Discarding Clothes

With all my surviving clothes now neatly stored as per the KonMari method, it was time to turn my attention to the elephant in the room – the discard pile. Leaving it sitting in the corner while I had been diligently folding meant I had acclimatised to the notion that it was time to say goodbye to the items within it. I pulled some plastic bags from the kitchen drawer that overflows with scrumpled supermarket carriers and surveyed the pile. I started easy, selecting items that I was nonchalant about or even pleased to be getting rid of. Once again I thanked the items for their time with me and gave them good wishes for the future. I quickly filled two bags with clothes I was glad to see the back of and walked them down to H&M on the high street.

The Discard Pile

The Discard Pile

A colleague had told me about H&M’s recycling scheme which is designed to cut the amount of textiles that end up in landfill sites. I would never have thrown clothes in the bin, anything that could still be worn I would have taken to the charity shop, but a benefit of the H&M scheme is that they will take any textiles in any condition – even things that could never be worn again because they’re torn or too ratty. Under their scheme, items that can still be used are resold as second hand goods, items that can no longer be worn are repurposed into other things, such as cleaning cloths, and items that can’t be used at all are turned into insulation. Their aim is zero waste. When the clothes are resold, H&M don’t pocket the money – it goes towards rewarding people who take part in the scheme (in the form of vouchers), donations to charity and investment in recycling. I had carefully checked all this fine print, sure that in our capitalist society dominated by megalomaniac corporations that someone had to be profiting somewhere along the line. But it all seemed legit – their website clearly outlined how it works. It’s good to see a company trying to offset the waste that their fast fashion ethos is fuelling.

Over the next few days I took two bags down each day. For every bag you hand in, you get a £5 voucher, limited to two per day. This slowed down the discarding process considerably as I was using normal sized carrier bags, rather than large bin bags, so as to maximise the amount of vouchers I received. However, the conditions of the voucher state that it’s £5 off for every £30 you spend; I quickly amassed enough vouchers to mean I would have to spend hundreds of pounds in order to redeem them all. This would clearly undermine my attempts to be a minimalist in the most spectacular fashion. Thus I became the voucher fairy, handing them out to all my friends who shop in H&M.

What I particularly like about the H&M scheme is that they will take literally any and all textiles – even the ones that charity shops wouldn’t want and couldn’t possibly sell. This was useful for discarding the disturbingly large amount of underwear that was heaped on the floor. There were socks with holes, socks worn thin, socks that made my feet sweat too much, tights with little dots of clear nail polish on in an attempt to stop holes turning into ladders, tights with patterns or colours that had, at one point, seemed daring, fun or coquettish but were at odds with the person I was now, leggings that had seen better days, knickers that had always been avoided because for some reason they just weren’t comfortable (boy shorts, I’d wanted so much to like you, you made my derrière look so fine, yet every moment wearing you was a moment pulling you out of places you shouldn’t have been), comfortable knickers now rendered sad and droopy with age, knickers with elastic that had long since thrown in the towel, and the saddest of them all – sexy knickers that had waited so long for their Prince Charming to come but now their flirtatious cuts and colours seemed only to mock their very being, lace becomes frail cobwebs, elastic broken free in the frustration and anarchy of unfulfilled purpose….these were the Miss Havishams of my underwear drawer. Never mind, sexy knickers, you can be set free now and go on to a new life! Maybe you could become a cleaning cloth! My attempts at optimism rang hollow. I sheepishly looked away, feeling somewhat guilty that I had not provided them with the bacchanalian lifestyle to which they aspired. Giving them a weak, consolatory smile I packed them into their Dignitas transport of a Marks & Spencer’s carrier bag.

Another item sent on its way to a new life and a new purpose was my old school tie. This is an item that might have given some people pause and I certainly did hold it a while as I felt all the emotions and memories associated with it. I even slipped it over my head and tightened it up – it was still knotted for me to be able to do this. But it brought me no joy whatsoever. I had not particularly enjoyed my school years and none of the memories it invoked made me yearn to keep it. I took a photo of it, as a nod to the past, but added it to the bags with a touch of relief.

Having doled out a whole bunch of H&M vouchers and got rid of all my non-reusable textiles, I began to feel a pull to give things to a charity shop instead. It was a deep, innate pull…despite knowing that H&M was doing good things with the old clothes, it still felt a little weird to be giving them to a big company…and the clothes they were selling on….were they being sold at reasonable prices to people in need, I wondered? I decided to give the rest to a charity shop, namely The British Heart Foundation. This is the one I always give clothes to for the simple fact that, out of the multitude of charity shops on the high street, it is the one closest to my house. I swapped from carrier bags to large bin bags and started to load the remaining items for their final journey. Many charity shops, including the British Heart Foundation, provide a free collection service – they will come round with a van and take all the bags off your hands so you don’t have to worry about getting them to the shop. But I preferred to make the journey myself, even though this meant taking many trips as I was only able to carry one bin bag at a time. Walking the bag down to the shop felt like the final ceremonial goodbye – my last act of gratitude and remembrance for the items that had been part of my life for so long. I liked to feel the weight of the bag in my arms as I carried it down to the shop and the light emptiness of my unencumbered being on the way back. It was a physical representation of why I was doing this. I was releasing myself from the weight – physical, psychological and emotional – of all my unnecessary possessions so I could live a freer, simpler, more intentional life.

As things were moved from the pile to the bags, there was more trying on and more photos taken. For the most part, this was less emotional than the initial decision to place the items in the discard pile. The reactionary dismay and lament at the loss of whatever I considered the clothes to represent had been replaced by acceptance of their terminally joyless state.

However, not everything from the discard pile made it to H&M or The British Heart Foundation. I allowed one pair of shoes to make the return journey across the River Styx back to the safety of the wardrobe – my Sketchers Shapeups. These had been a fairly pricey good intention purchase. I had meant to wear them on my daily walking commute to school, a total of 40 minutes walking per day. I had thought I would maximise the potential of this walk with the Shapeups promising, as they did, all sorts of toning and muscle building benefits. This had been a short lived utopia and they had languished in the bottom of my wardrobe for longer than I cared to remember. But it seemed such a waste to discard them. They were quite expensive and hardly worn. And it had been a genuinely good idea to wear them on the walk to school. Not only were they comfortable and supposedly toning, but it meant my actual school shoes would last longer without needing re-heeling if I only wore them to pad around on the industrial carpet inside the buildings rather than subjecting them to a daily beating on the pavements. I plucked the Shapeups from the discard pile and gave them, and myself, an ultimatum – they had to be worn consistently otherwise they would have to go.

A solitary hat also made the return journey from the pile to safety. Pre-cull, I had owned quite a number of hats. Some I had worn quite extensively in the past, some were from previous back-packing trips, some had once been cool and trendy, and some were novelty hats. But they all had one thing in common: the fact I never wore them anymore. One hat, one that does get used and that lives in my box of travelling equipment rather than being cryogenically frozen in the stasis of storage along with the rest of the hats, had already been conserved – my sensible travelling hat in khaki green – essential for keeping the sun off my face when abroad. But now I was faced with all the rest. Was it wise to discard them all? My travelling hat was a long way from being fashionable – maybe it would be prudent to keep just one less dorky hat. Just in case. These were words I had been warned about. Both Marie Kondo and The Minimalists caution against keeping items “just in case”. But should I really get rid of them all? The need for a hat arises unexpectedly in London, what with the mercurial nature of the weather. Best keep just one, just in case. An old favourite, versatile in what it can go with, was rescued from the pile. Like with the Shapeups, an ultimatum was delivered – you can stay for a while but don’t think you’re safe. You’re on borrowed time while I muse a little longer on the necessity of hats.

Then there was the subset of clothes that were earmarked to give to my sister. Upon hearing of my decluttering endeavours, my sister had eagerly requested that I give my old clothes to her. She then looked decidedly aggrieved when I told her that this was against the rules of the KonMari method. Kondo says that your tidying journey is an individual pilgrimage. Parents should not see what you choose to discard incase they feel sentimental about your old possessions, are concerned you’ll discard too much or are appalled at the sheer volume of waste. And as for younger sisters, Kondo has a specific chapter about not passing on items to them. My younger sister now views Kondo as some sort of meddling nemesis, standing spitefully in-between her and a whole new wardrobe of free clothes.

