Since the beginning of the year, I’ve reduced the size of my wardrobe by almost half, yet I still feel like I have too many clothes. As I’ve progressed on my “Recovering Shopaholic” journey, I’ve frequently pondered the question, “How many clothes are enough?”
I’ve touched on this subject in a number of previous posts and even wrote more extensively about it in “What is a Normal-Sized Wardrobe?” But my perspective has continued to evolve since writing that article back in February. In today’s post, I avoid discussion of normal versus abnormal and instead look at the more individual subject of “enoughness.”
From Clothes Hoarder to Aspiring Minimalist
When I started this blog, I had close to 300 garments in my closet. While that is definitely a large number, I know that I probably had at least 500 garments several years earlier. Back then, I never stopped to ponder topics like “normal-sized wardrobe” and “enough clothes.” I had an insatiable appetite for more and there was no end point in sight. I believed that in order to dress well, I had to shop constantly and continue bringing more and more new things into my already stuffed closets (yes, there were multiple closets back then – and I still didn’t feel I had enough space!).
Then I discovered the minimalism and simplicity movements. My husband and I moved to a smaller apartment and downsized and simplified our lives in many ways. We discovered that we were happier and more peaceful with less. My burgeoning wardrobe started to feel like a contradiction when juxtaposed against the rest of my life. I wanted to downsize my closet along with everything else in my surroundings, but I was (and am…) a shopaholic, so that was much easier said than done.
Do You Have a “Closet Set Point”?
Tracking what I have and what I do and don’t wear was an important first step on my journey toward a more manageable wardrobe. I really got to see how much I was wasting in terms of money spent on clothes – and clothes that just weren’t being worn. I started to pare things down, donating or consigning the excess, but I’d often find myself bumping up against a sort of “closet set point.” Once my wardrobe got below a certain level, feelings of scarcity and panic set in, which sent me rushing out to buy more clothing once again.
I found myself worrying that I wouldn’t have enough, that without a jam-packed closet, I wouldn’t have sufficient “building blocks” to be well-dressed in all of the possible life occasions I might encounter. Never mind the fact that many of these “building blocks” still had their tags attached or were gathering dust in my closet. Even though I wasn’t wearing my clothes, I still wanted to have them all “just in case.”
“But I Might Need This Someday…”
I encountered very similar situations with my wardrobe styling clients, so I know I’m not alone in feeling closet scarcity and panic. Some clients would fight me or even shed tears over letting go of garments that hadn’t been worn in years. They’d argue that they might need these clothes someday, even after many, many “somedays” had come and gone without the garments even taking a single spin around the town.
Now there are a multitude of psychological issues that could be addressed in line with clothes and why we hold onto them. But for the purposes of this post, I’d like to focus more on the practical. How many clothes are enough for one person to own?
Good News, Bad News
There is some good news and some bad news in regards to that question. Since I’m one who likes to get the bad news out of the way, let’s start there. The bad news is that there is no one right answer in terms of how many clothes a person should have. Much like the issue of a clothing budget, the answer will vary based upon a person’s unique situation. But the good news is that you can come to a reasonable conclusion for how many clothes are enough for you.
A number of variables come into play when determining an optimal number of clothes for your closet. Some of these variables correlate to a need for more clothing, while others correlate to a need for a smaller wardrobe.
Why Might You Need More Clothes?
Here are a few reasons why you might need more clothes in your closet:
- You work in an office five days per week.
- You have an active and varied social life which includes lots of different types of activities.
- You often wear more than one outfit on a given day (e.g. one outfit for work and one for evening activities).
- You live in a varied climate and need a four-season wardrobe.
- You fluctuate a lot in weight such that you need to maintain a few different sizes in your closet.
- You’re a “mood dresser” who likes to embody a variety of style personas in the way you dress.
- You’re okay with only wearing some of your clothes a few times per year. Choice is more important to you than cost-per-wear or getting a lot of wear out of the clothes you own.
Why Might You Need Fewer Clothes?
On the flip side, some people have lifestyles that are more conducive to a smaller wardrobe. Here are some good reasons to have fewer clothes in your closet:
- You work from home and don’t leave the house on at least a few days each week.
- You are a “home body” who doesn’t go out very often, or all of your activities are very casual in nature.
- You only wear one outfit each day – or you spend some days wearing only lounge wear.
- You live in a more temperate climate with similar weather all year round.
- Your weight is relatively stable and your clothing size stays consistent year after year.
- Your sense of style is fairly fixed. You know what you like and are okay with frequent outfit repeats.
- You like to have a smaller, more minimalist wardrobe. You prefer quality over quantity and like to get a lot of wear out of your clothes.
What’s Right for You?
