Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Curbing the Clothes Collection

I like clothes and have the tendency to collect them. (Shoes, too.) Some would say it's an addiction. I've been working over the past several years to learn new behaviors and to stop this clothes-hoarding tendency.

My clothes collecting came to a head when I had my first job out of grad school. Three things merged to make clothes shopping and hoarding a very fun - but very bad - habit:

  • I had money in my pocket
  • I needed clothes of the professional type (I had to wear a suit)
  • I lived across the street from a Marshall's (like a TJ Maxx, to those of you East of the Mississippi)
In addition, I was still lugging around clothes and shoes from my college (even high school!) days. My closet was a mess! Clothes were crammed together, sometimes 2-3 on a hanger, shoes spilled out of the closet, etc. I'm generally a neat person, and this was a source of stress for me. Plus, I couldn't possibly wear everything I had, and that was another source of stress.

What my closet used to look like
Photo from corbis.com

Over the past 10 years (yes, it's taken 10!), I've learned some strategies to curb my inner clothes hog. I'll share them below. But here's the real magic of this work: I feel so much BETTER with fewer clothes, fewer shoes. Seriously! When I open my closet, there is breathing space - I can easily see my clothes, and I see things I like. I continue to struggle with the wanting, but I am happy with my progress and continue to work toward a closet like the one here. (OK, this may be a wee bit extreme, but you get the idea.)

My dream closet
Photo from realsimple.com

My Strategies for Curbing the Clothes Collection

  • Keep only clothes that I really like. This was a tough one for me because I had a tendency to save my favorite clothes and never wear them. They might wear out, of course! So they sat in my closet for special occasions only. Some pieces went out of style. I'm sure you can see the issue with this behavior. These days, I try to ensure I wear things I like and get rid of things I don't. Not an easy task, but one I continually strive toward.
  • Continually cull the closet. I've given up hope that I'll be ready to let go of everything at one time. My process is more one of continual culling, continual letting go. Just last week, the DH (dear hubby) took a big box to the thrift store. The very next day, I had more items ready to go. I keep a thrift store box always near the closet, ready to fill and make other people happy for a good price.

  • Avoid retail therapy. A lot of people shop to fulfill some other need or to relive stress. I could see this tendency in myself. I try to live a conscious life, and now I ask myself these questions before giving in to the pressure to go shopping: "What is the trigger for this shopping need? What else is going on here?" When I can deal with the real issue, the need to shop for clothes subsides.

  • More goes out than comes in. When I do find something new (or recycled) I want to bring home, I find an item (or two) to release back into the clothes-recycling stream. No exceptions.

  • Know my triggers. Target and sales racks. I love to sift through a sale rack and Target is like one big store of eye candy! To avoid this shopping sport, I avoid the sales rack and Target unless I am really looking for something specific or extremely committed to a major closet clean-out. This should also be a no exceptions rule, but it's probably the one I struggle with the most.
  • Find alternatives to new stuff. I have had so much luck (and fun) recently shopping at thrift stores! For example, I recently found a brand new Express dress - in my exact size - for $5 at Goodwill. Original tags still on it. Sweet! This doesn't cut down on the amount of stuff I get, but it does cut down on the dollar amount I spend. And it cuts down on the contribution to consumerism, which I really dislike. If I find something at a thrift store, I hold myself to the rule of letting something else go.
    Another great way to get new clothes and recycle gently used ones is a
    clothing swap. I've attended several of these and have had an absolute blast! I spent zero dollars on clothes, gave away many more items than I came home with, and supported excellent causes (recycling; not spending/being a consumer; supporting a local thrift store; girl time).

  • Refocus that energy! I realize that shopping is fun and a source of stress relief for me. I've found a great replacement for it! The public library! I can roam the stacks and find shiny and new books. I can check them out - and as many others as I want - take them home, and then take them back! I get that same "new thing" rush at no cost and no closet-cluttering, permanent ownership. Yahoo!

What are your secrets for managing your clothes addiction, if you have one?


AZ tea lover said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who struggles with clothes addiction. I, too, have found thrift stores to be way more exciting than the mall, and I'm often helping a charitable organization at the same time I'm shopping for a deal.

