Many women (and a lot of men…) have too many clothes in their closets. Even those who don’t struggle with overshopping generally have more garments, shoes, and accessories than they know what to do with, as they continue bringing new things in without moving old things out.
Having More Choices Isn’t Better or Easier
We often hang on to our clothes because we believe more choices will help us to dress better, but that’s simply not the case. Too many clothes leads to too many choices, and the resulting overwhelming has us reaching for the same 20-30% of our pieces over and over again.
Paradoxically, a smaller wardrobe is more conducive to the mixing and matching and sartorial experimentation that can refresh our style and eliminate the closet doldrums. When I did Project 333 earlier this year, I was far more creative with what I wore and liked a higher percentage of my outfits than usual.
From Too Many Clothes to Walking the Talk
As many of my readers know, I still have far too many clothes for my casual, work from home lifestyle. As a result, I don’t fully utilize what I own and am in danger of ending 2013 with a fair number of what I term “wardrobe benchwarmers.” Since I know that many of you are in a similar boat, I decided to devote today’s post to offering some tips for dealing with the “keep or purge” question.
After my realization last week that I may finish this year with 50 or more benchwarmers (a third of last year’s total but still far from ideal!), I decided to take a firmer hand with my closet audit process. I realized that I haven’t been taking all of the advice I’ve shared here on the blog and used to offer to my wardrobe styling clients. As I definitely want to stand in my integrity and “walk the talk,” I need to turn things around starting now!
Five Powerful Questions to Help You Decide
Below I share some of my best tips and provide examples for how I applied them in my own closet during the past week. Each tip is phrased in the form of a powerful question you can ask yourself as you contemplate the fate of various pieces in your closet. You can ask just one question or all five of them, whatever it takes for you to make an empowered decision!
Question #1 – Do I Love It?
I’ve written before about using a scale of 1 to 10 for evaluating wardrobe pieces. While it’s not realistic to expect all of our clothes to be “10”s, we need to set relatively high standards for what gets to stay in our closets, especially when we’re trying to pare down an overly crowded wardrobe. I generally recommend that we should aim for all “8”s or higher when determining which pieces to keep.
So my first question is “Do I love it?” While looking at the item you’re considering letting go, ask yourself that question. Answer quickly, as pausing will allow guilt to creep in and override what you know to be true. Go with your gut response. You’ll generally know whether or not you consider something to be an “8” or higher.
Question #2 – Do I Feel Good Wearing It?
We won’t always know by looking at something on a hanger whether it’s an “8” or higher. In many cases, we’ll need to try things on in order to really evaluate them. That’s where the second question comes in, “Do I feel good while wearing it?”
Lots of pieces have “hanger appeal”; that is, they look fabulous on the hanger but perhaps not as great on our bodies. On the other hand, we may have garments that actually look great on us but don’t feel all that wonderful. The fabric may be itchy, the garment may be fussy, or it just might not resonate with our current sense of style.
Try the Item On & Don’t Ruminate Too Long!
It’s best to answer this question while a garment is actually on your body. Try it on, look in the mirror, and ask yourself the question. Also, check in with yourself about how you’d rate the item on a scale of 1 to 10. Don’t ruminate too long with your answer. Use the “first impression test” that reader Deby mentioned in one of her comments. Give yourself just 30 seconds to evaluate the item. Don’t worry… It’s enough time!
Ideally, we’re looking for “8”s or above, but there are a few rare exceptions to that rule. Sometimes a “6” or “7” can stay if the item is a wardrobe staple that you’ll need to wear until a replacement is found (as is the case with some of my pants). However, if you’re not wearing it anyway, why do you need to keep it around? Simply add what you need to your shopping list and let the current piece that’s gathering dust inside your closet go!
Style Preferences Change
A few of my tops used to be “8”s or above but aren’t anymore. Our style preferences change, so what we used to love may no longer strike our fancy. Sometimes garments shrink or don’t wash well, or we may have had weight fluctuations that have affected the fit of certain pieces. A color we may have loved in the past may no longer be among our favorites. All of these things are okay and valid reasons for letting closet pieces go!
Here are a few tops and one pair of jeans I decided to let go because I just don’t feel good wearing them. The tops are either no longer my style or just don’t feel fab anymore. The jeans fit me okay but I always feel like my “bum” looks large in them. While that may not actually be the case, I don’t like the way I feel when I wear them, so out they go!
Question #3 – Does It Fit My Lifestyle?
