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I went to another clothes swap and now I need a mind dump on clothes waste, Marie Kondo, and providing women in crisis with free clothes

The dilemma goes something along the lines of:

"I have a wardrobe full of clothes but nothing to wear"

I'm not sure who said this or where I originally read it, but I know the feeling well. If you know me in real life you wouldn't consider me to be a clothes horse. But if you had a look through my wardrobe and chest of drawers you would probably think I was.

Until last August my bedroom was bursting at the seams. I still owned activewear from when I was a dancer during my time at university. Or from when I still tried to convince myself I was into running, which was a dark time. I still owned dresses that I haven't been able to fit into since I started a desk job. I owned shirts that I know longer like, or maybe never really did. I owned waist length t-shirts, even though I don't suit high necks or anything that draws attention to my mid-section. All the money I spent buying a new dress every time I went on a night out (yes, I was once one of those girls) was still hanging in my closet. Heels I was never able to walk in. Clothes I hadn't worn in years.

I owned more clothes than I owned coathangers, and I own plenty of coathangers (I bought beige for my work clothes and purple for everything else so I could easily separate my looks). I have a massive chest with four big drawers, and four small ones, brimming with underwear, accessories, sportswear, more general clothing, and my weirdly large pyjama collection. Even better, I never put my laundry away because I needed my drying rack as extra storage space.

This, my friends, is when you know you need to have a clear out.

Last August I was approaching the year mark of an anniversary where I ruffled some feathers and decided to stop caring what people thought of me (also known as ridding my life of toxic people and coming out of the closet). With this anniversary looming, I had the sudden urge to rid myself of physical belongings that represented the version of myself that I thought I was supposed to be, or the person other people wanted me to be.

I started by admitting that a few things needed to go to landfill. Which always sucks. But there's not exactly a second-hand market for broken GHDs, shoes with holes in them, and water bottles with corporate logos. Then I packed up the athletic and outdoorsy stuff that was mostly on lend from my genuinely outdoorsy parents and gave it back to my mum the next time she visited. The only sport I enjoy is swimming and it was time to own that.

Then in November I attended my first ever clothes swap, hosted by ethical fashion blogger Ruth Macgilp. I blogged about the day here, so there's no need to go into detail. I only took one small suitcase full of clothes that I really wanted rid of. But when I returned home with new clothes that I was genuinely excited to start wearing, I could now see even more clutter in my bedroom (and I still had more clothes than I did coathangers).

So last week when I attended Ruth's second clothes swap, I was ruthless. I was attending the International Improv Festival later that day and didn't want to lug a suitcase around so I filled my rucksack and two large shopping bags with clothes that served no purpose in my life. And it felt cathartic, especially since I was finally accepting my body would never be slim enough for some of those clothes again.

This time the clothes swap was taking place at the ALICAS offices. ALICAS is a charity that builds capsule wardrobes for women in need, whether that is due to homelessness or fleeing domestic abuse. They work on a referral system from charities who agree that these women would benefit from a new wardrobe. They only collect clothes that still have the label on them so the women in need don't feel as though they are receiving hand me downs. Luckily I had a dress in my wardrobe that still had tags on it and it's a great way to get rid of clothes you were meant to return, but never got round to.

The work ALICAS do might seem frivolous at first glance, but many victims of homelessness and domestic abuse (especially emotional abuse) lose their sense of self, and clothes play a large part in shaping someone's self-identity. On the day of the clothes swap, we filled boxes for two of the charity's current referrals - which included information on the women's age, clothing sizes, and style preferences. These women were going to receive clothing that would fit their personalities and lifestyles, and that's fantastic.

On the day of the clothes swap, the conversation naturally gravitated towards Marie Kondo and how much she has inspired people to clean out their lives. I've not read her book or watched her Netflix documentary, but from what I've heard second-hand I agree with the principles. I have been in the mindset for years that the organisation or cleanliness of someone's house reflects their mental health and emotional wellbeing. I used to be terrible at not keeping on top of my housework, but that was because I was busy with too many random things that I couldn't make time for basic self-care. My room reflected how disorganised my life was.

And my hoarding tendencies (in case you missed it: I mentioned that I held on to a pair of broken GHDs) were reflective of my general attitude to filling my life with things that didn't bring happiness or had long outgrown. Whether it was having frenemies, people I liked but didn't get the !!!! feeling for, staying in romantic/sexual relationships for longer than I should, having hobbies that I wasn't super-passionate about, or even staying in the closet until my mid-twenties - I was never able to throw away even non-physical things.

But there has been understandable criticism that Marie Kondo is encouraging people to send half their belongings to landfill. Which is true. But the real problem is consumerism and people buying things they don't need. This also includes gifts you feel you need to buy someone, and they end up at the back of the closet for ten years. Until people learn to live with less in the beginning, we're going to have people throwing away stuff. The trick isn't to hoard (like I did) it's to think more sensibly about your purchases in the first place.

When I got home that evening, it was without my two large shopping bags and my rucksack was now full of new clothes that reflect my current outwards appearance:
  • A polka dot blazer from M&S
  • A tartan hooded dress from Collection Vintage London
  • A stripy long-sleeved jumper from Oasis 
  • A long t-shirt with eyes on it from Neon Ninja®
  • Burgandy and white skater dress from People Tree
And the best part of my second clothes swap?

I can now fit all my clothes in my wardrobe.

Move over Marie Kondo.
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