Storing your winter clothes and boots - effectively and naturally

Today it’s the 21st of February, which means it’s still more than a month until spring really arrives in my neck of the woods (Scotland), but it also means that whatever way you look at it, we’re closer to the start of spring than the start of winter and while winter has its joys, I, for one, am looking forward to spring.  I’m even starting to look forward to the prospect of wrapping up winter items and freshening up for spring.  Although it’s still way too early to start packing away my thickest woolies, where I live snow in March is far from unusual, I can start planning it and I thought by sharing these tips now, I could help you to plan ahead.  So, here is my guide to storing winter clothes and boots effectively and naturally.

Step 1 - Declutter

I’m not going to go into the whole decluttering process, particularly since I already wrote a whole blog post on decluttering, but for the sake of completeness I’ll mention that now is a good time to be really honest about what it’s worth your while to keep and what not.  Here are four points which might help to prod you along the decluttering path.

1. Your storage space may be limited but charity shops are quite used to collecting items at the end of a season and storing them until they come into season again, so if you’re not using them, why not just donate them now.

2. Some people, myself included, use this opportunity to pick up anything we need to replace at end-of-season prices so if you’re planning to sell something (or at least try), consider just selling it now and accepting the fact that you’ll probably get a bit less for it than you would have if you’d kept it until it came back into season.

3. If something is past it and can’t be easily recycled where you are, then it may do very well as a rag for your spring cleaning (and indeed later cleaning), which is better than putting it pointlessly into storage because you can’t think of anything better to do with it.

4. Decluttering gives you the opportunity to see what, if anything, you genuinely need to replace (clothes and footwear don’t last forever) and to take a decision on whether you want to replace it now when winter items will be priced to sell quickly or to make a note to prioritize the purchase when winter rolls around again.

Choose your storage location and then your containers

I’ve been watching a lot of wardrobe organization videos recently (but that’s for another blog) and pretty much every one I’ve seen recommends using the space at the top of the wardrobe for off-season clothing put into attractive fabric storage boxes.  The top of the wardrobe is a reasonable enough location, although I personally would suggest you go through your entire home and check for all your options so you can pick the best one, but fabric storage bins are not a good way to store clothes or boots over the long term because they provide zero protection against water and pests.
The best way to store off-season clothes or boots is in airtight plastic containers, which can be reused year after year.  Cardboard boxes are simply too vulnerable to moisture and pests. Wood may be OK in some climates, but it doesn’t give all that much protection against pests, unless it’s specifically cedar and even then the protection is limited.  You could always put your plastic containers inside something more attractive if you're going to keep them somewhere visible.

A note on vacuum bags

Vacuum bags may be great for travel, but I wouldn’t use them for long-term storage, particularly not for items made out of natural fibres which need to breathe.  The big difference between plastic containers and vacuum bags is that plastic containers seal in some air when you close them which is enough to keep your clothes happy.  Vacuum bags do not, which is why they are so compact.  They might be OK for clothes made purely of synthetic material, I’ve never had a chance to try it, but I really would not use them for long-term storage of items made of natural fibres.

Preparing your winter clothes

Clean everything, even if it hasn’t been worn

Usually I am the person who points out how clothes can be worn more than once between washes, but when it comes to putting clothes and boots into storage, then you need to clean everything even if that means taking it to the dry cleaners.  The reason for this is that you need to get rid of any insect eggs which can hatch while your clothes are in storage, in particular you want to get rid of moths’ eggs.  If you find yourself grudging paying for dry cleaning for clothes you hardly ever wear then consider adding them to the discard pile (just for clarity, I mean discard as in move on in some way, rather than discard as in just throw away).  If you really can’t bring yourself either to dry clean your clothes or throw them away then take them outside on a sunny day and brush them thoroughly, particularly along collars, hems and seams, this will probably get rid of at least most of the eggs although I’d suggest packing them away separately just to be on the safe side.

Natural laundry tip (saves money too)

I’m going to be blunt and say I used to buy the expensive, environmentally-friendly brands of washing powder until I did some research and became a whole lot less impressed with their environmental credentials.  After some digging, I came up with the following tip which works for me.  Use one quarter of the recommended amount of detergent, add 2 tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda to the wash (or washing soda if you can get it) and half a cup of white vinegar to the rinse.  The chemical reactions get your clothes just as clean with much less detergent.  In my experience, this will work on normal stains, basically anything you’d expect to get off with regular washing powder.

The science behind it.  Most of the cleaning power of washing machines comes from fabrics rubbing against other fabrics (or the drum of the machine), basically this replaces the old action of scrubbing.  If clothes are only slightly soiled they would probably come out clean if you just washed them in water.  Bicarbonate of soda and washing soda are both surfactants, which means they break the surface tension in the water or, in other words, they make sure the water gets into the clothes instead of just sitting on the clothes.  This is one step up from plain water.  Detergent cuts through grease and fat and hence can be very useful for dealing with food.  Vinegar is an acid, which can also be helpful for cleaning and will also help to neutralize the soda and detergent, which are both alkaline.

