The year is almost 75% over and I have yet to do a wardrobe “benchwarmer” update, so now’s the time! For those who are new to this blog, I have defined a wardrobe benchwarmer as any item that only gets worn once or is not worn at all during the course of a year (see this post for more information).
Wear Statistics and Starting this Blog
Of course, I want to wear my closet pieces far more than twice per year, but I had to start somewhere. When I launched “Recovering Shopaholic” in January 2013, I had close to 300 garments in my closet, so most of them weren’t being worn all that often. At that time, I had been tracking what I wore and how often for two years and the statistics were pretty abysmal:
- In 2011, I had 112 garments and 11 pairs of shoes that were either worn once or not at all.
- My 2012 numbers were even worse, with 125 garments and 21 pairs of shoes achieving “benchwarmer” status.
Those statistics were a large part of my reason for starting this blog. Not only was I spending far too much money on shopping, I wasn’t even wearing most of what I purchased! Clearly, something had to change, and simply tracking what I wore wasn’t doing the trick.
So I started the blog, delved into deeper exploration of my wardrobe and shopping habits, and set some goals and rules to help keep me on the straight and narrow. I also took on some powerful challenges, including Project 333, which helped me pare down my wardrobe to a more manageable level within a year’s time.
My 2013 Numbers – A Vast Improvement
My 2013 wear statistics were much better. I reduced my number of wardrobe benchwarmers from 146 to 28. Although I didn’t quite reach my goal of having absolutely no benchwarmers, I definitely made excellent progress and am proud of the changes I made. You can read a lot more about my 2013 numbers and conclusions in this post, as well as see some photos of both my closet benchwarmers and “all-stars” (items worn at least five times last year).
I realize that I set the bar pretty low in terms of what constitutes wardrobe benchwarmers and all-stars. I know there are many people out there who wear everything they own at least five times per month, let alone per year. Those same people probably wouldn’t even think of holding on to anything that doesn’t earn its keep by being worn many, many times each year. While I hope to be one of those types of people one day, as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day!
Setting Goals for 2014
For 2014, I set these goals (read more here) related to wardrobe wears:
- Wear at least a third of my wardrobe pieces 8 or more times during the year.
- Wear at least half of my items 5 or more times during the year.
- End 2014 having worn everything in my closet 2 or more times – no wardrobe benchwarmers!
Today’s post addresses the third goal above (I’ll look at the first two goals later in the year). I recently took the time to review my closet and see how I’m doing in terms of potential wardrobe benchwarmers. Please note that I did not include any items that were bought after July 1, 2014. Although I’ve already worn some of my summer purchases multiple times, many of them are awaiting cooler weather to make their way out of my closet (it’s been much hotter than usual where I live).
Potential 2014 Wardrobe Benchwarmers
As of today, I have 45 potential wardrobe benchwarmers for 2014. These numbers break down as follows:
- 1 dress
- 1 skirt
- 7 short jackets/cardigans
- 3 tanks/short tops (worn with skirts)
- 9 long cardigans/long jackets/coats
- 9 tanks/short-sleeved/long-sleeved tops (worn with pants)
- 1 pair of jeans
- 14 pairs of shoes
Of those 45 items, 25 have not been worn at all this year and the remaining 20 have been worn once. Yes, this number is pretty high, in large part because I haven’t been pushing myself to wear everything in my closet like I did last year. Instead, I’m wearing what I most want to wear and feeling much more satisfied with my outfits as a result. I feel this is a positive change, as it’s more important to be happy in what we wear than to make sure we’re wearing everything we own out of a sense of guilt of obligation.
It’s important to note that I have less than half the number of potential benchwarmers this year than I did last year at roughly the same time. Even when I was pushing myself to wear all of the pieces in my closet, I still struggled to reduce my number of benchwarmers. That’s because my wardrobe was still far too large for my lifestyle needs and I continued to purchase far too many new items. While the size of my closet still outstrips my needs and I’m still buying more than I’d ultimately like, I’m pleased to see that my progress over a year ago is marked.
Here’s a snapshot of all of my potential 2014 wardrobe benchwarmers:
The majority of these items were purchased prior to 2014. In fact, only 8 of my potential benchwarmers were purchased this year:
The above items were all discussed in my 2014 Purchase Analysis, so I won’t repeat that discussion here. But I thought it was interesting to note that the majority of my potential wardrobe benchwarmers were purchased in previous years.
Common Characteristics Among the Benchwarmers
I looked at all of the items pictured above and have identified some reasons why they haven’t been worn, as well as a few common characteristics among them:
Many of my potential benchwarmers (12 items) are dressier pieces and I don’t have many occasions in my life that call for such items. While I feel it’s okay to retain a small “formal capsule,” I also think I can wear some of these pieces in more dressed down ways. But I’m not going to push too hard to make things work if I don’t really love them.
Summer Toppers Not Being Worn
This summer has been very hot, so I haven’t worn some of my toppers (7 items) as often as I usually do. These toppers don’t have to be worn only in the summer, however. In fact, many of them can be worn year-round in the temperate climate where I live, so they’ll likely still be worn at least twice by year’s end.
Too Many Black Shoes and Too Many Heels
I have too many black shoes and too many pairs of heels (11 of my benchwarmer shoes are black and 7 are heels). I’ve preferred flat or low-heeled shoes this year, as I like to be able to walk in my shoes for longer than a few minutes! Clearly, I don’t need to hang on to so many pairs of heels when I rarely wear them. See below for more on my benchwarmer shoes and my shoes in general.
Ten of my potential benchwarmers were purchased at consignment stores (I’ll be posting an analysis of my resale purchases later this week, so stay tuned for more on that topic!).
Colors Not in My New Palette
A few items (4) are in colors that are not in my newly refined color palette (e.g. orange, light green). The only reason I still have these items is that I still like them in theory. However, if I don’t wear them more often by the end of the year, I’ll likely pass them on.
The Speed of Closet Purging
I’ve been doing a fairly good job of purging unloved and unworn clothing from my wardrobe. I’ve proceeded more slowly with this effort than some people (like Mette, for example), but I’ve learned that I need to be mindful of my closet “set point.” Whenever I pare down too quickly, I tend to feel a sense of scarcity that sends me running out to “beef up” my wardrobe once again.
Purging more slowly has allowed me to gradually reduce the size of my wardrobe such that it’s now about half the size it was when I started this blog close to two years ago. I downsized much more quickly in 2013 and have slowed down the pace quite a bit this year. I’m okay with that, however, as I’ve been working to refine my style and better understand the types of pieces I want to wear. Increased style clarity is making it easier to release items that don’t mesh with my preferred aesthetic.
The Shoes are More Problematic
One area of my closet that’s been more difficult to pare down is my shoe collection. Shoes also make up a sizeable proportion – 31% or roughly one-third – of my current wardrobe benchwarmers, and most of these are black! As I mentioned above, 11 of my 14 shoe benchwarmers are black (one of those is a polka-dot print, but the predominant color is black).
I also have a number of black shoes that are worn regularly and are not benchwarmers, but the problem is that I have far too many black shoes overall. In truth, half of my current shoe collection is black, and some of them are quite similar in style. I’m sure I’m not alone in this (after all, almost all shoe styles are sold in black), but I definitely need to do some black shoe culling.
Paring Down the Black Shoes
Let’s take a look at all of my black shoes (my black “benchwarmer” shoes are pictured above).
I definitely want to keep all of the shoes in the first row. With the exception of the third pair, all are worn regularly and serve different purposes. The third pair was a gift from my mother last year and was quite pricey. I wore these shoes six times last year, but since I’ve been working on toning down the “church vibe” of my skirt and dress outfits, I haven’t reached for them at all during 2014. I need to find a way to dress them down (if you have ideas, let me know) or just keep them on hand for the rare dressy occasions in my life.
Black Shoes I May Purge
As for the second and third rows, I’m considering letting go of the following shoes:
- Clark’s Black Sandals: These shoes (row two, first pair) are very comfortable but look a bit “heavy” on my feet. I’ve recently chosen the Ecco sandals (row one, pair five) over these virtually every single time, so maybe I don’t need to hold on to this pair anymore.
- Tall Black Boots: I would like to have a pair of tall black boots, but these don’t work for me. They are the pull-on variety (no zipper) and don’t stay up well. The shaft of the boot always gets wrinkly on my calves and looks unflattering. I’d been holding on to these until I found a replacement, but I don’t really need to do that since I never wear them anyway.
- Ecco Black Boots: The heel on these is the same height as the Paul Green pair (row three, pair three) and I always prefer that pair over these. The only reason to hold on to these is to replace the Paul Green boots, which are getting worn out. The Clark’s pair in row one has a higher heel and doesn’t work with the same pants length (yes, I know that if I always wore slim jeans, that wouldn’t be a problem).
- Ecco Bow Flats: I have only worn these once since I got my AGL flats (row one, pair one) and they serve virtually the same purpose. I still like these, but I like the AGL pair better. There probably isn’t a good reason to keep both pairs.
- Indigo Slingbacks: These shoes are uncomfortable and serve the same basic purpose as the Clark’s slingbacks (row two, pair two). I’m almost positive I’m going to let these go.
