The following is a guest post from Mette Balslev Greve, who shares her journey from being a “sale-a-holic” with three jam-packed closets to becoming a conscious shopper with a pared down, cohesive wardrobe. Mette, a self-described “nerd,” used her love of planning and systems (a girl after my own heart!) to turn things around quickly and powerfully. She shares her wardrobe management and shopping processes, as well as many of her fun and stylish outfits, on her blog, The Yogastic Shopping Planner.
If you would like to be profiled in the “Stories of Recovery” series (you can be anonymous if desired), or if you have an idea for another type of guest post on “Recovering Shopaholic,” please connect with me to share your thoughts.
I guess I used to be a “sale-a-holic.” I’ve bought so much on sale during the past 10-15 years that I had three jam-packed closets full of stuff last year. I really liked some of it, but it was hard to tell where the good stuff was. I couldn’t see the forest through the trees. Lots of the items still had price tags attached. I used to say that I loved having new things in my closet, but they just needed some time to “settle in” before I wore them.
When my trained eye read the newspaper, my heart would start racing whenever I found ads for sales, pop-up outlets, or the like. I’d start planning how and when to get there, and once I got there, I would start just left of the entry and then meticulously work my way around the place. My family has taken many trips around the world during which bargain shopping was my first activity choice. I even Googled beforehand to see where the nearest outlet was so I could work a stop into my trip schedule.
When I visited a sale, I touched everything, tried lots of items on, and “struck gold” again and again. Or at least I thought I did… What I didn’t realize was that most of what I carried home would mostly just sit in my closet. I would wear my new pieces because I felt I had to, but after a few wears, I’d put them in the basement, mainly because my bedroom closet was so full, the hangers didn’t move. Then my recent purchases were out of sight and often out of mind.
I didn’t really feel bad about my behavior, but looking back it wasn’t the best way of building a wardrobe. And I wasn’t very aware of what I was doing, as I had tons of stuff that didn’t go with anything else in my closet.
I also created endless lists of items I found on other people’s “must-have” lists on the internet. If any online expert wrote that a white shirt was a must-have, I put it on my list. Essentials, must-haves, top 10 – you know those kinds of lists. I put everything on my own list and you know what… it ended up being four pages long!
At some point, I set a maximum amount for how much I could spend, but there was an additional rule: If something was marked down more than 50%, it didn’t count. Yeah – great idea, right?
I do have a list of the clothes I owned from back then, and there are 378 items of clothing on it. If you do some math, and say I’d wear 3.5 things every day, I would statistically wear each item only about three times in a year. Hmmm…
Turning My Wardrobe Around
Browsing around the net one day in early 2013, I watched a video created by Danish style coach, Tini Owild. She had the tiniest closet I’ve ever seen and I suddenly felt mortified by the size of my own wardrobe. But I was also very enthusiastic about acting on the unexpected impulse/urge I felt to pare down.
And so I did… cold turkey, out of the blue. It didn’t come out of frustration, but only from watching a professional go through her closet and comparing my her super streamlined wardrobe to my non-functional one.
My inventory was already very organized into categories, so I went through all of them –through clothes, accessories, and makeup. I narrowed it all down big time. I went through each category and marked the items I loved. The rest was all placed into the giveaway pile. I had just one simple rule – I could keep the things I loved. My additional rule of thumb was that I aimed to keep just 5-9 items in each category.
After this initial purge, my list of clothing was down to 169 items. I had gotten rid of 55 % of my wardrobe in one go. I put the cast-offs in my basement for a month and I told myself it was okay to retrieve anything I felt regrets about letting go. During that month, I didn’t go to the basement to get one single thing – as in nothing. It all stayed in my hidden hideaway. One reason for this was that I had deleted all the purged items from my inventory.
A side-note: Every day, I get dressed using a list of items randomly selected by a computer program I created over two decades ago (read more about this on my blog). Since the purged items no longer appeared on my random list, I didn’t think about them at all.
Paying it Forward with My Closet Rejects
When the month had passed, I called friends, colleagues, and family, who helped relieve my load of cast-off items, one woman at a time.
After 15 women and girls had been to my basement one or two at a time, trying on clothes, chatting, having fun, and carrying huge loads away with them, I took the rest of the items with me to work. Then the whole thing started again. Ten of my colleagues benefitted from my surplus. One was so excited about my shoe selection that she left with seven pairs. She kept asking, “Is this all right?” She had wanted a pair of red shoes for so long, and now there they were. Actually, my process spurred a few other people to do the same thing afterwards, and I ended up getting a great top from one of my colleagues.
When all was said and done, 25 women had relieved me of about 200 items. That worked out to be eight items per woman on average – they were hauling! After this process, there was just one small plastic bag full of clothes for me to take to the thrift shop, and I felt great!
Next Steps After the “Big Purge”
After ‘The Big Purge,’ I started working with my wardrobe a lot more consciously. I began thinking about colors, writing down styles that I liked and disliked, and reading about wardrobe building. I pretty much read everything I could find on building a workable wardrobe, and from this experience, ideas started forming. I now have a color palette that I’m thrilled about and I know which cuts of clothing suit me the best. And you know what; I have a great wardrobe now!
