How I Clean Out My Closet

Due to COVID-19, many of us a bit more time on our hands, and it’s a perfect time to get some house work done, including cleaning out closets. If you’re a bit of a clothes horse like myself, then cleaning out your closet can seem overwhelming, but having a game plan can help make it go a little easier. With little wiggle room left in my own closet, I decided it was time for a clean out, and decided to take the time to share with you how I go about cleaning out my closet.

Myself, wearing a blue satin dressing gown standing in front of my closet. Blue text overlay reads "How I Clean Out My Closet"

The Set Up

Before diving it, I set up four different bins; Sell, Maybe, Hand Repairs, and Machine Repairs. I typically sell clothing I’m getting rid of, donating what doesn’t sell, however you may choose to strictly donate instead. More on what to do once you’ve decided to part with stuff near the end of the post. The Maybe bin is revisited after a day or two of sitting, and then the items either go back in the closet or the Sell box.

Four bins sitting on the floor of my closet. Each have labels on them, reading "Sell," "Maybe," "Hand Repairs," and "Machine Repairs."

Cleaning out my closet is also a perfect time to inspect my clothing, where I might notice a popped seam or loose button. If I decide to keep these items they go into Hand Repairs or Machine Repairs, depending on the issue, but first I write a small note and safety pin it to the garment to remember what needs to be fixed, because often by the end of this process I have quite a large repairs pile.

Attaching a note to a dress to remind me to tack down the lace on the collar.

I repair almost all of my own clothes myself. But you may take your items to your dry cleaner or tailor, so you may just have a Repair bin. I strongly encourage learning to sew, because it increases the longevity of your clothing and is cheaper than taking items to someone else. The Repair bins also acts as Alterations bins.

My method involves trying things on, so I keep a few things on hand. I’ve talked before about the importance of a vintage bra when wearing vintage, because 50s garments were designed around the foundations of the time. So, because much of what I own is vintage, I start by wearing a vintage bra, but I also own some new items, I keep a contemporary bra on hand too. For my strapless and halter type garments, I keep a strapless bra and corselette/long line bra on hand as well. Additionally, some dresses simply look better with a belt, so I keep a few belts nearby as well.

Don’t Go At It Alone!

We are all our own worst enemy, so it’s important to have another voice in the room. Whether that’s your partner, your roommate, or your best friend(s) over video chat, having another opinion is going to make the process easier.


Before I even touch my closet, I put on make-up. The goal is to give every piece a fighting chance, and since I rarely go out without make-up, make-up is key to rounding out an outfit.

A make-up brush sits on my powder box.

Everything Out!

Instead of just pawing through my closet looking for things to get rid of, I pull everything out and place it on the bed.

Myself, wearing a blue dressing gown, looking at the pile of clothes on my bed.

Then I try everything on. Okay, not everything, but darn near. If it’s something I’ve worn in the last six months, the item typically gets a pass, otherwise, I try it on. Then it’s time to look in the mirror and ask the tough questions…

“When was the last time I wore this?”

If it’s been awhile, I ask “Why have I worn it so little?” While I don’t believe in the whole “If you haven’t worn it in a year it goes!” perspective, but evaluating why you wear some items more or less than others is important in understanding your personal style. Additionally, maybe the reason I’ve worn it so little is that it doesn’t go with much. So I ask “What does this go with?” I try to create at least three outfits with these pieces. If the piece isn’t very versatile, it might be time for it to go.

“Does it fit?”

If not, can it be altered? Should it be altered? This is a really difficult question we have to ask ourselves if we wear vintage. In some ways, we don’t really own vintage, we are stewards of vintage. The majority of my garments were someone else’s before it got to me, and will likely go on to someone else after me. If an item is too small, especially a dress, it goes. If it’s a skirt, I look to see if maybe the waistband button can be moved. If it’s too big, I look to see if I can alter the garment in a way that can be undone later. I do not recommend taking a larger garment and making it smaller beyond the ability to restore it back to its original size, due to the scarcity of plus size vintage.

