Do You Have a Closet Set Point?

On Monday, I shared my most recent closet inventory.  I revealed that I have approximately half the number of clothes as I did when I started my blog in January 2013.  While that represents amazing progress, I know there are others who have pared down their wardrobes far more rapidly.  In truth, I have also purged things from my closet more quickly in the past, but my smaller wardrobe never seemed to last very long.

I’ve come to understand that I have a sort of closet “set point,” a wardrobe size with which I’m comfortable and come back to time and time again.  In today’s post, I share my closet set point theory and the insights that have enabled me to reduce the size of my wardrobe over time. I also offer some tips to help you lower your closet set point.

Closet Set Point

Closet creep setting in?  Maybe you’re going back to your set point.

What is a Set Point?

Before I delve into my thoughts on closet set points, let’s look at what a set point is.  I’m sure many of you have heard this term in relation to body weight and dieting.  The weight set point theory postulates that each human body has a specific weight range at which it is comfortable.  This set point is based upon a number of biological and genetic factors, many of which are outside our direct control.

If a person diets down to a weight below her set point, her body will automatically regulate hunger and metabolism in order to reach that level once again.   That’s a big reason why it’s so difficult to maintain weight loss over the long term and why we often reach plateaus while we’re dieting.

Weight set point is not completely set in stone.  In fact, it often increases with age and hormonal changes, as many older women reading this may be able to attest to.  It can also be impacted by activity level, the types of foods we eat, and how much we sleep.

What is a Closet Set Point?

Now this is not a weight loss blog and this isn’t an article about body set points, so let’s get back to the topic of our wardrobes.  I believe that much like we have weight set points, many of us also have set points related to the size of our wardrobes.  Of course, these set points are not determined by our genetics or our biology.  Rather, they are impacted by a number of psychological factors, including our history, our environment, and our emotional needs.

I believe the biggest determinant of our closet set points is what we are used to.  For many of us who have a history of overshopping, a jam-packed closet has been a longtime way of life.  Even if we periodically purge unworn pieces, we shop so frequently that it doesn’t take long for our closets to once again burst at the seams.   Even those who don’t overshop tend to keep their wardrobes at a fairly consistent size.  They may not bring as many items in or purge pieces at a very high rate, but they still maintain a relatively stable closet count.

The Ups and Downs of Wardrobe Size

At times, we may reach a high level of frustration at the burgeoning proportions of our closets.  So we spend a few hours pulling out all of the pieces we don’t wear and pass them on to loved ones, charity, or consignment.  We may fill bags upon bags with our cast-offs and feel extremely pleased with ourselves for our efforts.

But such contentment doesn’t last long for many of us.  We start to feel an internal angst and restlessness – or even a sense of panic at what we’ve done.  Our smaller wardrobe feels foreign to us and far too tiny for our comfort.  So what do we do?  You know the drill… We head out to the stores – or log on to our computers – and buy new clothes, shoes, and accessories to restore our sense of homeostasis.

The shopping we often do following a wardrobe pare-down is very similar to the binging many dieters do after weeks or months on a restrictive eating plan.  The dieter has likely dipped down below her weight set point or challenged it dramatically through her behavioral changes.  We have done something similar in radically reducing the size of our wardrobes over a short period of time.  We have done too much too soon and our psyches aren’t able to handle it.  The shopping we do alleviates our anxiety and allows us to feel calm in the closet once again, at least until we feel frustrated at our packed wardrobes the next time around.

The Vicious Cycle – and Breaking It

What I have described is a vicious cycle that I’ve experienced many times over the years.   I’ve often reached a point with my closet (or for many years, closets) where I was disgusted with how many clothes I had accumulated.  On two occasions, I hired closet consultants to help me pare down my wardrobe.   Both times, we filled numerous bags with ill-fitting, worn out, and no longer loved pieces.  I felt great and very satisfied with myself – for a time.  Then I increased the intensity of my shopping, and you know the rest of the story…

I love the following quote from Albert Einstein:

Insanity:  doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.”

I had been there, done that with my closet more times than I care to recount.  So when I started this blog last year, I decided to take a different approach.  I opted to pare down my wardrobe more gradually and deliberately in the hope that I might achieve better lasting results.   I didn’t do this in a vacuum, however.  I also put some parameters around my shopping to “stop the bleeding” and slow down the influx of new pieces into my closet.  I didn’t stick to my rules 100%, but having them in place definitely helped me to shop less often and more purposefully.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race!

My wardrobe pare-down has happened so slowly that I had plenty of time to emotionally adjust to the changes. At least that’s how it mostly went down.  On several occasions, I purged a bit too quickly and thus experienced a few shopping binges as a result.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had gone too far below my closet set point, which led to a bit of a panic.  Going back to a slower approach enabled me to get back on track and continue the general down-trend in the size of my wardrobe.

Just like with our body set points, it is possible to reduce our closet set points over time.  I’m sure you all know people who have slowly lost weight, at a rate of one to two pounds per week, and have been able to keep it off.  Conversely, you probably know people who have gone on crash diets and lost a lot of weight really fast, only to put those pounds back on weeks or months later.  Well, the same principle can be applied to our wardrobe size reduction.  Slow and steady wins the race!

