A cupboard full of clothes but nothing to wear? Here's how to declutter your wardrobe

Top tips for rearranging your clothing space include colour coding and approaching it as you would your computer

There are only so many clothes and bags a person needs; the rest can be given as gifts, donated or recycled. Photo: Sonali Kokra for The National
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Picture this: you are standing in front of your wardrobe, which is overflowing with clothes. You have been staring at the contents for some time, ruffling through them with increasing desperation. And then you throw up your hands and say: “I have nothing to wear.”

According to a panel speaking during the recent Secret Life of Your Closet talk, this scenario often plays out because we have no real idea of what we have in our wardrobes. The online talk, conducted by sustainability advocate Fashion Revolution UAE, was part of the global Fashion Revolution Week, which concludes on April 24.

According to the experts, we buy new clothes, and keep buying until it becomes overwhelming. It turns out, they say, that our wardrobes have secret lives, and the clothes that reside within need careful nurturing and regular pruning.

Dissipate the clutter cloud

The Buyerarchy of Needs pyramid puts "Buy" at its broad base and “Use what you have” at its slim tip. Photo: Fashion Revolution UAE

Shelina Jokhiya, organising expert and founder of Decluttr ME, describes it as a “clutter cloud above our heads” that blocks us from seeing clearly. Her advice to prevent this situation is to take the time and go through your wardrobe section by section, and sort your clothes into piles of use, donate or recycle.

Also ensure you put your repair or recycle bunch into the car for the next time you go out, and not back into a new hiding space within the wardrobe.

Of course, the sorting stage is easier said than done, and involves answering some tough questions: does it fit? Does it look good? Do I even like it?

Jokhiya points out that one common mistake is hanging on to things in the hope they will fit in the future. Expert opinion is your wardrobe is valuable real estate, and if you are filling it up with stuff you don’t really need or use, you are wasting money.

Come to an arrangement

Style coach Silke Ahlden recommends arranging your wardrobe based on a personal coding system – for example, category (tops, jeans, skirts, jackets and so on), colour or time of wear (work, night, party, lounge) – in order to optimise space and usage.

Know what you have, and you will see what you need, says Jokhiya, who is also the author of Can You Find it in Five Seconds?

Armelle Montmayeur, marketing and communications manager for Fashion Revolution UAE, says: “Think of your wardrobe the way you think of your computer. You know where all your files are and how to find them quickly – organise your wardrobe the same way.”

Ahlden recommends also looking out for the clothes you wear repeatedly, in order to identify the core of your wardrobe. It is likely to be only about 20 per cent of what you own and, therefore, what you really need.

Adhere to the Buyerarchy of Needs

As for the new clothes that mysteriously keep making their way into the wardrobe, step back and have a look at the Buyerarchy of Needs pyramid, created by journalist, artist and environmentalist Sarah Lazarovic. The model, loosely based on Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, puts “Use what you have” right at the base – encouraging consumers to pause and reconsider before buying anything new. Then come Borrow, Swap, Thrift and Make, with Buy right at the slim tip of the pyramid.

Rearrange your wardrobe based on colour, category or time of wear. Photo: Maureem Lim

Workshop participant Anita Nouri, founding partner and chief executive of Green Energy Solutions & Sustainability, offers grim reminders of cast-off clothes that get thrown into landfill, increasing soil pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Clothes that go out of the wardrobe, then, also need to be discarded responsibly.

Both Jokhiya and Ahlden also warn against being a slave to trends, and instead focusing on finding a style that reflects your individual personality.

“The way we honour and care for the clothing that already exists is fundamental to building a better fashion system,” say the team at Fashion Revolution UAE.

Support the Fashion Revolution

Fashion Revolution was born after the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh in 2013, where a building collapse killed several hundred garment factory workers. This global movement now stands for worker advocacy and clean fashion, with designers, academics, policymakers and fashion lovers alike calling for transparency in the production process and fair working conditions for craftspeople.

Araceli Gallego, co-founder of Goshopia.com and the Sustainable Souk, and country co-ordinator for Fashion Revolution UAE, says: “Our primary aim here is to raise awareness among consumers on what is sustainability and how it applies to fashion, as well as the environmental and social issues in the fashion industry.

“It is all about making a conscious choice.”

Fashion Revolution Week ends on Sunday, April 24 with the day-long Sustainable Souk pop-up market at Times Square Centre, Dubai

Updated: April 21, 2022, 8:17 AM