“Benchwarmer Project” Update – July 2013

At the beginning of this year, I designated two new categories for the items in my closet, “wardrobe all-stars” and “wardrobe benchwarmers.”  Since I have been tracking how often I wear everything I own since the start of 2011, I had accumulated a lot of data about my clothing and shoes.  I learned that like most people, I wear some items a lot and other pieces rarely, if at all.  I decided to categorize all pieces that were worn at least eight times in a given year as “all-stars” and anything that I didn’t wear at all or only wore once as “benchwarmers.”

My Sad Statistics for 2011 and 2012

Sadly, I learned that in 2012, I only had 39 “all-stars” (26 garments and 13 pairs of shoes), which constituted roughly 12% of my wardrobe.  In contrast, I had 146 “benchwarmers” (125 garments and 21 pairs of shoes), a full 45% of what was in my closet!  That’s right; close to half of what I owned was only worn once at best last year.  Clearly, something had to change!  So I created what I termed “The Wardrobe Benchwarmer Project” in order to address the large proportion of my wardrobe that wasn’t seeing the light of day.

Wardrobe Tracking - Benchwarmers

My January closet – the binder clips all designate “wardrobe benchwarmers.”

Best Intentions and Course Correction

My original intention was to divide my “benchwarmers” into categories that I would address one by one, month by month.  I committed to providing an update on my benchwarmer status in the accountability updates I post each month. While I did one such update for February, I soon took on the Project 333 challenge and the benchwarmer project got placed on the back burner.  However, as I’ve done so well in paring down the bulk of my closet during and following Project 333, I decided it’s time to take a look at how I’m doing with addressing all of those “benchwarmers.”

Yesterday, I took the time to update my wardrobe tracking spreadsheet, which is one of the ways I keep track of what I own and how often things get worn.   Like many things in life, this process took a lot longer than I anticipated.  I couldn’t help but wish I’d never gotten myself in the predicament of having a behemoth wardrobe in the first place!  But I persevered and now have some interesting statistics to share with you.

An Update on the “All-Stars”

Let’s start on a high note with the “all-stars.”  In addition to my 39 all-stars from 2012, I also catalogued 35 all-stars (24 garments and 11 pairs of shoes) in 2011.  Interestingly, a full two-thirds (24 items) of my 2011 all-stars retained that status in 2012.  I still have 30 of my 2011 all-stars and I believe that at least half of them are on track to remain 2013 all-stars as well.

As for the 2012 all-stars, I still have 38 of them in my closet.  Only one 2012 all-star, the grey skirt that was in my initial Project 333 capsule, has left my closet (as a sad victim of an alterations casualty).  Amazingly, while I have not yet worn many of my 2012 all-stars 8 or times this year, I still consider most of these pieces wardrobe workhorses.  I would say that 30 of my 2012 all-stars (79%) will also achieve that status when 2013 draws to a close.  I’m happy to see that I’m making wise decisions with at least some of my purchases!  Now my aim is to up that percentage considerably for this year and beyond.

The Worst of the “Benchwarmers”

Now let’s take a look at the benchwarmers, the less happy part of the equation.  Sadly, a number of items ended up on both my 2011 and 2012 benchwarmers lists.  While I hate to report this somber fact, it’s true that 57 items (52 garments and 5 pairs of shoes) earned their place on the dreaded “two-time losers” list!  

Fortunately, more than half of those “closet wallflowers” have made their way out the door since the beginning of this year.  That’s the good news!  The bad news is that I still have 27 of these pieces and I only feel confident that 13 of them won’t be on the 2013 benchwarmers list!  It makes me wonder why the other 14 items are still taking up space in my closet!

I commit to making a decision about all of these benchwarmers by the end of August, as most of them are for warmer weather anyway.  It should be easy for me to take these pieces out for a “test drive” soon so I can determine their fate.  If I don’t feel they are an “8” or higher, they will be passed on, I promise!

The Rest of the Benchwarmer Story

In a nutshell, below are the rest of my benchwarmer statistics, including a look at how consignment and thrift shopping factors into the equation.

