Tuesday 8 August 2017

The clothes that won't let go

A conversation on Facebook recently echoed more than one similar discussion with clients. “I struggle to get rid of clothes… how do I decide?” In fact, I probably hear this question more than almost any other. ("How do I stop drowning in paperwork" is probably the one that comes closest.)

I might add that I’m very well qualified to talk about this. Not only am I pretty good at decluttering clothes, but I’m also very experienced at acquiring them. I can never resist a charity shop. I’ve been all sizes from a (fairly) small 12 to a (very) large 16 in my adult life. I’ve bought for purpose, for comfort, for distraction, for reward, and out of sheer blind panic. I’ve moved house and been subject to excruciating embarrassment at the number of items being hauled around by the long-suffering removal men. So I’ve been there and bought many t-shirts – in lots of different sizes.

There are countless reasons / excuses / validations for this challenge (and I'll likely write about more of them soon), but here's one of the most common. Does it ring bells for you, too?

I want to be able to wear it again. I’ve put on weight over the last six months / year / five years / ten years; I want to lose the weight, then I’ll be able to wear it again, so I must keep it.

I've lost count of the number of times I've heard this argument, but one particular episode sticks in my mind. The lady in question had been through a pretty terrible time with illness, divorce, breakdown – the whole nine yards. More to the point, she’d told me many times that she had no wish to take any part in the life that had been left behind with the ex-husband. So we looked at these clothes, which were very definitely part of that ‘old life’. I asked her to imagine herself at the size she was when she wore them, and then whether she’d wear those clothes again on reaching that size. There was a pause as she visualised it, and then she burst out “Of course I wouldn’t wear them again. I don’t even like the colours. Or the fabrics. Or the occasions they were for…” She’d become so fixated on the fact that she wanted to be a size 12 again (or whatever it was) that she’d equated the size of the clothes with their suitability. Suddenly she realised that their style would be completely redundant in her new life, and as such they were no use to her – no matter what her size. Needless to say, the next time I saw her, the gaps in her wardrobe had been filled with comfortable linens, cottons and softness, in colours that she loved – and which were nothing like the items she’d given away.

I’ve done the same thing. In an earlier life (which for me finished in around 2004, which was the last time I worked in a formal office environment), I loved my sharp suits. It’s a style that looks good on me – being curvy, a tailored look is flattering – and I did have some really lovely outfits that were perfect for a senior office management / PA type role. But was I ever going to wear them again?

These days, my decluttering ‘uniform’ has to be practical: usually jeans and a t-shirt or sweater. If I go to help a client with their computer, it’s a bit smarter, but still nowhere near formal. If I attend a business networking event, it’s definitely ‘smart casual’, not ‘intimidating power dressing’. My leisure life involves the local theatre, music-making, long walks, photography, relaxed meetings with friends. Sharp suits? No. So out they went. I now possess one black jacket and trousers (in case of funerals) and one rather fine red Jacques Vert skirt suit (charity shop bargain)… just in case. (It's beautiful and a wonderful colour, but think I’ve worn it once. There’s every possibility of it being decluttered in the next major cull.)

And what about size? As I say, I know all about this, too. On my last really drastic declutter, when I was about half a stone off my target weight (and with the help of a wonderful style consultant), I retained just a few items (about 8, I think) that were very nearly the right size but not quite; realistically attainable; and (most importantly) still matched my lifestyle. (I called it my ‘keep and hope’ pile.) To my delight, I did manage to fit into them all within a few months; but guess what? Even some of those went to charity or ebay in the end, as when I reached the size that matched the clothes, I realised that my style / shape / attitude had shifted still further – and they weren’t quite “me” any more. (I don't know about you, but my definition of "me" changes with the passage of time.)

Also consider: exactly how long have these clothes been in your wardrobe waiting for that magical weight loss? If it's a few weeks or months, that's fair enough. But it's very common for people to tell me that a dress or a pair of jeans was last worn, say, twenty or thirty years ago. Not only do fashions change (would you wear your 1980s shoulder-pads - or lycra - today?) but would you truthfully want to be the weight you were when you were (say) eighteen? Healthy, toned slimness is wonderful to see at any age; a desperate striving for "my younger weight" may well not be desirable. I know that my ideal weight at 54 is most definitely at least ten pounds or a stone heavier than it was when I was 24; any less and I start to look decidedly gaunt.

It’s also worth saying that while I have occasionally experienced an episode of “that’s a shame – that skirt would have looked nice on me now”, it’s no more than a mild regret. It's not a traumatic moment worthy of Sarah Bernhardt. In today’s world, we are drowning in choice of shapes, colours and fabrics, and finding an appropriate substitute for the occasion is seldom the cause of deep pain - more a cursory shrug and an “oh, well”. The decision lies between the pleasure of an uncluttered, functional, flattering, enjoyable wardrobe, and the moderate discomfort of realising that an item (out of, let's be honest, dozens of the things) might just have "come in useful" after all. You make the choice.

Your wardrobe needs to reflect your everyday style. We all have a few seldom-worn items: serious posh frocks, funeral formality, fancy dress party and so on. Fine.  But the other 90%? They need to suit the size you are now, or at least very close to it (come on, be honest); but (more importantly) the life you are living today.

Don’t buy for the life you want until you’re living it. Think tomorrow morning, or next week, or the ‘do’ you’re attending next month, or (at the most) next season. Beyond that, who knows what may have changed in your life?

(A brief aside on the above question: I’m presently reading How to be Free, a splendidly entertaining, anarchic and provocative book by the redoubtable Tom Hodgkinson, from which I could pinch soundbites by the dozen. I especially like “We all know the Jewish joke: How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans.”)

What are your greatest challenges when you consider getting rid of clothes? Post a comment, ask a question, and I’ll help. Or if you’re ready to bring your wardrobe (or any other part of your life) under control, and create it for today, rather than for the past or the future, get in touch - and we’ll get cracking!


  1. Great advice. So much of it resonates with me. Just need to make a start...but Where? X

  2. Get in touch and I'll happily help you! :)