Some Tips to Lower Your Closet Set Point

Now that I’ve gotten the theoretical stuff out of the way, it’s time to share some concrete tips for lowering your closet set point.  No strategy will work for everyone, but hopefully at least one of these tips will be effective for those of you who would like to experience lasting results with your closets.

One In, Two Out

I often read about the “one in, one out” recommendation in relation to preventing household clutter. That’s an excellent approach for those who are happy with their current level of possessions.  But what if you want to decrease the number of items you own?  If you keep bringing in the same number of items as you release, you’ll never be able to downsize.  Therefore, a better strategy is to adhere to a “one in, two out” principle.

The beauty of “one in, two out,” especially when combined with some restrictions on your shopping (i.e. an item limit and/or a budget), is that you’ll be paring things down, but not at a very rapid pace.  You don’t necessarily need to put two items in the donation bag each time you bring something new into your home.  But if you keep track of what you bring in, every month or so you can do a mini-purge and let go of approximately double that number of pieces.

That’s roughly what I’ve been doing over the past year and a half.  Although I’ve still been buying new items, I’ve been letting go of approximately twice as many things as I bring in.  This has resulted in a gradual downsizing of my closet over time.  I do feel it’s important to slow down the pace of bringing new pieces in, though, as you don’t want to be purging existing items just for the sake of it.  The items we let go of should be things that we no longer love and wear.

Use a “Hidden Holding Zone”

Instead of immediately sending our cast-offs out the door, it can be helpful to temporarily store them somewhere in our homes (what Angie of “You Look Fab” calls a hidden holding zone).  We can hang them in another closet, pack them up in boxes, or house them in an attic or garage.   The purged items live in a sort of purgatory for a time, which allows us to adjust to their not being in our main closets.  It also gives us time to “rescue” some pieces if we find ourselves missing them for whatever reason.

If we find that we were a bit overzealous with our purging, we can re-add some of our cast-offs to our wardrobes and reevaluate them at a later date.  This may seem like a step backwards, but I think it’s better than rushing out to re-fill our closets due to anxiety from moving too quickly with downsizing.

I have used this strategy on multiple occasions during the past year and a half.  I would say that I’ve only added 10-15% of the holding zone items back to my closet.  Emotionally, it helped me to have an interim period of adjustment to living with fewer clothes.  Sometimes the pieces I rescued were “diamonds in the rough” that I ended up wearing and enjoying later, but other times they headed out the door not long afterwards.  However, the important thing is that I was less compelled to shop to fill in gaps in my closet.

Take On a “Dress with Less” Challenge

It may seem counterintuitive, but doing Project 333 really helped me lower my closet set point.  Doing that challenge caused me to step way outside my comfort zone, especially the first time I did it.  I went from close to 300 garments down to 33 for a period of three months (I actually took everything else out of my closet!) and it was definitely difficult for me!  However, it also showed me that I didn’t need nearly as many clothes as I previously thought.  Although I felt that 33 was far too few garments for me, I knew that my previous wardrobe was much too large.

Project 333 Before and After

My closet before and during my first stint of Project 333!

Even during my Project 333 term, I was able to pare down my wardrobe.  I tackled it a bit at a time, but my pace of purging was accelerated quite a bit over what it would have been otherwise.  Pushing myself to dress with less increased my comfort level with having a smaller wardrobe, so it was easier to let my mediocre closet pieces go.

You don’t have to do something as drastic as Project 333 if you don’t want to.   You can select a larger number of items to work with (perhaps 50 or 60) or you can do the challenge for a shorter period of time, such as a month or two.  The key is to stretch yourself and get a bit uncomfortable in the process.  Just like stepping up your exercise can help decrease your weight set point, dressing with less for a period of time can lower your closet set point.

Set Small, Doable Pare-Down Goals

My final tip for lowering closet set point is to set small and doable pare-down goals.  Instead of saying you’re going to let go of 100 items within the next month – or even the next year – start with a smaller goal.  Perhaps you can set a target of releasing 10 pieces this month.  Focus on that goal, make it happen, and then pause to celebrate your success.  Then take a month off, regroup, and set another small goal.

Going back to the theme of “slow and steady wins the race,” these little, periodic goals will help you make lasting changes.  You have time to get used to a slightly smaller wardrobe before progressing down to the next level.  Of course, you also need to make sure you’re not bringing more items in than you’re letting go of!  Using this strategy in tandem with some limitations on your shopping will ensure your best chance of success.

In Conclusion

I hope the insights and tips I shared above will be helpful for you.  Again, this is just my perspective and it may not apply to all of you.  Now it’s your turn to chime in… Do you feel you have a closet set point?  Have you been able to successfully lower your set point over time?  If so, what advice do you have for those who are looking to do the same? As always, I am open to your input and I welcome your insights on this important topic.


