A Design for Life: KonMari Inspired Lifestyle Design – Clothes Part 2

When I had worked my way through the entire pile of clothes and had amassed another impressive discard pile, it was time to turn to storage. At this point, Kondo urges you to think back to your vision of your ideal lifestyle. She postulates that this vision is likely to be much more spacious than the current reality of your living situation. And what’s the easiest way to create space? Remove furniture used for storage. The aesthetic I sought, the visual representation of my ideal lifestyle, a lifestyle that encapsulated a sense of calmness, spaciousness and abundant time, seemed to have settled on that of “cosy minimalism”, for it was these words that garnered the sorts of google and Pinterest images that my eyes wanted to savour. In order to achieve a greater sense of spaciousness, Kondo recommends using the built-in storage that comes with the house before anything else. Although not “built-in”, the furniture that had come with my room was a chest of drawers, a double wardrobe and a single wardrobe. In addition to this, I had a free-standing shelving unit made of cloth over a metal frame. I looked at this afresh. There was no joy there. It was wobbly and annoying. If I arranged it so everything fitted into the storage that came with the house then I could feasibly get rid of it. I did use the top of it as the designated place for my make-up and cosmetics. But this had the unwanted side-effect of it becoming a dumping ground for all sorts of odds and sods, plus the material on the top was pretty grubby by now. With so many clothes in the new discard pile, I could now make space in the chest of drawers for my makeup and cosmetics so I removed the cloth storage unit completely. Initially, my room looked rather bare but I quickly got used to it and, without the additional clutter, it seemed to make my room look a lot more grown up.

One of the key principles of the KonMari method is that you shouldn’t scatter items of the same category throughout the house. I had been guilty of this in that I had a separate box that contained my travelling gear (clothes and accessories) in the cupboard in the hallway. I had thought this to be fine as I had considered “Travelling Gear” to be a discrete category within itself. But as I began putting all my clothes away it became clear that the travelling clothes just simply didn’t want to go back in the box. Kondo says similar items should be kept together in one place and she advocates asking your possessions where they want to stored or how they want to be folded. If you do this, she says, the answer will appear. And what do you know, she’s right! It’s weird but it works. Whenever I came upon an item that initially appeared tricky to fold or I was unsure where to put it, I just asked it and the solution presented itself. So I asked my travelling hat where it wanted to go. And instead of back in the box, which just seemed to have an air of sadness about it, it seemed happier when placed in the top of the wardrobe neatly folded beneath the only other hat I own – a recently purchased baseball cap. The second I placed the travelling hat with the baseball cap, the word that sprang to my mind was “Brothers!” And indeed the two hats did seem like brothers and appeared much happier to be stored together. My travelling trousers showed a similar aversion to going back in the box so into the wardrobe they went, stored behind my normal trousers. “If your intuition tells you that this might be the place, then, for now at least, it is most certainly right,” says Kondo.

Although this was the third time I’d attempted to declutter my clothes, this time it felt like my tidying was imbued with the true spirit of KonMari. Everything seemed to be clicking into place in terms of storage, what goes where and how it all fits together. I was even managing to employ some of the latter stage principles such as making the storage space itself look attractive. This was something I hadn’t necessarily been planning to do. Making the boxes look pretty had seemed a bit twee. But this time round it was something that just happened organically. I had a number of scarves and bandanas that either weren’t in my colours or hadn’t been worn for years. These included a pink and brown scarf in a natty pattern that I’d bought in New York and had always really liked but just never really worn and two long-serving bandanas that I’d bought on my first backpacking trip in 2000 and which I’d got tonnes of wear out of. But my days of wearing headscarves had receded into the mists of time and they had hung, desolately unworn, for a number of years now. With nerves of steel, I’d placed the scarves in the discard pile along with a generous dollop of lament and regret. Subsequently, I was neatly folding things into shoe boxes and had a Clarks shoebox lid that was made of really nice cardboard, had a great feel to it, and was eminently suitable as a receptacle for my bras. The only problem was it had writing on the inside of the lid which I would see every time I opened the drawer. Kondo warns to heed the impact of written noise that can hang in the air and silently clamour for attention in your brain. By eliminating excess visual information you can, she says, make your space much more peaceful. Suddenly it occurred to me to use the pink and brown scarf to cover the bottom of the lid! I plucked the scarf from the discard pile, ran the iron over it and neatly folded it into the lid. It was perfect! Resting on the pretty material, in a neat colour gradient, my bras looked like a display in a posh shop. I rescued the other scarves and bandanas from the discard pile and put them to work as box liners. This was a most pleasing alternative to getting rid of them! “Don’t throw away things that bring you joy simply because you aren’t using them. You could end up taking all the joy out of your home. Instead, get creative and find ways to utilise those seemingly useless things”, Kondo recommends. She adds that once you have upped the joy factor of your storage solutions, “you will experience benefits that you could never have achieved by merely getting rid of things”.



Using scarves to decorate the boxes


With everything neatly stored and my clothing now a mere fraction of what it had been before I embarked on this minimalist journey, I just needed to dispose of the last mammoth discard pile. The previous discard piles had gone to either The British Heart Foundation or H&M’s recycling scheme but this time a new alternative presented itself. A Facebook friend was going to The Jungle refugee camp in Calais and had put out a call for things he could take over there (this was at the end of August before the camp was dismantled. These blog posts always lag far behind real time!). Although a Facebook friend, this was someone I had only met on a ski holiday once and had had no actual contact with since that holiday in 2013. I hesitated over whether to contact him. Would it be a bit weird to just email him out of the blue? And I cringed slightly remembering some of the drunken escapades that had occurred on that particular holiday. I had almost talked myself out of emailing him, deciding that going to the British Heart Foundation was a perfectly noble destination for my clothes. But then he posted another status asking for general women’s clothing and also for warm practical clothing that the refugees would need this winter. I looked at the pile in the corner of my room which consisted of assorted women’s clothes and also warm woollen gloves, big thick socks, the rain macs, a fleece, and the insanely cosy North Face jacket. I thought about what it would be like to be a refugee in the cold winter months and I thought about my grandparents who had been refugees themselves. And then I emailed my Facebook friend and we arranged a time when he would come to my house to collect my things.

He had also asked for old mobile phones which could be given to unaccompanied children in the camp so I dug out my old Sony Ericsson W800. My hand had retained the memory of what it was like to hold it and it felt so reassuringly familiar yet also so small and light compared to my iPhone. I charged it, turned it on and deleted some old photos from the memory card. I also dug out the little portable speakers that went with the phone. There was still some music on the memory card, relics of my listening habits from 2005. Maybe the refugees would also enjoy a bit of Snow Patrol and Basement Jaxx. I had one other phone knocking around too – a Nokia 5210, the rubber exterior of which was starting to disintegrate and was actually sticky to the touch. It was seriously gross. Surely they wouldn’t want this phone? But maybe they would. I didn’t have a charger for it so I didn’t know if it still worked but if it did and it could provide a means of communication maybe others would overlook its icky exterior.


Rummaging for the mobile phones triggered an impromptu delve into the realms of the komono categories. Although deviating from Kondo’s strict regime, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to ensure some komono went to a worthy destination. I sifted and trawled my way through, setting aside an assortment of oddments which I thought could potentially be useful to people living in a refugee camp, such as inflatable neck pillows, small padlocks, miniature sewing kits, medical supplies, a universal bath plug, old sunglasses, and a magnetic travel games compendium.

I laid everything out on the living room carpet, all in neat piles and categories, and surveyed my handiwork. There were piles of jeans, piles of trousers, piles of vest tops, piles of leggings, piles of cardigans, piles of jumpers, piles of normal socks, piles of warm socks, piles of shirts, piles of t-shirts, piles of jackets, a couple of bras, and a collection of shoes and boots. This had indeed been a most thorough cull. My friend was running late and in that quiet space as I waited for his arrival something was gnawing at my mind. My travelling clothes. I’d kept them all because they had been expensive, were still perfectly practical and I loved them all very much. But what was I saving them for? It was all “serious” gear and not the sort of things I’d wear on a normal holiday. Should I keep them just in case I decided to go on an adventurous holiday? Or just in case friends asked if I wanted to go on a random hike? Or just in case there was a snowy day in Camden and those high top walking boots that were oh so comfortable could justifiably be worn on my way to work? But there hadn’t been a snowy day in Camden for about six years, my friends never go on random hikes, and I had no grand travel plans on the horizon. Not only were these “just in case” events merely figments of my imagination but it was entirely likely that if those days ever dawned, I’d pull the gear from the back of the wardrobe to find it looking elderly, wilted, with drooping elastic, and not matching anything else I own because I would have slowly curated the rest of my clothes to be winter season colours, and thus, knowing me, I would be prone to deciding to treat myself to brand new gear. Did I really want all my beloved travel clothes to languish unused, for potentially years, in the depths of my wardrobes, waiting for imaginary excursions that may never come, when a very real winter would soon be upon us and all these things could be helping to keep female refugees warm? There would be women far from home having left a life destroyed and not knowing what the future held. Just like my grandmother had had to do. I pulled out every piece of travel clothing I owned and added it to the piles to be given away. I also added my money belt, day sack and silk sleeping bag liner. It seemed mental to get rid of all my travel gear, a collection I’d nurtured for 16 years, but knowing that all these things, things that I’d shared so many exciting times with, would be going somewhere where they could actually be truly useful made it easier to say goodbye to them.



Things to potentially go to Calais


My friend arrived and we went through all the piles so he could say a yay or a nay to whether he thought the things would be useful to take. It was a yes to most things although we decided against the t-shirts emblazoned with Hindu gods on potential political incorrectness grounds and he rejected the random door stops I’d included on the grounds that the refugees were a bit short on doors what with them living in tents and all. Strong point, well made. We transferred the multitude of things to the estate car he’d come in. I carried them out of the house, said a heartfelt thank you and goodbye to each item, and passed them to him to pack into the boot, ready to be driven to Calais to begin a new life. A thread that runs through minimalism is that of making connections, for example reaching out to someone to borrow an item that you may no longer own. I was pleased to have reached out and contacted my friend. It had been nice to catch up with him, find out how he was doing, and help provide him with things to take to The Jungle. And it had made parting with all my things so much easier. If, like me, you struggle with sentimental attachments to things, then finding a meaningful destination for your possessions really helps to unpick the emotional knots of attachment. After all, a worthy destination where you know your possessions will be of real use and value is always going to be better than a life lived in the shadows in the dark, forlorn, recesses of your wardrobes.