2011 Statistics:

  • I still have 52 of my 123 benchwarmers from 2011 (42%).  While 25 of these items are no longer benchwarmers (I’ll give myself a pat on the back for that!), 27 of them were carried over to the 2012 list (believe me, I’ve already done the self-flagellation…).
  • Of these items, at least 18 (35%) will not be 2013 benchwarmers (meaning I’ve already worn them 2+ times or know that I will do so).
  • 24 of my 2011 benchwarmers (20%) were purchased in thrift or consignment stores.

2012 Statistics:

  • I still have 70 of my 146 benchwarmers from 2012 (48%).  As stated above, 27 of these were also on the 2011 list.
  • Of these items, at least 25 (36%) will not be 2013 benchwarmers.  That means I still have 45 items for which decisions need to be made.
  • 49 of my 2012 benchwarmers (34%) were purchased in thrift or consignment stores.

Resale Mistakes

As you can see, I had quite a few more resale shopping mistakes in 2012 over 2011.  As my shopping addiction intensified and I overextended my budget, I turned more and more to thrift and consignment stores to get my “fix.”  This proved disastrous, as I was unable to return my mistakes and my closet became more stuffed with garments that didn’t serve my needs.

While I wisely took a step back from resale shopping toward the end of last year, the damage had already been done.  I now do far less thrift and consignment shopping and do my best to heed my tips for successful resale shopping.  As with all discount buys, a resale purchase is only a deal if you love the item and it meets your lifestyle needs!

The Elephant in the Room

Some blog commenters have asked me why I haven’t just gotten rid of all of my wardrobe benchwarmers.  They reason that I must not like any of these items since I rarely or never wore them, so why not alleviate some of my closet woes by just sending them out the door?   While I can see the merits of that argument, there is another way of looking at the situation.

When a person has an overabundance of clothing, some “diamonds in the rough” can become lost in the shuffle.  As I’ve pushed myself to evaluate my “benchwarmers” and give them a fair shot in actual outfits, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn that I actually do love some of them.  Here’s a photo of some former benchwarmers that I’m glad I held on to and have been enjoying wearing this year:

July Diamonds in the Rough

A few previous “wardrobe benchwarmers” that I now love to wear.

On the flip side, however, a few of the garments I raved about in my February Benchwarmer Update have recently left my closet.  That can be attributed to my ever increasing standards for quality, fit, and appearance.  I have Project 333 to thank for that!  Not only have my standards for new garments (and shoes and accessories) increased, I’m also looking at my current wardrobe with a more critical eye.  With that in mind, I suspect that many of the remaining benchwarmers will be out the door soon as well.

Not Really Diamonds in the Rough

These two tops weren’t “diamonds in the rough” after all!

What’s Next?  Stop the Insanity!

I feel the need to take a deep breath after writing all of the above.  I used to love spending hours buying new clothes, creating new outfits, and tracking and maintaining my wardrobe.   In fact, it gave me a sense of purpose in life and something to do with my time.

I will expand upon this concept in a future post, but for now I’ll just say that I no longer find joy and pleasure in such closet excess.  I now find it overwhelming and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  I am angry at myself for creating a situation that requires such time and effort to contemplate and track.

I truly feel that I’m a changed woman.  After spending hours calculating statistics and writing this post, I feel a sense of exasperation.  As the old saying goes, the truth shall set you free.  I have seen the truth and I am ready to be done with closet excess, waste, and overwhelm.  I am ready to have no more “benchwarmers” in my wardrobe.  I’m ready to make a decision about my 45 remaining wardrobe benchwarmers and either start embracing them or let them go.

Here’s my commitment.  Not only will I decide upon the “two-time losers” by the end of August, I will determine the fate of all of my wardrobe benchwarmers by that time.  I will either have worn them and enjoyed wearing them, or they will be out the door to the thrift or consignment store.  The level of time and effort this process has taken borders on the insane, and I’m ready to stop the insanity!

How About You?

Who’s with me?  Are you ready to release your wardrobe benchwarmers, as well as any associated guilt and remorse they’ve caused you?  Are you ready to pare your wardrobe down to a workable size and eliminate closet overwhelm once and for all?   We can do it and it starts now!

