Photo: Dvora @fashionistable

As part of the research for Know Your Style, I embarked on a decluttering exercise with a wardrobe expert. Although I’m quite ruthless about old/unworn clothes, it was high time I sorted my shit out and an impartial judge really can make a difference (read more about my decluttering exercise HERE and HERE). Most of wardrobe expert Anna Berkeley’s advice was duly noted – but there has been a whiff of a rebellion around the areas of coat-buying and Khaki Malarkey (I have enough coats and khaki items already) but the one-in-one-out rule does remain intact. Meet the Withnail & I coat. Purchased last year, this belted, duster style is by Harris Wharf and apparently Michelle Obama owns one in black. What can I say…Harris Wharf coats are available from StyleBop, Selfridges, Yoox, and Harvey Nicols but being unlined wool, they’re not warm enough for freezing temperatures. Just so you know. Anyhow. There will be another decluttering frenzy when we have our new wardrobe fitted and I’ll invite Anna back round for the private view. I’m sure she’ll be impressed. As for my New Year’s gift to you, here are the expert decluttering tips from Know Your Style.

It’s easier to do it in small chunks, get all your tops together, rather than throwing all your clothes on the bed and running out of steam halfway through. Use a rail if you have one, it helps.

Try as much on as you can manage and be really honest – does it make you feel good? Does it suit you? Do you love it? You need to answer ‘yes’ to all of these -otherwise it’s goodbye!

Discard anything that looks tired, fits badly or is damaged.

Don’t save clothes for ‘best’ or keep ‘just in case’ items. Use the things you really love – otherwise, quite frankly, what’s the point?

Try and group your clothes into lifestyle sections – work, leisure, weekend and special occasion. This makes it easier to see what you have and to get dressed in a hurry.

Pack up the items you aren’t wearing, so summer clothes can be packed away and replaced by winter items. Use vacuum packs to release space, Pack Mate are the best. And throw in a moth repellent sachets while you’re at it.


And should you fancy a little Withnail & I action:


37 thoughts on “Expert wardrobe decluttering tips

  1. Everybody needs an occasional declutter! Just wanted to say Happy New Year. Discovering your blog last year was a highlight of 2017. I look forward to receiving more inspiration from you and the many who also send comments.

  2. I did a little bit of sales shopping this weekend – which means next weekend will involve a good hard look at what’s in my wardrobe nowadays some winnowing out of the chaff. There is a red cardigan that much as I like it, I never wear – which will suit my sister much better…and I’ll have more room for the new purchases. #winwin

  3. That’s a great coat, Alyson. I’m a big declutterer. Is that a word, do you think? But I always set aside a few items which I still love but don’t wear currently… just in case I change my mind next year… or the one after that:)
    Happy 2018.

  4. I set aside some time today to drag out all my jeans and edit. Your hair looks fantastic, as do you. I’m three months in to my transition and seeing your hair gets me excited.

  5. Gosh, I was just telling my husband that we both need to get in and purge out things!! It’s gotten to be a crazy mess in our closet!!
    Happy 2018!

  6. A bit confused about the Khaki Malarkey link – both times I clicked over it led to Matches, the first time with gasp-worthy prices and the second time everything was $0 (out of stock?) – I like much of your style but a more moderate approach to pricing would be nice.

  7. I love a good decluttering post!!! I’m ready to weed out the things that aren’t in heavy rotation. It’s finally been cold enough here to wear a coat (one of my favorite items of clothing!) and the one you’ve shown is beautiful. Happy New Year! Here’s to a 2018 filled with joys both big and small, including getting dressed in things we love. xoxo

  8. Thanks for these really useful tips Alyson (as ever). This is a lovely coat on you, and your nickname for it almost made me choke on my tea 🙂

  9. Alyson, I was chuffed to see the pic of you in your coat as I have just bought one very similar from Toast ( mine is dark blue ) I HOPE mine looks as good as yours does on you , as I’m not so tall and my waist is long gone, but I feel good in it.
    I love coats and my bugbear is that they do take up a lot of room, otherwise I would probably have twice as many. Definetely no de-cluttering there !
    Otherwise I love a de-clutter and would do it even more ruthlessly if charity shops were widespread in Greece where I live. There’s the problem of where to give unwanted things.
    Happy 2018 and great new posts !

  10. I read a good decluttering tip. Hang your things up with the hanger hook the wrong way round. If you wear them, put them back the right way. Then after a certain time – 6 months, a year – anything still the wrong way round is something you don’t wear.

    1. I’ve been doing this for the past couple of years and it definitely helps me weed out the things I don’t need in my closet. It also reminds me to make sure I wear the things I like and won’t want to get rid of at the end of the season. I do a seasonal wardrobe switch every spring and fall, so for me that’s the perfect time to turn the hangers.

