How Many Clothes Do You Need Anyway?

As part of my recent resolution to simplify my life, I spent a week (yes, a week) cleaning out my clothes closet.  It’s quite a sizable closet (I’m now realizing), but I couldn’t get into the back half due to all the (..ahem!) stuff on the floor.  My poor husband’s clothes are relegated to the spare bedroom closet, otherwise he’d only have one outfit to wear.

On the weekend I hauled twelve bags and boxes to the Goodwill store containing not only clothing but shoes, purses, hair care appliances, blankets and lots of other miscellaneous stuff.  I also tossed out quite a lot of worn and torn items and old bath and personal care products.

Why was I holding on to so much stuff?

I haven’t worked in an office for several years and I don’t really plan to have a “dress up” job again.  I’ve also gained a pound or two recently but I don’t ever intend to wear my previous size 2 or 3 again.  Even though I really liked my suits and other accessories they have no present or future value to me any more.

Then there were all the items that I probably could wear now but they didn’t look right or fit right, or pair up with anything, or were so old that I’d even out-retro the retro look!  Some things I didn’t even recognize.  Did someone break into my house and use my closet as a dumping spot?

People tend to hang on to clothing for a variety of reasons:

  • It was expensive or was a gift
  • It represents a special time in your life (wedding, first date)
  • It will look perfect once you find something to go with it
  • Yo-yo dieting requires several sizes to always be on hand
  • You might have an occasion to wear it in the future (bridesmaid dress)
  • Or, it’s just too overwhelming to go through everything

Go on a Fashion Fast

A lot of people care too much about what others think about what they wear.  They tend to buy a lot of clothes and try to always be up to date in fashion styles.  Do you remember what you wore last week?  Unless your photo regularly appears in People magazine, I’m sure no one else remembers either.

I read an article about a woman who went on a self-imposed fashion fast, allowing herself to wear only six items for an entire month.  The most shocking result of her four-week experiment was that no one noticed, not even her husband.

She got the idea from the website Six Items Or Less.  An even stricter program called The Great American Apparel Diet has convinced participants to abstain from buying clothes for an entire year.

Even with my recent closet purge, I’m certainly not down to six items and I wouldn’t consider going to that extreme.  I’m happy to know that the items I have are things that fit and that I like.

From now on I won’t buy something on impulse or just because it’s on sale.  Being half price shouldn’t be a product’s best feature.  I won’t buy anything unless I try it on first and it fits and feels comfortable.  I’ll choose good quality over quantity and take care of my clothes so they will last, and toss anything that gets shabby or worn out.

What’s in your closet?

I know some people may think I’m weird, but I like to go to my closet occasionally (often, in fact) and admire how tidy and organized it is now.  I can find what I want and I don’t have to fear an avalanche of sweaters falling on my head any more.

What’s the condition of your closet?  Is it overstuffed?  Do you wear 20% of the clothes you own, while 80% simply takes up space?  Are you overwhelmed by what is lurking behind your closet doors?  Could you choose six items that would hold you for an entire month?  Could you go a year without buying anything new?

I’m just about ready to start working on all my other closets and chests of drawers.  My husband better watch out or he’ll be down to his one outfit again.

40 Responses to How Many Clothes Do You Need Anyway?

  1. I’m also in need of a major clean up of my closet (moving into a new house definitely helps).

    I think organization is so important… sometimes when my closet is messy or I can’t find anything, I get frustrated, and that’s always a bad start to the day!

    I definitely don’t think it’s weird that you like to look at your closet= I would do the same if my closet were organized ;)

    • Boomer says:

      Every evening I set aside the clothes I plan to wear the next day, including undies. That way if something needs pressing or I notice a loose button, etc. I can either deal with it right away or choose something else. No more stressing in the morning.

  2. Ashley @ Money Talks says:

    I could totally do the 6 items or less. I bet I basically do it already. lol. I’m not big on clothes. And yes.. I’m a girl.

    • Boomer says:

      Hi Ashley. I bet your clothes budget is miniscule. Even though I own more than 6 items I still tend to wear my favourites over and over.

  3. I definitely only wear 20% of what is in my closet. But I haven’t shopped in probably 6 months either. Most of my business casual clothes are starting to get worn (I think I got most of them when I graduated almost 3 years ago).. It is about time I clean those out and get a few new shirts/pants to last me the next few years!

    Now my GF on the other hand… She goes shopping far too often and I can’t seem to get her to stop!

    • Boomer says:

      I agree Dave, it’s probably time for you to do some shopping. I find a lot of the time that guy’s clothes are usually made better (and don’t go out of date as fast) than girl’s so they can last a lot longer. Make a date with your GF to shop with you.

