Why Track Your Wardrobe?

In a number of my posts, I’ve made reference to how often I’ve worn various garments in my closet.  I’ve even coined some new terms, such as “wardrobe benchwarmers” and “wardrobe all-stars” to describe rarely worn and frequently worn pieces.  Such information has elicited a number of questions from readers, asking how I track my wardrobe.

Track Your Wardrobe

Do you know what’s in your closet & how often you wear your clothes?

But before I outline the specific methods I use to track my wardrobe (that will be my next post…), I first want to discuss why I feel it’s important to do it.  After all, some of you may not be convinced.  You may feel that wardrobe tracking is too difficult or time-consuming to even consider.  In truth, it doesn’t have to be either of those things.  Although the initial set-up may take a bit of time, I probably spend less than a minute each day in tracking what I wear.  In my opinion, the benefits far outweigh the time and effort involved.

Three Big Reasons for Wardrobe Tracking

Why track your wardrobe?  As I see it, the main reasons for wardrobe tracking are to:

  1. Know What You Have
  2. Know What You Wear
  3. Learn What You Need

Know What You Have

In my first month of “Recovering Shopaholic,” I did several posts in which I shared the “cold, hard facts” of my shopping expenditures, what’s in my closet, and what I did and didn’t wear.  I’m sure most of you are aware of the importance of looking at financial numbers and understanding where your money is being spent.  While I’ve tracked my shopping-related spending for over ten years and cataloged what I wore since the beginning of 2011, I did not conduct a closet inventory until January of this year.

Until I actually took the time to count the items in my closet, I had no idea that I had 129 tops, 51 bottoms (skirts, pants), 75 toppers (coats, jackets, cardigans), and 53 pairs of shoes!  Sure, I knew I had a lot of clothes, but until the actual numbers were staring me in the face, I was still able to delude myself that perhaps I needed yet another blazer or cardigan.  Doing my closet inventory was an important step in my recovery, as it helped me to fully grasp the extent of my wardrobe excess.

Know What You Wear

Do you have any idea how often you wear the garments in your closet?  We often believe we’re wearing our clothes much more than we actually are.  While we may believe we wear each of our twenty pairs of jeans a few times per month, pure logic will tell us that isn’t really possible (unless we’re wearing several outfits each day!).

Why is it important to know how often we wear our clothes?  The main two reasons are to make sure we’re getting our money’s worth from what we buy and to help guide our future purchases.  Cost per wear is an important consideration, especially when contemplating buying something expensive. For example, some may scoff at the $200-plus price tag for premium denim jeans.  But for someone who virtually lives in jeans, such an item may be practical.  If a woman wears her $200 jeans a hundred times, the cost per wear is only $2.  In contrast, a $200 formal dress that may only be worn once or twice may not be a wise investment.

What Do You Wear on a Regular Basis?

If we track what we wear and notice that we mostly wear casual pieces and rarely wear our more formal garments, hopefully we’ll realize that it’s not a good idea to buy more items in the latter category.  Without tracking, we might continue to buy what we’re most drawn to instead of purchasing the types of clothes we actually wear on a regular basis.

I know that was true for me.  For years, I bought an abundance of high heels and “going out clothes” that rarely saw the light of day.  I just don’t go out all that much!  After tracking what I wore during 2011, I placed a moratorium on buying fancy dresses and “taxi shoes.”  Although I can’t say I stuck with my ban 100% of the time, I did save myself some money by mostly refraining from buying the types of clothes I loved but hardly ever wore.

Learn What You Need

Just as you’ll better understand what not to buy through tracking what you wear, tracking will also help you learn what pieces you might need to round out your wardrobe.  If you see that you wear certain types of items on a regular basis, you may be able to anticipate closet needs in advance.  For example, if your favorite white t-shirt is used in your outfits on a weekly basis, you may want to be on the lookout for a replacement so you won’t need to go without when your “wardrobe workhouse” bites the dust.

One way in which wardrobe tracking has helped me (although I must admit to being a slow learner in this respect) is that it highlighted my tendency to buy too many of a certain type of item while virtually ignoring another important category.  Case in point… I have tons of knit tops and almost no blouses.  I probably would have noticed this sooner had I divided my tops into categories beyond sleeve length, but the important thing is that I eventually did notice the blouse gap in my closet.  I’ve now decided to stop buying knit tops for the foreseeable future and to add a few (read – not twenty!) blouses to the mix.

