Sure, the whole concept of spring-cleaning feels quaint and archaic just now. We’re doing deep cleaning. Serious cleaning. And besides, you’ve got your hands full with Zoom calls, Netflix parties and investigating that whole 'if you don’t wash your hair for two weeks, it conditions itself' thing.
But if ever there was a time to do the mother of all wardrobe clear-outs, it is now. When everything outside our windows feels like a maelstrom of terrifying uncertainty, there’s something soothing about streamlining your surroundings and bringing a little more order into your life, however superficially. If we’re thinking about the calmer, simpler lives we want to lead once All This is over, then minimising those morning outfit meltdowns is as good a place to start as any.
Step 1: Get it all out in the open
Look, this isn’t the kind of job that can be completed in half an hour. You’re going to need to dig deep and I mean that literally; be brave and plunge your arm right into the back of your wardrobe, to the place where you’re pretty sure you once saw an old gym kit breathing.
Haul it all out. The shopping mistakes, the guilty trophy buys, the crumpled remains of your short-lived tie-dye phase. Now is the time to pay respect to the fallen heroes, by which I mean the items that you might still be wearing if they hadn’t slipped off the hanger and been forgotten forever.
Pile everything on your bed and survey it. Take in the sheer scale of all the clothes you own. Marvel at it. Lots, aren’t there? Loads of clothes. How did you even have time to acquire this many clothes while also having a job to pay for them? Take a mental snapshot, or an actual one – so that next time you’re screaming "I have nothing to wear" into the social abyss, you have evidence on hand to prove you wrong.
Step 2: Confront your truths
This is not just about clearing out cupboard space for future purchases. A seriously good wardrobe shakedown is also a great way to curb unnecessary shopping, realise your spending patterns and really nail down your personal style. It’s easier to buy less when you can see clearly what you already have, and there are so many lessons to be learned from past shopping mistakes.
Go through each item in turn and interrogate it like it’s a bluffing politician and you are Emily Maitlis. Why don’t you wear it? Is it the fit? The fabric? The emotional associations? When did you buy it? Why did you buy it? Were you hungry, or high, or in the grip of PMS?
Did you buy it for a life you don’t actually lead or a person you want to be but aren’t? There’s nothing like unearthing eight nearly identical, practically unworn Breton tops from the back of a drawer to make you finally realise that classique French ingenue isn’t a look you naturally embody, however much you wish it were. And that’s okay.
Be honest but not necessarily ruthless. Some people will tell you to get rid of everything you haven’t worn in a year but I personally believe that to be bollocks – fashion is cyclical, and no sooner have you sent an item off to the charity shop than the merry-go-round of trends will nudge it back onto the scene again. Plus, with 300,000 tonnes of UK clothing sent to landfill every year and staggering volumes of cast-offs exported to developing countries (63,418,990kg last year to Ghana alone), one of the most helpful things we can all do right now is commit to our clothes for a little longer. If you still like it, if it still fits, if it makes you think Aw, this thing! rather than Ew, this thing, then keep it for now.
If you want to use joy as your criteria then go for it but the risk with only keeping clothes that 'spark joy' is that you end up with a wardrobe full of sequinned tutus and rainbow socks but not, say, a pair of trousers you can actually sit down in. Bear that in mind.
Personally, I prefer to use the #30Wears rule as a way to work out what to keep and what to cull. If you can imagine yourself wearing something 30 times, however long it might take you to reach the magic total, then hang on to it. However, if the idea of being forced – let’s say through some kind of unprecedented government legislation – to wear the thing 30 times makes you recoil a bit, then it goes in the cull pile. Likewise anything that doesn’t fit, anything that has never fitted, or anything that pinches/itches/rides up incessantly/digs in so badly you have to unzip it in the loo halfway through the day. Those clothes deserve to be set free, and so do you.
At this stage I recommend sorting everything into three piles: 'keep in rotation' (for the clothes you wear a lot now), 'keep in storage' (for out-of-season and clothes you might not wear now, but will again) and 'cull'. You might want to add subcategories such as 'keep but tweak' for the clothes that need repairing or altering.
