A Pragmatic, Multi-Phased Approach to a Workable Wardrobe

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.

Nothing to wear

Do you have a full closet and “nothing to wear”?

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  I also removed all outdated items.  Before I began this process, I purged clothing about once a year, so I didn’t have all that many outdated items, but there were a few “trends” that I needed to remove.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.

culled pink cardigan

Old outfit photo of a pink cardigan, which was culled in 2013.

mistake pastel blouse

And a more recent mistake, a blouse in a pastel color. 

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.

tracking spreadsheet snippet

A snippet from my tracking spreadsheet.

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.

style word outfit

An old skirt was given new life with a top that fits my style words. 

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.

10 outfits one and two

These are two of my favorite outfits from 2015, both rated “10”s.

10 outfits three and four

Two more favorite outfits, one with a scarf and one with a statement necklace. 

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.

rating 5 outfit

I only rated this outfit as a “5.”  I feel the proportions are off here. 

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!

38 thoughts on “A Pragmatic, Multi-Phased Approach to a Workable Wardrobe

  1. Love this post, and love Barb’s funky, personalized style. Her energy and upbeat personality is obvious through her clothing. How great to have the discipline to identify exactly how to express herself authentically and then proceed systematically to make sure EVERYTHING in her wardrobe is consistent with who she is~

    • Thank you Sybil. I still find a “what was I thinking when I bought this” item in my closet. I hope those become less frequent.

  2. I love Barb’s post! I especially love that her wardrobe process continually affirms who she is. What a wonderful thing to have a closet of clothes like that. I haven’t read anything quite like this, so I found it all quite inspiring and fascinating.
    Barb has a wonderful sense of color, and her outfits reflect this.
    Something about her process really clicked with me, and I may try doing some variation of this myself. I am hoping some of Barb’s excellent tracking habits rub off on me!

    • Thank you Katt! If you have not already joined the FaceBook group, it is a wonderful resource for working through so many facets of shopping, style and more. I wish you all the best in your efforts. Tracking can become very addictive 🙂

  3. What a really helpful post!
    I love your sense of style Barb, your outfits truly reflect your personality and you look so at home with yourself.

    I can honestly say your style and anti-style word method is such a clever twist on honing one’s style and something I continue to use regularly.

    What a great closet transformation, well done you and thanks for sharing ?

  4. What a wonderful breakdown on how you achieved your wonderful sense of style. You always look so happy with your style, which you know I love. Thank you for sharing and giving us some great ideas to use.

  5. I love the post but can’t get past the bit about describing myself . Here I am, dull boring reliable predictable…. not words I’d like to translate into a clothes style. So I’ve already learned from Barb – now I need to figure out how to make her way work for me! If I have any success, I’ll post more positively. Just for now, thanks Barb for showing me that I DON’T want to see seen as dull boring reliable predictable etched.

      • I love your adjectives but I’m a person who was once ahead of the crowd – feeling a bit lost since I read Barb’s compelling post…

    • Roz, your characteristics describe me perfectly. I used to judge them too — and it goes way beyond style. I used to try and be fun, but my fun was always lame fun compared to what the bubbly people around me could bring to a situation. Now that I have embraced who I am, others appreciate the calm and practicality I can offer.

      If you accept your characteristics as strengths instead of judging them as weaknesses, then dull = calm, serene, clear; reliable = symmetrical, ordered… The visual impact ends up being poised and stunning in a way only you can pull off. Please consider the value of what you bring into the world and into the lives of those around you: who you are is awesome!

      • Hi Roz! Ellie’s comment was so lovely and true. Someone could easily twist my words to a negative. Loud becomes booming. Flamboyant becomes annoying or gaudy. Friendly is pushy, etc.
        I love be to around a calm, serene, clear, reliable and structured people. Those words and personality can make just as much of an impact as any other.

  6. This post is illuminating, Barb! Thanks for sharing your ongoing journey of recovering. I plan to continue my closet culling process, and this will be a great guide for me.

