Build Your Wardrobe

Closet Cleanout – Start The New Year Fresh!

The thought of a good closet cleanout to start the year off right always feels exciting, especially in 2021!  

messy closet
Go from this…….to this!

But, as we all know, purging your closet is a huge job. It always begins well. Everything comes out of the closet and onto the bed. Then it’s deciding piece-by-piece what to keep and what to toss. Halfway through, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and haunted by thoughts like, “Why did I waste so much money on this” or “I can’t believe this doesn’t fit me anymore,” or “What the heck was I thinking when I bought this? “

With negative thoughts swirling around in your head, and a mountain of clothes piled in front of you, it’s easy to stuff it all back into your closet and save your cleanout for another day, maybe…

But please don’t do that! Cleaning Out Your Closet can change your life!  How?

1. A good closet purge makes you feel good: Cleaning out your closet gives you a sense of accomplishment and mastery over your wardrobe. It’s one step on the way to style confidence.

2. It opens wardrobe up to new possibilities -Just like anything in life, you can’t let anything new in until you get rid of the old. It’s the same with clothes.

3. You’ll save time getting dressed – 44% of women can’t find an item in their closet once a month, slowing them down. Seeing what you have clearly, and knowing it fits and is in working condition, makes it faster and easier to get dressed.

4. You’ll wear more of your clothes – The average woman wears about 20-30% of her closet clothes.  Too many clothes create overwhelm, and we reach for the same old, same old. When you see what you have, it’s easier to switch it up. 

5. Less stress, More Joy – Having a decluttered wardrobe is freeing and lets you focus on other things besides worrying about what to wear every day. 

6. You’ll make money to Reinvest. When you resell clothes you don’t wear, you can use your earnings to buy new clothes that you love and will wear. 

The Key to a Successful Closet Clean Out

To follow through and make your closet cleanout a success, you must get FOCUSED and have a PLAN. Before you begin, you need to think long and hard about the types of clothes you need for your 40+ lifestyle, as well as the image you want to project at this time in your life. From this, you can determine your clothing needs, which makes things a lot easier when you are in your closet looking at clothing and deciding what to keep and what to part with. Getting focused is particularly important for women our age because many changes happen in midlife, affecting how we dress.  For example:

  • Maybe you’ve left the 9-5, are now working from home, and find that you need more casual work outfits?
  • Perhaps your children have left the nest, and you want to travel more when things ease up, so you need travel clothes? 
  • Have you have gained a few pounds with menopause? Does your current wardrobe work with your new curves, or do you need a few new pieces?
  • Or, could it be that you are stuck in a style rut, hanging on to boring clothes you’ve worn for decades, but are now determined to start dressing more creatively and find a new stylish look?

 Determining all this first before you start digging deep into your closet gives you a clear plan for what you need. When you have a goal, a closet edits much easier.

Now, here’s how to clean out and organize your closet to create a refreshed 40+  wardrobe that meets your taste and lifestyle

Getting Started

Time – It always takes longer than you think. Make sure to set aside at least a half a day  (4 hours or more on the weekend) or a couple of hours a day to do one section at a time. For example, tops on Mondays and pants on Tuesdays. 

Space- Be sure you have plenty of space to work in. You’re going to end up with few large piles of clothing, and if you are stepping all over overstuff, it’s going to be a confusing mess. You might need to move a  couple of things around in your bedroom or bring in a folding table to put stuff on if you don’t think your bed will be big enough.

Tools – Having all your tools right by your side will keep you on track and not waste time. You’ll need

  • Thin, non-slip velvet hangers – These are better than wire or the thick white plastic ones so many of us have. Wood is good, but thick, heavy, and takes up space. Rolling rack– I will explain in a minute.
  • Full-length mirrora must. Don’t waste time running to the bathroom to check an outfit in the mirror and then have to stand on the toilet to get a full-length view!
  • Masking tape and a marker – for marking items that need fixing.
  • Dressmaker pins, fashion tape – when you tweak clothes to see how much they should be hemmed or altered.
  • Camera– for photographing outfits. Sometimes it’s hard to see what an outfit looks like, but you usually know right away when you photograph it and look at the photo. It is also recorded outfits for later use. 
  • Plastic bins for things you want to keep for sentimental reasons but want out of the closet- these will depend on how you store things – such as under your bed or on closet shelves.


