The one-year wardrobe project

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.

More about...Clothing

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Rosa
Rosa
10 years ago

If you have seasonal wardrobes – i just packed all of our longjohns and stuff away – spring & fall are the good times to pare down.

The other option, is do it by space – if the space you have allotted to clothes is full, time to go through and get rid of stuff. When my boyfriend’s t-shirt drawer is full, I make him pull out the shirts with holes & the ones he doesn’t wear.

RMoM
RMoM
10 years ago

I would love to empty my house too of all the stuff I never use and I have gotten rid of a large amount of crap since last year. There is still the garage to go through, however, as well as various closets and the under-stair nightmare cupboard. My own closet is filled with clothes, 90% of which I never wear. I am resolved to getting this unused stuff out of my life and never replacing it again with more unused stuff. I am shooting for a final garage sale in about two weeks time.

Tekelvik
Tekelvik
10 years ago

When you wash clothes, hang them with the hangers backwards, i.e., hooks facing out instead of in. When you wear something, flip the hanger. After a while, you will have a quick visual of which clothes you wear and which ones you don’t.

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

At tax time you’ll be happy that you donated those shirts. It’s always a pleasant surprise when we enter our donations into TurboTax, especially if we’ve done a major clear out for goodwill in addition to the regular donations. It’s also always pleasant to buy clothing because you’ve lost weight! I hate shopping, so I do it in one fell swoop, but a little at a time probably leaves you not looking like a clown with falling-off-pants before you bite the bullet and hit the ann taylor outlet. (Well, probably not Ann Taylor in your case.) Buying clothing because you’ve… Read more »

Bitter Knitter
Bitter Knitter
10 years ago

The trick to keeping track of what clothes you wear in your closet is to flip all the hangers around so that the hook is coming at you, and then flip it back once you wear that item. It makes it pretty easy to see what you’re actually wearing and what’s just sucking up space.

Jonathan
Jonathan
10 years ago

One method I’ve read about at other sites is to hang your clothes with the hanger backwards in your closet. When you wear the item, rehang it correctly. At the end of the season, year, or whatever period you choose, get rid of anything still hanging backwards.

I haven’t done this yet, but I’m on my way! 🙂

Good luck with the weight loss. I need to lose about 35-40 pounds this year. I’ve lost the weight in the past, but gained it back.

shamus
shamus
10 years ago

I recently read about a handy way to keep this sort of closet cleaning up.

Every year turn all of your hangers around, whenever you use something put it back in normally, that way to you can differentiate the unused from the used, without needing an extra room as you loose weight.

http://www.43folders.com/2007/08/13/hanger-trick

Barbara
Barbara
10 years ago

One easy method to determine if you are wearing an item or not is to turn all the hangers backwards on the rod on some given date, then turn them around once you wear the item. It becomes apparent pretty fast which items are actually being worn. After one year, if the item hasn’t been worn, out it goes.

Caitlin
Caitlin
10 years ago

What a great way to pare down your wardrobe! Thanks for sharing your findings after a year. I keep my wardrobe in check while safeguarding my wallet against clothing “needs” by doing a comprehensive analysis. Specifically, this means evaluating and categorizing each piece of clothing and rating it on a set of criteria. I use an excel spreadsheet and pivot tables. Yes, I’m serious. I am happy to describe my methodology if you’d like more detail. In the end, I have the analysis to help me make objective decisions about what stays and goes, know what needs repair, and assess… Read more »

Julie Jelinek
Julie Jelinek
8 years ago
Reply to  Caitlin

I just today read your comment about how to organize your wardrobe using spreadsheets and privot tables. I see that it was written 2 years ago,May of 2010. I confess that I know nothing about pivot tables. Do you still have time to explain about this. I need help when organizing a wardrobe and makeing new purchases.
Many thanks,
Julie in Arlington, TX

JulieK
JulieK
6 years ago
Reply to  Caitlin

Yes I’d really love more info on these wardrobe spreadsheets! I am a huge fan of using spreadsheets to organize my whole life 🙂

