The Cold, Hard Facts: The Missing Piece

When I started this blog in January, some of my early posts addressed some of the “cold, hard facts” of my compulsive shopping situation:

The Missing Link

I wanted to be as honest as possible with myself and my readers as I began my “Recovering Shopaholic” project.  However, I recently realized that I left out one very important piece of the puzzle:

How many items am I buying each year?”

How much are you buying?

Do you know how much you’re buying each year?

I’m diligent in doing regular closet audits, during which I remove all of the items that no longer work for my body, lifestyle and personality.  I make a point of going through my wardrobe at least twice each year, yet I continued to have an overloaded and overwhelming closet.  That’s because I continued to buy far too much! 

A Lapse in My Tracking…

Unfortunately, I only tracked all of my purchases for one full year, 2011.  I started tracking in 2012 but stopped after the first quarter for some reason (probably because it was time-consuming to enter so many items!).

I have started a spreadsheet for my 2013 buys and will provide an update on those figures in a future post.  I want to make sure what I’m buying is reasonable, meets my lifestyle needs, and gets worn on a regular basis. I know I’ve made a few mistakes so far this year, but hopefully these faux pas will continue to diminish as I shop less often and more consciously.

The 2011 and (Partial) 2012 Figures

For now, though, let’s take a look at what I bought during 2011 and the first part of 2012.  During 2011, I purchased 168 items, including clothing, shoes, and accessories.  As of today, I still have only 67 of these items.  That’s only 40%, which means that I’ve already donated or consigned the other 60%!  They didn’t stay around very long, did they? And who knows how many times I actually wore those pieces before they left my wardrobe.  If I had to venture a guess, I’d say, “not many.”

I tracked the purchases I made during the first three months of 2012.  During that short time period, I bought 64 new items.  If I had continued at that rate, I would have purchased 256 new clothing, shoes, and accessory pieces by the end of the year!  In actuality, I don’t believe I ended up buying quite that much. Although my shopping tapered off later in the year due to overspending my budget and ensuing arguments with my husband, I wouldn’t be surprised if 200 new things entered my wardrobe by the end of 2012.

I looked at how many of the 64 items purchased during early 2012 are still in my closet.  I was dismayed to learn that I still have only 22 of those pieces, roughly 34%.  Judging by the number of “wardrobe benchwarmers” I had last year (update on those later this week), I’m guessing that I didn’t wear most of my 2012 purchases many times (if at all) before jettisoning them from my wardrobe.

Why Did I Leave This Piece Out?

I’m wondering why I previously neglected to investigate or report on how much I’ve bought in previous years.  After all, I’m usually meticulous with my tracking and accounting.  I’m reminded of Jack Nicholson’s line from A Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the truth!”  I must have not wanted to know this particular “cold, hard truth.”

But I wonder why… Sure, it’s depressing, but it’s equally if not more depressing that I’ve spent $50,000 during the past ten years and feel I have little to show for it.  And it’s definitely discouraging to contemplate the 146 “benchwarmers” (items I wore once or not at all) sitting in my closet at the end of last year.

Maybe I didn’t want to fully realize how much I buy and just don’t wear.  Many shopping mistakes left my wardrobe long before they were even noted as 2012 benchwarmers or counted in my January closet inventory.  These silent errors are part of my financial numbers, but are otherwise absent from my wardrobe statistics.

I Now Choose to Know

I may have neglected to keep track of how much I bought for many years, but I now choose to know this figure. I can now handle the truth and believe it will help me in reforming my shopping and wardrobe management practices.

I want to know what I’m buying and whether or not my new purchases serve my lifestyle needs.  Knowing what types of items work for me will inform my future purchases and help me to make fewer buying mistakes.  And in the long run, I will get closer to my goal of cultivating a smaller, more manageable wardrobe that I love and wear often!

Recovery Tip

Create a simple spreadsheet to track the new clothes, shoes, and accessories you buy within a given year.  Make note of the cost of each item, as well as any additional charges accrued through necessary alterations.  If you return, donate, or consign anything, strike-through that line but keep it on your spreadsheet.  It’s also helpful to add a note about why that piece left your closet.

Keeping track of what you buy and how much you wear your wardrobe pieces can help you to shop smarter in the future.  If you notice that you buy a lot of high-heeled shoes, for example, and never wear them, that’s a clue to stay away from such purchases during future shopping trips.  On the other hand, if you find that you wear your ballet flats into the ground, you can feel free to purchase future pairs knowing that they’ll be worn time and again.

36 thoughts on “The Cold, Hard Facts: The Missing Piece

  1. I loved this post- personal accountability keeps me honest with myself and helps me grow. I can see it does the same for you too!
    Great job on the analysis, Debbie!