I avoid purchasing anything unless it's on sale for 30% or more. Retailers have a markup between 20-50% (sometimes more), and every time a piece changes hands, it's at least that much added to the cost. That jacket that is $60 probably cost $2 to make in a foreign country, but changed hands 4 times before I touched it.

I also don't buy anything that doesn't fit. I won't wear it otherwise.

And lastly, I keep a bag handy in my closet for culling. If I haven't worn it in ages, it goes to charity. Sometimes this is hard, so I have a box that stores unused items for awhile until I can let go of the item emotionally. Recycling is a good thing.

Ironically, I have found I like my thrift store finds (and wear them more often) than any of my other clothes.

crescent said...

i love libraries... and LOVE to take home lots of books and DVDs etc... and then trade them in for something else. I have a special shelf where I keep them at home.... in a place of honor.

Also... I consider the online reserve system like a personal shopper. they collect what i want, let me know when it is ready and then i just swing by and pick things up!

I don't like to shop... go years before finally getting shoes or a new coat or anything like that. I don't like to buy things made in sweatshops, etc... so shopping really isn't fun for me.

Thrift shopping is my major way of acquiring clothes. And I LOVE to donate things of value to a thrift store and then go in and acquire a few things I need. It's lovely. I REALLY love to give away things that are valuable and watch the people processing the donations get that look of delight when they see what I've brought in!

BTW, I think really assessing what need the shopping is being used to try to fill is very helpful... because unless shopping is actually filling the need... the need's going unattended... and that can not be a good thing.

continuing to enjoy your blog!

crescent said...

by the way... the jacket cost $2 to make in a foreign country cause they're paying slave wages to the workers and treating them like .... well, i'll refrain from posting any profanities... but seriously the easiest way i know to heal up a shopping habit is to recognize that you're wearing the product of someone else's pain.

some stores don't sell anything that isn't made in a sweatshop. and when you wear something made in unfair, painful, inequitable relationships... you're wearing that energy around with you all day... and that can NOT be a loving, supportive thing to do... so i really try not to be in that situation as much as possible... which is a real challenge in our culture, but it is something to consider.

ok.. i'm getting a little heavy. ;-)

She'sSewPretty said...

I need to have a clothes addiction. My wardrobe is in need of a makeover. I'm stuch in the jeans and capris rut. When I do buy something though I try to always take something out to donate to Goodwill. You have a lot of great strategies. I also need to stay away from Target, but it is the scrap book and magazine aisle I need to stay away from.

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Michelle said...

I have a similar problem! Maybe its genetic :-) I laughed when you wrote that you saved your favorite clothes. I did that too!

Recently, I've found myself doing a lot of online shopping which isn't good because I send half of it back!

I'm trying to stick to the "buy only what you love" rule. That way I don't find myself with a closet full of clothes that I never wear. I used to be easily persuaded by sales and bought things that didn't fit right or I didn't really like just because they were cheap.

I think excess clothing is a common problem for women in our society. There is such emphasis on image.

Thanks for sharing your tips!

Michele said...

Steph, I love this post! My closet had a different dilemma - I used to keep all different sizes, thinking that someday they will fit again. (eyeroll)

Our family's obsession with removing clutter from our house got a kick start a few years ago, when we had to put my in-laws' house on the market. They kept everything - 8 track cassettes, check registers for decades, old craft projects - you name it. I don't want to leave the same legacy for my child, so I am careful to purge closets regularly and try to be more selective about what I bring into the house in the first place. I'm not always successful, but I really do try! :-)

Anonymous said...

This has been great reading. I see myself in many of the scenarios. I too would shop after work, usually at Goodwill, to blow off steam. My rationale was that it was for a worthy cause and I enjoyed wearing the variety of great buys. Since retirement this past year I have cleaned out my closets 2 - 3 times and each time it becomes easier to part with "old friends." I have been giving clothing to family members in need and back to Goodwill. I still have a ways to go, but am feeling lighter already. I now seem to be keeping mostly classic pieces and vintage, since they seem to hold their style the longest.