Kondo’s premise is sound – it’s all too easy, in this painful discarding process, to pass things onto younger sisters as a way of getting rid of items without going through the guilt and emotional wrench of truly and genuinely parting with them. My case was a little different though, instead of a situation where you present your discards as a supposed gift for a sibling in order to swerve the process of fully facing up to your past purchases, I had a sister who was actively requesting my clothes. But Kondo warns that we should show consideration for others by helping them to avoid the burden of owning too much. It was this that I was concerned about for I fear my sister suffers just as much as I do from the affliction of being overly attached to things. It seemed wrong that I should manage to declutter by cluttering up someone else’s space with my old possessions. But she did pleading eyes and promised, hand on heart, that if I gave her something and she wasn’t going to wear it she’d take it to the charity shop. She eagerly specified the name and location of her nearest charity shop as proof that she could be trusted to go through with it if the need arose. So I conceded. As I worked through my discard pile I kept an eye out for suitable items to give to her – they had to be items that I genuinely thought might look good on her and were fashionable. Quite a few times the thought arose, “Oh maybe I could give this to Laura”, sometimes it was even stuff that probably would have looked good on her but I knew, deep down, when it was a case of me just not quite wanting to part with something from my past. And for these items, I suspect it would have seemed a little jarring to see her wearing them – like the ghost of a past me reincarnated in her. No, for those older, sentimental items it was safest to just let them go to the charity shop to be adopted into an entirely new home – a clean break and a fresh start for all. By following these guidelines I ended up with a small, choice selection for my sister – guilt-free clothes, with no emotional baggage, that I hoped she would like.

As I chipped way at the discard pile, bagging things up and walking them down to the charity shop, I knew I wasn’t being entirely honest with myself. As my hands delved into the pile to pluck out items, I found they never settled on certain things. I was strategically avoiding the big emotional ones. The ones that had choked me with memories, tears and physical feelings of loss just by placing them in the pile were now being carefully avoided by my cowardly hands. As much as the time in the limbo of the discard pile had helped me to distance myself from most of the clothes, the big ticket items continued to haunt me. But I couldn’t avoid them forever. As I whittled the pile down and they were laid bare by my excavation work, I managed to muster the courage and resolve to get rid of some of these affecting items. I would place these clothes right at the top of the bags and not tie them shut, then I would walk the bags down with my hands resting directly on these clothes inside the top of the bag. This last laying on of hands felt like the last connection to the memories within them. We relived our experiences, the clothes and I, as I carried them through the quiet back streets and then onto the bustling highstreet.

And then there were my clubbing clothes lying on the floor, no longer protected by the joyless clothes around them that had acted like human shields. And I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t quite put them in the bin bag. It wasn’t just the memories of those crazy lived years, it was something about their otherness. All three items were from Cyberdog and all three items had that “Gosh, did I really used to wear this?!” quality. Their out-there-ness combined with the poignant memories they stirred meant I couldn’t quite get my hands to work properly – to put them in that bin bag and sever the umbilical cord to the past. I placed them with the one item from my past that I had been sure I would keep. This was a large navy blue polo shirt that was embroidered with the Birmingham University crest and the words “Chamberlain Hall Bar Staff”. It had been my work uniform when I was a bartender in my halls of residence in the first year of uni. I had loved my time at university and still count it as some of the happiest years of my life. That t-shirt was staying. Kondo is clear that you can keep whatever you like so long as it truly brings you joy. Even things that other people would raise an eyebrow at and say “Surely there’s no way this brings you joy!”, whatever it is – broken, misshapen, ugly, aged, random or strange – if it brings you joy you can keep it. Your possessions should make you happy and if something lights up your life and “you like yourself for having it” then ignore the haters and hold on to it. The very idea behind the process of decluttering is to live surrounded by things you love – remove the cloying, oppressive, unnecessary detritus that weighs you down and be left with a carefully curated environment where you value every item, whatever that may be.

Did my uni top fall into this category? I hoped so. I enjoyed its continued existence too much to consider getting rid of it. It lives among my pyjamas, its large size making it suitable for nightwear. However I don’t wear it in bed. It doesn’t get worn at all. I usually wear long sleeved pyjamas, my basement bedroom being on the chilly side, but even in summer it never gets picked. It’s almost too special, too vintage (how many years since uni?!), too zeitgeist – representing as it does that all too brief period of wide eyed 18-year-old enthusiasm and freedom and excitement, new beginnings and new friends…how could it be used for something as mundane as sleeping and subjected to something as potentially damaging as an overly exuberant washing machine spin cycle? That top had always been going to survive the cull. And now it was joined by the three items of clubbing wear.

And then there was the Pulp t-shirt. This was the very last item left on the floor. Not because it just happened to be lying at the bottom, of course, but because my hands had studiously ignored and actively avoided it throughout this whole process. On the Friday evening before the Sunday that I had begun decluttering my clothes, I’d been out with some work colleagues. Somehow the conversation had landed on the topic of Pulp and I had waxed lyrical with gin-fuelled gusto about how much I had loved them in the 90s. Pulp were my absolute favourites of the Britpop scene. I would lie against my pink stripy beanbag in my teenage bedroom, overlooked by pictures of Jarvis bluetacked to my walls, listening to Different Class while studying the changeable inlay cards that had come with the CD. Jarvis’s lyrics spoke to me. He understood. A few years ago Pulp played a gig in Hyde Park and I spent most of it with both arms raised aloft towards him in some sort of quasi-religious fervour – there was the gangly-limbed poster boy of my teenage years reanimated and made whole again. When a Pulp song comes on the radio these days, the tsunami of memories and emotions that engulf me can be almost painful. With the physical jolt of time travel, I’m suddenly back driving my Austin Metro through Epping Forrest listening to the set Pulp played at Glastonbury which I’d taped off the radio – even now I remember the exact point in Sorted for E’s and Wizz where I used to have to turn the tape over. I’d keep singing until the tape started playing again and Jarvis’s voice would join mine in perfect synchronicity. And yet, when I picked up that t-shirt during the initial categorisation process, I felt no joy. It’s a burgundy t-shirt with the Pulp logo on the front and a faded list of tour cities on the back. It’s size extra large because I’d really thought that was good look at the time. It smelt mildewy because it had been hibernating under the stairs. It was with surprise, as I held it in my hands, that I noted that there was no joy left here. I realised with absolute clarity that I did not need to continue to own this t-shirt to remember how much I had loved Pulp. I had spoken of them with breathless impassioned belief on the Friday night and this t-shirt had had no bearing on that.

And yet, I had kept avoiding it when going through the pile. It had never been the right time to put it in the bags and ferry it off to the British Heart Foundation. And now it was unavoidable as the very last item that remained. It couldn’t be left lying on my bedroom floor forever. I picked it up and with a gargantuan feat of sheer will power I lay it on the top of the very last bin bag. I kept trying to hold on to that feeling, the realisation I’d had that it held no joy. But my head spun with emotions and memories. It was the last remnant of that time – those angst-ridden teenage years and the heady effervescence of the Britpop era. If only I’d known at the time how fleeting those years of spirited, exciting, ebullient music were going to be, I would have gone to so many more gigs and spent so much more time listening to Jo Whiley and Steve Lamacq on The Evening Session. But I was young and thought that this was how it just was and how it would always be. I hadn’t realised such galvanising musical movements are rare occurrences. All too soon the genre became a cliched parody of itself and the sparkle faded. Now Jo Whiley speaks to me not about energetic new music but about middle class parents waiting to pick up their children from extra-curricular activities as I listen to Radio 2 while wearing rubber gloves, doing the washing up after a long day at school. If only I’d known this is where Jo and I would end up, I would have grasped those years so much more tightly. But as they say, youth is wasted on the young. For the young, with their whole lives laid before them as a shimmering mirage, have no idea just how quickly the sands of youth will run through their fingers. And here I was with the Pulp t-shirt – it was the last grains of the sand of my youth. But you knew as soon as you pulled it from the suitcase under the stairs that it brought you no joy! But how can I possibly get rid of it?! Be strong. You can do it. I picked up the bag and walked to the shop. My hand lay upon the t-shirt the whole way. I suspect I looked somewhat haunted and skittish on that walk. There was a tightness in my chest. My breathing had grown a little shallow and ragged. Was I actually going to do this….get rid of it? It had been with me for 20 years. It was an ancient artefact, a relic of the time, a piece of a bygone era, a survivors souvenir, a cotton vestige of that time and place. At that moment it seemed that t-shirt was the last piece of the 1990s, the last piece of Britpop, the last piece of that awkward girl who evolved to be me.