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Comments

  1. Thanks for this post, Debbie. The concept of closet set point is very interesting. I agree that slow and steady is a good way to go about reducing your wardrobe. Several years ago I quit my office job to have children and work freelance from home, and I suddenly found myself with a closet (actually closetS in my case too…) full of clothes that didn’t match my lifestyle. It took me about five years of gradually purging to get rid of those clothes (except for a small number I’ve kept for the infrequent occasions on which I need to dress up), even though I knew I was unlikely to wear them. At the same time, I’ve built up my casual wardrobe, and have reached an overall figure of about 100 items of clothing (not including underwear, gear, and shoes/accessories) that is comfortable for me and serves my needs. If I have fewer items than this I start to feel that I’m repeating outfits too frequently, but if I have too many more I feel guilty that not everything is being worn enough. I recently purged a number of summer tops that were no longer working for me and, even though logically I know I have still have plenty (I do laundry every day so I really don’t need many), I’m in panic mode searching the stores for new ones! So maybe we also have a set point for different types of clothing. Interestingly, my current closet set point is also the amount of clothes that I can comfortably keep in my own one wardrobe without overcrowding, so perhaps other factors such as storage space may also contribute to our closet set point.

    • I think your point about storage space is an interesting and very valid one, Kayla. They say the same portion of food looks bigger on a small plate and smaller on a big one, and I think the same could be true for clothing. If we’re used to filling a certain space and suddenly our reduced number of clothes look all lost and the closet looks empty, that can definitely make you feel anxious! Downsizing the storage space when possible might help with that.

      • Thanks Emma! I think you’re right. It seems to be human nature to want to fill up storage. No matter how much we have, we manage to find stuff to put in it. In my case I had to give up storage space to my kids and I also limit the number of hangers in my wardrobe. Sort of like sticking to 2000 calories a day when I could easily eat 2500 if I let myself (enough of the diet analogy?!).

        • I’ve always had limited storage space for clothes, from childhood to present. Because I’ve always had limited space and because of a few other factors — like being cheap, having found my own personal style, identifying my “best” colors, etc. — I’ve always been able me limit my wardrobe to about 125 carefully curated items of clothing. This includes outerwear and clothes for gym (after all, they take up space too). I now only buy replacement clothing so I use the “one in, one out” rule all the time. Having a dinky closet and a dinky clothing budget requires me to have a well-planned wardrobe. The one time I had a large walk-in closet, I put my dresser in it to free up valuable bedroom floor space and I still had a lot of spare room in the closet. Fortunately, I didn’t fill this up with clothes because my next house had 2 of the world’s smallest free-standing closets — about 2 feet wide, 5 feet high, and a hanger deep. I mean, dinky!!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Excellent tip about the storage space, Kayla! I knew you all would have tips I didn’t think of… I think this is a really good one and definitely one that applies to me. As you can see from the photos I’ve posted, my closet is large. When I did Project 333, it felt SO empty and I felt anxious. If I had a small space, maybe I would have felt more okay with it. I like Dottie’s idea of moving a dresser into the closet. Good diet metaphors, too, Kayla 🙂

  2. Two things helped me reset my idea of what constituted “enough” —

    1. Being in the Navy, where I wore a uniform all day, every day.
    2. Living overseas, where I saw people who were content with far, far less than Americans have.

    These two life-changing experiences changed my closet set point. I doubt anyone reading this blog is going to run out and join the Navy, but perhaps others have had the experience of living overseas. Whether in Europe, with its tiny closets and fewer/quality items, or in poverty-stricken areas of the world where people own only the clothes on their backs, these experiences shock you into awareness like no other!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Good points, Bette. I know that the huge closets many of us have contribute to having a higher closet set point. I’ve lived in some older apartments in the past and the closets were always tiny. In recent years, small closets have disqualified apartments for me! I agree that travel can bring much needed perspective for us.

  3. To Bette’s point, I wear a uniform when I’m at work, so that should lessen my closet needs, but somehow it didn’t/doesn’t. I must have a certain visual amount that makes me comfortable psychologically. I have about 125 items including outerwear, but not shoes. About 30 shoes. I want to say that splitting my time between opposing climates increases my numbers, but I bet I’d have roughly the same even if I didn’t need as many sandals as boots. I think if I really culled the ‘meh’, so so items, I’d be happy at 100. I don’t think less than this would satisfy my desire for variety and maybe more truthfully, my comfort level of emotionally having ‘enough’. 😉

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Perhaps your closet set point will go down over time, Mo, but I also think it’s okay to want/need more variety. I’m like that, too, but I’m also realizing that many of the pieces in my closet are rarely being worn and that feels wasteful to me now. I also find myself splitting my wears in certain categories. I think the number 100 sounds good, but I am open to my set point evolving over time as I adjust both my wardrobe and my emotions.

  4. Great post, Debbie. I started writing a comment about lowering my closet set point and then realized that isn’t really my goal per se — my goal is to have a wardrobe that’s the right size for me. But my sense is that “the right size” is somewhat smaller than my current wardrobe. In any case, I think the thing that has helped me the most is tracking what I wear each day. For one thing, it really brings home that there is only a limited number of opportunities to wear things!