25 thoughts on ““Benchwarmer Project” Update – July 2013

  1. Wow! That’s a lot of work! I have been going through what I have and getting rid of some things, but I must say I don’t seem to feel as overwhelmed by what I have. My main focus is not to keep adding to it. You last post about being truthful made me think of something. I do some online work for extra money. It usually goes into paypal and I don’t count it in my tracking of what I spend since it’s a “small” amount of money. I decided to add it up and it was $1100. The good news is that I’m making more money than I thought. The bad news is I know that I spent this all on clothing. I thought I had been doing so much better, but in reality it is about the same as last year. Money wise it’s a good thing, but time and effort it’s no better. This both bums me out and makes me feel more in control because I have all of the correct information. I made a (small) list, 5 items, of things that I would like to get for fall/winter. Other than those items I would like to keep even the looking to a minimum. I want to get off this ride, it’s exhausting.

    • Try not to be discouraged, Tonya. From the comments you’ve written, I feel you’ve made a lot of progress this year in dealing with your compulsive shopping problem. Remember, money is only one part of the equation. I remember you mentioning going on trips and not buying things, where in the past you would have bought quite a few new items. You seem to be a positive track and having a list for what to buy for fall/winter will serve you well. I also have a list and am committed to ONLY buying what’s on that list. I am also committed to continuing (at least) one in, one out until my wardrobe is where I want it to be. Hang in there! I think you’re doing great!

      • Thank you Debbie. I know that I’ve improved, but this can be a frustating journey! I used to buy on credit and haven’t done that for a couple of years so it’s not all about the money. The amount of time and energy that I’ve spent on shopping bothers me. I don’t seem to have as much of a problem buying in stores. I don’t live close to any malls and it’s pretty infrequent that I go. Online shopping my issue. Other than the two items left on my list I vow not to buy anything else online for the rest of this year. That’s what is taking up my time, energy, and preventing me from doing other thing that I enjoy.

  2. Hi Debbie, I’ve arrived at the same point as you have, where the joy of creating outfits and going shopping has been totally overtaken by the closet excess, as you describe it, and the time it takes to maintain it. I also spend a lot of time with my wardrobe, though I don’t track anything at all. Sometimes managing my wardrobe seems to have become a full time job. I’m constantly struggling to reorganise my belongings and I end up shuffling them from one end of the house to the other, trying (and never managing) to make space for the ever increasing mountain of clothes. I read somewhere that what we consume can end up consuming us. I think that’s exactly what you are describing. It’s time to take back control, I’m totally sick of it all too and I just want a small, manageable wardrobe, where I go to get dressed and then forget about it. It might be a long process but I’m sure we will get there in the end!

    • We definitely seem to be in a similar place, K. Your comment about what we consume consuming us really resonated with me. If someone would have told me a year ago that I would be in this place, I never would have believed them. It was always about more, more, more, but now the term “retail therapy” makes me feel nauseous. I hate that I have SO many clothes and so much that doesn’t suit my lifestyle. I was always buying for the potential situations and the “what ifs” instead of for my real life. It’s amazing that I actually still need to shop, but at least I’ve identified what I really need now – and it isn’t much. I know I will release some more “benchwarmers” very soon. It’s hard to do it all at once and I admire those who do. We all have to proceed at the pace that’s right for us, but I’m glad my pace has accelerated. I hope that both you and I (and all others here who struggle) will be in a better place soon!

  3. I’m in awe of your ability to document and analyze all your wardrobe. You have so much talent in this field that you could use in ways outside of your closet. For example, I wonder if you would be interested in volunteering to help people in shelters with their budgeting and money management? Or if you decided to take up the game of bridge you would be great at the mathematical, statistical and probabilities side of it. (It’s also an easy way to make new friends and develop an absorbing new interest). I’ve listed my new purchases for 2013 – I bought 9 items, costing $880. The most expensive, silk pants for $320, and the cheapest, a secondhand leather handbag for $55, have been worn the most. I’ve worn the pants 10 times in 5 months, and I’ve used the bag every day for 5 months. I love reading your blog. It’s thoughtful, well written and honest.

    • I also include, when calculating the total cost of my purchase, the cost of maintaining the garment. If your silk pants are washable, then your per-wear cost is $32 to date for these. If you have to dry clean, then the cost is a bit higher per wear. The leather bag is a good buy: your daily use so far is $.36 per pay — such a good deal — and will get lower as you use it. The silk pants must be luscious to wear!