- Polka-dot Peep-toes: I still like these, but they are past their prime (I’ve had them since 2009 and have worn them a lot). They no longer look very good and probably should go. I found another pair of black and white shoes this month that will likely take their place.
Black Shoes I’m Keeping – For Now
As for the other shoes, I don’t wear the Coach pumps (row two, pair four) very often because they look pretty dressy. However, they pair well with my slim-fit jeans and are more comfortable than they look. I can’t walk in them for hours, but that would be true of any shoe with that heel height. I’m going to keep those shoes for now. I’m also going to hold on to the Coach sneakers (row two, pair five). I haven’t been wearing them this year (I wore them 23 times last year!), but I believe I will reach for them again in the future. I still like them and they are in excellent condition.
The peep-toe Mary Janes (row three, last pair) are also staying because they are very comfortable and I can walk in them all day. The heel is too high for most of my pants, but I have a few pairs of pants that work well with them. I don’t like the way they look with skirts and dresses due to the high-placed strap, but the strap is necessary to keep the shoes on my feet!
More Shoe Purges Ahead…
In looking at the rest of my shoe collection (non-black pairs), I believe I can purge a few additional pairs as well. You’ll see what I decide to let go of in my September accountability update, which will be posted in early October. This was a useful exercise for me, as I’ve only been wearing about half of my shoes on a regular basis. Why hang on to shoes that are just taking up space in my closet? That leads to a false sense of security and often obscures the shoes I do love from being seen and worn more often. It also prevents other people from potentially enjoying the shoes I’m not wearing.
Wardrobe “Benchwarmers” and Guilt
I’m glad I took the time to assess my potential wardrobe benchwarmers for 2014. While some of these items may end up becoming part of my regular closet rotation, many of them will likely be passed along before the year is over. In fact, I’ve already designated a few pieces to donate or consign this month. In some cases, it’s a matter of “splitting my wears” with more loved garments or shoes. In other instances, I’m just not feeling the love for particular items. Why force the issue when I already have such a large wardrobe?
It’s often guilt that gets in the way of purging unloved pieces from our closets. We feel remorse at spending money on items that have rarely or never been worn. It’s hard to get past those feelings, but we need to remember that the money has already been spent (see “sunk cost theory”). We aren’t recovering our lost dollars by keeping these items hanging in our closets, and we usually just feel bad every time we see them there. We’re reminded of our lapse in judgment and the money we have wasted.
The best way to let go of unloved items is to pass them along to friends, loved ones, or co-workers, as Mette did last year. Barring that solution, we can sell items in good condition on eBay or via consignment. The returns in such cases are usually small, but it can make us feel a little better to recoup even a tiny portion of our losses. I’ve taken that route more often recently, but for many years, I chose to donate my cast-offs to a local charity. Sadly, not all donations end up being used, but donating is surely a better option than either throwing the garment away or burying it in the back of your closet for a number of years.
I’m definitely going to make powerful decisions about all of my wardrobe benchwarmers before the year is over. I will likely do another update on this issue later in the year and let you know how it’s going for me. At that time, I’ll also address my summer purchases (see here and here for photos and information) and see if I’ve been able to improve my purchasing track record as a result of my outfit journal and work with Bridgette Raes.
Speaking of Bridgette, some of you have asked when I will do another update on the process I’m going through with her. At this point, I have not yet scheduled my second virtual session, but I hope to have it sometime in October and will post a follow-up shortly thereafter. Stay tuned…
I know most of you probably don’t identify and track your wardrobe “benchwarmers,” but almost every woman has pieces in her closet that aren’t being worn regularly. I’d love to get your answers to the following questions:
- How many times per year do you want to wear the items in your wardrobe?
- What criteria do you use for letting go of closet pieces?
- Do you agree with the much quoted rule about getting rid of anything that hasn’t been worn in a year?
- Under what circumstances would you hold on to items that aren’t being worn?
Feel free to share your thoughts on these matters, as well as any other feedback you have on this post.
Great post, Debbie! It really does help to see you dive into the reasoning behind closet purging decisions, and also why some things are getting worn more often than others. You know, I didn’t really pay much attention to the “wears per year” goal previously. I have always thought in terms of weeks – how many weeks can I last before doing laundry, or how many weeks before I have to repeat an item. But I have realized that this can still lead to benchwarmers if I’m just constantly repeating my favorites, so I probably should still do a “number of wears per year” calculation. I also always ignored the “get rid of anything if it isn’t worn within a year” rule, as there are some formal clothes and heavy winter clothes that I don’t necessarily want to have to buy again even if they aren’t worn every year. Again, however, that allows other items to linger as benchwarmers as well. I think I should probably go back to my closet with a critical eye and see what I can release!
I’m glad you found this post helpful, Sarah. I understand the laundry thing, but I have so many clothes (still!) that I could go without doing laundry for months at this point! I think calculating number of wears per year for even one year could be enlightening for you. Most people think they wear their clothes FAR more than they do. I know I did! Seeing how rarely I wore things is what got me started with changing my ways, but as you know, it’s been a long road. But as long as I’m making progress, even if it’s slow, I’m happy and will just keep on going!
I also thought I wore things much more than I did. It’s amazing how few opportunities to wear things we have in actuality!
Yes, and you have more opportunities than I do since you work in an office! When you do your updates, I’m always amazed that you wear your clothes more than I wear mine. I know you have fewer clothes than I do now and that’s part of it, but there’s more to it than that. With my life the way it is, I probably need FAR FEWER clothes than you do!
I love reading other people’s updates as well- the differences are fascinating, and no way is ‘wrong’ just different! 🙂 I do wear different things every day because I work in an office, that is true. But as I do project 333 I am discovering my needs are smaller than my closet, but I think my needs will always be higher than the ’10 piece wardrobe’ though I really want to try it. Project 333 is closer to what I need because the 10 piece wardrobe is only 10 stand-alone tops, bottoms, and dresses with supporting ‘extras’ such as layering pieces (jackets, sweaters, tees). I need more bottoms than that allows for in reality. If I ever get pregnant again I will definitely try out a 10-piece wardrobe for maternity (allowing for size change swaps of course).
The “10-item wardrobe” is really a lot more than 10 items. It’s really more like a Project 333, but the difference is that it’s for 2 seasons instead of just one. I’ve only ever really read Jennifer Scott’s experience with the 10-item wardrobe. I like her blog/videos and she always looks great. She lives in Southern California like I do and her life is also fairly casual. I think she has more dress-up occasions than I do, though. It would be great to have someone I know do the “10-item wardrobe” experiment. It seems like an excellent plan for a pregnancy wardrobe!
Great post! I don’t follow the toss if you haven’t worn it in a year rule. If I have the room, and the item still seems useful in some way to me, I don’t mind not wearing it a year, even two! But if 1/3 of my wardrobe is just hanging there unworn, then it’s a problem. I have never tracked officially but I would guess I have about a dozen unworn, or worn once, items this year (of what I brought to FL). Several of those got recently donated or sold.
Many of the unworn pieces were either too dressy or too warm for the climate. Cocktail dresses, leather skirt, silk tanks all got purged recently. Heels are a culprit for me, too. 3″ are rarely taken for a spin out on the town these days. Though I didn’t don a few pairs, I am still keeping them. I’ve decided I don’t need to buy any more, as the 6 pair I own make up 1/5 of my shoe wardrobe. I did sell off a few pair of flats and sandals that I decided just were not my style anymore (if ever).
I’m pretty much off shopping for the rest of the year. Which is good because I got ahead of myself 😉 I’m moving back home in 2 weeks so buying any sweaters or coats was put on hold the minute I got my flight booked. Maybe in November I’ll get a sweater or two, but there is plenty waiting to be worn after being away a year. I imagine I might find some of what’s waiting needs to be culled through as well. It’s never ending really. Lol.
Oh, I forgot to mention a high percentage of the purged pieces were bought off eBay non-returnable some years prior. I kept trying to ‘make them work’ but they never fit right to start with. BIG lesson learned this year was to stop buying items I can’t return.
Congrats on going back home soon, Mo! It must be hard to spend such large stretches of time away from your home and in a dramatically different climate. Not only is it probably difficult on many levels, but in terms of clothing, too. You seem to be doing quite well with it all, though! Your eBay pieces sound like my consignment items. We can’t return them, so we try to make them work so we don’t feel guilty for having bought them. I think you mentioned in another comment that you keep buying on eBay because SOMETIMES your purchases work out and end up being “workhorses.” That’s the reason I keep buying resale, too. I also like the “treasure hunt” aspect of it and the ability to find items that aren’t mainstream. But I agree with you that it’s best NOT to buy items we can’t return. Even if it works out sometimes, is it worth it for all of the times we end up “wasting” money and feeling guilty about unworn clothes? Probably not!
1. Setting aside the most formal clothing in my wardrobe I think I’d like to wear each items at least 12x per year, and since I live somewhere with four seasons that means wearing items about once a week while they’re in season. (Numbers aren’t my strength…apologies for any atrocious rounding I just did).
