... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Saturday 14 December 2013

Wardrobe mistress

After... Goodness, it looks just like in the books.

It's no secret that I have a bit of a charity shop habit, and this manifests itself mainly in buying clothes. Wherever I am, I take at least a weekly stroll through the local philanthropic emporia, usually coming away with at least one impulse purchase, and frequently more. Despite rising prices and increasing charitable rapaciousness, most items cost only four or five pounds. For years I've convinced myself that I'm a thrifty shopper, spending less on my high class wardrobe than others do on their supermarket sweatshop one.

I'm starting to wonder, however, in the light of the sheer volume of my purchases, whether I'm deluding myself. It all adds up after all... not only in pennies but in the space it consumes. My flat came with two wardrobes, a modest pine one, and a massive classic G-Plan teak one. Of course they were both soon packed so tight that there was hardly any point in ironing anything, and deciding what to wear each day had me frozen like Buridan's ass to the power of seven.

Every six months or so I announce, to assembled groans, that I am going to 'sort out my wardrobe'. This generally entailed getting everything out, looking at it, and putting it back. So many things I'd not yet got round to wearing, but still, they deserved a chance, so back they went. Things I felt duty bound to keep, for sentimental reasons, or because they'd been expensive, even if I didn't really (whisper it) like them very much. A few bits would get recycled back to the charity shop, and more often or not, I'd miss them. I have on at least one occasion bought something back after wondering how I could have been so stupid as to get rid of it.

The internet is full of helpful women, mostly American, telling you how to master your wardrobe. They usually start with sorting everything out by season, and packing away your unseasonal clothes somewhere inaccessible. Well, I don't have anywhere inaccessible, and most of my clothes aren't seasonal. Thick jumpers and thermal vests maybe don't get much of an outing in June, but almost anything else, in the right combination with other things, can be worn all year round. Then they say, sort out all your co-ordinated work outfits. My what? They talk about sorting out things that need washing, or mending, or dry cleaning... Nothing would ever go back in my wardrobe if it needed washing or mending (it would sit in the mending basket for a year instead) and as for dry cleaning... Whatever the label says, if it won't wash, I don't want it, so I stick it in the machine on a woollen cycle and let it take its chances. I've not lost anything yet.

Clearly the conventional approach was not going to work for me - but neither was my old method. So I applied myself to devising a new, effective, system for becoming mistress of one's wardrobe, and I proudly introduce it to you.

I decided that each item would be given a rating from 1 - 5, and allocated a place to stack up the stuff for each category. They were:

1. I hate it. Throw it out (no matter how much it cost or who gave it to me)

2. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but admit it, it doesn't work. Doesn't suit me or is the wrong size, or something I never have the occasion to wear.

3. Boring but useful.

4. It's very useful or I like it - something I wear a lot.

5. I love it and will never part with it.

I took each item out of the wardrobe, had a good look at it, a good think, maybe tried it on, then allocated it to one of these piles. Once the wardrobe was empty I turned my attention to them. Everything rated 4 or 5 went straight back in. Everything rated 1 and very nearly everything rated 2 (one exception, a sparkly blouse that's a bit tight but looks good undone over a vest) got thrown out. I went through the 3's checking for things that duplicated each other. There weren't any, but I could have thrown them out if there had been. This was the hardest category; I had to be strict about things that 'might be useful one day' but hadn't actually been so far. They went. Mostly.

I ended up, after doing both wardrobes, with four bags full for recycling, and then went on to apply the same system to my shoes, which now fit into the available space again. That's a bag shoes at the front.

So, next time you need to have a good sort out, there's yet another new system to try. And my new year's resolution is to stop buying stuff except when I have identified in advance something that I actually need. It will be hard, thinking of the treasures I might be missing, but at least the clothes I've got will have room to breathe.


  1. I admire your efficient system! On the boat, I try to tell myself that if I get a new (I.e charity shop) item, I have to get rid of something else and that often stops me buying it! I once needed to illustrate 3 phrases as an onion being de-layered: 'what I say I want', 'what I really want' and 'what I actually need' and can apply that to my clothes buying. Sometimes!

  2. I'm thinking now that if I were to find myself browsing aimlessly, I could score any potential purchase there and then, and go ahead only if it warranted a 4 or 5. Previously I've tended to buy far too many 3s which turn out to be 2s.

  3. This might just be the solution to my own bulging wardrobe. I have to admit that I have recently been on a bit of a rethink about the image that I want to project, so have acquired some new stuff - all of which is 4 or 5. So I do need to go back and look at the other stuff and decide if I am likely to have anywhere where I might reasonably wear some of it.