Need Vs. Want

Of course, need is a relative term.  My mother used to always tell me, “There is a big difference between need and want.”  While that saying annoyed me back then (and I don’t love it even now), there is some merit to it.  There are no absolutes in terms of how many clothes a person should have in his or her wardrobe, as there are many factors involved.  Obviously, those who work from home or wear a uniform to work don’t need as many clothes as someone who works in a formal office environment five days per week.  But even so, there are minimalists (such as Project 333 adherents) who stretch a small wardrobe to meet all of their lifestyle needs.

Deciding how many clothes one needs is a very individual decision.  I used to love having a large wardrobe, as I believed I needed as many options as possible in order to dress well.  I’ve since learned the error of my ways and am working on paring my wardrobe down to a more manageable size. Even so, there may be items here and there that I may choose to add to my closet to enhance my outfits and modernize my look.

My wardrobe tracking can help to guide my purchasing decisions by showing me what types of things I most enjoy wearing.  For example, I’ve noticed that last year I wore my shorter and narrower skirts more than the longer and fuller ones.  So if I decide I need (or even want…) a new skirt, it would be more prudent to search for a shorter, slimmer option.

Have I Convinced You?

I could provide many more examples to illustrate my points, but hopefully I’ve convinced you of the value of tracking what you have in your closet and how often you wear the garments you own.  My next post will delve into the specifics of how I do my wardrobe tracking.  Some of the methods are very easy and straight-forward and can be implemented immediately.  Others will take a bit of set-up work, but you can be off and running with all of it within a few short hours.  Stay tuned…

28 thoughts on “Why Track Your Wardrobe?

  1. Thank you Debbie! This is valuable information that I will use and share with others.
    Also, your story is very inspirational to me. And it took me twice as long to make progress. (It took two cycles of Project 333 before it begin to feel natural to me). You are doing wonderfully, and you are helping so many others. I’m enjoying sharing this journey with you.
    In Spirit, Terra

    Postscript to my Project 333 blog post
    This morning my husband (of 33 years) reminded me that when we first I met had only one pair of shoes. I was working full time and going to school, living on a tight budget. As I recall it was a nice pair of casual shoes. And that when we went on an overnight back packing trip I borrowed a pair of tennis shoes from my younger brother. I remember the terrible blisters I got that weekend. My husband also reminded me that for years I worked in a corporate environment and was forced to meet clothing standards outlined in the employee handbook. I remember the no denim rule and the must-wear-a-jacket rule and being miserable, miserable and not making a whole lot of money. My husband reminded me that I “had” to shop back then for clothes I didn’t really want. He said that he was happy to see me begin to buy a collection of casual clothes that fit my personality and my current lifestyle now that I no longer have to dress for a fussy work environment. He also said that since I economized in other areas in order to buy clothes he didn’t see my closest collection as a problem, and that based on the average American women, I probably didn’t have too much. (Truth to tell, I think I might have been on my way to developing a shopping problem, and thankfully I discovered Debbie’s wonderful blog here, so that I can question myself and make lasting changes to reduce the amount of clothes I buy and wear.

    And… my husband also said that he agrees, it is time to cut back and he is glad I took the leap. And that soon he will begin to weed out his closet. Not today, but maybe tomorrow…

    • Terra, Thank you for your kind words and for sharing more of your story. It sounds like you have been through the full spectrum in terms of your wardrobe size – from too small to too large and finally to a size that works well for you. I’m glad you are now able to wear what you love and not have to buy and wear things that make you miserable! You are doing so well and your story is inspiring!

      Regarding your husband’s wardrobe, I hope he is ready to pare down soon. I do “closet audits” with my husband all the time and we always find more to get rid of. Did you see my post in which I discuss my husband’s wardrobe: https://recoveringshopaholic.com/what-is-a-normal-sized-wardrobe/. Maybe it’s one to share with your husband. My husband was really shocked at how much he had!

      • Debbie, thank you for reminding me! I did read the post where you discussed your husband’s wardrobe, but I read a while ago right after you posted it, and I need to go back and read it again.