    I already keep a spreadsheet of wardrobe and accessory purchases, how much I paid, where I bought the item, if it was new or thrifted, and if I’ve since donated it but I never thought to indicate why I didn’t keep it. So smart!

    • Glad you liked the post, Emmy. It sounds like you do a great job in tracking your purchases, but I’m glad I was able to add another element to the equation for you. I think that when we make note of why we got rid of something, it can help us to potentially avoid future mistakes, especially if we notice a pattern. Keep up your great work with personal accountability!

  2. When I first found your blog, you mentioned that you spent roughly $ 5oo0 p/a on clothes, and my first thought was ‘that’s about $ 400 a month or about the price of an Hermes scarf”. Not until this last post did I realize how many items you purchased for that amount of money. 64 items in a 3-month period is more than I will buy in 3 years. Of course, many of these items will be worn for years until in some cases they are worn into the ground. I have a few years on you, but I remember my most costly mistakes (per wear) have always been the ones bought on sale, in those blasted outlet malls, an imaginary life, or for the most dreaded of all reasons to shop: to fill a void. I probably spend as much now as I did then, but all is worn and I certainly dress better. You seem to have zeroed in on your reason to shop with precision and I am cheering on your process. I see a stylish woman with a well curated wardrobe ahead.

    • Cornelia’s observations nearly echo my own thoughts. I am also older (hopefully wiser, too, but the jury is still out…) and wonder if coming to terms with one’s wardrobe and clothing purchases is a process of age and/or experience. When I was young, I didn’t have much money for clothes so I didn’t spend a lot. As I got older and had better income, I invested in better clothing — but I still could only afford a limited wardrobe. I’ve followed this path for over 30 years: limited color palette, mostly solid colors (I leave pattern for scarves and maybe one or two tops), classic styles, and the highest quality I can afford. I don’t shop very much at all — except to replace garments that have given their all. Sure, I’ve made mistakes, but I have made only a few mistakes over the last 20 or so years. I don’t buy on impulse, don’t “shop” sales, go to outlet malls, get clothing catalogs, nor seldom visit clothing websites. When I make a purchase for a new swimsuit, say, I may peruse magazines or go to a store or two to view merchandise. And I may wait for a sale to purchase the swimsuit I’ve zeroed in on. Other than that, I’m not shopping at all.

      • It sounds like you caught on a lot faster than I did, Dottie. I think my emotional reasons for shopping got in the way of my using my brain and the good logic I have in so many other areas of my life. I think you are wise to avoid impulse buys, sales, outlet malls, catalogs, and e-commerce sites. I have gradually been cutting those things out. I may be a slow learner, but I’m so happy I’m finally catching on at the not-so-young age of 46 (47 in 3 weeks)!

    • Now you see the insanity in my previous ways, Cornelia! Fortunately, I’m now turning over a new leaf. I hope your vision for my future is accurate! I think that many people feel they are getting a good deal at sales, outlet malls, consignment stores, and the like. But we have to remember that it’s only a good deal if it suits our bodies, lifestyles, and personalities – and if we actually wear it! I was so guilty of bad buys in the past in my quest for “deals” and quantity. I’m sad it took me so many years and so much money to realize the truth, but at least I finally got it!

  3. Hi Debbie, I found your blog about two weeks ago through the Project 333 website and have read most of your archives since then. I really enjoy your blog, appreciate your openness and honesty, and I like seeing how much more centered you seem now.

    I do see myself in some of your posts, and your willingness to share is much appreciated.

    I am currently working on my relationship with food and my body, and I see a lot of parallels in our journeys. It creates a lot of vulnerability to address these issues, and we are both brave to be doing so.

    I particularly enjoyed your post about your vacation with your husband. Wonderful revelations in there. I was away with my husband when I read your post, and it give me a valuable reminder to be present in our weekend together.

    I, like you, keep meticulous data on my wardrobe. It is certainly eye opening!

    • Welcome, Abby! You sound like a kindred spirit and I’m glad you found my blog and are enjoying it. I learned from a therapist who works with compulsive shoppers that at least 1/3 of her patients have histories of eating disorders. There are a lot of parallels between the two issues. I feel that a large portion of my over-shopping was an effort to feel good about my body. I thought that the magical pair of pants, skirt or dress could somehow make me stop hating my hips and thighs. It’s hard for me to make peace with the fact that I do not have the inverted triangle figure of most models. I am gradually learning to accept my body as it is and to see the beauty in other types of figures (interestingly, I am able to see other women’s non-model figures as beautiful, but not my own). It’s definitely a process!