2. If I don’t love something, it goes unless it’s a basic I cannot immediately afford to replace. Then I wait until I can afford to replace before letting go. Otherwise I get rid of things I haven’t worn in a season unless there wasn’t a reason to wear them or the weather was weird. We had an oddly cool summer and very early fall so I’m not really touching my summer clothes even though there were a few things I didn’t wear.
3. I think that generally a year is a very good benchmark, unless you’ve had a strange year personally, weather-wise, body-wise (pregnancy, for ex).
4. This isn’t a great practice for people who are big into shopping but if I find something that I love I’ll purchase a backup of that item for when the first one wears out. Occasionally it has wound up being a waste of money because the item fell out of fashion or my tastes changed before I wore the second one, but generally I’ve been very lucky with it. So the backups are part of what I’m not wearing in my closet. I also have a small collection of sweaters that I probably only wear once per year each but that I refuse to get rid of because the store I bought them in no longer makes quality clothing (cough*J.Crew*cough) and I couldn’t replace them if I wanted to.
These are some good rules/practices, Sara! I think 12 wears per year is a good goal to reach for. I have set 8 times as my goal for now, but eventually more wears would be good. Interesting that you’ve had an overly cool summer, as mine has been the opposite. But when such weird weather – or another unexpected change – occurs, I think it’s good to take that into consideration rather than adhering to hard and fast rules. As for your last point, sometimes I wish I had purchased back-up items. But I think it’s only a good idea to do this if one really knows herself and what she will wear a lot. I’m not there yet, so I take my chances, although I agree that many brands (didn’t know that about J. Crew, but that’s sad) have declined in quality lately.
You are making great gains Debbie. As they say “slow and steady wins the race.” Now that you have identified your un-needed and less loved items it will be easy to release them, and my guess is that you won’t miss them once they are gone because you will be loving what you are wearing on a more regular basis. I think your idea of maintaing a small dressy and business capsule is an excellent plan. This is what I do too since I also live an ultra casual lifestyle. Yet I want to have my dressier clothes ready for when I do need them. My current wardrobe is on the small side (about 75 items of clothing and 12 pair of shoes) that I wear when I leave the house to go to work, run errands and for social occasions. I don’t count the jeans, shorts and T-shirts I wear at home when cooking, gardening, cleaning the house, or when the puppy is on my lap. Yet even with a small wardrobe I have not worn everything I own this past year due to the fact that we had a much warmer winter than usual and this summer has been much hotter than usual, and there has not been any fancy occasions, dinners or weddings to attend where I would want to wear my (2) dressy dresses.
I don’t have any benchwarmers currently, and I also don’t follow the “toss if you haven’t worn it in a year” rule, unless there is a good reason for wanting to release the item. Yet if I get one of those “knowing feelings” that I’m positive I won’t ever want to wear something again, I will let it go.
How cool that you have a new puppy, Terra! I don’t count my wear at home clothes, either, although I sometimes wear “regular” clothes around the house, too (more in the cooler months), but I do go through those regularly and release worn out pieces and items I don’t love anymore. It’s good to see that even with your smaller wardrobe, the hot summer has led you not to wear everything. That way I see that I’m not TOO far off. I’m going to do a closet purge soon, including the benchwarmers. You’re right that I likely won’t miss anything I let go. I really do want a smaller wardrobe, but I have to get past the guilt about the things I shouldn’t have bought in the first place. Once they’re gone, the guilt will fade away, which is all the more reason to do the purge!
Hi. The slingbacks can be worn with more casual fabrics like cottons, lighter denims, and linens. Accessories that are more natural in material and color rather than shiny or with a lot of sheen can help also. Also try wearing shapes that are more casual like looser flowy tops or bottoms with less structure to them. I think pairing with knee length skirts will look “churchy” and more conservative especially in a similar black shade. Try a capri length or ankle length pant with some interest (these are more casual unless in a fancy fabric) since you want to show off the low vamp shoes. Should work great especially with your height.
In response to other questions, I let go of ALL of the uncomfortable shoes I had in my closet this summer. All of them at heel lengths of 2.5 inches +. If the shoes are not comfortable then they must go. I only have one pair of 1.5 inch nude patent pointy toe shoes and one pair of strappy black gold sandals left in my heel collection and they will work well for the few times a year I need to pair heels with a dress or skirt. Even though I spent good money on those shoes and they were excellent quality, I never ever wore them. They just looked pretty and once I started donating, I donated all of the rest of the clothes that didn’t fit my current body or were unflattering or very old and said bye bye to them.
Now I only have clothes that I wear on rotation (about 5 to 15 wears at least). I’ve been keeping a very tight wardrobe and keeping track of all my clothing items per season in a color palette of nine to ten colors that I want to wear for the season and buying the pieces that I see a need for in the right colors conforming to my color palette and my style. I’ve been using Pinterest also to keep track of my style inspirations and purchases to make sure that everything is cohesive. I do a lot of editing on Pinterest before I get to looking for clothing items that I need. This has made wearing clothes a lot easier since everything looks great with other items in my closet. I’ve also found that it has become easier to make better shopping decisions and waste less money.
To add onto the other great suggestions for the slingbacks, you could add a colorful shoe clip to them. Most shoe clips seem to be bows but there are also pom poms, pearls, monotone circles, silver tone shapes, and more. Clips may come across as a bit too “cute” but I’m sure there are some out there that you might find interesting. Plus you could always try and make your own out of costume jewelry earrings! 🙂
Thanks for your recommendations about the shoes, Margaret and Emmy! Unfortunately, I don’t have any of the pants you mentioned, Margaret, but I will take the fabric recommendations into consideration and try some sample outfits out. I love the shoe clip idea, Emmy! I haven’t seen them sold in stores, but I just Googled “shoe clips” and saw lots of options to explore. Maybe I’ll find some good options that way.
I think it’s a good idea to let go of all uncomfortable shoes like you said, Margaret. I think that will be my first step. I like the idea of using Pinterest for style inspiration and to do editing there, too. I also think it’s great that you keep track of purchases there, too. Sounds like I should take better advantage of that wonderful tool!
Shoes are my big weakness too. I’ve gone through most of my closet over the last six months since I decided ‘something’ had to be done about it, but I keep bypassing the shoes… I have far too many heels for my ‘real’ life! I need to find time to catalog what is left and start tracking wears too. Great idea. Dressy items I don’t feel the need to wear every year. We had two formal events this year and I wore dresses that hadn’t left my closet in at least five years – and I was glad I kept them. That said, I did get rid of a number of others that no longer fit my size or style.
I agree either the other comment about wearing the sling backs with dressy Capri or ankle pants. A black pencil skirt would also tone down the church vibe.
I like the black pencil skirt idea for the shoes, Sheila. I’ve been trying to find one, but haven’t had any luck. It’s difficult with my height, as the skirts are often just too short. The comments on this post are inspiring me to be more ruthless with paring down my shoes. I’m going to start with anything that’s uncomfortable and then look at style, similarity to other shoes I have, and how much I like the pair of shoes in question. I hope to be able to report a much smaller shoe collection soon!
When I paired down my shoe collection, I only allowed myself to have one in each color per style: Pump or closed toe shoe, Sandal or open toed shoe, Flats, Boots or booties. Most everything does not fill all four slots, but I do have a black or mostly black item in each of the 4 styles. I let go of three other black shoes! It made so much sense and simplified everything.
Good suggestions, Meli! That’s kind of what I was going on when I did my most recent closet purge this past weekend. The one I have trouble with is the boots, though. I got rid of the tall boots because they just don’t work (they don’t stay up and get all “wrinkly”), but I still have the other 3 pairs. Two of them are getting kind of worn out, though, so I probably have just one more season with them. Then I’ll rotate in the pair I rarely wear, but they don’t work with all of my pants. I really need to standardize all of my pant lengths the way you have. My goal is to just have two lengths of pants – one for heels and one for flats. Right now I have 3-4 lengths and it’s just not working!
I have three pants lengths! High-heel, Mid-heel, or hemmed for flats (skinny jeans are the only pants left hemmed for flats, which also pair with the other heels if I wish). My cropped pair of pants work with all heel heights. I have (casual + work):
5 pairs of high-heel length pants (vs. 5 pairs of high-heels)
3 pairs of mid-heel length pants (vs. 3 pairs of mid-heel shoes)
1 pair of cropped pants (works with any)
2 pairs of jeans hemmed for flats (vs. 2 pairs of high-heel boots and 3 pairs of flats, which are also used to commute in non-snowy weather)
2 pairs of winter boots (works with any because I don’t care about fashion commuting in the snow)
I can’t stick to just one heel height because I love high heels, but can’t wear them EVERY day. I also hate the mid-heels with dresses and skirts, so I own both. I wear my booties and boots only over skinny jeans- I don’t need to try to make them work under anything because I have other options. I commute in flats, so I just fold the hem of my trousers up. In the winter I tuck all my pants into my winter boots so they don’t get dirty.
Maybe I’m not too far off from you with the pants and shoes, Meli, but it sounds like you have a much better pants collection than I do! I tried on some pants again last night – no luck 😦 It really is hard to find pants as a tall woman with hips! I’m going to keep trying, though. I’d like to have some pants besides jeans and black pants (many of which are older and need to be replaced). I do have one pair of grey pants. How’s that for variety? 🙂 I love heels, too, but they aren’t really all that practical for me and my life. But I’m not going to totally give them up, either! It sounds like you have a good plan for your pants and shoes. I need to be more methodical about it, as many of my shoes were bought without a plan for them. As I pare down, though, it’s getting easier.