    • Thanks for the compliment and suggestions, Katy. I never thought of helping people with finances because I never believed I was any good at that! I’ve never played bridge, but perhaps it’s something to try… You seem to be doing well with your purchases this year! Dottie makes a very good point about “cost per wear” and considering dry cleaning in the equation. I’ve found that handbags have been among my best purchases because they get a lot of wear. I’m no longer hesitant to spend $300 on a handbag because I know the cost per wear will be very low. With clothing, I’m still wary, but I’m working on it…

  4. A few years ago I learned that resale shopping (like deep-discount sales) can lure one into the buying more — and not always better. It only took one purchase for me to figure this out — a great design sweater that looked fab in the store and went with almost nothing in my closet. And it wasn’t especially cheap but I had justified the purchase because it was vintage, well-made and by a famous designer. However, none of this matters if the item in question is a dud. I like to think about the cost of my purchases in terms of my hourly wage: “These pants equal 5 hours of work.” It certainly helps to put things in perspective. Do I really want to spend the equivalent of a day’s pay (pro-rated salary after taxes) on pants that might not last more than a season? No way!!! I work very hard for my income and I’d rather invest it in something that will sustain me in the future (like an IRA) or give me joy for years and years.

    • I really like the points you’re raising here, Dottie. Considering purchases in terms of how long you have to work to pay for them is a great way of looking at things. That may give some people pause before they shell out a lot of money for things they don’t really need. Another thing that helps is to use cash instead of credit cards. I did that for awhile and found it quite helpful. You’re right about the hazards of resale shopping. You never want to buy something that becomes a “project” just because it’s a low price. One should always consider what they need and what they already have before buying anything new, even if it’s really inexpensive. Your examples are excellent proof of that!

  5. This morning as I was choosing my outfit of the day, I had an interesting thought about benchwarmers. I began with a lot of benchwarmers in my closet too–things that looked good on the hanger but did not necessarily work in my real life. Most of these are gone now and I don’t even think about them anymore. The pieces that left the closet either didn’t fit well, were designed to flatter someone other than me, or were of a color that didn’t fit into my palette.

    However, this morning I got an insight about how things can unintentionally become benchwarmers. It all started because I’d decided I wanted to wear a certain top. As I was reviewing my options for bottoms, I realized I wanted to wear a particular pair of pants which would make the perfect outfit. But then I realized I was trying to talk myself out of wearing these perfect pants because I was “afraid that if I wore them today, they would wear out too fast, so I better save them for a more important day.”

    Almost immediately I realized how utterly ridiculous this line of reasoning is. How do I know if today is important or not? It hasn’t even happened yet! How do I know that something wonderful might not happen to me as a result of wearing a pair of pants that made me feel good? And if something wonderful were to happen and the pants got messed up as a result, so what? A great experience should outweigh the value of the pants, which came from Costco to begin with, so let’s be real about it…

    I laughed at myself, put the pants on, and I ‘m sitting here typing, and I feel good.

    I learned two things this morning:
    1. The few current “true” benchwarmers I have in my closet are not being worn because I’m afraid they will wear out too fast if I wear them, or that I will ruin them in the cleaning process.

    2. Now that I have seriously downsized my wardrobe to only “8’s or better”, I find myself STILL trying to turn wonderful garments into benchwarmers because I am afraid I will ruin them through the act of wearing and caring for them!

    Do other people avoid wearing their clothes, no matter how few or many they may possess, out of fear of ruining them? I am a person prone to spillage and laundry snafus, so I speak from experience–perhaps in my case the fears are well founded!

    • I do this with clothing that is expensive. I have two beautiful blouses in my closet that I paid more than normal for and I have yet to wear them. It is silly because why bother to buy them if I’m not going to use them? I know from past experience if I save something for “best” it also doesn’t get used.

    • Deby and Tonya, Thanks for sharing your examples of “unintentional benchwarmers.” After reading your comments, I realized that’s how some of my items became benchwarmers as well. I was saving things “for good.” I’ve always told others NOT to do that, but I have done it myself! Sometimes we don’t practice what we preach… I understand your dilemma, Deby, as I am a clumsy person, too. But I’m trying to push myself to wear the clothes I like even for the seemingly mundane occasions in my life. If I think about it, I realize I am happier when I feel well-dressed, even if I’m just running a quick errand. In truth, every day is an important day, so we should wear our favorite clothes as often as possible! Here’s to NO MORE benchwarmers!