I walked into the British Heart Foundation. A kindly woman greeted me. In a voice that wasn’t quite my own I said I had some things to donate. She went to take the bag from me. Our arms got a little tangled, probably because I was holding the bag in a strange way that had meant I could rest my hand on the top. In an attempt to untangle ourselves, the bag was jostled. A couple of items fell from it. The Pulp t-shirt was lying on the floor of the shop. She now had the bag in her arms. I bent to pick up the items on the floor. The t-shirt was in my hand again. I followed her to the back of the shop. She put the bag down and reached for the items I was holding. I handed over a couple of minuscule vest tops I’d used to wear when clubbing. And now I was just holding the t-shirt. And out of my mouth came the words, “Maybe I’ll hold onto this one after all”. And immediately I felt like crying. Tears sprang to my eyes and a lump formed in my throat. I hadn’t been able to do it. I just couldn’t do it.

At the British Heart Foundation, they make you fill out a form when you donate stuff. You have a donation number and after your things have been sold they send you a letter saying how much money you helped make for the charity. It’s nice to know people wanted your stuff, it’s gone to a good home and you’ve helped to support a good cause. I was ushered to the front desk and asked my name for the system. My voice was shaky as I choked back tears and my handwriting was erratic as I filled out the form. I didn’t meet anyone’s eye because for them to see my tears would have been weird and embarrassing. And then I took my Pulp t-shirt home. And I cried on the way but I’m not sure what I was crying about. Was some of it disappointment? Disappointment in myself that I hadn’t managed to let it go. Disappointment that I’d failed? Was it relief? Relief that it had been saved? Relief that the choice had been made? Was it an emotional release after all those torrid thoughts, memories and feelings had been stirred up?

In the silence of my bedroom, I added the t-shirt to the other saved items. The items I never wore, didn’t need, and couldn’t quite part with. This collection comprises, in chronological order: the Pulp t-shirt (relic of Britpop and my teenage years), the Birmingham University t-shirt (relic of my uni years) and the Cyberdog clothes (relics of my clubbing years). In a way it’s a fitting collection – each item represents a past phase of my life. There’s something about that that makes me think the Pulp t-shirt wanted to be saved, that it valiantly jumped out of the bag in order to be preserved, that it was a sign that it was ok to keep it. Or maybe it was just cold-hard physics that meant it fell to the floor and it’s just my desire to see patterns, logic and reason in the world that makes me think this collection has symmetry and wholeness. After all, it is easier and more pleasing to think that rather than face the fundamental truth of the flawed, mawkish, sentimental, weakness of my being. But whatever. I put the collection at the back of a shelf in my wardrobe. I looked round my room, a space that had, as I slowly ploughed through this lengthy process, resembled a sartorial Mordor for weeks. But finally, it was done. All my clothes had been sorted, sifted, stored or sent away to begin a new life. The first stage of decluttering my life was complete.


Learning to Fold: Storing Clothes the Konmari Way

Once the task of classifying all my clothes had been completed I was left with two towering piles occupying opposing corners of my room. These towers represented the beautiful and the dammed of my sartorial choices. Just this categorisation had taken much longer than anticipated and my expectation that I would have everything put away spic and span by nightfall was a long way from fruition. Thus I went to bed on that Sunday night overlooked by the piles. And I awoke the next morning pleased with my prudent foresight to leave a work outfit at the top of the keep pile meaning I didn’t have to rummage too deeply to find something appropriate to wear. Storing the clothes that had survived the cull seemed a more pressing task than discarding the rest so, for the time being, I ignored the reject pile, giving its contents and myself a breathing space – nothing was set in stone yet, nothing had officially left the building. Leaving it resting in the corner was like a decompression chamber for all the strong emotions that had been invoked.

The Keep Pile

Like the task of categorising, the task of storing also took an unexpectedly long time taking up the next few evenings after work. One of Kondo’s strict instructions is to not even think about putting any items away before the discarding is fully completed. So all my wardrobes and drawers lay empty and barren, a post-apocalyptic landscape waiting to be repopulated by the survivors of this once sprawling but now decimated civilisation.

Kondo has strong feelings about how we store our clothes: apparently we’ve been doing it completely wrong all this time. The key is to fold clothes rather than hang them. Most people are labouring under the illusion that hanging is the superior method of storing. After all, it intuitively seems like the clothes would get less crumpled and be easier to see hanging in a wardrobe. And something about having clothes on hangers seems infinitely more mature than having them stuffed into drawers. But this is where we’ve been going wrong. It’s how we’ve been putting them in drawers that is the problem. The secret to success – and this really has been a secret – is to store clothes vertically. The idea is that, rather than folding clothes flat one on top of the other in piles in our drawers, we should be standing them vertically on their ends so that when we open a drawer it’s like opening a filing cabinet – there are our clothes in neat lines, standing up like documents. And this folding and vertical storage method needs to go beyond just the usual t-shirts that get relegated to drawer life. We must fold as many items as possible. Only items that would clearly be happier being hung should go in the wardrobe. This will include coats, suits, skirts, dresses and things made of light, floaty material. Everything else needs to be folded to perfection and re-homed in drawers.

This seems like a tall order. One instinctively doubts such a neoteric approach, an approach that is the complete antithesis to how every single person has been utilising their drawers. It seems like maybe it would take up a lot of space. But no, Kondo reassures readers that this is by far the most space-efficient method. She says that by folding properly you can solve almost every storage related problem you have. It also seems like a lot more work. But there are benefits here, she says. By folding, you actually have to interact more fully with each item of clothing and have a “dialogue” with it. Communing with the clothes gives you the opportunity to check in with them, see how they’re faring. We can more easily notice when they are wearing out, if they’re fraying a little in places, or if a button is coming loose. She goes further by saying that this laying on of hands as we fold, transmits energy to the clothes which positively affects them, affording them a vitality and lustre that distinguishes them from items that have been hastily shoved in a drawer. This outré claim is not the only one she makes on the subject of storage. She adds that, once mastered, this folding technique will prove to be both fun and an epiphany, revealing with unexpected acuity of insight that this is how the clothes have “always wanted to be folded”.

Although the thought that my clothes had been silently yearning for me to fold them more effectively had me doing sceptical eyebrows, I found myself nodding in agreement at the ineffectiveness of the usual method of storing clothes in drawers. Before the cull I had had several piles of t-shirts that I had ardently tried to keep neat. At regular intervals I would remove them all, and neatly refold and stack them, determined that this time they would remain orderly. But Kondo was right, this method is deeply flawed. No matter how hard I tried to curate my piles, eventually the stack would buckle and warp. As I tried to pull a t-shirt, smooth and Jenga-like, from the pile, its neighbouring companions would become furrowed and rumpled. Eventually, the whole lot would degenerate into a disordered mess, with some bedraggled specimens being forced out of the stack and left crumpled at the back of the drawer, only later rediscovered with the exclamation of “Oh I wondered where this had gone!” or “Oh, I forgot I had this!” What’s been missing this whole time, Kondo says, is the secret art of folding.

The clothes to be hung are also expected to adhere to a new regime because, apparently, we’ve been hanging things in the wardrobe incorrectly too. Here the secret to “energising” your wardrobe is to arrange the clothes so they “rise to the right”. To do this you hang heavier, longer, darker clothes on the left and lighter, shorter, thinner clothes on the right. And the clothes should be hung in categories – there should be a jacket section, a trouser section, a blouse section etc. Apparently the clothes can relax and feel more comfortable and secure if they’re in the company of others who are like them. Bit racist of them, I thought. But I decided to overlook their xenophobic tendencies and duly categorised them with their compatriots. Within each category the clothes should rise to the right, getting shorter and lighter, both in colour and fabric. And within the wardrobe as a whole there should be this sense of rising to the right.