The Clear-Out Process

Now comes the tedious but essential step of cleaning out your closet. Everybody has their own way. Some like to pull everything out of their closet onto their bed. While this initially feels great, I find it causes a lot of stress after an hour or so when you realize how slowly you are getting through the mess.

I recommend chunking it down. Pull out one section of clothing at a time onto a rolling rack. For example, start with your sweaters. Pull them out, put them on the rack, and start going through them one by one.

Next, do your blouses and then your pants. If you can have a couple of rolling racks, all the better. As for shoes, jewelry, and accessories, leave those to the very end. 

Questions to Ask Yourself

During this step, it’s important to go through every article of clothing and ask yourself the following six questions:

  • Is this damaged? ( and worth fixing?)
  • Does this fit me? -Don’t hold onto things that don’t fit. It’s too depressing, and you will want new things if you plan to lose weight anyway)
  • Is it good quality? – young women can pull off $8.99 blouses made in China. Our bodies are softer, rounder in midlife, and we require clothes with more structure. Cheap clothes are flimsy, see-through, and look cheap on us.
  • Is this age-appropriate? – Most clothes are ageless. It’s all in the way you style them, but common sense dictates that things like thigh-high skirts and daisy dukes, cutesy tops, or something that it is trending for teens will not serve you well.
  • Do I wear this? – This is always tough. If you don’t wear it, why? If you like it and it fits, but you have nothing to wear with it, then it’s not an automatic toss. If the opposite is true or doesn’t go with your lifestyle or needs, toss it.
  • Do I have duplicates – I wrote a whole post about this! If you have one too many, yes, definitely get rid of your least favorite.
  • Does this fit my current lifestyle? – Do you have a closet full of evening gowns but never go out anymore. Do you have business suits still staring at you now, but you are retired? If they are part of your old life, they need to make room for things in your new life.
  • Do I love this? Does it bring me joy? – Of course, this key.  If you don’t love, love, love it, you’ll probably never wear it, or if you do, you will feel unhappy. Give it to someone else who will give it the love it needs. Would I repurchase it? – Stuck on how much you love it? Then ask yourself this question, and you will know for sure.

You may be able to immediately answer these questions, or it may take some trying on. But if the answer to any of these questions is “no,” the item is likely taking up valuable space in your wardrobe and needs to head out the door.

closet clean out piles

The Piles

As you weed through your clothes, you will need to create 5 distinct piles: Keep, Donate, Sell, Fix, and Trash.  This will make it so much easier to get everything taken care of once you finish.

I like to go through all my chunks of clothing, one by one, slowly emptying my closet and creating my KEEP pile on my bed. Once the closet is empty, I clean and vacuum it, and then I’m ready to put everything back in. Here’s how I finish up.

Next Steps




1. Organize by Item and Color

Everyone has their own way of organizing that feels right to them, and you can get pretty obsessive-compulsive about it. I like to divide it into 5 sections tops, bottoms, dresses, jackets, and special occasions. Within those categories, I start with the whites on one side and work my way through colors to black.  I am a color person, meaning when I get up in the morning, I choose what color I feel like wearing that day and then look for clothing, so having all the colors together helps. I also find that this method also helps you mix and match clothes better. You have green pants, and you can automatically go to the colors you know will look good with green and pick a top.  Everything is in one place.

2. Get clothing tailored or fixed ASAP.

Now is the time to get any ill-fitting or damaged clothes you found during your cleanout tailored or repaired. Whether a sweater needs to be de-pilled, a skirt hemmed, or something needs head-to-toe tailoring, don’t delay, or it will just end up back in your closet.

