The following is a guest post from Barb, who agreed to share her “story of recovery” with all of you. Barb is an active member of my private Facebook group, where she shared her story about downsizing her wardrobe and upping her style quotient via a multi-phase system over the past two-plus years. I thought Barb’s pragmatic approach would be both educational and inspiring for readers of “Recovering Shopaholic,” so I asked if she would be willing to share her story and some of her lovely outfit photos with us.
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.
A 65% Wardrobe Reduction in 2.5 Years!
I’m so flattered that Debbie asked me to share my story of recovering. I say “recovering” because although I’ve made great progress, I feel as though I’m not finished yet. The crux of my story is that I went from 478 clothing items in mid-2013 to just 164 at the end of 2015. I feel it’s important for me to mention a few things at the outset. This significant closet downsizing didn’t happen overnight; I started paring down in 2013. In addition, an integral part of the process was defining my style and shopping strategy. This post describes how I handled reducing my clothing. Shoes are a different story altogether… Finally, I don’t have clothes in multiple sizes to address. I have worn the same size since 2011.
When I realized I had too many clothes, I frequently had a feeling of “I have nothing to wear!” That was because I had a closet full of random things I had purchased on the cheap. For much of my adult life, the acquisition of clothing was more important to me than style, occasion, or even appropriateness. I knew this needed to change. I wasn’t sure how to change when I started the process, so I ended up using phases to address different wardrobe problems.
Phase 1: Remove ill-fitting and dated items
I removed items that either didn’t fit me or were too worn out to hold on to. I also removed all outdated items. Before I began this process, I purged clothing about once a year, so I didn’t have all that many outdated items, but there were a few “trends” that I needed to remove. This phase was easy. I did it over a few days during the summer of 2013. It felt pretty good to purge things, but I continued to shop without a plan and added new, bad choices back into my closet.
Phase 2: Define my style
I used style and personality adjectives to define and hone my style. To start, I thought of my personality. Not my style personality, just my personality. Who am I? What words describe me? These were flamboyant, loud, colorful, playful, casual, open, fun, friendly, bossy and adventurous. Then I tackled the next question… If I were describing a woman with the personality traits I listed (not me, just any woman), how would I describe what she wore? I settled on artistic, dramatic, casual, colorful, and bohemian as my style descriptor words.
Next, I listed style words I hate – those words that make me shudder if I thought I’d have to wear an outfit described in such a way. The “anti-style” words I came up with were romantic, minimal, neutral, preppy, feminine, tailored and mod.
So I had a list of what I didn’t want to wear, a list of what I thought someone else who had my personality would wear, and a list of things I aspired to wear. I started the next phase by culling any items that met the definition of the words I hate. Surprisingly, I had a lot of preppy, romantic, and feminine clothes in my closet and many of those items still had their tags attached. This was not a huge surprise since I did not like clothing that fit those adjectives. I had bought the items because they were cheap or trendy – or both. Once I had a “clean slate,” a closet of clothing that could not be described with one of my “hate” adjectives, I was done with phase 2. I wasn’t tracking what came into and left my closet in the detail I do today, but I know I donated 120 items in 2013 based on my tax records.
I then set out to shop using my style words as a guide, but I wasn’t perfect. Stupid purchases still made their way into my closet. I was still shopping in brick-and-mortar stores and the “high” of buying new things was strong. Which brings me to…
Shopping Epiphany #1: Old habits die hard
I realized I was still adding things new things back into my closet at an alarming rate. At the end of December 2013, I had 397 items in my closet. I was still shopping for the high and justifying cheap purchases as fitting into my “style words.” I took a drastic step and removed the factor of emotional purchases by deciding to shop exclusively online. I don’t get the same “high” online. I’ve been in brick-and-mortar clothing stores only three times since December 2013. I had to quit “cold-turkey,” as they say for other addictions, in order to break the consumption cycle. At the start of 2014, I also began very detailed tracking of what came in and out of my closet. This detail included tracking the cost-per-wear of each item I bought.
Phase 3: Make outfits in my style words
I started making outfits using my style words in 2013, but I stepped it up in 2014. I put together outfits, identified gaps, and bought specific items to fill those gaps. I shopped for statement pieces to help complete my look as well. I also purged many items that did not correspond to my style words in the context of complete outfits. Many of the items I discarded were brand new items I had purchased in 2013. During phase 3, I bought far less than I had ever bought before. By the end of 2014, I was down to 295 items.
I purchased the bright, magenta top below in 2014 to go with a very old skirt. I liked the bright color much more than the brown top I used to wear with the skirt.
Phase 4: Hard choices
I thought I loved everything in my closet, but I still wanted a more manageable closet that included fewer things. This was the focus of Phase 4, which took all of 2015. I used Debbie Roes’s scale of 1-10 outfit rating system as a guide. I started out cautiously by tossing any items I rated as less than a “5,” but then I bumped it up to any clothing rating under a “7”. I only added 52 new items in 2015, but I ended the year at 164 items. Thus, I purged 180 clothing items over the course of the year.
I kept a donation bag in my closet and immediately removed anything I found that I didn’t like. I also removed any clothing that was worn out. Finally, I dumped “fussy” items, you know, those pieces you have to adjust constantly, clothes that won’t lay right, and things that bunch, gap, or you’re just “making do” with. Finally, I kept a running “hit list” of high cost-per-wear items. New items also immediately went onto the hit list. I would get rid of high cost-per-wear items that I could not make work in my closet. My tossed items in 2015 included only four new purchases from that year. However, I think about five more will leave my closet in early 2016.
These are four of my favorite “10” outfits from 2015. Each outfit includes a bright, bold print tunic with a slim silhouette on the bottom and one statement accessory. I also have learned that I don’t like layers or fussy pieces, even if they are dramatic or artistic in style.
In contrast, I rated the outfit below as a “5.” I did not like the boot cut pants with the orthopedic shoe I am now required to wear due to an injury.
Shopping Epiphany #2: I’m a bored/stressed online shopper
I’ve discovered that I browse online whenever I have downtime or during stressful periods at work, mostly looking for replacement or filling the gap pieces, but occasionally seeking a piece that “sparks joy.” After a bad period at work last summer, my online purchases started to creep back up. The Facebook group has given me an alternate place to go instead of shopping! You can find me there many days when work is getting me down, and I generally have lunch with the lovely ladies in the group, typing away while I eat my lunch.
And into 2016: Maintenance
I’m hoping to end this year with around 150 items in my closet. I will continue to dump clothing that is worn, fussy, or less than a “7” on a scale of 1-10. Who knows, I may bump it up to an “8”! I still keep a running “hit list” of high cost-per-wear items. I’m also planning to buy fewer items than ever, focusing my purchases on replacing worn basics and filling the few gaps I still have in my wardrobe. I live in a tropical climate where we have “cold” weather only a few months of the year, yet I have lots of sweaters and only a few tank tops, so this is something I need to remedy. To help ensure that I meet my goal, I’m implementing a “one in, one out” policy for all new clothing purchases.
A big thank you to Barb for sharing her story with us. If you have any thoughts or questions regarding this story or would like to share similar experiences, please feel free to comment. I’ll be back next week with reports on my wardrobe “all-stars” and “benchwarmers” from 2015. Have a wonderful weekend!