The Nuts and Bolts of Wardrobe Tracking

In my last post, I outlined the value of tracking your wardrobe.  If you’ve decided you’d like to start tracking, today’s post will help to point you in the right direction.  The methods outlined below range from a simple technique you can start immediately to more detailed options that require a bit of planning and set-up time.

I understand that many of you might not be as detail-oriented and “anal retentive” as I am, but you really don’t need to be in order to see some great results.  Even if you choose to only take on the first method, I promise you’ll gain increased awareness that will help you better manage your wardrobe and guide your future shopping.

I’ll do my best to explain my tracking methods and will use some photos to illustrate my points, but please feel free to ask questions if there’s anything you don’t quite understand.

“The Hanger Trick”       

This first technique is simple but powerful.  Here’s how it works…  Go to your closet and turn all of your hangers so that the hooks face outward (“the wrong way”) instead of inward (“the right way”).  After you wear an item of clothing and hang it up again, return the hanger to the facing inward position.  That’s it!

If you feel that turning all of your hangers around to get started is too much trouble, simply reverse the process.  As you wear something, put the hanger back in so that the hook faces outward.  Either way will work.

After a while, you’ll start to get a sense of what you are and aren’t wearing.  Your closet will start to look like this:

wardrobe tracking - "hanger trick"

My closet after a few months of using the “hanger trick.”

You may choose to challenge yourself to wear everything in your closet within a certain time period or you may opt to just get dressed as you normally do, wearing what you feel most drawn to.  I’ve used the “hanger trick” both ways and have found both to be beneficial.  I either see what I really like to wear or find “diamonds in the rough” among the garments I don’t usually reach for.

An advanced option to the “hanger trick” is to donate or consign anything that doesn’t get worn after a pre-determined time.  This may be six months, a year, or whatever time limit feels right for you.  Since my wardrobe has been very large for as long as I can remember, I set one year as my deadline.  You may also opt to exclude formal wear or other rarely worn garments from the “wear or donate” rule.

Intermediate Tracking – Number of Times Worn

While the “hanger trick” is useful, it only tells part of the story.  It signals whether something has been worn or not but doesn’t inform you how often.  Enter my intermediate tracking method, which uses hang-tags and a clipboard to quickly capture garment wear data.

I have to give credit where credit is due here.  My engineer husband came up with the brilliant idea to hang simple paper tags from my hangers to enable me to easily and quickly mark when I wear my clothes.  We bought some Avery marking tags at our local Staple’s, spent about an hour attaching the tags to all of my hangers, and I was off and running!

Wardrobe Tracking - Hanging Tags

Hanging tags are used to track how often I wear my clothes.

I keep a pen on the shelf in my closet and as I get undressed each evening, I mark an X on the hanging tag of each garment I wore that day.  For items that are not hung up, such as jeans and shoes, I use a basic spreadsheet attached to a clipboard.   I haven’t typically tracked my accessory wear other than shoes, but have been doing so since I began Project 333 in April.  I may continue this tracking beyond Project 333, as I’d like to pare down my accessory collection along with my wardrobe.

jeans and shoes tracking spreadsheet

Tracking the “Wardrobe Benchwarmers”

After tracking my wardrobe for two years using the methods outlined above, I introduced another level of tracking at the beginning of 2013.  I identified a number of garments and shoes that were either worn only once or not at all over the course of an entire year (in 2012, I had 146 “benchwarmers”)!  While I decided to donate or consign some of these items, I opted to give others another chance to make it into my regular outfit rotation.  I designated those pieces as “wardrobe benchwarmers” and highlighted them by clipping small binder clips to their hangers (for jeans and shoes, I highlighted their row on my jeans/shoes tracking spreadsheet).

Wardrobe Tracking - Benchwarmers

Small binder clips mark my “wardrobe benchwarmers.”

I decided to wear and make a decision about every “benchwarmer” in my closet over the course of this year.  While I initially divided my benchwarmers into categories and vowed to address these categories using monthly themes, I’ve accelerated my progress over the ensuing months. I did my first “benchwarmer update” in March and will do another one soon.