Nick L.
Nick L.
10 years ago

I’ve done Something similar before where you hang everything with the hanger facing the wrong way. As you wear thinga and put them back, place them in the closet as you’d normally hang them. That way you don’t have to worry about keeping stuff separate.

steven@hundredgoals.com
10 years ago

JD: I was able to almost entirely eliminate my DVD collection by sorting through it about once a month, eliminating the ones which I knew I would never watch again. Each month, I became more and more selective. After I had cut it down to a “reasonable” amount, I forgot about the project for a while before going at it again, this time with a fresh eye. When I was finally to the point where I had only my absolute favorite titles, I bought a nylon DVD case which would hold the exact number (or close to) of DVDs I… Read more »

Melanie
Melanie
10 years ago

I’ve never done this, but I vaguely remember reading about a system where you put a bread tie on every hanger in the closet. When you wear an article of clothing, you just take off the tie. At the end of the year, hangers that still have twist ties hold the clothes that get eliminated.

Piper
Piper
10 years ago

I’ve often used the technique of placing all the clothes hangers on the bar backwards (so that the end of the hook points towards you rather than the wall ) once a year. Then as you use the clothes put them back on the hangers normally. All the clothes are still in the same place, but now you have a way to identify how long it has been since you last wore them.

TosaJen
TosaJen
10 years ago

I do the seasonal purging — spring and fall (it’s TIME!). All the long underwear and winter coats and accessories should be unnecessary for another 6 months!

However, I also keep some things I only wear once a year or so that I hang onto for those special occasions. But those go into a special storage space — not in the regular closet.

Carl
Carl
10 years ago

What a great idea J.D. I have urged my church for years to live simply and to de-clutter. I believe that most Americans could go 2-3 months never wearing the same thing twice, never washing anything (except under-garments). This, while most people in the world have 1 or 2 outfits, period. We don’t have to strip down (pun intended) to that level, but most of us could stand to have less clothing. Still, I’ve never really thought of any creative way to prove to yourself that this was the case. I love the idea. I think I will try and… Read more »

Dasha
Dasha
10 years ago

For non-clothes, try putting post-it notes on each item, then removing them every time you use the item.

And don’t forget that the clothes you donated to goodwill just might end up being someone else’s new favorite shirt!

Andrea
Andrea
10 years ago

A trick I’ve heard about for clothes is to hang all the hangers backwards, with the hooks pointing out, and every time you wear an item, put it back with the hanger the regular way. At the end of your allotted time anything still on a backwards hanger goes. I’m going to try this myself when I do my seasonal clothes-shuffle in a few weeks (if it ever stops snowing in Wyoming).

anon
anon
10 years ago

My problem? I’m trying to purge clothes with sentimental value (for lack of a better term). My mother passed away two years ago, and, being the only one her size, I got the clothing. I tried to not accept at least half of it (not my style, etc.), but my siblings wouldn’t hear of it. I pretty much had to take anything that remotely fit. Once I went to the effort of bringing it home (I had to buy 2 large suitcases at a thrift store to get it all on the airplane!), though, I can’t bring myself to do… Read more »

Libby
Libby
9 years ago
Reply to  anon

Take pictures of the clothing and put them on your computer. When you want to be reminded of your mom, pull them up and browse through them. This also works with gifts that you don’t use or don’t have room to keep. No one is benefiting from those articles of clothing if you keep them packed away. I’m sure that your mother would want someone using them. Pick a couple of favorites to keep for sentimental reasons and get rid of the rest (after the picture-taking, of course!).

Bethany
Bethany
9 years ago
Reply to  anon

If you don’t need the cash or something you should make a quilt or some other keepsake with your mom’s clothes. Maybe one for you and each of your siblings. a great way to repurpose her clothing.

