – buh-bye!  Shoes that pinch and rub blisters – see ya later!  Yes, it’s wasted money, but the money is STILL wasted if it’s going to just hang in your closet taking up space….

Too big/too small clothes – Many people keep several sizes of clothes in their closet – against the advice of these organizing experts.  They all swear by the idea that you should throw out anything that doesn’t fit you.  I’m sorry, but I think that is just DUMB!   Especially for women, our darn weight goes UP or even DOWN sometimes.  That’s just life and you’ve got to be prepared.  BUT – you don’t need to keep them in your everyday closet.  They are taking up valuable real estate you need for today’s clothing.

This is especially true if you’ve lost the weight.  Don’t be too anxious to toss your plus sized clothing.  If you do gain some weight back, you are likely to wear your too-small clothes past the point of decency just because you can’t bear to go out and buy that larger size.  Don’t ask me HOW I know this….

PRO TIP:  Store other sizes in your empty suitcases or in containers under your bed.  The suitcases are taking up valuable space in your house, so you might as well use them.  If you need the suitcases for a trip, just pop the clothes temporarily in a clean laundry basket.  Those space saver bags that you use with the vacuum come in a variety of sizes and are actually pretty handy.  Some of my own skinny jeans are languishing in some of them right now (sigh).

“Use your MOST valuable storage space for today’s

clothes, NOT yesterday’s clothes”

Out-of-season clothes.  No one wants to be digging through capris and tank tops in chilly January.  Move them out of your everyday closet, mash them down in storage bags, or at least rotate them way to the back of the closet.

Items that are in need of repair – either take them to a seamstress, set aside a sewing day, or toss them out.  You might accidentally wear them and get all the way to work before you realize there is a hole in a very awkward place – I’ve done that before!

PRO TIP – Safety pin a post it note on it “This item must be fixed by this date or it has to be thrown out!”.  Works surprisingly well.

Dressy clothes.  For most folks, actual dressy occasions are few and far between, but you do need to have a few nice outfits for those special occasions.  I keep these few items in a guest room closet since I don’t use them often.

Sentimental clothes.  I’m very sentimental and I’ve kept quite a few clothes just for memories – the clothes I wore on our first date, my wedding dress, special baby outfits, my son’s Scout uniforms, etc.  I should just take some pictures of them and release them to people who would enjoy them, but I feel I can spare a bit of room for them at this point because I’ve gotten rid of so much in other categories.  But they aren’t in my main closet.

Organizing Your Everyday Closet

OK, now that you are down to your core wardrobe, it’s time to organize it so you can see what you have.  Everyone has a different way of doing this, so you need to figure out what makes the most sense to you.  You can organize by style, color, type of clothing, or work vs. weekend wear.  I actually have a great post about this where a well-known fashion designer taught me how to organize my closet into outfits.  I found it super helpful – read Re-Fashioning My Closet.

However, it is helpful if you can group items of similar types together.  For instance, if you have five black T-shirts, it’s helpful to keep them all together so you can see if one or two could be decluttered.  Or at least so you don’t buy three more of them!  That’s how I discovered that I have FIVE very similar black and white print skirts.  They look great with a brightly colored top, but now I won’t buy more of them – hopefully.

Accessories – I think Ikea is the place to go for organizing accessories.  They have a ton of inexpensive ideas for organizing solutions for all sorts of small and pesky items like that.  I have a couple of very pretty green & white striped boxes from Ikea that hold most of my accessory items.  They have about a dozen little compartments each that are just perfect for that seldom-used scarf or belt.  And they fit perfectly on top of my closet shelf.

Shoes – You’re on your own for this one.  I’m not great at organizing shoes.  I’ve got too many of them and very little space, so I’ve got one of those over the door things with pockets for the dressier ones.  The rest are just dumped in a basket.  But Ikea also has a bunch of great shoe rack thingies you might try.

What are your best tips for keeping your closet under control?

I have a related post you might enjoy.  It explains the concepts of active vs. passive storage.  I call it Storage Solutions for Dummies.