In my small wardrobe I stored jackets – heavier winter ones on the left and lighter summer ones on the right, and next to the jackets came the cardigan section – heavier, darker ones on the left, smaller, lighter ones on the right. In my double wardrobe, from left to right, I placed the categories of dresses, work trousers, skirts, and tops & blouses that needed hanging. You have to use your judgment a bit in order to create the balance needed so the overall effect is to rise to the right. If there were items that I was unsure of where to hang (hmmm, dark in colour but light of fabric…tricksy thing, where in your category should you go?), I found that once the clothes were preliminarily placed in an order that adhered to these “energising” rules, it was easy to see if items should be switched around to achieve the desired effect.

When the clothes to be hung had all been carefully placed on hangers which all faced the same way (a proclivity of mine since long before I begin this tidying odyssey), I stood back to admire my handiwork. And yes, it was pleasing! I’m not sure my “heart beat faster and the cells in my body buzz[ed] with energy” but my wardrobes now looked neat and tidy and I was happy with them. It was a great improvement on how it had been before the cull when they were oppressively full and clothes had to be prised out from their rushhour-like crush. It was marvelous to have so much more space and be able to easily swish the hangers along the rail, the movement no longer stifled by all the joyless clothes crowded in there. Everything was now harmoniously categorised by type, fabric, colour and length, and there was indeed a gratifying and uplifting rising to the right effect.

I had rehoused the hanging items before embarking on folding the rest for two reasons: all my work clothes required hanging and they were the clothes I had the most pressing need for and, quite frankly, it seemed easier. Folding all that remained took an inordinately long time. Firstly, I had to learn the technique. Here’s where youtube, that bountiful provider of instructional videos came in. I found these videos on folding t-shirtstrousers, and jumpers which provided a good visual interpretation of the written instructions which I’d been struggling to properly conceptualise. If Kondo is taking recommendations for later editions of the book, a few diagrams wouldn’t go amiss.

The goal is to fold items adhering to the technique and then make little adjustments to the placement of the folds, depending on the type of material and size of the garment. Do this and you will find the “sweet spot”. The sweet spot is exactly the right placement of folds to ensure the garment is neat, flat and taut enough to stand upright. And by jove, she’s right! It really is a revelation! There is something incredibly satisfying about folding an item so it will stand up, supporting its own weight. I conceded, crazy as it sounds, that this is how the clothes want to be folded.

Done correctly, items such as t-shirts will all stand, individually and unaided, in a drawer, their logos or patterns visible along the top edge meaning you can see at a glance what is there – like perusing the spines of books on a bookshelf. Having selected which one you want, you then easily pull it out and, because the adjacent t-shirts are all supporting their own weight, they don’t collapse in. Every item of clothing has its own sweet spot but it’s surprisingly quick and easy to find it; it’s a brilliant and edifying method of storing clothes. And all this folding doesn’t mean more creases – wrinkles occur when there is pressure put on the clothes, like when they are stored in a pile in a drawer with the weight from the items on top pressing on the lower ones. When stored vertically, there is no pressure so creases and wrinkles don’t get squashed in.

As I diligently worked through my clothes, folding and storing, I held onto Kondo’s assertion that the amount of storage space we have is, in fact, always just the right amount. Follow her method of only keeping what brings you joy and speaks to your heart and you be left with exactly the right amount of belongings to fit perfectly into your dwelling. And all those possessions can be neatly organised and arranged using only what storage solutions you already have. This, apparently, is “the true magic of tidying”.

Shoeboxes are the number one storage solution, she says. They are the perfect height to fit into drawers to create dividers. If you want, once you’ve finished the entire marathon of putting your house in order, you can then spend time seeking out and buying storage solutions you really like, but for now it is most important to just use what you’ve already got and finish the job in hand. My thoughts mused upon the stylish looking boxes and dividers I’d seen in places like Habitat, Paperchase and Muji but for now I went to our back storage room and dug out all the shoeboxes I could find. I used these to store and divide my t-shirts and vest tops. I heeded the advice not to underestimate the “noise” of written information, which can clamour for attention in our brain, by duly removing whatever labels I could from the boxes or by storing them so information written on them (brand names, size guides etc) faced the back of the room rather than occupying my field of vision. The idea is that if you remove any visual information that doesn’t inspire joy, you can eliminate its subconscious chatter in your brain, creating a calmer, more peaceful environment.

The shoeboxes were extremely handy when it came to organising my underwear and sock drawers. Luckily Kondo actually has her own video to demonstrate how to fold and store one’s smalls (why she hasn’t made videos of how to fold other items perplexes me.) The folding of socks and pants was slow going. I still seemed to have tonnes of the buggers. I wouldn’t exactly say a lot of these items bought me joy, the vast majority of my knickers and socks are M&S staples, the reliable workhorses of the underwear world. But there was technically nothing wrong with them so it hadn’t seemed wise to discard them. Plus, I’d already got rid of an alarming amount of underwear. I resolved to run the collection down – I don’t need this many so as items are to wear out in future and need throwing away, I won’t replace them thus eventually ending up with a more streamlined selection.

Here’s another clothing faux pas we’ve been committing all this time – folding socks over each other. You know that seemingly innocuous and also eminently sensible action of folding the top of one sock over the other to keep them together in the drawer? Yep, that’s wrong. Doing that creates a degree of tension in the elastic and means the socks cannot properly rest. Kondo, who appears to be the union rep for the working conditions of clothes, says socks work extremely hard all day, taking a battering so your feet can be comfortable. That time when they’re hanging out in the drawer is their chill out time. By storing them in a non-relaxing state of tension, you never give them a chance to unwind and take a breather – that’s their holiday time, they need that R&R. And that usual method of just tossing your socks and pants into the drawer leaves conditions ripe for some poor unfortunates to get jostled to the back and forgotten. I thought guiltily of some of the poor specimens I had indeed unearthed during this clothing excavation. Those undies had seemed particularly forlorn, their sagging, sprouting elastic rendering them pityingly misshapen.

The answer to this sad state of affairs is, once again, to fold properly. Socks, like other items, should be folded so they can stand on end. You place one sock neatly on top of the other and then fold into sections. Less folds for little trainer socks, more folds the longer the sock is. These neat little vertical packages can then be placed into a shoe box. And there’s no risk that the socks will get separated from their twin as they’re folded smartly together so won’t intermingle with others. I’ve got to admit – the socks did seem happier like this. I’d never even noticed how the old method creates tension in the elastic but tension there is. Knickers too are folded and placed in rows in shoe boxes. Tights, which had previously been bundled into little bags in my drawers, also get a new storage method. Too flimsy to store vertically, they are folded and then rolled like sushi and stored on their ends so you can see the swirl. Eventually I had folded, rolled, categorised and colour coded all my pants, socks, tights and leggings. I placed the shoeboxes containing them into the drawers. Goddamn, did they look good! Straight up, my underwear and sock drawers had never looked so fine! There they all were – such neat little phalanxes standing to attention. Everything was ordered, everything was visible, everything was happy.

Except my muscles – it was backbreaking work all this folding. I spent hours bending over my bed folding each item one by one. But I knew that in future it wouldn’t be this arduous – if I did it all once and did it properly then in future I would only have to fold the contents of a wash load which would be far less items. Finally all my clothes were stored as per Kondo’s instructions. Items to be hung were happily hanging in the wardrobe, shoes were neatly lined up in the bottom of the wardrobe (and now each pair had their own designated spot, without having to live on top of each other in overcrowded conditions), jeans and casual trousers were folded and standing in drawers, jumpers were folded and standing in drawers, t-shirts and tops were folded and standing in shoe boxes in drawers, and all underwear was neatly folded and stowed away too. Everything was categorised and within each category everything was ordered. Rising to the right in the wardrobes, and drawers demarcated with darker and heavier items at the back, lighter items towards the front. And Kondo was right (again? I’m beginning to think she’s a witch) about the storage. I had just enough boxes to effectively compartmentalise my clothes. Although I did have to get creative at the end – cutting a folding lid off one box and using it to store some three-quarter length trousers. As handbags had also been counted in the clothing purge, they too needed neatly putting away. Finally here was something I’d been doing right all along – storing bags within bags. But I did adopt the new practice of leaving the straps of the inner bags dangling outside so one is always reminded of their existence and knows where to locate them.

