I'm no angel. I've clothes going back 40 years. I've even got the cami and lace jacket from my vintage wedding dress in a pillowcase in case my granddaughter might ever be tempted. I think the biggest mistake we face with the spreading girth of our wardrobes is not just down to consumerism but the fact we are emotional beings and are inexplicably 'tied' to our possessions.
'm guilty of holding on to a beautiful pair of poppy-embroidered jeans I bought for my daughter in The Gap in New York in 1999 and if I don't make them into one of those 'Boho' jeans bags or a cushion cover during the current hiatus, I never will.
A wardrobe detox is the perfect lockdown distraction and can be productive on so many levels - from freeing up space to achieving a goal over days and giving unwanted pieces a new home at the charity shop. Let's start with...
BEWARE THE 'POWER PILE'
Lots of decluttering professionals with books on this topic swear by creating one monstrous 'power pile' but I don't think it works for everyone, me especially. The towering pyramid of 'stuff' generates a negative feeling of drowning in your clothes as well as guilt at your spending fecklessness and these both undermine you before you've even started 'the edit'.
The foggy-head syndrome descended on me recently as I pushed a trolley around a supermarket, trying to figure out what dried goods and legumes to buy. What would go with what? So just as you bring a list of recipe ingredients with you to the shops, the way to really get efficiency out of this decluttering exercise is to start with a list before you ever fling open a drawer or yank hangers out of the wardrobe.
Analyse where the gaps are in your sartorial selections. What areas need shoring up? What do you need more of? What are the hardest-working pieces? What category gives you joy ( a la Marie Kondo) and makes you feel good? What pieces do you look forward to wearing - in short - what are your treasures.
Know the weaknesses and strengths of your possessions and then proceed to re-organise. Focus on the 'stars' you have and aim to build around them with clarity, assessing what you own with new eyes. Now you can start tossing.
THE HOARDING GENE
I think we hoard because we are weakened by that Irish gene which I refer to as 'The Field' gene. Post-famine memories runs deep in our DNA.
Address the eternal optimist living in your fashion head, the one which whispers "sure it might come in useful one day". My advice is to give any item 24 months - that's a rotation of four seasons to earn its place - and if it hasn't been worn, then goodbye. You'll find it this process very empowering to realign your assets while we navigate this unfamiliar territory in our lives. I regard it as wardrobe mindfulness and this exercise will make us better consumers in the future which is a nice thought.
Okay, so you've decided on the five piles covering your plan of campaign of Keep, Maybe, Donate, Sell and Repair. However, you simply cannot make a good decision on the 'chuck or save' concept unless you've tried them on - and you don't do that in your dressing gown with socks.
I recommend that you start this decluttering exercise being 'the best version of yourself' as you make decisions on how you want to look and dress in the future.
Have a shower, wash the hair, put on a little bit of make-up, if that makes you feel better and more like your old self before the purge.
Pull on something neutral and a light layer like a white or black t-shirt with a skirt or leggings and start trying on.
BLACK & WHITE
At chez Power, I have a small 9ft x 9 ft bedroom with three IKEA rails and this week I blushed beneath my steadily greying hair when I counted 10 black coats. 10!
Black and navy are my favourite colours and you will probably find the same colours and shapes cropping up with frequency in your closet. Working on a restricted colour palette is the makings of a great capsule wardrobe and then throw in stripes, graphic prints, arty pieces, animal print and polka dots if they are your thing.
Creatures of habit will need to face up to why they keep buying the same things over and over. Signature style is one thing but do you have the space?
Do you wear all those cropped jackets you have in various shades of indigo denim? Ditto that dress up/dress down rock chick's hero piece, the black leather biker jacket. Choose one... okay, two... and go for the best quality and flattering cut for your figure, not a different one for every day of the week.
We should keep clothes for the life we want to have after the Covid-19 crisis lifts, not the one we dream about after going down a rabbit hole scrolling through influencers' staged IG feeds with affiliate links. Do you really need the sparkly evening dress? I predict that it will be expensive occasion wear and rarely-worn evening attire that will push your buttons in this exercise. The cost. The extravagance. The two outings a year! Do the math and sell on to reinvest or make a donation to your favourite charity.
Be in the moment and edit for your size now and not your aspirational size. If your weight tends to yo-yo, it makes sense to keep one size plus or minus of where you are now. Anything more is too much wasted space. Speaking of, do a purge on those zipped bags you've hidden under the bed and make one dedicated space in your wardrobe for all the transeasonal pieces - they now work all year round. They should live together, not in categories, and it will make assembling looks easier.
THE 40:60 RATIO
Many of us are guilty of having a favourite season. I love how I can express my personality more in summer outfits but I've definitely got a 30:70 summer/winter leaning so it's a slew of heavier clothes that need attention right now.
And the cull won't always be what you expect. Sometimes it's the oldest black coat that is kept not the newest. Always aim for quality and longevity rather over style.
DOING THE MATH
If we are being serious about this, some experts recommend we should be aiming for a wardrobe cull that will leave us with 40 pieces, and that includes shoes. Those pieces earn their place because they work together in multiple ways. That might seem ridiculously small to some but I challenge you to keep a fashion diary, just like a food one, and see the patterns emerge.
If there's something hanging with a shop tag on it and you haven't got around to wearing it, it must go. Then again, maybe you just didn't see it on the jam-packed rail so give it a last chance. There are merits to thinning out.
MODERN-DAY UNIFORMS How many iterations of the denim jean do we need in our lives? Leg styles oscillate from skinny to the current supersized 1970s flare, and you probably have a few boyfriend style and high-waisted pairs in there, too.
Pull on a favourite top you like wearing with jeans and then try it on with all of them. If you are loving how your long-lost jeans look on you now, go back and create looks with different tops, shoes and boots, a trench coat or cream jacket with a Breton-striped top underneath. You can always pause the cull to go down a cul-de-sac to explore new combinations.
Isn't it funny how we move on? I've counted at least six shirts I once loved but they are not part of how I dress now. Apart from my lovely white oversized shirts from Carolyn Donnelly and COS, I usually wear cotton tops or cashmere jumpers under blazers and parkas these days.
The old blouses are leftovers from another life when I covered the courts and the Dáil. I'm sure you might want to deep dive into other categories apart from your leisurewear which will be part of our lives for the foreseeable future and the challenge will be to dress it up and yet be comfortable when we are finally out meeting other people.
THE FINAL FAREWELL
Needless to say, you go through your piles with fresh eyes and resolve on a second or third day. Park the sentimentality. Be ruthless about the multiples in your life. Short jackets, ankle boots, trainers, kimonos and high-lo day dresses. See the benefits of classic staples like a great mac and a glam piece for desk-to-dinner occasions. Check clothes in the 'Keep' pile for stains and repairs. Assess how much it will cost to alter clothes to fit in the 'Maybe' pile. Are vintage pieces past their best? Can you see light through them? If so, they are frail and may not last much longer.
Remember, we are aiming for signature style not fantasy stuff. If you are confused by it all, don't think about the original price or provenance of a piece.
Just ask yourself one question: how does it make you feel when you put it on?