  11. I’m odd woman out (story of my life lol.) I only edit gently. I do pass on or long term lend items to people I think will get a lot of use out of what I think of as my treasures, but mainly I store and bring out again a year later, 3 years later, a decade later. I have clothes from 40 years ago that I have brought into rotation again (not a lot, and definitely not anything with a waist!) Since many people, including me, enjoy the occasional vintage item, why not shop one’s own closet? I should note, as well, that my clothes are not uber high end classics, either. So it’s not like I’m putting aside Chanel or the like. If the fabrics are yummy I might have them remade, as well. I do pass on “mistakes” quite rapidly. Things I thought had a role, but never did. My local thrift shop loves me for that. But mostly I just try to buy right the first time.

  12. While I do sometimes like a good purge, I usually do it little by little, as I wear things and I decide I don’t like it for some reason or other. I have a running donate pile in my closet and haul it off periodically. I find it more helpful if I go in and spend time working out new ways to wear old things I have not worn in a while. I may spend a few hours making up a dozen new outfits, and if there is an item I need that will make so many new outfits work, (a new accessory to update things for example) it goes on the shopping list. If there is something that I just can’t work out a new way to style, I will let it go. This way helps me not get in fashion ruts, wearing the same thing over and over.

  13. Just found you all yesterday. While I meant to check up on a few e-mails, pay bills etc, I ended up spending the better part of an entire day reading everything you had. Oh dear, now I am spending the better part of this day doing what I should have done yesterday!

    I had to laugh though, one thing I really do not need is to declutter. My mantra has always been ‘when in doubt, throw it out!’
    Having lost almost 100 pounds, the closet is rather empty because nothing fit. I was happy as a clam to let it all go. Now I need to figure out who I am and what in the world I am going to with me. Living in an extremely rural area really makes it difficult. Does anyone remember the 1970’s movie Deliverance? Yeah. Wal-Mart is the closest store and that is a half hour of 70 mile an hour driving. I don’t want to do Wal-Mart nor do I want to wear the look everyone out here has. I am in a quandary.

    For a little compliment to all of you across the pond, I must say, I love reading your posts. The British have a lovely handle on speaking/writing and use a more elegant vocabulary. So, while I am a southerner and say y’all and fixin’, your words are a pleasure to read and listen to (thanks to PBS for all the wonderful BBC shows)

    1. You have come to the right place. Perhaps have a trip to a larger centre where you can try on many different items and get an idea of fit then you can have a look at having things delivered. I too had this dilemma as I live in a holiday home area beside the beach in South Australia. I decided what my style is and kept to it. It’s about how you feel.
      Congratulations on losing so much weight. You must feel fantastic. You now have the perfect opportunity to determine your style without the guilt of tossing out particularly good clothes. Enjoy the Journey.

    2. Fantastic achievement! I’m sure you will develop a new style which will make you look and feel confident and truly ‘you’.

    3. Jennifer, you must be over the moon at your weight loss. Congratulations! I’m guessing that ‘the look everyone out here has’ is denim based and that maybe you don’t believe you would look good in it. If so, not so! I truly believe that there are very few people who don’t look good in properly fitting jeans (whatever the style), top (t-shirt or longsleeves), sweatshirt and nice boots. Yep, my preferred choice, I admit! And if I look at least as half as good as I hope I do then I’m a happy bunny! And I bet you would find the same.

      But, if that really isn’t your style, then next time you leave the blacktop keep an eye open for thrift shops as some of those can be surprisingly upmarket, and even if you didn’t fancy anything you might pick up some ideas. And next time you do make it to Wal-Mart have a look at the White Stag brand as most of their stuff has maintained its quality over the years.

      Good luck!

      1. I am, I am over the moon! I just want to be a little different than the 3,000 people in our county and wear something tailored or fashion forward without being a spectacle. Believe me, after living here 6 years, we are still the “city people” or the “outsiders”. I love jeans. I do! But seriously, I would almost commit a felony to wear open toed shoes (other than flip flops), a soft blouse, or a super cute outfit and be stared at like I just came in on a UFO.

        I shop on line for many things. I found a couple of sites that offer some higher end clothes on consignment. But what is really in style without being too trendy? What goes with these really cute blazers I bought? When will I ever wear them? Why in hell are all the shoes so freaking high? Enough of the Sperrys, I want cute!!! I will be 52 in 16 days and spent the last 20 of those years seriously over weight. Is it wrong to not want to go gray yet? Do I get a chance to find a little of what I missed? I want to look younger and fresher without looking stupid or look as if I am having a mid life crisis. You are supposed to laugh here, by the way. How does one strike a balance between being mature yet looking young?

        My teen aged girls think they have it bad. Oh Please! I think I need a drink now.

        1. Jennifer, I appreciate that the distances involved are probably much greater than we have to grapple with in the UK, but could you at some point make a special trip to have an appointment with a personal stylist at a good department store? Ideally a free appointment, which will give you an idea of your style, a few versatile options to buy, and a blueprint for future online purchases. Wishing I could spirit you away to my local John Lewis in Edinburgh!