3. Sell or donate gently-used clothing

Drop off unwanted clothes at a donation center or, if the item is in good enough condition, you could try selling or consigning it. Online marketplaces like Poshmark or eBay are a great way to get rid of unwanted clothing and make some cash along the way. You can also try a consignment shop or website like TheRealReal to get the best offer possible for high-end or luxury pieces. 

4. Make a Shopping List to Fill in Gaps

If your closet cleanout made you realize you have a few missing key items,  create a shopping list to fill in the gaps. Just remember to ask yourself those same key questions you used when clearing out your wardrobe to avoid bringing in items that don’t meet your needs. If you’re not sure what to buy, start by creating outfits first and see what you might be missing.

5. Photograph Outfits

Once you’ve got your wardrobe sorted, planning outfits can make the process of getting dressed a lot simpler. Try laying out several outfits and mixing and matching pieces to create different looks for different occasions. Layout some looks for traveling, date night, dinner with friends, casual days, or any other events that fit your lifestyle. Then when you don’t know what to wear, you can just sift through the photos and come up with an idea.

I hope this guide has given you a few handy tips on how to perform a successful closet cleanout. A wardrobe edit is a great way to define and refine your 40+ style and make getting dressed a breeze. No more standing in front of a closet full of clothes and feeling like you have nothing to wear. You’ll be in charge of your closet, love all your clothes, and feeling confident in your style.


Join the Conversation

27 thoughts on “Closet Cleanout – Start The New Year Fresh!

  1. I just did this. I am happy with the closet appearance now. I have a tote put away for the summer clothes as it’s winter now. Do you have ajnk to the hangers by any chance? I also learned 100 hangers per 3 feet of space..

  2. This is one of the best step-by-step closet clean out instructionals I’ve ever read! Thank you! I plan on working on this ASAP. So helpful. Especially the advice on how to decide what to keep or purge. 😃

  3. Great post and very timely! I agree with your observation that the big pile on the bed gets overwhelming. I’m going to try your approach this weekend.

    1. Hi Lisa! Exactly, what starts off as a fun event becomes a dreaded thing when you realize how long it is taking to get through that messy pile on the bed. Thanks why I like to do it in chunks using a rack. Best wishes with your clean out!

  4. I’m a bit like KSO, In that l to organize my wardrobe I according to function. I wear a uniform to work, so the rest is basically active/outdoor wear, dressy after 5 wear, then neat casual. I use those velvet hangers in three different colors to separate the three. Coats/ jackets go on sturdier metal rubber hangers. I don’t hang my lounge around / cleaning/ gardening type clothing. I live In a hot or cold climate it’s like somebody flicks a switch one day, so it is easy to transition out the outgoing seasons clothing as l don’t need a lot of trans-seasonal clothing. I store the old season out of my working wardrobe. I love looking at my wardrobe and picking an outfit for the day, depending on what l am doing.

  5. Deborah, I discovered you on Pinterest and am enjoying your blog. I would add that as a suggestion. Start pinning outfits on Pinterest of looks that you enjoy. It helps to see what classics are worth keeping , what clothes might look dated., and what items might seem new again with the right accessories. I rediscovered my style and I’m once again having fun with fashion!

  6. Great tips! Once I had a seasonal color analysis done I found it very easy to weed out my closet — gone were all the colors that aren’t in my palette, gone are all the garments that don’t fit with my seasonal style. And now I’m slowly rebuilding with items that I not only love, but that love me back and serve me well.

      1. I would 2nd the comment about dressing according to one’s “season”…I had my analysis done when I turned 50 for a “pick me up” and knowledge – boy – did it help me streamlining my “look”…I now know what colors look BEST on me and adjust and accessorize when I’m not wearing a “best” color. I so thoroughly embraced this mindset. I gifted my daughter and her BFF a session with my color analyst. It’s been almost 3 years since I discovered this information, and I have purged my closet of what wasn’t working and now have a cohesive story that helps ME put my best looks forward. Love your blog.

