The Painless Way Of Purging Closets

The Hanger Trick - Slim Down Your Closet Easily -v

You should love all the clothes in your closet.

All the stuff that you feel blah about is blocking you from seeing all the stuff you like! I shared this picture on Instagram, and you agreed: you want a party in your closet!

Opening up your closet should be like arriving at a really good party - Amy Fine Collins - Mary ORGANIZES


Let’s Make it Easy

If you’re having a tough time trimming down your closet because the decisions just seem too hard, make it easy on yourself with my hanger trick. Find out how many of the clothes in your closet you really wear!

Try this trick: 

Turn all of the hangers in your closet backwards. As you wear clothes and put them away, put the hangers in the regular way. At the end of the season, it will be clear to you what clothes you actually wear.

When winter comes, donate or sell the summer clothes you never wore. You’ll easily know which ones you don’t wear, because the hanger will still be backwards.

The Hanger Trick - Slim Down Your Closet Easily -s


When It’s Time To Let Go, Let Go

You may be tempted to keep unused clothes at the end of the season.

Tempting thought: you may lose weight and be able to wear them again.
My response: when you lose weight, you will want to buy new clothes! Styles change, you may not like the stuff you’re keeping in case when you loose the weight!

Tempting thought: you may gain weight back and you don’t want to re-buy all of those fat clothes.
My response: keeping around the bigger sizes gives your sub-conscience permission to regain the weight.

Tempting thought: I spent a lot of money on this, I feel guilty that I never really liked wearing it.
My response: do not keep punishing yourself for a past mistake! Let go of the item and let go of the guilt.

Tempting thought: I’ll save this for my children to wear or it would make a great costume.
My response: really? Do you really want to wear your mom’s old clothes?


One Exception

There is one exception – maternity clothes. If you are still in the baby-making mode, you may want to store these at the back of the closet in a bin (canvas with cedar inserts will keep your clothes freshest). Still, only store your favorites because you will want a few new pieces with another pregnancy anyway.

BUT, if you’re unsure about having more babies or it could be YEARS, consider purging the maternity clothes. Donated maternity items are appreciated! Someone will get good use out of them and you’ll get new choices if you happen to need some. Win-win.

Canvas Bag

^ The picture above is a bin from Amazon like the one I use. Honestly, I hate taking pictures in dark closets.


My Husbands T-Shirt Bin

My husband has a love of t-shirts of his favorite football team. Seriously, his t-shirt section in his closet is one color because they are all from one team. These are the t-shirts he wears 7 days a week, even if it is just changing out of work/church clothes at the end of the day.  He wears them so much that they get worn out and he gets new ones. These shirts could TAKE OVER our house (or that’s how it used to feel).

I bought a linen zipped-close container with cedar inserts for his favorites-I-can-no-longer-stand-to-see. He can keep all the t-shirts in good condition hanging up, but once a t-shirt becomes too worn or there are just too many hanging in his t-shirt section, he gets to make a choice: let it go or give it a spot in the t-shirt bin. The bin is so full that at this point he would have to REMOVE something to fit something else. He accepted the need for a boundary. When people love to collect something, it can get out of hand, which is why collections need boundaries.

This bin has helped us remove A LOT of t-shirts because they don’t fit. And he is happy because he has his old favorites still … and we are ready if someone creates a museum in his honor one day.

Oh, compromise.


More Exceptions?

More tempting thoughts? Go ahead and try me out. Leave a comment below of your favorite excuse not to get rid of unused clothes.

What do you think? Pretty easy, right?

Happy purging!


Subscribe to the blog emails, like Mary ORGANIZES on Facebook, and join the Facebook Group.


This post was originally posted May 12, 2012. You’ve seen this idea in several places since then, but you probably saw it here first. 

44 thoughts on “The Painless Way Of Purging Closets

  1. Oh my gosh, I’m doing this TODAY! I’m majorly guilty of tempting thought #3… I love the response! Totally gonna own that one from now on…

  2. Mary, a bunch of ladies in my town get together about 2-3 times a year to do a clothing exchange. This is such a great way to know what to bring!

