Emptying the wardrobe, clearing the house: a microcosmic view into the creation and destruction of clothing value



House clearance companies frequently operate as the first brokers of goods as they move from first-hand usage to second-hand repurposing or to disposal. Especially in their end-of-life formation, house clearers process and disperse diverse ranges of unwanted goods, accumulated over lifetimes, making commercial decisions at speed about their next directions. The small-scale study of UK house clearance practice is underpinned by empirical observation of disposal and dispersal processes at three key points - the cleared house, the waste processing site, and the reselling location – and by interviews with those who make the choices about what to keep and what to trade, as well as with those who buy it and sell it on. Taking a material culture approach that draws on wardrobe studies, garment biographies and design histories, this study puts disembodied dress at its centre. It  examines how clothes can move, in less than a week, out of wardrobes and into the domain of secondhand dealers and consumers, through declining scales of value, until garments are given away for free. What remains unwanted at the end of this process is culturally marked by many rejecting hands and constitutes the lowest ebb of utility and desirability, illuminating how cultural and financial value is constructed and deconstructed through local and global circuits of manufacture and reuse, and ultimately how waste is classified and produced.


House clearancesecond-hand cultureseveryday dressobject biographywardrobe studieswaste disposalrubbish theory
  • Issue: 17
  • Page/Article: 34-54
  • DOI: 10.18573/jomec.228
  • Published on 9 Dec 2022
  • Versions: 9 Dec 20229 Dec 2022
  • Peer Reviewed