  7. I am a closet horder and have things in there since the early 90’s. I don’t even realize what I have anymore because everything is so crammed in there. I have well over thirty jeans but only have two I am trying them on today and do not know what to toss and what to keep. Some are expensive and some not. Some are bell bottoms and hip huggers..I heard tht they are coming back this spring..what do I do?

  8. I love reading all of these comments for my question! I am learning lots from everyone. And I will try to find a decent picture of my tank/printed cardigan “uniform” to send in to you! I will keep purging in the meantime!!

  9. Wow..loving all the comments! Jennifer, your story is inspiring! It sounds like the old saying, “less is more” rings true for you. You are inspiring me to get rid of even more!
    I agree with you… would much rather buy only a few new outfits a year and wear them out..than have a closet full of boring old stuff! Thanks for sharing!

  10. Thanks for the reminder to start a new year out fresh! I actually LOVE going thru my closet to organize and clear it out so I do it at twice a year when I change my winter wardrobe to my summer and vice versa. Nothing feels better than getting rid of worn-out / ill-fitting / just plain “I’m tired of that” clothes and doing some guilt-free shopping to replace/update them!

    Further to your idea about analyzing your activities and building your wardrobe accordingly, one of my best tips for getting the most efficient use of your closet is to organize it by your activities. So, I have the following sections in my closet: work, formal, going out, casual (i.e. at home / running errangds), sleep, sports (for me that means one section for golf and one for running) and hobbies (for me that means country line dancing!). Each section has everything I need for each activity – from underwear and socks/hose to tops and pants to shoes and accessories to jackets/outerwear. It probably sounds a bit uncoventional, but I’ve been using this system for about 15 years, and it really works! Since you get dressed according to what you’re planning to do, why not have all your options together so you can easily see and choose them?! It also helps you see what you need to buy/replace and to get ready quickly each morning. So, give it a try. I promise it’ll work for you, too! Happy New Year to everyone!

    1. Hi KSO,
      Have never tried to organize my closet in this way, but sounds interesting and certainly practical. I think you are onto something, will give it a try! Thanks for sharing!!!

  11. Oh this is great – thank you! I recently moved house being an almost 50 and almost empty nester into a much much smaller home close to the theatres etc to enjoy ourselves post-mummy and daddy. Anyhow, we are still living in one cardboard porta-robe each (after a whole wall closet with all the gadgets!), so had to be ruthless in getting rid of almost everthing. Would you believe that even living with 20inches of clothes, I STILL don’t wear everything. BUT I get to see the outfits I just love and wear them to bits. So this is inspiring me to be really focused in my wardrobe and to have just a few great outfits that I love to wear in my new life. I went to the shops for the first time in a couple of months yesterday and instead of feeling guilty that I had so much still at home, it was wonderful to buy a new funky outfit and put it on display. I am about to re-accessorise with my favourite few shoes and bags I bought with me, and feel ok about retiring a sadder outfit… So good luck and enjoy! Jen

  12. Hi Terri,
    Yes, Florida is another animal… I would love to see a photo of what you are talking about.. it is so hard to give advice on just words. Send one in and I’ll let you know.

  13. I love this post…it’s one of my favorite things to do! Now that I’ve lost weight, I have actually had to get rid of some things that are just to baggy! And I need to keep going…because I have been buying new clothes! Today I bought some skinny pants and a new top at Dillards! It’s more fun to shop now! Thanks for reminding me to keep working on my closet! ♥

    1. Hi Lavender Dreams,
      You are one of my most faithful readers and I LOVE that you area always challenging yourself to try new things and ideas! YOU ROCK!!
      Keep up the good work and I always enjoy your comments!

  14. Thanks for answering my question! I love your suggestions. The only hard part is that I live in South FL so it is too warm for the boots and long sweaters 98% of the time. I do like printed cotton cardigans with tanks. Is this a good option? I just ordered your closet DVD!! Thanks again :-)

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