Allow us to introduce Annmarie O'Connor, a fashion journalist, editor, stylist, wellness wardrobe coach and best-selling author of The Happy Closet (£12), a self-help guide to balancing well-being and being well-dressed. Keep reading to see how an expert breaks down the practical and emotional hacks that guarantee a successful and stress-free closet clear-out.
Your closet is more than just a collection of clothes. It's a deeply vulnerable space containing layers of old energy that, if not recognised, can create sartorial chaos. This explains why something as seemingly simple as a decluttering session can trigger some extreme emotions—fear, loss, shame or even guilt. It can also make you feel like a superhero who's capable of taking on the world. That part generally comes at the end. The beginning and middle are often more complex.
Here's how to swap procrastination for motivation and how to enjoy weeding out your wardrobe.
1. BREAK IT DOWN
Have more than three wardrobes? Is your stuff stashed in the attic? What about the garden shed? Calculate your estimated closet inventory by the amount of time needed to clear it. For example, four hours per closet times three closets equals 12 hours (plus breaks). That's an entire weekend or one closet per night for three allocated nights of the week or month. I advocate the latter. Here's why: The willpower required to tackle a project as emotionally loaded as closet-decluttering is enough to have you give up midway and commit to a life of chaos. Small and consistent increments (like starting with your underwear drawer) are key to easing anxiety, building personal agency and kicking out procrastination.
2. ENLIST SOME ASSISTANCE
This is not a job to be tackled alone. Grab an objective third party to help make executive decisions, fill those black plastic bags and top up that mug of tea. Treat it like a pair of training wheels on a bike: The support helps you stop from wobbling and falling off, but once you achieve a certain rhythm and confidence, you'll be able to steer your course alone.
3. DITCH ALL DISTRACTIONS
Clear your diary. Turn off TVs, radios, laptops and smartphones. Better yet, give your phone to a friend, partner or sibling who'll do P.A. duties for the day. You will only wind up stalking Ryan Gosling's Snapchat in a moment of weakness.
4. FIGHT BRAIN DRAIN
Keep snacks, water and juice on hand, and refuel at regular two-hour intervals. Stop for a decent lunch break, too. The trick to sustaining and completing a task as emotionally charged as weeding one's wardrobe boils down to something quite simple—blood sugar. Without regularly replenishing glucose levels, willpower will dry up like a pre-packaged boy band after three songs. Suddenly, deciding whether to bin that shirt with the cigarette burns is a cognitive feat too far. Decision fatigue sets in, and the whole process grinds to an unceremonious halt. And to think, all you needed was a biscuit.
5. TAKE A BREAK
Starting to flag? Take two minutes to stretch your legs, throw water on your face, cry—whatever you need to do. Just give yourself a timeframe, and get back to business. Although distractions can be detrimental, small breaks are known to improve decision-making and performance. They also work with the brain's natural inclinations (pleasure over pain). Studies show that the unconscious mind continues to actively work out problems even while the conscious mind is engaged in a different activity (those aha moments generally come when the mind and body are taking five).
6. SAY NO TO ALCOHOL
Leave the glass of vino until the project has been completed. As tempting as it may be to lift one's spirit with a tipple of tempranillo, this is not the time to soften your mental guard. Alcohol reduces our glucose levels, which affects our willpower and self-control. Before you know it, you'll be on a mercy mission to save that Carmen Miranda skirt from uncertain death.
7. FORGIVE YOURSELF
Hoarding is often linked to a sense of vulnerability and, to a certain degree, self-blame. So you haven't done a proper clear-out since 1998. And what if you spent a small mortgage on shoes that still have the swing tags intact? Will the world come to an end because of it? No. According to Kelly McGonigal, health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University and author of Maximum Willpower, forgiveness increases accountability, takes away the shame and pain of the past and makes us less likely to continue the pattern of procrastination. Clear out the self-criticism before clearing out your closet.
8. STAY IN THE PRESENT
Unless you are already taking steps to diet into those size-10 jeans, keeping them is preventing you from engaging with the now. By focusing on what doesn't fit, you avoid having to deal with what's real. Appearance-based habits only motivate us once they are in operation (think of how hard it is to get to the gym but how pumped you feel once you've finished your workout). Otherwise, they act as a mean girl in your closet—a mockery of who you are today.
9. IF IT DOESN'T WORK NOW, IT WON'T WORK LATER
When something is right—be it a relationship or a pair of jeans—it just fits. There's an ease about it. You don't need to create clauses and conditions to justify its presence. Phrases like "I might get wear out of it yet" need to go. If you haven't been motivated to wear it (which is kind of the point in having bought it), then it is simply taking up space—mentally and physically. This assumes added gravitas when coupled with the phrase "I used to wear that," which loosely translates as "and I haven't put it next to or near my body since 2001."
10. START FUTURE-PROOFING YOUR CLOSET
Anxiety is a fear-based response to a future possibility. And as horoscope-reading, Dow Index–following and weather-predicting folk, we're partial to a bit of risk management, and there's nothing wrong with that. When caution turns into cold sweats over parting with a bag of mildewed sweatpants, then we've got a problem. The key to managing one's state is future-proofing the now. Every time you start to feel your footing slide at the very mention of change, it's time to take a deep belly breath and get back to the present.
So you need to throw a few things out? Focus on small bags, not the big picture. Get to grips with why you are decluttering and remind yourself of its life-affirming benefits: space, flow, calm. The minute your ego asks you what you'll do in the unlikely event of renewing our jaded gym membership, tell it to jog on.
Next up, eight impressive autumn outfit ideas you'll be ready to style once you've cleared out your closet.
Opening Image: Peony Lim