After being a pack rat for most of my life, I did an abrupt 180 one summer.
My closet was overflowing with stuff and I could barely find. I had jeans I couldn’t use and shirts I didn’t wear. Great buys I ended up never using were everywhere. It was terrible finding things; I kept thinking my closet would swallow me whole.
So I ended up cleaning it out one day, and it got worse before it got better.
Well, I wanted to do everything at once, so I emptied my entire closet out and meticulously went through everything. This meant that for a few days I slept in cocoon of clothes because I was still sorting through stuff.
The clothes closet eventually led to my being more organized in other things as well, but I never forgot a few things I learned cleaning out that closet.
#1 Things are best done one at a time.
I went overboard.
I admit it.
When I cleaned out my closet, I really thought it would be easy to do and I could figure things out quickly.
But when I went through every piece and had to make a judgement about what to keep and what to throw away, I started to realize it was going to be a long process.
Every piece had to be fitted to see if I could still fit into it. Others had to be evaluated on whether or not I was actually going to use the thing. Sometimes, I had to battle nostalgia – yes, I did buy this to commemorate graduating from college, but I have never used it and I look terrible in it.
I should have started with one part of my closet first and gone slowly, in incremental chunks – an hour here, another there, so that I got things done bit by bit and it wasn’t so overwhelming.
#2 Accept that you won’t know the answer
I hadn’t read any organizational books but the first step to organizing is making a decision – What am I going to do about this piece?
Sometimes the answer is that you don’t know and that’s okay.
Early on, I started a pile of clothes that I labeled “Decide later”. I could still keep on going while I was thinking through things, because sometimes stopping while you think of an answer means that the entire project stops (and sometimes never starts again).
After everything was finished, I went back through the clothes and tried to decide. On the second pass, I weeded out as much as I could and then put the much smaller remainder back in my closet.
It’s okay not to know what to do with things; eventually one day you will.
#3 Take note of your feelings
People can be ruthless with their stuff when they get the organizing bug.
They go through their closet and put things in a discard pile because they are so in a rush to get to the goal, that they forget that the goal doesn’t automatically mean that they get happy.
Our stuff makes us happy or brings back memories or makes us sentimental. Don’t throw something away just because you’re trying to be organized. Treat your things with care because if you throw something away once that important to you, you’ll never get it back again.
If your feelings say not to throw something away, then don’t.
As for me and my closet, things have been good.
We’ve reached an understanding. Every few years after that first massive clean, I cleaned out my closet till finally I started to clean things out bit by bit. When I tried something on that didn’t fit or was no longer my style, it automatically went to a discard pile. If repairs had to be done, I labeled them and took them to an alterations or repair shop.
It means I almost never have to dedicate time to cleaning out my closet, and since I can automatically find what I need right away, I end up pretty fast and efficient in the mornings, not to mention happy.