I recently received an email from a reader who is struggling with paring down her overly large wardrobe. She has too many clothes and would like to reduce the volume, but her difficulty lies in the fact that she still likes most of what she has. Since I’ve struggled myself with a similar dilemma and I believe many of you can relate to this reader’s challenge, I decided to address her question in a blog post.
I’ve written on the subject of reducing wardrobe size previously, most specifically in this post, but it’s an important topic that bears revisiting. In today’s post, I’ll share some additional tips and suggestions for downsizing our closets. If you have other words of wisdom to offer, I invite you to share them in the comments section. There is no one right way to approach this issue, so the more tips the merrier! What feels off base to one person may totally resonate for another, so it’s helpful to get as much information as possible onto the table.
Flashback and Flash Forward…
I remember when I was storing the bulk of my wardrobe a year ago in preparation for my first term of Project 333. I tried to pare things down a bit so I wouldn’t have to store as much, but I really struggled with letting go of my clothes. Like my reader, I felt that I liked most of what I owned and I didn’t want to send any of it out the door. I also felt deep pangs of guilt and regret when I considered the many wasted dollars I’d spent on clothes I rarely or never wore. All of these feelings led to a complicated sort of “emotional soup” that paralyzed me from taking action.
In the ensuing year, I’ve been able to reduce the size of my wardrobe by one half. Hopefully, some of what I’ve learned can help the reader who posed the question, as well as the rest of you who are still struggling to downsize your packed closets.
Step One – Stop the Bleeding
Before I move into my tips for paring things down, I need to mention the proverbial elephant in the room. While there are lots of downsizing tips which can help, they won’t do much good if you keep bringing an overabundance of new pieces into your closet. So the best tip I can provide is to dramatically reduce your shopping. If you bring less in, you’ll find it much easier to reduce your overall wardrobe size.
While I made a lot of progress in paring my wardrobe down last year, I would be in a much better place today had I curtailed my shopping to a larger degree than I did. I still brought 76 new items into my closet last year which, while half or a third of my previous number, was still too much. As a result, I’ve decided to limit my 2014 closet additions to 38 (half of last year’s number), which will help me in my wardrobe reduction efforts.
I recommend that you also set an item limit for yourself. Set a monthly or yearly target that’s a stretch for you but that still feels doable. Having a one-in, one-out (or even two out) policy is also extremely helpful in terms of “stopping the bleeding.” These limits will assist you in being more mindful about your shopping and will push you to carefully consider both what you buy and what you keep. Win, win!
You Like It, But Do You Wear It?
The next point I’d like to mention relates to the difference between liking things in theory versus liking them in practice. We often like garments or shoes when we see them on a hanger or shelf, but we don’t feel as warmly toward them once we have them on our bodies. In some instances, we may have really liked certain wardrobe pieces in the past, but people and situations change and our wardrobes need to adjust accordingly.
If you haven’t worn a particularly garment in a while, my first recommendation is to try it on. Once it’s on your body, look in the mirror and do the “first impression test.” Quickly rate the garment on a scale of one to ten in terms of fit, comfort, and style. Don’t take a lot of time to ruminate on how much something cost or who gave it to you. Just consider whether or not you like the garment today in the here and now.
Why Aren’t You Wearing It?
If you rate an item at a level “8” or higher, then ask yourself why you aren’t wearing it. Did you forgot about it because it was buried in the deep recesses of your packed closet? If so, then place it front and center and challenge yourself to wear it within the next week. Make a commitment to get this garment into your regular wardrobe rotation if it’s something you truly love.
One reason why you should wear items you think you love as soon as possible is that you might not really love them once you wear them for an entire day. Some garments look great while we’re standing still but bunch, slip, and bind when we more around. If something is so “fussy” that it annoys you while you’re wearing it, it’s going to collect dust in your closet instead of making it out on the town. I used to hold on to a lot of fussy clothes, but now such items go immediately into my donation bag once I get home. No need to hang them back up in my closet, as I know I’m not going to wear them!
If a garment in question isn’t fussy, are you not wearing it because it doesn’t fit your current lifestyle? If that’s the case, then can you foresee wearing it at any time within the next year? If not, then there’s really little reason to hang on to it. It will just “muddy the waters” in your closet and obscure the pieces you actually have the occasion to wear for your current lifestyle.
“But It Was Expensive…”
The objection that generally arises right around this time relates to money. Perhaps an item doesn’t suit your current lifestyle or even your present style aesthetic, but you hold on to it because it cost a lot of money. Well, I have news for you. Keeping an unworn item in your closet won’t bring back your lost dollars. I know, as I’ve been down that road more than a time or two. Hanging on to such pieces only serves to perpetuate guilt, which does you little good. I know that I’ve felt infinitely better once I removed these types of albatrosses from around my neck, and I believe you’ll feel a similar sense of relief if you push yourself to make the change.