      I’m glad you’re hear and I hope you comment again. My post about my vacation with my husband was one of my personal favorites, too. I’m always happy when I have positive insights and revelations to write about, but I know that the more difficult posts to write add value, too.

  4. I’ve tried tracing back the number of items I purchased per year since my shopping addiction started in 2009. My addiction started from online shopping so most items can be traced through my credit card statements. I was also a lot better with re-selling more costly items on ebay up to March 2012, so I was able to compare what I spent and what I got back from selling, most of which were depressing figures to say the least. I definitely reached the height in terms of the amount I bought the past 6 months, I estimate to be well over 100 pieces with 50 pieces already given away or donated. It is through reading your blog and frequently commenting that I have stopped buying the past 4 weeks. It is always an eye opening experience to see the numbers in front of you. I try to imagine the physical amount of stuff I’ve wasted my money on in my mind into one big pile and the thought makes me ill. I just want to tell you how much this blog has helped me vocalize my problem and I can see that so many of your readers appreciate your candor and bravery in tackling a problem that so many of us relate to.

    • I’m so happy to hear that you’re doing a lot better, Wendy! It seems we have a lot of parallels, so I’m glad that my sharing my journey has helped you in yours. I can identify with the ill feeling of imagining the pile of wasted clothes, but we can’t change the past. At least we are learning and changing our behavior now. We may have some slips, but it seems like we both have turned a corner. Congrats on how far you’ve come! Thanks for letting me know that I’ve helped in your journey. I’m honored to have played such a role.

  5. Very interesting. I just went back and added things up. In 2012 I bought 137 items and still own 85. In the first 6 months of this year I’ve bought 44 and still have 34. I am better now at returning things and I have bought a lot less on Ebay. I used to buy a ton of stuff because it was cheap and I could wear it a couple of times and I was okay with that. Now I think that it’s a waste of both money and time.

    • Congrats on the definite progress you’re making, Tonya! Your track record this year is much improved over last year. I will report on my figures soon, but interestingly I was not keeping track of my 2013 purchases. I tried to pull the numbers together for Monday’s post, but I ultimately decided to just get the post out there instead of potentially delaying it until Tuesday. How strange that I am so great with some numbers and not others… I’m glad to hear about how well you’re doing and how your perspective has changed!

  6. I just found your blog in the last two weeks. I want you to know that the work you are doing here is important. I can tell from other readers how much inspiration your story is providing. I know I have been convicted to look inwards regarding my wardrobe and shopping. While I’ve always been interested in creating a simple, well-curated wardrobe, my attempts have been lacking. I keep thinking back to high school and college when I just wore what I liked and now that I work in a Business Casual environment, it all seems so much more complicated. I see so many parallels with your story. The excess of clothing, the perpetual closet cleanouts, shopping for the wrong reasons… also the hunt for the “perfect piece” that will bring it all together into some sort of cohesiveness. In the last two days, I have been conducting an inventory of my wardrobe on a tracking spreadsheet similar to yours, also adding the Bought Date and Cost columns. I am appalled at what I see in myself, both in the amount of shopping and wasted money, but also the high turnover my closet seems to have. So far, there are only a few pieces on my inventory sheet that date before 2011 (though I am FAR from through). This revelation makes me sad and ashamed but determined to figure out what is going wrong with my purchasing. This past weekend I set myself up on a Project 333 for the next three months. I did adjust the rules: only clothing counts and I’m using 40 pieces because it is a nice round number. I chose a variety of styles to help me determine if there are some that I don’t like as much as I thought I did. I have these items on their own tracking sheet which I will incorporate into my overall inventory sheet once the 333 challenge is over. I am also tracking shoes and accessories. I planned the first five outfits and this is day 2. I feel a lot of emotions going through me when I look at those 40 pieces. Initially, I felt bored already, even though I’ve barely started, but I am now feeling more challenged to make the most of it, to find creative ways to combine the pieces.

    • Welcome, Grasshopper! I’m glad you found my blog and are finding it helpful. I’m happy you’ve decided to do Project 333, and kudos to you for coming up with a workable version for yourself that you find less daunting. I feel very confident that Project 333 will help you with your wardrobe challenges. I remember others telling me that Project 333 “changed their lives.” I thought they were overstating things, but I can now unequivocally state that Project 333 changed MY life! My desire to buy has decreased considerably and has been replaced by a desire for fewer, better quality pieces. The tracking was the first part of my journey and I had no idea it would lead me to blogging. When I started the meticulous calculations, I thought they were just for me, but I’m glad that my numbers obsession and resulting conclusions have been able to impact others. I look forward to learning how things go with you in doing Project 333. Please report back or email me privately to let me know!