I continued the purging every now and then since my initial cull, and today my inventory is down to just 109 items of clothing. That’s 29% of what I had a year and a half ago, and I’ve never had a more functional and coherent wardrobe. And I’ve never had more to wear than I have now.
I now try to only purchase items that are very different from what I already have. That way, buying something new will extend what I have and make my whole wardrobe feel new again.
What Happened with My Things?
Still, after a year and a half, I see my old stuff everywhere… A scarf on one of my colleagues, a ring on my friend’s hand, a t-shirt on DD-15’s best friend, and even one item on a girl from DD-12’s class this past Friday.
My “little exercise” from last year has had so many benefits, it’s hard to keep track. To start with, I had lots of fun with each of my 25 guests. We talked and laughed, and they were so happy to get great things, many of which were new or like new. I still see my cast-off items everywhere, the women who have them still tell me how much they love their new pieces, and they’re out of my house and no longer cluttering my space.
I recently met up with one of my close friends, who was wearing a sweater that I’d given her. We talked about all of the fun we had when she came by my basement for her “treasure hunt.” She told me that she’d gotten so many compliments both on that sweater and another one she’d worn the day before.
Another friend wears a ring (inexpensive) I gave her all the time and people always ask her about it. A rather poor PhD student from work took home a huge bag of my clothes and later told me that many people have complimented her on her style change!
Not only did I help myself by letting go of excess closet items, my actions also benefitted 25 women in my close environment. I see them wearing my clothes and I enjoy hearing their stories. So having a “hidden holding zone” for one month was the safe way for me to do it.
After I’d pared down my wardrobe, DH and I were able to remove a whole closet from our bedroom, which made space for a chair and table where I can do my hair and makeup every morning. I love itJ.
Shopping Today – and My Shopping Calendar
I no longer attend sales or visit outlets. My heart rate remains stable while reading the paper. I’m now at peace with shopping.
Have I regretted giving anything away? Well, I’d be lying if I said I had no regrets, but that’s mainly because I started refashioning items a year ago (see a few of my projects here) and I can see how some of the things I gave away could have been refashioned into something I would wear. But I sleep well at night; it doesn’t really bother me that much.
The best thing I have today to control my shopping is my five-year shopping calendar. I sat down one day, did a lot of planning, and made myself a calendar where each purchase I’ll make for the upcoming five years has been plotted out. The idea is that I expect my wardrobe to renew over a five-year period. It works much like plotting in when to call your dentist for a new appointment to make sure you make regular visits to the dentist. Here, I plot in when to buy what, so I make sure that everything will be renewed within the next five years.
I’ve always been big on planning and building systems, so building the calendar was so much fun for me. The quick idea behind it (read more in this blog post):
I figured out how many pieces of clothing I needed in every category, e.g. how many cardigans, how many sweaters, how many sneakers, etc. Let’s say I felt I needed three cardigans in my closet at all times. I then wrote down that I should purchase a new cardigan in January of Year 2, September of Year 4, and June of Year 5. Three cardigans, purchased over a five-year period. I did this for all wardrobe categories and then put it all together on a calendar. I moved things around a little bit to balance every year and each month within a given year, so I wouldn’t have to buy 12 things one month and nothing the following month.
I know this will sound completely insane to many people (believe me, I’ve had comments on it), but I love it. I create a Pinterest board every month to help plan out my purchases, and it’s like Christmas all year round. I know what to get – not in great detail, only the headlines – and my wardrobe pulsates in joy from my new purchases and the old things I purge. It breathes J.
In Retrospect – Why the Sales Addiction?
I don’t think I can come up with a good reason for my former addiction to sales. I loved “the chase” and would feel great before, during, and after a great shopping event. I didn’t really feel bad about my shopping, but when I realized that it didn’t do me any good in the long run – and that my wardrobe would be a lot better with only the good things – I was ready to make a change.
I owe it all to the video I watched in early 2013. It’s in Danish, so most of you won’t be able to understand what’s being said, but you’ll still be able to see the beautifully organized closet! I recently created a closet video of my own to showcase my now not-so-large wardrobe. You can check it out here if you’re interested (it’s in English!).
I have a strong need for systems and planning, and shopping at sales was my system for getting new stuff. If something was cheap, I would get it. Then I tried the “must-have” lists that ended up being four pages long. Now I have my calendar, and it has worked wonderfully for me for six months and counting. It limits my shopping, it has the element of surprise, and it’s tailored to my needs.
Here are a few links to some of my favorite style-related websites and books (the last two are in Danish – great for the Danes out there but can also be translated via Google translate):
- Into Mind – blog focused on perfect style, minimalism & the perfect wardrobe
- Putting Me Together – blog for those who are learning to work their closets
- Color Your Style: How to Wear Your True Colors – book by David Zyla
- From OK to Hot – website of style coach, Tini Owild (in Danish)
- Christina Wedel – Danish style coach and author of “What Suits Me?”
I hope these resources – and my story – will help you on your journey to shop less and build a workable wardrobe that you love! I welcome any comments or questions that you have for me.
A big thank you to Mette for sharing her story! Read about Mette’s continuing journey using her shopping calendar – and much more – via her blog, The Yogastic Shopping Planner.