    4. Jennifer,
      Nordstrom has free deliveries and free returns. I started shopping there last year and have found some things I love. They have some lower priced lines with good quality (and some that are no better than Target.) There are many other online resources that should make it almost as easy for you to shop there as anywhere. Good luck!

  14. Great decluttering pointers that I do follow, with two Midwestern caveats: 1. The idea of lifestyle sections is appealing, but I have, especially in winter, quite a few things that are notably multi-occasion and multi-purpose, which does help keep wardrobe size down, but blurs categories. So closet organizing by item (jeans, pants, blouses, long-sleeve turtlenecks, etc. works well. 2. Our seasons modulate about every three months, albeit with extreme weather variations within; I find a closet divided in two sections (wearing now/not wearing now) works better for swapping things in and out as the months go by. Also, not mentioned, but very helpful for me was when I finally got my neutrals and colors under control.

  15. Great tips! I failed miserably with the Marie Kondo method, your system is more humane. I have yet to switch my closets from summer to winter, this is the inspiration I needed. Love the coat by the way!

  16. Happy new year Alyson.

    Your hair is looking great. I am a brunette who decided to stop covering my grey a year or so ago. But brunette hair going grey and also losing it’s brown tones, thereby going a lifeless dark ‘meh’ is very depressing, so have had highlights added to help the process along. I see Alex Shulman has done the same thing. And India Knight.

    Look forward to another year of following your lovely blog and enjoying your readers comments.

  17. Just took 3 bags to a charity thrift !
    It was harder actually going there then it was to clean out my clothes! The bags rode in my car for 2 months !!!

  18. Happy new year Alyson and readers. As it turns out I’ve been reorganising my summer clothes and this seasons. Have decided to keep all of them until I decide in spring what I want to wear. I’m a keeper of my clothing rather than a clearer out. Have read Kondo to little effect. That being said when I downsized and moved I gave away for a year or so clothes that no longer fit or felt right. Recipients were friends family members and a Children ‘s hospice charity shop looking for better quality clothing. They were delighted with the bags of clothing I donated and I felt good doing so. Overall this year I need to shop my closet/wardrobe and with reduced budget and current high prices use what I already own. I only add strategic new buys to update my outfits. This season sale buys of black velvet dress and plum velvet trousers to wear with last year’s velvet top. And the many splendid velvet scarves and shawls I’ve kept from the 90s probably.
    I own many coats and don’t give those away. It’s fun to have ample choice especially in this climate. Long dark coat looks very good in the photograph. And the Spittlefields street behind is most attractive.

  19. DID this about the 28th of DEC. as I couldNOT stand my closet another minute!Felt GREAT.
    I even made a GARDENING CLOTHES SECTION!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I do need MORE SPACE……..and NO, will not get rid of THE ESCADA white LINEN SUIT with gold trim from 1986!!!!!!!
    Where I worked in the DESIGNER department; we got clothes at COST so we would wear them!I ADORED THIS OUTFIT and still DO but will NEVER GET ONE LEG INTO AGAIN!
    HAPPY HAPPY 2018……….how is the BOOK DOING?

    1. Ha ha! I have a gardening clothes section too. They are items that have been downgraded from ‘weekend about the house’ category and I can guarantee that not a lot of people will see me in them and I don’t mind if they get covered in mud or torn!

  20. Late night spelling error. My post should have read Spitalfield, East London. Alyson strolling down Fournier Street maybe with tote bag on her way to Spitalfield market nearby. All coats shown delightful. I’m especially drawn to the dark green ones like army greatcoats. Of which I have several. My big Christmas gift new coat is that shape but in a big Prince of Wales plaid. Bought in Seoul in a department store concession called Studio Tomboy. No risk of bumping into anyone wearing the same garment. But very much of the moment to smarten up whatever old clothes and jeans it is worn over.

  21. Hi Alyson. This post is very timely for me. However, do you have any tips for “living in two places,” and de-cluttering, getting organized? My most technical attempt is to take photos of what I have in each place with my iPhone. But even that doesn’t solve all problems. Short of buying duplicates of everything, do you have any tips?

  22. I don’t do big declutters any more. I gently cull throughout the year and then once a year, check everything over, send cashmere to the cashmere doctors, if needs be, and chuck moth protectors in the zipped protectors. I also would never sort things by occasion because having a relatively small capsule wardrobe means that everything has to work hard, so the long silk skirt I wore for our anniversary dinner on a beach in South Africa, paired with a cotton T-shirt, can be matched with a Vivienne Westwood evening top and heels for a black tie event. My Protagonist silk charmeuse shirt goes with jeans for a more casual dinner or Stella McCartney black Italian wool trousers for fancier. You get the picture. I just binned a few items but got a beautiful quality sweater from the Matches sale. Now it’s all about higher quality.

  23. Hello Alyson, fab coat and bag! Is the bag available in London too? I live in Sydney but am coming to London in June.
    Love your work. -:) Thank you!

    1. The bag is one of Ally Capellino’s leather totes. It’s quite a few years old but I’m sure there will be something similar in store (she has shops in Shoreditch and Portobello).

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