It's Time for the Great End-of-Winter Closet Declutter

Wash, repair, and store all of your insulated gear to keep it in good condition.

old winter boots
Winter boots sit in a front hallway.

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Every year, around the beginning of May, the same thing happens in my entryway closet. It starts to overflow and it becomes difficult to find a hanger or space to cram in another jacket. This is because winter clothes have merged with spring clothes.

In the weeks leading up to this "exploding closet syndrome," as I've heard it called, I have dug lighter-weight items out of storage and added them to the closet without putting away the warmer ones because I might still need them. Eventually, it becomes too much, the outdoor temperature has fewer extremes, and it's time to do the Great Closet Declutter. 

This is something I recommend to everyone. Even if you do have a gigantic front closet that can hold four seasons' worth of outerwear for an entire family, it's a good idea to take stock of your winter gear and get it in tip-top shape for the next season. Removing it from a main closet frees up a ton of space and—if you're like me—lifts a mental burden, as well.

Wash Everything

Whatever you've worn over the past winter should get washed before it's put away, even if it looks and smells clean. (The only exception is if you haven't worn it since the last washing.) Invisible body oils can contribute to its deterioration over time and will attract pests. So will a scented detergent and fabric softener, so stick with something basic and natural. 

Use a front-loading washer for down jackets, as top-loading ones can damage the fabric and distort the shape. Wash in cold water, preferably with a down-specific detergent, and do an extra rinse. Put it in the dryer with several wool dryer balls to fluff it up; it may take several cycles, which is why it's helpful to do a couple of jackets at the same time.

The same process applies to synthetic insulated jackets and snow pants. Some outdoor sites recommend using a special detergent for technical gear. Do up the front zipper to ensure nothing gets caught, but open the zippered pockets. Dry on low with dryer balls or tennis balls to speed up the process.

Wash hats, mittens, scarves, and balaclavas, usually in cold water and hang to dry—unless specified otherwise on the labels. 

Examine Thoroughly

Check everything for holes and tears once dry and assess whether you can fix using a product like this Tenacious Tape Repair Strip or other iron-on fabric patches, usually sold by the manufacturer. If more major repairs are needed, arrange to send the item to a tailor or seamstress.

This is the best time to assess what you should keep or purge ahead of the next season, especially if you have young children who grow and wear through items quickly. I toss any mittens that have huge holes and look at my kids' removable felt boot liners to see if they need replacing. (You can order inexpensive liners online from boot manufacturers like Sorel.) Once the youngest has outgrown something, it goes into a donation or resale pile. 

If there are good quality items you do not wear anymore, now's your chance to take nice pictures and upload them to an app like Poshmark or thredUP. There are also off-season deals on items that you may know you or your kids will need in the future. Since winter gear tends to be expensive, shopping second-hand is a great way to get it without spending a fortune.

Store Properly

When putting clothes away, do up all zippers to prevent snags. My preferred storage method is to fold and pack into large Rubbermaid bins with tight-fitting lids. Some people use suitcases to do this. If you have garment bags, you can zip them into those and hang them in a closet. Vacuum storage bags are another option, especially if you have limited space. Be sure to store in a place that's cool, clean, dark, and dry.

Adding humidity or desiccant packs can help to draw out any moisture that may attract pests or leave your clothes smelling musty. To repel moths, you can include cedar balls, shavings, or planks, or add some lavender sachets.

Footwear Care

Boots should be washed ahead of storage. Tackle plastic outers in a laundry sink with a scrub brush and some soap. Wipe down leather and apply a moisturizing wax or oil. Vegan leather can be cleaned with a mild detergent, but apply a conditioner afterward as it is more prone to cracking than regular leather. I have some of these BootRescue products and really like them. Make sure they're fully dry before putting boots away. If you're worried about them losing shape, stuff with bunched-up newspapers or a plastic beverage bottle.

I like to keep a few cozy items accessible year-round, but that's because I live in Ontario, Canada, where it can get surprisingly frigid in mid-summer. There's usually a hat, gloves, and scarf on hand for each family member, just in case, but that may not be an issue for you.

Remember that your winter gear is likely some of the most expensive clothing you own, so it makes sense to treat it well. By taking the time to care for it, it will last longer and work better. And you certainly won't feel as dismal about November's first snowfall when you can immediately dress yourself in clean, smart-looking, and fully functional gear.