Marie Kondo has encouraged millions around the world to declutter their homes and wardrobes. But what happens to the items that no longer “spark joy”? According to the World Wear Project, 85 per cent of textiles ends up in landfills. Meanwhile, figures from the Environmental Protection Agency suggest the US alone produces around 15 million tons of textile waste every year.
Experts say the popularity of the KonMari method is only exacerbating the problem. Charities and resellers have been inundated with items since the Japanese decluttering guru’s Netflix show, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, aired in January—only a fraction of which can actually be reused.
Elizabeth L. Cline, author of new book The Conscious Closet, says Kondo’s advice shouldn’t be taken as gospel, particularly as it can lead to unnecessary waste. “The ‘spark joy’ method to me is a fast-fashion approach to cleaning out a closet,” Cline tells Vogue. “It’s really impulsive and creates a lot of garbage.”
Instead, clearing out your wardrobe requires considered thought. “Consumers have a lot of power over whether or not the items they’re getting rid of are going to have a second life or if they’re going to landfill,” Cline continues.
Here, Cline shares six ways to clear out your closet with a clean conscience.
1. Give clothes a second or third try
Instead of immediately purging clothes that don’t “spark joy”, Cline advocates giving them a second or third chance. “It’s an opportunity to rediscover what you’ve got,” she says. “Pairing up [a piece] with something else [can] create this totally fresh look. Obviously the most sustainable item in your closet is a piece of clothing that you already own.”
2. Ensure your clothes are in good condition
To increase the chances of your cast-offs going to a new home, you have to make sure they’re in good condition. “Your items should always be laundered. Any stains or marks that can be cleaned should be cleaned,” urges Cline. Go the extra mile to make basic repairs as well, including sewing back on any loose buttons. “All of this takes effort, but it really is the difference between those items going into a landfill versus potentially finding a second life in somebody else’s closet.”
3. Re-sell or organise a clothes swap
The best way to ensure your clothes don’t go to landfill is by reselling them or taking part in clothes swaps. “I’m a huge advocate for trying to resell or swap any of your high-value items,” Cline explains. “It always feels good to make back some money, but it also is a way to take greater responsibility and make sure the item has found a new home.”
4. Find organisations that take worn clothes
Most of us drop off all of our unwanted garments at the same place, whether that be a charity shop or a clothing bank. However, if any of your pieces are particularly worn out, it’s worth checking whether the organisation will take them. “You need to make sure the service has a relationship with a recycler, otherwise they will have to pay to landfill it,” Cline says.
5. Clear out clothes when they’re in season
Cline advises focusing only on clothes that are currently in season when you’re having a clear-out. This will help you decide what to keep, depending on what you’re actually wearing, as well as make it easier to find a new home for any cast-offs – as “that’s what’s in demand in the resale market”.
6. Take an inventory of your closet
Cleaning out your wardrobe is also an opportunity to assess what you currently have and make smarter shopping decisions in the future. “When you’re cleaning out your closet, what you’re really doing is taking an inventory of what you’ve got and what you need,” Cline says.
The Conscious Closet, by Elizabeth L. Cline, is out on 20 August (Plume)