“Well, I Might Need it One Day…”
Now some of you are probably thinking you should keep some of the things you’re not wearing “just in case” you might need them one day. This is a common thought pattern that occurs when we consider getting rid of things. But think about it… Just how many of those “just in case” items do you ever end up needing? Chances are it’s very, very few. The rest of the items you keep end up gathering dust for years until you finally feel it’s safe to let them go.
One special circumstance relates to weight issues. Sometimes we hang on to garments that are either too small or too large because we think our weight might change such that we’ll end up wearing these pieces again. It can make sense to keep some clothing in the event of weight fluctuations, but you need to be honest with yourself. If you regularly go up or down a size or two, keeping a box of garments in alternate sizes makes sense. But if we’re talking about a wide range of sizes or the “fat clothes” you’re holding on to should you regain lost pounds, think about what you’re doing to your psyche. Are you telling yourself that you don’t trust yourself to keep the weight off? Is that the message you want to be sending to your subconscious mind?
Also, you need to consider if you even like the “skinny clothes” you’re keeping around. Perhaps they’re now outdated or no longer suit your personal style. Be honest with yourself and only keep the clothes you’d want to wear if they fit you today. Get rid of everything else. If you do end up losing your excess pounds, you can fill in the gaps with some new (or new to you) pieces that you can’t wait to wear.
Stop “Splitting Your Wears”
When we have too many of the same types of items and make an effort to wear all of them, it results in a phenomenon called “splitting our wears.” In such instances, we only wear our favorites once in a while because we force ourselves to wear our less fab items out of guilt or obligation. Deep down, we may only truly love two pairs of jeans, for example, but since we have ten pairs, we feel we must wear all of them. Or maybe we don’t really wear the other eight pairs, but we tell ourselves we’re going to wear them. In either case, we don’t feel free and happy to wear those items in our wardrobes that we truly love.
If you don’t feel ready to get rid of your less than stellar wardrobe duplicates, try this. Move those pieces to another closet or into boxes and bags for the next three months (or however long feels right for you). See if you get the urge to pull any of these items out to wear them. If you don’t miss the items in question over a period of months, would you miss them if they were out of your life completely? Chances are the answer is no.
Free yourself up to wear your favorite clothes as often as you want without guilt. Letting go of their lesser “cousins” will help you to get more joy out of your closet favorites. If you need to hold the second-best items in a sort of “clothing purgatory” for a period of time, go ahead. But get the “less than” pieces out of your main closet so you can focus your attention where it should be, on the clothes you actually love and wear.
Take on Project 333 or a Similar Challenge
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned Project 333. I’m coming back to that topic now because I believe taking on that challenge was instrumental in helping me to pare down my wardrobe. It helped me to see that I really don’t need as many clothes as I thought I did and I can get by with far less. As the three months of the challenge went by, I found myself going through my stored clothing and letting go of items bit by bit. I liked far more of my outfits when I was dressing with my closet favorites, so I became more comfortable with releasing the pieces I didn’t like as much.
If you’re not ready or willing to take on something as drastic as Project 333, create your own challenge. Perhaps you’d consider dressing with 50 or 75 items instead of a mere 33. You can create whatever scenario feels right for you. You don’t even have to do the challenge. Sometimes just selecting the items you would pick for Project 333 is enough to get you thinking about which pieces you really love in your closet. Then maybe you’ll be ready to let go of some of the things that don’t make the cut.
The Evacuation Game
Before I sign off for today, I want to offer one more suggestion. I can’t take credit for this somewhat morbid idea, as I read it on a style forum awhile back. It may be a bit unseemly to consider, but I believe it’s a helpful exercise. Imagine that there’s a fire or other natural disaster and you’ve been told to evacuate your home within an hour. Pretend that you only have the time and space to gather up half of your clothing within that timeframe. Which items would you take? Which would you leave behind? Your answers can lead you toward identifying the wardrobe pieces that you really love. What would it be like to release the other half of your wardrobe?
One of the readers of “Recovering Shopaholic,” Terra Trevor, has been through the process of evacuating her home several times, as she lives in an area with a high fire risk. She wrote about her experiences with evacuation and what it taught her in this powerful and insightful blog post. Perhaps the rest of us can learn from Terra’s experiences and consciously decide to live with less moving forward.
Have These Suggestions Been Helpful?
I hope some of my ideas have been helpful for those who are struggling to reduce the size of their wardrobes. If you think you like all or most of what you own but still want to pare things down, why not try a few of my suggestions to see if they help? As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, there’s no ideal wardrobe size. We all have to determine the numbers of clothes, shoes, and accessories that work best for us. If you have a full closet and it’s working well for you, who am I to judge? But if you want to unburden yourself of some of your closet clutter, I hope you’ll decide to try at least one of my ideas.
I know that there must be other tips that have worked for readers in terms of wardrobe downsizing. If you have ideas that were not mentioned in this post, please share them with me and your fellow readers. We can learn a great deal from each other! Because of the suggestions I received from some of you, I’m now much happier with the way my closet is organized. There is a wealth of knowledge in this group, so please do share! If you’re reading this post in email or via a feed reader, click here to leave a comment.
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