Sustainable fashion: how to simplify your wardrobe

Sustainable fashion: how to simplify your wardrobe

The most sustainable items of clothes you can wear are the clothes you already own.

But we all know that most of us start wearing the same four tops in rotation and then think ‘I have nothing to wear’ every time we choose our outfit in the morning.

We go to the shops and buy something new without fully trying to dig into the depths of our wardrobe to find something we already own. I have fallen into this trap many times, and then my wardrobe starts to burst at its seams and I’m still thinking I have nothing to wear. When I eventually get round to doing a wardrobe clear out, I discover so many items of clothes I forgot I had, and admittedly many things similar to items that I just bought.

I think a crucial step to start dressing sustainably with the environment in mind, is to be conscious of what you already own. 

For most of my teenage life, I have been lucky enough to receive all the hand-me-downs from my older sister, but I also still used to buy new clothes quite regularly so I had managed to build up a gigantic selection of clothes. I have done many of these clear outs, and have compiled everything I’ve learnt into this comprehensive guide to help others.

Here are some tips on how to minimise your wardrobe.  

1. Set aside time to do this.

If you want to organise your wardrobe all in one go, it will probably be an all-day event. Clear out a day in your schedule, and commit to the task – it will be fun!
But if you know that it’s going to be a huge task and you’ll probably get worn out halfway through and leave all your clothes in a heap on the floor for another week (I’ve been there), the another strategy is needed. Try to plan your clear-out over a span of a few days, and separate the task into chunks. Plan to tackle your tops and jumpers in one morning, then do trousers the next morning. Each section shouldn’t take you long but after a week or so, you would have cleared out your whole wardrobe!

2. Plan of action

Take out ALL of your clothes (or all of the clothes in the particular category you’re doing today i.e. tops) and dump on the floor or your bed.

Pick up every item individually, and decide which of the following 4 piles it will go into:

  1. YES – I love and regularly wear this.
  2. MAYBE – I need to try this item on to see if I still love and would wear it again.
  3. NO – I am confident I am not going to wear this ever again, and deserves to be in a better home.
  4. UNWEARABLE – the ‘NO’ pile but includes things like underwear that you can’t donate/sell, or broken items – see REPAIR step below.

3. Bring the YES back

Put all of the YES pile clothes back on their hangers and back in your wardrobe. Begin to organise these however you like – by style, colour, or season. This should clear up some space on the floor.

4. Try on your MAYBE

Make sure you are doing this clear out when you are feeling up for trying things on – there is nothing worse than trying on loads of clothes when you are tired or not having good body image thoughts that day. If you still want to do the task, but know you’re not up for trying on clothes then leave the maybe pile with clothes to be tried on again for another day.

Don’t keep clothes that no longer fit you in the hope of them fitting you again.

I am guilty of keeping clothes that I no longer fit into, in the hope of ‘losing weight to fit into it again’. I would feel really guilty that I had somehow managed to not fit in these clothes, and often actually start to have restrictive thoughts in order to lose weight to fit in them.

I would sincerely advise you not to do this, it only brings up feelings of guilt every time you look for things to wear. Remind yourself of the following things:

  • Clothes are meant to fit to YOUR body
  • You wear your clothes, the clothes don’t wear you.
  • Your worth doesn’t decrease if your clothes size increases.
  • Your body is allowed to evolve – and this often is a good thing. (you may be happier now than the time when you used to fit in the jeans, which may have required a restrictive mindset to food and an obsessive mindset with exercise).

And it is totally normal for your body to change, grow, and fluctuate and you should design your wardrobe to be a comfortable and fun place which accommodates to this. For me, this meant removing the pair of jeans that I longed to fit in again whilst reminding myself of these things, and only keeping the clothes that actually fit me and make me feel good.

5. Split the MAYBE > YES OR NO

When you try on every MAYBE item, decide whether it’s a YES or NO pile. Put your YES clothes back into your wardrobe like you did before. Add the NO pile to the other NO pile.

6. NO pile > sell or donate?

With your NO pile, split into what is good enough to sell, and what can be donated.

7. UNWEARABLE > repair or upcycle?

Your aim is to put as as little (or preferably nothing) into landfill.

  • Think hard about whether you could repair anything – a loose button, an unfolded hem for example. You could start wearing the item again if you just take a little time to repair, or you could sell it and earn money.
  • Can I turn this into something else? For example, shirts or underwear could be cut into rags for cleaning?
  • Do you know anyone who makes cushions or textile items – perhaps give them some unwearable clothes for fabric.

8. Get creative

After a wardrobe clear-out, you should be fully aware of what clothes you own. You may have been tempted to sell/donate some items classed as ‘repeats’ (for example two very similar black T-shirts). Ask yourself:

  • Could I change this into something else? For example, a pair of jeans which fit you at the waist but you’re not a fan of the fit on the legs could be cut into denim shorts.
  • Could you cut a T-shirt to make it cropped or have a different neckline?
  • A white T-shirt could be turned into a slogan T-shirt if you’re willing to use transfer paper/fabric paint. I turned a grey tank top into an Adidas top once using this.
  • Could you add some iron-on or sew-on embellishments to jazz up a simple top you were willing to get rid of?

I LOVE doing these things, as I get the same excitement as when buying something new, but with the added feeling of accomplishment when realising how sustainable this practice is. 

9. Organise your wardrobe in a visible, structured way

The reason why you had to do this clear out is because you’d lost the ability to see everything you had in your wardrobe. The final step to this process is to ensure this is unlikely to happen again. So make sure you organise your wardrobe in a way where you can see everything you have – splitting into item category, style, or season helps.

I normally only put out what I’m likely to wear in the season, then put the other season items in a basket at the bottom of my wardrobe. Right now it’s summer, so I’m likely wearing short sleeved tops, shorts, loose trousers, summery dresses and not bulky jumpers or long-sleeved shirts. Therefore I put the winter clothes in the box.

HOWEVER there is a fine line between what you would want to wear now or next season (i.e. you may still want to wear a jumper over your dress when the evenings get colder) so what I do is still ensure this winter box is accessible, and write a list of everything that’s in the box on the lid – so I can do a quick glance before having to open the box.

10. Use the ‘one-in, one-out rule’

When you do choose to bring a new item into your wardrobe, think about whether you’d happily swap it with something you already own. This will simply make you think a bit harder before buying, and also ensures your wardrobe stays at a good size. 

I hope these tips help you to simplify your wardrobe, and so help you to dress a little more sustainably. 

Not sure why you should be dressing sustainably and boycotting fash fashion?

Watch The True Cost on Netflix, and watch out for an upcoming blog post on 5 reasons why you should boycott fast fashion.

Happy wardrobe simplifying!

The Conscious Medic

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