    It also clarifies which items I tend to keep around because “I might need them” but that do not, in fact, get worn. Today for example I wore a pair of favorite nude/black cap-toe ballet flats, and later realized that I have a pair of rarely worn gray suede low wedges that would also have paired well with my outfit. But I didn’t reach for those shoes, and I probably wouldn’t. I suspect I’ll get rid of those gray wedges soon, and when I do I’ll really know that I don’t need them (which helps quiet that sense of psychological un-settlement that you are talking about in your post).

    Finally these sorts of insights develop gradually so this approach also facilitates the kind of slow reducing that you are (with good reason) advocating.

    I’m trying to figure out how to connect this to the weight set point metaphor — maybe tracking one’s daily wears is kind of like keeping a food diary? The analogy isn’t quite exact but I guess that both techniques really force you to be honest about what you are actually doing (eating or wearing, as the case may be).

    • Debbie Roes says:

      The tracking has been instrumental for me, too, Sarah. Perhaps I should have mentioned that in the post, as I think it’s been a critical part of my journey. I agree that the goal should be what’s right for us rather than an arbitrary number. I also think the number will change over time. I think your analogy about the food diary is a good one. I have often done that and increasing my awareness has helped me to eat better – and less, just as tracking what I wear has helped me pare down my wardrobe.

  5. My closet set point is influenced by lifestyle factors. I live in a rural community where dress is extremely casual. However, as I travel regularly to European cities where I tend to prefer to dress in a more formal manner, I have a section of my wardrobe which is devoted to that part of my life. Living in a 4 seasons area tends to increase the size of my wardrobe as I am particularly sensitive to color and want to wear different accent colors each season. The tiny size of the closets in my old house (and the desire to have all of the current season’s clothes in 1 closet) tend to help contain it. Overall, I am headed to a closet set point of 120 clothing items combined with 50 shoes/accessories.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I agree that lifestyle factors influence optimal wardrobe size, CMO, but many of us still maintain wardrobes that are far too large for our lifestyles (raising my hand on that one…). I know people who live in four season areas, work in corporate America, and do a lot of travel who have small wardrobes. Perhaps they came to that point over time, and perhaps those of us who truly need less will pare down to a more appropriate level for us. It sounds like you have a good idea of what you need and your target sounds very reasonable to me. I probably need less than that given my lifestyle, but I’m taking it slowly and one day at a time…

  6. I’ve been there… I had a huge wardrobe about a year and a half ago. The change happened when I watched a video by a danish style coach where she showed all of her clothes. They fit neatly inside a rather small closet. I thought about my three (huge) closets that were jam-packed with clothes and suddenly felt super excited about paring down. I did the same as you suggest here and used a hidden holding zone. I put everything that I’d purged in the basement and let it hang there for a month. I changed my inventory list to only hold the items that were left in my closet and not a single thing went back. After that one month I called friends, colleagues and family and gave away all the stuff in the basement. They would come one at a time and we’d have loads of fun trying on. They would leave with huge bags of clothing – all of them so very happy. It was just yesterday that I met one of my close friends wearing a sweater that I’d given her and we talked about the fun we had then. She told me that she’d gotten so many compliments both in that sweater and in another one she’d been wearing the day before. Another friend wears a ring (inexpensive) I gave her all the time, and people ask her about it. A rather poor phd-student we had, got a huge bag of clothes and she told me how people have commented her on her style change! Not only did I do good to myself, but also to 25 women in my close environment. I watch them in my clothes and they share stories. So having a hidden holding zone for one month was the safe way for me to do it. I didn’t miss any of those items and after the one month, I let it go. Not to thrift shops or consignment stores, but to people I see every day.

    As for a closet set point, I’m there now. I built my calendar, shop by it and purge when I feel the urge. I also downsized my storage space – a very important point as Kayla mention! All of my clothes fit into one closet in the bedroom and the hangers move :-). We moved one closet out of the bedroom and that way got a more airy feeling in there. If my hangers start being hard to move and I can’t see what’s in there, I purge more to a hidden hiding zone. I don’t give away as much as I used to – only to my daughters. The rest is put away for refashioning if it has potential.

    To me it was both about paring down, but also simplifying my life and making people happy. I’m at 105 clothing pieces including footwear (22 pairs).

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I love your story, Mette! I knew about your pare-down party, but didn’t know what precipitated it. I guess you were really ready to make a change. How wonderful that you actually know the people who are benefiting from your generosity! Congrats for being at your closet set point and having a strong plan in place to stay there. I’m surprised at your number of shoes, especially since you are such a shoe lover. But I don’t think we need to have tons of shoes if we choose wisely and love and wear the ones we have.

      By the way, would you be interested in sharing your story in a guest post for my “Stories of Recovery” series? I think it would be well-received and very helpful to others. Think about it and let me know 🙂

      • I did do a shoe count a few year back. I had 87 pairs or so… I think that’s insane. 22 is still a lot out of 105 pieces:-)

        Maybe I should do a video of my own closet – maybe that could inspire some ;-). Well, we can talk about all of it tomorrow – can’t wait!