I took the small amount of clothes not bound for Calais to The British Heart Foundation and then it was all done! Now that this third and final clothing cull was complete, my room felt much calmer and more spacious. It felt like I had reached the baseline for my clothes – I had only what was necessary or what brought me joy. Out of the necessary things, there were plenty that did not bring me joy and would eventually be replaced (work clothes, I’m looking at most of you here) but what I had done was eliminate all the superfluous items. I had just enough to get by in both work and casual clothing. In fact, casual clothing was now so minimal I was cutting it rather fine for managing to get by. I would definitely need to invest in some new clothes when I managed to find items in my colours and style.

As one of my first baby steps towards designing my lifestyle and space as I wished it to be, I went to the garden centre and bought a peace lily. I’d been meaning to get a plant for my bedroom for ages but now I was resolved to putting the effort in when it comes to achieving my ideal lifestyle. I named the peace lily Larry and was most pleased with the splash of colour he brought to the room. One of the things I’ve realised, as I begin to think more critically about what occupies my living space, is how much I actually really like houseplants. I hadn’t even known this about myself before. In fact, I was as clueless about what household accoutrements I wanted in my life as I had been about what clothes suited me. However, slowly but surely I was honing my ability to ascertain what things I actually want to share my life with. And houseplants, it transpires, bring me much joy! Which is more than can be said for outside plants. Since my previous housemate moved out, the garden was slowly being reclaimed by nature. Every time I gazed upon it from behind the kitchen window, I felt a twinge of guilt. I resented the guilt it induced in me. Stupid garden. And then came the realisation that if something made me feel guilty I should probably just do something about it and that feeling would disappear. Plus, how was I going to curry favour with the house network and create an ideal lifestyle if I was purposefully living in denial about the fact the back garden could be used to stage a remake of The Day of the Triffids. So I purchased a garden broom and a pair of gardening gloves (there was no way I was going to touch nature with my bare hands) and I set about sweeping and tidying. And just like that the feeling of guilt was replaced with a sense of pride! Would you just look at how neat and tidy the garden looks now! I did that! Admittedly, the flower beds have been left to a bit of a survival of the fittest style regime but at least the patio was now free of weeds and leaves and was looking perfectly respectable.

“The tidying process represents a huge turning point in a person’s life. So seriously consider the ideal lifestyle to which you aspire,” advises Kondo. I was now making headway and taking decisive steps towards creating and curating my ideal lifestyle. My clothes were stripped back to basics, there was less clutter and more space in my room, and I was being proactive about looking after my possessions and designing my living space. I was ready for the bright and joyful future that the magic of tidying could help manifest! I squinted into the distance. How long, I wondered, before the house network got the memo that I was now a fine and upstanding member of society? And what sort of time frame were we talking between no longer being encumbered by accumulated clothes and one’s love life being set to rights? Does Cupid regularly audit our wardrobe contents? Does he have push notifications set up for when someone is no longer shielded from his arrows by mounds of old clothes? Is he chronically overworked at the moment, given the global popularity of the minimalist movement? I checked my watch. No sign of Cupid yet. I tapped my foot, shuffled a little in my seat, and recrossed my arms. Then I checked my watch again. Still no sign of him. But I’m sure he’ll be along any minute now….


A Design for Life: KonMari Inspired Lifestyle Design – Clothes Part 1

“To put your house in order is to put your life in order and prepare for the next step. Once you have dealt properly with the current phase of your life, the next will come to you naturally”. With the desire to actively forge and fashion my ideal lifestyle, based on Kondo’s declaration that tidying can help “create a bright and joyful future”, I once again turned my attention to my clothes.

I began, as previously, by pulling everything out of my wardrobes and drawers as per Kondo’s instructions. I was feeling very motivated and buoyed by the confidence of having a new litmus test with which to judge my clothes. Not only would I question whether they sparked joy but also whether they were in my colours and style. And having first decluttered my clothes over a year ago, I had the added barometer of whether I had worn the item in the past year. Even my booklet of information from House of Colour urges one to be merciless, saying that if you haven’t worn something in a year, you won’t wear it again now you know the colour doesn’t suit you. I also had less fear of being left with too little. Inspired by capsule wardrobe ideas such as Project 333 and even The 10 Item Wardrobe, I knew it was possible to look perfectly good with fewer clothes (not that I was intending to implement such a hardcore regime!). Plus, from the last two clothes decluttering sessions, I didn’t regret discarding a single thing. The one thing I had initially lamented the loss of – a brown cardigan that matched my green trousers – I now knew wasn’t even in my colours. My initial feeling that I should get rid of it had been the true feeling. The later regret that it was the only thing that matched the green trousers had been masking the fact that the trousers weren’t in my colours either!

I piled all my clothes onto the bed. Well, this was insane! How on earth did I still have so much stuff?! I stared in disbelief at the mountain of clothes. I had thought this would be a quick process but I hadn’t reckoned on the fact I still owned so many things. I began a new discard pile with the easy pickings of a collection of cardigans that weren’t in my colours. Then I picked up my green hoody. This hoody had been with me through thick and thin over the last few years. But it wasn’t in my colours and one of my most fashionable friends had been trying to prise me away from it for as long as I’d owned it. It now represented the me that I’m trying to move away from – the default casual, tomboy who only makes an effort if there’s a good reason to. If I’m going to buy into the idea of lifestyle design, of actively living on a daily basis the way I want my life to be, of living it now rather than only on special occasions or in some mythical distant future, then I was going to need to cut the umbilical cord that kept me tied to these types of clothes. Kondo says that if you let things go they will come back to you “as the thing that will be most use to who you are now, the thing that will bring you the most happiness. A piece of clothing might come back as a new beautiful outfit, or it may reappear as information or a new connection”. And how was creativity, inspiration, a new house and even Cupid going to find me if I persistently looked like a slob who didn’t want to be found? So goodbye green hoody, emblematic of the skin I’m trying to shed. It was quite emotional to add it to the discard pile but maybe in getting rid of it I could indeed make space in my life for something new to come along. Maybe something (like a new house or even a man!) that will represent and provide me with the warmth and security that my hoody has given me. Maybe someone who will look after me and be there for me through thick and thin, someone to rely on, just like my trusty hoody. If one is seeking a romantic connection, Kondo assures readers that tidying can “help us set our love life in order”. She says her years of work as a consultant have made it clear to her “that people who haven’t yet met someone they really like tend to have accumulated a lot of old clothes and papers”. With love and romance having been distinctly lacking in my life for a pitiably long time and with this towering pile of clothes blighting my room, I knew it was time to get ruthless.

In the same vein as the green hoody, I added both my pairs of tracksuit bottoms to the discard pile. They too had been constant companions over the past few years. But without the tracksuit bottoms, I would be forced to make more of an effort. I wouldn’t be able to regress to slobbiness with no slobby clothes to wear. It seemed like a bold move to rid myself of all tracksuit bottoms but if I was trying to create my ideal lifestyle then these two pairs were definitely not part of that vision. And there was no way Cupid was ever going to find me while I was wearing either of these baggy shapeless things. He would skip right on over me, his marksman’s eye caught by the beguiling livery of someone who actually looked like they were trying to attract a mate. I told myself that once I’d experimented with making an effort on a daily basis then I could potentially buy a new pair of tracksuit bottoms that fitted me nicely and looked good if I decided that hangover Sundays just weren’t complete without a comfy pair of trackies to lounge around in.

When it came to my t-shirts, my newly acquired ruthless credentials got another workout. I had too many that I’d teamed with my tracksuit bottoms i.e. slobbing around, unflattering ones, the type I wouldn’t wear if I intended to meet anyone, yet I’d been more than happy to wear them on a regular basis when I didn’t plan to see anyone. Some were not in my colours nor style but most were just so far removed from being even remotely cute or stylish. Ideal lifestyle? These t-shirts were doing nothing to make that a reality. Off they went, leaving me with just a few remaining t-shirts and the resolution to keep my eyes open for tops that could straddle the spheres of being comfortable and relaxing but also worthy of being worn when interacting with other humans. On top of that, I added a whole host of insipid jumpers, mostly grey in colour, none of which sparked joy and most of which didn’t even fit me well. I also discarded the grey work trousers that had been critiqued during the style consultation. Why do I own so many unflattering grey things?! Slipping the trousers on one last time, I now couldn’t believe that I’d ever thought they looked good. How quickly I’ve got used to my new eyes that can now see what works and what doesn’t! Similarly, I could now see the problem with a red dress, the existence of which made me feel guilty as I’d only worn it once and it hadn’t exactly been cheap. But now I could see that it clearly wasn’t in my style. Its large full skirt just didn’t look that good on me. If I pulled it tight into a pencil skirt shape it was much more flattering, then it had the neat, tailored lines of my gamine style. As I put the red dress in the discard pile, I bid thanks to it for helping me to see how the style principles work in practice.

There was an extensive cull of my jackets as I rooted out ones that weren’t in my colours, style nor aspirational lifestyle. These included an ancient denim jacket that was too wide, a big, bulky North Face jacket that I’d bought in New York in 2005 and was actually meant for 12-year-old boys, and both my rain macs. One of these I’d bought in Vietnam and, as well as not being in colours, its waterproof qualities (quite fundamental to its purpose as a rain mac) had never really filled me with confidence. With the Vietnamese rain mac in the discard pile, I slipped on my other rain mac, a green one that was in my colours. This I had been expecting to keep but I stared with incredulity at my reflection. This mac was absolutely huge. How had I not noticed this before? I looked at the label. Men’s size medium. It swamped me. Why on earth had I bought it?! I suspected I may well have been pushed for time in the purchasing of items for my first backpacking trip in the year 2000. And only being a couple of years past my heydey of wearing ridiculously huge men’s t-shirts in the mid-90s, I think maybe it hadn’t looked that big to me at the time. But a giant unflattering rain mac did not fit with my idea of a curated life so I added it to the discard pile with much heartfelt thanks. This rain mac had been with me from the start of my adventures. It had looked after me in the inclement climes of far off lands and had come with me every time I’d been to Glastonbury. It was a sad farewell but my hope was that it could go on to live a happy life with a medium sized man who would get much joy from its superior waterproof qualities and handy stuff sack.

