Friday, September 27, 2013

The Wardrobe: In Theory

Throughout my teenage years and my early twenties (I'm 25 now, so I'm officially in my "late twenties"), my closet followed one simple idea: More is More. Specifically, more clothing is more fun and more function. Doesn't it follow that the more clothes you have, the more options you have? As I've admitted in this post, my closet used to be out of control. I'd estimate that I once had about two hundred garments stuffed into my walk-in closet -- no joke! I once counted almost seventy skirts alone. *blush* Add to that tops (probably at least seventy of those, too), dresses, a few capris, and a generous helping of costumes. My shoes were out of control, too, probably to the tune of about thirty pairs.

Now, in my defense, virtually all of my clothing was purchased at thrift and consignment shops. Which means that my extensive skirt collection probably cost me about $200 - $250 total (or the equivalent of one or two "cheap" skirts at J. Crew). In other words, I was not spending thousands of dollars on my wardrobe! No mall shopping splurges, very few brand-new clothes, and a general emphasis on frugality.

But If I had so much, why did I keep buying and making more?

Partly, I have the curse of the seamstress. Sewing is a hobby that takes fabric and makes it into stuff. And when your penchant is garment sewing, that means more clothes!

But mostly, I was making foolish, unplanned purchases that left me with "nothing to wear" and a perpetual "need" for more clothing. With so many garments, my clothing wore out very, very slowly. It's difficult for thrifty people to get rid of perfectly good clothing, so despite my frequent culls, most of the garments that didn't work for me just stayed in my closet. The longer an item that you don't really love stays in your closet, the more boring it becomes. And then the guilt sets in, because you feel bad about purchasing a garment that you never even wear. My clothes were packed together, difficult to access, and even more difficult to match.

Fast forward four years full of change (marriage, several moves, and two babies). I'd changed a lot. My lifestyle had changed a lot. And it was time for my wardrobe to reflect that.

I read articles. I pared down. I read more articles, and pared down even more. Little by little, I changed my closet. But more importantly, I changed my mindset. No longer do I view excess clothing as an asset. More is not more. At least, not in a good way.

Because more clothing is more, in one sense. More to store, more hassle, more work, more stress, and more money. None of which I am eager to have in my life!

So are you ready for the "big reveal?"

Here is what my wardrobe currently looks like:

See that hanging shoe organizer on the left? I found it at a yard sale for $1, and it has revolutionized my shoe
storage. No more shoes scattered on the floor (which was a huge problem for me). I love simple solutions!

On the left rack I have scarves, shoes, tops, dresses, "outdoor"/work bottoms, special occasion (way in the back), and on the right rack I have my running skirt, work/workout tops, skirts, and belts.

What it includes:
  • Scarves (8)
  • Shoes (8 pairs, including my beloved Merrel Vapor Gloves -- oh, and one pair of foam flip flops)
  • Tops (24, including camis and cardigans)
  • Dresses (4)
  • Yard work clothes (2 capris, 1 pair of jeans, and 3-4 knit tops)
  • Winter coat (1)
  • A few sentimental pieces (my baptismal gown, Rosa's baptismal gown, etc.)
  • Formals (2)
  • Workout clothes (3 tops and my running skirt with leggings -- not pictured because it's in the wash!)
  • Skirts (7)

What it does not include:
  • Undergarments
  • Leggings (2 pairs)
  • Socks/nylons
  • Winter clothes (one under-the-bed tub)
  • Maternity clothes (stored in the large plastic tub on the shelf)
  • Costumes (3 or 4, stored in the blue bag on the shelf)
  • Extra shoes (2 outdoor pairs -- soon to be one, and 2 "costume" pairs in the clear plastic shoebox on the shelf)

I don't have much in the way of advice for those of you seeking to minimize your wardrobes (there's plenty of that elsewhere! Just Google "minimal wardrobe" or "capsule wardrobe"), but here are a few principles I followed as I reconstructed my closet:

1. I realized that I can't have it all.

I see dozens of garments that catch my fancy. I see plenty of shoes that I'd love to wear. Really, I like far more than I could ever own, due to lack of both storage and finances! This has always been true (even at my "worst," I simply couldn't buy everything that I liked), but I've finally realized that I can set my limits tighter than just available closet space or available funds.

Just because I like something doesn't mean I need to try to incorporate it into my wardrobe (or life) right now. Maybe I'll have it in the future, maybe not. I can't tell you how much this realization, simple as it may seem, has helped me avoid buying clothes that I don't need! Plus, the less I buy, the more I can invest in getting what I really want. That's much more satisfying than buying lots of clothes that aren't quite what I'm looking for. I currently love what I have, and as a result I'm not wishing I had something else.