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, sometimes we buy things for an imagined or wished for lifestyle or for “just in case” scenarios. These types of pieces often become “wardrobe benchwarmers,” as they just don’t work for our real lives. While it’s not necessarily a bad idea to have a few “just in case” garments, such as an interview suit or a cocktail dress, many of us have half of our closets filled with such items! These pieces just take up valuable closet real estate and add to our feelings of wardrobe overwhelm.
So it’s a good idea to ask ourselves if an item in question is a good fit for our current lifestyle. If the answer is no, perhaps the next best step is to add that item to our donation bag. If it was an expensive piece that is still in good condition, selling it on consignment or via eBay is also an option, especially if you feel guilty for having spent money on something you rarely or never use.
I consigned most of my more formal garments and shoes earlier this year, but a few pieces remain. As I looked at a charcoal blazer I’d had in my closet for over a year and never worn, I realized it’s time for it to go. I will take it to my local consignment store to try to recoup some of my investment, but even if they don’t take it, I’ll be happy to have this item out of my closet.
Question #4 – Would I Buy It Today?
Even the savviest shoppers make buying mistakes from time to time. We all buy things that seemed like a good idea at the time yet have languished in our closets for months or even years. As you look at the things you rarely or never wear, ask yourself if you’d buy those same items today. In most cases, the answer will be no.
Keeping things because you spent money on them won’t bring your lost dollars back. You’ll either force yourself to wear things you don’t really like or feel guilty when you see them hanging in your closet. In either case, you won’t feel happy keeping your ill-advised purchases around.
I’d Leave Many “Wardrobe Benchwarmers” In the Store!
Many of my wardrobe benchwarmers are pieces I wouldn’t buy if I saw them in a store today. In some cases, I bought them simply because they were on sale or a “good deal.” Of course, it’s not a good deal if you never wear it! In other instances, I bought garments because I loved the color or pattern, or because the designer or brand was one of my favorites. I didn’t consider that the garment as a whole didn’t work for me; my decision to buy was based on only part of the equation.
Here are a few examples of garments I wouldn’t buy today:
I bought the zipper tee because I thought it looked cool and edgy, but in actuality, the top was incredibly fussy to wear. The zipper never stayed straight and the hem always seemed to look uneven. I loved everything about the zebra-print tank except that it was brown instead of black. I bought it anyway because it was on sale (you know the story…) and I only ended up wearing it a few times because I just don’t like brown all that much. I bought the striped cardigan because I’m basically a “stripaholic” and the price was right (seeing a pattern here?), but the material was thin and I already have a black and white striped knit blazer. Fortunately, the cardigan had never been worn and still had the tag attached, so I returned it for a refund last weekend.
Question #5 – Would I Reach For It Over Other Similar Pieces?
The credit for this last question goes to Bridgette Raes, who included it in her comment on my “Wardrobe Benchwarmers Past and Future” post. She suggested that when I’m doing a closet purge, I ask myself:
Under what circumstance am I going to choose to wear this item over something else that I love more in my wardrobe?”
This question was new to me, but it proved to be extremely helpful as I endeavored to pare down my wardrobe further over the weekend. Posing this question was what pushed me to purge a number of garments that “passed” some of the other questions and might have stayed in my closet otherwise.
Two Personal Examples of “Lesser” Alternatives
As one example, I had two floral print sleeveless tops. I like one of these tops a lot and always reach for it over the second alternative, even though there isn’t really anything wrong with the other top. The same is true for the black coat I just added to my consign/donate pile. Whenever it’s cold enough for a coat, I always reach for one of the other coats in my closet. The black coat is more of a boxy style and I prefer my more tailored options. Bridgette’s question helped me to realize that it’s time to let go of the black coat and pass it on to someone else who will love and wear it.
I’m going to continue to use Bridgette’s question in the coming weeks and hopefully it will help me to reach my goal of ending the year with no wardrobe benchwarmers. Since I have a full closet and love many of the pieces I own, why should I waste my time with the things I don’t like as much? It’s far better to wear the items we love to death than to push ourselves to put on “less than” garments just because they’re in our closets. Why not get them out of our closets so we can focus on what we do love instead?
What Tips Can You Add?
I hope you’ll find the tips above helpful in managing your wardrobe. While I have other tips I could add (check out my “Recovery Tips” page for more suggestions), I tried to keep things simple by just including a few powerful questions to use when paring down your closet. As I continue to cull my wardrobe and work toward my goal of a smaller and more manageable wardrobe, I’m sure I’ll have more to add. I’ll also keep you updated on my progress in future posts!
If you have any additional powerful questions or closet purging tips to add, please feel free to share them in the comments section of this post. There are many ways to approach this process and different things will work for different people, so the more tips the better!
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