Once all the work was done, I could immediately feel the benefits. The room already felt less cluttered. The top of my small wardrobe was now clear of stuff. Previously it had harboured a box of hats (every single one of which was currently residing in the discard pile) and my collection of bags within bags had been on it too. These were now out of sight, stored on one of the shelves in my small wardrobe. There’s something about storing things on top of wardrobes that immediately gives a room a sense of clutter. I eyed the multitude of boxes and bags on top of my big wardrobe and felt a little stab of fear and trepidation. It was all sentimental items from my childhood up there. Considering the nausea inducing emotional roller coaster of decluttering my clothes (supposedly the easiest category!) I was getting heart palpitations just thinking about tackling all that. Another immediate improvement was that the back of my door was now more tranquil. I had a row of hooks there that had been brimming over with coats, different types of scarves, and bandanas. The scarves and bandanas were now much depleted and looked all the better for it. And the coats that had been hanging there jostling for space were now out of sight in the wardrobe. And oh my drawers! Every time I opened them I got a little thrill of excitement at seeing everything so well organised. The aesthetics of the contents and the ease of their use continually surprised and delighted me. It was a novelty that just wouldn’t wear off. At every opportunity in social situations I showed people the photos I had taken of them. The sentence “Would you like to see a photo of my underwear drawer?” is not a common one but also not an offer that people tend to decline. Everyone was duly impressed although most questioned how long such a system would last. Oh but it will last, I ardently assured them. It felt so good to have adopted the Konmari method and to have achieved emancipation from inferior clothing organisation. I preached its merits and potential for storage salvation like an evangelical pastor. I had definitely seen the light – it was such an axiomatic improvement that I knew there was no going back.

Sock Drawer

Sock Drawer

Underwear Drawer

Underwear Drawer

Decluttering Clothes the KonMari Way

I’ve always been a big believer in adhering to instructions. When I was young, no computer game could be fired up without first fully familiarising myself with the potential enemies and pitfalls detailed in the manual. This love of instructions has continued into adulthood and I can often be heard plaintively calling, “Wait, wait, let’s read the instructions first!” while my more carefree and happy go lucky (i.e. reckless and foolhardy) friends forge ahead with some endeavour.

So I was pleased and reassured that my journey into minimalism came with its own instruction manual, namely, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying” by Marie Kondo. The book contains detailed instructions of how to “put your house in order” based on Kondo’s years of research into the field of tidying, sorting and storing. Not only is there a set of instructions but she is adamant that they should be followed to the letter if you wish to attain tangible and lasting results from the process. And she makes quite some claims about the potential results – from never reverting to clutter again to the dramatic changes in lifestyle that this ultimate tidying event will bring. In short, she claims that the process is “life-transforming”.

Of principle importance is that you should tidy by category not by location. So somewhat counterintuitively you mustn’t first tidy your bedroom, then the living room, then the kitchen, etc. Instead you tidy by category and each category must be approached in the correct order: Clothes, books, paperwork, miscellaneous items, and finally, the biggie, sentimental items. Sentimental items are left until the end as you need to get your eye in and hone your ruthless discarding efficiency so that you can remain immune to the siren-like pull of these tug at the heartstrings items.

My other minimalist gurus, The Minimalists, also have suggestions on how to tackle your lifetime’s accumulation of clutter. You could play their 30 Day Minimalism Game which involves throwing one thing out on the first of the month, two things out on the second, three things out on the third, and so on. You can throw out anything on any day but by midnight of each day, the items must be out of your house and out of your life.

They also suggest you could throw a Packing Party. This is what one of The Minimalists, Ryan Nicodemus, did himself. This involved him packing up literally everything he owned into boxes, as if he was moving house, and then over the course of the next three weeks he only unpacked what he needed as he needed it. So items like a toothbrush, towel and bed linen were freed from the carefully labelled boxes straight away. But by the end of the three weeks 80% of his possessions were still boxed up. He had only unpacked the items that were genuinely useful to him, those that added value to his life. Everything else, that was still in boxes, he sold or donated.

Although both viable methods of decluttering, neither of these ways spoke to me like the careful systematic approach of the KonMari Method (as Marie Kondo has named her decluttering system). I did, however, find one of The Minimalists’ ideas helpful: their 20/20 rule. This is an idea to help you get rid of those “just in case” items, those things we hang onto because we think they may come into their own one distant hypothetical day in the future. I’m definitely guilty of hanging on to all sorts of things “just in case” (roll of gaffer tape purchased in the year 2000 for my first backpacking trip and to this day never used, I’m looking at you here). The 20/20 rule simply states that anything you get rid of that it turns out you do suddenly need can be replaced for less than $20 in less than 20 minutes. Living in an area of London well served with amenities, I reassured myself that this rule would certainly hold true.

So having decided on the KonMari method of minimalism, I then set aside some time in which to begin the process. I had planned to start on a Saturday but then life happened and I didn’t actually get going until the Sunday. But never mind, I thought, still plenty of time! Why, I bet I can get both the categories of clothes and books done in one day! This proved to be entirely unrealistic. Just tackling my clothes turned out to be immensely time consuming, arduous and surprisingly epic. And this is from someone who isn’t even into clothes!

I’ve never really been one for fashion, mainly because I’ve never really been sure how to pull it off successfully. And I don’t particularly like shopping, I find the sheer volume of women’s clothing options quite overwhelming. Especially living in London – so many shops, so many choices, so many decisions, so much uncertainty – what if I buy this top but in another shop there’s one that would have been so much better??

As I wander, overwhelmed by choice, through the brightly lit shops, I’ve often thought how much easier it must be for men – men’s sections are smaller, more contained, less chance of choice paralysis. Instead of three giddying floors of clothing and accessories all clamouring for attention, men get to slope on down to the basement and do a quick once round.

My overriding feeling towards shopping, clothes and fashion is one of vague disappointment; it’s something I feel I should be better at. I know you’re supposed to have a few “go to” shops that reflect your style…but I’ve never been quite sure what my style actually is. And what even is my body shape? Which of those trouble-shooting shopping guides that I used to read about in magazines should I be implementing…ruffles to disguise a small bust? Horizontal stripes to add curves? And why does the cut of some dresses leave me looking like an awkward teenager at a school disco?? I’m always left with the feeling that I’m failing slightly and that just round the corner, in the next shop, could be something that suits me perfectly and would represent a chic, fashionable, debonair me. But that urbane me to which I aspire remains resolutely out of reach, slipping through my fingers at every turn as I umm and ahh over various garments, just not knowing if they suit me and whether I should buy them.

This haphazard and uncertain approach to shopping and fashion has left me with an eclectic range of clothes lacking unity and cohesion. Added to this is the fact that my clothes don’t tend to wear out to the point where they need to be thrown out and I have that nagging predilection to hold onto any and all items “just in case”. This has resulted in wardrobes, drawers and boxes packed full to bursting with clothes. For someone who wasn’t into clothes, boy, did I have a lot.

But come that Sunday, it was time to tackle them. Kondo’s first instruction before beginning this task is to visualise your destination, to imagine what your ideal lifestyle would be like. Then you question exactly why you want to to live like that. You keep questioning why, like a precocious child, until you have distilled the pure essence of why you desire what you do. Whatever your idealised destination, your particular vision for your newly decluttered existence, it will ultimately boil down to wanting to be happy. I conjured visions of calm serenity, a space where I can quietly relax and not feel rushed or pressured – a pretty obvious antithesis to a busy day at school.

Kondo’s next instruction is to gather every single item of clothing from all around the house and collect it together in one place. This is in order to give an accurate picture of how much you actually own. So I emptied the contents of my wardrobes and drawers onto my bed. Then I rounded up niche use clothing such as ski and travel wear from their specific boxed dwellings in the cupboard in the hallway, I foraged under the stairs to unearth the clothes that were living dormant in suitcases, and unhooked coats and scarves from their hanging hibernation behind doors. And finally I was left with every single item of clothing I owned piled onto my bed with overspill onto the floor.

As recommended, I had tried to subdivide my clothing, for maximum efficiency, into the following categories:

  • Tops (shirts, jumpers etc)
  • Bottoms (trousers, skirts etc)
  • Clothes that should be hung (jackets, coats, suits etc)
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Handbags
  • Extra items (scarves, belts, hats, etc)
  • Clothes for specific events (swimsuits, ski wear etc)

However, as I had pulled more and more items from various places, the subcategories arranged on my bed had become more and more muddled. But so be it. It was time to begin.

All the clothes: Ready to begin the process.

All the clothes: Ready to begin the process.

