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6 steps to clean out your closet and live with only what is essential

If you live with only what is essential you will have more time to draw, write, play, sleep, think, read a book, and clean out litter boxes. I need more time, I have seven litter boxes.

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Deciding what to wear and trying to find your socks in a messy closet wastes time, literally years of your life. All those hours spend standing in your closet in your underwear searching for your socks, or trying to make up your mind about what to wear, could be spent doing something you love.

Actually trying to find my hammer takes up more time than deciding what to wear.

Over the past three years I have tried to clean out my closet. But, so many of my clothes have stories behind them. The snow suit I wore in 1990 on a ski trip with a handsome officer in Japan who I had just met and who I will be married to for twenty-five years this year. And the cotton sweater that was a gift from my mother-in-law but it is stretched out of shape. Or the dress that is too small for me but was hand-made for me in Hong Kong.

I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t get rid of the snow-suit and sweater, my memory clothes, until I read the book, essentialism by Greg McKeown.

Step one

Take everything out of your closet, toss it into your bedroom on the floor.


Step two.

Read the book essentialism by Greg McKeown.

“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”
― Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less



Step three

Now you are ready for step three.  Leave the mess in your bedroom for about a week and dig through piles trying to find a clean pair of socks. Stare at the pile and then sit down beside it and mope for a day or two.

I will give you three days to feel sorry for yourself. Whine a bit, sigh, say out loud, “This is too hard. I can’t do this. I need to keep everything.”

Grab your copy of essentialism, lean against a pile of clothes and read the book.

Then go and look at the activity you really want to be spending your time on. Maybe it is your kids. Maybe it is drawing, or writing. I went and looked at my art studio. The place in the basement I paint. But I haven’t been painting because I spend most of my day trying to find a clean pair of socks because my closet is a mess, and I can’t find the clothes I like to wear because my shelves are cluttered with “memory clothes.”


Step Four

Go and sit in your empty closet for a few hours. Maybe take a nap over the space heater on the floor. Then go and stand before your pile of clothes on the floor in your bedroom, say, “This is not too hard. I can do this. I do not need to keep everything.”

Start putting the clothes you haven’t worn in the last twenty years into a black garbage bag. Put in the dress that is made of 100% polyester that makes you sweat when you wear it. I know it cost you one hundred and twenty dollars. But you hate the color, so get rid of it.

Keep putting clothes in to bags that you haven’t worn in ten years, five years and in the last year. Then put the bags in the garage for a few weeks. Make a date on your calendar when you will take them to the thrift store.

Then only put back in your closet what you actually wear.

Ask this question about each garment, “Do I love it?”

In the middle of the night if you hear whining from the little black sweater in the garbage bag in the garage, “Please, please, give me one more chance. Don’t get rid of me.” Take the sweater out of the garbage bag and put it on your shelf. But if you don’t wear it again that year be firm with the sweater and donate it. “Sorry little black sweater, but you will have to go. I know there is someone out there who will love to have you.”


Step Five

Walk into your closet and get dressed. You don’t have to waste time looking for your socks because you know where they are. You don’t have to waste time deciding what to wear because you only have your favorite clothes in your closet.

Now go and do something you love because you have more time in the day. Draw, write, play, sleep, think, read a book, or clean out the litter boxes.

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Step Six

Finish reading the book essentialism by Greg McKeown.


The snow suit and the cotton sweater have been donated to the thrift store.  I kept the dress. 

As always, I love to hear from you. Click here to comment, or just scroll to the bottom of the page on my blog.


About Pamela Hodges

I write slice of life stories to help you know you are loved, valuable and worthy just as you are. I am a writer, an artist, and a cleaner of seven litter boxes. I live in Pennsylvania with one husband, four cats, one dog and two birds.

You are an artist. Yes, you are. Really.

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Get the FREE illustrated, sort of a comic book, “You Are An Artist.” Believe in yourself and your ability to draw. xo Pamela

  • La McCoy

    My comment when this first came did not stick. So forget what i said.
    Still i need to follow your recommendations Pamela. and I need to organize my photos too. I use our photos a lot.

