The “Rule Of 3” I Swear By For Cleaning Out My Closet

And it works every time.

It can be hard to clean out your closet, in more ways than one. Beyond being a time-sinking task that can take hours, or even days, to complete, it also can be quite difficult to get rid of things that you once loved, spent money on, or aren’t sure if you’ll end up needing again in the future. It’s the latter that primarily keeps the closet full of items that we no longer need or wear: the mere chance that an occasion will arise that calls for just that patterned sweater or flippy skirt. 

I was once one of those clothing hoarders that would refuse to relinquish a decade-old dress that hadn’t seen the light of day in literal years, because “what if I end up needing it?” Spoiler: I didn’t end up needing it. Finally, my bulging closet was packed so full that I had to change my mindset if I were ever to be able to fit anything else, which is how I came up with this method.

Cleaning Out Closet

Getty Images/The Good Brigade

When cleaning out your closet, it can be difficult to resist thinking that you might wear a certain article of clothing again, even if you haven’t touched it in years. I combat those thoughts by enacting a rule that is resolute—meaning that if a piece of clothing doesn’t fit the rule, it’s out. No questions. I call it the “Rule of 3," and the guideline goes as follows: If I cannot visually imagine how I would realistically wear the clothing piece in three ways, it’s out. 

Since the ways in which we wear clothing items vary, the rule can mean how you would wear it in different outfits or for separate occasions. For example, if I’m looking at a blouse, I have to think about three different outfits using that blouse and only clothes that I already own. If I can’t find three ways to wear it that are realistic and something I’d actually wear, it’s out. For a dress, if I can’t think of three different scenarios in which I could wear the dress within a calendar year, it’s out. If I can’t come up with real situations when I’d actually wear the outfits, they're out. 

Now, it takes a little bit of self-trust. I’m not allowed to lie to myself by thinking of three different outfits that I know deep-down I would never actually end up wearing. I’m also allowed a rare exception, such as a black gown that fits me and that I know is perfect for any black-tie or black-tie-optional wedding, even if I don’t currently have a wedding on the schedule. The same goes for heirloom pieces that are held onto for nostalgia’s sake. Although, there are ways to get rid of heirlooms without guilt

If it’s helpful for some, you can first transition the discarded clothing to a container or bag that’s put away somewhere—a method called outboxing—and wait a year to make sure you never find yourself wanting to reach for one of the items during that time. Otherwise, it’s time to say goodbye. Although the rule is by no means complicated or magical, I find that it’s easily helped me clear out dozens of clothing pieces that I otherwise would have been too tempted to keep. And no, I don’t miss them. 

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