        • Debbie Roes says:

          I think a closet video would be very cool and inspiring! Do you have photos of your before closet(s)? Yes, 87 is a lot of shoes! I think 22 is a good number and all the shoes I’ve seen of yours are fabulous. I wish I had your shoe wardrobe 🙂 We have a lot to talk about – it will be fun!

        • Debbie Roes says:

          I loved the video, Mette! You have a diverse and lovely wardrobe that looks very carefully curated. I can see how you can cultivate a variety of style personas using the pieces you have. And how wonderful that they all fit in your small closet! I also loved the dress you were wearing in the video – and your fun hairstyle, too!

    • Mette, was the video by Fair Companies? My favorite video is a Project 333 video they did. http://faircompanies.com/videos/view/simple-wardrobe-33-things-for-more-happiness-less-stress/

      • Rebecca, that’s a great video, thanks for sharing! I had to laugh at the way she folds her clothing — but it works! I also noticed the lace doily hanging inside her wardrobe door, which she apparently hooks her jewelry onto — brilliant!

      • No, it’s a danish style coach, Tini Owild – and it’s in danish. I like the one by Fair Companies as well, different style, same message 🙂

      • Debbie Roes says:

        I love that video, Rebecca! I watched it probably a year ago and found it very inspiring. Thanks for sharing it here.

      • I’m glad it was a hit! I re-watch it from time to time for inspiration, myself. I returned to Project 333 for July 1.

        I’m still trying to figure out my right-size wardrobe. I know I don’t want to see all of all the time (if it’s over about 50 pieces total, and I don’t anticipate getting down to that point anytime soon, if ever), but I do enjoy picking up things that feel special.

        I find that the amount of shopping I do comes in waves, but so does my commitment to how I buy. I bought a few things this weekend and one of them was a big box item, but I think it fills a wardrobe need well, so I’m a little torn. I think there’s an irrational part of my brain that thinks that there’s such a thing as X number of perfect (ethical, classic, well-made) forever garments and if I just try hard enough, I can stop shopping otherwise, but that’s not authentic to me, either. Going back to Emma (This Kind Choice)’s point (which I love), it’s just always working on improvement, rather than perfection. Sometimes, we have a step in the wrong direction, and if we’re paying attention, it highlights what’s good about all those steps in the right direction!

  7. I’m currently tackling the paper and documents in my house — getting this down to a workable amount and then scanning the ones that I don’t need to keep as a paper document (like a car title, etc.). My “paper” set point is higher than I would like but I am tackling this through several rounds of purging: immediate discard (shred or recycle), immediate keep (car title, insurance policy), and need-more-time pile. I am on the second round of the “need-more-time” stuff, and I’ve recycled or shredded about 1/2 of this. Onto the third round, which I hope to reduce by at least half. A slow winnowing process for sure, but in the past when I’ve hurried through this process, I’ve occasionally recycled or shredded a valuable document (hello, car title!) and also hung onto stuff because I couldn’t make a snap decision about what to do with it. Not unlike the winnowing process some of my fellow posters are using for their clothes…. A very interesting post, Debbie, that seems transferable to other areas in our homes.

    • Sarah E says:

      Dottie, I recently went through the same thing with my digital files. I had 10 YEARS of digital clutter on CDs, cloud storage, and my hard drive. It was not a fun experience but I’m so glad I got rid of things and organized the remainder. I still want to go back through my photos and get them organized better but the progress so far felt good!
      My paper system has also evolved but there’s more work to do. All my paper files used to be stored in labeled binders (I’ve always been organized) but that was taking up too much space so I purchased ONE plastic file storage container and organized everything neatly in hanging file folders. This cut out the step of punching holes and reduced the amount of lifting binders up and down from shelves. Taking that extra minute to print labels for each folder instead of hand-scrawling them really helped the project come together as well. And what do you know, I got rid of tons of papers from the binders before transferring them to the folders! Now it’s easy to take the old files out of the back and put the new ones in the front about every 6 months. Almost painless!
      My next paper project is to scan the important parts and get rid of the physical copies of all my old high school yearbooks and other sentimental papers. They’ll be compressed and uploaded to cloud storage. I’m planning a move in a year or two, so I’m trying to get rid of all my old, heavy paper books and go digital!

    • I love the phrase “closet purgatory”! I’m going to steal it. Currently my purgatory items are in a clear trash bag on the bedroom floor… not very attractive but it seems to discourage me from wanting to take them back out.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I am right there with you on the paper and digital clutter, Dottie and Sarah. Those areas, along with my clothing, are my last bastions of clutter, so to speak. I tackled everything else first, and am even doing well with my clothes, but still have far too many files, both physical and online. It feels like such a large project, but I agree that the closet set point principles can apply there as well. I probably have a set point for data, too. I’m finding that with my magazines, which I mentioned in a previous post (http://recoveringshopaholic.com/wanting-less-and-more-at-the-same-time/). I’m gradually letting go of subscriptions and having fewer and fewer magazines around. When we take our time to declutter slowly, it does tend to be less painful and more lasting.