Of course, the lists above are not exhaustive. You may have more reasons why you feel you need a larger or smaller wardrobe, but I hope the lists got you thinking about your life and what makes the best sense for you.
Perhaps you looked at the lists and saw some inconsistencies between your lifestyle and the size of your wardrobe. Maybe you have a wardrobe for an office worker who goes out most nights of the week and who lives in a four-season climate, yet you work from home, rarely go out, and have consistent weather throughout the year. Sound like anyone we know? Yes, I resemble that description… My closet is still more suited for a lifestyle that is not my own!
Changing Perspective and the Pace of Change
While I used to be okay with having lots of clothes and rarely wearing most of them before passing them on, I now want to wear what I have often and actually wear things out before purging them from my closet. My perspective has changed, as has my lifestyle, so my wardrobe should change accordingly.
But one thing I’ve learned is that gradual changes are usually more lasting. While I could have jettisoned the bulk of my wardrobe early in the year to better suit my lifestyle needs, I can see a few problems that might have occurred with that approach:
- I might have purged the wrong things, as it’s taken time for me to understand what I truly love and wear.
- I might have panicked and run out to buy more clothes just to get back to my “closet set point.”
At times, I have proceeded too quickly with paring down my wardrobe. After my Project 333 stint, I felt empowered to let things go. My definition of enough was challenged and I learned that I just don’t need as many clothes as I thought I did. Yet I didn’t really understand what my optimal wardrobe size should be. So when I got rid of a lot of clothes back in June/July, I followed that closet purge with somewhat of a shopping “binge” in August. I panicked because I felt like I didn’t have enough clothes to create interesting and varied summer outfits. That wasn’t really true, but I believed it was true and acted accordingly.
“Benchwarmers” in October Means Too Many Clothes!
My recent post about “Wardrobe Benchwarmers Past and Future” really helped me to understand that my wardrobe is still too large. There’s really no good reason why I should still have so many clothes that have only been worn once or not at all by this point in the year! Ideally, most of my clothes would have been worn at least a few times by mid-October. So even though I now have closer to 150 garments in my closet instead of nearly 300, it’s still too many items for my unique lifestyle.
Finally, after almost ten months and lots of painstaking analysis, I believe I have enough. In fact, I have more than enough clothes at this point. I may still need to tweak the actual make-up of my closet and make some replacements, but I don’t need more. I may need better in some areas, but I definitely don’t need more, and the “better” can occur gradually over time.
I Know I’m Not the Only One…
So what’s the “takeaway” from this post? I know many of you are also struggling with paring down your wardrobe and determining how many clothes are enough for you. I’m sure some of you have also experienced the “feast or famine” phenomenon of purging a bunch of garments, only to run out and fill your closet back up again. I know I’m not the only one to suffer from a false sense of security in a large wardrobe filled with a plethora of rarely worn items.
Many women (and some men) struggle with deciding how much is enough. We hold on to things we don’t wear – and definitely don’t love – “just in case” we might need them “someday.” We hang on to “multiples” because we want variety, yet we wear the same pair of jeans 80% of the time. If we have the courage to take on a challenge like Project 333, we may feel peace and freedom when looking at our temporarily sparse closet, or we may panic when we think of wearing only 33 garments (or total items if you’re being a P333 “purist”) for the next three months.
“Enough” is Individual and a Moving Target
Enough is a very individual concept and it can also be a moving target. I know it was for me… My initial target was 250 total items (clothes, shoes, purses, and scarves), then 150 garments. Now I’m leaning toward 100-120 garments and 25 pairs of shoes, as that feels right to me at this point. But if someone would have mentioned those numbers to me back in January, I would have felt anxiety creeping up my sides. I would have been scared that I wouldn’t have enough.
Time, exploration, and experience have adjusted my perception of enough. I’ve pushed myself too far at times and have had to recalibrate as I’ve settled into a new reality. I’ve sometimes taken two steps forward and one step back. At times, I’ve felt like I’ve been moving at a snail’s pace, but I’ve kept moving, even after sizable setbacks.
My Advice to Those Who are Still Struggling
So my advice for those who are still struggling is to be gentle with yourself and proceed at a pace that’s comfortable for you. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone, but don’t push yourself too hard. If you’re worried about getting rid of too much, box some things up or put them in another closet out of sight and out of mind. Or get rid of just a few things at a time and let yourself gradually readjust to a new closet reality.
This isn’t a sprint; it’s more of a marathon. You didn’t build up an oversized wardrobe overnight, so don’t expect yourself to cultivate an optimal sized closet at lightning speed, either. Just keep going. Keep looking at what’s enough for you and keep readjusting as needed. You’ll get there and so will I. We can do it!