        Also, although I’d made lots of progress I feel like I’m learning how to dress myself for the first time in my life! I too had a tendency to buy clothes that were too dressy for my lifestyle, and what I ended up with (and gave away) was a ton of things that I didn’t have enough dressy occasions to wear. Also, after reading all of the great comments from readers I realized that I don’t have enough normal clothes to wear around the house. I have another odd tendency to save the clothes I wear outside the house for good, and the few things I allow myself to wear at home are decent items, but they wear out quickly because I wear them so often. So.. I need to rethink my at home wardrobe.

      • Terra, Great minds think alike! I’m actually going to do a post on this very topic soon. I already have it written but a few others are in the queue ahead of it, but look for it at the end of next week. We seem to be on a similar path and I’m glad we can inspire each other!

  2. I’m convinced that I need to learn how to track the garments in my wardrobe. Like you, I am drawn to fancy clothes that my lifestyle doesn’t require very often. I am trying to be more aware of what I really do wear and what I should spend my money on. I’m looking forward to your next post! In the meantime, I’ve already weeded out a few things that I know are not really me!

    • Kirsti, It sounds like you are doing great! Awareness is the first step and it’s an important one. Look for my “how to” post on tracking on Friday. Hope it’s helpful for you!

  3. This post is a bit depressing for me. Even though I have been very diligent in keeping a small wardrobe (i’m the shopaholic purgaholic commenter!) The clothes I wear on a regular basis is maybe 1/4 of what I have. I’m in house clothes 80% of the time, I’m a stay at home mom and other than taking my daughter to school and grocery shopping, I work out of home so I wear the comfiest clothes I own, which are like 3 outfits. These are clothes I do not wear out in public so I don’t even count them as part of my wardrobe! I did pretty well with my winter wardrobe this year, I wore most of what I have a number of times but I also purged A LOT throughout the season. Some things were worn and purged and a bunch that were not worn at all and purged. I have a lot of new pieces for the summer I have yet to wear so I won’t be tracking those until the fall. Anyways, I’m just thinking out loud and this post is perfect to truly reflect on how much I have and to focus on the need and quiet down the want.

    Terra made some good points that I think about time to time. The student days of only owning one pair of shoes rang true for me, as I was the same, not out of poverty but out of being preoccupied with other things that I simply did not think about clothes. Getting dressed was just a basic necessity like eating breakfast and I never minded wearing the same outfit 5 days in a row as long as I didn’t smell bad.

    • Wendy, I’m glad my post was helpful, even if it was also depressing. I’m sure you’ve seen that I spend a lot of time in “house clothes,” too. But you know what? I’ve decided to start counting them, if for no other reason than to increase my awareness. Perhaps I’ll either start getting dressed in “regular clothes” more often or invest in better house clothes. Look for a post on this topic soon…

      I agree that Terra made some excellent points. My readers really do add SO much wisdom to my topics and I’m very grateful for all of you! You’re doing great, Wendy! The fact that you’re here and becoming more aware of your issues really does mean a lot!

  4. Debbie you have convinced me that it’s time to start tracking my wardrobe! Although I found the turning-the-hanger system helped me truly identify what I wasn’t wearing, it didn’t show me how many times I wore the garment after the hanger had been turned.
    Thank you for all your posts – they are very inspirational 🙂

    • Megan, I’m glad you found my post convincing! Friday’s post will delve into wardrobe-tracking specifics. The “turning the hanger system” you mentioned will be in there, but there’s lots more there, too. I hope it will be helpful to you!

  5. I wasn’t committed enough to the tracking, I mean, I didn’t know what to put down if it was only worn in the evening after work or a whole day, or reworn etc. And it just didn’t ‘smack me in the face’ to do it. Which is fine, I have a pretty good memory to some extents, so things that aren’t ‘remembered’ aren’t getting worn and they are evaluated and given a ‘last chance’ showing where I usually confirm they are too tight, too loose, not my style etc etc. Then they get washed, and into the donate bag!

    • Sarah, Thanks for your comment. When I track, I could everything I wore out of the house. If I wear two separate outfits on a given day, I count both. I don’t count things I wear around the house, but I’m going to start tracking those, too. If you have a great memory and a system that is working for you, that’s what matters most. No one method will work for everyone. The important thing is that you’re wearing what you own and making decisions about them. Many people don’t do that!