The instructions are specific: One at a time, you pick up and handle each and every item of clothing you own and ask yourself “Does this spark joy?” Keep only the things that speak to your heart, Kondo enounces, and then be brave and get rid of everything else. This decision making process is to be done in a quiet space – no music and certainly no TV on in the background. This is to allow you the peaceful reflection you need in which to commune with and evaluate each item and its role in your life. This instruction gave me a twinge of disappointment as I had been planning to have 6Music on to accompany me with the task. But as I’m not a natural rule breaker (rules are there for a reason, y’all!) I would adhere to this instruction. If I was going to do this minimalism thing, I was going to do it properly. In the silence of my room I picked up the first item of clothing, held it and asked “Does this spark joy?” Was it to be given amnesty or was it to be culled?

In the week before I began this task, I had explained the principles to various friends and a common response had come up: “But what if everything I own sparks joy?!” The obvious answer to that is, “Well you can keep it then! And lucky you for being surrounded by so many things that bring you joy!” This, however, was not an issue that afflicted me. In fact, I was quite worried that I would be left with nothing as I was hard pressed to think of even a handful of clothes that actually brought me joy. Kondo assures readers that if you apply her method, you’ll be left with the right amount of clothes. But the fact that I had so many things and could think of practically nothing that fit this joyful criteria was clearly something I would have to address when buying clothes in the future.

Thus I began quite ruthlessly, somewhat disgruntled at the joylessness of my clothing. Knowing this day was coming, some items had already been mentally earmarked for disposal as I’d eyed them up in my wardrobe, thinking to myself “You bring me no joy, none whatsoever! Why do I even still have you?!”

As you discard things, Kondo recommends thanking each item for the role it has played in your life. Maybe you thought it was super cool when you bought it, maybe it looked great for that one party, maybe you loved it and wore it to death a few years ago, maybe it had been a good work staple but had now fallen out of favour, maybe its only purpose was to teach you that that particular shade of yellow made you look rather peaky. Whatever its purpose, you should thank it for its time with you and let it go. She recommends saying things like, “Thank you for bringing me joy when I bought you”, “Thank you for teaching me what doesn’t suit me”, and “Have a good journey!” For a sentimental fool such as myself, I found this idea of thanking items and letting them be free very helpful as I worked my way through the mountainous pile of clothes. For the items I gladly discarded, considering each one and thanking it gave a me a pause to remember more positive associations. For the clothes that are harder to part with, Kondo urges you to think about their true purpose in your life – a surprising amount of all you possess will have already fulfilled its role. Be strong and say a last grateful goodbye.

I sifted and trawled through my sartorial past, deciding on what could stay and what needed to go. I definitely slowed this process down with my insistence on trying most of the items on. Although she doesn’t explicitly say so, I suspect this is not in keeping with the purity of the KonMari method; the joy, or lack of, elicited by the clothes should be evident just from handling them, while trying things on can invoke all sorts of thoughts, feelings and memories that can muddy the waters of decision. A few times I almost kept items because they fitted so nicely but then had to firmly remind myself that they might fit nicely but that hadn’t been enough to save them from languishing unworn in my wardrobe for the last five years. Fitting well and bringing joy definitely do not go hand in hand. Despite these occasional exceptions, I found that trying things on did often help with the discarding process. With so many items that didn’t fit, just simply didn’t look that good, or represented a me that I no longer was, putting them on again strengthened my determination to get rid of them. And wearing them once more afforded them their swan song and gave me a chance to articulate their eulogy of thanks and gratitude.

The most common thought I had as I steadily worked my way through the pile was, “This is insane.” It was insane how many clothes I had. It was insane how many things I’d kept that I didn’t actually like. It was insane how long I’d had some things. And it was insane how hard it was to let go of some things even though I knew I should. The process was like my life laid bare in clothes.

There were two of the men’s extra large size t-shirts I’d worn as a teenager. I tried them on, tucking them into my jeans and then carefully pulling free a few inches all the way round so they folded evenly over the waistband. How funny to replicate this motion that I’d performed all those years ago as a teenager, a motion that I used to have to repeat many times over if I pulled one bit too far and it no longer hung evenly, necessitating re-tucking and more carful teasing of the fabric. I was struck by how incredibly large men’s extra large t-shirts are. They swamped my frame. How had I ever thought these were a sensible clothing choice in my teenage years? Had they ever actually been fashionable? I doubted it. It was no wonder I didn’t have a boyfriend until I went to university.

I’d been carrying those t-shirts around with me since the 1990s. For god knows how long, they’d been relegated to living in a suitcase under the stairs and they smelt vaguely of mildew. Kondo insists that clothes like these should be set free otherwise they cannot fulfil their purpose to be worn and enjoyed. If they had feelings, she says, they would surely not be happy living like that, exiled to that dark, dank purgatory under the stairs. Better to let them free where they have the potential to live a better life. Just like at the end of Toy Story 3, I mused, as I thanked them for their time with me and put them, the last remnants of my teenage years, in the discard pile. I hoped that maybe there was a larger gentleman somewhere who could resurrect them and find retro 1990s joy in them.

Now here were all my tomboy clothes! A clothing phase that had lasted until I was 30, having no idea, as I did, how to actually dress like a girl. I tried on the many fitted collared t-shirts and staring back at me from the mirror was a previous incarnation of myself. These t-shirts were good examples of tops that I’d kept, clogging up the back of my drawers, because there was technically nothing wrong with them and I’d got a tonne of wear out of them in the past. But that me that looked back from the mirror was definitely not the me that I was now. I thanked them for their time and hard work and said goodbye to that version of myself – a me who was like an old friend but one you haven’t seen for awhile and who you aren’t really sure you have anything in common with anymore.

Then there was my inappropriately short skirt phase! A mercifully short-lived phase. Oh, here’s a couple that I actually wore to work. Cringe. Hey, in my defence it was before the staff dress code at my current school was introduced. But cringe nonetheless. They should all go. Thank you for being fun at the time. And thank you for showing me that I don’t really have any occasion now to wear short skirts. Note to self: this is probably because you’re too old for them. What happened to those nights where we’d wear short skirts and go to bars that we hoped were cool but probably weren’t? Somewhere in between working too hard and other people having babies they fizzled out like a sparkler in an overly sweet holiday cocktail.

Thank you and goodbye to my old work clothes that had seen me through the first few years of teaching practice. Thank you and goodbye to jeans that’d looked freaking awesome and fitted like a dream but now had too many holes in. Thank you and goodbye to hand me downs from friends (accepted because, yeah, I might totally wear this one day! Nope, didn’t happen). Thank you and goodbye to things given to me as gifts (I acknowledge the positive intentions you were given with even if you never did quite settle in and assimilate yourselves into the ecosystem of my wardrobe). Thank you and goodbye to all those shirt-dresses and long jumpers that’d looked good over jeans and that I’d worn to school before dress code but, after its introduction, didn’t quite manage to make the transition to non-work casual wear. Thank you and goodbye to the 70s style Puma zip up top that I’d just loved telling people I’d bought from a vintage shop in Barcelona but that hadn’t been worn in years and did that shade of green really do me any favours? Thank you and goodbye to all the items of clothing that were combinations of the colours green, pink, and grey (wow, I genuinely didn’t realise I had so many clothes in those colours.) Thank you and goodbye to all the things that had horizontal stripes (wow, I really did believe that advice about stripes creating the illusion of curves, didn’t I). Thank you and goodbye to things that just didn’t fit quite right and to all the things that no longer fitted me at all and I could barely do up (Dude, did I get fat?! Relax, you didn’t, but you’re obviously a wee bit heavier than in your early 20s. We can accept that.)

And thank you and goodbye to things from my backpacking trips. Now these were hard ones to get rid of, intrinsically bound up as they were with seminal, exciting, life-defining times…Oh but the Mambo t-shirt that I thought was so cool when I bought it in Sydney but that’s now really too small and I haven’t worn in years. Oh but the woollen jumper I bought in Bolivia that stopped me from getting hypothermia when I was fruit picking on a farm in Australia but was always kind of itchy and leaked a terrifying amount of colour when washed. Oh but the Red Bull t-shirt bought on the Khao San Road in Bangkok but isn’t really wide enough across my shoulders and really, who wears Thai Red Bull t-shirts these days? Oh but the first ever pair of dropped crotch harem trousers I bought in India after I swore I would never buy such a ridiculous looking item but then discovered them to be gloriously light and airy, perfect for the hot climate whilst also not showing an immodest amount of leg but now their disintegrated elastic has rendered them sad and droopy. For these items, items that had a strong emotional attachment, I found that taking photos of them helped prise open the tenacious grip of my fingers as I tried to let them go. With the photos, the items might be gone but the memories and emotions they invoked would not be forgotten. This helped assuage the nauseating punch to the stomach of putting these symbolic and once treasured items in the discard pile.