I don’t really track how many times I’m wearing something anymore. I do know that I wore everything in my summer wardrobe except a dressier dress and pair of sandals. Since I dramatically reduced the amount I had in my closet to about 1/5 of the original number I know that everything is getting used. I only have 15 pairs of shoes total now. 2 pairs of flip flops, 1 pair of flat sandals, 2 wedge heel sandals, 1 pair of black flats, 3 sneakers (running, converse, and black), 2 ankle boots, 3 tall boots, and one mid lace up pair of boots. 7 out of the 15 I have are black, I guess it’s a popular color. It seems like plenty for what I need. I must have purged 30 pairs of footwear in the last year! So much of it I never wore.
I think that you are wise for taking your time paring down. It’s better to have clothes sit unworn in your closet than to buy a bunch of new things that you don’t really even want because you got rid of things too quickly.
Good for you for wearing almost all of your summer items, Tonya. I think it helped a lot that you pared things down so much. Your shoe collection seems to be a decent number and a good fit for your needs. I know you wear a lot of black, so having so many black shoes is probably not a problem for you. I don’t mind having a lot of black shoes, too, but I need to be wearing them. I’ll probably end up with about the same number as you have. You’ve done an excellent job in paring down your shoe collection – and your wardrobe in general. Your progress is very inspiring!
Very interesting post! I don’t have a specific definition of benchwarmers for myself, but since I’ve reduced the number of items in my wardrobe, it’s fairly easy to know what is being worn and what isn’t (at least with my everyday wear).
I see three categories of clothes in my wardrobe: everyday wear, formal wear, and in between wear (dressier than everyday wear but not really formal). One of my goals for this year was to improve my everyday wear to look more put together. I’ve achieved this, but in the process turned my whole in between category into benchwarmers! With the exception of one dress that I wore on just one occasion, I haven’t worn anything from the in between category at all this year because my everyday wear is now appropriate for most situations in my relatively casual lifestyle. I still have all the benchwarmers at this point, but I plan to try them all on and re-evaluate them in the near future.
It’s interesting how fixing one problem can create another, Kayla. I had the same problem when I was forcing myself to wear my “benchwarmers” last year. Some of my previous favorites ended up becoming benchwarmers as a result! I think you have a good plan in terms of re-evaluating your “in-between” items. Maybe you’ll just end up with two wardrobe categories moving forward and will have a smaller, more cohesive closet as a result. Good for you for up-leveling your everyday wear!
For me, the goal of shopping is to buy things to wear — not to buy things to sit unworn (or “under-worn”) in a closet. So why not get rid of all the items (especially the non-color palette clothes) that you don’t love and don’t wear and will never wear? I mean, what would have to happen for you to wear a pair of tall boots you don’t like or an acid green jacket that fights your coloring? In addition to the “sunk costs” — the money you spent on stuff is gone and not recoverable — you are STILL paying your rent or mortgage and homeowner’s insurance for wasted closet or storage space, paying for heating and cooling for said space, and spending psychic energy to hold on to stuff you don’t wear and may never wear. Bite the bullet and let all the clothes and shoes you don’t love and don’t wear go to someone else who might actually NEED them?
Blunt as she is here, I have to agree with Dottie. If you are going to curate your clothing, you must be ruthless and not ponder excessively over all these iffy garments. I have to say that I was very surprised at the sheer number of benchwarmers you hold onto.
You have an enormous number of black shoes. Did you read Bridget Raes’ post about not always defaulting to wearing black shoes with every outfit?
Of those garments you say don’t fit into your newly refined color palette, then why waste the effort and space making them benchwarmers? Set them free to go to someone who wants to wear them! You will feel much freer.
I think it is guilt that makes people hold on to things they don’t really like or need–guilt over the money spent, or if it was a gift–they may feel an obligation to keep it, or if it represents some “ideal” lifestyle or situation that might occur in the future they want to hang onto it for that “what if” event.
The truth is that the “ideal lifestyle” is probably not going to happen (and if it does your clothing will be out of style and you will want new), and the situation you are imagining finally wearing your outfit to is probably not going to happen either and if it does–you will probably not feel as beautiful as you imagined in the outfit because everyone else will have moved on to wearing more current styles–and you will feel out of step.
If I were you, I would separate all 45 of those benchwarmers out of the closet and put them on the bed or in a place with mirrors where you can try them all on at one time–one right after the other, like an assembly line, with this technique:
Try the garment on (without first looking in the mirror), then go to the mirror and look at yourself as though you are meeting Debbie for the first time. What is your impression in that first second? Do you like how Debbie looks in the garment or not? Turn around, look at your profile. Do you like it or not? If it doesn’t look good from the front, don’t keep it. If it looks good from the front, but not in profile, then don’t keep it either. You don’t need to overly analyze it–remember, it only takes a few seconds to make a good impression!
You may feel compelled to alter some things too. You could set those aside (away from the rest of your clothes) to seriously think about whether its worth the money and effort to alter.
I think guilt can be at play sometimes, but I also think a lot of us engage in ‘what if’ scenarios. I know for myself I rarely feel guilt is a factor in holding on to things. But my ‘what if’s that can play out, sometimes subconsciously, do make me cautious about purging.
What if I get an office job when I move home next month? (Although I’ve been in food & bev with a uniform for over 20 years). What if a friend announces they’re getting married? (It’s been over 5 years since that’s occurred – as we get further over 40 they become more and more sparse). Etc, etc, etc. These things actually can, and might, happen. Next month, next year, who knows? But how much of my closet can I keep ‘in reserve’ for possibilities that maybe won’t arise for years to come.
Thank you Dottie, Deby, and Mo for your comments. Writing this post and reading the comments is pushing me to do another closet audit and be more ruthless in terms of what I keep. I’m going to do what Deby recommended but I’m going to also add some “on the bubble” items (things I’ve worn at least twice this year but I’m not sure I love) to that assessment as well as the benchwarmers. I will likely do a post about the results of this effort next week.
I have a lot of the same questions that Mo mentioned, but those “what ifs” rarely end up happening. Although it’s possible I may have an office job or a wedding invite in the coming year or so, it’s not really likely. I plan to keep a small “formal” capsule in reserve, but I’m going to keep it really minimal. As for office clothes, I hope not to need those, but if I do, I will probably want to buy new items at that time anyway.
I have a few formal clothes because I work in an industry that occasionally presents opportunities to wear dressier clothing. (I have one such occasion coming up very soon.) I have one formal dress and a few formal tops that can be worn with skirts or pants, depending on the degree of “formal-ness.” These were kept specifically for their versatility. I have a few tailored business clothes for the times when I need to interview a client or make a presentation — and these clothes also remain in my wardrobe because of their versatility. When I made a significant job change a few years ago, I was very focused on eliminating clothes I no longer needed — even some stuff I really loved. I went through a process to see if my much loved garments could make a transition into a less formal work environment — and I did most of this in one day to ease the pain and reduce the amount of time spent dithering over these decisions. I decide to get real about my life and lifestyle (I think one can deal with this much more frankly as one ages and actually “sees” what is and what is unlikely yet to be) and trimmed my wardrobe and a lot of other stuff accordingly. I get rid of stuff (garage sales, Ebay) like a 40-year-old souffle dish I was never going to use again, etc. These were all items I had loved and used, but I finally decided my baking for a crowd days were behind me. It’s tough to do this — I know how hard it was for me. Initially I regretted letting a few things go, but I am not overwhelmed with regret and, really, I seldom think about it. And when I do, I also picture someone else enjoying my old stuff. Sorry about being so blunt in my earlier post — but please get rid of that green jacket as soon as you can. It’s dead weight and probably preventing you from seeing and seizing new possibilities!
The green jacket is in the consign/donate pile now, Dottie 🙂 I never reached for it, anyway, and always chose something else instead. I’m going to go through everything else this weekend (like Deby suggested) and I’m sure some more things will go (I’ve already purged a few things, including the green jacket). I do want others to enjoy the things I don’t love. I take a little while to decide on what to let go because I don’t know my preferences and what works best for me as well as you do. I’m getting there, though, and have to get real with myself about my actual lifestyle and what I need for it.
How exciting Debbie! Cannot wait to read about the process and what you let go vs. not!
The most useful thing for me in deciding about a piece is something I read a million times but only sunk in when you mentioned it once: it has to be part of an outfit! IOW, it’s no good if the piece is evaluated on its own and I like it, if it’s never going to fit into an outfit I would actually want to wear. And I do think of my outfits in terms of overall design or a tapestry. It has to have focal points and I want it to lead the eye up to my face. So no pops of color in shoes or bag for me. Where I am stuck now is that I really prefer my clothing to be emphatic, even if considering tweedy clothes – which I love. But I struggle between wanting to have the outfit be viewed as a whole and leading to my face and preferring to go unadorned. So some necklaces are working because they are narrower and glint in some way (referring back to my eyes that glint) and I think of them more as portable trimming to a cardigan neckline, say. So I have been thinking of wearing scarves more since I love print and pattern and they are more likely to look like the outfit as a whole. OTOH, I have a very impactful wardrobe for an introvert. I can’t abide someone picking apart the effect (noticing the “backstage” business) and remarking on one item I have on that they like. Yet sometimes wearing a pretty scarf has the effect of having people notice only the scarf and I feel hidden when I do want to appear more in the background. 😀 Squirrel!