My last pairs of harem trousers were also unexpected casualties of this final clothes cull. I hadn’t necessarily expected to get rid of them but trying them on, I suddenly knew it was time. Harem trousers are only really happy in their natural habitat of India and with no plans to return anytime soon and their elastic beginning to wilt I decided to set them free.

I undertook a totalitarian purge of my knicker drawer, a place that had already seen its population decimated in the last culls but still seemed to be teeming with unnecessary members. I mean how many pairs of knickers did I really need when I do a wash on average of once a week? I seemed to have so many bog standard black pairs from Marks & Spencer’s. They were my uninspiring but reliable daily staples while nicer ones waited patiently in the wings for their moment in the spotlight which never came. In a decisive move, I took all the bog standard black pairs from my drawer. No longer would there be the segregation of best and bog standard – in the socialist utopia of my underwear drawer, all knickers would now be for wearing daily. Rather than add all the bog standard blacks to the discard pile, I initially put them in a corner of my wardrobe. I decided to see if I could get by with just the knickers that I had been saving for best. If it turned out I didn’t have enough, I could then reinstate a few bog standards.

In the time between doing that and writing this blog post, I’ve not once had to resort to putting on a bog standard black pair. I have enough nice pairs to see me through to each wash and now I get to wear nice knickers every day. Kondo says your joy sensor should be set to maximum when it comes to underwear as, although it goes unseen by others (for the most part), it is in direct contact with your body. The same goes for socks. The socks you wear at home are important, she says, because they are the contact point between you and your home and you should, therefore, choose ones to make your time at home more enjoyable. I, however, had been guilty of wearing “make do” socks around the home. Although I’ve never been one for wearing socks with holes, I would often choose to wear less pleasing socks around the house on the grounds that I would save nicer ones for going out. Yet again I purged the socks, keeping only a small number and getting rid of any that weren’t comfortable, made my feet too hot or had patterns I no longer liked. Creating and curating my ideal lifestyle would be built from the socks up!

Leggings were another category that I unexpectedly annihilated. I had amassed an extensive collection from when I did a lot of dance classes and had found they were handy to wear under skirts. But leggings under little skirts was a girlish look that wasn’t really my style. The amount of leggings I had took up a lot of space in my drawers so I decided to reduce the ranks to only two pairs – one knee-length pair and one full-length pair. I ummed and ahhed for ages, going back and forth between the many pairs, trying to decide which two should be the chosen ones. Then I just thought fuck it and threw the entire lot in the discard pile. I had only worn one pair once in recent memory and that was at the style consultation when we had been specifically told to wear something like that. Without direct instruction to do so, I couldn’t envisage actually choosing to wear a pair of leggings. My leggings for yoga were a separate matter, those being sports leggings made of a different material, but these “fashion” ones? Nope, I just never actually wear them. Was it foolish and wasteful to throw out every pair of leggings I owned? It seemed an audacious and radical move as a woman to not own a single pair of leggings. But I couldn’t see how cheap leggings which I never actively choose to wear would constitute part of my ideal lifestyle. And, in adherence with The Minimalists 20/20 Rule, and with all the high street shops only five minutes walk away, it would be no hardship to source another pair if the need suddenly manifested itself.

As I worked my way through the pile of clothes, it was interesting to see that I had quite a physical reaction to some of the items – some were too itchy, or too tight, or too hot. Hurriedly and breathlessly pulling them off again was a sheer relief. Regardless of my reasons for saving them in the last two culls, this time the bell tolled for them.

I paused over some of my travel clothes. A green pair of North Face trousers and a beige pair of walking shorts – neither in my colours. Then there was a grey pair of North Face trousers, in my colours but the elastic on the belt loops was sagging and curled and they were really quite wide-legged, more so than I’d remembered. And a pair of walking boots, not in my colours, which looked a little battered but when I slipped them on they still felt great – so comfortable and supportive. However, these were ankle length walking boots and on my last trip I’d swapped their weight and bulk for a lower rise walking trainer. But ultimately, I decided to keep all the travelling things given that they had all been very expensive and were still eminently practical. To discard them because they weren’t in my colours or were a little old seemed incredibly wasteful.

One thing I realised, as I assessed all I owned, was that I had been a bit neglectful with my clothes. There were things that needed repairing and shoes that needed reheeling and polishing. I certainly wasn’t going impress the house network like this. I dutifully polished all my remaining shoes and took other items to the cobblers and dry cleaners for repair. I resolved to take better care of my things in future and not let little jobs fall by the wayside meaning my possessions languished in an unloved state. Through the process of decluttering, you inevitably foster a greater appreciation for and desire to take better care of the things in your life, Kondo says. By living mindfully in a carefully curated space it then also leads to taking better care of yourself and helps you recognise and do something about habits that have not been serving you well.

Now that my clothes had been thoroughly and comprehensively KonMaried, all that was left to do was store and discard…

KonMari Inspired Wardrobe Revamp: The Je Ne Sais Quoi of Style

Having just about got my eye in with the colours, it was time for the next stage of my quest to discover some sort of style and fashion know-how. I’d been so impressed with the colour consultation from House of Colour, that I’d booked in for their style class which promised to help me understand the language of clothes. Like with all foreign languages, I didn’t appear to be a natural with it. In fact, I’d say my understanding of the language of clothes was about on a par with my French: extremely basic but able to get by while being expressed with faint embarrassment. My clothing comprehension was the equivalent of being able to awkwardly order a ham and cheese baguette at a service station somewhere in France. I don’t particularly like ham and cheese baguettes but when hungry it would suffice. That’s basically how I felt about all the clothes in my wardrobe.

I had been keen to go shopping straight after getting my colours done but I had held off, knowing I needed to wait for the style class. Without this key part of my education, there was every chance I might end up buying things in the right colours but in an unflattering style.

Decluttering my wardrobes with the KonMari method had shown me I was a bit lost with knowing what suited me. Historically, I’d favoured a tomboy approach to fashion but I had also attempted to experiment with more feminine looks. However, whether tomboyish or not, everything I owned seemed a bit too youthful. I needed something to reflect my age, I needed to know what would be stylish and flattering as I approached my 40s.

Before the class, I tried to muster some thoughts about style and what suited me. I considered that showing off my slim waist was a good idea. However, slowly but surely I’d slipped past the age for crop tops (plus, it’s not the 90s anymore). I also couldn’t do things that required much cleavage as I am not asset-rich in that department. Possibly due to my lack of womanly curves, I have to be careful not to end up looking like an awkward teenager when wearing dresses. Although I sometimes try to wear skirts, in general, I’m just not a massive fan of them and much prefer trousers. This is mainly because I like to sit like a man. It’s comfortable and I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that crossing your legs gives you varicose veins. I’d always thought that trousers that were fitted around the bottom and with a bootcut were flattering on me (again, though, it’s not the 90s, love.) Recently I’d gone for mum-style jeans, which are much roomier around the bottom and hips, as they’re in fashion. But as a work colleague said to me, “You’re almost 40, you’re much too old to be trying to follow fashion. Go for style instead, good style never goes out of fashion”. She speaks the truth.

Should I be going for girlier shoes, I have often pondered. My more feminine friends tend to disapprove of my sensible footwear. But I have a lot of dedication to flats and have never managed to cultivate that cliched love of shoes that so many women seem to be afflicted with. I love to both walk and dance so comfort is my number one priority.

And I actually have really no idea about what tops look good. For work, I tend to favour a vest top with a looser chiffon type blouse over the top. But for casual or going out tops I have no clue. I don’t really have anything I’m happy with or that I would consider stylish. Help was needed!

Before the session I was a tad worried about my fellow consultees. I knew there would be about three other people there and I was concerned they’d be a group of friends who would whisper behind their hands, scornful that I was there. Two decades of being dismissively told “You’re so lucky, you can wear anything because you’re a skinny bitch!” does make one a little wary of conversations surrounding clothes. It’s also really hard to know how to respond to that statement. I normally just favour a weak, nervous laugh.

On the day of the consultation, I arrived back at Fiona’s abode and was introduced to the other women. I needn’t have worried, rather than a close-knit group of friends they had also all come as individuals and were a range of shapes and sizes. They were all remarkably similar to me in that we were all professionals in our mid-to-late 30s and early 40s. And each said they felt quite lost and clueless about clothes, stuck in a rut and unsure how to dress for their shape and age. Phew, not just me then!

We all sat down and were handed our work booklets. The first pages required us to discuss our objectives for the day and describe how we want to be perceived. I explained how my journey through minimalism had brought me here and how my realisation that I needed some education about style dovetails with the minimalist ideas about owning fewer, better quality clothes that you love. As for how I want to be perceived, I decided upon cute, stylish and nothing that requires too much effort! I also need to adhere to the dress code at school and take heed of the fact that I teach a lot of teenage boys. Interestingly, everyone else also mentioned their need to dress in relation to men. They worried about trying to make sure tops weren’t too tight or revealing and that skirts were appropriate for work. And they spoke of trying to get the tone of professionalism right when they might be the only woman at meetings, of trying to walk that fine line between not being too casual and not being perceived as too stuffy and buttoned up. How interesting, I commented, from a feminist perspective that we should all reference our need to dress in relation to men’s perceptions, whether that’s the teenage boys in my classroom or all the men in the boardroom. Everyone looked faintly like they agreed but clearly no one else wanted to discuss feminism and the sisterhood and would all rather be talking about clothes. Which was fair enough really considering that’s what we were there for.


