About a year ago, at the advice of GRS readers, I started an experiment. I took all of the shirts and sweaters from my clothes closet and moved them into our spare room. Whenever I needed something to wear, I checked the clothes closet first. If what I needed wasn’t there (as was often the case at first), I went to the spare room to find it. After I’d worn a shirt or sweater once, it was allowed to return to its home in the main clothes closet.

The results of this experiment probably won’t be very surprising. After a couple of weeks during which I was reclaiming my favorite shirts, most of the rest remained unused. For an entire year.

On Tuesday, I gritted my teeth, grabbed the 37 shirts and sweaters still left in the spare room, and took them to a local thrift store. Some of the things I donated had never been worn (or had been worn just a couple of times). It hurt to part with those clothes. I probably spent more than $750 to purchase them (remember, I buy a lot of clothes at thrift stores), so in a way it felt like I was throwing away $750.

But it occurred to me that’s the wrong way to look at it. I’m not throwing that money away now. I threw away that $750 years ago when I bought the clothes I wasn’t ever going to wear. (Plus, I’ve managed to get rid of a bunch of Stuff, which was the whole point of this project in the first place.)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve bought a handful of new shirts to fill some gaps in my wardrobe. But I’ve made a vow to myself: I never want to buy clothes compulsively again. It used to be I’d go into Costco or Goodwill or wherever, and if I saw a shirt or sweater I liked, I’d buy it — even if I didn’t have a need for it. Now, though, I want to apply my new-found financial discipline to my wardrobe. Instead of buying lots of cheap stuff, I’m going to allow myself to purchase nice stuff (I like the clothes at REI), but only when I have a need for something.

Caveat: I’m losing weight right now. If all goes according to plan, I will have lost 50 pounds by the end of the year. There’s no way I’m going to pay full price for an entirely new wardrobe. As needed, I’ll build the foundation of my new skinnier wardrobe by shopping at thrift stores instead of paying full price at a department store.

Now that this project is over, it’s made me think:

  • I wonder if there’s a way to make this an ongoing thing. Is there a way for me to tag which clothes I’ve worn most recently, and which I haven’t? Maybe if I hang the freshly cleaned clothes at one end of the closet, then I’d know the clothes at the other end had gone the longest since being worn. In this way, I could be constantly getting rid of the items I no longer wear.
  • I also think it might be interesting to apply this method to other parts of my life. What about my CD and DVD collections? My books? The garden tools that are spilling out of our shed? In my war on Stuff, I’m always looking for new paths to victory, and this method could be one.

My guess is that of the things I own, probably 20% of the Stuff gets 80% of the use. While a part of me wants to be brave and simply pare down what I own to just the bare essentials, I haven’t reached that mental space yet. I’m too attached. But maybe I’ll get there in a few years. For now, I’m just happy to have trimmed my wardrobe down to a manageable size.