I don’t pay any attention to the year limit on unworn clothing. I seem to have mostly fairly recently acquired items that do get worn and my wardrobe gets smaller and smaller as I narrow down what I want. So that many colors and styles are already eliminated. My main problem with clothing has been that I tend to put newer items into most frequent use and this leads immediately to purging older items that are in a different direction but also leads to the question of If these are my new favorites, then what is happening the previous old favorites that have just been displaced? Something hinky there. I do also have several extraordinarily old items in the category of outerwear. Some over 35 years old and still worn occasionally.
I don’t hold on to things that are never worn, for very long, though. Usually when I take the time to examine them, I can see they don’t fit in to my wardrobe and they go. I’ll keep some sentimental family jewelry but that doesn’t count for me, regardless of whether I ever want to wear jewelry or not.
One thing I don’t do, can’t do, is shop with a plan. Most often it is things that are practical and sensible and so useful that are the ones purged and the impulse purchases that become favorites. And that’s even though my chief characteristic is my pragmatism! I also shop by color and it’s often nigh impossible to find the color I want either at all or in any kind of fabric plus styling that I would consider wearing. I also shop primarily in a few well-known to me church thrift stores. The prices are bottom dollar, literally, and the quality can be great. I can sew and do my own alterations but am also fickle and would not ever consider paying the kind of prices I would have to pay retail to get comparable quality. I’m not saying everything I select is of this quality because often I just want to experiment with a new trend. The only problem with this kind of shopping for me is that when I do find something that really pleases me, there is rarely any way to get any additional items from the same brand, which has moved on, if still in business.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on all of my questions, Vildy. The part about an item needing to work in an outfit is huge! I used to never give that enough thought when shopping, but it’s really critical. Some people recommend to always shop in outfits, but that seems a bit too rigid. But I do think it’s good to CONSIDER outfits while shopping.
It sounds like you have good luck with thrifting. I haven’t been as successful there, but I’m not sure if I need to give it up, increase my standards, or find better shops. I agree that thrifting is a good way to experiment with trends without spending a lot of money, or a way to try “new to you” styles that you’re not yet sure about. The fact that you can do your own alterations is a big bonus to your shopping resale. I have often spent extra money to tailor items that I shouldn’t have bought in the first place. A bad habit I need to break!
Debbie — have you looked into liketwice.com? They’re basically an online resale shop with great condition used clothes in name brands. The best part is, they have free shipping for orders over $50 and free returns if you take store credit (or $5 charge if you want your Paypal / charge card refunded directly). I’ve been able to try out numerous pieces of clothing in the comfort of my home (can’t beat being able to try on a piece with other things in your wardrobe) with basically no risk. It works out especially well if you start out by selling pieces to them because then you have store credit and can keep buying / returning items for free. And if you decide to keep something, it’s for a great price. I highly recommend it! If you decide to give a try, consider emailing me and I can send you an affiliate link (we both get store credit that way 😉 )
I’ve heard of Like Twice, Karen, but have never used it. I read some comments on a fashion forum that said they don’t pay very much for the things people send in, but Sally of Already Pretty has raved about some of the items she’s gotten through that site. It seems to be more of a buyers’ market, the way most resale establishments are. If I choose to try Like Twice, I will keep you in mind, but for now, I’m being very cautious with my secondhand shopping (as per my most recent post).
I don’t follow the “if not worn in 1 year, get rid of it” rule. I’ve kept several dressy dresses, purses and shoes in sort of a formal capsule. I keep them waaaaay over to the side of my closet. They fit and if I suddenly need them for a rare formal occasion, I’ll have them and won’t need to rush out in a panic to find something. I also have a capsule of gear clothes. Not sure what else to call them. Things I bought for a specific outdoor endeavor that are quick dry, UPF rated, waterproof, etc. I don’t wear these everyday because they’re too casual even for my lifestyle. My everyday clothes are manageable now that I’ve culled most everything except what fits my strict color palette, comfortable-ness (new word?), and lifestyle. It makes me happy! All that being said, I do need to go through my shoe closet again because I know there’s some ready to be given away to a deserving home.
It seems no one really follows the “one year rule,” Kim, at least those who are commenting here. I don’t do it, either, as there are factors to keep in mind. I think keeping the formal capsule in a the far reaches of your closet is a good plan since you don’t wear those items much. As for everyday clothes, I agree that comfort is a major factor. I don’t know if it’s my age or what, but I’m just not willing to suffer for the sake of fashion anymore!
In looking at all the challenges with wardrobes- I think an awesome challenge would be for people to maybe see about only using their benchwarmer clothes for a week and see what outfits they can come up with. It might be surprising!
Good idea, Lisa, although I’d have to bring in a few non-benchwarmer bottoms to create full outfits. Since I don’t have nearly as many bottom pieces as tops and toppers, those items tend to get worn more. I’m going to give my benchwarmers another go-through to see what I want to keep around, but I like your idea for what’s left over after that.
I don’t follow the one-year rule when I’m culling my closet. Similarly, I don’t have a rule about how many times per year an item must be worn to earn its place in my wardrobe. Although I’ve never thought of it as small, in 333 terms I have between 35-40 items of clothing. Since the total is small to begin with, I know almost everything gets worn a lot.
I have a small capsule of dress clothes–2 two-piece “dresses” and shoes– that don’t get worn frequently but when I need them, they are just right. Both tops of these outfits also coordinate with other items in my wardrobe.
The most important way I cull clothes is by not letting them into my wardrobe in the first place. The flip side of culling is acquisition. For me, shopping is a highly enjoyable but tightly focused activity. After years of practice, not too many mistakes get through the filters I have in place. The downside is that I am sometimes too resistant to try new colors and styles. Rules can be too rigid at times.
The criteria for culling clothes is almost identical to that I use when buying them: fit, “first impression,” amount of wear, comfort, color, style, need for repair or tailoring, duplicates.
Shoes are hard for me to cull because, like accessories, they can so dramatically alter the look of an outfit. I have three pairs of heels (blue, black, and black/white tweed) and also a pair of dressy black flats, even though I rarely have occasion to wear them. [All four pair of these are quite old and impeccably cared for.] I’m usually in my oxfords, or Tom’s flats, or sneakers. Even so, my shoe total is under 15 pairs.
Lifestyle transitions, including career and age changes, pose much more difficult challenges to my closet.
Do you really only have 35-40 items or clothing in your entire wardrobe, Amy? I’m sure that’s very doable, especially with a non-varied climate (I’m not sure where you live), but I get nervous thinking about cutting down that far. I don’t think there’s an absolute right number and the number can shift over time for a given individual. I’m still working out what my number is for the near-term. Your point about culling by not letting the wrong clothes into your wardrobe in the first place is right on. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have bought most of what I let go of since I started the blog and more than a few pieces of what’s in my closet currently. I hope to get to where you are with few mistakes and a cohesive wardrobe very soon!
Please let me make clear that I do not think there is an ideal, or right/wrong number of garments in a wardrobe. I agree with you that that’s far too personal a question to decide for anyone else! Nor do I hold myself out as some kind of example in a bizarre “who has the fewest clothes” competition. Too weird. I never counted clothes until I started reading your blog. Nope, I’m simply telling you what I do. But some context may make it easier to understand.
In my early life, my family was poor. My grandmothers were excellent seamstresses and made clothes for me and doll clothes for fun. (!) From them, I absorbed the essentials of assessing garment quality. Store bought clothing was a carefully budgeted expense. In high school, any clothing beyond the basics was something I either split the cost with my parents for or saved my babysitting money for. I simply didn’t have money to burn when it came to clothing. Perhaps that’s why I so enjoyed buying nice things — and was so so picky! — when I began earning my own income.
My current wardrobe is a collection that has been gathered over several decades. That’s a lot of trial and error, learning from many mistakes! The newest item was purchased this spring–a Boden shirt in my signature palette. The oldest, which I plan to replace this year, is a 20 year old cranberry cotton cardigan that no longer fits like it should. I probably buy between 5-8 new items of any kind per year for my wardrobe.
I live in a four-season climate but should have specified that I divide my wardrobe into warm and cold weather categories. When I said 35-40 items, I was thinking about cool weather clothes only. I also was thinking in terms of 333, which I think omits these things: clothes worn *only* for exercise or for sleep, outerwear, shoes, and accessories. To answer your question, for fun, I went back and did a quick count of cool weather clothes: bottoms (11), button front tops (6), pullover tops (8), cardigans (2), light denim jacket (1), blazer (1), suit (1), two-piece dress (1). Some of these pieces do double duty with warm weather clothes, e.g., most of the button front blouses and shirts. Adding outerwear means counting a lined trench coat, a heavy jacket with detachable hood, and a light rain jacket, also with a detachable hood (3).