  6. Great post!! The need vs want points really speak to me. I must say for the past few weeks I’ve really fought myself to not shop. My brain is winning the war by reminding myself that I don’t really need anything. I want to shop fill in a hole or because I’m bored, I may not spend a lot of money but like yourself if I added it up I would not spend that amount for what I’ve got.
    My issues started in childhood with parents who were brought up in the Depression so their buying habits did not match those of parents around me. I remember telling myself as child that when I grew up I was gonna buy whatever I needed or wanted. I always felt that I was missing something as a child, that the other kids seemed happy and they looked better than me. It wasn’t a money thing, we had money, it was the feeling that no matter what I didn’t match up. I guess my child’s brain thought if I owned those Guess shirts and jeans I’d be happy. I assume that for years I’ve been dressing that child and never measuring up in my mind.
    I’m hoping now, by reading you and others that I will lean more towards buying quality and replacing items when I need to. I love your posts, you inspire me.

    • My parents also grew up during the Depression and were very frugal, especially when it came to clothes. They bought the best quality they could afford and they expected things to last. While some of my peers seemed have more clothes, many of my friends also had frugal families who had lived through the Depression and then rationing during WWII. I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, and shopping was not the recreational past time then as it is now. I still retain their values and focus on buying quality over fashion trends. It’s harder to find good quality clothes these days, so I am hanging onto clothing items that are particularly well made. I feel that the “fun” comes from mixing in accessories, including “trendy” new items (bought on sale or on consignment, of course).

    • Mina, Thanks so much for your comment. I can identify with a lot of what you wrote. I was told “we can’t afford it” a lot as a child, too, and grew up in an affluent community. Once I could afford to buy stuff, I overdid it – and haven’t stopped. Only now at age 46 am I finally taking steps to really change. I’m glad my blog is helpful to you and I wish you the best of luck with your journey!

  7. I track what I wear with a spreadsheet of sorts — just a printout with columns for jacket, top, bottom, accessories and shoes — for each month. I like tracking outfits, because when I’m stumped for an idea, I can glance back at previous outfits worn with a particular jacket. Every few months I enter the individual clothing items in an Excel spreadsheet and create pivot tables to find out which items in each category were worn most often. I also have just started calculating the cost per wear. Yes, I’m a data nerd!

    • Tricia, Glad to “meet” a fellow data nerd! You’re giving me new tracking ideas 🙂 Thanks for sharing your process with me and my readers!

  8. I’d love to see your ideas on how to use your inventory method to, say, build a wardrobe or transition from a “corporate” wardrobe to a “business casual” wardrobe, etc. Perhaps this could be a topic in a future blog posting.
    More than 25 years ago I developed a hand-written inventory on grid paper — first developed for my sister who had 21 white blouses (she wore 2-3 and had “issues” with the other 18 yet allowed valuable real estate in her small one-bedroom condo to be consumed by never-worn clothes). I then developed a spreadsheet for a travel wardrobe (including matching up individual clothing items into outfits. A few years later I developed a spreadsheet inventory of all of my clothes and was shocked to see the number of white short-sleeve t-shirts that had crept into my closets. I now have my inventory in a plastic sleeve on the inside of my closet. Nothing new comes in unless something goes out, thus preventing another avalanche of white t-shirts, etc. Because I seldom buy new clothes, it’s been easy to use this method. (“Oops, this t-shirt has an indelible stain; must get a replacement.”) I’d be interested in how you actually use your tracking system. Is it accessible on your smart phone — so handy for shopping!

    • Dottie, Thanks for sharing your tracking methods. It’s so great that you learned the value of tracking so long ago. It sounds like it’s served you well over the years. I don’t have my tracking system accessible on my smart phone – yet – but I hope to implement something more mobile soon. There are some great apps out there, but most are only available for iPhone and I have Android. Soon, though. I like your post suggestion on building a wardrobe. I will add that one to the (long!) list.

  9. So enjoy your posts! I am tracking my wardrobe too these days, and you’re absolutely right that you imagine you wear things MUCH much more than you actually can or do! I also like to know my price per wear. I calculate it two ways: the price of the individual item divided by number of wears, as well as the average price of my total wardrobe divided by number of items. The first lets me see what’s most cost effective within each category… The second lets me know a ball park of how many times I want to wear the items I’m willing to add to my wardrobe. Right now my wardrobe is worth about $3700 and I have about 112 items (this includes accessories and shoes too), so I like to try to wear anything basic that I buy about 30 times over the course of 3 years (2-3 times per 3-4 seasons). Things like semi precious or artisan jewelry, cashmere sweaters, or nicely made boots cost a lot but can last many, many years. Other items like tees and jeans get worn a lot and tend to poop out after a few years of wear. I’ve been a ‘clothesorexic’ in the past with too few choices and I am trying to expand my possible looks without settling for any ‘meh’ pieces. Thanks for your blog! xoL

