How to Clean Out Your Closet (and Not Make a Huge Mess!)

If the thought of conducting a closet clean-out immediately overwhelms you, then you’ve likely never learned how to clean out your closet without making a huge mess. And rightfully so!

Most organization gurus encourage removing all of your belongings from you closet before sorting through them.

However, that method can be super time consuming and stressful. It can also be paralyzing for those who struggle with cleaning and decluttering in the first place.

So if you’re someone who (for whatever reason) can’t conduct a full closet purge in a single day, I’m here to tell you this…

It’s okay! You don’t have to.

You can achieve a clean closet slowly, over time. And without making any substantial messes that will leave you stressing and regretting your decision to declutter.

The goal of cleaning out your closet is to get rid of unused and/or unwanted items. And to create space for the things you love and use!

So there’s no need to worry about doing it in a specific time frame.

Simply follow the easy steps below, and soon you’ll be able to see the back of your closet once again!

How to Clean Out Your Closet (+ Not Make a Huge Mess)

How to Clean Out Your Closet: A Step-By-Step Guide

1. Focus on what’s in your closet right now.

This tip is for those who, like me, swap out the clothes in their closet seasonally.

Since I live in Ohio, I own everything from sweatpants and parkas to shorts and tank tops.

But the only clothes in my closet are those that I’m able to use during that current season. The rest of my wardrobe is hanging out in storage containers in my basement.

This helps me to keep my closet neat and tidy. It also allows me to constantly see what’s available to me so I can get the most use out of my clothes. When items are packed close together, the can be easily missed and forgotten.

So the best way to get rid of unwanted clothes and belongings quickly and efficiently is to focus on what’s currently in your closet. Forget the bins in your basement or attic, at least for now. If you repeat this process seasonally it will be just as effective and a lot more manageable. There’s no need to try to do it all at once, unless you’re purging because you’re moving. But that’s a totally different conversation!

2. Get rid of visible trash.

We all have random closet clutter that we tend to overlook – empty shopping bags, old shoeboxes, receipts we no longer need, random pictures, the list goes on!

So the next step in your closet clean-out journey is to get rid of as much of that stuff as you can.

You don’t have to go digging for items to put in your trash bag, though. Just grab the items that are very obvious at first glance.

By simply ridding your closet of the garbage that’s visible you’ll start to make progress without making a big mess.

3. Declutter by category.

Now that a lot of that random garbage is out of your closet, you can start to get rid of unused and unwanted items!

Like I mentioned earlier, many of my fellow decluttering gurus suggest removing everything from your closet and then sorting through it.

But I recommend leaving nearly everything in your closet and decluttering by category instead. Especially if you’re trying to avoid creating a huge mess.

When you closet edit by category, only removing one group of items at a time, you don’t have to carve out an entire day to conduct a closet purge. Nor do you have to live with a pile of clothes on your bedroom floor until you have enough time to go through it.

With this method you’ll only make small, manageable messes that you can quickly clean up when it’s time to (or you’re just ready to) be done for the day!

So if you don’t have much time to dedicate to your closet clean out right now, that’s okay! A couple of hours – heck, a couple of minutes – here and there will add up. Just make a plan to keep moving through the process below (ex. every Monday for 30 minutes right after dinner), and eventually your closet space will get cleared.

Okay, here’s the process you’ll want to follow to declutter by category…

1. Create a high-level list of items in your closet.
This list will look different for everyone, and if you have a lot in your closet it might have to get pretty granular so that sorting through is manageable. But just to get you thinking, some sample categories for this would be: jeans, dress pants, skirts, sweaters, non-sweaters, shoes, etc.

2. Pick one category to focus on and remove everything from your closet that falls into that category.
Now we’re going to sort through that pile, and that pile only!

3. Sort items from your single-category pile into 4 smaller piles and take action:

  • Keep Pile: Items that you absolutely love, that fit well, that are still in good shape (or that you can and will fix), and that you use. You can move these items back into your closet.

    Don’t stress about organizing them until your declutter process in complete. You truly can’t find the perfect spot for those shoes and clothing items until you know exactly what you plan to keep
  • Donate Pile: Items that you haven’t used in the past 6-12 months, that fit poorly, that you don’t absolutely love, that you only bought for a hypothetical event (that still hasn’t happened), and so on. You can give these items to people you know or local donation centers like Salvation Army.

    Either way, put these items in your trunk right away and schedule a drop off on your calendar. You want to get these items out of your home and give someone else the opportunity to enjoy them. You don’t want to be tempted to put them back where you found them.

    Don’t overthink the who and where… just do what’s fastest and easiest for you.
  • Sell Pile: Listing unwanted items on a platform like Mercari, having a garage sale, or leveraging the traffic of one of those local consignment stores could make you a little extra cash. But take caution here – trying to sell items, no matter the route, can involve a ton of time and energy.

    Personally, I’ve found that it’s only worth selling bigger ticket items like furniture, some home decor, and handbags. But you do you! All I’m saying is tread lightly, especially if you don’t have a ton of extra time and energy to burn. And if you want to make faster progress towards the ultimate goal – getting this stuff out of your home!
  • Trash Pile: Items that are damaged beyond repair, or garbage that you missed in your initial sweep. Toss these items right away, and don’t even second guess it. If you really wanted to fix those holey jeans, you would have done so by now. 😉

4. Once you’ve gone through one full category, move on to the next one.

Note that if you plan on doing multiple categories in one day, or even the same week, you can obviously wait to make drop offs at those donation centers, consignment shops, etc.

But If you plan on stretching out your closet clean out over a month or more, I’d recommend making multiple drop offs. This way you’ll start seeing and feeling the progress you’re making.

Like I said earlier, if you can’t get this all done in a day or week, give yourself some grace.

By building it in to your weekly or daily routine, you can still achieve the desired end result (a successful closet cleanout) without a major fuss.

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I hope these simple closet cleaning tips are helpful to you! Especially if you never knew how to clean out your closet without having to make a huge, overwhelming mess.

I know that for some this project is no small feat. That getting rid of things – even “just” an item of clothing – can be super difficult.

That said, if you’re struggling to clean out your closet, don’t be afraid to comment below or contact me! Let me know what’s going on, and I’ll be happy to send along some questions that you can ask yourself to help you through the declutter process.

Finally, if you really want to streamline your closet, I highly recommend you take a peek at my capsule wardrobe tutorial (How to Create a Capsule Wardrobe in 6 Easy Steps). It’ll help you spend less time shopping, doing laundry, and getting dressed. And it’ll give you more time, money, and energy to invest in the people and passions you love most!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading.

Do your best today!