How Do You Spring Clean?

Spring cleaning is upon us, and in the same way that writing in specific fonts makes me feel smarter, organizing my closet gives me that fleeting — but nonetheless intoxicating — feeling that I’m on top of my shit.

I tend to go into the cleansing process feeling strong and intent, but often come out defeated.

It always starts with a little self-bullying.

“You will get rid of the crap that sits in your closet collecting dust with all the dreams you once had,” I’ll say. And when I start to second-guess my purge: “Don’t be weak. You will never, ever be invited to a luau…the lei you’re saving for such an event must go.”

I give up easily, sweet-talking myself into absurd corners that convince me I absolutely have to keep the shoes I’ve never worn and the dress that is an aesthetic representation of everything I hate — because, uh, people change…right? What if, similar to the Birkenstocks I gave away years ago (a moment I will never, ever forgive myself for), I start to yearn for color again? And fabrics that connote ebullient joy, rather than just a deep-seated ambivalence towards it?

By the time I’m asking myself these questions, I’ve already suffered self-inflicted amnesia, and am placing clothes back on the shelves where they will stay for another year of isolation.

Spring-elicited closet cleaning was an annual habit long before Eminem immortalized it. It’s the proverbial reboot button we press after a long winter season, which often tests our commitment to not just the clothes we’ve accrued, but the decisions we’ve made in tandem.

It does not, however, (for me at least) get easier as years pass. It continues to resuscitate the latent hoarder within me. A therapist would probably have a lot to say about this — maybe that my deep-seated material attachment issues are reflective of relationship insecurities, or my difficulty letting go. But I don’t have time to take the Freudian route with every setback, especially one that simply involves evening out a ratio of, say, black to less-black clothing.

I will admit that I need help, though. Google’s repetitive results on the subject have yet to provide any value, so, do you have any tips for biting the closet cleaning bullet and successfully getting on with it? How about just some common sense to talk into my sticky fingers?

Written by Jessica Schiffer

Image via Vogue Italia, shot by Miles Aldridge

  • Heather Funk

    For one, actually plan on where you’re going to take the stuff. I have two bags of shed closet weight that seem like too much effort to drag all the way around town looking for an accessible thrift store/drop box. I HATE waiting for the people at the back door and always seem to finish the task at weird hours, so I want to drop it and run.

    As for the process itself–I just comb my closet and try to remember the last time I wore it, and if I can’t, out it goes. I also preemptively got rid of some trends I was sick of like mint and peplum Ts.

    • JSchiff

      Heather, you need to teach me listens in self-control. When I do manage to get my act together I usually take my clothes to Buffalo Exchange in NYC, but the long lines for exchanging stuff are always a huge turn off.

      • Heather Funk

        Buffalo Exchange! I honestly think the long lines are a sales tactic because (for me, at least) wait = temptation to browse = “whatever, dude, I’ve got to have this $10 somewhat worn designer thing, I’m just going to pay for it and take this stuff to the Salvation Army on the way home!”

        • JSchiff

          Not to mention the fact that when you opt for cash in exchange, you receive about half of what you would get in store credit… 🙁

          • Heather Funk

            Yep, once I made like $70, but usually it’s closer to $10. I think the key is to bring shoes, or a fake Tory Burch bag from some dubious kiosk somewhere with a broken handle like I did.

  • Victoria

    I love to sell my clothes on eBay. I’m in a process of identifying my “personal image” and I’m finding that sometimes I buy things that I like but go with nothing I own. Or I don’t know how to pair them off… so I sell! And use those PayPal dollars to buy new goodies. They feel even better when they’re free (or I don’t feel the hit on my Visa)!

    • Jesse

      Victoria, you should list your items on eBay with! It’s the easiest way to list all your clothes onto eBay and it’s free to use!

  • Maia

    Jessica you literally never fail to write my thoughts before I can think them. Organizing is intoxicating…getting rid of clothes is nausea inducing.

  • Liz

    Toss anything ill-fitting.

  • Lauren

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. And uhhhh – what I too would give for those Birkenstocks back…

  • Ana Cabral Martins

    Jessica being the best. I always hoard things until I have to have act like they would in “Frozen” and let it go. It ends up being quite a freeing experience. A while ago, I bought and read Nina Garcia’s Little Black Book and she had a few pointers: 1) throw out what doesn’t look good or doesn’t fit well (“for every twenty items you toss, you can buy one killer piece”), 2) be ruthless, don’t keep things for sentimental reasons, 3) don’t keep things you never wore or that you paid a lot for. Also, you did good on those Birkenstocks!

  • Laurie

    I’m all about spring cleaning, right now! Here’s my process in case it helps you at all.