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
10 years ago

Ha. Okay, so while I was off doing other stuff, several people posted the same “reverse hanger” trick at the same time, and all of their comments were held in moderation, so nobody could see that somebody else had already said the same thing. Thus, there are a half dozen people all with the same tip. 🙂

frugalscholar
frugalscholar
10 years ago

You didn’t really throw away $750. You gave a couple of hundred dollars to a charitable organization when you bought the clothes and, by donating them back, you’re enabling the organization to make money.

Jane
Jane
10 years ago

“Any advice for overcoming the psychological barrier?” I would also like to know this. I have a bunch of clothes of my mother’s that are from the 60s and 70s. I will never wear them – she was much smaller back then than I am – but I just can’t bring myself to get rid of them. They were hand made for her and are so cute and vintage. I did, however, eventually get rid of some other family items that I kept for sentimental reasons. I kept on saying to myself, “You have other ways and things to remember… Read more »

amy
amy
10 years ago

I have largely solved this problem by following these 2 rules: Hint: you must follow both of them 1) if an item of clothing is PERFECT (fit, size, shape, color) or can be tailored to make it so, BUY IT- even if it’s more than you would normally pay for an item. 2) if it is NOT PERFECT, do not buy it no matter how cheap it is or how good the sale is. following these 2 rules has left me with a clothes that I look good in and feel comfortable wearing and has eliminated all those pieces that… Read more »

Thisiswhyubroke!
Thisiswhyubroke!
10 years ago

Hey, I like this idea! I’m going to try this with my electronics.

bjs1109
bjs1109
10 years ago

to anon, 9:46: The piece or 2 a month seems to be working just fine. Worst case would be to keep doing that, till all the discards are gone. Another possibility is giving them away. This would work really good at Christmas time. You’re not throwing them away, or dropping them off at a thrift store; you’re “giving them to people who would really like them.” Who doesn’t like to give gifts? Don’t just shove them into a garbage or shopping bag; fold them up nicely, stack them neatly. Think good thoughts about how happy the recipients will be to… Read more »

Cheryl
Cheryl
10 years ago

I think a lot of the problem with oversized wardrobes is the vast amount of closet space modern homes tend to have. When we moved into our new house, I had to take the spare bedroom closet because my husband’s wardrobe is so much larger than mine (out of necessity due to work). But my wardrobe was still bigger than the spare room’s closet, so I HAD to eliminate a good chunk of my wardrobe. It simply wouldn’t fit. Now, 2 years later, I realize this was a godsend. I simply cannot keep outfits I don’t wear regularly because I… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
10 years ago

Moving into a smaller place helps.

Other than that, I like to just pare down over time. I cull our books once a year or so, though we don’t get rid of many of those. Clothes get sorted through and given away every couple of months. Small closets help.

Josh Wheeler
Josh Wheeler
10 years ago

Ha – the reverse hanger trick posts cracked me up. It was back to back the same thing, and I’m like “wow, nobodies reading comments before they post.” Then I saw JDs explanation. Very funny. That’s a great tip though. I actually have more problems with my t-shirts though than hanging clothes to be honest… my test is when the drawer won’t close I have to pick a few to get rid of. It’s made me figure out the most efficient way to fold my shirts at least. The throwing out the shirts with holes thing doesn’t work for me… Read more »

Jan
Jan
10 years ago

For those with clothes of loved ones.
I donate to a very local good will. I have actually seen a few of my grandmother’s things on kids. I try to remember that she would have loved seeing her things used- and imagine someone who needs them- in them.
Work clothes- ladies- Social Security helps women get back in the workforce with a tie to the Salvation Army here. They specifically take work clothes and put them in the hands of people starting over!:>)

Matt Jabs
Matt Jabs
10 years ago

I love reading about this project of yours JD… you and Adam have inspired me to do something similar. The paring down of my wardrobe will most likely happen much quicker (I’m a bit compulsive.) I’ll also be chronicling the entire experience on DFA for all to read. Thanks for the kick in the tail, and good job getting rid of those 37 shirts 🙂 I know it couldn’t have been easy to part w/them.

Stephanie P
Stephanie P
10 years ago

The reverse hanger trick is pretty awesome.