  • Teresa

    What if you aren’t wearing something due to your work schedule. I work 6 nights a week, 5 are 8 hr nights, 1 is a 12 hr night. I have two pairs of pants and a denim skirt and 6 tops that are my work outfits. When I come home from work, I walk the dog in my work clothes, and only remove my work outfit when I go to bed. I get up, slip into jeans and a t-shirt or long sleeved shirt for a couple hours until I get ready to return to work. On my off day/night, I go to bed a couple hours after getting home from work, then I get up in the evening (4-5 pm), slip on the jeans and top and do what needs to be done around the house- laundry, dishes, unpacking boxes (we moved into our house this past August), sweeping, mopping, cleaning bathroom, etc, staying up until 6-7 am, then going to bed to get up to start the workday. The only time I wear any other of my clothing is for church.
    The book sounds wonderful, but if I was working a job where I was off two days, I would wear more of what is in my closet. I can find my socks and undergarments as they have a small dresser they fit into.

    • Hello Teresa,
      It sounds like all of your clothes are useful, you just don’t have an opportunity to wear all of them due to work.
      The book is more than about cleaning out closets, but about decided what is really essential in our lives. Like not saying yes to every opportunity we are presented with. And about thinking about how we spend our time. Are we really doing what we want to.
      What is your dogs name? We have a dog named Martha, and four cats. Pooh, Charlie, Nepeta and JR.
      All my best,

      • Teresa R

        My dog’s name is Piper. He is 9 yrs old, but he acts like a 2 yr old.

  • Brianna Wasson

    I think I want to read this book. Thanks for making me laugh while encouraging me to clean out my crap, Pamela. 🙂

    • Hi Brianna,
      I REALLY love this book. If you are reading anything, except of course your Bible, put it down and read this book first. It helps make everything clear. Or clearer.
      Laughter always makes a day better. Especially when you are trying to get rid of crap.

  • One person I read years ago on decluttering said that if you have something you are keeping because of memories to take a photo of it. It will take up less space, and the only reason you are keeping the item is to look at it for the memories which a photo will do.

    Of course, you will have to keep your photos organized to find it ;^)

    • Hello Eva,
      What a great idea. Then you still have the memory without the clutter.
      I would never be able to find the photo album. 🙂 Unless I store it beside my hammer.
      Hope all is well with you Eva.

      • La McCoy

        Love that Idea Eva.
        Maybe Pamela will tell us how to organize our photos next.

  • I spent three hours today thinning out my office book cases and generally decluttering. Because I hate clutter. I filled two big cardboard boxes and donated everything to the Goodwill. Feels good to stay organized!

    • Hello John,
      Clutter kills creativity. Did you paint a painting after you cleaned off your book shelves?
      Yes, it does feel good to stay organized.
      Please say hello to the ocean for me.

      • I didn’t paint but I did cartoon. Also, the Pacific Ocean says hello back!

  • Robn Patrick

    Good for you Pamela! Bet it feels good. The size of my closet is probably 1/3 or less but I still have items I can’t wear, don’t really like, need repair, etc. I’m horrible about getting rid of things because I “might need them” someday. Maybe there’s a slight chance of that but they still hang there looking forlorn.

    • Hi Robin,
      Yes, you might need them some day. I thought the same thing about the snow suit I kept for twenty-five years. The last time I wore it was in 1994. So it was time to say good-bye.
      The clothes that were looking forlorn in my closet were starting to make me feel bad, so I got rid of them. I certainly didn’t want any clothes mocking me every day, “Spend too much on me, didn’t you? Don’t get rid of me now. Let me tease you every day.”
      I hope you are feeling better Robin. Surround yourself with love and joy and clothes you love. And clothes that look happy in your closet.
      Love Pamela

  • Berdeane Bodley

    Good on ya Pamela, that makes me very proud of you, imagine, cleaning out your closet. We must have had telepathy that day as I was busy clening out my closet too. At the mall closest to here they have a bin where you can drop off winter jackets, scaves, mitts for the needy who would not be able to afford to buy those items, so I have some warm winter jackets & megga scarves ready to go over there the next time they have their bin set up. A worthy cause……….now we both have clean closets, like Mother like daughter. (or, visa versa)………hugs

    • Hi Mom,
      It must have been a mom and daughter mind meld, cleaning our closets on the same day. Canadian winters can be very cold, how nice of you to share some warmth.
      Hugs to you mother of mine,
      Love Pamela