Crash diet for the closet

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If you’re not ready to plunge into the traditional New Year’s “get in shape” resolution, I’ve got an idea for how to wade into it (or any big project you’ve been dreading.) Put one of your closets on a diet.

I knew exactly which closet in our house most needed an overhaul, so I reluctantly tackled it last week. It had become so bloated with “stuff” over the past few years that I’d stopped opening the closet door. I internally cringed every time I walked by it, knowing that a horror show of clutter had claimed the space. It was like a giant junk drawer, only for things that are too big to fit in a drawer. Do you have one of these in your house? If so, that’s the closet to conquer.

Instead of cutting out carbs, your mission is to carry out clutter. But I realize that not everyone has the same definition for what “clutter” really is. One person’s clutter is another person’s cherished keepsake. One person’s “get rid of it” is another person’s “But what if I need this one day?” (The elusive “one day” has kept millions of closets in a clutter crisis for generations.)

In my mind, clutter is something with little to no sentimental value, hasn’t been used in a year or more, and probably won’t be used within the next year. And our upstairs closet was drowning in it. Piece by piece, I dragged things out into the hallway and created a “donate” pile and a “trash” pile. I also put together a small pile of keepsake things that went into a plastic storage bin.

Even though I’d dreaded the project for months, it wasn’t that bad once I got into sorting mode. The trick is to keep moving and make decisions quickly so you won’t get sidetracked with a trip down memory lane. As most of us have learned the hard way, memory lane usually dead-ends into a cul-de-sac called “half done.”

I should also warn you that your closet’s crash diet will likely make a huge mess as you pull the contents out into the open. At some point, you’ll survey the damage and wonder why you ever started. But rest assured that the messy middle phase won’t last. The “donate” pile will be bagged up and hauled to the car for a trip to the closest donation center, and the trash will find its way to the garbage can.

Then you can stand back and admire a closet that even a model home would envy – clear floor space, empty shelves, and the airy feeling of a fresh start. It’s a million times better than the clutter-choked sense of shame it had before.

I vacuumed the floor of my newly emptied closet and then loaded in the storage container of keepsakes plus a few things on the shelves – things that meet the “I will use these items within a year” criteria.order chaos

Here’s the crazy thing about the closet’s crash diet: The sense of progress is contagious. A few days after finishing it, I noticed how messy the cabinet in the laundry room had become. Knowing it would take far less time than the closet did, I quickly cleaned it out instead of shutting the door and putting it off – again. A few days later – still high on the closet and cabinet conquests – I sorted through the contents of our kitchen junk drawer while watching a movie.

One step in the right direction often leads to another and then another. If a whole closet feels like too much, start with one shelf or one drawer. See where it leads.

Ironically, it’s often perfectionists who struggle the most with projects like this because they don’t want to even begin it unless they can do it “perfectly.” But keep in mind that perfection is not the goal here. Peace is the goal. And any steps of progress will ultimately lead to peace.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a clean closet to go admire. There’s no telling what I might tackle next.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at Her book is available on Amazon.

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