Within many of my posts, I have included recovery tips for shopping smarter, better managing our wardrobes, cultivating personal style, and dealing with various challenges related to shopping.
Some of these recovery tips are consolidated on this page for convenience, with links back to the original posts if you want to read more (be sure to read the comments on those posts, too, for lots of great tips from readers!).
For a more comprehensive collection of shopping tips, check out my first book, “UnShopping: Recovery Solutions from an Ex-Shopaholic.” This book contains the best of my smart shopping solutions, categorized into logical sections related to various shopping-related situations.
For wardrobe management tips, I invite you to read my second book, “End Closet Chaos: Wardrobe Solutions from an Ex-Shopaholic,” which contains the best of my wardrobe management strategies from the blog, categorized into logical sections related to various closet conundrums.
The tips and solutions in my books have all been revised and enhanced from the original versions that appeared on the blog. The books may be read from cover to cover or used as references to address your specific challenges.
If you’re unhappy with the size and make-up of your wardrobe, I highly recommend that you take a closet inventory. This will give you a starting place from which you can set goals to work toward. It doesn’t take much time (mine took 30 minutes) and it can be an informative and enlightening experience.
You can use my process (see the post) as a template if desired. I also recommend that you take photos of your closet as well as particular areas of your wardrobe. Seeing the photos of my clothes, shoes, and scarves really helped me to notice color and style patterns and areas of duplication.
Once you’ve taken an inventory of your closet, take some time to evaluate what an ideal wardrobe size might be for you. It may be helpful to refer to these previous “Recovering Shopaholic” articles to guide you in that process:
After you make that determination, you can start the process of paring your wardrobe down. Here are a few articles that can assist you in doing so:
- “Decisions, Decisions… The Keep or Purge Question”
- “Reader Question – Help with Paring Down a Large Wardrobe”
Take a few moments to jot down your price expectations for various wardrobe categories. It may be helpful to break things down into sub-categories as well (i.e. separate out t-shirts from blouses and divide tops by sleeve length if applicable). Get down on paper – or screen – how much you expect to spend (and are willing to pay) for particular items.
When you shop, have this information on hand. If an item in question is priced lower than your standard amount, ask yourself if you’d be willing to pay your usual price-point for it. If the answer is no, walk away! It’s highly likely that you’d be lowering your standards in some key area, whether it be quality, fit, color, or style.
Use sales as an opportunity to purchase brands and styles that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford, not as a chance to “stock up” on quantity over quality. But still be mindful of how you feel about the item in question. Don’t buy something just because it’s marked with a particular designer’s logo. You should always love everything you buy, no matter what the price. In short, never lower your standards!
It’s a good idea to keep track of your purchases, as well as your reasons for making them. However, it’s even more helpful to go a step further and analyze your purchases in hindsight. We usually think a purchase is wise at the time when we make it, but the passage of time can show us otherwise. Every few months (perhaps quarterly or three times per year), take some time to review the purchases you have made and categorize them. Ask yourself:
- Which items have become wardrobe workhorses?
- Which pieces are in the “wardrobe benchwarmer” category?
- And which ones are in the in-between territory?
Jot down some notes about why certain pieces were good buys while others were purchasing mistakes. What you learn may help you avoid making buying errors in the future.
If you struggle with buying too many items on a regular basis, especially if many of these purchases end up being mistakes, I highly recommend that you adopt an item purchase limit for yourself. This can either be a monthly limit or a limit for the entire year like I have set for 2014.
I’m finding my item purchase limit to be a “game changer” in terms of my compulsive shopping recovery process. It’s forcing me to stay away from the sales and consignment shopping that was my default behavior in the past and instead shop far more mindfully. I used to come home from shopping trips loaded up with bags full of discount buys, many of which were rarely worn. I now have to shop for just a few quality pieces that meet my real wardrobe needs.
If you’re scared to set an item purchase limit, make it high in the beginning. If you know how many items you bought last year, try to reduce that number by one quarter or even half that number this year. Set your target at a number that feels like a stretch for you but doesn’t seem out of reach.