  8. I don’t always put all of these into practice, but in the past I have…

    1. Taken pictures of every single item in my closet and come up with pre-made outfits for when I was really feeling listless. This really combats the “I have nothing to wear “feelings. Similarly, I have also often spent a Sunday afternoon coming up with my outfits for the next week. To keep with your weight loss metaphor, I think this is the equivalent of making sure that you have fresh and healthy food that’s prepared in advance so you don’t have to think too hard about making better choices.

    2. Only purged in-season items. Right now I feel like I have too many sweaters but I’m not going to think about downsizing until the weather changes because this isn’t the best time for me to assess my winter wear. I’ve really gone overboard with purging in the past by not being mindful about this.

    3. Replace, then purge. If I replace four meh tops with one great one that I want to wear all of the time then I don’t really notice the fact that I have fewer items overall because I choose to think of my closet in terms of wears, not items. This also helps me avoid wasting money on the less than perfect items, because it’s better to keep the meh items around until I find great replacements.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for sharing your tips, Sara. I have used all of them at various times and have found them helpful. It’s probably high time for me to spend a few hours putting outfits together. I like the example you used regarding the weight loss metaphor, too. As for purging, I do think it works better to do so in season. I often purge at the end of a season, as well as a bit at a time during a season. We can definitely get too overzealous when purging out of season and it can help to wait until we see what we love and wear when the season rolls around.

  9. Cornelia says:

    I never thought about the set point, but I think you are absolutely right. Mine has definitely been lowered over the last five years, and there is no turning back. Having been raised in Europe, I well remember the wardrobe space available that Bette mentions. When it came time to clean out my overstuffed closet, I moved the unwanted items to another bedroom, and not a single item made it back. I still don’t do the hanger trick, nor do I keep track of what I wear for more than three days (and then forget about it), but the vast majority of my wardrobe consists of neutrals and is sporty/tailored, so I tend to blend into the environment. :))

    • Debbie Roes says:

      It seems that your European experience helped you to keep your wardrobe smaller, Cornelia. As for the hanger trick, it can be helpful, but it sounds like you don’t really need it. Good for you for successfully paring down your wardrobe and using the “hidden holding zone” as a tool to assist you in that effort.

  10. Sarah S. says:

    I feel you are right again, Debbie. I have been working on this for a few years and it definitely rings true for me – if I purge too quickly, I panic buy. Whereas when I cut down gradually it is much easier to get used to the new amount until I next want to jettison some of the clothes. In the past I’ve done the “one in, two out” rule, but lately have been doing fairly frequent mini-purges into my holding zone (the guest closet) and then that gets emptied much less frequently – maybe once or twice a year.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      It sounds like you have a system that’s working well for you, Sarah. I tend to do something similar with the hidden holding zone. I empty that area more often, but I’ve had a lot to empty this past year and a half. Paring down slowly has been very effective for me. I hardly notice that I have half the clothes I used to have. In fact, I feel that what I have is still too much. I never would have thought I’d say that back in January 2013!

  11. Chelsea says:

    Oh my gosh – I feel like I could write a novel-sized comment about this post!

    This is so true for me. I recently just did a huge closet cleanout, got rid of 100s of items, felt really proud of myself…and then freaked out over it! My closet set point must be really high because even purging more than a few items at a time really sends me into a tail spin. I would like to get my “number” down quite a bit (I don’t even know what my current number is…) but I am also realizing that I need a lot of choice in my wardrobe.

    A couple of the comments also resonated with me. Especially, the comments about closet space. I think that’s very true that if you have the space you tend to want to fill it up. I know that’s true for me. Once I did that big closet purge and my closthes were swinging freely (instead of mashed together in a clothing salad) I had the biggest urge to fill it back up.

    I also have an added “wrench” in this whole thing – I am still holding onto work clothes from my days as an attorney – but I’m a stay at home mom now. I just can’t seem to let go of some of those clothes (not because I love them so much or because I want to go back to work) but because they were so $$$ and because they fit so well (I am petite and often require alterations).

    Anyway, this is turning into a marathon comment… Clearly you’ve given me lots to think about! 🙂

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Chelsea. I can identify with a lot of what you wrote. Although I am not a stay at home mom, I did used to work in an office and haven’t for many years now. For a long time, I kept my business clothes for similar reasons as what you wrote. It took me a number of years to let them all go. I would recommend that you put all of the clothes that aren’t in line with your current life in a different closet. Just have your main closet be for clothes that fit your body, lifestyle, and sense of style TODAY. With the business clothes, aim to let them go a bit at a time. Perhaps you can pass some on to friends and family members, as that might help to soften the blow a bit. Selling some on Ebay or via a local consignment store can help you recoup at least a portion of your investment. Let go of the ones you like less or perhaps the less expensive ones first. Do it very gradually so it doesn’t freak you out. This is more a marathon than a sprint. Clearly, getting rid of things quickly doesn’t work for you (me, either), so take it at your own pace, even if it feels like a snail’s pace. Remember, slow and steady wins the race!