  7. Cornelia touched upon my thoughts — for me, it was not so much how many pieces of clothing I bought but what I spent on them. I fell into the trap of buying fewer, higher quality clothes but still spending a fortune. I rationalized this by saying the clothes were of higher quality, so it was worth it. Once I took a look at how I’d replaced quantity with expensive quality, I realized I still had some work to do. Now, I buy fewer clothes, of better quality, while still living within a budget. This isn’t easy!

    • It seems you’ve come full circle in your journey, Elizabeth. You’re right that it isn’t easy. Even as I now say I’m committed to buying fewer and better quality pieces, I’m afraid. I’m afraid that I will slip or that I’ll make the wrong choices. I know it takes time and I need to be gentle with myself. I try to focus on the progress I’ve made instead of how far I have to go. I hope to be in a better place like you are in the not too distant future. Congrats on your progress!

  8. Many moons ago–on my own blog–I asked how many items readers bought in a year. NO ONE KNEW. I asked because, as a thrift shopper, I can buy without worrying about the money. So the quantity can get out of hand…

    I am at the end of a long trip abroad (7 weeks) and am enjoying my “Project 15”! I kind of dread my return to all the stuff I left behind!

    • Thanks so much for sharing your experience, frugalscholar! I’m amazed that no one know how much they bought. I guess I’m not alone in not wanting to know the truth! I see so many style bloggers who seem to never wear the same thing twice and I wonder if any of them consider how much they buy and what they’re really getting for their money. I’m guessing that most of them are “shopaholics.” It’s easy to fall into the trap, especially when you feel that everyone’s watching you. I’m glad I finally recognized the insanity of my ways and am turning things around. It sounds like you enjoyed your trip – 7 weeks abroad sounds wonderful, as does the idea of a workable “Project 15.” Dressing with less can be addictive, can’t it? I think I’ve created a monster 🙂

  9. keeping track is such a good idea, i really need to be kept accountable. with back to school shopping right around the corner I’m quite worried about my budget and getting a bunch of things for my kids that will sit in the closet unworn having been bought just because it was time to get new clothes.

  10. I wrote a list of what I’ve bought since January of this year, including shoes. I was shocked to realize I have purchased 60 items. Gulp. I have all of them. I’ve worn about 50 out of the 60.
    Looking over the list, I think probably 30 of the items were needed.
    I bought one top and one pair of capris this spring that were higher quality and more expensive. Both items have paid for themselves–they get worn a lot!
    For some reason the amount of money I’ve spent makes me cringe, but the sheer number of items I’ve purchased has been a real eye-opener.
    Thanks! This blog post has been great food for thought.

    • I’m glad you found this post helpful, Katt! Your track record for purchases this year is actually pretty good in that you’ve worn the majority of your new pieces. Try not to be so hard on yourself because it seems you’re really learning through the tracking you’ve done. I think it’s great that your high quality purchases are paying off. I get nervous to spend more on things because I’ve made so many mistakes, but I know in the long run I will be better off if I buy fewer but nicer items.

  11. Part of my comment disappeared. The reason I asked the quantity question on my blog was that i was–and am–curious about WHAT is an optimal sized wardrobe. I would love a number (not 33–that’s for training purposes).

    Clothing has gotten cheaper; closets have gotten bigger–the new normal is too many.

    So I would love it if you would take up this issue–perhaps with the help of some of your readers.

    • I agree – the new normal is not normal! I think my own wardrobe must be between 300 and 400 items ( I counted a few months ago but haven’t been keeping track of any additions) and it’s just too much. Not only is it a waste of money, as I will never be able to wear it all. It’s become a real burden to live with. I don’t have space for everything, and the choice of what to wear is just plain overwhelming and confusing. I’m craving nothing more than a small, good quality, manageable and well functioning wardrobe, but the reality is that I’m trying to cope with a wall of fabric I find distressing and uninspiring, and worst of all, I struggle to stop adding to it! I totally share your feeling of dreading a return to your stuff. I always feel immensely liberated when I go on holidays. All of a sudden, when you only have a handful of items to choose from, getting dressed is easy, and ninety percent of the stuff you own, you don’t even miss.

      • I can identify with everything you wrote, K! A large wardrobe can become such a burden and is more of a curse than a blessing for many of us! Project 333 was very helpful to me in learning I can get by with much less and it also made it easier for me to let go of mediocre items, but I still probably have twice as many clothes as I need. I may need to do multiple stints of Project 333 to help me get to where I want to be… Hang in there! We can reach our goal to have a smaller and more manageable wardrobe. We didn’t get to where we are now overnight, so it will take time to get out of it, too!