When I say 'keep in storage', I mean wherever you have room – a suitcase under the bed, a bag in a cupboard, a box in your parents’ loft. But be realistic. If you live in a studio flat with limited space, keeping a full trunk of winter coats and scarves on hand probably isn’t priority number one. You’re not a dowager countess.
Step 3: Play dress-up
Before you pack everything away, it’s time to rediscover the joy of a good old-fashioned trying-on session.
Put some music on. Pretend you’re in an '80s movie montage if that helps. But most importantly, push yourself to try on the stuff you haven’t worn in ages and pair it up with more recent purchases.
Now is the time to experiment and step out of your sartorial comfort zone. Layer things up in new ways, style things differently. Try shirts under dresses, dresses over trousers. Tuck things in and tie them up. See if any of your storage pile could be upgraded to daily rotation, or if any of your cull pile can be saved.
See if anything in your wardrobe can scratch a current trend itch (you’d be surprised how easily the off-the-shoulder tops of 2014 tap into 2020’s décolleté obsession) and put together new outfits that make you feel jazzed about wearing your old faithfuls again. Take photos and send them to the WhatsApp group for feedback. It’s not like anybody has anything better to do.
Step 4: Spruce things up
Don’t just pile everything back into your wardrobe and slam the door; you’re not done yet.
The best way to keep your clothes in circulation and out of future cull piles is to look after them and store them properly, so treat them to a sartorial spa session before you put them away. Mend holes, sew on missing buttons, cut off itchy labels and protruding hanger loops. Wash everything that needs to be washed (and if you’re lucky enough to have an outdoor clothes line, use it – skipping the dryer is one of the easiest ways to reduce your clothes’ carbon footprint and the scent of fresh spring breeze is a luxury commodity just now) and pay attention to the care labels. Steam the things you can’t wash, and iron everything that needs ironing before you hang it back up.
I know being told to do some ironing just now isn’t exactly the 'Have a bath! Have a nap! Just be!' rhetoric you were hoping for but Future You is going to be so happy when she pulls out that dress she never wears because it’s always too creased to discover that it isn’t, for once. PS. Future You is going to wear it to a lovely picnic. It’s all okay.
I don’t subscribe to Marie Kondo on all things but I do believe wholeheartedly in her folding techniques. Yeah, sex is cool but have you ever opened your tops-and-tees drawer without it jamming? I also heartily recommend slimline velvet hangers like these, which save space and grip on to your slippiest garms so nothing ends up on the floor.
As for whether you want to hang things in your wardrobe by colour, style or occasion, that’s up to you. But if getting more wear out of everything is the goal, consider trying the hanger trick: line them all up facing one way, then each time you put an item back after wearing it, turn the hanger around. The ones left facing the other way are the ones that deserve more love.
Step 5: Cast off responsibly
The final question is what to do with your cull pile. In normal circumstances, I’d tell you to divide it into a pile to donate to charity, a pile for fabric waste recycling, and a pile to sell, swap or pass on to friends. But that all feels a little…hypothetical at the moment.
Charity shops are shuttered, with most charities asking people to hang onto their donations for the time being rather than leaving them outside shops (although some donation banks, like TRAID, are still in service). That clothes-swapping party will have to wait a few months. And although eBay and Depop are still open for business at the time of writing and encouraging sellers to use drop-off points and home collection services to avoid trips to the post office, with calls for Royal Mail to limit non-essential deliveries, this isn’t exactly the time to fire up your selling accounts.
You can still use this time to get a head start on styling, snapping and listing your top quality cast-offs. That bag of 'stuff to sell' that’s been falling on your head every time you open the cupboard for the past two years? Its time has come.
The same goes for listing clothes on peer-to-peer rental apps like By Rotation, HURR and Nuw. Give those special pieces more chance to shine by offering them up to other people and preparing to share the love in future. Something tells me we’re going to see an upsurge in party outfits once All This is over.