2. I ditched most of it. 

I simply got rid of any clothing that didn't fit, looked frumpy, didn't fit my style, or just hadn't been worn in months/years. It took several rounds of evaluation (just yesterday I pulled out five tops for the donation bag), but it gets a bit easier each time. Obviously, this did not include out-of-season clothing or maternity clothing -- though I did go through those wardrobes, as well, following the same criteria. They'll receive a more comprehensive overhauls the next time they're pulled out of storage.

3. I evaluated my style.

Pinterest was very helpful here, as it allowed to browse my "virtual closet" to identify recurring themes. I also recently eliminated the color brown from my summer closet. Currently, I have mostly black and a bit of navy going on, so my few brown garments were going unworn. Brown may show up in my closet in the future (it's a color I really like!), but I don't need every color in the spectrum represented in my (already colorful) wardrobe.

Also, I wear skirts exclusively, except for certain outdoor projects. This limits my style options, because some of the cute tunics and tops that appeal to me would create a marshmallow effect when paired with a skirt (though belts can sometimes help with that). While browsing capsule wardrobe ideas online, I did not find a single set that not not include pants or shorts! That made my task a bit more challenging, since I couldn't just copy someone else's concept. Perhaps that's a good thing, though, since it forced me to be a bit more original.

4. I used my current lifestyle as a guide.

I'm a stay at home mom with two little ones. That means I don't need business casual, but I do need transitional garments that will get me through the various stages of motherhood (early pregnancy, post partum, and nursing). In the past three-and-a-half (plus) years, I've worn maternity clothing for approximately fourteen months and nursing friendly clothing for another twenty-four. That only leaves about six months when I haven't had to wear "purposeful" clothing! Whether that pattern holds true for the future or not, I decided that it would be easier to make all of my non-maternity clothing nursing friendly. I'd say I'm currently at about 95%, since I do have a few dresses and formals that are worth keeping (and would probably be worn for occasions sans babies, anyway). So far, my version of nursing friendly generally means separates, stretchy tops, and a tendency to layering. I've also had to get rid of some clothes that were modest before kids, but didn't work when my hands are occupied (think flared skirts in windy parking lots!) or when little fingers pull at necklines.

As a mom, I'm also a fan of clothing that launders relatively easily. I currently have one dry clean/hand wash blouse. Everything else can go in the wash.

Climate is, of course, another factor. Living in northern Florida, I only need one medium-weight coat (instead of the two or three required for seasonal changes in colder regions). I also need clothes that layer easily (both summer and winter), and I don't need much winter clothing because many of my summer clothes can be worn year-round.

5. I only kept/bought clothes I love.

Re-doing one's wardrobe can be costly, so I still have a few leftover pieces that are just "okay." They'll be phased out over time. Other than that, every garment in my closet is something that I really want to wear. Sometimes it still takes me a minute or two to figure out what to wear in the morning. But it's not because I have "nothing" to wear, it's because I have to pick which of my favorites to put on!

The bonus to this is that it's much easier to dress nicely every day when you really like your clothes. I've never been one to lounge in my PJ's and I don't really own "loungewear," but I've certainly been guilty of throwing on a less-than-flattering outfit, just because it's easier than trying to create a nicer outfit from a closet that's an overstuffed mish-mash of styles and colors.

6. I bit the bullet and learned to sew knits.

I realized that since my lifestyle requires a fair bit of "stretch," so to speak, I had to overcome my fear of sewing knits in order to get the garments I wanted at a price I was willing to pay. As it turns out, it's been far easier than I anticipated, and having several successful projects under my belt has bolstered my confidence and optimism! Being able to plan on custom maxi skirts, tees, camisoles, and casual cardigans gives me more freedom and allows me to plan specifically.

7. I unsubscribed.

I was receiving multiple e-mails every day advertising discounts, sales, and new arrivals at various clothiers. And while I rarely succumbed to such advertising, it certainly didn't help my efforts to be content with less! Interestingly, I've had far less interest in shopping now that my wardrobe is small-but-great. When I do feel tempted to buy clothing I don't need, my enthusiasm for my smaller wardrobe drowns out the "want." My current clothes will wear out, and then I'll have the chance to shop/sew again.

8. I made sure it matches.

Everything I have needs to match at least one other garment -- but really, it should match as many other garments as possible. I don't have a capsule wardrobe (in which each piece blends with every other piece), but I'm very satisfied with how versatile my current pieces are.