We perused the lifestyle pie chart which was next in our workbooks. The idea here is that you shade in sections of the pie chart according to where you spend your time – be that work, home, social activities, hobbies or holidays. The areas where you spend most of your time should have the most money channelled towards them. After all, there’s no point buying loads of party dresses if you actually very rarely go to parties. Luckily there is some clothing crossover for my pie chart – most of my time is spent at work (boo) but those clothes can be shared with my hobby of swing dancing. The fact that there was a segment of the pie chart dedicated to home reminded me that I needed to get something comfortable but not too slobby to wear around the house. My default home-wear is to languish in tracksuit bottoms and a hoody. However, Marie Kondo says this is to be avoided if you are trying to create your ideal lifestyle. She says that what you wear in the house impacts on your self-image and the fact there is no one there to see you makes it all the more important to reinforce a positive self-image by wearing clothes you love. The importance of not going to seed when home alone is echoed by Elizabeth Gilbert in her book on creativity “Big Magic”. In order to entice creativity and inspiration to come to you, you should seduce it by presenting your best self, she says. Take a shower, put on some nice clean clothes, do your hair, makeup and accessories and you will draw creativity to your side. Sprucing up my loungewear could help me feel good about myself and my appearance on a daily basis rather than just when I dress up for going out (I’m always quite surprised at how well I manage to scrub up once I actually put some effort in!) Plus, it would remove the embarrassment I feel when I’ve popped out to the shops looking scraggly and then bump into someone I know.

Skim reading over the page in the booklet about capsule wardrobes made me realise that I had a lot of shopping to do. A capsule wardrobe was one of the minimalist ideas I had wanted to embrace but looking at House of Colour’s list of recommended items I saw that I didn’t really have any of these basic staples. Nothing about my mishmash wardrobe, that at best could be described as eclectic and at worst schizophrenic, said chic mix and match style. There was even a handy grid in the booklet so you can create a visual checklist of what items match each other. It was all so formalised and logical – something I find very appealing!

Fiona then led a discussion about the importance of budgeting and buying investment pieces and gave us tips on the various ways we could tell if a garment is actually good quality. She encouraged us to move away from the habit of buying lots of cheap clothes and move towards a more intentional mindset of buying good quality clothes that will last and will work cohesively with the rest of our wardrobe. She also gave us tips on how to get the most out of the shopping experience, such as to go round the shops about once every six weeks, to wear appropriate clothes and makeup so you can properly assess if things match, and to buy items when you see them rather than panic buying in the run up to a job interview or party – something I’m definitely guilty of!

We also discussed wardrobe management which included the advice to file your clothes into categories, just as Kondo recommends. There was also the good suggestion of creating a pending section to hold clothes that need something doing to them. This would alleviate the severe vexation of hurriedly pulling out a blouse only to discover that you never did get round to sewing that button back on.

Apparently, 55% of the first impression you make comes from your appearance, with what you say actually counting for very little, so it’s easy to see why clothing matters and, especially in a professional context, why it’s important to strike the right note with your attire. Fiona explained how items like shoes help connote status, authority and attention to detail. Some of the advice had quite a psychological basis. For example, the idea of neck adornments such as necklaces and scarves conveying a sense of jugular protection and authority. Continuing the idea of symbolic protection, apparently, your bag represents your shield so you should make sure it’s up to the job. Using a variety of different bags, Fiona demonstrated how different ones can create different perceptions about you. And apparently what comes out of your handbag is your entrails! Previously my entrails had been a scrumpled mass of receipts, semi-used tissues and rewrapped used chewing gum. However, since reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, I’d tried to implement Kondo’s rule on emptying your handbag every night which means I have a chance to process the day’s detritus.

Then we looked at a checklist for creating an interesting appearance. You basically get points for how many interesting features you combine in your look. I scored a paltry three for wearing make-up, rings and a watch. It would appear that I counted as “underdressed”. Foul! I called when one of my fellow consultees got a point for her curly hair. I have curly hair too!, I objected. I have big curly hair, it’s a thing! I took it down and shook it out. I was then granted an extra point. This gave me pause for thought – considering I count my hair as a feature it would seem that I need to be making more of it. I conceded that having it pulled up in a scrunchy isn’t exactly showing it off. Unsurprisingly, I received no points for my battered Keds sneakers or denim rucksack. I watched as one of the other women harvested points for her nice bag and cute little ballet pumps. It made me see how the little things can make a difference to your overall look. The fewer points you have accumulated for your appearance, the less ready or authoritative you seem. Fiona demonstrated this by removing points from herself. She removed her lipstick and jewellery, swapped her stylish jacket for a drab cardigan, and changed from smart, cool shoes to older, dowdier ones. It made such a difference to her appearance. She went from put-together, professional and stylish to looking like someone’s ordinary mum. If she’d looked like that to conduct the class, there’s no way I would have put faith in what she said which goes to show the difference your appearance can make to your authority.

After much discussion and expounding of theories and principles, we were ready to start identifying our own personal styles. I was raring to get going – enough chit-chat, tell me more about me! We had been instructed to wear something that showed our body shapes so, one by one, wearing leggings and vest tops, we all took our places in front of the full-length mirror. In our booklets, there were diagrams of five different body shapes. These weren’t the usual pear, apple etc but had names such as “sharp straight” and “soft curved”. Fiona talked us through her assessment of each of us. Pointing out my angular shoulders, Fiona deemed me to be sharp straight. Within sharp straight, there were the subcategories of rectangle or triangle, with my small waist putting me within triangle. Then it got even more technical and specific. Fiona pulled out a tape measure and began measuring different segments of our bodies – from head to bust, bust to leg break, leg break to knee, and knee to toe. With all the information collated, Fiona described, with an impressive and reassuringly thorough level of detail, what we should embrace and what we should avoid in order to create balance for our proportions. The analysis covered everything from where detailing on clothes should go, where belts should be worn, what sort of necklines worked best (I should go for high & tight or angular necklines and avoid curves or drapes), flattering coat, skirt and dress lengths, right down to what length of boots should be worn. Just like with the colour consultation, it was this sort of precise in-depth analysis that I was after. We all had different body shapes which were useful for seeing and understanding why some things worked for some people and not for others.

Fiona also scrutinised our faces to determine their shape. Despite poring over countless articles in magazines over the years to ascertain my face shape and its corresponding flattering hairstyles, I’d never been entirely sure what I counted as. The choice of ten different face shapes in our booklets was much more nuanced than those I’d seen before and I was declared to have a diamond face with an angular jaw and average to long neck.

Included in our booklets was a quiz to determine if we were yin or yang personalities. Who doesn’t love a good personality quiz?! There were 20 sets of binary opposites and we had to say which side of the opposition we fell under. We discussed each one which was useful as some of the questions weren’t what I’d thought they’d be. One opposition asked if we were formal or informal. I had been all ready to put a tick in “informal” assuming my preference for informal casual clothes would yield this result but, in fact, it was nothing to do with that. Fiona posed the question “Would you like it if someone dropped round your house unexpectedly?” Nope, not at all – which thus put me in the “formal” category. One of the oppositions was “mature and sophisticated” vs “natural and youthful”. Fiona proposed that I would fall under the “natural and youthful” category and hesitated to see whether I would agree with this assessment. No one has ever accused me of being mature, I assured her. One I was thoroughly stuck on was “risk taker/rule maker” vs “plays safe/follows instructions”. Now I’m a big believer in following instructions. Instructions are there for a reason, people. They’re so informative, so helpful! Yet on the other hand, I have been known to take some astounding risks. Like the time I taught myself to ride a motorbike, a ridiculously huge Royal Enfield Bullet which I couldn’t even lift off the ground, and then drove it over the third highest motorable road in the world (the scar on my ankle is a testament to how that adventure ended). I recounted the motorbike story and everyone decided that my smug adherence to instructions was definitely trumped by the undertaking of such activities and I was placed squarely in the risk-taking category.

The “chucks out” vs “hoards” opposition was interesting. I used to be a hoarder (not in a getting suffocated to death by piles of newspapers way, more in a “I should probably keep this because one day it might be useful” way) but now, as a minimalist, I’m definitely more in the chucking out category. Should I choose what I was for three and a half decades or what I’ve been in just the last 12 months? Fiona suggested I should go for “chucks out” as, after all, something must have drawn me to the minimalist lifestyle. Then there was the opposition of “decisive” vs “indecisive”. Well, sometimes I can be decisive – if I weigh up all the options and there is a logical conclusion then I am very decisive, for logic and reason has spoken. But if there’s no obvious answer, well then yes, I can be terribly indecisive….as I continued to mull upon this out loud, one of the other women turned to me and pointed out that if one can’t decide whether they’re decisive or indecisive then that’s pretty damning evidence for being indecisive. Ok, yes, strong point, I’ll give you that. I glanced over her shoulder at her booklet – she’d already given herself a firm and resolute tick in “decisive”. We finished the quiz and added up all the points. I was a definite yang personality, the most so out of all those there.

With our personality scores added into the mix with our body shapes, it was time for the big reveal: what style category we would be. The different categories were: Dramatic, Classic, Natural, Gamine, Ingenue, and Romantic. There were mood boards for each of these styles depicting clothes that exemplify and flatter each one and also pictures of famous people who match them. My fellow consultees and I had already scrutinised these mood boards while Fiona had been upstairs making tea. Just like with the colour consultation, I had no idea which I would be. As we listened with bated breath, Fiona told us the category she’d placed us in and the reasons why.