I consider most items “equipment for life” and buy accordingly. So my rain jacket is not a cheapie: it’s Patagonia technical wear that behaves nicely, especially during hot, steamy southern days, by being waterproof and breathable. My wool slacks are Pendleton wool with a heavy, silky hand and are fully lined. I rely on just four bags: but all are fine leather and selected specifically for the colors I wear and the way I live: a sleek leather backpack that’s just big enough for the iPad; two cross body bags that are city-friendly; and a vintage “Jackie” bag that comes out to play for cocktails. Oh, and a leather briefcase for work.
I have lots of scarves and wear them often throughout the year. I have always layered clothes and mixed them up to vary the looks. I became very conscious about doing this in the 1980’s after reading a book about capsule wardrobes.
I was surprised and intrigued to discover a whole section of blogs devoted to capsule wardrobes and minimalist style. Your site, The Nife en L’air, and the Vivienne Files are among my favorites. I didn’t really know I was a minimalist but I guess I am!
omg–I may have a small wardrobe but I can’t for the life of me write a short comment. 😉
Don’t worry about how long your comments are, Amy. As you’ve seen, I’m not the best at being concise, either 🙂 Thanks for sharing about your background and more about your wardrobe. It makes more sense that the 35-40 items are for one season, but I’m still impressed! I never got that you were trying to say that others should be like you, so no worries there. I think your philosophy on shopping and clothes is a good one. I like the concept of “equipment for life.” I am moving in that direction, but the toughest part is trusting myself to make the right decision. That’s why I continue to be “gun-shy” about buying more expensive items. I’m just working up to it gradually by item categories, starting with purses and shoes and moving on from there. I have bought more expensive clothing pieces this year, too, but still struggle with buying too many things on sale and consignment shopping. I just did an analysis of the latter and it was very enlightening (more in my Friday post).
I think that buying 5-8 new items per year is a good practice. It’s like the “Five Piece French Wardrobe” that Erin wrote about a few weeks ago. I am working toward that goal, but it’s taking me a while to get there. I feel proud to be paring things down and buying less each year, though. I know that without writing this blog and getting all of the great input from you and others, I would not even be close to where I am now!
Looking at your wardrobe numbers, it’s clear to me that the most bloated area of my wardrobe is still tops. I think it’s because it’s pretty easy for me to buy them. I counted my tops the other day and I still have 64! That’s down from 129 when I started the blog, but still too many overall, even though that’s for all seasons (such that they are here). I counted my tops because my husband and I went through his wardrobe and I said that he probably had more shirts than I did. He does, by 4 🙂 Of course, he doesn’t wear dresses, though. I plan to do more paring down this weekend, as I’ve been inspired by this post and the comments. I will do another post with an update on that soon.
See, I can’t seem to write a short comment, either!
Amy: I love your post because it succinctly states my philosophy too. I don’t spend a lot of time in the actual “act” of purchasing clothes, but I do spend a lot of time thinking and planning my wardrobe annually so that each garment I buy works with 5-6 or more other garments. I research before I head to the store or head to an on-line shopping site, and I am very, very picky about what enters my house. I try on everything I buy immediately — and with the shoes, accessories, other clothing, etc. that I plan to wear with the new article of clothing. This means trying on a top with all of my pants, skirts, jackets, sweaters, necklaces, etc. Everything has to work. If not, the new item goes back to the retailer ASAP. No dithering! I have 125 garments (including outerwear and shoes) which suits me very well. However, I could reduce this number even more if I wanted/needed to do so. For me, putting my energy into what I call pre- and post-shopping has helped me to avoid needless spending and a bloated closet full of clothes that don’t go with anything. As I have said before, my closet only contains garments I truly love and can wear over and over in a number of interesting ways.
Dottie, over the past year I have begun to shop like you do. A year and a half ago, I would have gone into a store, looked around to see what caught my eye, and if I could fit it into my already bursting closet. It didn’t matter that I already had over 550 garments total in there already. It was all about superficial amusement and chasing a bargain or a life style idea. (The truth was that I didn’t really know what looked good on me because I never slowed down acquiring long enough to really pay attention.)
A year ago, after several months of purging and pondering Project 333 (which I felt was too limiting for me), I decided that I should be able to get by with 198 garments total for the whole year–99 garments per 6 month season. I figured this would give me enough of the variety I crave. Today I am down to 175 garments total, so I have exceeded my own expectations. I could probably hone it down even more, but there are some special pieces which fit well and I like to keep even though I might not wear them often. And even though my system “allows” me to purchase 23 more garments, I’m not inclined to. I’ve learned to love working with a more limited color palette and different set of aesthetics.
Now instead of shopping for sport, I decide what I want, then research it online. I try to buy from actual stores where I can see and feel the garment before I purchase it. Sometimes I buy things online if I am confident that I am seeing the color and fit correctly. Most of my wardrobe planning occurs in my head, with the actual act of purchasing being swift and efficient. I also try on everything I buy immediately and decide very quickly if it “plays well with others” as intended.
‘The truth was that I didn’t really know what looked good on me because I never slowed down acquiring long enough to really pay attention.’
I agree, Meli! That comment really resonated for me, too. I thought I knew what I liked and what looked good on me, but I have a much better sense of it now that I’m not shopping all the time like I used to!
I think that way both of you shop now, Dottie and Deby, is a good way to go. I’ve turned more to researching online, too, and have fared better with such purchases. When I shop with my specific needs in mind and take my time, I do better overall. Deby, congrats on not only reaching your goal in terms of wardrobe size, but exceeding it! Your progress has been very inspiring.
I am looking at # of wears by season. I have organized my wardrobe into 3 seasons: spring/fall, summer and winter. I decided I want to wear each item at least 7 times in a season. I am far from that for summer (my first full season of tracking) with a lot 2’s and 3’s in the mix. But it was oddly cool so I am not purging the unworn this year. (But some of those tanks better watch out as they are on probation for next year :)) On the other hand, I have a couple pair of capris I wore over a dozen times each. Due to the weather this year I really don’t mind having a number of benchwarmers hang around until next year, and then we’ll see.
Generally I put clothes I am unsure of “on probation” for and after a while if I am still not feeling the love, out they go, or they get downgraded, etc. I’ve recently refined my color palette and I expect some fall/spring and winter items will soon find their way into the probation area of the closet or get turned into lounge wear.
Also, for formal wear or “specialty wear” I don’t adhere to specific rules. I had a silver dress hanging around for five years with the tags still intact. It fit, it was cute and it just needed somewhere to go. That perfect occasion popped up this June and I was happy to get to wear that dress. Note that it was a great bargain when I bought it (for an occasion that did not happen) and a timeless style. Also, I don’t have many items in this category, maybe 4 total.
I think looking at wears by season is a good idea, Holly, especially if you only wear many of your clothes during certain seasons. I live in more of a temperate climate and wear a lot of my pieces year-round, but there is some seasonal delineation (I think we just have two seasons: summer and not-summer, where I live). I like that you put uncertain items on “probation” for a period of time before letting them go. I sometimes do this, too, by storing things in another closet for a month of so. I see if I miss any of those pieces or go to reach for them. Usually I do not and there’s my answer! Your small formal-wear capsule sounds very manageable. I’m glad you finally got a chance to wear the silver dress!
Debbie, you have made amazing progress compared to your 2011 and 2012 numbers! I know that your recovery is still in process (and your commenters always let you know when you hit a bump in the road 🙂 ), but wow, kudos to you for having the self-awareness and analytical power to make the changes necessary to come this far.
Regarding your dressy slingbacks, I would try them with your new skinny-ish jeans. To me there is something about that slim pants silhouette that makes dressy items come off as gamine rather than churchy (I realize that’s not exactly “edgy,” but it might be closer to where you want to be).
In answer to your questions, I set a goal of 10 wears per year when I started tracking back in April. That was sort of arbitrary but feels more or less right. I think in practice the number should probably be higher for bottoms than for tops, and lower for warm-weather clothing than cold-weather (since we generally have short, mild summers).
As others have said I can imagine I’ll wear formal items less frequently, as well as keeping on hand a few more professional/conservative items that I’m not really drawn to in my everyday style but that are really needed once in a while (the writer of the blog Be Fabulous Daily refers to this as “corporate drag” — the items I’m thinking of aren’t SO radically different from my usual style but I kind of love the term!). But I’d like to get to the point where I know and wear my wardrobe thoroughly enough that an everyday item wouldn’t languish unworn for a whole year (i.e., I’d recognize it was time to let it go long before that).
I got rid of quite a few pairs of shoes recently. Many of them were just not that comfortable, and I realized that I have enough pairs of shoes that I love and that ARE comfortable, that I simply never opt to wear the less comfortable ones. There were also a few pairs that I liked okay and were reasonably comfortable, but I just didn’t wear much. In these cases I looked at the outfits in which I’d worn them and asked myself if there was another pair of more-favorite shoes that would have been just as good in the outfit, and there pretty much always was so off they went. (I guess this is sort of the opposite of ‘splitting your wears’ — I set out to see if I could ‘consolidate my wears.’)
