Year of the Clean Person: This July, Deal With Your Shoes

Year of the Clean Person is guided yearlong cleaning and organizing project; its focus is on tackling areas or tasks that are often overlooked in daily or weekly cleaning sprees and can be overwhelming when it comes time to rassle them back under control. Since we're smack in the middle of fragrant shoe season, this month we'll be tending to our footwear.

This month's Year of the Clean Person project is deceptively simple-sounding; in a way, it's like the book clean-up we took on in February in that it's dirtier and potentially more emotionally taxing than you think it will be. I know that's sort of an absurd thing to say about shoes, but many people have strong feelings about their shoes! And that's A-OK.

With that acknowledgement out of the way, let's talk about the basic steps involved in a shoe purge, which much like May's winter clothes purge is a bit of a misnomer in that it's not really about getting rid of shoes so much as it's about getting them organized, spruced up and generally showing them some love.

Step 1: Take everything out

Everything. Yup. All of them. That includes the shoes in your closet, of course, but also the ones by the door, the ones under the bed, the ones on the porch, the stash in the trunk of your car, all of them. Got shoes in your office? You don't have to bring them home, fine. But they're your work shoes so they should look good — don't forget to give them a shining or a de-stinking or maybe even take them in to the cobbler for a resoling.

Gathering them all up together will help you organize them, because you'll be able to easily group them. It will also make it easier to quickly identify any pairs that are ready to meet their maker. Maybe you just bought a new pair of Havaianas and are still holding on to an older pair or three? Seeing them all together may make you go, "You know? I don't really need that old pair anymore." Which is great — it means you'll have more room to store what you're gonna hold on to.

Step 2: Clean the closet floor

I mean, don't go crazy or anything but if you've taken all the shoes out of your closet — or out of whatever space you're using to store them — take five or so minutes to vacuum or sweep the floors. They're probably pretty dirty.

Step 3: Sort by type or season or whatever makes sense to you

The thing is about shoe collections is that no two are exactly alike. Some people have 4 pairs, some people have 40 pairs, some people have 400 pairs. Some of you prefer to organize by color, some by season, some by shoe type (I go in for the latter, to the extent that is remotely interesting for you to know). There's no right or wrong way to do this; the goal is to hit upon a system that works for you.

Step 4: Get rid of whatever you no longer need or wear

Pretty self-explanatory. Especially be on the lookout for shoes that inevitably cause you pain and consider whether or not your life would be better without them. It's okay if the answer is that no, your life would not be better without that pair of 6-inch stiletto heeled booties. But at least you've made a conscious decision to put fashion ahead of comfort. The Good Lord knows you won't be the first, nor the last, person to do so.

Step 5: De-stink or polish or launder or whatever the ones you're keeping

Shoe care is way too easy to neglect, which is why I picked this as one of the tasks for us to take on this year. Downcolumn, I'll link to all the stuff I've written on how to keep your shoes looking and, let's be honest, smelling their best.

Step 6: Put them back in an organized fashion

Oh, you would like some ideas of ways in which you might store your shoes? Please to step this way. I made you something.

The mention of things I've made for you, brings us nicely to this portion of the festivities. Shoes are a topic on which I've written a lot. There is definitely more you'll want to know on the subject though. So the exercise I'm about to take us through is meant to serve two purposes: 1. To give you quick and easy access to the existing body of my work on shoe care and 2. to ask that you help me fill in the gaps by telling me what you want to know that I haven't covered yet.

Here's what you'll want to know about removing salt stains from leather; if you'd prefer to read the Deadspin version, you can do so.

That same post provides a lot of what you'll need to know about caring for suede; there's also a note in there about sprucing up your Hunter boots, if you've got those.

And also! That very same post goes into great detail about how to care for shoes that have any kind of fur component, real or faux. That goes for stuff like fur-lined boots, pony or cow hair shoes, fuzzy slippers, etc.

Which brings me to slippers! Here, I wrote an entire thing on how to care for them.

Maybe your problem is that your feet smell. Gotcha covered there too.

Sneakers are so hot right now; I talked to Allure about how to keep 'em looking and smelling their best.

I also talked to WNYC's Soundcheck about all kinds of music-lovers' cleaning challenge, including cleaning the kind of spills that happen at concerts off of shoes. That portion of our conversation happened around the 10 minute mark, if you want to skip forward to that (and also to hear me talking about taking a shoe to the face at an outdoor festival). We covered cleaning canvas, leather and suede shoes. Mostly I just implored people not to wear their suede shoes to outdoor festivals.

So that's the newer stuff, but I've been doing this job for three and a half years now which means it's time to get in the wayback machine and look at some of my historical documents. This one, which I think is the very first shoe-specific Ask a Clean Person, covered basic stain removal techniques, how and why to shine your shoes and odor elimination.

Maybe you've stepped in something like gum, or tar, or God only knows what and you can't get it off the sole of your shoe? The short answer is WD-40; the longer answer can be found here (3rd Q).

Any of you still sporting Uggs? This post covers Ugg cleaning (3rd Q); there's also an older version of slipper cleaning instructions specifically about a pair that have developed a wicked stink (1st Q). But that's not all! Odors are big business for me, so another shoe-specific AaCP covered smelly sandals and stinky shoe storage spaces, as well as cleaning fabric flats that got grimy in a rain storm.

Right then! So that's what I was able to pull from my archives, now it's your turn to tell me what topics are missing.

Illustration by Jim Cooke.