I just wanted to say congrats on your weight loss journey! I am there (have lost 31-33lbs depending on the day so far), and know the trouble of getting clothes that fit. You’ll figure it out! 🙂

Courtney
Courtney
10 years ago

#12 Melanie “I’ve never done this, but I vaguely remember reading about a system where you put a bread tie on every hanger in the closet. When you wear an article of clothing, you just take off the tie. At the end of the year, hangers that still have twist ties hold the clothes that get eliminated.” YES!! I do this, because I’m anal about having all my clothes hangers facing the same way. I purge twice a year when I have to ‘flip my closet’ (move the now seasonal stuff to the center – oh how I miss my… Read more »

Cara
Cara
10 years ago

#18 — one idea is to find a piece of clothing that is special for some reason — she loved it, or you love the fabric — and have it made into something else you can use. (Or do this yourself if you are crafty). Fabric could be used to create a scarf, framed and hung on a wall, made into a pillow, a jewelry pouch, even napkins or dishtowels! Something you would see and interact with every day, instead of a piece of clothing that is hanging in a closet or sitting in a box. Creating something like this… Read more »

Mary Kate
Mary Kate
10 years ago

I read a tip about putting a sticker on each article of clothing, which you remove when you wear the item. After a period of time you reevaluate everthing that hasn’t been worn. That would be like the Post-it tip above.

anon
anon
10 years ago

@bjs1109 – Awesome idea. Her birthday is coming up. I won’t ‘donate the clothes to Goodwill,’ I’ll ‘give them as a present to someone who will wear them’ in honor of her birthday. Perfect way to reframe it – I already feel less guilty at the thought of it!

And I’ll take the pile that I would wear if only they fit better to the tailor, too.

Thanks!

S
S
10 years ago

To #18 anon – How about donating to a battered women’s shelter? Also, note that Goodwill will accept garments with rips, stains, etc, for salvage. I have the exact opposite problem – not enough clothes. I HATE shopping (yes, I know the only woman on the planet) and have to force myself to go. My SIL once asked me where I kept the rest of my clothes after seeing my closet! I own five pairs of work pants (in black and gray) and maybe 8 or 10 shirts (in black, white, red, gray)? For years, I didn’t own a pair… Read more »

Cammy@TippyToeDiet
10 years ago

I had to give away 100s of articles of clothing when I lost my weight, and I’ve still been holding on to the last “one size up.” You’ve inspired me to work on letting them go.

As for the rest, maybe there’s something to this hanger thing. 🙂

Shirley
Shirley
10 years ago

You can still get you REI cloths without paying full price. You just have to be pickier about where you do your thrift store shopping. I find that driving to a more upscale neighborhood thrift store will yield me better quality clothing.
I get a thrill that I run around in complete outfits that cost me less then $10 all the time. None of my friends are any wiser

Amanda
Amanda
10 years ago

Books–I made it a goal to get rid of 100 books this year. A moderate dent in my collection, but still. I went through the bookshelves and just pulled out what I knew I wouldn’t read again or wouldn’t read ever. The first 50 books were easy. It was the next 50 that were tough to let go of! It was hard at first to look at all of the money I was letting go of. But then I realized that getting rid of all of these books I didn’t want was really rather freeing. I didn’t feel pressure to… Read more »

Someone
Someone
10 years ago

@S: “I HATE shopping (yes, I know the only woman on the planet)”

No, you’re not. “Women love shopping” is a stereotype, and it’s not true. SOME women love it, but if I had a nickel for every woman I saw post on the internet that she hates to shop, well ya know (and there are plenty more who never post about it). I don’t like retail shopping either much at all.

Rayna
Rayna
10 years ago

Have you checked to see if a SWAP is happening in your area?

http://theswapteam.org/

It’s a great way to donate clothes, but have a chance to pick up some new-to-you items as well. At the end of the swap all the remaining items go to charity.