  4. If you think you know who you are, you will not own much. If others think you know who you are, you will never stop owning more.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    People find it funny that I don’t keep dresses — especially my bridesmaids dresses. There was one which i loved but knew I’d never wear again. I figured it made me and the bride happy, and it was time for it to go out in the world and make someone else happy. Besides, pictures are the best memories.

    My weakness is actually date or going out clothes. I tend to be pretty practical and stick to basics in my wardrobe, so I have to remind myself to pick up a cute top or trendy item now and then!

    • Boomer says:

      Hi Elizabeth. I don’t really like shopping for clothes so sometimes I find my wardrobe can be pretty blah when I want to go out with friends, etc. They always seem to have something cute and I’m in the same old, same old.

  6. kh says:

    I actually started participating in Project 333 this past month. (http://www.theproject333.com/) It’s made a HUGE difference already. I am not quite down to 33 things and I don’t know that I ever will be. I think I’m somewhere between 45 and 50 right now. But already I do less laundry, I have less stress about what I’m going to wear, and when I do put something on I know it looks good and it fits right.

    I high recommend using it as a baseline for rethinking your closet. I know that when my 3 months are over, I’ll be making some major permanent changes!

  7. Mike Holman says:

    Good post.

    Do you have the url for the article you mentioned?

    I read an article about a woman who went on a self-imposed fashion fast

    I love the conclusion that nobody noticed.

    • Boomer says:

      Hi Mike. Do you mean the one where nobody noticed?
      I came across the article in an old magazine in our work lunch room some time ago. Sorry, I don’t remember which one it was.

  8. Jason says:

    Women need clothes. Men don’t.

  9. Ann says:

    This is so true! When I moved into my current house six months ago, I did a huge purge of clothes and wound up finding lots of things I forgot I even owned.

    So, to remind myself of what I own, I did a one-month challenge where every day I had to wear something new from my closet. I wound up wearing a lot of dresses to work, but if you don’t wear stuff, you forget about it — and may not even notice it’s stopped fitting!

    I’m going to a clothes swap in a few weeks, and have bags already set aside of things that don’t fit or that I don’t ever wear.

    • Boomer says:

      Hi Ann: I started doing that too – wearing something I haven’t worn for a while – and finally tossed a lot of shrunken tees and other things that don’t suit me any more. I also got a few surprises that I never noticed under the piles.

  10. The Investment Blogger says:

    Its not just with clothes, but stuff in general. Its the human “pack rat” and hoarding impulse! Moving to a condo, before moving back into a house, has helped us realize what we really needed to keep and what we can do without. My wife and I had trimmed our clothes to 1/3 the amount it used to be, and we are much happier with the result.

    Like you, we only buy clothes we really like/want & need, even if its not on sale. That way we are not attracted by sales campaigns. If it takes longer than a few seconds to decide if we want it, we skip it. So now we end up buying very few clothes a year, but what we do buy we actually end up wearing!

    As for stuff in general, we only keep a few keepsakes ..everything else has some kind of purpose or usefulness so as not to occupy unnecessary square footage. Garbage costs money these days too, so its a good thing going forward.

    Data is another area humans tend to hoard… people buy and download GBs of mp3s, movies, games, etc without really even touching them after a few months.

    Again, great topic!

    • Boomer says:

      I can tend to be somewhat of a pack rat if I’m not paying attention. I have to watch an episode or two of “The Hoarders” to get me back in line. I agree with you about downloads and recordings – I have a few movies on my PVR that I never can find the time to watch.

  11. You don’t need a whole lot; that’s for sure.

  12. Laura @ move to portugal says:

    I’ve taken my closet down to 24 items (for over a year now) and it’s great. I wear everything in it and it’s stopped a lot of unconcious spending.

  13. Katia says:

    I need to purge my closet as well. I don’t have too much, but since I started sewing clothes for myself, my wardrobe grew. I also work in an environment where your outfits matter. As for shopping, I only shop for jeans once every 4 months (when my other pair of jeans rips or something) and shoes once or twice a year. I do agree though, when I look at clothes at the store, the quality matters, especially for how much it costs. I’m appalled at how expensive clothes are at retailers like Gap/Banana and even H&M or Zara even though they’re all made either from polyester or from the cheapest quality silk available (and don’t get me started on the horrible color/pattern choices). But I have to say, I will never be able to purge my fake fur coat, or my cheap $30 wedding dress.

  14. Boomer says:

    Hi Katia: I’ll bet you’ll find that you don’t nee a whole lot of outfits for work either. And, if you have something you love, like your fur coat and wedding dress, it’s worthwhile to keep just to bring a smile to your face.

  15. Magenta says:

    I am also trying to downscale my closet. I am keeping things I love and do wear. I have a section for classic pieces that will never go out of style and my everyday outfits and going out clothes.

    Its easier to not buy items on impulse when I already have some outfits put together in the closet at home.

