I’ve written several posts on the concept of “wardrobe benchwarmers,” my term for closet pieces that were worn only once or not at all during a given year (read more here). Sadly, I had 146 wardrobe benchwarmers for 2012 (125 garments and 21 pairs of shoes), which was close to half of my wardrobe! With my wardrobe benchwarmer project, I vowed to wear and evaluate all 146 benchwarmers this year and either integrate them into regular closet rotation or pass them on to someone else who might love and wear them.
Excellent Progress But…
I’ve made excellent progress on dealing with my wardrobe benchwarmers over the course of this year. As of the end of August, I had consigned or donated roughly two-thirds of them and had worn and evaluated all but 17 of the remaining items. I felt pretty proud of myself, but then something dawned on me…
I’ve been so focused on dealing with my 2012 benchwarmers that I didn’t stop to consider my potential 2013 benchwarmers!
Since there is only one quarter left in the year, I decided to take some time to look at my wardrobe benchwarmers past and, perhaps, future. My fellow data nerds out there will love this post, as I include lots of numbers! But I hope the more right-brained of the group will also stay tuned, as I include photos and useful insights about my wardrobe that can also be applied to managing your closet.
Reorganizing My Closet and Gathering Information
While I love numbers and data, I actually fall fairly squarely between left and right brain dominance. I also love photos and visual representations of concepts. Accordingly, I decided to reorganize my closet to represent various facets of my wardrobe benchwarmer project.
I divided my closet into four sections, separated by brightly colored hangers:
- 2012 benchwarmers that would also be 2013 benchwarmers if the year ended today.
- Items that have yet to be worn during 2013 (and were not 2012 benchwarmers).
- Items that have only been worn once during 2013 (also not 2012 benchwarmers).
- Everything that has been worn at least twice this year.
The photo below shows categories one through three. Category one is on the left before the blue hanger, category two is in between the blue and green hangers, and category three is to the right of the green hanger (category four is shown in the next section):
Starting on a High Note – Category #4
Let’s start with the good news… Roughly half of my wardrobe falls into category #4:
- I have worn 65 garments at least twice this year (and often many more times than that).
- I have worn 25 pairs of shoes at least twice during 2013.
- A total of 90 items in my closet have been worn two or more times in the current year.
Here’s a look at the 65 garments I’ve been wearing most often in 2013 (click for a larger view):
These are the items that are earning their keep in my wardrobe. Note that I have not included my lounge wear and workout clothes in the numbers above. Virtually all of those pieces are earning their keep, and then some! Since I spend so much time at home in front of my computer, going on walks, and working out, my athletic gear and lounge wear gets the most play. For that reason, I’m glad I decided to take the time and spend the money to up-level this area of my wardrobe. That time and money has definitely been well spent!
Will These Items be Two – or Three – Time Losers?
Let’s turn now to Category #1, the 2012 wardrobe benchwarmers that would also be 2013 benchwarmers if the year ended today. Here’s how the numbers shake out:
- 25 of my 2012 benchwarmers are on track to earn that distinction again this year.
- These 25 items are all clothing pieces. I’ve done a good job in either wearing the 2012 shoe benchwarmers or designating them for consignment or donation.
- 10 of the 25 garments have been worn once this year.
- The other 15 garments haven’t been worn at all this year! Many of these items are dressier garments that are not needed for my current casual lifestyle, yet I’ve hesitated to get rid of them since I’m unsure how my life may change moving forward.
While I was not happy to discover the numbers above, I learned something else that was even more disconcerting.
- Ten items may become three-time losers, benchwarmers in 2011, 2012, and 2013!
Here’s a look at the “terrible ten” (click image for a larger view):
A few of these could probably go right now, yet I really like some of them! But if they are still benchwarmers at the end of the year, I’ll realize they need to head out the door. No sense in keeping things that haven’t earned their keep for three whole years!
What About Categories Two and Three?
The remaining items were not 2012 benchwarmers but have either not yet been worn this year or have only been worn once thus far in 2013. Here’s some more information about those items:
- 26 garments have not yet been worn this year. Of these, 22 were purchased during 2013, and some were bought off-season (e.g. fall pieces that haven’t been worn because it’s still felt like summer where I live). Four garments that haven’t been worn have been in my closet since 2012 or earlier.
- 4 pairs of shoes have not been worn this year. 5 pairs of shoes have only been worn once this year. More on my shoes below…
- 38 garments have only been worn once this year. Of these, 11 were bought during 2013 and the other 27 are from 2012 or earlier.
Below is a photo of the shoes that are in danger of becoming 2013 benchwarmers. Of these, two are fairly dressy, one is a color I don’t really like (top-right, I may dye them), and one I really should be wearing but aren’t (tall boots).
As for the remaining pairs, one is new as of September (top-left), one I recently dyed from brown to black (the ankle boots shown in my last post), and one I wore the other day and decided I really like (middle pair). The other two pairs (bottom row, middle and right) work well for my lifestyle but I wasn’t wearing because they’re not ultra-fashionable. Now that I no longer have my styling business, I’m more okay with wearing comfortable shoes that aren’t on the cutting edge of fashion.
Tallying it All Up
At the end of figuring out the statistics above, I had to total everything up and face the music.
If today were December 31st, I would have 98 wardrobe benchwarmers (89 garments and 9 pairs of shoes).
Yes, 98 is a lot better than 146, but it’s far from the goal I set of having NO wardrobe benchwarmers for 2013. Of course, I believe my actual 2013 benchwarmer number will be much lower than 98, as we do have close to three months left in the year. However, I believe I have little chance of ending the year with no benchwarmers. I’ll have to settle for progress over perfection.