I was “dramatic gamine”. This meant I was predominantly gamine but with some dramatic in me. We were handed information sheets about our styles. I was pleased with mine – the words to describe gamine included quirky, neat, impish, boyish, youthful, witty & fun – I could definitely work with this! Like everything in the consultation, it was unexpectedly and impressively thorough giving specific advice for ensuring a gamine look in everything from fabrics, patterns, shoes, accessories and more. But here was an anomaly! Hairstyle: “Short, neat and snappy”. My hair, long and curly, was definitely not this. Fiona reassured me that my hair could count as a dramatic element of my look. Other elements of dramatic that I could consider adding included sharp angles, contrasting colours and “zany” fabrics and details. Once again, I realised I was going to have to be braver. Never quite knowing what suited me meant I had tended to shy away from anything too outré for fear that I would draw attention to myself for the wrong reasons. A useful section on the sheet was what to avoid – for gamines that’s anything too loose or baggy, anything that would swamp our neat, fitted look. I was relieved to see that trousers are a particularly good look for gamines and that we’re advised to stay away from shoes with very high heels. Finally, a bona fide get out clause for my aversion to high heels! Although, it also stated gamines should avoid shoes that are too clumpy and I thought guiltily of my Dr Martens.

As part of the consultation we had been told to bring three items of clothing for review – one item that we thought looked good, one item we were unsure about and, if possible, something we didn’t think worked well for us. I had settled upon three different pairs of work trousers and had thrown a shirt in too. We changed into our different items and all discussed what worked, what didn’t and why. I started with the pair of trousers I didn’t particularly like. However, my reservations about them turned out to be unfounded – everyone agreed that the slim-fitting, tapering legs matched my gamine style, was flattering for my figure and the turn-up detail on the bottom counted as cute styling. I had clearly judged these trousers much too harshly! Then I swapped to the pair I thought looked ok – a pair of bootcut trousers. But oh no! Everyone said these were much less flattering. I had thought the bootcut looked good and provided more balance than the slim-legged ones but apparently I was mistaken! There was too much fabric at the bottom and it was too loose, they looked all flappy and had too much movement, they said. Oh dear! Clearly I had no idea what suited me! But hence the reason for doing this consultation. Then I put on the trousers that I was pretty certain looked good and added the shirt too. This combination of shirt and trousers had drawn many compliments at school. The trousers were khaki green and the pattern on the shirt also contained this colour. This was the colour I had been baffled about after the colour consultation for this green was not a winter season green yet people had said it looked good on me. The collective complimented the look – the styling was perfect for dramatic gamine. The neat tailoring of the trousers and the shirt buttoned right up provided the boyish gamine while the geometric pattern on the shirt added a touch of dramatic. This was a winning combo. But what about the colour, I enquired, don’t you think it matches my eyes? Fiona pulled out the fabric bibs used in the colour consultation and draped me in the allegedly wrong and allegedly right greens. The difference was clear. The right green, the winter season green, was met with oohs of appreciation whereas the the wrong green, the khaki green, elicited hmmms of disappointment. The right green complimented my pale skin, they said, made it look striking whereas the wrong one washed me out. So it might match my eyes but apparently, it did nothing for my skin! I slipped out of the clothes and back into the trousers I’d arrived in. These were also given a critique for good measure – too shapeless round the bottom was the conclusion, not tailored enough, and should be made of stiffer material. Jeez, I’d thought these ones were ok!

The last thing we looked at was jewellery. Fiona adorned us in a variety of different necklaces so we could see how the same necklace could look completely different on different people. What looked interesting and fun on one person looked cheap and trashy on someone else and something that looked delicate and pretty on one looked lost and insipid on another. I discovered I needed necklaces that would sit quite flat against me and would hang around the clavicle. Also, jewellery that was too sparkly and feminine didn’t work that well with my gamine aesthetic.

With the session drawing to a close, we were given extra handouts on jacket, trouser, skirt and dress styles and final instruction on detailing and accessories – the shape of lapels, types of patterns to go for or avoid, and what style of handbags and belts would compliment our looks. Fiona also noted down which specific shops we should aim for to provide clothes for our style categories. This was useful as I find the sheer amount of shops to choose from quite overwhelming.

Then it was time to go. I emerged back onto the street at the tail end of the day. There was a beautiful light and the crisp, clean air seemed to heighten my senses as my head reeled, filled to bursting with all the new information I’d acquired. I’d learned so much I almost couldn’t process it all. I would need time to revisit my notes and let it all sink in.

When I got home I threw open my wardrobe and surveyed my clothes. I could see the problem – hardly anything was in my gamine style. Most things were too baggy and not fitted, tailored or neat enough. Of the few clothes that were in my style, most were not in my colours. I could count the items that matched both my style and colours on one hand. But this was great! I could now actually see and understand the problem!

The whole consultation exceeded my expectations, even more so than the colour consultation. The level of detail and analysis was such that I now have guidance and certainty in my styling from head to toe. Now when I go shopping I know what to look for. I can skim around a shop thinking, nope, nope, nope, oh yes – that would work! The time I can save now I don’t have to dither! The confidence I’ve gained! It’s a revelation! Now when I look at my clothes I look at them with newly literate eyes. Instead of a vague dissatisfaction, a nameless, formless malaise and ennui, it’s a specific, targeted, semantic understanding. I can look at an individual item and see the exact reasons why it works or doesn’t work. Clothing no longer speaks to me in tongues. I can now read and articulate the language of clothes and, with this new lexis, I feel as liberated as someone who has finally mastered the local lingo and gets a thrill from communicating and being understood.

KonMari Inspired Wardrobe Revamp: Brought to you in glorious technicolour

Early on in my journey into minimalism I became aware of one particular facet of the movement – that of clothing and its surrounding ideologies.

And is it any wonder minimalists are concerned with the question of clothes? It’s an area where consumption has spiralled out of control. The fashion industry manufactures new trends at a dizzying rate, advertisers seduce us with images of the lifestyle that could be ours if only we bought the right things (and when we do buy the right things and we grasp at that lifestyle it becomes smoke between our fingers only to reform again just out of our reach, beckoning to us beguilingly from behind a different purchase), and the fast-fashion outlets of Primark, H&M, Forever 21 et al feed our orgy of consumption that goes forever unsatiated. And all this intersects with our lives lived permanently performed before the looking glass of social media. We see our image refracted, multiplied and shared in the camera flashes of numerous smart phones. When once a single dress could be recycled for a number of occasions, we now baulk at wearing it again. After all, everyone saw us wearing it at that wedding – not only the wedding guests, but all our friends on social media, and all the friends of those friends too. But why wear the same thing again when you can pick up something new so cheaply? Youtubers speak to the youth of their clothing hauls – surely the bulimic binges of a society struggling with disordered consumption. And what are we left with? Wardrobes full to bursting with cheap, badly made clothes we don’t really care for and a nagging sense of guilt when we accidentally let ourselves think too long about how those clothes were actually made.

It’s no surprise that Marie Kondo recommends beginning the process of decluttering one’s life by tackling clothing first. And upon confronting my wardrobes and drawers, I had realised I had a problem. I had so many clothes. But more to the point, I had so many clothes I didn’t even like. With clothes so readily and cheaply available, I’d slipped into the gravitational pull of the fast-fashion black hole.

To start with it had been quite fun to dabble in fast-fashion – there were so many things to choose from, so many things to try! It was all so cheap that I didn’t have to worry about buying something that wasn’t going to be a perennial staple. I could experiment with trends at no great financial loss. I knew it was unethical. I’d read the articles about what the pay and conditions were like for the people who actually make the clothes. But I’d told myself two things, firstly it doesn’t mean that conditions are any better in places where clothes cost more, it probably just means mark ups are higher. And secondly, there was so much coverage of poor working conditions that companies had to be more careful these days so conditions were probably better now.

However, the fun waned and fast-fashion fatigue set in. I could tell myself glib things but underneath, I knew I could be making better choices. I started reading things about the other end of the clothing lifecycle too and the burden being placed on the planet from the excess waste caused by all the discarded clothes. Also the fashion treadmill became tiring – fashions changed constantly meaning my fun new outfit was decidedly less on-trend in the blink of an eye. And the shopping experience itself was an ordeal. There’s nothing enjoyable about shopping in Primark – its daunting size, the rummaging through racks of clothes having to look at each individual label to find your size because invariably everything is on the wrong hanger, the changing rooms, the queues, the hordes of people everywhere all single-mindedly scurrying, delving, foraging for a bargain, leaving disarrangement and disarray in their wake. If the brightly-lit dystopia of a normal Saturday at Primark was filmed and put in a sci-fi movie we’d all be shaking our heads at the folly of the mindless masses.

But shopping experience and ethical considerations aside, as I followed the KonMari method and filtered and processed my clothes, I knew there was a fundamental problem underlying my haphazard procurement of cheap garments.  When it came down to it, I just wasn’t sure what clothes suited me. I didn’t know which styles to go for and which to avoid. And I didn’t know what colours flattered me and which made me look peaky. No wonder I found shopping an overwhelming experience – when you’re not sure what suits you it leaves everything on offer as an option and that’s a lot to choose from. It’s not uncommon for me to spend an inordinately long time in a changing room swapping repeatedly between outfits thinking to myself “I just don’t know which one suits me more”. Thus, the fast-fashion ethos had been a less daunting way to shop. Don’t know which looks best? Buy both! It was all so cheap I didn’t have to worry about spending money on something that wasn’t quite right. Get a few wears out of it and it’s justified the meagre amount I spent on it. Fundamentally, I was fearful of spending a lot of money on something when I wasn’t sure what would be a wise buy and what would be a fashion faux pas. As I had stood surrounded by piles of clothes in my bedroom I had vowed to educate myself about fashion so I could make more informed choices.

As I continued my journey exploring the minimalist landscape, I signed up to various email feeds and soon discovered that the question of what a minimalist wears gets a lot of online air time. Only a few weeks after I stood despairing at the dismal state of my clothing this article arrived in my inbox and opened the door to a new approach to clothes. Clicking through the various links in the article was revelatory. I particularly liked the idea of a capsule wardrobe – how appealing to have a select few items of good-quality clothing that you really, genuinely liked and could mix and match with ease and confidence. It all seemed to be suggesting a more put together, stylish approach rather than the eclectic mishmash I had that left me feeling vaguely disgruntled. I resolved to look into these ideas when the time was right. And until then I put myself on a clothes buying embargo until I had things more figured out (an embargo that ended up lasting eight months!) And, I have to say, it felt really good to step off the treadmill of consumption. Previously, if it had been a while since I’d bought anything I’d start to get the nagging feeling that I should buy something new, just because…just because that’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re a woman – isn’t it about time you bought yourself some new clothes? Keep consuming and everything will be alright. It felt freeing to take a break, to have given myself a reason to not even bother trying to find something to buy. Obviously I’d need to buy new things at some point but I was going to wait until I’d looked into different approaches and ideas.