  12. I cannot express enough how much I enjoyed this article!!! I agree about the space- if I have extra storage it’s too easy to fill up. I’ve done a lot of storage downsizing. Ex: Two drawers in my dresser were empty! I moved all my husband’s winter gear out of the plastic tub and into my drawers. One tub now holds blankets and the other is my ‘holding zone’ of purged items. Last year I emptied the lower rod in my closet and moved all his heavyweight flannel shirts from the second tub into the new space.

    My ‘set point’ has been shrinking too! I forsee me getting the numbers down a little bit more (maybe 75 clothing / 75 accessories with another 10 outdoorwear and 20 pj/lounge) but sticking close to where I’m at. I live in upstate NY and have a true 4-seasons. But my current issue isn’t filling my storage back up- it’s the urge to replace everything I’m not happy with!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I’m so glad you liked this article, Meli! Sounds like you’ve done very well with downsizing in all areas of your home. I’m impressed that you can get by with 75 items of clothing upstate NY. If you can do it there, then I can definitely do it here in San Diego! But of course I will proceed slowly and let things gradually evolve. I know better now than to move too quickly with paring down my wardrobe! I get that urge to replace everything I’m unhappy with, too. It can be a tough one to battle, for sure!

  13. I’m trying to go “French” in everything…eating fewer but more delicious foods, having fewer but more special items of clothing, focusing more on the pleasurable moments in life and also keeping my house curated down to only beautiful or useful items. It’s certainly not happening over-night, but as the months go by I am starting to see my mind making changes in my attitudes about living. Quality of living in all aspects of life!

    • I really like this idea. It’s trading a fast food, fast fashion, Ikea life for one with less, but better things.
      Reminds me of something I once told myself – consume less, do more. I still have a ways to go on that, but it’s a good reminder.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I love this idea, too, Happy Forgiver! Quality over quantity is definitely the way to go. And I love Mo’s “Consume less, do more” adage, too. I also have a ways to go before I resemble the French in any way, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind.

  14. Great post, Debbie! I found you explained it really clearly and well and I definitely agree that “the biggest determinant of our closet set points is what we are used to”. I really noticed that when I was helping my mother refine her wardrobe. Even though she didn’t wear or even particularly like the things we got rid of, without that “wardrobe padding” she felt really uncomfortable for a bit.

    Slow and steady changes are the definitely the most effective and like you said make you less likely to re-buy.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I like the term “wardrobe padding,” Emma. I think that’s a good way of describing it. We have these things we’re not wearing anyway, yet we feel somehow exposed or less than without them. I’m happy to be peeling the layers away. It’s been hard to be patient sometimes, but the gradual approach really is the way to go, at least for me.

  15. I had a huge amount of clothing even though I purged regularly because I bought so much. Since I’ve been buying much less the amount I have has been going down. I still go through my closet often and get rid of anything that isn’t right for me. I’m not sure what my set point is. Right now I have 100 items of clothing and 41 jackets, coats, shoes, and scarves, so 141 total. This feels comfortable to me right now. A year ago it would have felt like way too little, but since I did it so gradually I didn’t even really notice the number going down. In the future it might stay the same or it might go down even more. I am open to either and I’m okay with letting it happen naturally.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I can relate to what you wrote, Tonya. I bought so much that I couldn’t keep up with it even though I did a lot of paring down. Like you, I often go through my closet and take things out. I don’t know what my set point is, either, and I’m also okay with letting it evolve naturally over time. What we’re doing as of late is working well for us, so if it’s not broken, we don’t need to fix it!

  16. Chelsea says:

    Ok, this question is for anyone on here (and may be a little off topic, but still applies). Have any of you used “huggable hangers” or something similar? I am debating if they are worth the investment and whether they truly give you more space in your closet?

    They have been one of those factors that I have considered for my closet and could give me good motivation for paring my closet down further… I would love to hear if anyone uses them or if anyone found that “fancy hangers” really didn’t carry their own weight…

    Thanks!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      This is not really off-topic and is a good question. I switched to huggable hangers about 3 years ago and I’m so glad I did! They not only give me more space in my closet because they’re so thin, they also have other benefits. They don’t leave hanger marks on my clothes and my clothes don’t slide off these hangers like they did with the wood or plastic hangers I used to use. One suggestion I have is to buy a number of hangers that corresponds to the number of clothes you’d eventually like to have. Switch as many of your current items as possible to those hangers. Over time, you’ll be able to see how close you’re getting to your goal. I wish I would have done this! Instead, I bought TOO MANY huggable hangers and now have a bunch of them left over (I plan to give them to someone at some point). Hope this helped!

    • I switched over to huggable hangers this past year and I LOVE them! My clothes never falls off the hangers, they never get the hanger marks on the shoulders, and I can fit so much more! I also get the clips so I can hang up skirts (they don’t leave a mark) and the clips so you can cascade a few skirts, pants, tops, etc to each other. They really open up space if you have a small closet. Good luck with them!

