The fashion editor's guide to cleaning out your wardrobe this weekend

It's time to be ruthless

Wardrobe
Many a fashion lover will be tackling overstuffed wardrobes over the coming weekend Credit: Getty Images

If you’re lucky enough to be fit and well right now, you’re probably contemplating all of the long-delayed jobs you should be getting on with during the long weekends at home. This might include fixing that leaky tap or weeding the garden, but for many a fashion lover, a wardrobe clearout will be top of the list.

A wardrobe overhaul is easier said than done. Clothes are loaded with memories and nostalgia, making it hard to part with something long-treasured but that no longer serves any useful purpose.

I realised this when helping my friend Sara declutter her overcrowded wardrobe once. She has fantastic taste, but her retail therapy habit has been known to get a little out of control at times - and as her dress size has fluctuated over the years, her cupboards are full of clothes that simply don’t fit her.

Even though she had a lot of clothes that had been unworn for years, she was loath to get rid of them, especially if she’d spent a lot of money on them. Take a pricey party dress she’d bought over a decade ago. It was way too big for her, it wasn't in style anymore, but that small fortune she’d spent still deterred her from ditching it completely.

As a result, I established a ruthless set of criteria to help her decide what to keep and what should go, as well as a plan for reorganising her cupboard and selling or donating her unwanted goods. Here’s my three-point fashion editor's plan, which can be applied to any wardrobe, whether you've got a vast walk-in, or a two-door closet from Ikea.

1. How to know when it’s time to get rid of old clothes

The first step to any wardrobe decluttering attempt is to get everything out. Everything. Put it all on the bed - it's the only way to truly look at everything you own, and you are forced to assess each item one by one in order to put it back in. Also, emptying the wardrobe gives you a chance to hoover and dust the shell, and every drawer, before putting anything back.

In terms of deciding what to ditch, anything that warrants a ‘no’ answer to the five questions below should be set aside in piles to donate or sell. Ask yourself:

  1. Does it fit?

  2. Is it still in style?

  3. Have you worn it in the past year? (this could be extended to two years for less frequently worn items like eveningwear or skiwear)

  4. Can any damage be repaired?

  5. Does it go with anything else in your wardrobe?

The only, occasional exception is for something with really rich sentimental value, like a wedding dress or a family heirloom. Those items should not be stored in your everyday wardrobe. Invest in keepsake 'memory' boxes or garment bags to store them successfully elsewhere.

2. How to organise the remaining clothes

Once you’ve cleared out all the things that no longer work for you, your remaining clothes should be left with a bit of breathing room. This can be improved by investing in a set of slim velvet hangers (£9 for a set of 10, John Lewis), says Charlotte Reddington of celebrity wardrobe decluttering duo The Style Sisters: ‘We bring slimline velvet hangers for every client. It makes such a difference because you can fit lots more in, and it’s so satisfying to look at them all uniform.’

Depending on the space you have, you’ll want to arrange your clothes in different ways, but some sort of order is necessary, simply so that it’s easier to find what you want when you’re getting dressed in the mornings. It also means that favourite items won’t get forgotten and lost at the back of the wardrobe.

This can be by colour (like TV presenter Angela Scanlon), by length, or by type of garment. Personally, I like to put heavier items like coats at one end of the rail, followed by longer pieces like dresses and jumpsuits, then skirts and trousers, with shirts and lightweight tops at the other end. It means I can see the shoes that I keep in the space below. Folded items are separated into tops and bottoms, and anything out of season goes into plastic crates to be stored in my loft.

As for anything that needs repairing, stop putting it off. Either get cracking with a needle and thread yourself (these are some tutorials which might help you to get started), or take it to your dry cleaner ASAP (they usually offer hemming and repairs). Once those items are back in wardrobe circulation, you’ll be so glad you did.

3. What can I do with my unwanted clothes

If your unwanted clothes are in good condition, they can be given to friends and family or donated to a charity shop (collection services may be unavailable at present, but normally Traid will collect from your home, as will icollectclothes.co.uk, which works with a number of partner charities). They can also be sold on a resale site - I like eBay and Depop for high street stuff, and Vestiaire Collective for designer wares.

When reselling, be honest in your descriptions, identifying and photographing any wear and tear. You should also be realistic about the value of your clothes. All too often we think our once-treasured clothes and accessories are worth more than they are. Vestiaire Collective will help you set the right price, but with eBay and Depop, it’s worth browsing similar items to see what kind of price you should be selling for.

As for anything damaged, torn or stained that can’t be worn again, don’t chuck them - these items can be recycled into cleaning cloths, carpet underlay or padding for chairs and car seats. Your local council may offer a collection service for unwanted textiles. 

If your local council cannot accept textiles for recycling, there are a number of alternative services. H&M collects clothes of any condition at its stores, while Oxfam will recycle clothes that can’t be sold - part of its promise that no clothes go to landfill. You may need to hold onto these items in bags until lockdown restrictions are lifted, but it will be worth the wait.