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How to clean out all of your closets

Follow this guide for organizing everything in your cluttered closets — from your bedroom closets to the broom closet.
closet organization
You know it's time when you open the door and think, “I really need to organize this closet,” Donna Smallin Kuper told TODAY Home. Shutterstock
/ Source: TODAY

Today I opened the linen closet and out rolled a neck brace and a bag of cough drops. Yesterday, a box of Cheerios tumbled out of the pantry while I was fetching some fettuccine. If you’re like me, no matter how hard we try to control clutter, closets seem to become the junk drawers of the house.

Fortunately, Donna Smallin Kuper, organizing expert and author of "Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness," has some sure-fire ways for how to organize your closets and keep them that way. In this closet clean-out guide, she also delves into how to clean out your closets and let go of things you don't need. Here are Kuper's top tips and rules for cleaning out closets.

Bedroom closet

Clean it when:

  • “For me, it’s when I run out of hangers!” Kuper told TODAY Home.
  • Clothes still have the price tags on them.
  • Your closet is so full, it’s hard to re-hang clothes.
  • You stare at a full closet and can’t find anything to wear.

Clearing the clutter

If you have a whole day:

  • Remove everything and sort into categories — pants, skirts, dresses, shirts, etc., so you can really see what you’ve got.
  • Learn how to clean your closet Marie Kondo-style. Start by getting rid of duplicates. Who needs five pairs of black slacks? Give them away to friends or to the needy.
  • Ask yourself, Would I buy this today? If not, donate or sell it.
  • Apply the 80/20 rule: We wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. The other stuff doesn’t fit or there’s something about it that just isn’t right. Take it out!

Alternatively, do it in spurts and tackle it over a few days. “I actually prefer this way,” said Kuper. Here's how to break it up:

  • Pull out your favorite clothes — the ones you love and actually do wear. This should be really quick. If you have to think about it, it’s not a favorite. Seriously consider donating or selling the rest. If you’re not wearing it, what’s the point of having it take up valuable closet space?
  • Alternatively, work on one foot of your clothing rod at a time. Try everything on. Does it fit? Do you love it? Then make a decision and either hang it back up or toss it into the donation bag. Mark where you left off. When you get all the way across the rod, tackle the other items in your closet: shoes, handbags and accessories.

Organizing tips

  • Keep a set number of hangers in the closet. If you can’t find a hanger, it’s time to get rid of something.
  • Live by the one in/one out rule. If you bring something new into your closet, get rid of something to make room for it.
  • When you remove something from a hanger, hang all the empty hangers together. It’s easier to find one when you need it.
  • Organize your clothing so that like items are hung together — shirts with shirts, pants with pants and so forth.
  • Aim for your closet to be no more than 75% full so there’s room for clothing to hang straight and for hangers to move easily across the rod.
  • Train yourself to immediately hang up items that you plan to re-wear or items that just came out of the dryer. Keep hangers in your laundry room and have a place to hang them. A tension rod may do the trick!
  • Use slim-line type hangers: “I recommend investing in a set of new hangers if you want a neat and tidy looking closet,” said Kuper. Slim-line hangers take up far less space than traditional hangers and typically come with velvety shoulders that help keep clothing in place.
  • Cascading skirt hangers and tiered pants hangers will let you store more clothes in less space.
  • Hang some hooks so you have a place for items you plan to wear the next day or things like robes and jackets that you wear often.
  • An over-the-door shoe organizer works for shoes as well as scarves and belts.
  • A hanging purse organizer frees up shelf space.
  • Stacking bins maximize vertical space on the shelf above your clothes rod. A second hanging rod doubles the short-hanging space in your closet.
  • To prevent overbuying, decide what you need before you go shopping and pay with cash.

Kids’ closets

  • Consider adding shelves — a shelving system like Elfa can be re-arranged as kids grow.
  • Stack games and puzzles in original boxes on shelves.
  • Stand up books on shelves. When the shelves are full, it’s time to cull the collection.
  • Store bulky items, like skateboards and train sets, under the bed.
  • Hang hooks at kid-height for backpacks, jackets, pajamas and robes.
  • A second hanging rod is great in kids’ closets. The lower rod handles frequently worn clothing. The upper rod works for dress clothes and out of season clothing.

Linen closet

Clean it when:

  • You struggle to find a place to put clean sheets and towels.
  • You open the door and think, “I really need to organize this closet!”

Clearing the clutter

  • Use a bed as a place to sort these items into categories: flat or fitted sheets, pillowcases, bath towels, hand towels, etc.
  • Keep two sets of sheets per bed, one on the bed, the other clean and ready. Store seasonal sheets (like flannel) with out-of-season clothing or on a high shelf in the closet.
  • Keep two sets of towels per person if you change towels twice a week and do laundry once a week. Otherwise, adjust accordingly.

Organizing tips

  • Label shelves, by item or by family member, to make it easier to find and put away items.
  • Store items you use most often between waist and eye level – store less frequently used items, like blankets, up higher or down lower.
  • After being stored for a while, sheets don’t always smell good. To keep linens smelling fresh for up to two months, try adding a product like Downy Fresh Protect beads when you wash sheets. (Full disclosure: Kuper is a fabric care ambassador for Tide and Downy brands.)
  • Linen closets are often used for more than linens. The cool, dark environment is perfect to store medicines and vitamins (much better than in the bathroom), as well as extra toiletries and toilet paper.
  • Shelf paper is not necessary but it looks nice and, when scented, smells nice. Depending on the type of shelving you have, it may be easier to dust or clean shelf paper than raw or painted wood.

Broom closet

Clean it when:

  • You can’t close the door.
  • Stuff falls out when you open it.

Clearing the clutter

  • Pull out the cleaning tools you use frequently. Are they in good repair? If not, do what’s necessary — fix or replace.
  • Then look at everything else. Discard duplicates. Do you really need five kinds of all-purpose cleaner when one will do? Toss it if you tried it and didn’t like it, never use it, hate the smell or if it doesn’t work.

Organizing tips

  • Long-handled items, like brooms and mops, can be clipped to the wall to keep their working ends in good shape.
  • A tote bag hung from a hook is great to store vacuum cleaner attachments or microfiber cloths for cleaning/dusting.
  • Keep basic cleaning supplies in a cleaning caddy. I’ve always loved being able to grab it and get to work.

Front/entry hall closet

Clean it when:

  • There’s no room to hang coats.
  • Out-of-season items are taking up needed space.

Organizing tips

  • Use coat hangers or otherwise sturdy hangers.
  • Use an over-the-door shoe organizer for umbrellas, scarves, mittens, dog leashes, etc.
  • Corral shoes and boots on a mat or in a basket on the floor.
  • Add hooks to hang frequently worn coats and jackets.

What to do with the purged items?

  • When you clear out your closet, keep a donation bag or box handy. When it gets full, take it to your favorite charity. Make a list of your donations and get a receipt. You can claim up to 50% of your adjusted gross income for non-cash donations to charitable organizations.
  • Donate old towels to a local animal shelter.
  • Donate sheets and towels in good condition to women’s shelters, homeless shelters or to a charitable organization, such as Goodwill.
  • If you’ve got clothing in good shape and it’s still fashionable, consider selling to You can also sell things like designer handbags and shoes using the OfferUp app (really easy – just take a photo, set a price and post) or on eBay.

This article was originally published on Oct. 5, 2016.