How to Clean Out Your Closet – Fast – And Keep It That Way

By Nada Manley

In my 20-plus years as a fashion writer, editor and stylist, I’ve overhauled hundreds of closets. And whether large or small, fancy or functional, every woman ultimately faces the same challenge. And no, it’s not organizing her closet. It’s keeping it organized. But maintaining your closet doesn’t have to be an endless cycle of drudgery, like laundry or lunges. A perpetually organized closet is achievable. It just takes a system.

As a busy mom, I know that ten minutes is a treasure and an hour is an eternity, so closet cleanouts for myself and my busy clients have to be super speedy. The secret? Go with your gut. While I appreciate the Konmari method of cleaning out your closet, it’s not for the faint of heart or the short on time. Instead, I rely on an expedited system that allows me to get through most closets in an hour or two, tops, and it can be summed up in 4 simple steps.

1.       Sort by Category: Start by addressing a single category at a time. Take all of your tops, for example, and move them out of the closet and onto a rack, if you have one, or your bed. Then, as quickly as possible, flip through the tops and give each top a Yes if you’re keeping it and a No if you’re tossing it. Yes-no-yes-no. Don’t overthink it. You want to go with your first reaction to the item. You know what you love and what you wear, so be honest with yourself. Here are some additional guidelines on what to keep and what to toss.

Keep: Clothes that you love, wear, get compliments on, fit well, flatter your body type and are in good condition. You may also choose to keep a couple of items that don’t fit properly, but that you love and can be easily altered. Put these in an Alterations pile and get them out of the closet right away.

Toss: Anything that is dated, worn/stained/pilled, unflattering, ill-fitting (and not worth altering), or, for some other reason (lifestyle, boredom, etc.) never gets worn.

2.       Deal with the Discards: Now take your toss pile, and, again acting quickly, divide them into 3 categories: Donate Now, Donate Later, and Consign. Donate Now is for items that are in good condition but don’t have much resale value. Consign, if you choose to try it, is for brand name items in great condition. And Donate Later is for items that you know need to go, but can’t bear to part with. Yet. Stash your Donate Later items in an inconvenient place, and mark your calendar for 3 months from now. If you can’t remember what you hid away, and haven’t missed any of it, then out it goes. (Note: You can set one bin aside for items that are truly sentimental, if you wish. But just one bin.)

Hint: Many of us use this step as a way of sneaking some items back into our closets, so if this is you, and the temptation is too great, you may want to put the entire discard pile in a bin and sort through it in a few weeks.

3.       Organize the Rest: Now that those pesky discards are out of your closet, it’s time to organize what’s left. Professional stylists and closet organizers all have different methods, but the most common is to organize by category (tops, skirts, etc.), then by sleeve length, and then by color. I organize clothes by the colors of the rainbow, ROYGBIV, with white at one end and black at the other. It’s an easy system to remember, which is key to maintaining any system.

Color coding your closet will give you the same calm serene feeling that you get when you walk into an upscale boutique, and it also makes it easy to spot the colors you have and those that are missing.

And while categorizing and color coding are essential, an organized closet also requires the right tools. Here, 3 items that every closet needs:

  1. Velvet Hangers: Flat, velvety hangers are everywhere right now (I even spotted some at the dollar store), and there’s a good reason for their popularity. Their flat shape means they actually buy you up to 1/3 more space in your closet, and the velvety finish protects clothes and keeps them from slipping off. In my opinion, the best buys on these are at Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, and off-price stores like Ross and Marshall’s.
  2. A Valet Rod: If you can find the space for one, a valet rod is one of the most useful tools to have in your closet. It allows you to put out the next day’s outfit, compare a few items, or even let an item hang dry.
  3. Open Jewelry Storage: If you can’t see it, you won’t wear it, which is why I love open jewelry storage that allows you to see all of your jewelry at once. I prefer hanging organizers for necklaces and flat organizers for bracelets, rings, and earrings, but find a system that works for you. Pinterest is a great source for inspiration if you want to make your own, or check the dozens of options at sites like All ModernThe Container Store  and Amazon.

4.       Tap into Technology: I have a couple of clients that favor printouts of outfit ideas in binders that they keep in their closets, but the vast majority of women prefer to simplify their wardrobe planning with technology. Fortunately, there is no shortage of apps available for this. Here, my 3 favorites:

  1. Capsules by Cladwell: This ingenious app talks you through the process of creating a workable, minimal capsule wardrobe starting with the items you already own. You start with an inspiration board, pick a palette, and then choose the pieces that you need for your lifestyle. Ingenious!
  2. StyleBook: This app, which is only available for iOS devices, lets you photograph and catalog your entire wardrobe and combine pieces you own with pieces you are considering to create outfits. The only downside? It can be tricky to take the perfect shot, and you can’t share your looks with anyone.
  3. Hue & Stripe: Designed to be used with a stylist, this system allows you and your stylist to upload multiple items at once, manage your closet, create lookbooks with your existing clothes, shop, and combine your finds with your existing wardrobe. I love that it’s simple, elegant and easy for both you and a stylist to use.

Okay, so now your closet is organized. How are you going to keep it that way?


You start where all closet problems begin – at the store. It’s called shopping S.M.A.R.T. Shopping S.M.A.R.T. is really about conscious shopping, not shopping impulsively or reflexively or out of boredom. A closet full of impulse buys is doomed to be a closet full of ill-fitting clothes that don’t go with anything else, and you end up with an overstuffed closet and nothing to wear. The key to cutting back on closet clutter is to keep the future reject pile out of your closet to begin with, and these 5 simple steps can help.

S: Start with your Shape. Understanding your body type is essential when shopping to fit and flatter it. Knowing what works for your body helps you channel your efforts and save time. I offer a free body type analysis with clothing recommendations that can help make shopping foolproof.

M: Make a list. Start with the items you know are missing from your wardrobe. This is an especially useful step after a closet overhaul, when you are better able to identify the gaps in your closet, and the new trends you want to add to your wardrobe.

A: Avoid an unplanned splurge. If it’s not on your list but you see it, love it, and absolutely positively have to have it, then put it on hold until the next day. If you still want it, go for it.

R: Repeat the piece 3 ways. Before purchasing an item, make sure that you can wear it 3 different ways. If it doesn’t work with your wardrobe, it needs to go back.

T: Tags stay on until worn. We are all in a hurry to wear the newest, cutest items in our closets, so if it’s still hanging there weeks later, unworn (and it’s in season), return it!

These four steps – Sort by Category, Deal with the Discards, Organize the Rest and Tap Into Technology – are the same ones I use with my own clients, and they work with everyone, regardless of budget, lifestyle or closet size. Cleaning out your closet may be simple, but it’s not easy, which is why a framework like this can be so useful.

You owe it to yourself to dive into your closet, and make it work for you, or to hire a stylist to help you if you’re overwhelmed. Unloved, unworn clothes feel like dead weight, and they drag you down every time you enter your closet. Freeing yourself from them, and organizing the clothes you love in a thoughtful, personal way, is truly a gift to yourself, one that can change how you approach getting dressed every single day.


Nada Manley is a wife, a mom of two daughters (Lola and Eva), and a stylist with The Stylist Online. She is also a style journalist and fashion writer/columnist (GateHouse Media, My Coast Magazine), a published author (Secrets of the Beauty Insiders), a Christian, a closet consultant, a professional shopper and an obsessive tea drinker.

BeautyMommy offers style solutions, beauty tips and shopping advice for moms and other busy women, all delivered with a sense of humor.