How does it make me feel?

Ah yes, the Marie Kondo/KonMari perspective, “Does this spark joy?” If I don’t like how a garment makes me feel, either by fit, or how it looks, it goes.

Would I buy this again?

Often if the answer is no, it goes. There are a few exceptions. While I have stepped away from the 40s rayon, 60s wiggle dresses, etc., I have kept a few for good measure and certain events. I think there are some venues I have yet to visit where I would like to go period perfect and choose to keep a handful of era standards for such occasions.

Myself wearing a blue and white plaid dress looking in the mirror.

Other Tips

Seasonal Rotations

I don’t have room for all of my clothing in my closet or dresser drawers, so I rotate for the seasons. Because I live in warm and sunny Southern California, I rotate based on seasonal color palette. I typically rotate twice a year; spring and fall, as that is where the most color changes occur. Also, it’s just a handful of items, not like my entire closet! There are just some items that aren’t worn except during certain times of the year.

Out of season clothes are stored in my collection of vintage suitcases that sit at the bottom of my closet.

A green and white gingham dress sits in an open suitcase, with matching suitcases behind it sitting on the floor of my closet.

It’s Not Just About the Clothes

Remember accessories! This includes shoes, hats, purses, scarves, and jewelry. I treat accessories like I do my closet, take everything out, and ask myself the questions listed above, and inspect and assess accessories just like clothes. Unlike most clothing, some of these items, such as shoes, go into a bag to be taken to the cobbler. And seriously, if you don’t have a cobbler, find one!

Time to Organize

Now that you’ve gotten rid of stuff, it’s the perfect time to organize your closet and accessories. Check out my post on how I organize my closet here.

What Now?

As mentioned earlier, I choose to sell what I am getting rid of. When I was an antique dealer in Portland I just put the items in my space. I also used to take some items to higher end vintage shop (more on that in a bit), but more recently I sold at a flea market, which is what I’ll do down the road. Newer items, and items that don’t sell at the flea market, will be taken to Buffalo Exchange. My local Buffalo Exchange is open and accepting items, however I’ll still be waiting it out. Unsold items are donated. For the time being I plan to store the items in a tub in the garage.

If you’re wanting to sell ASAP, but not wanting to go out, Buffalo also does have a Sell-by-Mail option. However I’ve never done this, so I cannot speak to the experience.

Other Options

Vintage Shops

Sometimes you need to part with some really good vintage.  Maybe you went through a 60s phase, and now dig the 40s. Whatever, the reason, that garment needs to go.  If you’re already buying vintage, then you may already be familiar with the vintage shops near you. Obviously with COVID-19, some things may have changed, so it’s important to do some research ahead of time to know if shops are open and looking to buy. By getting in contact with a shop, you may also want to ask about their buying methods, and know methods will vary shop to shop. Some are very upfront about their buying, typically offering 30% cash or 50% trade of what they will sell the item for, while others may offer a flat amount. Remember selling directly to a vintage shop means you are selling at wholesale prices, and these shops need to make a profit.

Sell On-Line

If wanting the most for your items is what you’re looking for, then selling on-line is going to be your best bet. Today there are many different outlets to selling your clothing on-line, with Etsy, Ebay, Facebook, and Instagram. The downside is that you still have to live with the items you wanted to get rid of, deal with buyer questions, and ship the garments.

Consignment Shops

Consignment is still an option out there, but there may be fewer shops that accept consignment than buy outright, as it is kind of complicated, and there are lots of restrictions regarding consignment, such as how much you receive, and how long the item is going to be on the floor, etc.  So once again, be sure you know before you go.  The upside to consignment verses selling outright to a shop is that you usually get more money, but the downside is that you have to wait until your items sell before you get your money.  I cannot offer any personal perspective on consignment, as I have not done it. Once again, COVID-19 may have a severe impact on consignment shops, so it’s important to do a little digging on local consignment shops.

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