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Spring-Clean Your Beauty and Fashion Stash

10 steps to declutter your closets and drawers

Woman looking at her closet


While some of us might be happy to have a closet looking this neat, there's even more we can do to organize.

It's that time of year again: spring cleaning. And there’s a rash of new books encouraging us to get rid of the clutter, let go of sentimental keepsakes and downsize to a minimalist lifestyle. It sounds good in theory, but detaching from our things is not so easy in real life. As a beauty and fashion editor, I have a 10-step “spring break” to avoid hoarding. My super tip? Use dark opaque trash bags to prevent separation anxiety. Here’s what to toss, keep and reinvent.

1. If you haven’t worn or used it in a year or two, there’s a good reason.

This applies to beauty and fashion. Our faces, skin, hair and bodies do change with time, and require — no, make that deserve — an edit of everything we put on them. Our tastes, preferences and lifestyles pivot, too, affecting how we want to look and what we need to get there. A ruthless purge provides a feel-good "starting-over” rush. You’ll still have your stuff, but only the good things that matter.

2. Toss old or potentially unhealthy beauty products now.

Anything that smells “off,” separates, is dried out, has changed color or is past a printed expiration date gets trashed. It may be contaminated with bacteria or fungi! Check your jars, tubes and bottles for a symbol that looks like an opened lid. It usually will say 6M or 12M, which means good for that long from the date you open or unseal. This includes sunscreens, masks, oils, face creams, foundation and serums. Say buh-bye to sealed or wrapped products that have yellowed or stained packaging, mascara that’s older than three months, combs, makeup tools and hair brushes with missing teeth or bristles.

3. Repurpose unexpired beauty lemons into lemonade.

Say you didn’t like the scent that much or the texture wasn’t ideal, but the tube or jar is current — go ahead and use the item in a different way. Turn disappointing bubble bath and shampoo into suds for hand-washing lingerie or cashmere sweaters. Transform self-tanner into a subtler glow booster by mixing a dab with moisturizer. Use any unsatisfactory facial moisturizers or eye creams on your hands or body instead. Make perfume rejects into fancy bathroom air fresheners, and use nail polish you’re “over” to color code keys, wine glasses or medicine bottles.

Make up spread on a table


Beauty products have an expiration date, too. And before they expire, you have to keep them clean.

4. Keep powder makeups you do wear — but sanitize them often.

Eyeshadows and compact-pressed powders and bronzers are good to go for a year or two (for exceptions, see No. 1). Skim off any film that has settled on the top layer with a dry tissue or a strip of tape. Make sure to regularly clean all sponges, brushes or applicators used to apply them, though, since this is where problems occur.

5. Toss “someday” beauty extras and tools.

No matter how expensive or trendy, some beauty buys are just mistakes. Let go of false lashes you’ve worn once (that was three years ago), damaging tools like old too-hot flat irons, eyelash curlers that hurt or crimp, and clunky blow-dryers.

Old clothes put in a donation box


If you don't wear it, donate it.

6. Donate “hanger clothes and shoebox shoes” you never wear.

Give away anything that’s too small, too tight, too baggy, too boxy, too outdated … even if they’re designer clothes and shoes. They don’t belong in your treasure chest. Wondering about recent comeback trends? Those big-shoulder jackets are not sticking around; on younger women they’re a novelty, on us they look like we’re in a time warp. Give those '80s jackets, cleavage-dipping halter tops, low-rise jeans, wide-leg pleated pants and clunky wooden wedges a chance to get out of the closet and start a new life — with someone else.

7. Trash the truly unwearable.

Toss the following: your old lace thong collection; stretched-out bras; sweaters with holes, pulls and pills that can’t be shaved off; worn-out opaque tights and snagged panty hose; baggy sweats; anything with ink, bleach or oil stains (from silk blouses to suede bags); and any item with stinky pits that retain their odor after dry cleaning, washing or a vinegar soak. Begone!  

8. Keep classics.

Certain things merit saving: a fitted blazer; white shirts and blouses; cashmere sweaters; a trench coat; black flat-front ankle pants; leather bags in a basic satchel or hobo shoulder-strap shape; pencil skirts; tailored sheaths; fit-and-flare or shift dresses that hover just above the knee; watches; slingback and low-heel pumps, loafers, sleek boots and booties; belts; and your favorite scarves. These items make up what stylists call a “capsule wardrobe.”

9. Haul any vintage keepers to pros for a quick fix.

A good tailor can nip and tuck oldies and custom-made fast-fashion buys. She can remove shoulder pads, slim down wide sleeves, nip in the waist of blazers, raise the shoulder line of dresses for a smoother bustline, and replace zippers and buttons. A shoe repair shop can refinish soles and renew scuffed shoes and boots (bags, too).

10. Give what’s left a good home.

Toss your old hangers and buy matching slim flocked ones and a pack of matching clips. Your closet space will double or triple so clothes stay wrinkle free, are easily visible and won’t slip off or get shoulder marks. Separate everything by color first, and then by item within each color group. For example: In the black section, cluster your black jackets from blazers to leather biker; hang together all black dresses from jersey wraps to sheaths; consolidate all black pants from tailored to jeans; and so on. Then hang and itemize another color group like blue or red, and then others. Add prints in a group by their dominant or background color. Shelve shoes and bags by color, too. This is the way high-end stores display clothes. It also will enable you to mix and layer items fast for a flexible, seasonless wardrobe.

For more beauty and style tips for women age 50-plus, check out The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life, and Love After 50 by Lois Joy Johnson and AARP's Beauty & Style issue