Why So Many Benchwarmers?
While I’ve made progress in reducing the number of benchwarmers in my closet, three major factors are preventing me from reaching my goal of absolutely no benchwarmers:
- My wardrobe is still far too large.
- I have continued to buy too many new items.
- My lifestyle has shifted such that I spend more days at home in loungewear and fewer days out and about in my other clothes.
Shopping Too Much
Let’s look at these factors, as I suspect that many of you struggle with the same or similar issues. Many shopaholics have ultra-large wardrobes, as we continue to shop too much despite our already packed closets. We tend to shop for emotional reasons and experience guilt and shame about what we buy, such that we choose to avoid dealing with our misguided purchases. Some shopping addicts don’t even remove their new acquisitions from the bags!
I’m a big believer in facing the truth, but sometimes the truth really hurts. Having to type some of the figures above was like nails on a chalkboard for me. I definitely feel guilty and ashamed for having so many clothes and appropriately utilizing so few of them.
Some of my readers are not compulsive shoppers but also struggle with paring down their wardrobes and wearing what they have. Most of the wardrobe styling clients I worked with were not shopaholics, yet the majority of them had so many clothes that they had no idea of what they had. They generally wore the same small number of pieces over and over again, while everything else simply languished within the confines of their closets.
Shining a light on what’s really going on with our wardrobes can help us to recover from shopping too much and hanging on to a multitude of clothing pieces that don’t serve us. Even though I tracked my wardrobe for two years before starting this blog, I didn’t delve deeply enough to feel the pain sufficiently in order to motivate change.
Evaluating my wardrobe and sharing what I learn in a public forum has given me the jolt I needed to actually do something about my overcrowded closet and my compulsive shopping habit. Of course, I also need to address the emotional reasons underlying my overshopping behavior and I will continue to write about those topics as well.
As for the lifestyle issues, I suspect many of you also shop for a lifestyle other than your actual life and own clothing for a past life or a wished-for existence. In my situation, while I used to go out in the evenings and attended business events far more than I do now, I never really needed as many dressy / business clothes and shoes as I possess. A few such pieces would have sufficed, but I kept buying more “just in case” such that I’ve spent this year continually consigning and donating items I’ve rarely or never worn.
For me, it’s really time to stop the bleeding. I hate the fact that I continue to use such a small percentage of what I own to its full potential. As I see it, I can do one or several of the following things to remedy my benchwarmer dilemma:
- Stop buying so many new things! (Duh, right?)
- Donate or consign more pieces that I either don’t love or just aren’t wearing much.
- Get out more so I can wear more of my clothes!
- Wear more of my “regular clothes” when I’m working from home.
Those are the possible solutions I can think of, but I’m open to suggestions for things I might have missed. Of the possibilities above, I know I need to do the first and second options and I would really love to do the third option as well. I hope my health will improve such that I’ll be able to get out more and that I’ll gain increased clarity on my life path and start incorporating new interests and hobbies into my life.
In actuality, I attended far more events in 2012 than I did this year, so my benchwarmer situation was truly much worse last year. I’m trying to not be so hard on myself for wearing fewer of my clothes this year, as my situation has not been normal. For as long as I can remember, even though I’ve been working from home for 12 years, I haven’t spent as many days at home all day as I have in 2013. This year has truly been different and I hope next year the pendulum will swing back to more normality in terms of my lifestyle. Until then, I will work with what I have and do my best to wear more of my garments even if it’s just at home.
Some Lessons for All of Us
What have I learned from this detailed and painstaking analysis? Here are a few tips that all of us can take forward in regards to closet management, shopping, and wardrobe benchwarmers:
- Decide how often you want to be wearing the items in your closet, and then work backwards. I highly recommend that you read my February post titled “What is a Normal-Sized Wardrobe?” (if you haven’t already seen it). To meet my goal of wearing everything in my closet at least 8 times per year, I only need about 40 shirts – and I still have twice that number. Your numbers may vary, but it’s worthwhile to stop and think about it and do some simple math (it won’t hurt that bad, I promise!).
- If your lifestyle changes, your shopping habits should also change. Once I started being at home so often, I should have dramatically cut back on my shopping. If I did buy new things, they should have corresponded to my actual life activities, not “just in case” scenarios. Remember what Bridgette Raes asks her clients, “Where are you going in that?” You’d do well to ask yourself that question before you buy anything!
- Learn from your past mistakes. I should have evaluated my 2011 and 2012 benchwarmers more thoroughly in order to avoid repeating the same types of mistakes. If the same sorts of items keep sitting on the sidelines, perhaps I should stop buying those types of things and let the ones I have go. Look at what you’re not wearing. Try using the “hanger trick” or one of my other wardrobe tracking techniques, or take a look at your shopping mistakes and wardrobe favorites for common elements. Synthesize the lessons, aim to do better in the future, then forgive yourself and move on. What’s past is past and hanging on to things just because you spent money on them won’t bring those lost dollars back (see sunk cost fallacy).
In Conclusion (Finally!)
Okay, that’s enough for one day! Now I’m going to go and take my own advice. I’ll definitely provide another update on my “wardrobe benchwarmer project” before the end of the year. I hope to have better news to report, but I’m still glad I took the time to take stock of my benchwarmer situation today. I now know better, and when we know better, hopefully we do better!
Thanks for reading and, as always, thanks for your support! If you have questions or comments for me, I invite you to share them in the comments section. I’ll be back on Friday with some useful links on successful shopping.