Wardrobe strategies: wardrobe cleanout step-by-step

To follow up my post about why we do not like to get rid of clothes and what to do about this, here comes a practical guide to wardrobe cleanouts.

Personally, I like decluttering - it feels like both an achievement and a clean slate. It gives me confidence. It clears my head. For me, it is a lovely way to spend a Saturday morning. But I know many struggle with it, from building up the energy to confront the contents of their wardrobe, to deciding what to keep and what not to. Still, wardrobe cleanouts cannot be put off forever [although this year, in London, we are still only just having to switch to spring clothes!]. So this post is to provide straightforward and easy steps to get through them regularly, with as little pain as possible.

Step 1 - Make a plan. Doing a wardrobe cleanout twice a year, at the start of the warmer and colder seasons, is manageable and a great way to approach the task. For one, these are times when you can easily and honestly evaluate which items from the past season [ie, if you are in the spring, from the winter] you have not been wearing and are ready to let go of. Plus, it makes sense to evaluate what you can already see you are missing for the coming season at this time, as this is when you can still shop for these [come May, shops will be full of beachwear, not to mention July, when winter coats will start arriving - don't get me started on how manipulative the fashion industry is]. So if that makes things better, think about it as the ticket to getting official permission to shop afterwards, once you have cleared space for new arrivals.

Step 2 - Make sure you are in the right frame of mind. Neither too negative [you don't want to end up with an empty wardrobe] nor too sentimental [or you may just as well close the wardrobe doors and do something else]. Music can be excellent encouragement [choose an upbeat playlist as motivation], as is having plenty of natural light [morning rather than evening].

It may be best to enlist a friend to help; pick an objective and calm friend whose taste you usually share [or get the whole gang, a la Carrie ;)]. Note: I am not sure all that champagne is a good idea - keep it for afterwards or you may end up with a disco wardrobe ;)!

Step 3 - Do a quick run-through of the obvious. It is easy to know what you love and always wear; leave those in the wardrobe. It is also easy to know what you are definitely happy to get rid of [be especially rigorous with items from the past season: if you have not worn something all season, that may be a hint] - pull these out and put them in a 'goodbye' pile for now. See, this was quick and painless and you have already made a step forward!

Step 4 - Now comes the trickier part. Pull the rest, i.e. the items that you do not often wear but do not obviously want to part with, out of the wardrobe. Doing this by type of clothing may be more achievable space-wise and will also show how much you have in each category, very useful.

Step 5 - Try these on. I know this sounds incredibly tedious and time consuming, but you have to bite the bullet. How else will you know if they deserve to fill valuable space in your wardrobe? You may not have worn many of these pieces in quite a while so your memories of them may no longer hold. Maybe they don't fit any more; maybe they do now but you don't wear them as you think they don't; maybe you don't wear them as you think you have nothing that goes with them even though you have since bought items that make them work. You need to update your vision of these pieces and the only way to do that is by trying them on. Turn up the volume of the music, here we go!

As you try things on, consider the same things you would when deciding whether you would buy an item [this post may give some guidelines]:

- does it fit?

- does it suit your current age and current/future lifestyle? [at least rare but justified occasions such as skiing trips, job interviews etc.]

- is it comfortable?

- is the quality [still] good?

- do you FEEL good in it?

- do you have similar items that are much better?


Step 6 - Keep filling the 'keep' / 'goodbye' piles until you have tried everything.

The only time it is OK to 'keep' an item that you know is not ideal is when it is your only item to fill a purpose - make notes of these on your shopping list so you start to actively look for more suitable replacements.

Anything you are unsure about, see this post. Essentially, you need to decide whether they have genuine potential for future wear ['keep'] or whether the reason you are reluctant to part with them is self-delusion ['goodbye'].

Step 7 - Time to cut yourself some slack. OK, so by now you are hopefully left with mainly 'keep' or 'goodbye' items, and only a small pile of those that you do not wear but are still not ready to let go of. That is fine, we are human : )

Find a place [ideally a drawer or a box that you can place out of sight] to put these in temporarily. The next months will show whether you feel the need to dig them out or not, and if so, whether you deem them wear-worthy or not. You may also want to make a note of these at the bottom of your shopping list so that before you buy anything similar you try them on first, a good test.

Step 8 - Go through the goodbye pile and decide which of these should be sold, which given away and which go to charity, or, if utterly ruined, to the bin. If you think any of them could be saved by getting them altered/turned into something else, by all means take them to the tailor -- however, if you have not done so within two months, out they go as they clearly are not important enough.

Step 9 - Final touches. Now that your wardrobe is cleaner and clearer, finish by tidying it and by clearing your house too of all 'goodbye' items. Ebay them, take them to charity, etc, get them physically out. Doesn't it feel amazing to have less clutter? Celebrate and enjoy your detoxed, easier to use, up-to-date new wardrobe!

NOTE: You do NOT have to do all this in one go [although it is sometimes best to close eyes and tear off the band-aid quickly]. You can look at clothes from just one season [the past one, please]; or go category by category [shoes only, trousers only, etc]. Good luck!