How to declutter clothes – 10 expert tips to get your closet in order fast

Don't be daunted by decluttering your clothes, we've asked the pros for the simplest ways to get the job done

Pink bedroom with fireplace and organized walk in closet
(Image credit: Future)

Decluttering clothes has got to be up there with the most tedious of clear out jobs. And you know what we think makes it such a daunting task – clothes mean something. Call us shallow, but we find it far easier to declutter the camping equipment or the never-ending collection of pots and pans, because, unlike clothes, these things have little emotional attachment. Also, clothes are so easy to accumulate, and often there can be an overwhelming amount to sort through. 

Delving into the depths of your closet and facing all that is in there, rediscovering past loved pieces and the memories they hold, deciding what to keep and what to donate, it's not easy. That's why we have brought in decluttering and organizing experts to help make it more straightforward – from how to start decluttering, to creating a system that makes it quick and efficient and will help you stay on top of your closet.

A simple guide on how to declutter clothes

The issue with decluttering clothes is that we often attribute so much emotional value to them, usually far more than their monetary value. We have clothes that have memories, clothes for the future, clothes we cling on to hoping to fit into again or thinking that they will perhaps come back into style. But honestly, decluttering and organizing your closet can be a really cathartic process and you can come out of it not only with less stuff and more space, but mentally feeling more positive about your clothes too.

'It is important to declutter clothes as it allows you to really enjoy the items you do love and wear. You can celebrate those items, rather than shoving them in amongst a skirt you haven't worn for six years because you 'may' fit into it one day,' explains Lucy Mansey, founder of Organised by Lucy (opens in new tab)

'That thinking process doesn't serve you in the here and now, so embrace what you do love and fit into and donate other items. Having an organized wardrobe saves you time (not rooting around to find clothes in the morning), saves you money (you’re not buying more than you need because you can see everything), encourages cleanliness (it is far easier to clean when a space it's organized) and I would argue saves your sanity – it is so cathartic opening a wardrobe to see order rather than clothes falling out at you.'

So with that positive approach in mind, here are some simple steps you can make to start decluttering your clothes and organizing your home...

clothes hanging neatly in a white closet

(Image credit: Maison Haven)

1. Assess how much time you have for the task

Decluttering clothes is not a quick job. So in order to not feel overwhelmed, or like you have failed when you don't get through the whole task, think about how much time you have and what you can realistically do in that time. 'I would not recommend you do it all at once (unless you have a spare eight hours!). Small and steady wins the race, so tackle an area at a time,' suggests Lucy. 

'If you feel overwhelmed at the prospect of decluttering your clothes, start small. Break it down into manageable chunks by taking it category by category rather than trying to declutter your whole wardrobe in one go. Start with t-shirts, then move on to dresses, then jeans and so on,' adds professional organizer and founder of Homefulness (opens in new tab), Caroline Caron Dhaouadi.

If it helps set a timer and pick your section to work on. Even five minutes could make a difference. Or give yourself a target, say, in ten minutes you will remove five unwanted things from your closet. 

2. Remove everything from your closet before you start

This step only really applies if you have set the time aside to get a big chunk of your closet decluttered in one go. Having everything out, so you can see it and sort through it is an easy place to start – then you can get organizing and break it down into smaller tasks.

'In order to truly declutter your wardrobe, you need to know what’s actually in there and that means taking everything out. To begin decluttering your wardrobe, remove everything until every rail, shelf and drawer is bare; this is the way to ensure you’re not missing any items,' suggests Caroline. 'Once you have a clean slate to work with and you are able to see all of your clothing together in one space, it will be easier to determine what you want to keep and how you want to organize it.'

'And then, if you are decluttering a large amount of clothes, you can break the task down into more manageable chunks, for example, category by category e.g t-shirts, jeans, etc. This way the task will feel much less overwhelming.'

3. Group clothes into categories

The most successful decluttering jobs start by ordering things into categories. Not only does this make it easier to tackle as you can approach each category separately, but with clothes it allows you to see the areas you can obviously have a big cull. Being faced with a mountain of jeans or t-shirts makes it clear where you can lose a chunk of your closet.

