I Tried the “Move-Out Method” and It Cleared Out My Closet in 2 Hours

published May 30, 2023
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Before: a closet with a dark wooden door and a shoe organizer hanging on the door
Credit: Jennifer Billock

Our two-bedroom apartment has a decided lack of storage space for things we need but don’t use all the time. The landlord used to let tenants use the basement for storage, but now that they’ve duplexed down, that means no more space for any of us.

With that in mind, let me introduce you to our front hall closet. It’s tall. It’s deep. It has a rod for hanging coats. And since we moved in, it’s been a total mess, holding not only our coats but also everything else that we sometimes used but didn’t need easy access to. We also didn’t keep up on the organization, because there wasn’t any — so the floor of the closet became a dumping ground for anything and everything, like tools, bits of bookshelf that we would maybe use later, and shoes that needed to be tossed or donated.

Once I heard about the “Move-Out Method,” a decluttering method coined by Katie Holdefehr, the author of Embrace Your Space, I knew there was a way to finally conquer the closet.

Here’s how it works: Basically, you pretend you’re moving. If this sounds familiar to you, you’re right — lots of people pretend they’re moving out as a way to declutter. But this is the coined term for the process. First, you set a deadline for when everything needs to be “moved out.” Next, clear everything out of the spot you want to clean up. After that, separate all your stuff into keep, toss, or donate piles. Once you’ve got all that figured out, you can move all the keeps back into the space, organizing it so it looks just as lovely as the day you moved in.

Credit: Jennifer Billock

For me, this method was a game-changer. I was able to completely clean and reorganize our front closet in two hours — surprising because of how much junk was in it.

When I pulled everything out, it really felt like I was getting ready to pack the closet to move. Having that mindset helped me be more shrewd about which items I wanted to keep and which I didn’t.

After several, “Oh, that’s where that was!” comments from both me and my husband, I converted the couch into Keep-Toss-Donate Central. Hot tip from me: Cover the surface you’re using with an old blanket or towels. After the first of several flies flew at my face from the closet, I knew it was going to be necessary. I made signs for each pile and started going through everything. Another hot tip? Take the time to dust, sweep, and mop your space once everything’s out of it. It was pretty gross on the ground and up on the shelf in our closet.

I started with the Toss pile, which was surprisingly easy. Old shoes with holes in them, leftover scraps from home projects, ratty things we’ll never use again but weren’t in good-enough quality to donate — into the pile they went.

Credit: Jennifer Billock

From there, I decided to tackle the coats. My couch wasn’t big enough to hold all of them (what can I say, we have a bit of a coat collection in this house), so I had them piled up on the bed and went one by one through the pile. Instead of putting the coats I wanted to keep on the couch, I just hung them up right away. Donations went onto the donation pile.

After the coats, I separated everything that was left into things I knew I wanted to keep (which went right into the keep pile) and things I wasn’t sure about. Then the hard decisions happened. Would I keep my late grandma’s gardening hat? No, I decided — it would be donated, but I kept the scarf from it. What about my purple messenger bag that used to be my go-to travel bag? No, as much as I loved it, it was time to move on from it.

Finally, all my decisions were made, and I carefully placed everything back in the closet in a much more orderly fashion. I even had enough room now to put away our Christmas ornament box instead of leaving it pushed against the wall in the dining room. 

I’m pretty pumped with how the closet turned out. It looks great and organized, and I know that I’ll use everything in it. And, it helped clean up some other spots in my home as well. So many problems were solved!