Everyone’s number is different and the important thing is that we’re growing and improving. While I hope to eventually buy fewer than 38 garments (my limit for 2014) within a given year, that number represents a dramatic decrease from what I bought in previous years. Sure, there are those who only buy a few new things each year and perhaps you hope to reach that goal one day as well. But remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t cure your shopping addiction in a few months or even a year. It takes what it takes, so just keep going until you get to where you want to be.
Look at your wardrobe and ask yourself the following:
- How many of my clothes do I truly love?
- Which items bring a smile to my face when I wear them?
- Do I wear these pieces often and enjoy them?
- What percentage of my wardrobe is an “8” or higher on a scale of 1-10?
A word about the last question… Some garments may be “8”s or even “9”s but still aren’t pieces that make you smile. These items may fit you impeccably, adhere perfectly to your lifestyle, and be in a color that suits your complexion. They may look great on your figure, enhance your favorite features, and play down what you consider to be your flaws. However, they may be such basic items that they may not excite you in any way. That’s fine, as we all need a good cross-section of stable, reliable basics, as long as that’s not all we have.
If you find that your wardrobe is a bit “snoozeville,” so to speak, here are a few tips to turn things around.
- Determine what makes you smile – Look at the pieces you have that do bring a smile to your face. What do these items have in common? Is it a particular color, pattern, or texture? You may want to add a few similar such pieces to your closet. But don’t go hog wild! I love stripes, but I ended up with a bit of “stripes overload” by following that muse a bit too exclusively. Stick with just a few pieces in any given category.
- Find some inspiration – Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know. It’s helpful to look around and find inspiration from a variety of sources. Peruse magazines and catalogs and tear out pages that excite you in any way. Also consider online sources such as Pinterest. Create an inspiration bulletin board (real or virtual) or a style folder. Determine a few areas of common ground among your inspirational images. Perhaps it’s a particular shape or style or maybe a color or type of accessory that floats your boat.
- Buy one piece at a time – I’m a shopaholic, as are many of my readers. We have to be careful not to infiltrate our wardrobes with too many new items at any given time. Not only can such activity be hard on our bottom line, it can also lead to a wardrobe that is too one-note and uninspired. There definitely can be too much of a good thing! So buy one “happy” piece at a time and start incorporating it into your outfits. Wear each new item at least a few times before venturing out to buy another special new piece.
- Follow your own muse – Take inspiration from others but cultivate your own defined sense of style. Trends can be fun, but they can also make us veer off track from who we truly are. Don’t follow trends blindly; instead look within and ask yourself which of the current trends inspire you. If you love the color of the moment, by all means wear it. If you find it ho-hum or dreadful, then stay away. Learning to trust your own inner voice is instrumental to bringing more style-related happiness into your life.
Here are a few tips for dealing with salespeople that respect them as people and professionals but also honor our own needs to spend wisely:
- Shop With a List – When you shop, know what you are shopping for. Having a plan, as well as a shopping budget, will help you to resist sales pressure.
- Express Your Needs – If a salesperson approaches you and you don’t need help, let her know. It’s perfectly fine to say you’re just browsing. Thank her and tell her you’ll ask for help if you need it. Smile and be polite, but also be firm.
- Don’t Be Too “Chatty” – Don’t engage in too much conversation with the sales associate. Keep the conversation professional and to the task at hand. If you get too “chummy” with the person who’s helping you, you might feel more pressured to buy.
- Be Open and Honest – If you’re shopping for one specific thing and only that thing, let the salesperson know. If he or she brings you other items, politely decline to consider them. Offering multiple options is something that salespeople do, but you don’t have to try something on simply because it was brought to you.
- Don’t Accept Too Much Help – If you know you’re not going to buy much, don’t take too much of the salesperson’s time. For one, you don’t want to buy things you don’t need out of guilt. Also, you want to allow him or her to help other customers who may end up buying more from them.
- Leaving Empty-Handed is Okay! – If you don’t find what you need, or if you don’t love the options on hand, thank the salesperson for his or her time and leave the store. You’re under no obligation to buy anything, even if the salesperson gave you a lot of time and attention. While we should be respectful of their time, sometimes we truly want to buy and it doesn’t work out. That’s perfectly fine and okay!
- Do a “closet audit” before you shop: Take a few hours or a full day to go through your closet before shopping for new fall/winter clothes (or at the beginning of any new season). Try everything on and evaluate how each piece fits your body, lifestyle, and personality.
