Performing A Closet Cleanout: Tips from a Pro

Last week, I went live on Instagram with Rosana Vollmerhausen, the founder and chief stylist at DC Style Factory to perform a remote closet audit on my wardrobe.  You may recall I hired DC Style Factory to help me craft outfits for a fashion conference. While fashion is literally my job and I feel I do a decent job of cleaning out my closet each season, this experience sheds light on how much I was still holding on to, just in case.  Just in case I was invited to a theme or costume party.  Just in case that style of belt comes back in vogue.  Just in case I decide I like pencil skirts or stiletto heels or button-front oxford shirts again.  If it was so enlightening for me, someone who considers her closet her second office, I knew it would be enlightening for many of you as well.  The Instagram Live was over an hour long; we edited it down to three 10-minute videos that are available for viewing at my Instagram profile.  Click on the IGTV tab in my feed to access all three.  And join us today on Instagram at 1 pm ET as we follow up with what homework I had from that remote closet audit. But I also invited Rosana to write her tips for performing your own closet cleanout:

Performing a Closet Cleanout: Tips from Rosana Vollmerhausen of DC Style Factory

I know I love closet cleanouts more than the average person, hence starting and running a business that is centered around that space in everyone’s home. Still, even if the thought of tackling that mish-mosh of hangers and clothing in your bedroom gives you straight-up hives, I think we can all get behind a home project that makes you feel renewed afterward. Cleaning out your closet and making decisions about your wardrobe is a home organization project that has a very clear beginning, middle, and end that feels so, so good at the end. You can do this!

We have a detailed process that is designed to get our remote and in-person clients a #closetgoals space that will make daily life easier. Wouldn’t you love to be dressed in five minutes? Here are my top 10 steps to not only starting this project but finishing it as if you had a pro (like us!) right there with you.

  1. Get “Huggable” velvet-flocked hangers in the black color. Hard stop. Promise, these hangers will change your life.
  2. Pull out everything. Yup. Everything. Pull out everything in your closet, out of drawers, under the bed, in the attic. Pile it all on your bed, Marie Kondo-style. You can't effectively audit your closet IN your closet.
  3. Make clear piles of clothing. You should have areas for Donate, Keep, Tailor, Consign.
  4. Get rid the following, no exceptions:
    • Worn, faded, stained, have holes that cannot be repaired. Yes, I am talking about that favorite thread-bare t-shirt that you simply can’t find a substitute for. If you think another tee won't be good enough, you are overthinking it. Let it go. Find a new one that will most definitely be better than the worn-out one.
    • Too small. There is nothing more soul-sucking than a closet full of clothing that does not fit. I have been there many a time with a client. Stop wishing you would look good in that pre-baby dress and embrace a new dress that will make you feel amazing today. If it is too big, but not two sizes too big and you love it, you can explore tailoring it down.
    • Anything you had actually forgotten about and never worn. If you start a sentence with “Well, what if I have an XYZ event that I need this for?” it needs to go.
    • Anything dated. Those True Religion low-rise bootcut jeans from 1997? Bye.
  5. Eliminate the seasonal swap. Did that make you shudder? Then you definitely need to hear this because it’s going to change how you shop and do style and wardrobe forever. Everything you own should fit in your closet space no matter how large or small it is. If you can’t fit it all, then you know you need to cut through more of the volume of clothing you have. PS You don’t need 10 pairs of black pants, pick your favorite 2-3.
  6. Get rid of closet contraptions. Clear your closet space of those hanging cloth shoe cubbies, waterfall hangers, scarf holders, etc. They don’t keep you organized. They add to the clutter. So how do you store all those things then? See next bullet point.
  7. Hang everything individually except sweaters. Yes, even your t-shirts and scarves should be hung on a Huggable Hanger. Increased visibility means increased utility of your clothing.
  8. Organize like your life depends on it. Don’t take shortcuts on the organization. It matters. Put all your keeps on the Huggable Hangers and organize by category, light to dark. Tops and dresses should be divided by sleeve length into subcategories and THEN light to dark. And here is the key — keep it organized! The system is designed to value your clothing, encourage you to care for it, and display what you own in a way that helps you shop your closet each and every day.
  9. Say goodbye to uncomfortable shoes. If you need to take Advil to wear them (true story that I had a client who took medicine to WEAR HER SHOES), ditch them. There are so many cute, stylish shoes out there that won’t hobble you.
  10. Enjoy your wardrobe before you buy anything new. Now that your closet is audited, resist the impulse to run out and buy new things to fill it right back up. Wear what you own, experiment, mix and match. Document the outfits on your phone and record thoughts. Identify true gaps in your wardrobe. Your new closet organization system will help you do this. This pause will help you make thoughtful, wise shopping decisions to curate a polished, authentic personal style.