    I start by narrowing what my style looks like, today (not last spring, not 10 years ago). Example: I currently mix traditional items to create a modern look.

    Getting clear on what inspires me helps me know what to keep, front and center.

    And then, I have *three categories*: hang in the closet, give it a rest, and let go.

    — FIRST :: What I put in my closet is stuff I’m wearing NOW. It’s well edited so I don’t miss stuff. I end up being much more creative.
    — SECOND :: The “give it a rest” pile is for stuff I still like, it’s not worn out or damaged, but I’m not into right now. LIKE THOSE BIRKENSTOCKS. All-things-fringe was there for a while, and now… they’re back. This lives under my bed or in a spare closet.
    — THIRD :: And then… let go. Stuff that’s stained or worn out, or that I have always kind of hated.

    I say, “thank you for your service,” and set it free (via Goodwill or eBay).

    It’s always hard to say goodbye. Fortunately, most items are replaceable if you really regret giving it away.

    FWIW — I don’t do the “if you haven’t worn it in a year, toss it” bullshit. I typically buy stuff I LOVE, high quality, and I don’t shop by trend/season so that is N/A to me.

    This kind of thing is actually something I do for a living, so [[shameless plug]] you can take my SPRING CLEAN virtual class, which starts Friday, if you’re feeling bold. (It includes a mixed tape.)

  • Constance Palelei

    I like to make up stories for myself of where my things will end up on another’s person. Maybe it’s kind of like a self-soothing “we took Benji to a farm, where he can play with lots of other little puppies and big dogs.” BUT….

    I try to think: “yeah, I personally will never put this traditional silk shirt thingy on that I picked up on my most recent trip to China (I’m not Chinese.)…. But there maybe a thrift shopping spy who will need it to infiltrate the North Korean Embassy as a Chinese delegate to stop nuclear war… So it is OBVIOUSLY a super heroic All American, No All Humanitarian decision to give this shirt to Goodwill. Great move Constance, F*ck Yeah, Saving the world one silk shirt at a time!”

    Sometimes it works….. Other times I think I might someday be that Spy who needs the silk shirt… but I never said it was fool proof.

  • lavieenliz

    such a cool shot!!

  • You and your Birkenstocks, me and my crew neck Club Monaco sweatshirts, both qualify as purgers-remorse 🙁 Just when we think we’re doing ourselves a favour, something we had given away comes back into fashion and there’s no way to retreive it but if hoarding is the alternative I say it’s just an excuse to re-purchase!

  • Celeste

    If the “would I actually ever wear this again and why” doesn’t work (’cause let’s face it, most of the time we’ll think of some obscure theoretical occasion to wear it for again), maybe try asking yourself if you would buy it again if you came across it in a store. If the answer is no, it’s probably safe to put it in the reject pile.

    • JSchiff


  • Katie

    Something I found that helps me part with things I’m not sure I’m ready to part with is cleaning out my closet of the things I may not want, and then setting them aside for a few weeks. If I go that period of time without missing one of the things I have set aside, I know it’s probably time to give it away!

  • I did it 2 weeks ago – it was a sheer pleasure 🙂 … because my wardrobe was a dusty, choking poor devil that had been keeping me unhappy for way too long (AKA that I had been keeping unhappy for too long).
    First, I emptied the wardrobe, wiped the inner walls clean and checked everything was clean and proper. 2 hours later, I had to decide which clothes would go back and which not. That cleaning process made me want to achieve real order, a clear view and some little spaces for air to move around should it want to. So I had to be selective and the first things I put back in were of higher quality, newish or stuff I never get enough of. Than the rest of space was filled with clothes that go well with the first batch and the rest had to say goodbye (since there are too many clothes sellers on the German eBay, it is too difficult to sell anything and my clothes ended in one of those special containers).
    Second, I am in the middle of a “no new clothes year” – I started back in January but cheated a few times, for practical reasons (has the decency to blush, but it is true). Right now, I haven’t bought anything for quite some time and intend to stick it out till December. I cannot believe what a pleasure it is to be able to see all the clothes I own displayed in the wardrobe, to choose and to combine, many a time things that haven’t been worn for ages or not at all! It is like shopping without having to try things on and I can always be sure I love every single piece. I love it.

  • Maddie

    Allow yourself to keep one storage container of sentimental items or things you think might be iconic in the future, but then toss everything else that you don’t wear frequently ! I have to thank my mom for keeping a few Lacoste polos from the 70s that I fervently wore when I was in high school a decade ago.

  • MJF

    There are basically two schools of thought on this. On the one hand, there’s eminent German cultural theorist Georg Simmel, who once wrote: “Fashion distinguishes itself from history in that its changes are without significance.” This, incidentally, primarily in response to the great Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who began his book on the Social Contract with the lines “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in last season’s clothes.”