Since most of you haven’t been tracking your wardrobe as closely as I have, you may not have hard, fast data about your wardrobe “benchwarmers.”  However, I’m sure if you go into your closet, you’ll be able to pull out some garments that haven’t seen the light of day in a long, long time.  You may wish to mark those items with binder clips as I’ve done to push you to wear them.  Alternatively, simply bring these garments to the front of your closet so you’ll be more likely to incorporate them into your outfits over the coming weeks.

Advanced Tracking

There is one final level of tracking I’d like to mention.  It’s not for the faint of heart and it can be quite time-consuming, yet it has given me a great deal of information over the past two years.  I’ve actually created a spreadsheet which lists every single item of clothing and pair of shoes in my wardrobe!

On this spreadsheet, I list the item, when I bought it, how much it cost, and how many times it got worn during 2011 and 2012.  I created separate sheets within my “clothing tracker spreadsheet” for tops, jackets/sweaters, bottoms/dresses, and shoes.  As I donate or consign things, I move the information from the “active” sheets to a separate “donate/consign” sheet.  I try to update the spreadsheet on a monthly basis so the end of the year process isn’t overly time-consuming.

Wardrobe Tracking Spreadsheet

At the end of 2013, I will add another column to indicate how often each piece got worn this year.   My incredibly patient husband helps me with the end of the year process.  He reads off the items while I look in my closet.  I count the number of “X”s on each tag and he enters the number into the spreadsheet.  This part of the process is very tedious, so we usually break it up into a few sessions near the end of the year.  After all of the data has been entered, I create separate sheets for “wardrobe all-stars” (previously designated as items worn four or more times, but I’m changing it to eight times this year) and “wardrobe benchwarmers” (again, only worn once or not at all).

This “advanced tracking” takes a lot of time and I realize most of you probably won’t do it.  But I opted to tell you about it anyway in case any of you are ambitious (or crazy) enough to take it on.  It has given me a lot of useful data and was what really pushed me to start this blog.  When I saw that half of my wardrobe was worn just once or not at all during 2012, I had to grasp that I was a full-fledged shopaholic who needed some big time intervention!

Any Tracking is Better than No Tracking!

I hope this overview of wardrobe tracking methods has been interesting and useful to you.  I encourage you to start doing some sort of tracking with your closet.  The methods I outlined in this article evolved for me over time and while they have been highly useful for me, you certainly don’t need to do all of them!  Even just doing the “hanger trick” for a month or two will increase your awareness of what you’re wearing and not wearing.   That’s how I started, but eventually I opted to delve deeper because I was continuing to shop too much and buy the wrong types of items.  Your mileage may vary, as they say, and the “hanger trick” may be all you need.

If you do opt to try any of my tracking methods, I’d love to hear how they work for you.  Also, if you have other tips and suggestions for better tracking and managing your wardrobe, I’d love for you to share them in the comments section below. I don’t pretend to have all the answers on this topic, even though I have become a major wardrobe management nerd in recent years.  I’m always open to learning more!

30 thoughts on “The Nuts and Bolts of Wardrobe Tracking

  1. Although I track my wardrobe sometimes I wonder if we (I) spend too much time thinking about all of this…
    With that said, I do use an app called Stylebook ($3.99 at which lets you take pictures of your items, put them into categories, build “looks”, and add items to the calendar when you wear them. This then automatically computes how many times you’ve worn an item in the Style Stats area.
    I find it pretty helpful, especially having pictures of my items in my phone. I could see this being very useful when out shopping to actually be able to look at your wardrobe contents to see if an item you’re considering purchasing would be a duplicate instead of guessing or trying to justify a purchase.
    When I initially took pictures of my items (clothes, shoes, jewelry, scarves, purses, coats) it really gave me perspective on just how much I own since I had to touch every single item in my closet and take time to photograph and edit it. There are less than 200 items total (excluding exercise clothes, PJs, and undergarments) but I think it’s more than I need!

    • Very cool, Emmy! I think this will work better for me than trying to take pictures of outfits everyday, either while they are already on me, or hanging up/on my bed so I can see all the pieces. Thanks for the tip!