Initial direction and guidance came from a friend’s recommendation. She had had a colour analysis from House of Colour and was eagerly explaining the process and results to us over some drinks in the pub. She talked us through her colours, explaining which looked good on her and why, and showed us the little leather wallet of fabric swatches that matched her “season”. This was exactly what I needed! Someone to tell me what colours suited me! And the little wallet of swatches was just the sort of thing I love – cute, compact and containing wisdom. Knowing that this was definitely the first step I needed to take on the path to fashion enlightenment, I signed up for a class.

This was a divisive move. When I told friends I was planning on having a colour consultation the responses fell into three camps. Some thought it sounded a great idea and would consider doing it themselves, others thought it sounded good but recoiled from the consultation price of £130, and others thought it sounded a thoroughly ridiculous endeavour and told me I was a fool with more money than sense. Fool I may be but I was a fool with no idea what colours suited me. Somehow along the path to adulthood I seemed to have missed the life lesson where you discover what suits you. Maybe I was off sick that day. The amount of times I’ve stood in front of a mirror, with two tops in different colours, stuck in an endless feedback loop of repeatedly holding one then the other in front of me, just not knowing which looks best. I had a friend who would always ask me if what she was wearing matched or which colour shoes suited her outfit better. I don’t know why she insisted on always asking me because my response was always the same – I’d freeze, look slightly scared and confused at the same time, and admit, with a hint of embarrassment, that I had no idea which ones matched. She would then look aggrieved at my lack of helpful advice and also concerned about this peculiar form of colour blindness I seemed to suffer from. If only I’d spent less time skateboarding during my formative years and more time pouring over Just 17 then maybe I could have overcome this affliction.

Several friends who thought I was fully bonkers to spend £130 to have someone tell me what colours to wear offered to take me shopping themselves. They would happily point out what suited me free of charge, they said. These were kind offers but ones I was never going to take up. The fact is I very much enjoy proper instruction in an official learning environment. It’s geeky but I like it. That’s why I paid for ukulele lessons and pay an insane amount of money to go to a posh yoga studio despite the fact I could learn both of these from youtube videos. I like the ritual of going somewhere to learn something, the anticipation of receiving new knowledge, I like the space where the learning is done, I like the presence of the teacher and the way they impart their ideas, and I like the close proximity of other humans who also want to learn. (In case you’re wondering, the foray into ukulele playing was short-lived. But for those couple of months I really enjoyed being the sort of person who carries a musical instrument on the tube.) So rather than wafting round H&M with a friend pointing out stuff that might suit me, I wanted the full experience, I wanted the full weight of expertise and knowledge from someone whose job this was. If I was going to tackle my clothing quandary, I was going to do it properly. Then, with a full arsenal of information, it would be up to me whether I took the advice on board or not (I was always going to take it on board; I have a lot of respect for authority. Probably because I’m a first born child).

Before I had the consultation, I mused upon my current thoughts on colour so I could compare these ideas with what I would later learn. Here were my thoughts:

  • Pale colours make me look washed out
  • I’ve always stayed away from white
  • Yellow is not my friend
  • I’ve always liked green for it matches my eyes.
  • Grey and pink have featured heavily. I don’t know if pink actually suits me but I like it.
  • Purple eyeshadow is supposed to bring out green eyes.
  • I like the Clinique True Khaki eyeliner
  • I have no idea if red suits me.
  • And that’s about it!

The day of my colour consultation dawned. I was excited to be going. I was looking forward to having a new experience and learning new things. Fresh-faced with no makeup on as instructed, I set out through the streets of north London and arrived at a house on an elegant street in Primrose Hill. Fiona, the House of Colour representative, ushered me to a room on the lower ground floor which had been turned into a consultation room. One other person was also there and she too was a teacher taking the opportunity to have the consultation during the half term break. Fiona began by talking through a bit of colour theory and showing us the colour wheel where the spectrum of colours were divided up into four parts, each labeled with a different season. This was it! This was the life lesson I’d missed somewhere along the way! Actual proper instruction underpinned by actual theory! The main premise came down to the fact there are warm colours and cool colours; the seasons autumn and spring were ascribed to the two categories of warm colours and winter and summer denoted the two sets of cool colours. The idea of the consultation was to ascertain whether you suited warm or cool colours, then narrow it down to which season worked best, and within that season work out the quantities of each colour that would specifically suit your skin tone. I had heard talk of the idea of warm and cool colours before but I had no idea what colours counted as which. Indeed it was interesting to see that most colours occupied space in all the four seasons, but whether a colour would suit you or not depended on the shade and tone. Fiona demonstrated the warm and cool colours on herself, saying it’s often easier to see the difference the colours could make on someone else rather than ourselves. She said one’s own judgment can be clouded by personal preferences for certain colours or influenced by previously held assumptions. She held an array of bib-like drapes of fabric around her neck for us to see the contrast. And yes, held against her I could see how the warmer tones were much more flattering. She pointed out how the wrong colours made the fabric seem cheap and garish whereas the right colours seemed more balanced and sophisticated.


The colour wheel

Then it was our turn. Katerina, my fellow consultee, went first. Apparently, she would be more straight forward as her hair wasn’t coloured – my dyed hair would skew the results and thus need covering. Katerina already thought that her season was autumn but she was hoping for confirmation and to better understand the full range of colours that she could wear. And as Fiona began draping the different coloured fabrics around her neck it became obvious that she was indeed autumn. I could see how those colours had a better effect on her skin. Draped in the wrong colours, the cool colours, she looked more washed out and the shadows under her eyes were more pronounced. Once she had been confirmed as autumn, Fiona took each individual autumn colour and, with an expert’s eye, declared which colours she could wear in which quantities. I was charged with being the scribe at this point; in the little booklet pertaining to autumn colours there was a table detailing each colour and columns denoting 25%, 50%, 75% and 100%. Regarding Katerina’s reflection while she was draped in a certain colour, Fiona would make proclamations such as “50% – would be lovely as a camisole under a jacket” and I, using a key of ticks and stars, would record this on the table. The colours recorded in the 100% column are one’s “star colours”. These colours can be worn top to toe, such as a high-necked dress, and are said to have ability to create radiance and garner compliments. The 75% column is for the colours that look good but maybe not for an entire block colour outfit, 50% colours would be good for a top or bottom half, and 25% colours are best for accessories and accents. There was further categorisation such as colours that would be best for casual wear or colours that should only really be worn below the waist. This level of detail and analysis was what Katerina had been after. Despite knowing she was autumn she hadn’t realised quite how many colours were included in this category or how she could combine different colours in different quantities. Makeup analysis was also included – Fiona selected a shade of foundation and blusher and applied a couple of different lipstick shades too. All of them suited Katerina and gave her features a little more life and sparkle. She regarded herself in the mirror, unaccustomed to wearing any makeup at all, she was quite mesmerised by the bold-looking reflection staring back at her.

After a quick loo and biscuit break, it was my turn. All throughout Katerina’s consultation I’d been glancing at the colour wheel trying to decide what my season would be. I still didn’t know. Would the more yellow tones of autumn and spring make me appear a little jaundiced or would the bluer tones of winter and summer make me look pale and washed out? Katerina said she thought I would be winter. Why did I have no idea? I must be seriously colour blind to my own style. But this was, after all, the reason I was doing this – to understand some principles of colour theory, learn some basic guidelines and foundations which I could take away and build upon, and have some much-needed practice getting my eye in. I sat in the chair in front of the large full length mirror and a white headscarf was tied over my hair making me look a little like a maid from times of yore. Fiona began tying the fabric bibs around my neck, one on top of the other, alternating between warm and cool shades. I squinted hard at my reflection trying to ascertain which suited me more. Fiona and Katerina murmured their approval at the cooler tones. By the time I had been draped in a multitude of fabrics I was beginning to see that the warmer colours made me look more sallow. Fiona then removed each scarf from around my neck in quick succession to give a rapid flickering good/bad effect. Declaring I was definitely in the cool camp, Fiona then alternated between the colours for winter and summer. It was decided that the brighter, stronger colours of winter suited me more.


My colours!

Fiona then went through each of the 36 colours of winter, draping me in the fabric bibs and deciding which quantities I could wear them in. Katerina, who continued to steal looks at her made up face in the mirror, duly noted down the results. The bold, strong colours of royal purple, royal blue, dark emerald, lobelia (which I’d never even heard of before), fuchsia, raspberry and carmine were my star colours. These were not the sorts of colours I would naturally gravitate towards. I realised I was going to have to be braver to override my natural inclination towards less bright, less attention-grabbing colours. Greys were confirmed to be a good choice which was a relief considering my life-long commitment to grey clothes. It was also a relief to hear that I could wear black (apparently winters are the only season that can) which is convenient as it’s a good staple. Although I did find this surprising as I’d always assumed black would wash me out. It was the same with white, another colour I’d assumed my pale skin would need to avoid, the soft whites of linen and lambs wool are apparently fine for me in smaller quantities. It was also interesting to see that I could wear very pale, ice colours. There’s no way I would have thought those suited me but, again, in smaller quantities, maybe as a top to wear under a jacket or as an accessory, these would provide a good contrast to the strong colours that I could wear in larger quantities. It was somewhat unfortunate to discover that I’ve been dying my hair the wrong colour for approximately the last 15 years. Warm red tones are out, cool brown shades are in. Ah well, you live and learn!