    On the other hand, there’s Rakym Brown, who closes his short treatise on fashion with the memorable lines:

    “She ball until she fall, that means she shop until she drop
    And Versace: got a lot, but she may never wear it
    But she save it so our babies will be flyer than their parents”

  • MJF

    There are basically two schools of thought on this. On the one hand, there’s eminent German cultural theorist Georg Simmel, who once wrote: “Fashion distinguishes itself from history in that its changes are without significance.” This, incidentally, primarily in response to the great Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who began his book on the Social Contract with the lines “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in last season’s clothes.”

    On the other hand, there’s Rakym Mayers, who closes his short treatise on fashion with the memorable lines:

    “She ball until she fall, that means she shop until she drop
    And Versace: got a lot, but she may never wear it
    But she save it so our babies will be flyer than their parents”

    • JSchiff

      I love you.

  • Wandering In Heels

    I like to invite over an honest (and fashionable) friend once I’ve done the initial cleanse. I’ll keep the stuff that, deep down, I know I’ll never wear in public but for some reason I’m still attached to then try it on for her. Once I see the shock and disgusted look on her face, it’s easy to throw it in the Goodwill bag.

  • Last year I got really frustrated aaand so I made a decision tree. It has helped. A lot.

    • Samantha

      Love that flow chart! I use Tradesy to sell pretty much everything in my closet and I love it! I have a tiny section of things I will never sell and the rest is all listed on there! Make selling and shopping so easy!

      • I love that idea. I’ve dabbled a little in eBay, and will have to check into the world of Tradesy, too!

  • If you didn’t wear it in over a year bag it, if you can’t fit it bag it, if you can’t wear the textile due to the temperature bag it.

    Now that you have the crap you’re keeping (yes it’s carp because you’re just going to buy more to stay current) rotate your closet from short to long, light to heavy and then color code. With all the bags, give some to that friend that never gets it right, sell at a resale shop and what isn’t bought donate a write it off next tax season.

    You’re welcome.

  • I literally started by trashing 60% of what was in my closet and taking it to the Salvation Army. I now live by a simple rule, for every new item I bring in, one must go out. Keeps my closet up to date and spacious.

  • I guess the easiest way is to get rid of as many things as possible, without giving it too much thought!

  • Brie

    as you said it gets easier through the years and i’ve adopted the method of “if you are second guessing it just TOSS IT” b/c that’s usually what happens next time. i’ve got two piles: one for consignment and one for a thriftstore. i used to go to goodwill but now i donate to gods storehouse b/c it’s local and helps the community. sometimes i will find myself half remembering tossing something that i wish i had kept b/c i might have worn it again, but in the end i’m glad it’s gone, i have too much shit as it is all the time so spring cleaning does wonders for my soul.

  • Kate

    I have no problem with the “sorting” part, but actually getting the stuff out of the house and keeping it there has been the issue. I would compile mountains of stuff to donate and get rid of, then ask my mom if she wanted any of it (BIG mistake!), so she would browse, collect…. then a few months later, she’d go through her stuff and say “oh this would look cute on you, here!” FACK, MOM, NO!! So it would be left back at my place for the next round. Now, I bypass the Mom-step. Saves frustration.

  • Dark lady

    So funny! I use bullying with myself as well!

  • Jesse

    Please don’t just throw your clothes away into the garbage! It actually takes years for fabric to decompose! I recommend for anyone who sells their unwanted clothing, use to list your items onto eBay. It’s a brand new free web application that is way to easy to use!

  • think of three instances in which you will actually wear the garment in question. the events can range from work, a date, jury duty, your grandma’s birthday party- whatever your heart desires. but it has to be three occassions, and if you can’t think of three, then send said garment out to pasture

  • My rule, if you haven’t worn it in 8+ years and it’s too tight, time to donate. Trying so hard to abide by this since I tend to hoard like crazy. Good luck! 😀

  • pinkschmink

    You are basically a genius. Everything is simpler with graphics.

  • pinkschmink

    I have quite a few things that I don’t wear for whatever reason, but I keep them anyway; I can’t bear to think of someone else having them. So I tell myself that I am ‘archiving’ for my daughter. And if she grows up not to want the 70s YSL purple jumpsuit or the 90s appliquéd practically-transparent Prada dress, or the Guiseppe Zanotti 5″ wedge ankle-breakers … I’ll have failed as a parent and a fashion lover.

  • Equally important is how I feel when I put something on, beyond the fit of the thing but the emotion it conjures. Like “oh, yeah, this inevitable pants…” go directly to Goodwill.