'Do I need this?' and other existential questions from a reformed clothing hoarder
By Rosie Goddard
It was eight hours before my one-way flight to the UK, and I was sitting in a sea of clothes on the floor of my childhood bedroom, wondering a) why I had left packing up my entire life to the last minute and b) how I was planning to reduce seven suitcases-worth of possessions and clothing... to two.
Cue tears, followed by 25 minutes of lying on said clothes staring vacantly at the wall (I like to call this packing fatigue. If you know, you know). The goodbyes that come with moving countries are heart-wrenching enough, and when you have to cull a large portion of your things – the items that make you you – you're left feeling even more vulnerable. Life is coming for you, and you are about to face it head on without those extra layers of armour (if armour was a chunky blue knit covered in pom-poms).
But it wasn't just the goodbyes and limited time frame that were preying on my mind. As I pulled myself together and began to piece my way through each item of clothing, I was astounded by how much stuff I had managed to accumulate. Without thinking about it, I had boxed up and dragged a trail of baggage around the city for the better part of 12 years. I'd started to feel bogged down, both mentally and physically, and my wardrobe, bursting at the seams and loosely organised into categories and seasons, had added to this latent but ever-present feeling of chaos.
Time, then, to start letting go and to build the capsule wardrobe of my dreams (in about four hours), but where to start when you've existed without a proper yearly spring clean to weed out the weakest links? My magpie tendencies meant I'd shopped for statement pieces with carefree abandon and was now confronted with an array of peacocking separates and a mounting 'maybe' pile.
This included but was not limited to: the white second-hand Versace jeans I bought for when I reached my goal weight; a beautiful unworn polka-dot dress that I bought in my first month of Superbalist but still hadn't found the right bra for; a stressful faux fur-trimmed, embroidered waistcoat, tag still on, from when I was committed to becoming the ultimate boho dream girl. I had grown affection for these pieces because they represented significant moments in my life, but what was the purpose of them if they were there to be looked at and never worn?
Until then, spring cleaning to me had meant a bag or two of clothing donated every few years and multiple items shoved into a drawer under my bed to be revisited a year later (incidentally my approach to other problems too). Yes these purges often coincided with the seasons, but more often than not with new periods in my life. The reboot or upgrade; a move from Rosie 2.0 to 2.5; steps on the journey to self-discovery.
Goodbye bubble dresses and heels worn to unsavoury nightclubs with even more unsavoury carpets and clientele. Goodbye to the tie-dye tops and grandpa jumpers of my trance days and with this, the flooding relief that I would never be dancing on the beaches of Goa in harem pants (once a very real lifetime goal). Goodbye to the parka jackets, band tees and slightly-too-tight skinny jeans worn to watch good-looking boys in bands. Hello to the glimmer of new possibilities; a chance to reset or reinvent all the while moving closer to the 'real' me.
However, with every bug fix, the 'maybe' pile continued to climb. As with the Versace jeans, I began to imbue various items with sentimental value meaning that I'd never quite achieved that spring-fresh, out-with-the-old feeling I'd so craved. This time, the cleanse would be different; onto Rosie 4.0 and no room for the 'maybe' pile. Coming or going, old life vs new life, what was, and was going to be – a chance to let go of the baggage once and for all.
I focused on the basics, building up from there. Plain tees, blazers, oversized shirts, polo necks, high-waisted trousers, blues, blacks, greys, beiges and whites, soft textures and fabrics that would last (plus the odd floral dress because old habits die hard). If it couldn't pair with at least three items, it couldn't come. Lighter, lighter and lighter still, stripping away the layers until it was just me, two suitcase of clothes, my favourite notebooks, a few family photos, and some illustrations by my sister. Layers gone and ready to go. Now I was really going to have to rely on my personality.
The next day, I was sitting in my new room, suitcases unpacked, clothes colour coordinated neatly into the wardrobe, and perfumes lined up at perfect right angles (there's a first time for everything). Even now, five months later, everything I brought with me holds so much more significance. No longer just 'stuff', my clothes remind me of home and during a time of change (new job, new house, new life etc.) bring a sense of order when so much feels up in the air.
Instead of five cosy jerseys to reach for on Sundays, there's one; light blue wool, my dad's and always guaranteed to make me feel better. One pair of black jeans that makes me feel incredible on nights out; one oversized white shirt that pairs with everything; multiple pairs of white Reebok Classics because I wear them 5/7 days. All of the polonecks because my self-control only extends so far. I can't claim to have remained this pious, but for now I am so much more conscious of how, where and why I spend my money.
I've stopped buying clothes for some future self and buy what I need now, focusing on basics and items with unlimited pairing potential. In theory, this should make my next spring cleaning session a lot easier to tackle, but like that phone call you know you shouldn't make, the odd slip-up is inevitable. Luckily there's no leaderboard for spring cleaning. Similarly, the aching sadness of moving countries is replaced by a calm acceptance and the first glimpse of hope – your new life has started, and you are going to live it to the full.
There's so much freedom to be found in letting go. Sure I might be talking with the kind of grandiose air associated with someone eschewing all worldly possessions and high-tailing it to South-East Asia (and am very aware of the privilege associated with being able to talk like this), but a fresh start, whether it's cutting your hair, cutting down your wardrobe, moving house or moving countries brings with it a real opportunity for change, to feel different and close the door on a specific chapter.
Call it spring cleaning self care, call it diverting attention away from the real problems, I haven't quite worked that out yet, but when the shedding of layers makes you feel good, that counts for a lot.