Ari Herzog
Ari Herzog
10 years ago

How do you determine the value of the clothes (or other household items) you donate, for tax purposes? Take button-down shirts; if you’ve owned for X years and bought it for $16.99, what’s the cost when donating?

Or do you guess?

anon
anon
10 years ago

@S Thanks for the reminder about women’s shelters. (That’s actually where most of Mom’s shoes went – I had forgotten about that option, though.) I think that’s what I’ll do – a birthday gift to a women’s shelter.

And I hate shopping, too. Which is good, because I have a hard time getting rid of stuff – even if it doesn’t have sentimental value.

Khadijah
Khadijah
10 years ago

I support your war on Stuff and love reading about them. I am trying to pare down my closet too, but its definitely a challenge because my weight fluctuates easily. From college to working in an office I put on a bit of weight that I thought I was never going to get rid off (realistically, I’m not going back to college size, right?) I outgrew my pants and bought new ones, discarded too tight pants and jeans and shirts. Then I went through a stressful period and lost all that weight, now I can’t wear my *new* pants and… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

@41 If the place you donate doesn’t give you a sheet with suggested ranges of dollar valuation, you can usually get one online. We generally just make a note of how many of each item we take in (3 long sleeve women shirt, 5 t-shirts men etc.) and tally up around tax time with the lowest value in a listed range.

Jenzer
Jenzer
10 years ago

@Ari (#41) – the Salvation Army has a valuation guide for determining the value of clothing and other items. Visit salvationarmyusa (dot) org, then click on Ways to Give > Donation Receipts – Valuation Guide.

David LeDoux
David LeDoux
10 years ago

This is a great post; and one we need to start implementing in our house immediately. I’ve had the wrong outlook all along. I look at my ‘Stuff’ and decide what to get rid of based on the question, “Do I plan on wearing/reading/using/listening to this at ANY point in the near (or far) future?” That leaves a very small percentage of gleaned items based on my changing/evolving tastes. Another problem I have is ‘reasoning’ that I’ve already spent the money on this once, why would I get rid of it now and spend more on it again later? The… Read more »

Mike Crosby
Mike Crosby
10 years ago

JD, what a novel way of looking at getting rid of clothes. I absolutely love it.

The idea of getting rid of $750 worth of clothes is not costing you now $750, it cost you that when you first bought them. In fact, as we know the clothes can now be a detriment, for so many reasons. And in fact it costs you more by keeping them. Thanks JD.

For me, after reading this blog, it’s interesting to see the reasons to get rich slowly is based on so much great common sense.

Esbe
Esbe
10 years ago

Hi! I really admire this war on stuff! Actually you’ve inspired me to take the war on clothes. I’ve copied you in every way, but since I only got 16 square meters I’ve hidden my unused clothes in drawers and one wardrobe and uses the other wardrobe for the clothes I’m using. Actually I’m allready sorting out the clothes I’m using, to throw or give them away. I realise they’re not the clothes I want for different reasons. How about that? 🙂 Wish you good luck on your projects furtheron, I will follow through reading and maybe doing the same… Read more »

Jessica @ Life as I See It
Jessica @ Life as I See It
10 years ago

One of my challenges this year is to only buy clothes second hand for myself and my two boys – there are INCREDIBLE deals to be had on second hand clothes for literally pennies on the dollar. A couple months ago I realized that I don’t NEED all those deals in my own closet. It definitely is hard to pass up brand name clothes for 98% off retail value but I do value simplicity more than a dozen designer shirts… especially as a stay at home mom who doesn’t have much practical use for the fancier clothes 😉 That being… Read more »

Ian McKellar
Ian McKellar
10 years ago

My wife and I are one year into a fourteen month round-the-world trip. At the start of our trip we had to decide what to keep, what to sell, what to bring and what to throw away. For everything that we brought we had to like it enough to carry it on our backs for a year. For everything that we wanted to keep we had to like it enough to pay to store it. In the end we kept very little. It was really tough for me to get rid of all of this stuff that I love, but… Read more »

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