NB: You can get laundry soaps, which claim to be more environmentally friendly than laundry detergents.  This may well be true, but they won’t necessarily be good for your washing machine, particularly if you live in a hard water area, where the soap suds will bond with the lime to create scum which will eventually almost certainly damage your machine and it probably won’t be covered by the warranty.

Let everything dry thoroughly, if possible naturally

Putting clothes away with any dampness still in them is just asking for problems.  I personally prefer to air dry but if that’s not possible, then I suggest passing on dryer sheets and using a combination of dryer balls (bought or home-made) and scented wash cloths.  To make dryer balls just scrunch up aluminium foil (tin foil) into a ball as big or small as you like (I aim for ones which sit snugly in my hand).  This will deal with the static.  Then get an ordinary wash cloth, soak it in water and add a couple of drops of your favourite essential oil.  Toss both of these in with your dying load and you’ll get static-free, beautifully-scented clothes without the expense or chemicals of dryer sheets.

Check your clothes and, if necessary, repair or discard them

I personally don’t bother ironing clothes which are going into storage (if I’m honest I very rarely iron anything), but I do check them carefully so that when I take them out of storage, they are ready to wear.  That means dealing with minor repairs such as buttons and tears or organizing repairs for items I can’t mend myself (and should probably learn to mend myself), like zips.  If you find yourself reluctant to deal with the repair then it’s probably a good sign that the item should be added to your discard pile.  It’s probably a sign that it neither something which brings you joy or something which you need, otherwise you’d just deal with it (or would have dealt with it by now).  It’s nicest to fix the repair before you pass it on (unless, of course, it’s going for recycling).

Prepare your protection

The best way to ensure that your clothes survive the winter without turning into an insect’s dinner is to make sure they are completely clean before you pack them away.  There are, however, three plants, which can give some extra protection and add a pleasant fragrance too.

Cedar - Contrary to what is sometimes touted on the internet, cedar itself is not a failsafe way to protect your clothes through the winter.  Its oils will kill off the young larvae of clothes moths, but it won’t kill off the eggs or the older larvae, nor will it trouble carpet beetles.  It will also lose its effectiveness with time as the oils age.  You can replenish it, but you need to remember to do so and it may not be easy to judge when to top up.  Having said all that, it is still a very useful and certainly worth adding to your containers.

Lavender - This won’t kill anything but will repel many insects.

Peppermint - Mice dislike the smell of peppermint so I think it’s worth adding a few drops to stop them from trying to make a bed in your clothes (which they shouldn’t be able to do if your container is robust enough, but I like to be on the safe side as their teeth can be very strong).

The other big threat to your clothes is moisture, which can create mould.  This is easily remedied by the use of bicarb bags.  You can buy these but they are super-easy to make, even if you are a DIY klutz like me.  Just get a couple of sheets of kitchen paper and put a dollop of bicarbonate of soda on them, if you feel so inclined, you can add a couple of drops of essential oil.  Then pull the edges of the sheet together and secure them, twist the top to seal it and secure it however you like, I tend to use hair ties.  

Prepare your winter boots

Cleaning winter boots

Good winter boots are investment pieces so it pays to take care of them properly.  Here’s how I do it.

Brush any surface dirt off the outside and clean the sole thoroughly.  This is really important, you do not want to put boots (or anything else) into storage when they are dirty.

Check their condition and, if necessary, take them to be repaired.  Even if it’s only something minor which could wait, just do it now, so when you take your boots out of storage, you can just put them straight on and be good to go.

NB: Remember to check the condition of the laces and any insoles.  If you need to replace them do it now, even if you don’t it’s a good idea to keep spares so you can quickly switch them out if you need to.

Depending on where you get your boots repaired, the cobbler may also be able to clean them for you but if not, now is the time to deal with any stains.  Salt stains will generally disappear with the help of an old toothbrush.

If they are leather, condition them, use your leather conditioner of choice - or plain, old-fashioned saddle soap.  

Make a bicarb bag and stuff it in the toe.  

Support them, even if you’re storing your boots lying down, you still want them to hold their shape, so if they’re longer add a shoe tree or rolled up newspaper.

If you’re storing your boots lying down, put them into some sort of cloth bag such as a dust bag.

Get packing

The strategy for packing away items for winter storage is essentially the same as for packing for travel.  Put the heaviest items on the bottom and work your way up to the lighter ones.  If you’re packing away party clothes with a lot of embellishments, roll or fold them with the embellishment on the inside and if you’re packing away clothes which can bobble, consider turning them inside out.  Use pillow cases to hold smaller items and keep them together.

A big difference between putting clothes in storage and packing for travel is that you don’t have to be as precious about making use of every last bit of space, in fact it’s often best to give clothes a bit of space rather than trying to squeeze as much as you can in, as this helps them to keep their shape, which matters a whole lot more over 6 months of storage than it does over the length of a flight.

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