  3. Two possible exceptions?

    Someday I will not be nursing and can wear long dresses without buttons again. Or…

    I really like this one but it’s the only one that fits when I’m pregnant and I can’t wear it so much now that I am tired of it when that comes around again.

    …I’m afraid the easiest way for me to thin my closet is to throw away the mending pile as non-salvageable.

    1. Yes! This. So true. I have my pregnant clothes, nursing clothes, pregnant AND nursing clothes and neither one clothes.

  4. Mary, any tips for organizing closets from scratch on a budget? Our built in organizers decided they were done and we have to rebuild the entire thing.

    1. Unless you have scrap wood and can build shelves yourselves, I don’t think there is a free way. I’d suggest scouring Amazon and Walmart and go for some of those inexpensive closet inserts. Search for “closet organization” – I believe there are some budget friendly options you’ll find.

  5. Oh the mending pile! I agree, Hannah. Mine is that I can wear stained/ripped but comfy stuff for yardwork or barn chores – but then I have more barn clothes than work clothes… Time to haul it all out in piles by what I can use it for…

  6. I think I’ll try the hanger trick in my kids’ closets. It will be a great help in the next seasonal switch-over.
    My excuse for hanging onto clothing? I love this blouse but don’t have anything to wear with it, yet.

  7. I’ll mend it some day and then I can wear it.

    Right. Like that’s gonna happen. Although I did fix a pair of pants for my son three years later…long story there.

    How about this: I only have one formal, and though I rarely go anywhere I will dress up, I want to keep it just in case.

    And what’s your take on keeping wedding dresses? My friends and I have a difference of opinions.

  8. @Hannah, I am professional organizer and I have helped organize people who are just pre- or post-birth. Yes, you DO keep those clothes that you need while pregnant or nursing – BUT – put them in storage when those phases are over! When you put them up (space bags, boxes, whatever you have), label them with what they are and even date them. If you end up not pregnant again, they are easy to identify and get rid of. Dating them is always a good idea, to tell you vividly how long something has been stored. It it’s too long, it should go.

  9. Sadly, the majority in my closet are things I don’t wear. Most are dresses that I bought to wear but have not gone anywhere to wear them. Some of them are because I have not found the right shoes to wear with them. The stuff I’m wearing is the junk, you really don’t want to be seen wearing but fits over that rolling belly. It’s really not appropriate for work either. I just don’t think I was really taught to dress myself properly and I don’t have a good eye for it because by the time I get it home and put it on, I usually hate it. Even if I tried it on at the store first. I need a cure. Do you have a cure for that?

    1. There is a wonderful book called ” Does This Make Me Look Fat?: The Definitive Rules for Dressing Thin for Every Height, Size, and Shape” by Leah Feldon. I have found it very useful when trying to dress my apple shaped body.

      1. I’m in the same position as Penny. I never learned to dress myself, and just don’t have an eye for it. I do not have appropriate work clothes, and since I’m looking for a new job now, I really need to have some professional looking clothes. I wear black jeans or sweats as dress pants right now, but won’t be able to get by with that at a new job. I will have to check out that book, also. I am thin, except in the belly, so I prefer loose clothing. Thanks for your suggestions.

  10. I love this idea for figuring out what my stepson is wearing and what he’s not. I’ve tried asking him but he just shrugs his shoulders.

  11. Mary – do you have a rule of thumb for how much is enough on adult clothes? I saw the rule for kids. Since I’m not changing sizes so often like my growing kids, maybe I get a little more? Thanks!

    1. You know, this is really how I do adult clothes. If you actually wear the clothes a few times each season, you can keep them as long as you have room to store them. Does that make sense?