People talk a lot about overshopping being driven by “fear of missing out” but I think I tend more towards “fear of running out,” i.e., the worry that a staple item of clothing will wear out or fall apart and I won’t be able to replace it easily. Your comment about the extra shoes producing a “false sense of security” makes me wonder if you experience something similar? I think in the past that worry has driven me to accumulate more items than I need (obvious duplicates as well as just similar-ish items some of which became less-favorites) and has made it difficult to get rid of items that aren’t being worn. I know I keep harping on this, but tracking my wears has been a real eye-opener on this front in that even my most-worn items for the most part aren’t worn all that much. So yes, a favorite pair of shoes may eventually wear out — but in the meantime they can surely absorb the wears of one or two less-favorite pairs that are only getting worn once or twice a year. But that’s all to say that I get why it’s hard to let go of those benchwarmers.
Thanks for your kind words on my recovery, Sarah. I’ve had lots of ups and downs, but I do feel that the general trajectory has been forward. Thanks for your suggestion about the dressy slingbacks. I’ll see how they look with the slim jeans, as that might work well. I like your target of 10 wears per year. I set 8 as an interim goal and still have some work to do there. Eventually, I’d like to aim for 10-12 for most pieces, although I’m sure some will be worn more often and others less often. Your points about the shoes are right on. I’ll likely never choose to wear the uncomfortable shoes if a more comfortable alternative exists.
Your final point about “fear of running out” resonates with me, too. As styles change so often and there are periods when I seem to not like anything that’s in fashion, I do fear running out of the pieces I most like to wear. That does lead me to hang on to things that I don’t exactly love but perhaps like more than what I’m seeing in the stores. Tracking my wears helped me to see how unlikely it is that things will wear out quickly, too. Unless one has a very small wardrobe or is buying only low-quality pieces (more common lately even without shopping in lower-end stores!), it will take a long time to wear out most items. I think because I have “fussy” feet and often buy pricier shoes, I am slower to purge my shoe wardrobe. But the recent exploration has shown me that not only do I need to do it, but it’s okay to do so and all will be fine!
Hey Debbie! I think you are doing well and making progress. That’s what it’s about :-). Your blog has been so inspirational to me… I finally admitted to myself that I had a problem with shopping. Not in a financial sense, as I always paid the bills, but more of an emotional thing. My background differs from yours, but I can certainly relate.
When I did my first inventory, I stopped at 1,000 items. This did not include footwear or accessories, and was after a MAJOR purge. I probably purged 35-40% of what I had, based on empty hangers. I must admit I was shocked. I have continued to purge but I know I am not below 1,000 items if shoes and accessories are included. If that doesn’t make y’all feel better! I know it’s not a contest, but the inventory thing has really gotten my attention. My BF has even commented about the change in my shopping, he recently noted that I used to find at least something I liked! I am much more scrupulous about purchases now that I have faced what’s in my closet.
So thank you so much for this blog. You have such courage and strength to put your journey out for others to share and you really inspire me!! Paula
Good work on tackling your wardrobe. Some years ago I had a Depression glass jones – I never spent a lot of money on any one item and I generally used a good portion of the glass I collected. But over time, the collection (and the total $$ I spent) added up. When I started thinking about buying a display cabinet for a collection that had once fit very nicely in my kitchen cupboards, I decided to take action. I sold about 3/4 of my collection, keeping just the items I used a lot or had been my mother’s. I also considered where else I could have spent the money I had “invested” (Hah!) in this glassware: retirement? paying off my mortgage? European vacation? charity? I think, in our acquisitive economy, it’s hard NOT to spend but I have to say that I wish I had the $$ I spent on the glassware back. I “recovered” a portion of it on E-bay and in garage sales, but I had bought at retail and sold at wholesale. So NOW when I am tempted to buy something, I thing about the opportunity costs — what else could I do with my money — of every purchase.
I’m so glad my blog has been helpful to you, Paula. You have made excellent progress on paring down your wardrobe and I hope you are proud of yourself! I know you want to do more, but it takes time. As long as you’re moving in the right direction, just take things one day and one step at a time. How wonderful that you’re shopping smarter, too! Dottie’s comment about opportunity costs is a good one and something we often don’t think about. We may not be in debt, but perhaps we would have preferred to spend the money on something else. That has definitely been the case for me in recent years, as my husband and I would have liked to do more travelling (and still plan to – my shopping less will help). Keep up the excellent work and please write again to let us know how you’re doing!
I keep clothes for a long time — many years — if I like them and they are in good shape, even if I’m not wearing them right now. Certain things come in and out of my taste, as well as in and out of fashion. E.g., brogues I bought in 1996 (!) look good again this year. I have very strong sentimental associations with the clothes I keep, and I think my shopping tendencies would be triggered by downsizing for the sake of downsizing. I. gather that you don’t feel encouraged to shop by having empty space? I think I would!
I have definitely had issues about wanting to fill in empty space, Kate. That’s a big part of why I’ve pared down so slowly. I have gotten rid of a lot of stuff at one time in the past and then felt a sense of scarcity that sent me back into the shops. There’s nothing wrong with hanging on to things, if you have the space and you still like the items. No need to downsize for the sake of downsizing. But I think it’s a good idea to try things on from time to time to make sure we still feel the same way about them. Often our tastes – or our bodies – change and we may need to pass some things along.
I enjoyed this post a lot! Reading your questions at the end I realized that I don’t pay any attention to how many times I wear something a season. [I live in a place with rather extreme seasons] But since my shoe/clothing wardrobe is between 35-40 pieces a season I think I get plenty of wear out of most things.
But I usually notice if I don’t wear something from one autumn to the next [for a year] and then I really try to figure out the ‘why’. This usually leads to getting rid of the piece. But not always. I can share a couple of recent examples.
I have a pair of brown velvet trousers that I love and fit perfectly. Brown is one of my main colors. I tend to be quite dressy but I only wear velvet in the winter and there are limited chances for me to wear them. Still these I am keeping, no question about it.
In 2009 I bought a cut velvet shirt at a thrift store in my favorite colors. I loved the fabric, I had lost some weight and it fit well. It went with tons of stuff in my closet and I wore it often. I saw a picture of me in it last year and I didn’t like how it looked and I stopped wearing it. When I looked over my stored autumn clothing this month I realized I had stopped wearing it and that I probably wouldn’t since I didn’t find it flattering enough. With some sadness I passed it on. I want to love how I look in my outfits. It was hard though the colors were so perfect.
Right now I am trying to make a decision about a vintage rain coat I bought last year at thrift store. It’s a well made garment in my colors, I think I only spent $12 so money is not an issue. I haven’t worn it once since I bought it. One reason, it’s a tiny bit small. The second reason is that I found a trench/rain coat last year that I love and fits perfectly. There are not many situations right now where I would choose the vintage rain coat over the trench. I still have it though. In this case two things are holding me back. This is a unique piece, if I let it go it is not replaceable. Also I don’t need a raincoat that often so I don’t have many chances to wear it. I am not sure yet what I will decide.
Not sure if any of that is helpful to anyone. 🙂
I have a question of my own. I read many posts talking about matching wardrobe to lifestyles which makes sense in a lot of ways but I wonder is that a rule you think you *should* follow or a rule that works for you? I currently have a very casual life style but I dress as I love which tends toward the dressed up end. I do not try to match my clothing closely to my lifestyle. For instance I met a friend for lunch at a very casual cafe on a college campus. My friend is very casual as well wearing jeans and t shirt. I wore what is for me a normal outfit: Boots, tights, faux suede skirt, black T and black faux military short jacket. I felt good and I looked good and I loved it. I didn’t match the crowd but I wasn’t so far off either. I wasn’t wearing a silk gown with a tiara … Not sure what my point is but I guess it is something I am interested in. How much should one’s situation/environment determine one’s clothing choices when you are trying to be true to a personal style? What if they don’t match at all? Which one would one follow then? I would love to hear thoughts on this, maybe a post?
wow, I don’t have much chance to comment but when I do I really go for it. 🙂
About dressing for the situation/environment: I always love Polly Bergen’s rule that you should dress 1) to respect the occasion and 2) to show respect for other people’s intentions in being there. Most times that people feel they need approval of what they’re wearing, they *are* thinking of others but only in so far as wishing to be judged positively or not to be judged negatively in the impression they are making. So, that thinking of others is really just a focus on the self. Bergen’s rule is really more about focusing on others and setting them at ease, respecting them. I think she gives some examples like if you are canvassing door to door, then you’ve had the time to get yourself ready and the unsuspecting person who opens the door to you might be in nightclothes or sloppy housework clothes. They’re going to feel uncomfortable seeing you at their door dressed in your chicest outfit. Or if you are going to a small or large event in honor of someone’s happiness or a group occasion to celebrate, dress to participate in the celebration, acknowledge that festivity somehow.
Thank you for sharing your personal “benchwarmer” examples, Mary. I do feel your examples were helpful, as they illustrate several reasons why things in our closet may not be getting worn. I could definitely see why you would keep the brown velvet trousers and pass along the velvet shirt. Sometimes a picture really does say a thousand words. In fact, I decided to let go of the blue jacket pictured in this post after seeing a photo of myself wearing it (I could see that it looked a bit too “shrunken” on my tall frame). As for the raincoat that you say is a touch too small, you have to decide how much that bothers you. I usually don’t end up wearing things that are too small, especially if something is tight in the shoulder area. If you’re on the fence, I would challenge you to wear it the next time it’s a rainy day. Pushing myself to wear something out of the house, even for a few hours, usually tells me what I need to know.
