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In need of a wardrobe cleanout? Our three-part series shows you how to do it with expert guidance and a natty flowchart. This first part shows you how to let go of clothes - stay tuned for part 2 on what essentials to keep and part 3 on injecting trends into your wardrobe.

Reorganising an overflowing wardrobe is a task many of us avoid. Filled with a chorus of memories, hefty price tags (often still attached), and unpractical pieces you’re hanging onto ‘just in case Leonardo DiCaprio invites me to a sequin-themed yacht party or something’, the emotional task of culling your closet can feel like pulling teeth. If that wasn’t enough, once you’ve sorted through every piece, you’re suddenly hit with the second task of what to actually do with all the items you no longer need.

We’ve called on some Hong Kong style experts to help you navigate the challenging – yet cathartic, we promise – task of clearing out your closet.

You’ve got this.

When deciding how to refresh your look you need to make some key decisions about what to keep, what to clear out and what to do with the clothes you don’t need

‘What’s important to bear in mind when having a wardrobe clear-out is what your end goal is,’ shares local personal stylist and shopper Ihna Holtermann. ‘If the clear-out is merely to make space for new clothes on your wish list, I’d suggest going straight to the back of your closet or the bottom of your drawers and taking out the pieces that are collecting dust. If they don’t hold any sentimental value, they should be first to go. If your goal is about minimising your wardrobe to key pieces to feel more organised and streamlined in your home life, be ruthless and honest with yourself. Look at each piece of clothing with a critical eye as if seeing it for the first time and ask yourself “Do I actually like the way it looks?” This sounds obvious but when you’ve been staring at the same clothes for years, it’s actually quite tricky. You also need to consider how clothes make you feel. Don’t hang onto pieces that you don’t have a positive association with. This can make the whole process of clearing out your wardrobe a cathartic one.’

If the thought of starting this process seems a little daunting, Holtermann suggests easing into your wardrobe overhaul by determining the pieces you do want to keep first. ‘With my clients, the first thing we do is take out their most-loved and most-worn pieces. We discuss why we like them, how they fit, how they make us feel and our favourite ways to wear them. It’s then easier to spot the pieces that don’t fit well or feel good to wear. With items that you’re not sure of, think imaginatively about ways you could tailor the piece = a shapeless dress can be easily reworked into a great skirt, for example.’

Christina Dean, founder of Redress, the Hong Kong NGO promoting environmental sustainability in the fashion industry, and author of Dress [with] Sense (available here, shares Holtermann’s views on using imagination when it comes to injecting new life into old pieces. ‘A moment of hesitation during the radical wardrobe purge could be called for as some clothes that may initially whisper “I need to go” could actually scream “keep me and reinvent me by styling me, repairing me or altering me and taking me to a tailor” if we gave them the chance. This is a “new” type of creating “new” clothes for the increasingly sustainable and conscious consumer,’ she says.

Hong Kong-based fashion journalist and stylist Daniel Kong offers an approach that’s equally as therapeutic when applied to other areas of your life. ‘I often like to think of garments as people – when you guilt-trip yourself into wearing something or seeing someone purely for the reason that you haven’t done so in a long time, it’s time to let it go. When it comes to life and fashion, I work with this love-first policy. This means keeping my time, my energy and my approach to dressing as joyful and easy as possible.’

Once you’ve decided what to keep and what not to, the next step is deciding what to do with the items you no longer need. ‘Every hour in Hong Kong, we send up to a whopping 15,000 garments into our landfills even though textiles are almost 100% recyclable,’ shares Dean, reminding us, that ‘whatever you do, don’t bin them.’

Dress with Sense: The Practical Guide to a Conscious Closet

What to do with luxury or higher-priced pieces in good condition…

Says Dean: ‘You can swap them; remember that a swap can be as simple as with a friend over a lunch break to a large swap party, the beauty being, of course, that when you swap you get something back in return! Additionally, you can sell, or list your valuable pieces on second-hand clothing platforms, such as HULA  and Guiltless, both of which support Redress’s work. Redress also holds an annual clothing drive and collects in partnership with Zara Hong Kong all year round, where we welcome high-quality clothing and accessories that are sold to support our work to cut waste out of fashion.’ 

What to do with pieces of less retail value that are still in wearable condition…

‘You can donate these to various charities in Hong Kong, including those listed by The Home Affairs Department  as having clothing containers dotted around Hong Kong, such as Salvation Army, Friends of the Earth, Conservancy Association and Christian Action. You can also donate to brands’ in-store collection containers, as many like Zara now have take-back schemes. This can also be very convenient, depending on where you work and live. Along with the charities and the clothing shops that have containers, you’ll also spot clothing recycling containers in commercial builders and estates. Many of these are managed by recycling businesses, and donating here will still ensure that your unwanted clothes will reach another market – and not landfill.’

What to do with old and tattered clothing and accessories no longer suitable for use…

‘Remember that textiles are almost 100% recyclable and that the holy grail of a sustainable closet – and lifestyle – is to keep textiles out of landfills. So I’d still put in worn clothes and textiles into those listed on the Home Affairs Department website. While this may incur additional sorting (which charities in general will sigh at!), at least your textiles will go into a waste-sorting stream that can, hopefully, find the best recycling routes for poor quality textiles.’

Check back for our next instalment on what essentials to keep!