How to Clean Your Closet Like a Pro
Attack your scary-ass closet with the help of an expert. Ready, set, go!
Slowly but surely we’re getting our shit together.
I am a particular though not uncommon type of clean freak: I like everything to appear tidy to the human eye. Are you a friend visiting for a glass of wine? Sit down on my couch and enjoy how organized my bookshelf looks. Marvel at my made bed. Feel free to gasp at my artfully-tossed throw pillows.
BUT DO NOT OPEN A SINGLE THING. One turn of a closet’s knob, gentle tug of a drawer’s handle or careless swing of a pantry cabinet and basically, you’ll die.
That’s a very stressful and not to mention dangerous way to live. It had to end for my life to begin! The solution, of course, was to invite over a professional — not to gasp at my artfully-tossed throw pillows, but to help me get my shit together. Enter: Tidy Tova, godsend/professional organizer/truly inspirational cleaner.
We focused on my closet and drawers, and after a four-hour-long process, we did it. Here’s how:
Step 1: Invest in matching hangers before you start
Tova suggests Real Simple’s Slimline Flocked Suit Hangers. It’s going to change your closet. No joke. I thought she was being dramatic — she was not.
Make sure you buy enough to switch out all the items in your closet, plus extra.
Do not, however, buy any other organizing products. “You’ll only be bringing more into your life,” she cautions.
Step 2: Mentally prepare
“Grab a piece of scrap paper and write down a couple of goals: are you looking to accomplish a much-needed purge? Do you want to focus on maximizing your space? Jot down some tidy thoughts!”
As opposed to dirty ones 😉 Sorry.
Step 3: Pre-closet clean, do a room prep and assess
Make your bed.
Grab some garbage bags and a couple of totes to contain items to sell/donate. Make sure you know what will be going where once the clothes start flying.
Then: “Decide which area is bothering you the most or feels the most exciting to tackle and start there,” says Tova. “If your shoe situation is out of hand, make that your first area of attack. Focus on one category or zone at a time.” We started with the clothes hanging in my closet.
Step 4: Attack!
“Pull everything in your designated category or area out and place all of it on your bed or a clear area on your floor.” BUT! “Don’t take everything out at once because that will undoubtedly feel overwhelming. Keep goals small.”
So for me this meant: no shoes, no hidden bedding, no touching drawers — again, just clothes in my closet.
Step 5: Play the less-fun version of Fuck, Kill, Marry: Keep, Donate, Sell or Chuck
“Start making piles for each category,” says Tova. “Try not to put items in purgatory, but if you’re feeling stuck on a specific article, place it in a ‘maybe’ zone to revisit later. Swap the hangers of the items you’re going to keep and put them back into your closet for now.”
Continue systematically “yes-ing” or “no-ing” until you’ve gone through everything in your designated area.
“When you’re left with only the things that you love, wear and want (doesn’t that feel good?!), think about how frequently you use or access the type of clothing. If you wear dresses all of the time, place them front and center in your closet. Since the weather is getting warmer, we put Amelia’s sweaters toward the back.”
Tova also suggests keeping like-items together and then organizing by color within each category.
That seems weirdly simple. There has to be more. What should definitely GO?
“Items that cause a negative visceral reaction. Listen to that voice in your head!
If you feel yourself making up stories for why you should hold on to something (“It’ll fit one day…”) say goodbye. Anything ripped or stained beyond repair should GO, too. Those items will only bog you down and bring negativity into your life when you interact with them.”
I love the thrill of a potential theme party — can I keep costumes just in case?
“In moderation! I generally try to encourage clients to stay away from holding on to things for costume’s sake. If you end up needing that bright yellow belt for your banana costume in three years from now, you’ll figure it out then. But right now, and until that moment, these items are taking up precious space in your closet.
That being said, if you’re having too much trouble letting go, give yourself a set amount of space (either one bin or box) and keep only what fits inside.” <– That’s what we did for me, you guys. Could not let the neon fanny packs go.
Do you have any closet rules of thumb?
“Don’t try to overstuff — your closet needs breathing room. Loading it up entirely will make it difficult to interact with.