Here was a hard category: my clubbing clothes from the early 2000s. A couple of pairs of trousers I was able to convince myself I needed to discard as I struggled to do them up. Yep, had definitely been slimmer in the clubbing years! But two pairs of trousers and a top from Cyberdog still fitted. I pranced around in front of the mirror in them, holding imaginary glowsticks. Yeah, lookin’ fly! I took lots of photos. All sorts of dialogue ran through my head….what if there’s ever some sort of reunion clubbing event or a fancy dress party where these would be perfect?! I could say, “Oh this old thing? Why it’s authentic vintage Cyberdog!” Two sides of my brain battled it out, the “Get rid of them, you don’t need them, you’re 37!” side and the “Oh but why not just keep them!” side. As I peeled them off and folded them up it was like officially saying goodbye to that part of my life, a part that had ended many years ago but this process made it a fresh reality. When you stop going clubbing it sort of peters out and you convince yourself that it’s definitely not over, you just haven’t been for awhile, but you’re definitely still into it. But then the years pass and you realise, no, you just don’t do that anymore. Trying to get rid of the clothes was like ripping the plaster off. It’s over, it’s finished, that exciting time in your life will never ever be repeated, you got old. I placed the clubbing clothes on the discard pile. But the jury was still out. Sure I didn’t need them but they would be nice to look back on mainly just to marvel “did I actually used to wear this?!” All those reflective bits, the strange plastic dangly bits, the flashing lights nattily positioned on one’s hips, the glow in the dark zips for the flies… ah, good times…

I’m almost embarrassed to admit how nauseous the whole process of discarding made me feel. And I mean genuinely nauseous. A few times I had to stop and have a little sit down because I felt really quite sick. I spent much of the afternoon gingerly rubbing my stomach trying to placate the strange feeling within it. Stirring up and awakening your past can have strange effects. And there were some tears too. Tears about what I don’t know. A lament to the passing of time, I think. Here were the ephemeral seasons of my life intricately woven into the fabric of these clothes; memories and anecdotes running through them like invisible golden threads.

It is these threads that need unpicking, according to the tenets of minimalism. You are not your possessions. Our memories are within us, not within our things. The cloak of sentimentality, which seems innocuous and even enjoyable as we bask in the warm glory of our possessions, is actually weighing us down, according to minimalists. If you can’t get rid of something for sentimental reasons then it has subtly imprisoned you; the weight of the memories and associations you have imbued it with become the mind-forged manacles of attachment. And so it endures, taking up space in your life, gathering venerated significance as surely as it gathers dust. Maybe it is time to set yourself free, to see how light you feel without the weight of all your unnecessary things.

According to Kondo, If you are finding it hard to let go of something there are only two real reasons: an attachment to the past or fear for the future. My problem was a clear cut case of an attachment to the past. She acknowledges that the process of confronting our possessions can be painful, forcing us, as it does, to stare our imperfections, hopes and fears, and foolish choices in the face. But what are we to do? Face them now, sometime in the future or avoid them until we die, leaving a relative to pick through our possessions and do our dirty work of sorting and discarding. Better to do it now, she says, and do it properly. Don’t discard willy nilly without due consideration because then you are just glossing over and ignoring the choices you have made and the reasons for them. Face the emotions that your possessions evoke and free both yourself and your things from the codependent relationship you have created.

Finally, after many hours tilling my clothing landscape, I had a pile of clothes to keep. Did all the items in this pile bring me joy? No, definitely not. Some brought me joy but many didn’t. However I needed to be left with some things to wear. Work clothes, casual clothes – I didn’t have the time nor money to suddenly invest in all new things. But the process of deciding had clearly opened my eyes to the fact that I needed to start giving some serious consideration to what I bought. I was incredulous that I had had so many things that I just didn’t particularly like. If, when push came to shove, I turned round and declared barely any of my clothes bring me joy, then I needed to put some actual time and effort into working out what I do like and what would suit me. The days of my random, mismatched, overly stuffed wardrobe were at an end. I vowed to look into new ways to approach this perviously unconquered frontier of “fashion”.

And then there was the discard pile, looking at me reproachfully from the other side of the room. I felt a little panicky when I thought of actually getting rid of some of the things in it. There were things in there that had meant so much to me at the time and things that I’d thought looked so cool or fitted so well. But all those things had had their time and had not been worn in years. Some were so far out of fashion that if I’d worn them again I would have looked like a long-lost member of the female pop combo All Saints. Then there was the sheer volume of waste. Everything was going to the charity shop or for recycling but I recoiled at how much there was to dispose of. How had I had this much stuff? It was disconcerting to realise I’d lived for so long with so much that I didn’t need. But the biggest wrench, the hardest to even think of lying in that pile, were those items that perfectly encapsulated a certain zeitgeist. I hadn’t expected the process to be so very emotional. But then I always did have the capability to imbue inanimate objects with intense meaning and significance. As well as actually focusing on only buying things I genuinely like, I resolved to stop using clothes as a way to hold on to aspects of my past. I sat on the end of my bed, between the two piles. All my previous incarnations of self had been processed, thanked and I’d said a formal goodbye to them. Their emotional ghosts had finally been laid to rest.

Becoming a minimalist: How it all began…

It started with being burgled. That’s what sowed the initial seeds. The first I knew of the burglary was when I got to the checkout in Marks and Spencer’s. It’s customary for me to check my phone before I pay just in case my housemate has put in a last minute request for wine or milk. And there was a text. But instead of asking for some form of liquid it said “Don’t panic but we’ve been burgled”. There was much swearing as I scanned my items to the point where another customer asked if I was ok. “Just found out I’ve been burgled”. “Oh dear. Poor you”. Poor me indeed. And all my poor things. My poor laptop, my poor camera, and all my poor jewellery. As I stood surveying my room on that cold, dark, January night (the broken glass all over the floor, the ransacked drawers, the empty jewellery boxes, the one forlorn naked pillow – its case having been commandeered as a swag bag) there was no way of knowing that this run of the mill crime would be the inspiration for a journey into a previously unknown world: minimalism.

Technically it was the next morning, after a night’s sleep made unusually and rather pleasantly womb-like by the window boarded up by the emergency glazier (so warm, so dark, so cosy) that I got the first taste of a more minimalist lifestyle. Standing in front of my mirror, getting ready for work, there was none of the usual decisions about which earrings to wear (hold this one up to my ear, hold this one up instead, or maybe this one? No, maybe the first one after all). I now had only one pair of earrings – the ones that had been safely nestled in my ears as persons unknown were eagerly bagging up all their brethren. This ground zero event for my jewellery proved remarkably freeing. You collect a lot of jewellery over the years. All those beads, baubles and bangles commemorating various birthdays, boyfriends and holidays abroad. I had little jewellery of any real worth but there were things from my childhood, presents from friends and relatives, pieces from ex-boyfriends that, although not to my taste these days, were technically very nice, and many items from my travels – things that had become part of my representation of self as I roamed free and rootless across continents. None of these things I would have chosen to part with because of the memories associated with them. In addition to these sentimental pieces I had much cheap costume jewellery. In these days of Primark fuelled fast fashion it has become so easy to end up with so much. I had accumulated many a multipack of badly-glued earrings, really wanting only one of the pairs but happy to adopt their packaged siblings as well. And none of these I would have actively parted with either because what if one day the perfect opportunity arose to wear those gaudy little heart-shaped diamante ones – the clear runts of that multipack litter. If you had asked me before the burglary how I would have felt if I lost all my jewellery I imagine I would have rustled up such thesaurus offerings as “sad, angry, bitter, melancholic, full of lament and woe”. But in the face of this reality only one word sprang to mind: liberated.