- Use the “first impression test”: I credit longtime reader Deby with this term. When we meet new people, it generally takes 30 seconds to create a first impression. Deby does the same thing with her clothes! She tries them on, looks in a full length mirror, and decides within 30 seconds if they should stay or go. Rating on a scale of 1-10 and aiming for “8”s or higher helps, too.
- Create a shopping list: Pay special attention to your wardrobe for the coming season. List the items that need to be replaced, as well as new items you need or want to add to your wardrobe. List by priority: must have, need but not urgent, and nice to have.
- Use the “hanger trick”: Turn all of your hangers so that the hook faces out instead of in. As you wear your clothes, replace them on the hanger so that the hook faces inward (the “normal” way). This will give you a birds-eye view of what you are and aren’t wearing so you know what to buy more of and what to stop buying! See more tracking suggestions here.
- Look at needs and cost-per-wear: Consider how much you really need. Look at how often you want to wear your clothes and consider “cost-per-wear.” Most people think they wear their clothes more often than they actually do and don’t think about how often clothes should be worn (not that there is a right or wrong answer, but it’s worth some personal consideration to come up with the best answer for you).
Birthdays and year-end are often times when we find ourselves feeling blue or comparing how things are to how we expected or wished they would be. I know the desire to compare is incredibly difficult to resist, so if you do decide to indulge in comparison, at least broaden your scope.
Don’t just look at what you didn’t achieve or what’s missing from your life. Look inside as well as outside. Consider:
- How have you grown as a person?
- Who have you touched with your kindness and unique take on the world?
- Who would be lost without you in their lives?
We all have unique gifts and talents to share with the world. We are all valuable, no matter what we look like, what clothes we wear, what job we have (or don’t), and how much money we make (or don’t). Most of us will never become household names or receive public accolades, but that doesn’t make us any less important. I write this as much to remind myself as to remind you. We are enough.
As conscientious consumers, what should we do in our immediate life? Given the current economics of clothing manufacture, it is impossible for us to completely avoid foreign made goods. Most of us have neither the time nor the expertise to sew our own clothes. I have a few ideas that anyone can implement immediately.
- A most important thing is to do exactly what this blog suggests: “trade your full closet for a full life.” You could start doing that today by really speaking truthfully with yourself about how much time and energy you put into shopping–and then figure out how to redirect your focus into something positive and creative to improve your sense of self. It’s amazing how much self-analysis you can avoid by attempting to escape through shopping.
- Don’t be afraid to downsize and live with fewer choices. Having fewer options helps you be more creative and it becomes fun to get “shop your closet.” Once you have downsized, don’t start shopping again to fill up the empty space you have created in your closet–switch your focus to a new interest that will help you feel fulfilled!
- When buying new clothes, pay attention to where they come from and make an effort to purchase from companies that promote ethical practices and manufacture quality goods (see below for a few links to point you in the right direction).
- Be open-minded about buying and wearing used clothing. Just because a garment is new, doesn’t mean it’s better. If you have friends who are the same size, try swapping clothes with each other. Consignment stores can yield interesting one-of-a-kind, yet less crazy trend driven garments, because savvy consignment store owners know what the good stuff is, and you can make incredible finds. Plus, if you love a certain brand, buying a used garment may bring you a piece that you truly love that you might not have been able to acquire when it was new. Wearing used clothing is inventive recycling. It may not be new, but its “new to you”, and that could be very special!
Here are a few websites and articles to help you with buying more ethically manufactured clothing:
- https://www.everlane.com/ (ethically produced t-shirts for men & women)
Create a simple spreadsheet to track the new clothes, shoes, and accessories you buy within a given year. Make note of the cost of each item, as well as any additional charges accrued through necessary alterations. If you return, donate, or consign anything, strike-through that line but keep it on your spreadsheet. It’s also helpful to add a note about why that piece left your closet.
Keeping track of what you buy and how much you wear your wardrobe pieces can help you to shop smarter in the future. If you notice that you buy a lot of high-heeled shoes, for example, and never wear them, that’s a clue to stay away from such purchases during future shopping trips. On the other hand, if you find that you wear your ballet flats into the ground, you can feel free to purchase future pairs knowing that they’ll be worn time and again.