Then it was time for my makeup. We’d been told to come to the session bare-faced so an accurate assessment of our skin tone could be made. First primer and foundation were applied. The name of the foundation Fiona selected for me, China White, gives you some idea as to my lack of swarthiness. Fiona added some flattering blusher and suggested I was the sort of person who needed to wear blusher in order to lift my complexion out of the realms of the undead (she didn’t word it quite like that but that’s what I inferred). Then it was lipstick time. I’ve never been very good with lipsticks. Eye makeup has always been my forte; I have an extensive collection and am confident with its application. So I’d always sort of avoided lipsticks assuming that in combination with strong eye makeup it would be a bit much. But also when standing in front of row upon row of lipsticks in a department store display I’ve just never known what colour to go for. Safest to stick to some faintly tinted lip balm, I’ve always thought. But with Fiona matching the lipsticks to my complexion suddenly I had the gift of certainty and confidence. I bought two lipsticks, a lipliner and a blusher. House of Colour have their own makeup range and although it’s not the cheapest in town, I decided it was just easiest to buy these precisely matched shades that I knew flattered me rather than later dithering in Boots wondering if the cheap makeup I was clutching really did match the colours in my little booklet.

With the makeup purchased and my little wallet of winter season colour swatches and the booklet containing the colour ratings, I finally had the knowledge I needed to start making more informed choices about clothes. I now knew what colours suited me and what to avoid. I knew which colours I should wear in which quantities and how to combine different colours. I knew the full spectrum of colours that were available to me and it was so much more varied than I’d expected. And, most importantly, I understood the principles and theory behind it all. So impressed was I with the service and all that I had learnt, that I signed up for the style consultation class there and then. After all, I was as clueless about what styles of clothes suited me as I had been about what colours suited me. I didn’t want half measures, if there was more information and knowledge to be gleaned then I wanted it.


When I got home I compared various items of clothing to the swatches in my wallet. I was interested to see that actually more clothes than I might have expected did in fact match my season. Maybe I’d had more of an idea than I’d thought I did. Although there were a few notable exceptions – I’d always thought browns were pretty good on me but they’re a no no for winters and the green I’d always favoured, khaki green, was also not in my season. This was causing a serious malfunction in my logic circuits – on the one hand, for my sense of order and equilibrium, I needed to be able to trust Fiona’s authority on this matter but on the other hand lots of people had always told me that that particular green looks good on me. I resolved to ask her about it when I went back for the style consultation.

My homework from the colour consultation was to wear the lipsticks every day for three weeks. They looked disconcertingly bright in the familiar environment of my bedroom but, being a goody two shoes, I would dutifully fulfil this homework assignment. I guess after wearing them for three weeks you get used to looking more vibrant and become more comfortable with the more colourful you.

Overall, the colour consultation was great fun and so informative. I felt like I came away from it with a new found sense of clarity and understanding. I now had some guiding principles to go forward with. There’d be no more standing in a changing room confusedly flitting between different coloured tops with simply no idea which to buy. Instead I’d just compare them to the colours in my little wallet and viola! Decision made! Rather than the haphazard array of mismatched clothes I currently owned I could slowly, as finances allowed, work towards building a wardrobe with a sense of cohesion and harmony where clothes complimented each other rather than bristled acrimoniously and refused to get along. Finally the clothing cold war, the unspoken hostilities between me and my garments, was coming to an end; we were entering a new and hopeful period of rapprochement.

Clothes Revisited

You know in horror films when you think the big baddy has been vanquished but then he reappears and needs tackling one last time? That’s how I feel about decluttering my clothes.

I had performed the initial decluttering, storing and discarding of my clothes before the summer holidays and had then taken an enforced break from my minimalist journey while I was away for the summer. My minimalist sabbatical had then continued while I let writing the blog catch up with where I was at in real life. This obviously took awhile because, let’s face it, those blog posts aren’t exactly short. It’s lucky Marie Kondo doesn’t have anything to say about minimising one’s writing otherwise I’d be in serious trouble.

I was aware that I was breaking two of the cardinal sins of blogging (gleaned from a blogging seminar I’d attended) – only write short posts and update your blog weekly at the very least. I was failing on both these counts. Short has never been in my writing repertoire and the long hours of teaching were severely hampering my ability to rustle up timely posts. But those rules are designed for people who are aiming to grow a readership and hopefully monetise their blogs. As for me, I’m doing it because….well, I’m not entirely sure what my aim is other than to do some writing.

Writing is something I’ve loved to do since childhood but as an adult I’ve never managed to find the time to do it or a topic I wanted to write about. Documenting my journey into minimalism has, at long last, provided a much-needed framework that I can pin my writing to. A friend commented that if I’m not bothered about growing a readership why don’t I just write a personal diary? I guess I like writing in a public space so that my friends can see what I’m up to and maybe someone out there, in the tundra of the internet, might also be inspired to try minimalism on for size.

Trying to get my blog to catch up with where I was in real life reminded me of trying to keep a travel journal in South America. That journal had been three months behind where I was in reality. I hadn’t made things easy for myself by not writing anything for the first week we were there, claiming I was waiting to be visited by the elusive muse, and then, when the elusive muse finally showed up, I insisted on writing 18 A4 pages about the very first day of travelling – a day that could have been summed up with the sentence “We flew to South America at 10pm”. It all went down hill from there and I was left playing journal catch up for the duration of the trip.

Writing a lot has been a predisposition of mine since primary school. Whenever we had to write stories, I never finished mine because, while all the other children were rounding off with the classic narrative device of “And then I woke up and it was all a dream”, I hadn’t even reached the initial disruption to the equilibrium. I doubted the other children’s commitment to nuanced characterisation, an engaging narrative and richly detailed description. This trait of writing a lot is clearly alive and kicking seeing as my last blog post was 4,660 words and could basically be boiled down to “And then I took some clothes to the charity shop”. I think my blog posts should get shorter as I write about some of the other categories. When I get to sentimental items that one will probably be a biggie, but surely I can’t have that much to say about things like electrical items and kitchenware? But I might surprise myself so it’s best I don’t make too many promises on that front.

As I blogged and reflected upon the decluttering process so far it became increasingly obvious that the clothes behemoth had been weakened but not fully slain. Keep reducing until something clicks, Kondo says. Reduce your possessions until you feel like a switch has been flicked and a sense of satisfaction envelopes you. This is when you know you’ve hit your own personal “just right click point” – this is the amount of possessions you need to live happily. This click point differs for everyone and depends on your own personal tastes for what brings you joy – if you love handbags maybe you need 100 whereas someone else will only require two, if you love books maybe you need a whole wall, or even a room, dedicated to them. Whatever your own personal measure, when you reach the click point you will feel it with a visceral, palpable sense of knowing. I wasn’t there yet with my clothes. I still had more work to do. This is fine, says Kondo, if you still need to reduce then do so with confidence.

For a start there were the summer clothes that I had given one last season in which to prove their worth. As autumn became an inescapable reality, I knew it was time to sound the death knell on those items. In addition to these, there were the clothes I’d kept thinking I might take them on my holiday to dance camp but ultimately they hadn’t made the cut. And then there was my sock drawer…it’s neatly folded glory had been short lived. And this was for the simple fact that I still had too many pairs of socks. Everything must have a designated spot, Kondo warns, otherwise rebound clutter will surely follow. This I experienced first hand – without their own space to neatly slip into, the surplus socks had had to sit on top of the others eventually causing a degeneration of the neatly ordered lines. More needed to go.

With these blacklisted items in mind, I took the plunge and tackled my wardrobes and drawers once more. This time I didn’t go through the whole rigmarole of getting every single item of clothing out first and putting it all on the bed. I do think this is a crucial step to do initially but having done it all once, I decided to go for each section of clothes individually this time. First up was my big wardrobe. Out came its contents. I quickly amassed a new discard pile. On it went the summer clothes that had not been worn all summer and the ones that had been kept as potentials for dance camp – these had been clothes that I knew brought me no real joy but I’d thought they might be useful for wearing to the dance classes. Yet their joylessness had been so pervasive that it meant they were overlooked when packing for camp. Apart from these clothes that I’d been eyeing up with my beady discarding eye there was a sizeable number of other items that ended up on the pile that took me somewhat by surprise.

These were clothes that had survived the initial decluttering stage but with everything else gone, suddenly the spotlight was shone upon them and it became clear that this time they wouldn’t be so lucky. Rather than being revered ancient artefacts, these clothes were all from the recent past – mostly from within the last five years. Maybe you wouldn’t count clothes that are five years old as recent but considering I had had some things from twenty years ago, five years is a mere blip in the timeframe of my wardrobes. Being newish had meant they had been given clemency in the initial round of decluttering. The sheer volume of what I had been discarding had been quite overwhelming and guilt inducing. This had combined with the fear of discarding too much and being left with nothing and with the fear that I would discard things and then be racked with crushing regret. Thus I’d erred on the side of caution. But I’d always known I was keeping things that didn’t truly speak to my heart. That first round had been epic, immense and quite traumatic but now, a couple of months down the line, I knew that I had nothing to fear.

Out of the colossal pile I had discarded previously there was only one thing that I regretted getting rid of. A brown woollen cardigan with elbow patches – quintessential teacher-chic. It had not exactly bought me joy (hence it ending up being ferried to The British Heart Foundation) but it had gone with the green trousers I wear to work and now I realised none of my other cardigans really went with them. Kondo says this is par for the course – that you can expect to regret discarding something at least three times during the tidying process. But this is not to be fretted over – Kondo has found that even though people may regret discarding something they never complain or moan about it. This is because they have learnt that all that is needed is action – a lack of something can be resolved through being proactive and seeking a solution.

