How to sort through your wardrobe while staying home

If you have spare time on your hands, take on the Herculean task of clearing your wardrobe

Taking time to sort through your wardrobe will clear space, mentally and physically. Courtesy Maureen Lim
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Working remotely? Self-isolating? Stuck at home and bored out of your mind? It can be tempting to hit the online shopping sites but, while we all need to keep shopping for the sake of the economy, don’t turn to it just because you can’t think of anything else to do. After all, ordering seven items with the intention of returning five not only exposes delivery drivers to more unnecessary risk, but also does more harm than good in this time of disruption. Instead, sort through your wardrobe to figure out what you actually need. 

Many of us, especially women, have wardrobes stuffed to capacity, yet it is said we will wear 20 per cent of what we own 80 per cent of the time. This works out to the same 20 items worn on rotation, while the other 80 pieces languish in a drawer unloved and unworn. According to McKinsey & Co, the UAE spends an average of $1,600 (Dh5,876) per person, per year, on clothes. If we are only wearing a fifth of those, that equates to Dh4,700 wasted.  

Regular shoppers have a tendency to buy variations of the same item, so a few hours spent sifting through what you already have will make the next round of online shopping more fun because you now know what you’re missing. Also, if you’ve spent time sorting through the seven pairs of black skinny fit trousers you already own, chances are you will not buy another pair, thus saving money. 

If the thought of tackling the contents of your wardrobe fills you with existential dread, fear not, as it is probably messy enough to qualify as fun. Also, it can be broken down into smaller sections – drawer by drawer or sorted by shelf for example – and spread out over days or even weeks.

Step one is to take everything out of a small part of the wardrobe and put it on the floor (on top of a towel) or the bed. Step two is to pick up each item and decide if: a) it is cherished; b) it makes you happy, but you can’t remember when you last wore it; or c) you are totally indifferent towards it. Think in terms of yes, maybe and no.

Step three entails hanging or folding all the items in the “yes” category. Ensure the garment in question is sitting properly on the hanger to prevent it from stretching out of shape, or is folded nicely in the drawer with all the buttons correctly fastened. The “maybe” items should be put to one side to be washed and ironed (more on that later), while the “no” items can be put straight into a bag to be donated to the nearest Red Crescent charity. Step four is to repeat the above three steps until all the sections of your wardrobe and chest of drawers are dealt with.

All clothes in the first two categories should also be inspected for wear and tear, so anything needing attention can be put to one side. It doesn’t take much skill to sew on a missing button or putting in a couple of stitches to stop a hem from falling down – making a beloved item wearable again. However, if it needs professional help to salvage it, put it in a bag to one side; as you are not going to wear it until it’s fixed, why sacrifice valuable cupboard real estate?


Having taken everything out of the wardrobe or drawer, now is the time to give said furniture a dust and wipe-down. If you’re feeling extra creative or adventurous, consider lining the drawer with leftover wrapping paper or better still, thicker wallpaper. If your wardrobe is made of dark wood, slap some white paint or paper on the back wall to make things easier to see.

Delving through a wardrobe will inevitably unearth long-forgotten items and these will need a good wash after being stuffed in a corner.

Delving through a wardrobe will inevitably unearth long-forgotten items and these will need a good wash after being stuffed in a corner. Most things can be machine-washed these days, even wool, provided there is a dedicated setting for it. If you’re unsure, read the clothing label as it will explain what the item is made of and the best way to clean it. As a general rule of thumb, cottons, linens and synthetic fibres such as Lycra or polyester can go in the machine. Silk (even as a small percentage) must be dry-cleaned. Washing silk causes the fibres to snag against one another, making the fabric lumpy and rough to the touch. In contrast, the process of dry cleaning actually smooths out the silk fibres, keeping them soft and flexible, and extending the lifespan of your garment.


Wrinkle-free clothes are another point to check off your list. Many people are not fans of putting the hot plate of an iron anywhere near fabric, preferring to use a steamer instead, as it the gentler option. If you are pro-ironing, though, turn the heat down or iron through a damp cloth to protect the fabric – even cotton – so the item lasts longer. If the wardrobe sort-out unearths forgotten items, bring them back to former glory by ironing before putting them back in the cupboard.


Next, all those pressed clothes will need hanging. You may have heard how wooden hangers maketh the man, but this is largely nonsense and can, on the whole, be ignored. Thin metal hangers are perfectly acceptable for all but the most delicate of items and have the advantage of coming free with the dry cleaning. Being slimline, these also make better use of precious wardrobe space. Clothes that are expensive, delicate or have heavy beading or sequins, will benefit from a padded hanger, because the increased surface area spreads the weight and prevents the garment from pulling out of shape. If you do not own any, an old T-shirt (of which there will be many by the end of this exercise) can be wrapped around a wire hanger to similar effect.

Tailored items such as suits, jackets and coats are best kept on shaped hangers for support. If you do not have any, again a couple of old tees sticky-taped to the coat hangers’ shoulders is a short-term solution. FYI: knitted wool (think jumpers) should never be hung up, as they will stretch.


Once you have dealt with the clothes, get ready to tackle the shoes. As before, try the “yes, maybe, no” approach or, if that feels too drastic (most of us have fewer shoes than clothes, after all), sort into those that need a bit of TLC and those that don’t. Flip-flops and beach slides can be cleaned with a pan scrub and washing-up liquid, while trainers can be put through the washing machine on a cool wash, as can shoe laces. Put everything in a net bag or pillowcase first, though. Leather can be spruced up by buffing with a dry cloth, and sand can be cleaned from tread and stitching with an old toothbrush. Rolled-up old papers can double as support for long boots, while the toes of dressier shoes can also be stuffed with paper if you do not have any shoe trees. If you have shoe polish languishing somewhere, now is the time to use it.

Once this is all finished, feel free to step back and admire the wardrobe that is emptier and drawers that are neater. Congratulate yourself on the bags destined for charity donation or the local tailor, knowing you are helping others, too. Perhaps best of all, you can now go online shopping totally guilt-free.