    • Emmy, I would love to use Stylebook. I am on their waitlist for when the Android version comes out. Hopefully soon… It seems like a great app. I agree that taking photos of items helps to give you perspective. I only did the clothes, shoes, and purses, but it was exhausting! I had to break the process up over many sessions because I had so much. I didn’t get to the jewelry and scarves yet, but I have so many of each, it seems daunting. Definitely time to pare down! I’m doing it, but I still have a lot!

  2. Wow, you are the most detail-oriented person I have ever met. A quick count through my clothes came to less than 120 (not counting what I wear for cooking, gardening, or excercing). There are a few that I do not wear much, some that do not make an ‘8’, but I keep them thinking I might wear them again before moving them onto the hack-around clothing side of my closet. Thank goodness for scarves, (that I didn’t count, probably 50 or so), because they are truly the workhorses in my closet, and some of those I have had for 25 years. I might give the hanger trick a go, it might help me to give some of those almost 8s another chance. But, my goodness, your clothing is better organized than many people’s finances. 🙂

    • Cornelia, Yes, I am pretty detail-oriented (with finances, too). Fortunately, I also have a creative side… Seems like you’re doing pretty well with only 120 garments. I’d like to get to that level. I didn’t count my loungewear and exercise clothes, but plan to start tracking there, too. I need to buy better quality in those areas and I think the numbers will help to make the case. I have close to 50 scarves, too, and love them. Doing Project 333 is helping me to wear them more often. Scarves really can make an outfit!

  3. I’ve been tracking my 33 and it’s been very interesting. It helped me swap out things at the end of April that I hadn’t worn at all the first month, and it has encouraged me to work a little harder to incorporate items that I chose but haven’t been wearing much. Not surprisingly, the number one most worn item is my dark wash straight leg jeans.

    • Renee, My jeans are getting the most wear, too. I’m enjoying tracking my Project 333 items, as I’m learning a lot in a short time frame. Even with only 33 garments, I don’t do repeats as often as I thought I would.

  4. Debbie, today I plan to buy some marking tags so I’ll be ready to start recording tonight. Not sure if I’ll get to the advanced spreadsheet for everything stage but I have appreciated reading about your methods and results. We have had a very long summer here in Sydney and are only now starting to wear warmer clothes so this will be a good time to start recording my Winter clothes. I know I have more than I really need because it’s not a long season here and we often spend a month or so in the Northern hemisphere during our Winter – but I love sweaters and coats and buy some every year! This will help me know which ones to let go. Thanks for all the information.

    • Megan, Glad you found my tips helpful. I look forward to hearing how the marking tags work out for you. Not everyone needs the “advanced spreadsheet” and my process evolved over a period of years. Sometimes just the “hanger trick” is enough for someone. Good luck and please write back and let me know how it’s all going for you!

  5. Wow, great post! I wish I was as detail oriented as you and I love, love your keen observations. I have to admit I think about wardrobe planning more than I should. I am endlessly obsessing about capsule wardrobes, travel wardrobes (I rarely travel) etc. It is a form of stress relief for me:)

    Your husband is a real trouper! I would hesitate to ask mine to do any sort of analysis project regarding my closet(s) because he isn’t approving of my habits at all. I feel like I’ve had a (clothing) shopping problem since I was able to shop. So covert operations mean not analyzing too much, lol.

    I have done a 333 before and it was great. It helped me to be more selective definitely and the shopping has slowed somewhat but I have a long way to go. I am vowing to concentrate more on my problem areas (hate buying pants!!) and will also try to control my urge to buy multiples. Multiples as in if it’s black than it’s also awesome in gray, white, taupe and navy, NOT!! I need to stop that uncontrollable urge to cover all bases at all times. Some times I think I buy out of fear, does that make sense? I wonder if you could address that issue at some point? I know I’m not the only one:)

    • Karen, I also buy out of fear. Often what I really need is not available in my size, so when I do see something I think I may need later on, I buy it out of fear that I might not find it later. Also, it just occurred to me that since I so seldom find what I really want in my size, I settle for less and buy something that is not a 9 or 10. No wonder I had a closet full of clothes that I wasn’t wearing.

