Three Tips For Cleaning Out Clothes and Books

Two things I tend to accumulate most are clothing and books. Having so many of each doesn’t fit well with my personality—I prefer to be more minimalist. I would rather own a few that I really love than own a whole pile that is just okay. But since I love both fashion and books, I find it hard to let go. There is a lot of literature on how to clear out clutter, and I’ve certainly tried many tactics. Here are three tips for cleaning out and maintaining both bookshelves and closets that work for me.

1) First, ask yourself if you love it.

Books:

If you hold a book in your hands and remember how the last time you held it in your hands was the fifth time you read it, it’s probably a favorite that you’ll read again and again throughout your life. The great thing about books is that the good ones aren’t over after you’ve finished reading the last page. Every time you read a good book you will gain something new from it. Identify these books and keep them.

Clothes (and shoes and accessories):

There may be clothes in your closet that you love but never wear because you love them. It may seem strange, but I’ve done this before. I will buy a dress that I think is untouchable, so it sits sadly in my closet getting wrinkled, it’s gleaming title of “favorite dress” draped glumly across its hanger. Don’t just keep these. If they’re still a favorite, wear them.

2) Focus on what to keep, not what to give up.

Books:

It’s hard for me to get rid of books, even if I didn’t like them or know I’m not going to read them again (or ever). But I had so many books that I wasn’t reading any that I really wanted to read. I acquired books from work, friends, family, etc. So I made a list of all the books that I owned, then identified the books that I was excited to read and would buy right then if I didn’t have it already. I kept those books, started reading them, and sold the rest. If I ever want to read a book that I sold, I consult my list, and find it in the library.

Clothes:

It will be hard when you come across clothes that you recall excitedly buying and see that the tags are still on. It makes sense to think that if you haven’t worn it yet, you never will. Before convincing yourself to say “Farewell fair fabric,” consider whether you never wore it because your closet is jammed full with clothes that you do wear, but don’t like. Once you get rid of things you don’t actually want to wear, the things that you do will appear. If you want to keep something, keep it. It’s the other things that need tossing.

I may not be sure if I want to get rid of something, but I’m always sure if I want to keep something. If I vacillate at all, it goes. It seems to me that when I ask myself if I want to get rid of something, I lean toward keeping it. But when I ask myself if I want to keep something, my answer seems more objective.

3) Clean out in layers.

Books:

The first book that I decided to sell was a big step. It took days for me to choose one. As soon as I decided to sell it, the sell pile grew to about 100 books in three minutes. I had to break through the keep-all-books inertia. But after 100 books, the momentum stopped. I had gotten rid of the books that I definitely didn’t want on my shelves.

But there were still books that I didn’t definitely want to keep, but didn’t definitely want to give away. I took a break, then went back at it for round two. This time I was in a different mindset. I was dealing with a different category of books—a second layer. I considered each book. If it wasn’t a definite keep—for whatever reason—it went.

Clothes:

In times of stress or extreme change, I tend to clean my closet. Sometimes that means cleaning out, and sometimes that means just rearranging, refolding, and neatening. It gives my hands something to do while my mind clears itself and rests. This means that nothing in my closet goes untouched or unnoticed for years at a time, even if it just gets moved around. Anything with irreparable holes gets weeded out.

I infrequently buy new clothes because I only buy things that I love (not so easy to find!). When I do buy a new piece, I take an inventory of the existing pieces in my closet. I’ll quickly notice the shirts that look old, the jeans that are frayed, and the shoes that are clearly worn out. It looks shocking compared to my new wardrobe piece. Those items are immediately removed from my closet, and I’ll take note of what I need to replace, such as a black sweater. Maybe a few days later I’ll return to my closet, motivated by my miniature clean-out, and go through the rest. Round two: the not-so-obviously clutter.

Very infrequently do I need to do an intense belongings-purge. I simply don’t have a lot of room to begin with. But I do find that I can keep a surprising amount of clothing and books in a small space, and applying these three tips has helped me stay on top of my accumulation rather than be buried by it. I now only acquire books and clothes that I unwaveringly love, keeping my shelves and hangers pristine—and my mind uncluttered.