As for your question about dressing for your lifestyle, Vildy gave an excellent response. I do think we need to respect the occasions in our lives, as well as the people involved. I think it’s okay to be a bit too over or under-dressed, but if one veers too far away from what others are wearing, it can feel awkward and uncomfortable, if not for the wearer of the different level clothing than for the others involved. That’s part of why I want to tone down my “church vibe,” as it sets me too far apart from others around me. I will probably always be a bit overdressed in my ultra-casual town and that’s okay with me. I just don’t want to push others away or make them feel uncomfortable by the way I’m dressed.
For me, it’s not buying too many ‘date night’ or special occasion wear. My husband and I do not go out (he’s a homebody), and my special occasions are few and far between (weddings, office Christmas party). I LOVE cocktail dresses and lacy tops, etc etc, I just know I will not get the wear out of them.
I used to buy far too much “date night” wear, too, Meli. While we do go out sometimes, it’s just so casual here that people don’t wear those types of clothes very often at all, unless they go to really fancy places or to clubs (we don’t). I love fancy clothes, too, but I have to always ask Bridgette’s question (“Where are you going in that?”), which leads me to leave the clothes in the store. My sheer striped top and velvet coat are exceptions, as I did buy those, but I plan to wear those with jeans so I can enjoy them even in ultra-casual San Diego.
I am in my first few months of shopping withdrawal and purging and I really am enjoying wearing my items of clothing more often. As a retired person who travels a lot, an integrated wardrobe of basics will serve my needs better than a massive closet full of benchwarmers.
This is great, Joanne. I think we all feel better when we’re wearing our clothing pieces more often. It sounds like you have a wardrobe that’s serving you well and should commend yourself for that!
I just had a bit of an epiphany about benchwarmers that I wanted to share. I was thinking back over the items I used to have which were benchwarmers and they all had one thing in common: they were too difficult to care for, since almost all of them requiring dry cleaning.
For me, a benchwarmer wasn’t about fit, style or color–it was completely about ease of care.
Although I am a notorious “spiller”, I love the look and feel of silk, and most of my benchwarmers were made of silk or a silk blend. Because they were so hard to care for, I didn’t wear them for fear of getting food or other stains on them. I admired them hanging in the closet, and knew that soon after I put them on, they would need to visit the dry cleaner.
I can’t stand spending money on dry cleaning if I can successfully wash something myself, so the only silks that made the cut were those which could be hand washed with good result.
When you are considering why something is a benchwarmer, perhaps ease of care could be a factor?
This is a very good point, Deby, and one I considered when I went through my benchwarmers (and everything else) yesterday. I do think I hold back on wearing items that will need to be dry-cleaned, as I don’t like dealing with the hassle and expense. Fortunately, I didn’t have many such items, but that was a factor in some cases. I definitely think ease of care should be a factor both in deciding what to buy and what to let go of. By the way, I will give an update on my weekend closet audit later this week!
I decided that anything worn less than 6x this year was a benchwarmer. After purging most of my benchwarmers this month, I have: 7 tops, 1 cami, 6 cardigans, 4 skirts, 10 dresses, 3 sweaters, 1 coat, and 5 jackets totaling 37 clothing items (17 items are new in recent months). I also have 5 pairs of shoes, 3 belts, and 15 jewelry items (10 items are recent purchases) that are benchwarmers. Many of the other items are benchwarmers because the weather has not been right for them. I expect to end the year with very few benchwarmers, but not with zero since I am participating in project333.
And to answer your questions…
How many times per year do you want to wear the items in your wardrobe? I set my goal at 10x per year originally, but I think it would be closer to 12x a year for distinctive dresses, jackets, and skirts, and much higher for everything else.
What criteria do you use for letting go of closet pieces? Mostly the same criteria I would use to purchase it, strangely enough, sunk costs or not! I do keep things I won’t purchase again, but they have to fit, flatter, I have to like them, and they have to work with what I have.
Do you agree with the much quoted rule about getting rid of anything that hasn’t been worn in a year? Under what circumstances would you hold on to items that aren’t being worn? It could be a helpful rule for some, but no I don’t follow it. I only let go of things I don’t see myself reaching for in the future (particularly over another item that serves the same purpose), it’s not about past wear.
On another note, I’d love to see your ‘all stars’. I enjoy looking at the items that have been worn often- I have many items that are over 25 wears this year!
You are definitely setting the bar higher than I am, Meli. If I set 6x as my “benchwarmer” threshhold, I shudder to think how many I’d have! But I’m moving in the right direction at least. Next year I will likely change my criteria for both benchwarmers and all-stars. Good idea to do a post about my all-stars. I will add that to the list for October (but I don’t have many pieces that are over 25 wears). I notice that you keep track of how often you wear your jewelry as well. I haven’t been doing that, but I have a good idea of what items are in all-star territory. I will cover those in the post as well.
Your comment about weather applies to my situation, too. I understand the East Coast had a cooler summer, while ours was hotter than ever (and still hot now!). Weird stuff going on, for sure. Last summer was pretty short here and I didn’t get enough wear out of my warm weather clothing. This year it’s my jackets that aren’t being worn often enough. We can only control so much, but you are doing very well. I’ve really enjoyed following along and seeing your progress. I really like your style, too, and would wear many of the items you post if I worked in an office. I’m a big fan of White House Black Market, just like you are.
It seems no one is following the “one year rule,” which is probably a good thing. I do think we should at least try everything on every year to make sure we still like it and it still fits well. People often hold on to things and believe they still work, but end up with a rude awakening when they put them on. Not only do our bodies change (even if our weight is virtually the same), but our style preferences evolve as well. It’s one thing to hang on to a few pieces of special occasion wear, but quite another to have 100 or more unworn items taking up real estate in one’s closet!
I think it’s a process. I purged VERY fast, which is NOT for everyone. I’m sure as you continue on in your journey, 6x a year one day will be small fry (hopefully for me too soon)! but 37 clothing items out of 75, and 23 out of 59 accessories is not the best track record either you know. It won’t get a lot better either I think by the end of the year, since I’m doing project333 and have not included very many of those benchwarmers into the capsule.
I still have several benchwarmers even by your 2x or less wear standard- 26 items out of 135, or 19.3%. That’s 1/5 of my wardrobe! Most of those are too fancy for my everyday life, or are new (or both).
I think one just has to be ready to purge. If you’re really ready to make the change, as it sounds like you were, it’s not as difficult to do. My “readiness” has waxed and waned and I’ve experienced panic in the past at purging too fast (at which time I rushed out and bought too many new things), so I’ve proceeded more slowly. I guess you still do have quite a few benchwarmers, but I think a lot of people don’t wear their dressier pieces more often. I didn’t include the new items in my count, as I didn’t feel that was really fair. We’ll see how those factor in when it gets to the end of the year. I hope that I will wear everything in my closet at least 6 times before too long. I’m getting there, but sometimes it feels like my progress is occurring at a snail’s pace. But those little changes add up, so I keep moving forward day by day. I look forward to learning how Project 333 affects your feelings about your wardrobe. It made a big difference for me and I may end up doing it again at some point (or a similar challenge).
I think it’s really interesting that I have 48 items left in my boutique right now, and you have 45 benchwarmer items. You’ve made great progress with your benchwarmers! I know I’m itching to just ‘get rid of’ the rest of them already but I can’t bring myself to do it just yet. Setting a goal for how many can still sit unworn and unused by the end of the year is my latest strategy. It’s going to be such a weight lifted when there are no more unused items cluttering up the closet though!
That’s very interesting, Lisa. I’ve enjoyed following along on your journey and feel you’ve made amazing progress! You’ve gone about things a different way, but we are ending up in much the same place. I’m not sure what my next challenge will be, but I know there will be one. I got rid of some of my benchwarmers this past weekend (see my latest post) and we’ll see what happens the rest of the year. I really do love some of my rarely worn items, but weather and lack of opportunities (due to very casual and often at home lifestyle) have gotten in the way of my wearing them.
It’s interesting that you mention rarely worn items that you still love. Have you decided yet how many of these items you want in your wardrobe? If not perhaps that would be a nice area to focus on. I have one dressy occasion dress that is worn once every two or three years, but it’s still in my wardrobe. And I have my business capsule, which is also not worn too often, but is still essential in my wardrobe. The key for me is to make sure I don’t shop for these capsules very often since they are so rarely used. And these capsules have not been part of the DH Closet Challenge, since they are not worn often and not overrun in number.
I haven’t set an actual number for these rarely worn types of pieces, but I continue to pare them down. One example is dressy heels. I think I have 4 or 5 pairs left, which is probably still too many. Every time I go through my closet (like I did this past weekend), I get rid of at least another pair. I think 2-3 pairs would be okay to keep. The same thing for business-type clothes. It’s good to have something to wear for those rare occasions that come up, but I used to have 20 or more pieces. I definitely don’t need THAT many!