      1. I hate to shop so I hang onto clothes just so I don’t have to try and replace them later – shoes are even worse – if they didn’t make my feet bleed im keeping them because so many pairs did… I would like to purge down, but feel stuck. It is as if I will be punished for getting rid of those not entirely uncomfortable pumps by only finding worse pairs later. (I have about 30 total pairs of dress shoes which seems like way too many)

      2. I LOVE that rule for adult clothing!!! Thanks, Mary! It’s really going to help me. I’ve been decluttering my closet now since 2013. I started out with over 100 pairs of pants and the same with shirts and sweaters (I have dresses/skirts, but those are in control). I’ve really whittled it down, and now I’m left with just the things I wear and love, plus some extras I can’t let go of, but I think your rule makes sense, so I’m going to use it to declutter those extras. The problem is that I’m a little like Ssmith because I sometimes don’t like to shop, or don’t have time to, so I like knowing there’s a little extra in my closet so I can “shop” from my closet–and even if I don’t like that item, it gives me something different to wear on a moment’s notice, so it’s almost like wearing something new. The difficulty is that I have a normal sized closet–not even a walk-in, so I have to be creative with storage. At any rate, I’m down to about 15 pairs of pants and 15 pairs of shorts. Thanks for the tips!

  12. This is a great tip. I have been doing it for a few years now and very telling!! I am often surprised at things I have not worn. I sometimes keep them, but I try them on first as it makes me remember why I have not worn it. I do this on an annual basis. It makes cleaning out your closet more fun!!

  13. One thing struck me as funny….I saved some of my kids’ baby clothes, (only the cutest things), and now my very first grandchild is wearing the sweet gowns and sleepers that her mother wore 30 years ago! They still look new and she thinks it’s a great way to save money. I will say, I do not want them back in my attic to save for the next grandchild. I am doing the declutter challenge!

    1. Absolutely I think people should keep favorites, but if “everything” is a favorite, then that word is not being used properly. I love your story – it is a great example of doing it right :)

      And yay for letting them go where they need to be and a cleaner attic!

  14. Such a good article! Thank you! Money is tight and I don’t have a budget for clothes at the moment. I feel like I can’t just keep the clothes I love. :( I have a business suit and 4 shirts that go with it. I love 1 and dislike the other 3…1 is too short and 2 have stains. If I keep the jacket on, I look very professional. I feel a bit stuck to keep clothes I don’t love.

    1. I hope that you can find some replacements that you love very soon. You are definitely passing the hanger test, though, since you’re wearing what you have! ;)

  15. Remember to, that most thrift shops now have fabric by the pound. I will put my scraps, damaged, stained but clean! fabric, clothing etc…. in one bag marked… for fabric by the pound. People use them for crafts or some for work clothes…. that way we are not adding to a trash pile. (but please only drop off clean.). Great idea… with the hangers…. trying this today.

  16. I do the backward hanger trick every year. It really helps. I do wish there was an easier way to do seasonal clothes. Problem is that winter in the south will experience very warm days followed by very cold.

  17. You could consider sending his shirts to someone so they could make a t-shirt quilt for him… then they aren’t gone but reworked and ready for game day snuggles.

  18. My problem is I live in a 4-Season climate and I have a body that cannot stay the same weight. I’ve used the hanger trick and I’ve purged clothing I THOUGHT I was going to fit into. BUT, two months after I gave my favorite fat clothes to a friend of mine, I gained 10 lbs from new medication and had NOTHING to wear. Shopping for 2X clothing is a hit or miss mission. Sometimes you find things that not only look good on the store hanger, but on you as well. Sometimes you don’t; you get tired and depressed AND so sorry you got rid of those great clothes. Getting skinny clothes as an incentive to lose weight doesn’t work for me. Been there, tried that. I, too, have a normal size closet and have tried many things and STILL have no room. Got any suggestions as to what I’m doing wrong??

    1. If you’re circumstance is unique, consider putting certain sizes into “off-season” storage like you would sweaters. Just limit those storage containers to your absolute favorites.

  19. What about your wedding dress if there is no one to you pass it down to? I just got married in September and had planned to sell it right away…I didn’t expect to get attached to it :)

  20. I have lost and gained weight and regretted getting rid of some of it….especially on a small budget…although only 1 size either way…

    1. Weight is always a tricky battle for clothes. If you fluctuate in size a lot, then the 1 year hanger trick might still work … if you’re multiple sizes within a year?

Leave a comment! I love to hear what you think!