After getting everything out of your closet, 'you should review every single item of clothing and create as many categories as you need. All items belonging to the same category should be physically grouped, either on the floor or on the bed. If a category is becoming too big, it might be worth dividing it into sub-categories. For example, the jeans category might need to be broken down between “black jeans”, “blue jeans” and “grey jeans”. It’s only when you are able to see everything you own in one category that you will be able to decide what to declutter and what to keep,' suggests Caroline. 

Once you have created these piles, you can consider if you have time to get through them all. No worries if not, grab some bags or suitcases and put the categories into those to come back to over the next few days. What you want to avoid is doing the work to get things organized and then not having the time to finish so just dumping everything you don't get to back into the closet. Consider this as you declutter clothes, don't put anything back in your closet until you know it's a keeper, even if you have to stop mid-task. 

Closet door ideas

(Image credit: James Merrell)

4. Decide what to keep, sell, donate or discard

Right, the trickiest bit. You've made the piles, you are feeling productive, but this is where decluttering clothes can get frustrating. Start with the category approach again. Have categories of clothes you want to keep, sell, donate or discard, and don't be afraid to have a 'maybe' pile either – we will come back to the best way to approach the dreaded 'maybe' pile later.

Sharon McNulty, professional home organizer, and founder of Joyful Spaces (opens in new tab) has a really good tip to get the process started and put you in the right mindset. 'Choose three of your favorite outfits – consider how you feel when you wear these, how they look on you, and the memories they gave you. Now, you want the rest of your clothes to make you feel as fabulous,' she suggests.

'There are different criteria for choosing what to keep, most of my clients resonate with at least one of these and it helps them choose wisely.'

  • Do I feel good wearing this?
  • Am I excited to wear it?
  • Would I spend time, money, and energy getting it repaired if it got damaged?
  • Do I need it? (For example a work uniform or for a hobby)
  • Would I buy it again at full price?
  • Does it fit well? 

And something we are so guilty of, 'don’t hold onto something you don’t love just because it was expensive. The money is gone once you bought that item, so the waste is in keeping it at the back of your wardrobe unworn and unloved. This indecision stalls many clients so, once you get your head around that, it will be much easier,' says Sharon.

Once you have decided what clothes to keep, sort through what didn't make the cull and decide if they can be sold or donated or need to be discarded. 'Discard any items that are duplicates, worn out, have holes, rips, and are damaged beyond repair. Some items can be repurposed as cleaning rags e.g t-shirts whilst many other textiles can be recycled,' says Caroline.

Clothes that you no longer wish to keep or sell can be donated. 'They should be items in good condition that you no longer like or wear,' says Caroline. 'Clothes you should consider donating are...'

  • Items that don’t fit
  • Unnecessary multiples
  • Old work uniforms
  • Old costumes
  • Free t-shirts you don’t wear

5. Don't dwell 

We mentioned that there's nothing wrong in have a 'maybe' pile when it comes to decluttering your clothes. When you give yourself no option but to keep or lose an item not only is it more stressful, you can waste so much time deciding on just one piece. 

'If you’re unsure as soon as you pick it up, put it down, move on and come back to it later. Decluttering quite often is hindered when a person picks up an item and is unsure what to do about it. It leads to hesitation, questioning, and a feeling of unease that can halt the whole process. It’s ok if you’re not sure but don’t dwell on it, just come back to it at a later date,' says Siân Pelleschi, President of APDO (opens in new tab) and founder of Sorted! (opens in new tab).

So yes, if you really need to, start a 'maybe' pile and come back to it. Don't try on these clothes as you go, set them aside, and when you have the time go through them all together and repeat the process. 

It can also be tempting to dip back into your sell/donate piles, so as Caroline suggests, 'Donate clothes as soon as possible, to prevent them sitting in your house where you might be tempted to have second thoughts.'