  7. Barb, thank you for sharing your journey. Your outfit photos show a cohesive approach to your clothing choices. I’m still working on my words but am inspired to tackle it again. Would you mind sharing some of your online shopping resources?

    • Hi Lisa!
      As you can see, I’m plus-sized, so I am much more limited in where I can shop. I am not sure if I can post here about my resources. But, you can probably search and in a short time see the available options out there for plus-sizes. I do shop where I get free shipping and returns when possible, since I’d guess about 1 in every 3 things I order does not work out.

  8. Great post, Barb! Thanks so much for sharing your process. I really love how you used descriptive words for what you liked and hated, to hone your style. I’m also curious about your online shopping resources. P.S. Awesome pic of you and giraffe!!!

    • Hi Kim,
      Thank you! I figured the Internet would be kinder to a woman being kissed by a giraffe. I am not sure I can share my resources, but I’m plus sized and limited by that constraint. I also want free shipping and returns as much as possible.

    • Thank you Murphy. I thought the giraffe would be a great distraction, if anyone did not agree with what I posted.

  9. I love your style and how much you’ve accomplished by paring down your wardrobe. Everything I’ve seen you wear here and on ECC looks beautiful and very you. I think I’m going to try your word exercises. I would be interested in a more through look at your tracking spreadsheet.

    • Hi Jennifer,
      Thank you for your kind words! If you message me on FaceBook through ECC, I would be happy to email you a spreadsheet. I’m a bit of an Excel geek.

  10. Barb, I love your post and the photos make it real. Your 4 favourites are wonderful. I also love how you’ve changed your lunch time online shopping to chatting on ECC. Your win is also our win! P.S. I have the same NB skirt you show in photo #2, after the giraffe. I wear it with a bright pink NB jacket and black boots.

    • Thank you Suzanne! I love my skirt with bright colors best too. I dumped that top, but the same brand, but kept the skirt.

  11. It is always interesting to see how everyone tackles this style dilemma in a different way. I love the idea of the three lists of words, especially describing the type of clothes your personality would wear. I am going to work on all my word lists this afternoon! Great post. Thanks Barb and Debbie.

    • I just wanted to add that I have well over 350 items of just clothing in my wardrobe and this is after purging every year twice a year and a huge konmari clear out this last spring. Obviously I need to re-route my emotions into something other than shopping. I keep buying things thinking it will change who I am or give me the confidence I am lacking.

  12. Thanks to Barb for articulating this process so clearly, and to Debbie for sharing it with us! I know very few people who have “nailed” their personal style as succinctly as Barb, and always love to see her outfits on the ECC posts. Even though our personal styles are worlds apart (most of mine are on Barb’s list of hated words) she is still a style icon to me because of her gift for expressing her true colors through what she wears. That takes a great deal of confidence and insight, and I want to reach that point with my wardrobe (and life!) eventually! It seems very “do-able” to note that Barb did this over a two year period, and that she is still tweaking it. Thanks so much for the real-world inspiration!

    • Thank you so much. I think one of the greatest problems with some of these purge or cull articles is that it makes it seem like the process can be done in a day. To really get a handle on your closet, and not continue to repeat bad habits, work is involved. And, that work takes time!

  13. Great post Barb. I love your style words approach to creating your wardrobe and outfits. I plan to begin doing this too. Thank you for sharing your story.

  14. Thank you for sharing your story Barb. It was fascinating to reading about the process you used. I love the picture with the giraffe too!

  15. Barb you are a true style guru due to your originality. There are people in this world who follow and those who create. You are clearly the latter. You don’t prioritize fashion trends over what you believe. I am so happy to see you being your authentic self and yet still stunningly beautiful, which does not come that easy for women on the bigger side (I mean it in the most loving and respectful way). You are a role model and inspiration to all of us no matter if we share your color or style personality. It is the philosophy that does us fellow fashion lovers a good turn. Your idea about emotional factors of in store shopping is very interesting. I need to mull it over.

  16. I really enjoyed reading this. It was interesting to hear the steps that you took to find your style that is so authentic and true to who you are. Good choices for the pictures of your favorite outfits. They sum up your style so well and you look beautiful!

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