9. I kept it simple.

For me, I found that simple pieces are easier to combine than unique or heavily patterned garments. I have a lot of solids, a few stripes, and one or two patterns. It's easy to mix and match, and I can dress up an outfit with a scarf or other accessory. Since I'm sewing more of my clothes now, I'm also able to add details (such as ruffles, buttons, etc.) to solid garments to keep them from being too boring. I'll probably get a bit more adventurous as I grow more comfortable with a minimal closet, but for now I'm sticking with safe and effective.

10. I do laundry more frequently.

It's a simple equation. If you own fewer clothes, chance are you will have to wash them more frequently so that you have something to wear.

It drives me nuts to see articles that claim that reducing the size of your closet will also reduce your laundry load -- it just doesn't make sense! Unless owning an abundance of clothing causes you to compulsively change outfits multiple times a day (and then throw said outfits into the hamper), having a large wardrobe does NOT produce more laundry. Is it easier to ignore the laundry mountain when you still have clothes in your closet? Perhaps, and maybe that's why the claim is made. But the size of your wardrobe will only determine the frequency with which you do laundry. And technically, a small wardrobe generally means smaller, more frequent loads.

I know more laundry sounds dreadful. But really, it's easy laundry, and it's a small price to pay for the freedom a small wardrobe offers me. I do one or two tiny loads per week of just my clothing, plus my husband's dress pants and any of Rosa's fancier dresses. Since I've invested a little more in my clothes, I want to make sure they'd last as long as possible. In light of that, I wash my clothes on my machine's cold delicate cycle, and dry them on low heat (or air dry, depending on the garment). So far, so good! I'm not concerned about extra cost, because I'm using cold water and a small load (instead of the super-size warm cycle I usually use for darks) and a brief, cool drying cycle (instead of the 70-minute warm cycle). But that's just me, and that's just how I do it.

And that's where I am right now. What do I see in the future?

  • More planning. My wardrobe right now is relatively unplanned -- I am becoming more specific with my additions ("A black maxi skirt would go with this, this, and this") and more cautious about adding new garments. But at this point I don't have a specific color scheme or a set plan. I think I could actually become a bit more adventurous with style if I planned a bit better.
  • Smaller -- maybe. Part of me would like to cut back even more, but I think that's just my type-A "you will do this to the extreme" personality talking. My current wardrobe would fit into any reasonably sized closet, and it certainly fits in our generous walk-in. I have plenty of options without feeling overwhelmed, so I don't think I'll make an effort to downsize more unless the need arises (or it happens naturally over time as I grow more skilled in selecting garments). 

My next post will include a piece-by-piece look at my wardrobe -- something I could never have contemplated a few years ago, simply because it would have taken me countless hours to do so!


  1. Thanks for the tips! I have been trying to reduce my wardrobe as well and I have donated so many things that I'm thinking about switching donation sites as I becoming a bit embarrassed by all the clothes I have to donate. The staff has come to know me by name and can't believe I have so much to donate.

    1. Diane,

      My donation site doesn't know me by name -- *yet* :-) My husband and I have only been married about four years, but when I think about how much junk I've gotten rid of in that time... It's frightening!

      I hope your reductions go well!


  2. I've enjoyed reading your posts on decluttering, Shannon! In the last year or so I've been doing the same thing, not only in my closet but in other stashes, too, such as in the sewing room and containers/boxes saved for "someday." So far my biggest reason to let things go have been the question, "Have I used this/worn this in the last six months? Will I use this/wear this in the next six months?" It seems to have helped, and

    1. Cheri,

      My sewing room is probably the hardest place for me to declutter! Probably because craft supplies, by definition, are items that are supposed to be used to make other items -- so there's always that "potential" that makes me want to hold on to that item. I'll have to apply your six-month idea to my supplies; I think that would really help.

      So glad to hear you've been enjoying the posts -- I was hesitant, because I wondered if it would be of interest to anyone! :-) I hope your decluttering continues to go well!


  3. Very interesting! I've read a little on capsule wardrobes and recently "bit the bullet" and got rid of those items that fit and might-possibly-make-a-cute-outift-once items. I've been doing a considerable amount of traveling in a carry-on and love living with less on the road. Why not at home as well? I love to refashion things from goodwill so they are cute, but I really need to stop. :-)

    1. Joanna,

      I'm certainly enjoying a bit of the "carry-on" lifestyle in my closet. Having fewer options just simplifies everything! I wonder if I'll ever end up with a capsule wardrobe (my current closet has far too many colors for that to work!) -- but in the meantime, it feels good to have less.

      I sympathize with the difficulty of having a creative outlet that feeds the wardrobe monster! :-) It's just so much fun to create or re-create something lovely!



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