A walk-in closet with a window and open shelves

(Image credit: Studio Peake)

6. Store occasion and seasonal wear separately

When decluttering your clothes, separate anything that's occasion wear that you only pull out a couple of times a year (but still wear!) and anything really seasonal. You don't need all your sweaters in your wardrobe during the summer and likewise, you don't need strappy dresses out in the depth of winter.

Get into a routine of changing up your closet with the seasons and if you have the space store clothes you aren't wearing at the moment elsewhere – under the bed, in the loft, or any storage you might have in a spare bedroom. 

'Vacuum packs are a great option to store clothes that aren’t in use or are seasonal. They help save space for bulky items and will keep away dust and moisture. However, I don’t recommend storing clothes away for more than six months,” suggests Rachal Hutcheson of Sharps.

7. Try the hanger trick to help with future declutters

This is a great routine to get into that will make any future closet declutters really simple. 

'I am really guilty of keeping items of clothing that don’t fit or are no longer on trend “just in case” but now I am being much more realistic and if I haven’t worn them this year then they no longer serve a purpose in my wardrobe,' says professional declutterer Laura Mountford (opens in new tab). 'A really simple visual way of doing this is to put all your hanger hooks facing in the wrong direction and then only when you wear the item can you put it back with the hook the correct way.  You can then really quickly see exactly what clothes haven’t been worn.'

Rachel agrees, 'The most common problem is storing things we seldom, if ever, use. In the same vein as the hanger hack, a spring clean to organize your wardrobe by type and color will probably reveal a few too many stripy tops or sweaters, making recycling a few pieces a little easier.'

8. Set a plan for regular declutters

And get into the habit of decluttering your wardrobe regularly. At least a couple of times a year when the seasons change, but also if you find your closet is ever getting crammed spend a few minutes doing a small-scale clear out.

'Decluttering your closet is an ongoing process,' says Diane N. Quintana founder of Release Repurpose Reorganize (opens in new tab). 'Be mindful and pay attention to where you return your clothes. Maybe give 10 or 15 minutes to straighten it up once a week to maintain the organization.'

Closet door ideas

(Image credit: James Merrell)

How do you declutter clothes quickly?

An easy way to declutter clothes quickly is to have a strict system that will help you get through sections of your wardrobe and make decisions fast. A simple place to start is with your least-worn clothes, as that's where the majority of decluttering will happen. 

'Start with pulling out anything that hasn't been worn for the last 6-12 months. Ask yourself why and then decide if you want to keep it or donate it. Ask questions like does it fit? Can it be altered? Is it stained or torn? Is it essential?' suggests Marcella Caricasole founder of Think Tidy (opens in new tab)

And if you are still unsure, 'Shop your wardrobe,' advises Marcella. 'This really works! Ask yourself  'would I buy it again? If the answer is no, then ask yourself 'would I wear it again?', at this point the item is either kept and back in your wardrobe or is out and donated.'

How can you stop hoarding clothes?

'I personally have way too many clothes so am on a wardrobe decluttering mission going into the New Year and I am going to be using a 2 for 1 strategy,' says Laura. 'If I buy any item of clothing next year then I need to recycle two others whether it be donating to charity or selling. This will help to reduce the amount of clothes I own over a longer period of time and enable me to build a more sustainable wardrobe so I don’t have to keep decluttering every single year which can be overwhelming.'

'When purchasing items of clothing now I am being much more strict with myself and only buying key pieces that can be styled for multiple looks. My rule is that I have to know at least three ways I would wear the item before it is allowed to enter my wardrobe.' she adds.

Hebe Hatton

Hebe is the Digital Editor of Livingetc; she has a background in lifestyle and interior journalism and a passion for renovating small spaces. You'll usually find her attempting DIY, whether it's spray painting her whole kitchen, don't try that at home, or ever changing the wallpaper in her hallway. Livingetc has been such a huge inspiration and has influenced Hebe's style since she moved into her first rental and finally had a small amount of control over the decor and now loves being able to help others make decisions when decorating their own homes. Last year she moved from renting to owning her first teeny tiny Edwardian flat in London with her whippet Willow (who yes she chose to match her interiors...) and is already on the lookout for her next project.