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This Is the Year You'll Clean Out Your Closet, for Real This Time

This is one resolution you can actually knock out.

Photo: The Coveteur/Trunk Archive

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According to eBay, more than a third of Americans don't have available space in which to stash the new stuff they got during the holidays, and more than half resolve to declutter in the new year.

To help you along, should you be part of the cohort that needs to make literal space in your life, this month I'm devoting my weekly column space to helping you tackle your own decluttering projects. We'll talk about closet management, then shoe wardrobe makeovers, and also about the very satisfying act of getting your makeup and beauty product collections looking Pinterest-worthy, and then we'll wrap things up with a round-up of where to donate and sell items you no longer want or need.

First up is the big one, the closet overhaul. Let's start with some Real Talk: This is a big commitment, but one well worth making to yourself. Before you embark on a closet overhaul, however, be really sure you're willing to take the time to do the work — if you start this kind of project and then abandon the job before it's completed, you will wind up with a bigger problem than you started with. Reorganization projects must necessarily get very messy before the transformation is complete, so if you at all suspect you'll run out of steam an hour into the job, consider skipping it in favor of living with the status quo.

Part One: Assessment & Planning

You're going to be tempted to skip this and I'm pleading with you not to do that! Because these kinds of jobs can quickly become overwhelming, taking 15-30 minutes to map out a strategy is crucial to your eventual success; it also forces you to be honest with yourself about whether or not you truly want to commit to the project.

The idea here is to take stock of what the problems in need of addressing are. Is it that you have too much stuff in a too-small space? Are your shoes in a jumble, making it difficult for you to find what you need when you're trying to get out the door in the morning? Do you have infrequently used or seasonal items mixed in with your everyday wear? Whatever your particular issue is, you'll be well-served by committing it to paper or screen so that you have a specific goal in mind to return to when you start to get overwhelmed or annoyed by what can be a sloggy process.

Having clarity around your end game is also going to help you break the reorganization up into smaller chunks, which is critical if you're taking on a full reimagining of a closet or multiple closets. Bear in mind that those jobs will likely take you more than a day, and you should tackle them as if you were a project manager overseeing a multi-phase job.

Part Two: Remove & Sort

Every professional organizer in the world will tell that you will have much more success in determining whether or not to keep something if you start by removing it from its home. Even if you're not planning to purge anything — and here, allow me to suggest that a simple reorganization, rejiggering, and tidying of your closet is much less emotionally crushing than determining what among your wardrobe stays and what goes. We tend to think of closet-related work as being tied to the getting rid of stuff, but it needn't be so! Taking everything out will allow you to better note if garments needs to be cleaned, pressed, or repaired.

The "taking everything out" part is another spot where that list of goals will be helpful. For larger jobs, you may find that you're better served by defining "everything" by categories and tackling, say, you entire shoe collection first, then stopping for the day and picking back up again with, perhaps, your summer wardrobe the next day.

Once you have your things out, sort them into categories — are you going to hang clothes together by type? By season? By color? Put them into those groupings. Now consider what you've got and where it will go: Do you need new hangers? New storage bins? The time to decide that is after you've taken stock, not before. If you go out and buy a set of ten new hangers and then begin going through your blouse collection, you're going to feel incredibly annoyed when it turns out that your blouse collection is 11 blouses strong.

Part Three: Put Everything Back!

This is the fun part, because this is when you start to see an actual difference and some payoff for your work. This is also a good time to grab your list and jot down more storage needs that you notice as you're putting things away.

Part Four: Clean, Mend, Donate, Sell, or Pitch

Now it's time to consider the items that didn't make it back into your closet. Sort those things into piles based on what needs to happen with them — do they need to be sent out for cleaning or mending? Or are you donating, selling, or tossing them?

If you're a person who tends to let piles linger around your house, commit the list of intentions to paper or screen and give yourself a deadline. Otherwise, it's far, far too easy to let bags of clothes you intend to donate hang around the house for weeks or even months. If you can be honest with yourself that you're not actually going to make the donations, it's really best to admit that and make peace with putting unwanted items in the trash.

It may help you to bear in mind that many times your castoffs have far less value than you think they do. We'll cover donation options in greater detail at the end of the month, but as you're rifling through your belongings, it's okay to simply say "This stained and stretched-out Old Navy tank top has served its time and is of no value to me, nor to anyone else." We've somehow been so conditioned to think "someone else can use this" that we've lost sight of the fact that there is a lifespan to clothing, and sometimes the answer is "No one needs this." Go ahead and try it! It's quite freeing.