Cleaning out the closet

Jul 20, 2010 by

Paper Clips

I recently finished up a remodel of my office.  It wasn’t a big huge project compared to other remodeling projects, but it gave me a good excuse to clean out the office closet which had become a catchall for a lot of stuff.

Now that the room is (almost) done, the closet is clean, organized, and I was able to donate, give away, or sell so much stuff.   My office is clean and organized and its an amazing feeling.  Here’s how I did it.

Step 1: Purge it all

Start with one room, closet, area at a time.  Define a space you are going to take on and don’t start other areas until you’ve finished that area.

Take everything, yes EVERYTHING out of the closet or room.  You need to start with a blank slate ala Trading Spaces.  As you take things out start to put them into 3 piles.

1st pile: Throw away pile

This pile should look a lot like a trash can.  Throw away anything that you cannot donate or give away.  Put it all in the trash and take the trash out.  You don’t need to keep looking at this stuff anymore.

2nd pile: Donate/Give away pile

This pile will be anything you can donate to the Salvation Army/Goodwill/Amvets etc.  This is old clothes, books, toys, tools,  etc.  Put it all in big boxes or trashbags and set it aside.  We will deal with this pile later.

3rd pile: Keep pile

This is the pile of stuff that’s going to go back into the room or closet.  DO NOT put everything in the keep pile. A good rule of thumb on this one is if you haven’t used the item in the past 6 months or  forgot you even had it, put it in the donate/give away pile.

Step 2: Clean and organize

While everything is out of the room or closet take a minute to clean it.  Vacuum in those spots you couldn’t get at and clean up all the shelves.  If you need to, give it a quick coat of paint.  It makes a room feel new again. Once its all clean, make sure you have the proper setup to put things back in.  If you need shelves or any organizational tools for your closet, go out and get them now.  You do not want to clean it all out just to put a big pile of everything back in.  We want clean and organized here.

Step 3: Put things away

Now is the time to take that keep pile and put it away, but before you do, take another pass through the keep pile.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I need really need to keep this?
  • Have I used this in the past 3, 6, 12 months?
  • Why am I keeping this?

The first pass at sorting things into the 3 piles can be hard, but instinctively you should know what is trash, what you can donate and what you want to keep, unless you’ve been featured on the TV show Hoarders.

When we go through pile 3, we want to do another pass and take a harder look and what we need/want to keep and what we can get rid of.

BE RELENTLESS HERE.  You don’t need to keep everything.  You probably don’t need to keep most of it.

Get some help with this step if you need to.  Its great to have a 3rd party who isn’t attached to any of the stuff to help you get rid of it.

Things to get rid of:

  • Anything you have multiple of.  I don’t know why I had four different tape dispensers.
  • Any clothes you don’t wear.
  • Old school papers, notebooks, books etc.
  • Old electronics.  Any old gadgets you don’t use or have replaced.
  • Old movies you don’t watch.  VHS?
  • Old toys that no one plays with.

Now that you have an even smaller keep pile, put it away; the right way.

  • Group similar items together.  All office supplies should go in the same place
  • Put things that you use infrequently on high shelves
  • Put things that you use regularly in easy to access areas
  • Label everything.  Grab a label maker and label where things go to help keep it organized.
  • Use clear bins for smaller stuff so you can see what is in them.  Label the bins too.

Step 4: Get rid of the 2nd pile

Ok that this point you should have very full trashcans, a clean and organized room or closet and a BIG pile of stuff to get rid of.  Here are some options to get rid of the pile

Garage sale

Throw a garage sale and sell as much as you can

Pros: Make some extra cash from the stuff you don’t need
Cons: You have to haul all the stuff out to the front yard and haggle with people that don’t want to pay $1 for that old t-shirt


Sell or give it away on Craigslist

Pros: Make some cash or have people come to you to pick up items you don’t need
Cons: Some Craigslist buyers can be unreliable


Watching others bid on the stuff you don’t need is just fun.

Pros: Make some extra cash from the stuff you don’t need
Cons: You have to package it all up and ship it out when it sells


You can donate most all of the stuff to a Salvation Army/Goodwill/Amvets etc.

Pros: Easy to drop of or call for a pickup.  Tax write off.
Cons: You don’t make any money

I did a mismatch of these methods with my office clean out.  I donated a bunch of clothes and books to Amvets. I gave away a bunch of old electronics and such via Craiglist and received the nicest thank you letter in the mail from someone I unloaded a bunch of old stuff onto.  And I sold  some knickknacks and an old printer on Ebay.   I made over 200 bucks on the printer, which I got for free after rebate with some deal 5 years ago and it has sat unopened in the box in my closet since then.

Step 5: Keep it organized

Now is the truly hard part.  How do you keep a clean and somewhat empty closet clean?  Part of this exercise has made me realize how much crap I save and hold onto.  The result of the office cleanup has inspired me to clean and purge other areas of the house and get rid of all of the extra stuff I’ve been holding onto.  Its also got me thinking twice about getting extra stuff I don’t need.

Here are some tips on how to keep it clean:

  • When you are done with something, put it back where it goes.   I have to thank my Nana for that one
  • Don’t acquire crap you don’t need.  This comes from the second part of  my Truly Simple Manifesto about living simply.  Next time you are about to buy something ask yourself the question “Do I really need this?”  You won’t need to figure out where to store something if you don’t buy the thing in the first place.
  • Take some time to regularly organize and make sure it stays clean

And finally I’ll leave you with some wisdom from George Carlin on the subject of stuff.

Pics of the office remodel are coming soon.  I need to finish off one final detail to make it complete and to do that I need to recover my Lego collection from my mom.


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