Don't saddle your future self with stuff you don't need, even if your past self spent a lot of money on it. "We [all] have clothes that we hold onto out of guilt, or habit, or hopefulness that we might wear them again," said Erin Boyle, Brooklyn-based blogger and author of the book Simple Matters: Living with Less and Ending Up with More. Boyle is very serious about having a pared-down wardrobe – she keeps all of her clothes, for summer and winter, in half of a closet and three dresser drawers.
You don't have to be as committed to simplicity to use one of her main tactics: Boyle uses her limited space as a boundary for what she keeps. Decide on an amount of space you can (or care to) dedicate to storing summer or winter gear, and use that to motivate you to get rid of everything that doesn't fit.
"Be ruthless about what you did and didn't wear," said Ann Lightfoot, a professional organiser at Done & Done Home, "so when you bring it out next spring, you're psyched." She advises taking everything out of the closet so you can really get a good look at it. It helps to have a "lighthearted cheerleader", she said – a friend or sibling, definitely not a romantic partner – to help assess what clothes actually work for you. A good test if you're working solo, said Lightfoot: If you try something on and hesitate to leave the house to grab a cup of coffee dressed like that, consider getting rid of it. Either way, Scott Roewer of The Organizing Agency based in Washington, D.C., recommends music and a bottle of wine. (Clichés are clichés for a reason.)
You can donate the things you don't want to charity. If you're on the fence about anything, put it in a box, said Roewer, and then get rid of anything you don't remember in a few weeks.
If you are getting rid of something because it's worn out, take a picture, said Lightfoot. That way, you'll be able to rebuy stuff you loved so much you used it up come spring or autumn.
Before you pile everything else either back into your closet or into storage containers, make sure it's clean. "It's a huge bummer when you're [unpacking and] like oh, wait, I just chucked all this stuff in here and it smells and looks gross," said Kerr.
Dirty clothes will only get smellier as the months roll by. Invisible stains can turn into dark spots – and food for bugs. If you're not sure if you wore something since you last washed it, it won't hurt to wash it again.
Make sure the location where you are putting your clothes is clean too, said Kerr. If some clothes are going back into the closet, run the vacuum first. Wipe out dresser drawers with an all-purpose cleaner. (This might be common sense, but it's worth telling you because it can be disastrous: No bleach!)
If you are putting things in plastic storage bins, wipe down both the inside and the outside, because you don't want dust that builds up to transfer to your hands, and then onto your clothes, said Kerr. Go over the inside with a dry rag or paper towel to make sure you have really eliminated all moisture.
Put it away
If you have some space in your closet to hang out-of-season clothes, use velvet hangers to prevent clothes from creasing. We recommend wooden hangers for clothes in use, but ultimately they're going to take up more space, said Lightfoot. Don't leave nice dresses in plastic dry-cleaning bags, said Kerr – they prevent the fabric from breathing, and can lead to yellowing. Get separate garment bags for really nice pieces.
To save space in dresser drawers, "approach folding your clothes like you're packing for a trip," advised Boyle. By rolling up her jeans and t-shirts, she's able to pack more in her small dresser. (You can use this strategy to fit more into a smaller space no matter what kind of container you chose.)
Anything that you can't or don't want to fit back into your closet can go into storage containers. But before you go out and buy containers, Roewer suggests scoping out your space to make sure they'll fit. Take measurements of wherever you're going to put them (e.g., in a separate closet, under the bed, in a basement). Beware of damp basements or attics, which can make clothes moist. "Climate control is really key," said Roewer. If you have to store your things someplace damp, Roewer recommends putting DampRid nearby to soak up moisture. Change it out every month or two.
And though "you wouldn't want to put your grandma's lace doilies in plastic containers", said Roewer, most of your clothes will be fine in them for a short amount of time. To really avoid damage from condensation, wrap those clothes in cotton fabric first, says Martha Stewart Living. (For really nice stuff, Lightfoot recommends tissue paper – it will make the unboxing experience in the spring or autumn feel like coming home from a shopping trip.)
If you do want to go with something more breathable, buy structured fabric bags. Baskets or vintage trunks will work too – especially if you are limited on storage space; something that can be left out in plain sight in your home is a good option.
One big advantage of plastic containers, though: They'll keep out pests. If you want, you can also add lavender sachets so your clothes smell nice when you unpack them. Many articles recommend adding them to deter moths, though there's little scientific evidence that lavender works for this purpose, Cheryl Ann Farr, a textiles professor at Oklahoma State University told The New York Times. But they certainly can't hurt.
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