Good luck!

If you would like professional assistance with your closet cleanout, DC Style Factory is offering this service and other methods of remote support for those across the country and the globe.  Visit the DC Style Factory website to learn more.

I have to say I have learned a lot through this process.  I don't need all my gadgets, no human needs the number of scarves and clutches that I owned, and I realized I kept a lot of pieces for “just in case” but when such situations arose I chose to wear something else instead.  I know my situation is different from most because I've receiving free and discounted clothing as a blogger, but I can bet there are plenty of items in your closet that you swear you need but never wear, or honestly shouldn't be wearing.  Style doesn't come from how much you own, but what you own and how you wear it. And if you have extra time right now, this is a great exercise to perform to get control over your closet.  I'd love to hear your experiences with performing a closet cleanout on your own, or if you have employed a professional stylist (or a tough love friend)!

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29 Comments

  1. Naomi
    April 18, 2020 / 10:29 pm

    Alison, I was very inspired by these IG videos and had fun watching them all. I wound up doing another round of a closet clean out and further refining my style as a result of this series, thank you!

  2. Regina
    April 17, 2020 / 10:57 am

    Ugh. I am struggling so hard with this. I have been auditing my closet hard for about a month. I haven’t ended up with anything cohesive, just a bunch of items that seem to have no relationship to one another. My “color story” is basically ALL THE COLORS. I’m trying to check out various Spring capsule wardrobe resources on the web and Pinterest and they are of no help. I have almost half a notebook full of lists and ideas and I think I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole. It feels like so much Spring fashion is not compatible with the 30-50 degree weather we have been having. I’m also trying to not spend too much money right now on fashion so there’s that daunting task of doing more with what I have instead of purchasing all new items.

  3. Ruth Slavid
    April 16, 2020 / 6:27 am

    I certainly couldn’t hang all my clothes. But I watched all three segments on Instagram and then I went through my entire wardrobe in about an hour. Result – the boxes – four for clothes and one for shoes that previously contained my ‘other season’ clothes now are full of rejects and I no longer need a seasonal switch. I realise that since meetings etc. are rarish, I no longer need ‘second best’ going out clothes. Only the best will do. And that in some ways my style has changed in eg the sort of dresses I like. Plus ditching those uncomfortable shoes. A revelation. And I think the fact that I could put away the rejects rather than dump them – which I couldn’t anyway as charity shops etc. are closed – was the revelation. I used to sometimes wear clothes I didn’t like much in order to be ‘fair’ to them. No longer!!

  4. B
    April 15, 2020 / 10:48 pm

    Agree on not hanging up everything one owns; live in a small victorian and my hubs and I have one 3.5’x 15″ closet each. Our coat closet is a small vintage oak wardrobe in the front hall. The bedroom is 10’x 14′ with a king bed taking up any potential storage space. We both work and I have two different types of work that requires two different types of wardrobe( if I ever get back to work). So basement laundry room for the win. Wire shelves on wheels for plastic bins with other season clothing. Z racks for extra hanging area and , by necessity, a dehumidifier running on low most of the time. Those expansive ballroom size closet ads are a purely unattainable fantasy around here!

  5. Lydia
    April 15, 2020 / 8:39 pm

    Thanks for sharing the closet cleanout with us! I couldn’t watch in real-time due to work, so I was happy to see you recorded it. Good energy in these crazy times and good ideas to tackle my own not so big closet.

  6. Dee
    April 14, 2020 / 10:38 pm

    So maybe I’ll try to edit the closet (and all storage spaces) this weekend. I love the idea of having a closet that is well edited but am daunted by the prospect of pulling EVERYTHING out at once. That’s why I haven’t tried Marie Kondo-ing, love the idea of having the things I love but not the process to get there.

    What about wearing/keeping what you love vs. what’s in style (or not)? When faced with indecision about an item, did you have a “magic” question that you asked yourself?

