Thursday, 6 April 2017

Spring Cleaning My Wardrobe: a thoughtful approach to repurposing, recycling and re-evaluating (and maybe downsizing a little bit)

My partner and I moved into our flat seven years ago; it's not a large place and we've both accumulated a lot of stuff, so over the last few weeks we've been having a bit of a clear out.  Since I've been taking part in Labour Behind the Label's Six Items Challenge at the same time, it seemed like a good opportunity to look over my wardrobe and think realistically about the things I never wear, and the best way to give them a new lease of life.

I've seen a lot of articles recently about the benefits of minimalism, and I can see how cathartic it would be to rid yourself of everything that doesn't make you feel like your best self in one fell swoop. But I think that approach addresses a symptom rather than a cause, and that getting rid of surplus possessions slowly and thoughtfully helps us to address some of the (possibly uncomfortable) reasons why we owned so much in the first place.

A barrage of adverts inform us every day that the acquisition of stuff (or rather, this stuff in particular) will make us attractive, successful, happy. If you're able to recognise that and change your mindset that's fantastic, but it's an ongoing task when ads are specifically targeted for you online. We also live in uncertain times, so our tendency is to hang on to things, 'just in case'. I have good sewing skills and can alter or mend my clothes, but I do need tools and haberdashery to to this, so living a truly minimalist lifestyle is never going to be an option for me. I don't think this is a bad thing; recognising that we can't just get rid of things when they are no longer pristine and learning to fix things reminds us that it's not just the item itself that has value; the raw materials it is made out of are not in infinite supply and we do not have an endless, bottomless landfill in which we can discard anything that isn't 'on trend'.

The idea that we could throw out all our clutter and replace it with a few sleek items that will revolutionise the way we live is appealing, but what happens when those items fall out of fashion in a few years? Do we just repeat the process over again? And what about all the things we reject?

I love shopping in charity shops; I'm grateful to everyone in my local area who has given away barely worn, good quality dresses! Charity shops do a great job, but they need to be able to function as businesses to make money for the charities they are part of, and can't just be a place for us to dump all our unwanted, threadbare or broken clothes without a second thought. If you wouldn't wear it yourself in that condition, the charity shop probably isn't the place for it.

I have an ongoing repairs/alterations pile, and I have recently discovered the joys of 'visible mending' from Tom of Holland. This creative approach to fixing clothes means that your mends don't have to be perfect, they can be part of the ongoing 'story' of your clothes. Agy  creates beautiful embroidered patches to embellish her clothes as she mends them, illustrating that mending can be an enjoyable and practical way to practice crafting skills rather than a chore.

Claire Louise Hardie, aka The Thrifty Stitcher, runs sewing classes online and in person at her studio, including alterations, and you can also find free 'how to' video tutorials on her website. All her handy hints are beginner friendly and will help you carry out professional standard alterations!

If your clothes really are at the end of their lives, your local council should have textile recycling facilities. Alternatively, you can carry on recycling them yourself; I use clean but threadbare socks, or t shirts and leggings cut into squares, to clean shoes and boots!

I am running a Clothes Swap and Alterations SOS on Saturday, to give friends a chance to find new homes for clothes that aren't right for them anymore, or to ask questions and get some help with sewing projects that could transform unwanted clothes into something they'd look forward to wearing again. Living with a big bag of 'unwanted' clothes in my hallway for a month has made me reflect on my buying habits, and has made me more determined to stick to my 'thoughtfully replacing' policy and avoid impulse buying on the high street. Funnily enough, nothing has made it out of the bag and back into my wardrobe, although I can't promise not to re-home a few pre-loved items on Saturday!

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