  17. Deborah (Deby) says:

    Last year when I got started on my version of Project 333, I had approximately 500 garments crammed into a walk-in closet. I remember when my best friend walked in and burst out laughing. That was when I realized I had a serious problem.

    I knew I would never feel emotionally satisfied limiting myself to a palette of 33 garments, and after analyzing my dressing patterns, I realized that I had two seasons: fall/winter and spring/summer, and that I tend to favor different color palettes for the two seasons, with a few crossover colors: black, ivory, nude blush, and coral. Other colors in my now more limited overall palette seem to fall seasonally in my mind: for example I consider most greys (except for pale grey) to be fall/winter, and light teal to be a spring/summer color (deeper teal being fall/winter).

    It came to mind that I would feel satisfied if I could limit myself to under 100 garments per season, which I called Project 198–99 garments per season. However, to my surprise, I exceeded my own expectations. As of today, both my fall/winter and spring/summer capsules combined contain a total of 172 garments, so I could actually add 26 more pieces and keep to my stats–but I’m not especially inclined to.

    I am now more tuned into redundancy in garments, not needing to have so many multiples. I used to keep multiples of items “in case one wore out”, but the truth is that styles change, and by the time a garment wears out, I’m ready to replace it with an updated look while keeping the same function.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for sharing your success story, Deby! I love how you created your own version of Project 333 and made it work for you. You did very well in downsizing your closet in a very short period of time. You must have been emotionally ready to make the change, as you are not rushing out to fill it back up again. I think it’s great that even though you COULD add 26 more items to your wardrobe under the plan you created, you don’t feel compelled to do it. Bravo to you and keep up the great work!

      • Deborah (Deby) says:

        Once I realized how much SIMPLER it is to get dressed without so many conflicting choices, I found it to be quite comfortable, less stressful. Having a more limited color palette makes (not) shopping a breeze too! Some of my core colors are not exactly mainstream, so can be difficult to find…a particular reddish coral, grayish teal, purply taupe–although last weekend I did amazingly find this elusive color in the perfect summer leather bag (Taylor North South Tote) at the Coach outlet (for 50% off clearance no less!) in a color called “Putty”. I am happy now–summer bag shopping complete.

        • Debbie Roes says:

          Congrats on finding your perfect summer bag, Deby! I know you sometimes struggle to find the right color and style for you. I’ve had the same issue with trying to find a cobalt blue bag this year. I see some around, but they are either in a style I don’t love or they have gold hardware instead of silver (I’m a silver girl…). As for clothes, I’m definitely finding it harder to find things since I’ve narrowed down my color palette. But yes, it does make it easier to narrow things down. Sometimes I’m in and out of a store in a minute or less!

  18. The slow and steady approach to reduction is my favoured method. If you go cold turkey, you have a bigger chance of a relapse…!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      That’s been the case for me, too, Stacey, but others have experienced success with having a shopping “time out.” Check out yesterday’s guest post for more on that topic!

  19. GingerR says:

    The velocity of your laundry cycle is another factor.
    It can take me up to 2 weeks to get something laundered and back in my closet. Laundry sits in the dirty basket until Thursday when the cleaning crew arrives and takes it to the laundry room.
    I do the laundry over the weekend and prepare the basket to come back upstairs on Wednesday evening when I put laundry away, prior to the cleaning people coming on Thursday.
    If something needs to be ironed before I wear it again it will sometimes sit in the laundry room longer. My item count needs to support that time frame, particularly for pieces that I wash after one wear. If I want to go to a substantially smaller wardrobe then I have to be willing to speed up my laundry cycle.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Yes, laundry cycles do factor in, Ginger. But unless someone only does laundry once a month or less often, there is no need for a really HUGE wardrobe. I can imagine that even with your two week cycle, you don’t need a jam-packed closet. But you’re right that it’s easier to have a minimalist wardrobe if you either do laundry more often or wear clothes more than once before washing them. Thanks for adding another “wrinkle” to the equation!

      • Sarah E says:

        Laundry cycles are a huge problem for me right now. I work in a food processing plant, and although I’m not in direct contact with the food, it can get very hot (read: sweaty) and I always come home reeking of garlic. This means I can’t wear my work clothes, even if they still look clean, anywhere else. I do laundry every week but by Friday I still find myself frustrated with how many things are in the laundry, so against my idealized wishes, I have many multiples- jeans, t-shirts, tank tops. Not to mention that we have a strict dress code where we can’t wear jewelry and have to wear full length pants, work boots, and no embellishments (beads, sequins, etc.). So unfortunately my wardrobe suits my lifestyle but not my aesthetic style! I can’t wait till I’m back in a climate controlled office where I can actually re-wear (cute!) items from day to day, and maybe some dresses!

  20. Just like you Debbie, I’ve learned over time that I have a set point and purging too fast leads to overshopping. I’ve had to slow down my closet purging and once I did, I’ve been able to purge easier and had my purges be more successful (less I should not have purged that feelings now).

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