  7. Karin
    April 14, 2020 / 10:07 pm

    If she recommends all items go on hangers, even T-shirts and scarves, what goes in your dresser? It can’t be all socks and underwear…
    I have to agree with the pro-seasonal switch crowd. I keep off-season clothes in a cedar chest. When the seasons turn (here in California, we only have two), I switch everything out. This is when I do a closet purge and helps keep things under control.

  8. Lee
    April 14, 2020 / 7:35 pm

    I’m a fellow Southerner, who also puts out-of-season clothing and shoes in a different area! Right now, I am not mentally ready to do a major closet clean out, but I certainly appreciate the tips. After week 4 or 5 of staying home/working from home, I’m ready to admit that I’m not going to get “all the things” done at home that I probably thought I would on day 2 or 3, ha ha! I actually had 5 bags of clothes hiding behind a chair when all this started & got those to Goodwill last week. There’s more to work on, but I’m putting it off for now.

    I have a question on hanging all clothes on the hangers: how do you prevent the little marks that show up on the shoulder area of sweaters? I have several of those hangers and even with them, those little marks/bumps turn up. It’s so aggravating & I don’t have the time or desire to iron those spots flat. I do tend to fold my pullover sweaters & stack them, but I often still try to hang cardigans.

  9. Heather
    April 14, 2020 / 2:59 pm

    Has anyone found e huggable hangers that are durable? I’ve given up on them as they constantly break.

    • Jax
      April 15, 2020 / 6:47 pm

      I like the type of steel hangers that Laura Cattano (my organizer role model) likes too. They don’t take much room like the huggable hangers and they’re easy to keep clean. And they are durable.
      https://nymag.com/strategist/article/how-to-organize-a-tiny-apartment.html

      Thanks, Alyson — saving this article as aspirational and inspirational to-do for the next couple of weekends.

      • Jax
        April 16, 2020 / 1:28 pm

        Oops, sorry, for the typo. I meant to type Alison! (I think I’m confusing your spelling with ThatsNotMyAge’s Alyson Walsh).

  10. Sierra Delta
    April 14, 2020 / 1:57 pm

    I have that clothes rack and those hangers, Allie! I bought them three years ago and use them at least weekly for the clothes that I like to hang dry. I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen something you’ve featured that I already own! Because of what I’ve learned reading WO, I now wear Bombas socks, Birkenstock Eva sandals (sometimes together but only in the really cold weather), Fantasie bras, Jockey Skimmies Slipshorts, Universal Standard tees, and a few Lands’ End cotton Drifter Cable Knit sweaters. Seeing stuff here that I already own makes me very excited. I think “sheltering in place” may be melting my brain. . .

  11. Christina Brunk
    April 14, 2020 / 1:14 pm

    I would agree with almost all of this with one exception. I have accumulated several nice cocktail dresses over the years and myt husband and I attend formal events a few times per year. I like to keep those dresses outside of my closet since I don’t access them daily.

  12. Ann DD
    April 14, 2020 / 11:20 am

    I need to weed out my closet SO badly! I just realized that I have difficulty purging items that were gifted to me, even if I know that I’ll never wear them. I think that I have to just get over that.

  13. Brenna
    April 14, 2020 / 11:12 am

    I know all advice says not to hold on to items “just in case,” but as an active participant in community theatre, and sometimes costumer, I’m very hesitant to get rid of anything unique or that might work for costuming. Organization is my jam, and I definitely want to follow this common closet clean out advice… I do purge items that don’t fit/are too worn, but I have pulled together many a costume from my own closet! As long as it’s not bursting at the seams… 🙂

  14. hmbalison
    April 14, 2020 / 11:01 am

    Loved the instagram videos. One question. Did you keep the Black Watch suit? I didn’t see it as part of the edit. I hope you did. It looked great on you.

  15. Kate
    April 14, 2020 / 10:52 am

    I have a post request that is somewhat shutdown related but also evergreen. Could you do a roundup of boilersuits/jumpsuits with pockets? Working from home has made me realize how much I love having a uniform. As a new mom I thought leggings/tunics would be good for sitting on the floor but tunics rarely have pockets and I want to be able to throw my phone in a pocket and go. Currently dreaming of a boilersuit that feels comfy and suits the short and curvy.

  16. Jill
    April 14, 2020 / 10:40 am

    Will the videos be available anywhere other than Instagram? I’m not there…and would love to see them. Congrats on the cleanup!