      • Terra, Excellent points! I do the same things and it’s led to the same problems. It definitely seems like I need to do a post on this topic…

      • My same issue(s)- buying things because I was afraid I wouldn’t find them when the time came(ie: duplicates of colors in tops and bottoms or sizing) and as Karen also pointed out- not finding my size in what I wanted so buying something else I really didn’t want that was somewhat similar in color or style, etc. And unfortunately this last issue makes for a wardrobe of things you don’t really love!
        Debbie- yes I agree a future post on these issues which seem to plague lots of us, would be really good

    • Karen, Welcome and thanks for your comments! I’m glad you liked this post. Yes, my husband is a trooper. I think he’s happy I’m trying to work on my shopping problem, as I’ve had it for as long as I can remember, too. Project 333 has been very helpful for me, too, but I still have a long way to go. I have similar issues to you, especially with hating to buy pants and buying multiples. Good idea for a future post on fear. I’ll add that one to the list!

  6. Debbie, I forgot that you must be West Coast b/c when I saw my earlier comment at 4:51 AM, I thought I needed to change my laptop clock! I’m over here in VA:)

    Anyway, I got to the intermediate tracking phase – with tags, but my closet hanging rod is one of those plastic ones that when you turn around the hanger, it won’t move. It was driving me crazy after a couple of months, b/c the few garments I wasn’t wearing kept the other ones from sliding, sheesh! But it had already served its purpose. Do you ever set your alarm for a few days, then realize you don’t need it b/c your mind/body is already on the routine? That’s what happened to me with separating the good, the bad and the ugly. The wardrobe benchwarmers mostly were cute clothes but just not right for my figure, and I altered several of them to make them work again. The rest are gone, wuhoo and hallelujah! And I had to face the fact that I’ll be adding to or replacing shorts or skirts and tees that I still wear all summer (even though we’re told that we’re “not supposed to wear shorts after 30” – I’m sticking out my tongue!) b/c I am at home and it gets dang hot and sticky here in central VA…not yet, but soon.

    My all-time wardrobe all-star has got to be my super stylish, black, Zella warm-up jacket that has gotten so many compliments. It has a cute, criss-cross ribbon in the back that aids in shaping and slightly shimmery piecing on the shoulders and waist, reminiscent of leather. It is versatile, with venting and thumbholes in the sleeves for very cold weather (great for chilly tennis morning warmups!). I actually bought a second black jacket b/c I worried that I was wearing-out the Zella by using it for yoga, running, the gym – everyday!

    Okay, Debbie, your turn: what is the one piece in your closet that is your all-time wardrobe all-star?

    • Lil, Thanks for your comment. Yes, I’m in the West Coast. San Diego… It’s still spring weather here. Not all that warm yet, which has been challenging with my Project 333 wardrobe at times. I want to wear skirts/dresses more, but it’s often too cool out. I don’t believe in many of those age-related “rules” like “no shorts after 30.” Too restricting, I say! I prefer skirts over shorts, but my legs aren’t my favorite feature and it doesn’t get that hot here.

      I’m glad the tracking helped you in the past. It sounds like you caught on quickly. It’s taking me a while. I told my husband I would keep tracking until I had no (or very few) benchwarmers. That may take awhile… Your all-star jacket sounds cool! I have a Zella jacket I like, too, but it’s a different one. My biggest all-stars would have to be jackets and coats, too. It’s hard to pick just one! The one I wore the most last year was a more casual jacket I wore on walks, but I wouldn’t say that’s the favorite thing I own. If I had to pick on all-star, I’d say it’s my gray Tulle coat. You can see it in this post: Not surprisingly, I have similar coats in other colors, including the other colors you see in the same post. I like the grey one a lot because it goes with so many things. I wear a lot of black, too, and like grey and black together. I went a little overboard with buying coats, but I do wear most of them a lot. Not many benchwarmers in the coat category…

      • Love that coat! It looks like it was made for you, with all the details like seaming, piping and buttons. I remember that post…I am enjoying seeing your progress. Sending warm, dress/skirt weather your way!

  7. Debbie, when I read the sheer detail with how you track and analyze your wardrobe, I was stunned at the complexity of your process, which is very engineering-like. My own process of tracking is very different and quite haphazard in comparison!