    • Goodness, that was one of my biggest and longest running problems — saving something for a better occasion. Often some expensive items would go out of style or favour, but I kept on saving them ‘for good’. At some point I realized that today is probably just as good a day as any other to feel good about myself. And there is something to be said for stepping outside in clothes that make you feel like you are on top of your day.

      • Cornelia, you are absolutely right! At the end of the day, I am happy to report that the perfect pants I almost didn’t wear–were fine, no stains or other blemishes–and it was a great day upon which I got complimented on my outfit and I felt good because I knew I looked good, being able to easily transition from work to casual without a hitch.

        One reason I may have gotten into the unconscious habit of continuing to benchwarm things with a diminished wardrobe is due to how I dress. I almost never change out of my work clothes until late in the evening, because when I am an done in my office, I move immediately to prepare dinner for my mother (who is disabled and diabetic, so she eats on a schedule). The evening proceeds full swing ahead from there, with me often running errands after I fix her dinner. With so much activity going on, I scarcely think about my clothing, so 9:00 pm will usually find me still in the outfit I put on in the morning. (I recently began wearing an old fashioned apron to cook in to help save my work clothes from kitchen mishaps!) With this kind of schedule, its easy to benchmark pieces because I develop the mindset of, “oh why should I wear this beautiful silk skirt today when I’m making chicken tonight and might get a grease spot on it, hence a dry cleaning bill”, etc. So I default to something less than stellar at times.

        But I am going to be more mindful now that I have identified this tendency in myself. I think back to my grandmother: she always wore nice clothes–and an apron to cook in–and she didn’t ruin her clothes!

        You could ask, why don’t I change my clothes, put on some “lounge wear”? In the course of doing my version of Project 333, I learned that I don’t own very many pieces that fall into this category because I do very little lounging! I don’t consider nightgowns and bathrobes to be true lounge wear because I wouldn’t entertain guests attired that way. So every day I am wearing “work appropriate” clothing either for office during the week or home maintenance on the weekend–from early morning to late night–or else nightwear. I have almost nothing in between to choose from.

  6. You are doing so well! Amazing progress, and good luck with the further assessments and downsizings.

    I have a really hard time of letting go of things – even those that I know I will never wear. I come from a family of hoarders (my grandfather had a huge building material junkpile on public property – he got notice from the city), maybe that’s why?

    Another reason why I’m not purging my closet is that I’ve noticed that whenever there is empty space, I tend to fill it up. I’ve moved frequently and seen that happen many times, even after painful and time-consuming major purges.

    • Thanks for your kind words, FrugalFashionista! I understand where you’re coming from about filling in the empty closet space. I’ve done that far more times than I would want to count. But I do feel that I’ve changed and will be less likely to do that now. Of course, having to be accountable here on the blog has helped, but I also feel I’ve shifted my perspective. If you have a lot of nice clothes that you wear (which it sounds like you do from your previous comments), it’s not necessarily bad to keep them. But many of us had the “more is more” approach and bought lower-quality pieces that we just don’t love. Those are the ones that need to go. I’m gradually doing that and am focusing more on quality when I buy now. I’m sure I will still make mistakes, but hopefully they will occur far less often. It’s amazing how I just couldn’t see the error of my ways until I did Project 333. I am very grateful that I decided to take on that challenge, even though it was quite difficult! It really accelerated my progress.

    • I can’t let go of things either – I think it’s because essentially I really don’t like waste. What’s funny is that I’m so careful not to be wasteful in other areas, like food and energy for example, yet when it comes to clothing I’ve been on one big binge for the last few years. It makes me feel sick to see all the money and time I’ve wasted on it, plus what I’ve read on “fast fashion” and its impact on the planet lately made me feel guilty and ashamed.
      I’ve also done major closet clear outs before, the last one three years ago before we moved to another country, yet my closet is (by far) the biggest it has ever been. I want to own less, but I can’t get rid of things and I still go shopping. This obviously can’t work, so what’s the solution?