    • Laura
      April 14, 2020 / 1:04 pm

      I do not have an account there but was able to watch them!

      • Jill
        April 14, 2020 / 1:13 pm

        Great, I’ll try it too!

  17. Linda B
    April 14, 2020 / 10:38 am

    Very interesting. . . I have gradually been clearing my closet–after I retired 10 months ago it was easy to see that some things would never be worn again. But I know I could do another round of clearing now. Not sure about a few pieces that I love but rarely (as in, not ever if I am honest) wear, but still love. The one that is my “poster child” in this category is a Christian Lacroix lace coat that I got at an awesome vintage store in Austin 9 years ago, and have worn less than 9 times, I am sure. It was new when I bought it, with tags on, and I paid something like 2% of the original price from Neiman Marcus. It was too dressy for my work in a school, and felt too showy for most social occasions, somehow. I bet I would be happy to wear it out now in this gorgeous spring weather–if I could go out anywhere besides a short trip to Whole Foods for produce every few weeks! But hey–I should wear the darn lace coat for one of our virtual “happy hours” we do with friends, right?

    One interesting idea from your post is hanging scarves on hangers. I need to do that one for sure! And I totally need to purge some of those scarves, in the process.

  18. Missy G
    April 14, 2020 / 10:12 am

    This may be addressed in the videos, but are you trying on clothes during the closet edit? Or are you making quick decisions, with a 10-second touch parameter kind of thing?

  19. Pat
    April 14, 2020 / 10:08 am

    I found it helpful to take photos of the things I got rid of. Not everything, of course, but the things I felt were special, just not for me. Sometimes I would wonder where “that skirt” had gone but by taking a photo I could recall exactly why I let it go instead of remembering them as something amazing. The shoes that rubbed a blister EVERY time I wore them, the skirt that never hung quite right…

  20. Renee
    April 14, 2020 / 9:35 am

    My 28 YO daughter helped me clean out my closets last weekend. There was definitely some tough love going on there. “ Mom, no. Just no!” Three bags ready for goodwill later, I don’t even miss that maxi length Hawaiian print dress from 1998 that is too sizes too small. Sort of. Lol.

  21. April 14, 2020 / 9:04 am

    Love this information. I use the hangers but why do you only recommend the black ones, is using the other colors bad for clothes?? Also I was forced to retire so it is hard to get rid of clothes just in case you have to go back to work and also since I am single trying to date I need some clothes to wear out. So what do I keep or get rid of. Thanks

  22. Susan
    April 14, 2020 / 9:00 am

    ok, listen up–as someone who lives in a house built in 1920, there is no way that clothes will fit in one 3 x 4 foot closet. Each bedroom has a closet that size. We converted a strange alcove into a closet for my husband and me–it is 5 x 7 feet. We cannot fit all of our clothes in there-we live in New England with 4 seasons, and have clothing for skiing, terrible weather, hot weather, etc. I do not think you can make such generalizations! Lots of people live in older homes with tiny closets, and we figure it out. But I love the other advice!

    • Pam
      April 14, 2020 / 1:06 pm

      Fellow New Englander here and I agree. Why would I want wool sweaters taking up valuable space in July? Or my flannel lined jeans? Similarly when it is no longer sandal season those shoes go under the bed for 7-8 months (October thru May). I also appreciate the use of a single style of hanger, organizing by dark to light, etc. We have a pretty luxurious feeling wall of wardrobe space that holds everything from socks to formal wear … we each got 5′ of wardrobe cabinets. Keeping unused item out of the way is the only way to make it work.

      • Judy
        April 14, 2020 / 2:11 pm

        I live in the South, but same issue of 4 very distinct seasons. I don’t want to look at flannel shirts or sweaters when it is July/August and 100 degrees out with high humidity. I have a large closet, but it suffocates me to have to deal with cold weather clothes when it is hot. They get stored in my trusty cedar wardrobe, even though I could technically fit them into my main closet. Other than that, everything else she recommends, ie light to dark, velvet hangers, works for me. This has been a great series, look forward to next week’s IG Live too.

    • Susan
      April 15, 2020 / 8:30 am

      Agree! I can’t use up my precious (small) amount of closet space by hanging sweaters and tshirts…that is what my bureau drawers are for. And I use the stackable hugger hangers – they made a huge difference in my closet utility. But I love the methods of separating clothes via type/sleeve/color and plan to incorporate that so thank you!

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