    I basically keep it all in my head, and its based a lot on feelings–the last time I wore it, how I felt when I wore it (as in was I confident, did I enjoy myself), whether I tend to wear it more frequently than other garments (but not to the point of wanting to know how many times exactly).

    I look at a garment and ask myself “when was the last time I wore you?” If it has been a long time (or never), I ask “why haven’t I worn you?”, and then I analyze how I felt the last time I wore the garment. If I remember feeling that the garment didn’t fit, then I try it on to see if my memory is correct. If memory wins and the garment doesn’t fit right, then I send it to consignment or donation. If its a new garment that I purchased and never wore, I ask myself why. Usually its because I bought it for a lifestyle or situation that I didn’t find myself in after all.

    If its not an issue of fit, maybe its an issue of color and/or style. Maybe it doesn’t go as well with other pieces as I logically think it should, so I do a test in which I lay out all the supposed coordinating components flat on the bed and really look at them together, weeding out the pieces that don’t work.

    Or maybe its a style that I thought looked good on me that really didn’t, because I didn’t analyze my appearance thoroughly enough at the time of purchase (probably because I allowed myself to be seduced by the color or pattern of the fabric).

    Which leads me to a truth I have realized: prior to culling my wardrobe, I found myself owning garments that I never wore–because a wardrobe how-to book told me that “every woman should have certain items in her closet”.

    Case in point, the little black dress. I have had only one LBD in my life that I actually liked, it was wool jersey, wearable only in winter, and I wore it out after 15 years. Wardrobe gurus tell you that every woman should have a LBD. I don’t have one now, and don’t feel the lack even though I’m supposed to. My professional wardrobe is business casual, so maybe I don’t go places where people wear LBD’s. I can’t think of anyone in my circle who wears one regularly, so perhaps it really is a non-issue!

    Another ubiquitous garment is the white collared shirt–“every woman should have one, you can do so much with them, etc”. But I don’t like the way I look in them, because I have a short neck, so I don’t wear collared shirts anymore. A big part of culling my wardrobe was getting rid of garments that “experts” told me were “basics” I needed to be considered well dressed, that I didn’t really need for my life and body type.

    • Deby, Thanks for sharing your wardrobe analysis process with us! It’s not surprising that it’s more intuitive and right-brained, as you are a creative person in a creative field. I use some of your methods, too, but the data geek in me wanted to have the numbers, too. There is no right way of doing this. What’s important is to find something that works well for you, and it seems that you have. I’m sure your tips will be very helpful for those who read mine and think I’m nuts 🙂

      Great points about the “wardrobe must-haves.” I used to go by those lists, too, and those were many of my “benchwarmers.” For years, I tried to find a white button-down shirt that worked for me, but it’s hard with my long arms and narrow torso. I finally gave up because I decided I didn’t really consider that garment a must-have for me. I never tell my clients they must have any particular garment. It’s always based upon their particular lifestyle situation, personal preferences, and body type. They sometimes ask for such lists, but we create the shopping list organically rather than my handing them a list of absolutes. While a LBD is great for some people, it simply has no place in others’ lives, and that’s okay!

      • Thank you for agreeing with me about the must-haves that really aren’t! We each need to figure out what our must-haves are, because not everyone looks good in the same things, or even needs the same things!.

        For me, black leggings are major must-haves because my legs are a best feature and I like the casual edgy vibe that they give an outfit. I have them in different weights for various weathers. For winter, I have them in heavy cotton and ponte knit, but y favorites are the featherweight microfiber ones made by CuddlDuds, because you can wear them in lieu of black tights in winter with boots if you want to wear socks without having two layers of fabric surrounding your feet. You can also wear them up until the hottest summer weather with long tops and dresses, accessorized with sandals and a great pedicure! Deep scoop neck (plain not patterned) tees and tunics are another must-have, in various sleeve lengths, as they can be worn with leggings with an interesting long cardigans over them in cooler weather. Because I am in a creative field where I am expected to dress a little funky, these ideas work. If I worked in a conservative office, this look would be totally wrong.