  7. Isn’t it funny to think that in the past a number of your wardrobe “all stars”actually averaged less than one wearing a month? After P333 my top ten all averaged once a week! I don’t recall your numbers (and it’s hard to look up from my phone) but I’ll bet they weren’t too different…

    • You’re right, Renee. I would think a wardrobe “all-star” would be worn more than once a month! My Project 333 stats weren’t as good as yours (one item worn 12 times, two 9 times, two eight times, etc.), but that’s probably because I have a few “lounge wear” days each week. Nevertheless, I did wear my clothes MUCH more often during Project 333 than I do otherwise. Definitely food for thought!

  8. I have an entire closet of “bench warmers” (in my guest room closet) due to a reason I’m not sure you’ve discussed yet (if you have, could you please direct me to it? I’d love to read your thoughts on this) — my current (age 55) sense of style does not match my style a few years ago! In my bench warmer closet, I have a rack full of pencil skirts and silk blouses and tailored trousers — and in my daily, small closet, I have nothing but flowy Eileen Fisher and more “ethnic” artsy pieces. I’m not sure whether my current preference is a function of weight, body type, office, age, or what — so therefore I have no idea if I’ll ever go back to my previous, conservative clothes. How do we know if a lifestyle change is permanent? And how do we eliminate bench warmers that would work perfectly for that previous lifestyle but no longer seem to fit our current one?

    • You will probably never go back to your previous conservative clothes because the climate for business attire has radically changed in the past 5 years. Unless you are in a line of work like banking, law, or a similar profession that demands a conservative appearance to express a feeling of stability to your clients, you will not find yourself wearing the kind conservative business attire that would have been the norm–and to continue to do so would be a sure way to “date” yourself among your colleagues.

      I am also in my 50’s, live in the midwest, and work full time in marketing for a communications company. I come into contact daily with a lot of people of all ages, and the reality is that across the board most professions have become much more casual, and conservative “old school” clothing is simply not worn by very many people, and those few who do stick out like an anomaly from another age. They look stuck in time.

      The type of clothing you describe wearing now is what is acceptable and on trend in today’s business environment, so, it sounds like you are wearing the right sort of clothing professionally. Some of the things you mention are still on trend–like pencil skirts (I wear them all the time).

      We have gotten used to the idea of comfort in our clothing–we demand it. So, business clothing becomes more casual and stretchy, made of knits rather than woven fabrics. And now, even woven fabrics usually have a percentage of spandex to let the fabric flex. Business attire from years past often has no spandex content, hence its not as comfortable in comparison.

      Technology has allowed the perameters of our jobs to change a great deal. Many of us work from home or communicate remotely with our offices from all kinds of locations. The necessity to dress as though one is going to an office is often a non-issue.

      It could be about your body, but I think its more about a changing lifestyle. With your artsy accessories, I think you are finding your true self and becoming more authentic in how you express your individuality!

    • Elizabeth, I have not discussed that topic in length, but now I have an idea for a future post 🙂 Deby did a great job of responding to you and I hope her insights were helpful. I think that not only do our lifestyles change, but so do our personal style aesthetics. Even if you worked in an office again, you might not want to or need to wear your old clothes. Only you can know that, but it seems like perhaps your “benchwarmers” may be causing more stress and angst than they’re worth. I used to have quite a few “business clothes” in my closet, but I’ve gradually gotten rid of almost all of those things. I didn’t love them, I didn’t wear them, and I didn’t foresee an occasion when I would wear them. I have plenty of “business casual” items that will work for pretty much any situation I can imagine. I felt a big sense of relief when I let myself purge the more formal business clothes from my closet. Maybe you would, too…

  9. YES!!! I’m ready. I did some stats for mine (based on your ideas), a lots of spreadsheet work and it’s exhausting. I’m going to be writing about the whole process on my blog over the next couple of weeks. I’ll probably be sick of talking about clothes by then!

    Well done for another great commitment and look forward to seeing the updates! 🙂

    • I loved your first update, Linda! I hope others here will read it, too, especially if they like the statistics-laden updates I do. Just think… When we have fewer clothes, we won’t need to keep such vigilant track of them all. Maybe we’ll just love and wear what we have and forget the rest!

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