    • I am pondering the same question myself. Just today I was looking for forums on how many pieces of clothing parents buy for back to school. I was thinking that if it is sufficient for kids then why not for me? I remember not having an excess of clothes when I was school age but most everything was loved and well-worn.

      • That’s an interesting angle, Grasshopper. I didn’t even think about “back to school” shopping and how much kids usually get each year. The fact that many kids grow out of clothes helps to keep the clutter down, too, but I’m sure most parents don’t buy as many clothes for their kids as we do each year! If you learn anything interesting, please share it with us!

    • I’m sorry that part of your comment got cut off, Frugalscholar. WordPress can be a bit fussy sometimes… The question of optimal wardrobe size is a tricky one and varies by the individual. It can also vary over time for a person. I know I don’t need as many clothes as back when I worked in an office, yet I HAVE more clothes now than I did then! I have addressed the wardrobe size issue in previous posts and I know I will again, as it’s such an important issue! I love to get insights from others on the issue, so I like how people are chiming in!

  12. This wonderful discussion is reminding me of Love It or List It on HGTV. If you’re not familiar with the show, in summary, a design professional remakes a home to convince the owners to “love it” (i.e., not move out) and a realtor tries to find a new/different home for the owners to buy (i.e., “list it”). Both pros are given a budget within which they must work. But what drives me crazy abt this show is that the designer MUST stay within her budget, often scrapping ambitious remodels in favor of smaller makeovers when major home repairs come to light — but the realtor flaunts the budget and entices the owners to move into new homes that are going to be a stretch financially.

    The HGTV show reminds me of the clothing dilemmas we face — settling for simpler, budget-appropriate makeovers or saying to heck with our budgets, I want something new and/or fabulous.

    My thought is that the owners who “love it” often cite reasons for staying like “home is where the heart is.” Similarly, I think if we have simple, easy, well-loved wardrobes, our hearts will follow and our lives will have a richness that we can’t find buying the new and fabulous.

    Just an idea!

    • I’ve never seen that show, Elizabeth, but it sounds interesting. I love that you compared the show’s concept to our wardrobes. I can definitely see the parallel after you explained it! The conclusion you drew seems right on. More and more, I’m seeing the beauty of a simple, easy, well-loved wardrobe. I wish I could fast-forward and be there right now, but I know it will take me a while to reach that goal. As long as I’m making progress, I’ll try to be patient…

    • I watch and love the show. I believe that so many choose to “love” their homes for 2 practical reasons (ignoring the emotional pull of “our home”): they don’t want to move, and they now have a house that has been renovated, refurnished and staged by a design professional as opposed to a new but empty house. Most of the clients on the show have too much clutter and little design sense compared to the professional designer.

  13. Accountability update on my shopping embargo: I recycled all the catalogs and deleted all the push emails. I think I have enough clothes to last at least a month without washing.

    I am somewhat ashamed to admit this excess, which would be exacerbated by counting the number of items of clothes. Ultimately I will weed out the “benchwarmers,” (good term) but now I just have too many duplicates. It would be hard for me to remove clothes that work for me just because of duplication.

    It isn’t hard to dress since everything fits (if a little baggy). The closet is large and not full since I removed the clothes that were too tight.

    A good day, some things moved out the door, and only a few needed things came in. There is still way too much for one person so I am continually deciding to part with items (they go to the community’s white elephant sale). My older son is coming this week to reclaim his possessions so there will soon be even more empty space.

  14. You are making excellent progress, Sandra. Keep up the good work! It can take a long time to get one’s wardrobe into shape. I’ve been working on paring things down since the beginning of the year, but I could still go quite a long time without an outfit repeat. Just keep taking things one day at a time and acknowledge your progress. You’ll get there!

    • Thank you for the support. I counted my summer trousers this morning and I have 15 linen/cotton, paired with 15 long sleeve linen/cotton shirts. Lest you think this means I am a fashionista, let me state that they are mostly all black, the same exact style! There is some color variation in the tops, but they are also all the same style. I am comfortable in my uniform.

      No shopping today! I am on Lift, doing a habit building project. I added “no shopping” to my other habits to follow daily.

      • Congrats on doing the count, Sandra. I know it’s helped me to actually know the numbers. There is no right or wrong in how many clothes one owns. Some people are happy and fine with a large wardrobe. I used to think I was, but then I realized how much it overwhelmed and drained me. You’ll need to decide what works best for you. I’m still figuring it out… Your Life project sounds interesting. I’ve always heard it’s easier to replace a habit than eliminate one outright. I’m trying to cultivate new habits to replace my shopping habit. That’s a work in progress!

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