        I don’t think you are nuts for doing this level of wardrobe tracking especially if you are considering writing a book. It shows you have done your research. (Even though I am in a creative field now, I started out my career as a product design/manufacturing engineer so I totally get the record keeping!)

        You are right, I do prefer the more intuitive approach though, because I think fashion should be fun!

  8. I have a question for you, Debbie – maybe you’ve already addressed this in a previous post. Do all of your clothes fit you well? I did a clothing inventory about 18 months ago, after having lost about 30 pounds. For the first 6 months, I continued to wear clothing in the larger size, but eventually I gained confidence that I wouldn’t gain the weight back. I then donated a large amount of my former wardrobe, and committed to only wearing clothing that had a flattering fit! Since then I have been replacing the former baggy items with properly-fitting ones, and enjoying a few new things I felt I couldn’t wear before, like leggings!

    • Congrats on the weight loss and having the courage to donate your old clothes and to wear only flattering clothes moving forward! I think it’s easier to maintain weight loss when one wears clothing that fits well. To answer your question, all of my clothes fit me well. Some aren’t that comfortable or just aren’t my style anymore, so I’m gradually moving those out. I’m also releasing items that just don’t work for my lifestyle. I’m doing it all a little at a time, but I’m making progress.

  9. I absolutely love the spreadsheet idea! I just started my own, and I’m excited to see what I do and don’t wear, and how often. However, since I’m mostly at home and throw on whatever to run errands, it won’t be an accurate assessment, but I’m still going to do it for practice. And at least it’ll tell me what I’m most likely to wear while running errands! It’s good to get into the habit now, so that when I do eventually get hired (*crosses fingers*) and leave the house more often, I’ll already have it engrained in my mind to keep track.

    I already know that I own a lot of stuff that I don’t wear (I’m a hoodie and flip-flop addict!) and I have lots of gaps in my wardrobe (very few work appropriate pieces). It’ll definitely be interesting to see what I actually wear and what I can let go of to make room for pieces that I need and will actually wear on a regular basis.

    • Welcome, Angie, and thanks for your comment. I’ve actually started to track what I wear at home now, too (as of this week). I really want to see how often I wear all of my clothes, as that will help to guide how I spend my clothing dollars in the future. If we are mostly in casual clothing, the bulk of our budget should be spent there. That hasn’t been how I’ve done it in the past, but it’s time to have my shopping make better sense. I hope you find the tracking as helpful as I did. I’d love to hear how it works out for you!

  10. Debbie, I was wondering if you’d considered making your tracking spreadsheet available for purchase? I bet many of us would be interested in purchasing a customizable version of the file for a fee that is already formatted and with certain categories and such. It took me an hour to put together the most basic of spreadsheets and I don’t even have all the information I would like to track in it. I’m also TERRIBLE at formulas, so figuring out cost per wear and all that is basically me counting on my fingers and toes (that’s a slight exaggeration).

    • Hi Melissa, My spreadsheet is not all that advanced at present, but I would be happy to send you what I have. I will clean it up a bit and send it your way! If anyone else is reading this and would also like the spreadsheet, just let me know (either leave a comment or go to the “Connect” page).

      My husband is going to help me improve the spreadsheet and then I will make it available for download. I’m not sure if I will charge for it or not, but you did give me some food for thought… When I created the spreadsheet (using my not so advanced Excel skills), I didn’t think anyone else would ever see it. But my husband is much better at Excel than I am, so I’m sure he can help me to make it really great. Stay tuned, but I will send you what I have shortly, Melissa!

  11. Wow, this is great! I love the hang tags idea.
    Years ago, when I was working, I had made a big spreadsheet with all my working tops across the top and bottoms down the side and put Xs on the combinations that worked together, so I wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel each time I dressed. I’ve always felt embarrassed by that recollection, because I’d never heard of anybody ever doing something like that before. I’m glad to know I’m not alone. 🙂
    I like the idea of a spreadsheet to track how many times items are worn.

    • Glad you found some useful tips in this article, Jamie. I like your spreadsheet idea, too. No need to reinvent the wheel, like you said. I’m all for doing whatever will help making things easier for us!

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