Listing Your House for Sale When It’s Messy

Declutter ANYTHING using the Post-It Note Method

50 Quick Wins for Decluttering Your House


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  1. Nice blog post. I recently cleaned out my closet. I wish I had read this blog post before I did -but I think I did ok. I came to a very sad realisation once I had finished. It nearly brought me to tears. Here it is: I don’t need to buy any clothes ever again. Ever. Sigh

    1. That’s funny! I should make a resolution like that – I’d certainly save a BOATLOAD of money, but realistically, I probably couldn’t do it.

  2. This is all great advice, Adrian. As a professional organizer, I give you the “thumbs up.” I actually never tell a client to get rid of anything. After all, it is their stuff. If they are trying to decide whether to keep an item, I help walk through some thoughts to make the decision easier. As you are saying, it is all about prime real estate. You need to keep what you wear and use most where you can most easily access it. I also like to talk about simplifying… sometimes we think we enrich our lives by having more, when actually it adds a layer of complexity. It’s important to reserve complexity for areas where we enjoy it. If you are a fashionista, having 5 black skirts might be great. But if you aren’t, then you might find more joy in having 1-2.

    1. I’m glad it helps. Minimal closet space makes you be very thoughtful about your wardrobe choices. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I really, really need to clean out and organize my closet, and I love these tips. Now, I just have to find some time to tackle the project! 🙂

    1. Actually, I find the 15 minutes a day concept works really well for me. Just set your timer and go – first thing in the morning and it will make for a great start to the day! Good luck with your closet remodel.

  4. I hope you will find a good solution. Closet space is important. But by all means be creative. I have a similar problem and I have solved it in a similar fashion. I have some drawers under the bed for my husband’s work clothes, an armoire in my office for my off season clothes, part of my linen closet for my husband’s off-season clothes. That frees up the limited closet space we have for the items we do wear daily. If you use your space wisely, you should be able to find a workable solution.

  5. I love the idea of keeping your “maybe-I’ll-wear-this-again” items in a storage bin but not keeping them in your everyday closet. Not sure why I didn’t think of that. My closet (and dresser) is so cluttered, I don’t even know where to begin. Definitely need this post for motivation this week. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. I’m glad this idea helped you. If you will dedicate just 15 minutes a day to this chore, within one week, you’ll notice a big difference and that will motivate you to finish the rest of the project. And besides, it will give you a great excuse for a blog post. Hey, ya gotta grab motivation where you can find it!

  6. We don’t really have any extra clothes right now, other than what we wear constantly, because of the move, but in our old house I kept all off season clothes and sentimental or special occasion outfits in the closet of our guest bedroom. That really helped keep the bedroom in our room neat and streamlined!

    1. Yes, I’m sure you have to pack light. I’m sure in China the closet space is pretty limited. That is a smart way to streamline your closet though.

  7. I agree completely on not throwing things out that do not fit. Weight fluctuates. No matter how big or how small you are, it is just a fact of life. But where I do struggle is that when I do throw something out, it never fails, a year later I always go looking for that particular thing. I just had an epiphany. I need to tell myself that I threw it out because it looked awful on me. Don’t romanticize it. I didn’t wear it for a reason. And I threw it out for a reason. Yeah, I’m talking all brave now. This kind of talk will be nowhere to be found once I am actually doing it. Ha ha! It’s nice to meet you, Adrian!

    1. Thanks for visiting. The good thing about throwing things out is that if you miss them, you can always go and “visit” them at the local thrift store! Most things are easy enough to find again if you should feel you’ve made a mistake in getting rid of them. However, once I decide to ditch something, I’m usually fine with it and never go looking for it again. Good luck on your closet declutter!

  8. I love the backwards hanger idea! I also keep a box in my closet and when I find something I really don’t like or haven’t worn in a long time, I throw it in the Goodwill box. When it’s full, I donate!

  9. I recently did a “closet purge” of clothes I’ve had since high school! At some point, American Eagle is not cool to wear anymore…I sold a few things at Plato’s Closet, a resale shop. I wouldn’t expect to make big money but hey, especially with a husband in medical school, every bit helps!

    I also discovered those vacuum seal bags which really eased the clutter in my closet!

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