Keep items that you rarely use least accessible. Put them either high on a shelf or in the back of your closet.
Keep your sentimental items down to a manageable amount. I suggest one clear bin and sticking to that. This may mean creating a one-in-one-out rule. The more sentimental items you keep, the less likely you’ll be to access any of it.”
I’ve heard you shouldn’t hang sweaters because it can ruin their shape — if you’re nervous about this, what’s the solution since they take up so much space in drawers?
“Sweaters are tough because of their size and bulk. But yes, hanging sweaters can often ruin them. Set aside room on a shelf and keep them piled and folded there (they’re too big for a drawer so avoid that at all costs). If you have space, a hanging shelf can be a great solution.”
How do I store super long dresses if I don’t have hanging space?
“If you have dresses that are too long for your hanging space, you can either store them in a garment bag and tuck the excess length behind the hanging rod. It will drag on the floor (obviously) but at least be kept safe. Or, you can use the Amelia method and use two hangers: one to hang the top of the garment and the other to drape the bottom (think: the method for hanging pants).”
What should I do with coats?
“Your “active” coats — the ones you wear every day — are best stored on hooks by your front door. But make sure not to pile them too high because you’ll run the risk of things falling and getting hidden and create a frustrating interaction when you just want to get out of the house. If you’re a coat lover, keep the less-frequently used ones in deeper storage like the back of your closet and rotate out as the weather changes.”
What about bags?
“Hooks are great for hanging the bags that you use most often. Look out for hidden storage areas behind doors or on small closet walls and install hooks if you don’t have them already.
My main tip about bags, however, is to empty them at the end of the day and get rid of any trash that made its way into your bag. Make sure you’re not hauling around items that you only needed yesterday.”
Drawers: what’s your process? Tell me about the folding!
“Focus on one drawer at time (again, think small goals). Start by taking everything out and going through the process of deciding what to keep and what to let go of. Once you’ve done the purge, divide by category again (tanks together, long sleeves together, etc.) and fold! I’m a big fan of the accordion-style fold where you fold in half and then in half again (to create a sort of “filing system” for your shirts). This way you can see everything instead of using the stacking method and therefore losing sight of what’s on the bottom. You can see some of my folding tips here.”
Any advice for the makeup hoarders out there?
“Get rid of products that are old and crusty. Keep your collection down to the products that you love and use frequently. You’ll simplify your morning routine and save lots of time.”
What are some common mistakes your clients make before, during and after?
“Buying lots of storage-related products before knowing what they actually need.
Looking at the big picture (instead of small, attainable goals), which leads to feeling overwhelmed and then getting turned off before actually starting. This is why hiring a professional is so helpful.”
“It’s so important to create a system and stick to it. Otherwise you’ll be left with mounds and surrounded by a big mess.
Don’t get bored and walk away. To keep yourself in the zone, blast music, take breaks and reward yourself after you finish each category. Chocolate!”
“The biggest mistake clients make afterward is letting old habits kick back in and then judging themselves for it. It’s important to be kind to yourself and realize that the road to tidiness is a journey and won’t happen overnight. At the end of the day, you’re modifying your behavior and that can take time. And that’s fine!
Another mistake: using your newly-acquired space as an opportunity to make lots of new purchases. Embrace the empty spaces and don’t force yourself to fill them up.
Always stay in touch with what you like and want to hold to and let the rest go.”
How do I maintain my newly organized masterpiece?
“Now that you’re at baseline, it’s all about the upkeep. A good trick is to undress yourself right in front of your closet. Hang, launder, place in laundry bin or fold at the end of each day and don’t let your clothing hit the floor at all. Hitting the floor –> building an overwhelming mound –> eew.
“Going forward, try to be more conscious about your purchases and avoid buying items that you’re on the fence about. When in doubt, leave it out. If you’re not itching to change right into your new purchase, consider not buying it at all. And don’t be afraid to pass on freebies and samples that try to come into your life. Simplify, simplify, simplify!”
Get organized and visit professional organizer Tova’s website Tidy Tova. Follow on Instagram @tidytova, Twitter @TidyTova, Pinterest (very important!) and Facebook too. Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis.