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STYLE / A Mindful Wardrobe Detox

Updated: Mar 14

Apparently, the average UK woman hoards at least £285 of unused clothing!

As the weather is starting to brighten up, many of us will be thinking about refreshing our wardrobes for Spring. It is really helpful to think of this process as part of a cycle for caring for our clothing in a sustainable way. I created this detox guide for the ebook to accompany our Slow and Circular workshop series last year. The ebook is available here if you want to learn more about how a mindful closet sort fits into the bigger picture of building a slower, more regenerative clothing collection. On Saturday March 16th we will be hosting the first clothes swap of 2024 back at The Local Folk in Tonedale which will be a perfect opportunity for passing on some of the garments that land on your 'Rehome' pile.


Firstly it is important to book in plenty of time to make it an enjoyable experience. I like to have at least a full day - Sundays are ideal - to dedicate to the initial sorting process and then allow a couple of days or weeks afterwards to reflect and follow up on my initial decisions. You may prefer to be more decisive straight away about what you want to keep.

Wear something basic and comfortable, as you should be prepared to get dressed up in various combinations of clothing.

Prepare a favourite playlist for background music, and allow plenty of space to get everything out.

Have a system planned, there are several guides and methods online you can research to find your favourite. I have four main groupings which I later break into subsets.; Keep; Rehome (resell/swap/donate) Revive (alter/repair); Transform (no longer wearable - upcycle/repurpose/recycle). Using these as a starting point will enable you to develop a system that works well for you and your community.

Many wardrobe detox guides begin with first taking out what you don't want to keep. This approach will suit some people better as it can feel like progress is being made more quickly. However, whilst we aim to get garments back into circulation if we truly won't wear them, I would encourage an open mind at this stage. As Orsola de Castro says, 'the most sustainable garment is one you already own', so if there is a way of making a previously unworn and unloved piece earn its place in our wardrobe we should always endeavour to find it before casting it aside.

This is the process I follow to help me decide in which group garments will go:

Take everything out and sort into categories according to type of clothing or accessory. This will immediately allow you to see what you potentially have too much of and may help with decision making later in the process.

This overall view also helps to see what kind of colours, patterns or styles you already own and you can reflect on if this is in line with insights you have gained through time spent getting to know your personal style.

You may also spot new outfit combinations to try once you can see everything more easily. Try these on and notice how these outfits make you feel. You could consider them with some of the same questions you would ask yourself when purchasing a new garment. (A list of these is available in the 'Build' chapter of the ebook.)

This initial first glance will probably lead you to recognise both the garments you definitely feel that you want to keep and those that you are less sure about. Separate these into those two provisional groups... and take a breather before coming back to look at each of in more detail.

This post will focus on determining the garments you wish to Keep. You can find tips on how to categorise those you no longer want in a future post, as well as in the ebook.

KEEPers... And how to identify them

Approach both of your provisional groupings with the same rigour and honesty. Some garments you will have known right away that you want to keep. These are the ones that fill us with joy and make us feel confident. Nothing is likely to change our minds about these.

However, there will be some items in your initial Keep group that you may reconsider after asking yourself the following questions. Similarly, these questions will help you to decide about items currently sitting in the 'unsure' pile. Ask yourself:

01 How often have I worn it?

A popular way of tracking this in preparation for a detox is to set yourself a timeframe and turn the hanger the opposite way when you have worn the item. This can be helpful for keeping a simple track of larger collections, however for a more detailed numeric based assessment, try the #30wears challenge created by Eco Age founder Livia Firth and writer Lucy Siegle. The basis of this is that we should be aiming to wear each item we own at least thirty times, (rather than the current average of seven!).

You could document wears with photos, keeping a tally on a hanger tag or with an app, some people even create and update an inventory spreadsheet! Ultimately, it will be a case of finding whatever system personally that is manageable and effective.

02 Using my Knowledge, is it my colour and style?

Use what you know about yourself to consider if the garment is a good fit for your life, complements any other items already in your wardrobe and matches your style profile or colour palette. For example, I had two very similar pink blouses, trying them both on in succession revealed that one was a much more flattering colour on me.

03 Honestly, does it fit?

This may seem obvious but so many of us do keep things aspirationally. It's best to be really honest with ourselves about if it fits us currently, in our life right now. Pay particular attention to the shoulders and waistband, from both the front and back. Can we move/sit/bend/raise arms comfortably in it?

If it doesn't we can consider if it is realistically likely to fit within a reasonable timescale as it is, or if there are any amendments which we have the capacity to make to it so that it will.

04 Does it feel comfortable?

Some examples to check for include; itchy labels; sleeves that get in the way a little or fabrics that make us feel too hot.

05Would anything make me wear it more often?

Summarise what it is that would need to happen; whether that is adapting the fit, cutting out an itchy label, putting a stitch in a top that feels too low cut, or dying the item a different colour.

Maybe you just aren't wearing it because it needs repairing or a button replacing. Consider if you have the time or resources to make the changes necessary or access to someone who could help if not. Get to know who can help you locally.

Create a pile for items to Revive and set aside some time in the week for a little mindful mending or seeking out of local services.

More suggestions can be found in the 'Care' chapter of the ebook.

06 Could you wear it in a different way?

Online stylist tutorials can help with this, some examples might be tying up a shirt at the bottom, rolling up trousers or turning a cardigan into a wrap.

How about pairing with something you wouldn't normally? Think creatively, could you mix prints, cinch with a belt, layer a top underneath or add a statement necklace for example.

Even just the process of trying things on can reveal new combinations, going back to the two pink blouses, I discovered the one I chose to keep was well complemented by a pair of trousers in my 'unsure' pile, a pairing I'd never worn before but now have done several times since.

07 Does it hold positive emotional connections?

If it does not, then move it to one of your other piles. However if it holds a particularly special memory then it could still be a Keeper even if you have answered no to all the previous questions. Create a box for a select few Keepsakes . You might use the fabrics together later to create something new, or keep the garments as they are.

Still unsure?

Have a trial separation by lending to a friend or putting it in the Rehome pile for a while and notice whether you miss it.

Decide on how best to put back away your Keepers in order to remember some of the things you have found out during your wardrobe detox.

In future posts we will look at some of the considerations for sorting the pile we no longer wish to keep...

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