"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
August 15, 2013
Cleaning Out Your Closet
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

My closet is a disaster. It is quite literally knee-deep in stuff. I don’t even know what is in there anymore, but I need to clean it out because I don’t have anything to wear. Also, I know it bothers my husband.

Where do I start?

Answer:

You start by making your bed.

That’s how almost any task starts.

Why? Because once your bed is made, you are a responsible, civilized person whose day is off to a great start. You have accomplished something that can be viewed with pride and admired. It is a boost to your self-worth: You are now the kind of person who makes his bed. All that uplift from two minutes of work!

Also, a neatly made bed is a good work surface.

The second thing you should do is clear your schedule. Give yourself lots of time — say, five hours. If you have little kids who need food and tending, let them watch movies while you work. One day of movies will not irreparably damage their brains. Take a break at lunchtime to feed them. If you have a child who is both capable and willing to help, wonderful. If not, that’s fine, too.

Third, gather your tools. You will need a box of trash bags (kitchen bags or the big black ones), your laundry hampers, the vacuum, and lots of hangars. Take out two bags: one for trash, the other for donations.

You may also like to put on some music. I love to listen to audiobooks while cleaning, but not while organizing. If your closet is full of unknown stuff that needs to be sorted, evaluated, and put away, you will need your whole brain. So stick to familiar music.

Fourth, clear the floor around your closet door such that the door will open. If there is a mound of clothing, mail, books, etc. blocking the door, clean it up. Dirty clothes should be sorted into laundry loads. Books, hairbrushes, mail, and other items should be put away.

Clean clothes should be folded and put away, or hung. (You can keep the clothes that belong in the closet in a neat pile or hanging on a door frame until the closet is available.)

Trash should be thrown away. When you have a full trash bag, take it out to the big trash can or Dumpster. When you have a full donation bag, go put it in your car.

Once the floor is clear, vacuum it. Things will be looking better already! Admire your work, get a drink of water, check on the kids, and smile at your clean, clear floor.

Fifth, open your closet door. Survey the contents with a determined eye. Say to yourself, “I can do this. I will start at the top of the pile and take care of one item at a time.”’

Sixth, thus buoyed, take an item off the top of the pile. Identify it: neck tie, shoe, bill, etc. Ask whether you need to keep it: Is the necktie stained? Does the shoe fit? Is the bill three years old?

If the item is trash — too old, too worn, too ratty — throw it away. If the item is in good condition but you don’t need or want it, put it in your donation bag. If the item belongs in the closet and can be hung, hang it now. If it needs to be folded, fold it and put it on the bed with other like items. If it belongs elsewhere, put it away.

Let’s talk about “put it away.” As you go through your overflowing closet, you will undoubtedly find items that have no home and have therefore been chucked into the closet. First consider whether you need to keep the item. Will you ever use it? Will you ever sew it? Will you ever consign it?

Don’t let yourself drown in unrealized plans! You have better things to do than worry about selling a five dollar item on Craigslist. Just donate it! If you feel bad every time you see the unfinished flannel board Nativity, just get rid of it!

If you decide to keep an item, you need to find a home for it. To do that, ask yourself, “Where do I use this item?” Then put the item where you will use it.

Bills, for example, should go near the place you pay them. Toys should be in the play area. Craft or sewing supplies should be gathered into a bag, bin, or basket if you don’t have a dedicated sewing area. Pens, pencils, and scissors can go in a mug or drawer.

Remember, though, that closet-cleaning day is not the day to also organize your bills, toys, or sewing supplies. Put these items where they belong, but don’t spend time organizing or rearranging them.

Seventh, repeat step six until the closet is clear. This will probably take several hours and a lot of thought and effort. Drink water and feed the children as necessary. When you are done, vacuum the floor and dust the baseboards.

As you work, weed out your clothing. I have a lot of sympathy for the wardrobe complications that come with a waistline that fluctuates in size; it’s not necessary to throw away everything you haven’t worn in a year — who knows what next year will bring?

But I do recommend this magical question: Even if this item fit perfectly, would I wear it?

Lots of clothing can be eliminated with this question. Things that are faded, torn, misshapen, stained, or pilled. Dingy whites. Worn out elastic or Lycra blends that look like they have stretch marks. Things that never were flattering. Things that are no longer age appropriate. Great bargains that you never really liked and never actually wore. Let it go. Let it all go.

Make room in your life for clothes that fit without fidgeting. For clothes of flattering hue. For clothes without holes. By all means, mow the lawn in old jeans. But when you are not mowing the lawn, wear something decent. Don’t hang around all day in grubby pajamas — give yourself a boost and put on something respectable. Clothes are for wearing. Don’t save them for special occasions.

Eighth, arrange your closet. First arrange the hanging items, by color or style or however you like. Then replace the folded items on the shelves, keeping like items together. The things you use most should be the easiest to reach. For example, put church skirts in the front of the closet, but a satin special-occasion skirt at the back. Put jeans on the middle shelf, but Christmas sweaters on the top shelf.

At this point, after you have pruned your wardrobe and returned it to your closet, you can consider whether closet organizers would help you. Hanging shelves for shoes and sweaters are terrific if you need more floor or shelf space. Fabric bins and cloth baskets can store slips and nylons. But you should only consider these items after you see what you have and how it fits in the closet. Until you have done your pruning, the only closet organizer you need is a trash bag.

Ninth, take all trash out to the trash can. Put all donations in your car. Put a load of laundry in the washer.

Tenth, admire your work. Say out loud to yourself, “Wow. This looks amazing. I worked really hard on this, and it looks great.” Let your family members admire your work. Do not say, “Wow. I have a masters degree in biochemistry, and this is how I spent my day.” Anyone, of any worldly accomplishment, can be proud of a tidy closet.

Finally, maintenance.

Step One: To keep your closet functional, do three things every day. One, put things away — don’t toss homeless junk into your closet. Two, put all dirty clothes in the hamper. Three, put away clean clothes immediately.

Step Two: Stop buying stuff! Don’t buy anything you don’t have room for, don’t have a place for, and will not actually use. Anything that will just end up clogging your closet should not be brought into your house, no matter how wonderful it seems at the tag sale.

If you can do this, your closet won’t end up knee-deep in stuff again.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!


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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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