  16. Witty Artist says:

    Delicate subject, especially for a woman. I say if circumstances require, I could choose a few items to wear for an entire month. But I think the need is rather a psychological one. Women like variety, combining colours and textures. Definitely it would be difficult for me to go a whole year without purchasing something new, even if it were a T-shirt.

    • Boomer says:

      @ Witty Artist: I agree that it would be difficult to not purchase anything new. I should do the traditional clutter-buster plan of new item in – old item out.

  17. Wendy says:

    I’m constantly culling my wardrobe and my goal is to get to the bare minimum. I’m down to 69 pieces of clothing and 11 shoes, still have some work to do but slowly getting there. My current problem is owning too much in one category and not enough in others. For example, I love trousers and own 9 pairs plus 6 pairs of jeans. That’s for all seasons but it’s still too many pieces considering I also have shorts and skirts for warmer weather. The fine tuning is where it gets tricky.

  18. Jean says:

    I am very spartan when it comes to what I wear and my fashion sense overall. I just maintain three pairs of Wranglers and a pair each of T-shirts and flannel pattern shirts like Al Borland from the Home Improvement TV show. For some reason, I’ve never been too big on fashion ever since I was little.

    -Jean

  19. Susie says:

    I am one who wears 20% of the clothes in my closet. I live high in the Rocky Mountains, which is almost like living in two different climates. Winters are very cold and very snowy and summers, well, aren’t. So I need an entirely different wardrobe on a seasonal basis. Fortunately, as a work at home mom, my needs are pretty simple. In the winter, I find myself wearing simple (and comfy) trousers and tops, and dressing them up with a scarf or vest or other accessories before I go out.

  20. Leslie says:

    I am with you on this one! I do admittedly have a nice assortment of clothes, I am not a shopper and I’m fortunate enough to fit into the same size for as long as I can remember so clothes shopping is not a requirement either. I was visiting my in-laws this weekend and my sister in-law went clothes shopping for 5 hours on the one day and went back to the mall the next day. I didn’t partake in that torture and my husband was proud man that he didn’t have a shopaholic for a wife.

  21. Kristin says:

    Right now I’m down to about 90 pieces of clothing, 20 pairs of shoes and a dozen handbags. That might sound like a lot to a minimalist but for me it’s a MAJOR breakthrough. Everything I own fits in 1 dresser and 1 small closet, no crowding or clutter. I’ve gotten rid of so much this year. Things that helped me: sticking to the colors that look best on me and wearing only those; getting rid of everything that wasn’t my current size; and purging excess/”repeat” items that weren’t necessary to my wardrobe (who needs 5 different pairs of black heels? No one.)

  22. Boomer says:

    @Leslie & Kristin: It’s good to have a nice assortment of clothes in your closet that can go together into various complete outfits. I’m like Susie above, in that I need totally different seasonal wardrobes for the climate I live in. The thing is to have only the clothes you regularly wear for whatever your lifestyle and get rid of everything else.

  23. I just posted an inventory of all the clothes I own and came up with 480 items…I don’t consider myself in the slightest fashionable and I don’t shop much…a lot of years of hanging onto things, I guess :)

  24. WinniPIg says:

    Buying quality, and purchasing from local designers and clothing manufacturers, either in their studios or through locally-owned boutiques is a way of taking the benefit of your “fashion diet” even further. You are supporting local artists, probably getting something unique and, very often, custom fitted to you, and being your own little job creation program!

  25. Bryan says:

    I like how you got to throw in the Pareto principle at the end there.

  26. ND says:

    I have to say thank you for posting this article. I read it early in 2012 and realized, I had too many clothes. I’m in a woman in a senior management role and always thought I needed to have new items so that I wouldn’t be caught wearing the same stuff over and over to board and other meetings. Turns out you can mix and match – who knew! So I have been on a self-imposed clothes diet since then and my goal is to make it for an entire year without buying anything. I’ve realized my tastes have changed and having classic suits and accessories means you can combine them in many ways and still look professional and pulled together. The savings can probably add up to the thousands when you combine professional suits, shoes, and accessories – so thank you again!

  27. Janice says:

    Probably as a cause of all the trouble I had in childhood, I hate to throw out stuff. It is not only cloth, but any item in the house. Any Item represent a special time in my life,
    so when its gone, this time had passed forever.
    I have a closet overstuffed with dresses from 20 years ago.
    I must overcome my feelings and clean it… no choice…
    Otherwise my husband will have to put his stuff on the floor

  28. Janelle Ramirez says:

    10 shoes, 20 shirts, 20 shorts and jeans 10

  29. Samantha says:

    I think that makes us two. The fact is when I look back, I just thought gosh how much money I would have saved if I realized about it much earlier. Cash don’t come by easily these days

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