- Set a clothing budget and stick to it! (Here is mine…). If you don’t have an overall clothing budget, at least set a limit for your current shopping trip.
- Shop with a list and only buy what’s on your list. If you find a potential “10” that’s not on your list, follow tip #9 below.
- Never buy something on sale that you wouldn’t pay full price for.
- Always aim for quality over quantity! Your clothes will last longer and you’ll look better, too.
- Wear your favorite clothes when shopping and don’t buy anything you don’t like at least as much as what you’re wearing.
- Don’t shop when you’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (H.A.L.T. – I borrowed this one from 12-step programs – they have a lot of wisdom!). I would add boredom, anxiety, and poor body image to the list as well.
- Everything you buy should be as close to a “10” on a scale of 1-10 as possible. Don’t buy anything that’s less than an “8.”
- Return anything you haven’t worn within a month (try to buy from stores with good return policies, but don’t over-return, either!).
- If possible, take a “power-pause” before buying (borrowed this term from Jill Chivers of “Shop Your Wardrobe”). Wait at least two hours or ideally two days between finding something you “have to have” and actually buying it.
- Don’t buy “wardrobe orphans.” Ideally, everything you buy should work with at least three pieces in your existing wardrobe.
- Buy for your current body and lifestyle, not for a 10-pounds thinner figure or an imagined or wished for lifestyle.
- Buy pieces that resonate with your personal style aesthetic, not that of a friend or sales associate. If you’re not sure what you like, this article might help…
Go to your closet and look at your favorite wardrobe pieces, the items you wear over and over again. Jot down the common elements of these garments. What makes you reach for them time after time? Do the same for the things that just sit in your closet collecting dust. What is it about those pieces that has you pass them over when getting dressed?
When you shop, aim to purchase items with similar characteristics as your tried and true wardrobe workhorses. If you buy things that reflect your personal style preferences, you’ll be much more likely to wear them. If you choose to veer off-course to sample new trends, tread lightly. Just buy a piece or two of the “shiny and new.” See how often you wear the new garments before adding any more to your closet.
Some returns are merited and should be done. Shopping with a list and pausing to consider the pros and cons of proposed buys can help us in making better decisions before reaching the cash register(or the online shopping cart).
Another way to help limit returns is to take a “time out” prior to making a purchase. Jill Chivers of “Shop Your Wardrobe” (who offers two great programs for compulsive shoppers) recommends taking a “power pause” of two hours to two days before buying something new. While this isn’t always practical or feasible, I feel it’s a good guideline that can help keep us out of trouble.
Shopping less often is also a good idea, as we then have time to better consider what we already own and determine which new pieces will fill in the gaps and play nicely with our current closet residents. If we shop all the time, we are looking outward instead of within and don’t have time to appreciate the things we already have. In such cases, we generally feel inadequate and lacking instead of satisfied and “enough.”
If you have friends with whom you regularly over-shop, here are a few suggestions to help you stay out of trouble:
- Choose alternate activities to enjoy with these friends, such as lunch, coffee, movies, walks, or other non-shopping events. Find other things you can enjoy doing together besides shopping.
- If you decide to brave the stores, shop with a list. Decide in advance what you can and can’t buy and only look at those things. Don’t allow yourself to try on or seriously consider anything that is not on your list.
- Leave your credit cards at home and shop with a pre-determined amount of cash. Include some extra money for lunch and snacks in your budget for the day.
- Set a time limit for how long you can shop or schedule another commitment for later in the day to give your shopping a set end time. The less time you shop, the less likely you are to over-buy.
- Tell your friends about your desire to shop less and enroll them in helping you to accomplish your goals. Perhaps you can agree on a budget or item limit for your shopping trip together. This could potentially help all of you to shop more wisely.
It can be helpful to create a project or game around paring down your wardrobe. While you may not be aware of exactly how often you wore the items in your closet last year, you probably have some sense of what is getting worn and what is simply taking up space in your closet.
One suggestion is to designate ten or more items to wear and evaluate each month. Put those pieces in the front of your closet and try to wear one of them each day when you get dressed. At the end of the day, decide whether you will keep or donate the item in question. If the garment (or accessory) is in good condition but just isn’t working for you, you may be able to recover some of your losses by consigning it or selling it on Ebay. The important thing, however, is to get things that you won’t wear out of your closet so you are better able to see and wear your best pieces!
