Have you read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up? Chances are, you’ve either read it or you’ve heard of it at least once, especially if you’re interested in decluttering. But do the ideas actually apply when you’re trying to declutter your closet?
While I read the book and agreed with some of the ideas, I have to confess that it didn’t work as well for me as I had hoped, especially when I tried to declutter the closets in my home.
When you’re in between sizes, planning for a baby (or storing your clothes “just in case”), or have to store clothes for seasonal weather, decluttering can be a challenge.
The author of the book, Marie Kondo, promises that if you follow her principles, known as the KonMari technique, you’ll be able to declutter your house once and for all. She gives examples throughout the book about past clients and how they were able to purge.
But maybe you’ve already tried to declutter, or maybe you’ve even created a capsule wardrobe. How can you organize your closet so that it works for you, even if you feel like a decluttering failure?
How to Declutter Your Closet (Even if The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up Didn’t Work for You)
One of the biggest principles in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is to declutter in a certain routine. Even once you organize your closet, your clothes should be hung so that they fall from left to right.
Marie Kondo also recommends starting your decluttering process with your closets so that you can learn to make objective decisions. The thought is that once you get to sentimental items, like photos, you’ll be able to easily determine if items “spark joy.”
Unfortunately, it was still really difficult for me to pare down my wardrobe. Not everything sparked joy, and my closet is set up so that the longest clothes hang on the left, not the right.
Besides, while I typically wear a “mommy uniform” of jeans and a colored t-shirt or sweater, I still like to have clothes for different occasions (and seasons, because we live in Michigan where it’s 50 degrees one day at -2 the next).
Don’t pull everything out of your closet at once
Marie Kondo recommends that you pull out everything at once, but prepare to have an overwhelming disaster on your hands, especially if you plan to spend more than one day decluttering your closets.
While you won’t miss anything as you go through your closet, you’ll end up with a mountain that you have to leave for days, which (take it from me) is depressing, messy, and a fire hazard.
My advice: if your clothes are already organized, declutter your clothes as you’re going through your closets and dressers.
If your closet is a disaster, spend some time grouping and organizing your clothes as you declutter.
To organize your closet, group like items together as you decide to keep them. You don’t need to color coordinate your closet, but it’s helpful if you hang certain things together, like all your jeans in one section, blouses in another, sleeveless shirts in another area, etc.
Go through your clothes in sections
If your clothes are well-organized in different areas of your house, go ahead and organize them in sections.
Marie Kondo suggests that each person should have their own designated space with everything kept together. However, especially if you live in a climate with four seasons or have a capsule wardrobe, that may not be practical.
I keep some clothes in my closet and seasonal clothes in a dresser in the guest room. I also have two Tupperware containers of maternity clothes that I saved. Since my closet is small, I have to store them in the guest bedroom.
Work through your closet in sections and pull things out as you go. Take time to try on clothes, and check them for signs of wear.
As you’re decluttering, make three piles:
- Donate or sell
- Trash (if clothing is stained or too worn to donate, trash it without thinking twice)
- Repair (clothing that needs to be sewn or fixed. You could also make a pile for things that need to
If you’re handy, sew or repair the clothing in the third pile immediately. If not, load your “repair” pile and your donate pile in your car as soon as you finish decluttering so that you don’t forget about it.
If you have some clothes that are still in good condition (or still have the tags on them) in the donate pile, try reselling them. I’ve had good success with Thred Up, and they send you a prepaid bag so you don’t even have to worry about mailing it or forgetting it in the back of your car.
Declutter kids’ clothes as you go
Marie Kondo stresses that you shouldn’t declutter for anyone else. This principle makes sense, but sometimes it’s necessary, especially if you have kids.
To declutter kids’ clothes, try sorting the clothes into clear plastic tubs. Label each tub with the sizes it contains.
As you’re going through the clothes, discard all stained or worn clothing and save the rest for your next child or to donate, give to a friend, or sell.
Going forward, keep smaller bins under your child’s bed. As you put away laundry, sort clothing that’s too small and pack it in the bins.
Use caution when decluttering for a spouse
It’s hard to declutter for someone else because you might not know exactly what fits and which clothes they no longer want.
For the most part, I try to take Marie Kondo’s advice and stay away from my husband’s closet. Eventually, when it gets too overwhelming for me to put away laundry, I have go on a decluttering spree.
If you need to go through someone’s clothes, divide them into three piles:
- Keep (the ones you know he regularly wears and still look nice)
- Questionable (the ones you’re unsure about or ones he doesn’t wear and you think he should)
- Discard (clothes that don’t fit or are worn, stained, etc.).
He can quickly look through the keep and questionable piles and make a final decision, and his closet will no longer stress you out (you may even end up with four bags of clothes to donate, like we did).
Make the KonMari technique work for you
Don’t feel guilty if you end up following a modified version of Marie Kondo’s technique. The most important thing is that you make room in your closet for the clothes and accessories that you truly love.
As you’re going through your clothes, you may find that you have duplicates or even a lack of clothing. Use this opportunity to figure out your style, decide what you really want to wear, and create new outfits. If you’re missing some basics, try using a service like Stitch Fix to round out your wardrobe.
You may also want to track your outfits. I use a printable wardrobe organizer to create a list of my bottoms (jeans, pants, and skirts) and then list the matching tops underneath. You may be surprised by the number of outfits you’ll be able to make.
Download a free copy of my Organized Wardrobe printable here
As you wear your clothes, mark them off your organizer. At the end of the month, take a look at the outfits that you haven’t worn and decide if you truly want to keep them.
Don’t be afraid to try new decluttering ideas
Some of the statements in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up were a little “over the top,” like the suggestion that you should keep a personal shrine in your closet and carry around a talisman for a year. Even so, the basic principles of the book are inspiring.
However, if you’re looking for a little more advice on decluttering, I also loved reading the follow-up book, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, which included diagrams of folding clothes, in addition to more decluttering tips.
If you’re a self-starter, live by yourself (i.e. no kids or a messy spouse), or if you’re a minimalist, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up may work for you on the first try.
However, if you’re struggling to keep your closet organized and feeling each item to see if it “sparks joy” seems a little wonky or overwhelming (raising my hand), you might need a little more hand-holding.
Related reading on Organized Motherhood:
Why Decluttering Isn’t Permanent
The Best Decluttering Books to Organized Your Home and Life
Wednesday 24th of November 2021
This is a great overview on decluttering and organizing the closets. It's so easy for them to get away from us since they're literally behind closed doors! Good tips on sorting and also a great caveat to not organize your spouse's items without their permission and input! http://www.bayouclosets.com
Angela @ Setting My Intention
Saturday 27th of January 2018
I learned through the KonMari Method...that I didn't know what sparked joy, especially when it came to my wardrobe. Being the 3rd girl in my family I've been handed down a lot of clothes and haven't had the opportunity to really figure out what my own style is. That was an important lesson for me in terms of taking the time to figure out what I value and what I want to keep - a valuable lesson in decluttering!
Cathryn - Little Paper Swans
Friday 19th of January 2018
Great ideas. I need to do this!
Jean | DelightfulRepast.com
Tuesday 16th of January 2018
Yes, I've never been able to bring myself to pull everything out of a closet! That just seems too overwhelming. And I don't even have that much in my closet to begin with! :D