New year, new you. So the saying goes — but because most of us are stuck whether we like it or not with the old us, year in, year out, we tend to go to the next best thing: new year, new wardrobe. Specifically, the turning of the season offers a chance to make what former US secretary of state John Foster Dulles would have called an “agonising reappraisal” of the contents of one’s closet.
This, I do not do often. I am not “fash-forward”, as it used to be called in the early noughties. I find it hard to apply Marie Kondo’s advice on throwing anything out that fails to “spark joy”, because if I did I’d be naked and shivering. Clothes seldom spark anything sparkier in me than faint approval. My unvarying look — especially now that I don’t work in an office — is as follows: blue jeans, T-shirt or collared shirt, jumper, usually black or dark blue. I spend more time worrying about how to dress my World of Warcraft character than I do myself.
My method of selecting the outfit du jour is what I think of as “sedimentary”. I reach into my drawer and take whichever garment is closest to the top of the pile. The sedimentary technique has certain ramifications. It means that my wife can effectively dispose of jumpers she doesn’t like (the thick purple roll-neck, the Marks and Spencer Christmas jumper) by placing them at the bottom of the drawer, where their fellows gradually disintegrate under a roil of moths.
Among male Financial Times readers, especially under the tyranny of WFH, I doubt I am entirely alone. And yet these things need to be done, and January seems like as good a time as any — if only to check in on my friends the moths. Anticipating the need of help, I downloaded The Home Edit: A Guide to Organising and Realising Your House Goals by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin on to my Kindle (I got the ebook to save on clutter, which I flattered myself was getting with the programme even before I got the programme).
They are perhaps best-known, of course, for their Instagram-conquering notion that items should be sorted into rainbow colour order — ROYGBIV — but I’m not sure that applies to me. Quite apart from not wanting my wardrobe to look like My Little Pony Land, everything I own is at the ultraviolet end of the spectrum. (It’d be more like Spinal Tap: “How much more black? None. None more black.”) Anyway the Home Edit folks are liberal: as they say, not everyone is rainbow compatible.
Their advice is to start small. “Starting on a drawer,” they write, “might seem like an insignificant project, but it can be just as transformative as organising a larger space.” I started, therefore, with the sock drawer. As it happens, socks are the type of clothing that come closest to sparking joy in me. I look keenly forward to new ones at Christmas to replace the slightly crunchy, sad-at-the-heel, peep-toe objects that clothe my feet by the end of each year. Yet, as I discovered, the arrival of new socks fails to displace the old ones, which is a Bad Thing.
I wrenched the drawer open — socks boinging out freely on to the floor — and laid them all out on the bed. It turns out — who knew? — that I own a lot of socks. Seventeen vaguely serviceable pairs. Two pairs for hiking. One pair of lurid stripy slipper-socks of the ill-fitting Christmas gift type. Thirteen unmatched black socks of various lengths. Seven unmatched coloured socks. And, improbably, fully eight pairs of white sweat-socks, four of them still in the cardboard.
Now, having purged, I own 11 pairs of matched ordinary socks with no holes and my sock drawer closes without the usual performance of cramming-and-stuffing. Another resonant note from my gurus is what they call the “golden rule” of 80/20: you keep your home no more than 80 per cent full and reserve 20 per cent for “breathing room”. That’s my sock-drawer, now.
Emboldened by this success, I moved on to T-shirts and pants (I won’t trouble readers with too much detail, but if you can actually see the elastic peeping out, it’s now gone). And, thence, on to jumpers (sorted into the categories of “thin”, “thick” and “gardening” — ie perforated by moths or gone at the elbows), and trousers (revealing a brown moleskin pair I had no idea I owned). My drawers are transformed.
The wardrobe space, too. I’m not hunting out “key pieces” or “wardrobe essentials”, so much as identifying which of my collared shirts would count as salvageable if actually ironed. It turns out that owing to a period in my late 20s in which I earned well, worked in a proper office, had no dependants and sometimes found myself staying out overnight unexpectedly, I own a lot of Thomas Pink shirts bought on the way into work.
I also own nine silk ties, all of them hideous, a white bow tie and black bow tie (handy once a year or so) and a moth-ravaged woollen tie which falls into the Home Edit category of “things you find sentimental” because it belonged to my late grandfather. They say that you can keep such things — along with “things you like” and “things you need”. Out go the silk ties. Also: at least 40 empty wire hangers.
Another much-touted piece of advice is: if you haven’t worn a garment in the past year, off to the charity shop it goes. I cavil at this — not least because there are some garments I would have worn if I had remembered about their existence. But a truth in these eco-conscious times is that hanging on to clothes is a service to the planet as well as to our wallets.
I’m proud to say I was on to this one long before it was, well, fashionable. I have worn nothing on my feet but Dr Martens boots since I was 16, which is 30 years ago. On and off, I have been the height of fashion; sometimes less so. But my feet have always been comfy, and I only need to buy a new pair of shoes every other year or so. No closet-clean necessary in the shoe department.
Anyway, by the end of this searching personal audit, I have drawers I can close, a wardrobe I can navigate, and socks I can put on in the confidence that my toes will not poke through. I count that a triumph. And I am, at last, breathing free — or 20 per-cent free, at least.
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