    • Thanks for sharing your tracking methods! I love the idea of calculating the average cost of your total wardrobe divided by number of items. I’m almost afraid to calculate that one, though… You seem like you’re doing well with your wardrobe and are basing your purchase decisions more on logic and practicality than on emotions. I am a data nerd but still shop mostly for emotional reasons. I’ll get there, though! Glad you like my blog.

  10. PS: does anyone else use the style book app? Once you’ve gone thru the tedium of photographing and cropping your stuff its fun to make outfits! I play around with it when I’m stuck waiting places and then when I need an outfit I just scroll thru all the combinations… (I’m really not a plant for style book or anything, either! hahaha… I’m just a visual person & it’s enormously helpful.) You can save looks too. I stalk pictures of garance dore working because I would rather dress like her than most of the fashion people she’s shooting!

    • I would LOVE to use this app, but I don’t have an iPhone. I actually do have photos of all of my clothing and shoes now (haven’t done the accessories yet), so I could make good use of an app like that one. I’ll have to look up Garance Dore’s outfits. I’m always on the lookout for cool styles to try to emulate.

    • I use to use polyvore which I think is the same concept as style apps but it didn’t work for me. The problem is I can’t see myself in the outfit. I’ve made a lot of different outfits on polyvore and they look great in theory but when I have it on, it doesn’t work. The best way for me to try new outfits is to have it on my body and then photograph it or document it on paper. Then there’s still the comfort and practical side to whether the outfit works when you’re wearing it out in the world. I have purged so many items in recent past because of this last statement. So many things look great on and go with many outfits but then becomes uncomfortable after wearing it for an hour or two and I end up only wearing it once or twice. They were perfectly comfortable when I tried them on in the store and when I bring it back home. They are usually comfort related reasons why I would end up purging the item. I hate fussy clothes. Jeans that I have to pull up every time I get up from sitting, skirts and dress that cling to my legs after walking for 30 mintes, shoes and boots where my socks slip to my heels after walking in them for 15 minutes. So many of these factors can only be assessed after wearing the item once or a few times. And yes I have tried the many things out there to help make these clothes more wearable: belts for jeans, slips for clinging skirts and dresses, heel grips, insoles and/or different types of socks for shoes. I don’t own tight and awkward clothes, most of my apparel is casual, you’ll never see me in heels and tight dresses, yet I still fail at assessing if I can wear something all day when I’m trying things on in the dressing room. Sometimes it’s just hard to know until you wear it out which is why with my already small wardrobe I still only wear the same 5 outfits.

      • Wendy, Your raised some excellent points. I have similar challenges with buying items and later finding they don’t work well in real life. In some cases, this can’t be avoided, but sometimes I wear things around the house for awhile before wearing them outdoors. I’ve been able to determine that some shoes will hurt my feet or some pants aren’t comfortable when sitting down by doing this. Of course, then I have to do a return, but that’s better than wearing something only once or twice and then donating it. The tracking can help here, too, as one is able to see what types of items end up being “wardrobe all-stars.” Again, it’s not foolproof, but I’ve been making fewer mistakes this way.

  11. Yes! Look for her! I’m a garden designer, so I sometimes have to look pulled together like an office bound ‘creative’ while finding myself outdoors able to bend over and actually move around! Garance dore combines lots of menswear inspired basics with beautiful shoes & accessories and always looks like she could dash off at a moments notice chasing the perfect fashion shot… If you google her in images tons of outfits will pop up.

  12. I started tracking my clothes this week, and I immediately noticed something: it has made it a challenge, or a game, to try to use my pieces that haven’t been worn yet. Now when I’m planning an outfit, I will start with an unused piece and think, “How can I wear this?” It’s been a lot of fun, and it’s only been a week! Today I’m wearing 2 items that I know haven’t yet been worn this year.

    • I often do that kind of thing, too, Jamie! It’s helpful to make a game out of wearing out clothes and sometimes we are lucky and discover one of those “diamonds in the rough.” I hope you find at least a few of those along the way!

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