For at least a month or two, take photos of the outfits you wear. Ideally, snap a photo of the outfit on you so you can see how you look in what you’re wearing. However, if that’s too difficult to do logistically (e.g. you live alone and don’t have a camera with a timer), hang your outfit up or lay it out on your bed or floor for the photo. The important thing is to compile a group of outfit photos so you can look for themes.
At the end of the month, select your favorite 5-10 outfits. Ask yourself why you love the outfits you selected. What common elements do you notice in terms of colors, styles, and silhouettes? What adjectives come to mind when you look at the photos together (e.g. classic, sophisticated, casual, romantic, preppy, rocker, edgy, etc.). These elements are clues for future outfits as well as future purchases. It’s all about increasing your awareness so you can shop smarter (and hopefully buy less!).
Decide how often you’d ideally like to wear the items in your wardrobe. Then do the math to determine how much you really need. The numbers will likely surprise you!
For example, if you want to wear everything in your closet 10 times per year on average, you will only need 36 of each category (tops, bottoms, shoes, outerwear). You may opt to select different wear frequency goals for your various wardrobe categories (e.g. wear shoes, bottoms, and outerwear more often than tops since we generally have fewer of those items).
I encourage you to try this exercise. I wish I had done it sooner… If I had, maybe I wouldn’t have over 300 items in my wardrobe!
Go into your closet and find all of the garments which have received little or no wear over the past year. Either keep these pieces in a designated area of your closet or use binder clips, hang tags, or some other method to identify them. Then push yourself to wear and evaluate each item! If you have a lot of “benchwarmers,” you may find it helpful to divide them into categories as I have done.
If you have fluctuated in size recently, it may be helpful to try all of your “benchwarmers” on to make sure they still fit you. That way, you can potentially cull some of your wardrobe right away. If you still love certain pieces but they don’t fit you at your current size, either box them up to re-evaluate later or relocate them to another area of your house.
If you are especially ambitious or have a relatively small number of “benchwarmers,” you may decide to address them right away. Ideally, you should try each “benchwarmer” on and ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I love it? (Rate each item on scale of 1-10; if less than 8, alter or donate! I will provide tips on alterations in future posts…)
- Does it fit? (If it’s too tight, either donate or store elsewhere if you think it might fit again soon. If too loose, consider alterations if you still love the item)
- Is it flattering? (Does it highlight the parts of your body you love and downplay any areas you might not love as much?)
- Is the color good for my skin tone?
- Is it age-appropriate?
- Is it my style? (If you’re not sure of your style, tear photos out of catalogs and magazines of things you love. Compare to what is in your closet.)
- Does it fit my lifestyle? (We often buy things for “someone else’s life.” Your wardrobe should be appropriate for who you are and what you do.)
- Have I worn it in the past year? (In most cases, barring formal wear and a few sentimental pieces, items not worn in over a year should go!)
- Do I feel good when I wear it? (You want to feel attractive and confident in your clothes and ready to take on life’s important events and challenges!)
- Do I receive compliments when I wear it?
- Would I buy this item today? (Ideally, your answer should be yes! Wardrobe mistakes and outdated pieces should be passed on.)
Try setting some limits for the next month or on your next shopping trip. Notice how the presence of parameters around your shopping affects your attitude and behavior in the stores.
Track how often you are wearing the items in your closet. One useful way of doing this is to use the “hanger trick.” Turn all of your hangers so that the hooks face outward instead of inward. As you wear items, turn the hangers to face inward (what most people would say is the “right way”). After a month or two, look to see what you have and haven’t been wearing. This tracking method is easy but enlightening!
Track your spending on clothing, accessories, and related expenses for at least a few months and review the numbers. If you use a financial planning program such as Quicken, QuickBooks, or Microsoft Money, review your shopping expenditures for as long a time period as possible.
What you discover may surprise you. Don’t beat yourself up about it. That never helps anyone to change. Simply ask yourself if what you spent was reasonable for your budget and lifestyle. If not, what would have been a more reasonable amount to spend?