What happens when you Kondo your wardrobe

Or: how to throw away all your clothes and live to tell the tale

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It was kind of an accidental Kondo. I haven’t even read the book that’s taken the over-consuming first world by storm, sweeping before it mountains of junk and rejected lifestyle detritus straight into landfill. But maybe the core message – of having a good tidy and getting rid of stuff you don’t really like or need anymore – had seeped in somewhere. Anyway, I had bought a new wardrobe (as in the piece of furniture, not an entire new set of clothes) and thought I might as well sort out my stuff before I filled it up. And that’s how I ended up sifting through, and chucking out, 15 years worth of accumulated clothes. Here's what you need to know...

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How much you hate most of your clothes

You kind of just assume that you like your clothes because, I mean, they’re your clothes. But once you actually start thinking about it – and once you see the various ‘Well, maybe I’ll wear it again one day/maybe my daughter will wear it/maybe I’ll suddenly be gripped by the desire to dress as a sexy cowgirl (as I apparently was sometime circa 2009)’ trains of thought for the nonsense they are – you actually don’t. It’s just all so much slightly out-of-date, bobbly, ill-fitting, cheap-looking, just plain WRONG filler, and it needs to go. It’s kind of amazing if you’re left with anything, to be honest.

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Sparking joy isn’t such a dumb concept

A.k.a you need some clothes you are never going to wear

So as I understand it this is the thing that causes Kondo-deniers to smirk: the vaguely hippy notion that you should only keep items that ‘spark joy’. And you may argue that it’s not the strongest theory to build a wardrobe around: you could end up with 17 extremely joy-sparking metallic slip dresses but no, like, jeans. But if you don’t like jeans and you do like slip dresses at least you’ll be freaking happy in your outfit every day, even if you are a bit cold, and we need to remember that clothes are a conduit of our hopes and dreams, the expressions of our hoped-for alter egos, as much as they are coverings to keep the rain off. Lean too far to the practical and you may as well just go full Zuckerberg and be done with it. So: I kept a cream silk Isabel Marant dress which literally ONLY works with sandals and a tan, having evening drinks by the Mediterranean somewhere. But on the approx. five evenings a decade when I have a tan and a drink and the Mediterranean it works SO well and makes me SO happy that it totally earns its inch of wardrobe space for the rest of its utterly redundant life.

 

It freaks people OUT

I chucked out honestly about 95% of my clothes (five bin bags worth) and of course Facebooked a picture of my virtually empty closet. The reactions were variously: ‘Are you serious?’ ‘Jesus…’ ‘This actually makes me want to cry’ and ‘I am so stressed just looking at this picture’. I don’t know what that tells you except that people have very strong reactions to an empty wardrobe and if you’re looking for praise for your efforts you ain’t going to get it.

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A ‘capsule’ wardrobe is only fun for about a week

So I was left with three pairs of jeans, a couple of jumpers, four skirts, a handful of dresses, and some t-shirts. Which, if you believe the ‘Your capsule wardrobe’ features that you've been reading in magazines since you were 14, would be totally sufficient for a lifetime of endlessly varied and chic permutations in the style of Audrey Hepburn or Ines de la Fressange. Yeah, well, think again. Within days I was wailing ‘I have nothing to wear’ and for the first time in my life it was literally true. If I wanted a uniform I’d be a dinner lady. It was obvious I needed to supplement – and this is where it all started to go a bit wrong…

 

You’re suddenly really picky

A trolley dash round Zara would have been the obvious answer but I’d just spent loads of energy chucking stuff out and even more energy lugging it to the charity shop and I was sure as hell not going to just replace it all. And what I’d realised it's the ‘might as well’ purchase that is the biggest wardrobe-clogging culprit. You know: you kind of need a new top and this one doesn’t look amazing but it doesn’t look dreadful and at least it’s, y’know, NEW and it’s only £30 so you might as well. Well STOP RIGHT THERE because it’s going to wash dreadfully (hello, yes, I am your mum) and look saggy and creased and you don’t even like it that much when it’s pristine and I guarantee that within two weeks you’ll feel ever-so-slightly depressed at the mere sight of it but will carry on wearing it anyway and so all the months and years until you eventually chuck it will be tinged by this feeling of slight depression and life is too short, amirite?

So – hooray! for being picky But boo! for still not having anything to wear.

 

The concept of a classic is a bit dodge

OK so if you’re a good fashion student – which you are – what you’re going to do now is refer me to the rule of classics. Viz: allow daft trends with the lifespan of a mayfly to pass you by with barely a glance; all the money you save on not keeping up with ‘rave military’ or whatever (that isn’t a trend, by the way. Or is it?) can be spent on enduring classics that you’ll wear to death. Which, I agree with. To a point. The point being that even classics date. Yes! I’m saying it! Unless it’s an actual Chanel black jacket something that you buy thinking, ‘There is no way this will ever go out of style’ will one day go out of style. The sleeves will be too wide or the lapels too narrow; the hemline will just be ineffably wrong and you’ll weep into your investment purchase, thinking, ‘I can’t wear this - it’s just so goddamn 2016!’

Also: it’s all very well filling your arms with the ‘classic’ trench, and the ‘classic’ cashmere jumper and the ‘classic’ black blazer – but possibly only if you actually want to look like a posh Parisian housewife.

 

It’s not all about the money – but it’s kind of about the money

Your new purchases DON’T have to be dictionary-definition ‘classics’ – but they DO have to be things that are going to spark more joy than a sad handful of limp ‘Meh, whatever, it’ll do’ rags. Something you’re going to want to wear for longer than a season. And if that thing exists in a slightly higher price bracket than you’d normally shop in – just buy it. Otherwise you’ll spend at least as much buying not-quite-right approximations. And also if you love it, you’ll actually want it to be good enough quality to last, rather than feeling vague relief when the seams finally split and you've got an excuse to get rid.

 

Except for when it’s really not about the money

And then there are the times when you just don’t care. For this weekend you want to be all about rave military. (Still not a trend.) You know it’s a passing fancy, a fever dream from which you will shortly awaken. But sometimes those buy-now-regret-almost-immediately purchases are just exactly what you need. See also: McDonald's.

 

You have to get on board with the concept of the, er, style cake

If you’re rebuilding your wardrobe from scratch in a way that doesn’t just replace last year’s mass-produced tat with this year’s mass-produced tat but isn’t so dull you want to fall asleep at the prospect of decades of interchangeable navy sweaters and little black dresses, think of it as a cake.

Cakes have icing – decorative, if a bit pointless. That’s your frothy, ephemeral high street stuff. It’s not going to last longer than a season, but it doesn’t need to. These purchases should still be amazing. They should gladden your heart and make you want to wear them every day for three weeks. But let’s be honest: it’ll probably only be for three weeks.

As nice as icing is, it’s not the main event. The cake is the bit you’ve really got to get right if you’re going to have a satisfying snack… erm, wardrobe… er… thing. So anything you think you’re going to wear for longer than, like, a season (denim, footwear, coats) that’s the stuff to invest in and make sure you get really right.

OK, maybe it's not a cake. But if you love it and it's worth the money then you can buy it. But only then. 

And in the meantime you'd better get used to wearing the three pairs of jeans you still own – a lot. 

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