Having no jewellery felt remarkably freeing. I had a chance to start a fresh. A clean slate to collect only things I actually needed and genuinely liked. I immediately resolved not to accumulate any more crap. I would only buy things that were worthwhile. Sure there was the odd piece I missed. The silver earrings bought from a man sitting on the pavement in Delhi, his wears spread before him on a tatty shawl. I’d disinfected them using a piece of toilet paper soaked in hand sanitiser when I’d got them back to my hostel. They had proved a versatile addition to my earring collection, going with many outfits and providing a subtle touch of traveller chic to any ensemble. Then there was that one pair of vintagey looking earrings, the clear alphas, in a Primark multipack, that had gone with all my swing dance outfits. And the antique rose gold ring, bought for me by my first boyfriend, that was now too small to fit my first three fingers on either hand. I had planned to bide my time until my hands grew fat with age when it might fit one of my little fingers. But the lament at the loss of these pieces was fleeting and paled in comparison to the sense of freedom I felt at being unencumbered by so many things that languished in my jewellery boxes, overlooked and unappreciated on a daily basis.

I told my mother that having no jewellery felt liberating; her face wore a look of shocked consternation, as if I had furtively admitted to enjoying some social taboo. This look of incredulity has been replicated on the faces of my female friends too. Maybe it is a social taboo to openly refute what we are told (You Need Lots Of Jewellery! Jewellery Is Desirable! Aspire To All The Pretty Things!) I think this incredulity isn’t just based on consumerism though, it also comes from our belief in The Power of Things. It’s not just that the pretty things were taken, it’s their sentimental value, the memories, what they represent, some intangible ascribed worth that has the power to gnaw at our soul if the material item is lost. I’ve always been a big believer in The Power of Things. My acutely developed attachment to inanimate objects means I’ve always been a hoarder. Even the most mundane of objects could trigger my ardent belief that the thing must be kept and nurtured – maybe it invoked memories, maybe it was important to me at some point in time, or maybe (and very often) I just felt sorry for it. Whatever the reason, I always felt I couldn’t possibly part with so many of the things I owned. But here I was, incredulous at my own reaction. The things had gone and it felt good.

However, all the things hadn’t quite gone. There was one little jewellery box the burglar hadn’t taken. It was filled to the brim with bead bracelets bought in Asia. I guess the burglar had looked into that little box and realised immediately that the contents were worthless. I don’t think I’d worn any of those bracelets in years. But of course I’d kept them, believing the fact I’d bought them on my travels gave them some sort of elevated status. And there was the “what if”. What if one day I wore something that they would go perfectly with. Most of them were bought in 2008. I was still waiting for their day to come. Rather than being pleased that this little collection had survived the jewellery apocalypse, I began to grow resentful of them. What was the point of them still being here? I never wore them. They just sat there taking up space. It felt so good to have nothing but they remained needlessly.

This resentment then began to spread beyond the bracelets. I began to imagine what it would be like if this feeling of liberation applied not only to my jewellery but to everything. What if the burglar had taken everything I own? That’s stupid, burglars wouldn’t take everything, most of my things are worthless. What if there had been a fire instead? What if there was a fire and everything went and I could completely start again, free from all this accumulated stuff that was suddenly everywhere I looked. But I wouldn’t want to lose my photo albums upstairs. And I wouldn’t want to lose my travel journals downstairs. You can’t pick and choose where the fire goes. Ok, a fire would have been a very bad thing. But wouldn’t it be nice to feel so free?

These were troubling thoughts. I’d always loved all my things, hoarding and curating them over the years. And my one biggest fear had always been a fire (watching The Towering Inferno at an impressionable age had been a bad idea). I’d always been terrified at the thought that a house fire would ravage my things and leave me with nothing. And yet, I entertained these thoughts of losing it all and being freed from my own possessions. It was almost like a veil had been lifted. Before the burglary, everything I owned had just formed the invisible backdrop to my life. But now I saw my living environment through different eyes. Everywhere I looked there was stuff. Stuff I didn’t need, didn’t use or just plain didn’t like. Why did I have all these things? The burglary let me view everything from the perspective of “what if it just wasn’t here anymore?” My jewellery being stolen had given me a peak behind the curtain of consumption, a sip of the Kool Aid. Now I wanted more. But without some act of God befalling my possessions and taking the matter out of my hands I didn’t know what to do about it. After all, no one just gets rid of all their stuff for no good reason, right?

I spent the next few months harbouring an impotent resentment towards my possessions until, one day, the internet stepped in. This article appeared in my Facebook feed, liked or shared by a friend. I realised I’d seen it scroll past in my feed sometime previously but I’d not clicked on it. This time I did. And I promptly fell down the internet, losing the next couple of hours to following the seemingly endless rabbit hole of links to articles, websites, blog posts, videos and book recommendations that took me further and further into the world of minimalism. This was it, this was the answer! I knew it immediately with a certainty I’d rarely encountered. Here was a whole community of people who believed in the redemptive power of getting rid of things. If I hadn’t been burgled I would have doubted their seemingly overblown claims of the freedom and happiness that comes from decluttering. Maybe I would have thought it sounded nice in principle but was certainly not for me, believing as I had that I couldn’t possibly have parted with my things that meant so much to me. But having been burgled I knew two things: the claims were true and, without a shadow of a doubt, this was something I needed to do.

I subscribed to theminimalists.com and bought the book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying” by Marie Kondo. The more I read, the more I knew I needed to start down this path. The signs had been there all along. I’ve always liked things neat and tidy. Before I can start any work after school, I always have to tidy my classroom and my desk. Having an ordered work space feels good and helps me focus. And I liked to have my bedroom tidy; I would regularly dedicate time to making sure everything was put away in its correct place. So I knew I liked a life devoid of clutter. But it was always only a matter of time before things slipped back into disarray. And every time I tidied my room, I had the same thought, “If only I had more storage space”. I cursed my decision to have got a divan bed without drawers, imaging all that lost potential for storing my many things. If only I had more storage space, it would be perfect, I’d muse. But really I knew I should have ample space. After all, in my room, I have a double wardrobe, a single wardrobe, two chests of drawers, and I stored boxes of things on top of the wardrobes. This was in addition to the storage in the rest of the house: a large shelved cupboard upstairs, a cupboard under the stairs and an entire storage room at the back of the house. The majority of these spaces were taken up with my housemate’s things but fundamentally our spacious flat was groaning under the weight of our combined stuff.

However my new reading material was offering me a radical and devastatingly obvious solution: just get rid of the stuff. It was like being handed a get out of jail free card, a license for go against society’s norms. No, I won’t consume and accumulate and keep all this stuff. Why? Because I’m a minimalist. I tried out how it sounded. I liked it. It sounded strong. It sounded ideological. It sounded modern. It sounded like something I could say while sipping a cappuccino with a smugly arched eyebrow. And if that’s not a reason for undertaking any endeavour, I don’t know what is. The principle was simple: getting rid of unnecessary things gives you more time and energy to focus on what’s actually important in life. The Minimalists encourage you to ask the question “Does this add value to my life?” If it does, all well and good – it can stay. Marie Kondo asks “Does this spark joy?” Regardless of what the item is, if it sparks joy, it can stay. Apply these principles and you are left surrounded only by things that you love and are useful to your life. All the rest of the clutter and detritus is cut away, leaving a more simple, intentional living environment. What I particularly liked was the fact that adopting minimalism didn’t mean downgrading my possessions. I didn’t have to get rid of my iPhone and buy a more basic model (although this can be a recommended approach if the time dedicated to a smartphone isn’t adding value to your life). But for now, my iPhone (with whom I’m in a committed and loving relationship – it’s always so helpful, entertaining, and informative) was safe.

I dipped in and out of The Minimalists extensive collection of essays, followed links to other blogs (such as becomingminimalist) and read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying cover to cover. Having immersed myself in the online and literary world of minimalism it then came time to actually take my first steps into a minimalist reality. Like with many journeys, as I stood at this particular departure gate, there was a sense of anticipation (this was going to be an interesting and lengthy undertaking), a sense of excitement (could this bring some real changes to my life?) and a slight sense of trepidation (I was already thinking of some sentimental items that I knew should be discarded but were going to be hard to part with). I’d always known that material things don’t actually bring you happiness. But had I known it in the same way that I’d known smoking is bad for you, yet I’d continued to be a social smoker? I’d certainly not considered how all the accumulated stuff can weigh you down in invisible ways. But now it was time to break the habit of consumption and keeping. It was time to become a minimalist.