I had imagined that any regret I would experience at mistakenly discarding something would be felt with such a painful force of lament and woe that I would sink to my knees, shake my fists at the sky and howl “Why, God? Why? Why did I throw that out?!” But Kondo was right. The regret was felt more as an impartial observation. It was more “Oh, I appear to regret the decision to discard that. I will endeavour to find a new cardigan that will go with those green trousers. And maybe I could find a more chic, fashionable one this time.” Knowing that I had nothing to fear from the regret was a massive relief. I have a tendency to torture myself over missed opportunities or unwise decisions, rerunning situations in my head ad nauseam, trying to find the one key moment that triggered my lapse in judgement, obsessively seeking to identify where it all went wrong and then imaging a different response, a different chain of events. It’s as if by conjuring the situation again so vividly, I could almost change the past. But no matter how ardently I replay this new sequence of actions the present always remains steadfastly and perniciously unchanged. In contrast to this it was liberating to be able to give a shrug of my shoulders and say “Oh well”. I hoped this sanguine attitude to regret would continue. Kondo claims that this is an inevitable result of the tidying process – we hone our decision making skills, learn to take responsibility for our actions and discover how to implement proactive responses to problems – thus we experience a lasting change to our mindset.

So apart from the brown cardigan, I did not miss or yearn for any of the items I had discarded. Not only did I not miss them but I barely even remembered what I had disposed of. It was definitely a case of out of sight, out of mind. And as for the items I did remember, I now wondered why I had kept them for so long in the first place and why I had been so upset about getting rid of them. Life was better, more streamlined, without them cluttering up my peripheral vision. With this new “no regrets” attitude, I set about tackling the remaining clothes.

Casting a critical eye over my wardrobe, I realised that there were many of these newish clothes that I just hadn’t worn in a long time. I discarded a couple of skirts that I’d bought because they were on sale but which had never quite fitted right or went with anything else I owned. Adding them to the pile I thanked them for teaching me not to be sucked in by sale items in the future. Also onto the pile went a number of things that had been saved initially because I had thought that I genuinely liked them. But when I tried them on this time, I realised, to my surprise, that they didn’t even look that good. And then there were a number of clothes that had been worn in the recent past but that suddenly struck me as much too girlish.

A slim frame and a youthful appearance (people often think I’m younger than I am) has meant I could get away with wearing outfits commonly worn by younger women. I’ve never felt my age and although I think a lot of people feel younger than they are, I’ve never been what you could call mature. I was a late developer at school and this sense of feeling and looking younger than my peers has never left me. But recently I’ve been starting to feel the weight of my true age. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just different. I’ve always felt young and now I don’t. And suddenly so many things in my wardrobe, even things I’d worn eagerly just last year, seemed much too young for my 37 years. The words “you’re almost 40” rang in my head as I observed myself in the mirror in a variety of cute little outfits. The impending milestone of 40 brings me no trepidation (I’ve never minded getting older, possibly because I’ve never felt or looked my age, plus it is undeniably pleasing when people register such surprise at finding out how old I am) but approaching this age does bring an awareness of a shift in one’s being. Forty has been given an inescapable cultural significance in our society. Being slim may have bought me a few more years of wearing short little outfits but I’m well aware that a sell by date is fast approaching. Slim legs or not, no one wants to be mutton dressed as lamb. So I bid farewell to a variety of items (short skirts, little shorts, playsuits and girlish dresses) that created the illusion of a younger woman starring back from the mirror and I contemplated attending some sort of workshop to tell me how a woman in her late thirties should dress.

Also culled from the wardrobe were a few pairs of shoes. One was an expensive pair of high heels that I’d only worn twice, primarily because I hate wearing heels. They had survived the initial cull because I wasn’t quite ready to admit to myself what an expensive mistake they’d been. I was still trying to kid myself that I might get some wear out of them. But every time I saw them I’d feel a twinge of guilt and annoyance that I’d paid so much for such an unwise purchase. It was a relief to just admit my mistake, accept the fact that the money was long gone never to be recouped, and send them on their way, hopefully where they would meet someone who would actually wear and enjoy them rather than resent their existence. Added to these were a pair of boots that I’d absolutely loved and had worn to the point where they needed to be resoled. But the new soles were unnervingly slippery and attaching them had somehow made the boots a little tighter than before. I think I’d only worn them once since having them resoled. It was time to admit that their purpose had been to be worn until their original soles gave out – trying to keep them alive with the life-support of new soles meant they were just clinging on in an unloved limbo at the back of the wardrobe.

Then there were the black sparkly jelly shoes. Discarding these caught me completely off guard. I’d picked them up to stow them safely back in the wardrobe but as I held them I suddenly realised they didn’t bring me any joy. I’d thought they were pretty rad and had got plenty of wear out of them last year but now, suddenly, they seemed emblematic of the youthful clothes that no longer matched my age – the clothes that maybe did me no favours style wise and were reflecting and reinforcing an eternal Peter Pan-like youth. Had I been wearing these clothes because they looked good (had they looked good? I think they did), because they were a way of keeping my youth alive (surely not?!), because I just didn’t know what else to wear or because I genuinely liked them? I had liked those jelly shoes, I reminded myself, I’d thought they looked cool. But why did I think they looked cool? Once again I vowed to educate myself about fashion and clothing once the primary decluttering phase was complete.

With the shoes and clothes in my wardrobe now pruned and neatly categorised again, I turned my attention to the top shelf in the wardrobe which held towels and bedlinen. These hadn’t been included in the initial cull as I had focused it only on clothes but this time I wanted the whole wardrobe to be decluttered. I discarded an unnecessary spare towel, a fitted sheet with such elderly wilted elastic that it had practically turned into a flat sheet, and a green towel that I had bought on my very first backpacking trip fifteen years ago. I remembered standing in a shop in Argentina, holding it round me to see if it would adequately cover my modesty. It was a little threadbare now and certainly no match for my fluffy John Lewis towels when it came to comfort and absorbency. I’d kept it all these years as a form of remembrance and loyalty for the fact it had taken that first seminal journey with me. I gave it heartfelt thanks for all it had done for me at the time and added it to the collection heading to H&M’s recycling scheme. Now that the whole wardrobe had been decluttered and tidied, it felt great. It contained probably less than a third of what had originally been in there but finally every single item within in it was something that I would actually like to wear or use.

I then revisited my drawers and undertook some further decluttering there. I discarded a couple of old pairs of jeans from the days when low rise trousers had been fashionable. I probably should have got rid of them first time round but I had thought that I liked them. However trying them on this time made it abundantly clear that they needed to go. I marvelled at how fashions changed – they were so low rise it looked like half of them was missing and they barely even covered the essentials. Then I got to my underwear drawers again. This included an entire changing of the guard for my bra collection. After the initial cull I had bought a new batch of bras and there’s nothing like wearing a new bra to highlight the sorry state of the old ones. Oh, so this is how supportive the elastic is supposed to feel! It was out with the old and in with the new. Also discarded was a bunch of socks worn thin at the heel – again these should probably have gone in the first cull but I had quailed at the amount of underwear being disposed of. But with these gone now all my remaining socks could easily fit into the shoe boxes, they all had a space to live, meaning it would no longer be difficult to maintain law and order amongst the ranks.

In the last decluttering I had saved a collection of little t-shirts with pictures of Hindu gods on. I had bought these on my first trip to India and had told myself that they definitely brought me joy and I might totally still wear them. But they had not been worn and I had to be honest with myself that they didn’t fit particularly well and that I’d only kept them because I’m deeply attached to anything from that first kaleidoscopic, intoxicating visit to India. Three of the four tops were added to the discard pile (after I’d taken photos of them) and one, the first one I bought, was added to my Special Saved Items collection. Having made peace with the fact I’d chosen to keep the Pulp t-shirt, the Birmingham Uni top, and the clubbing clothes and having justified this with the beautiful symmetry of each item representing a phase of my life, it was no great leap to add the Shiva t-shirt to the collection – it could be the one saved article to represent my travelling years. Whereas there had been much hand wringing and anguish over the decisions to save the other items, having reconciled myself to the fact I hadn’t been able to entirely throw off the sentimental shackles of the past, the t-shirt was cheerfully added to the collection with a shrug and an acquiescent smile at the recognition of my own weaknesses. I wondered whether having this little collection made me a bad minimalist in much the same way as I wonder whether my love of makeup makes me a bad feminist. It was something to ponder even though I know the answer is that everyone chooses their own path through the principles of both minimalism and feminism.

As I was stowing away my Special Saved Items collection I stumbled upon the one non-dorky hat I’d kept. I’d always been going to keep my dorky travelling hat but it had seemed such a bold move to get rid of all the other hats I owned. Sure the novelty ones could go but there had been several that were nice and that I considered I looked quite cute in. So I’d saved one “just in case”. But then, it would seem, I’d promptly forgotten I’d saved it! In my head I remembered getting rid of all my hats except the travelling one. Clearly “looking cute” and “just in case” are poor reasons to keep an item. I had already been informed of this through the writings of Kondo and The Minimalists but I guess sometimes we need to learn from our own experiences. But now it was decision made – it went straight on the discard pile. If I’d thought I’d culled it and not missed it at all then it was time to say a real goodbye this time.

Then I paused over a pretty skirt, twirling in the mirror, thinking to myself it was such a shame to get rid of it as it would be perfect for a garden party. Maybe I should just hold on to it…Then I remembered I’ve never been to a garden party in my life. And suddenly the fantasy in my head where I was wearing the skirt, standing on an immaculate lawn, holding a glass of something sparkling and engaged in witty conversation dissolved before my eyes. It reminded me of the scene in Labyrinth where the junk yard woman tries to distract Sarah from her mission by giving Sarah her toys and possessions. It’s only when Sarah realises they’re meaningless and declares it all to be junk that she manages to break free. I added the skirt to the pile promising myself that if I ever attend a garden party I’ll buy myself something lovely. It’s amazing how one’s brain can concoct all sorts of baseless reasons why we should cling on to things we don’t need. It’s almost like your brain is worried that without all these material things, these accoutrements of life, anchoring you to the earth, you’ll float away as an ephemeral wisp. But, according to minimalists, it is this sense of lightness and freedom that we should be striving for. We can achieve this liberation, we just need to reassure our brains that we will continue to exist and flourish without previous purchases and collected, curated possessions to prop up our sense of self. Freed from the undercurrent of the continuous desire to consume we can focus our time, money and energy on other activities and pursuits. I took the bags containing the second discard pile to The British Heart Foundation and this time I handed them over with a smile.

The second discard pile.

The second discard pile.

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.