Saturday, March 29, 2014

Food, Shelter, Clothing and Optimal Wardrobe Size

Okay, you're fixing dinner for the four people in your family.  So you roast 5 turkeys, and a side of beef, and 2 or 3 bushels of potatoes, and bake at least a dozen pies, right?

Of course not - food is perishable, and you don't want to waste it.

You're out driving around and see a house that's really attractive, so you buy it.  Yea, you already own 8 or 10 other houses - you've really lost track - but this one is pretty, and it's a great price.  Right?

Of course not - houses are wicked expensive, and you simply can't afford to be this wasteful.

You can see where I'm going with this - almost all of us own more clothes than we need, and we keep shopping even though we have enough...


well-organized closet in which all of the clothes are visible
Gorgeous closet from The Container Store

Debbie Roes, over at Recovering Shopaholic, wrestles with this question a lot.  Her blog is full of great candor about her personal struggles, and abounds with intelligent analysis and good ideas for smarter, more disciplined clothes shopping.

She discusses the idea of finding one's personal, optimal wardrobe size.  This can be an interesting exercise- sort of like determining the right amount of food to fix for dinner, or the right sized home to purchase.

So for me, I thought of this as follows:

  • I want to be sure that I wear things at least twice a month, but I will only wear them for half the year, so each garment will be worn, ideally,12 times a year.
  • I have to dress for two distinct seasons - Chicago goes almost immediately from down-filled to linen with no real transitional pause.
  • On average, I have three garments on at a time - sometimes only one or two, but let's assume three per day.
  • So this comes out at 90 garments total - 45 for warm, 45 for cold...
The math goes like this:

45 =((3 garments per day *365 days)/2 seasons)/12 wearings per year

One more decision - how often do I want to wear skirts/dresses versus pants?  I'm dividing things 50/50.

Deep breath....

I want to have enough ensembles to wear things twice a month.  That's 2 weeks worth of clothing.  So that seven skirts/dresses, and seven pairs of pants.  Per season.  Or 14 skirts/dresses, and 14 pair of pants total.

sigh...

I think I have more than this.  I need to tackle my closet. Again.  

But there's really good motivation for all of this. Wasting money is horrible, wasting resources is horrible, and having way too much clothing just messes up your home and your mind...

have a lovely weekend!

Fiverr.com


40 comments:

  1. I have found I really need three seasons of clothing in New England. I also find it makes sense for my life to have more of a division between work, casual and evening/formal clothing. One can have the "right" total number of tops/bottoms/jackets but still have too many/few for a given need. If I exclude the evening/formal wear, I do get numbers almost identical to yours per season.

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  2. Love this concept! You're right - why should we treat clothes buying any differently than food or house shopping?

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  3. This is interesting. How many times per month you wear an item I think would vary greatly from person to person. For me, if I really love a garment, and it is good quality and fits well, I will probably wear it at least once a week, especially bottoms, since they don't need to be washed after every wear. then, winter and summer are very different for me. In winter I wear more pants, in summer I wear more dresses, which require more frequent washing than pants (because they are also tops). So, In Winter, I know I need a lot of tops which will each get worn less often than the bottoms, in Summer I need a lot of dresses as well as tops.

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  4. I am still trying to determine this. I get hung up by wanting different jeans and tops for dancing, clothes for horse riding, exercise clothes and lounging clothes.

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  5. I think it depends what you do--my work clothes are more fragile and sometimes more expensive because I need to present a quality image to clients--think Eileen Fisher, silk, cashmere. In fact, my daughter just threatened me, "if I see you in one more cashmere twinset with a scarf and pearls...)

    These clothes would never stand up to a dog, cats with claws, runs to the grocery store and Lowes, and the rest of my life. I change at the end of the day to jeans, tshirts and sweaters from Target, etc. So while I probably have the same amount of pants (3 or 4 pairs of jeans and 3 pairs of office pants) , 3 skirts, 4 dresses, I have dozens and dozens of tops if I count tanks, tees, sweaters and shirts. Also, I find it's much easier to keep wearing tops thru changes in weight so some I've had for 20 years.

    Since I've recently lost 18 lbs., I may be adding more bottoms, but I'll sew them. Sewing really doesn't save me any money, but it does give me higher quality stuff than I would buy, and I'm pretty good at knocking stuff off.

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  6. Oh Janice! You have too much too? I still think of you as perfect in the "getting and spending" department. Seriously though: many thanks for taking on this issue and for highlighting Debbie's site. I love the idea of going from desired number of wears to number of items. The numbers--as you note--end up being surprisingly small.

    I would love a report on your Thredup experience. Did that work well?

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  7. I love this post so much. I'm a daily reader primarily because you point me to things to buy--creating desire, wanting, more clothes:) but your style too. But the one. Ah, the calculation. I love it. AS a woman in recovery I have to address all addictions and that includes, sadly, shopping and clothes too:) always aware tho that this is a place where I express my art and creativity as well. A gray area? a balance? Thank you for this amazing blog and your thinking.

    DIane Cameron, www.womeninrecovery.blogspot.com "Out of the Woods"

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  8. If I have an item of clothing that I really like and it works for me in various ensembles, I may war that garment 5 times in one week. The same with a pair of pants. I may wear it multiple times in one week. I will wear a different jacket, sweater or scarf to change things up. I do the same with plain knit dresses. (I don't work outside the home.) I do often put on lounge wear (leggings and tshirt) at home to preserve the life of my other clothing. Janice, this post highlights for me that I don't need all that many items. The crunch comes when I travel to a city with multiple events involving the same group of people and all of the events fairly dressy. This is where your travel posts have helped me.

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  9. As soon as I read your post, I started to run the numbers in my head. This is a new way to look at clothes, it seems so obvious once you read it but I know I would never have come up with it on my own. Since I'm revamping and rethinking my wardrobe, this will a very handy tool. Thanks Janice.

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  10. This is a brilliant way of looking at things - good food for thought.

    I find England needs a much wider range of clothing than New Zealand as the weather changes more here. The weather changes day to day as well as changing over the seasons, for example, today I was in a t shirt for some of the day, yesterday I was huddled in a wool coat.

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  11. I really enjoy Debbie's blog! Thank you for sharing your experience with her latest post. I live in Southern California so I can wear the same thing all year by adding tights, a sweater, and maybe a coat. I'm a chemistry/physics teacher and I wear sheath dresses and heels everyday and I also wear them to the grocery store and to Home Depot to buy materials for labs (I put on a lab apron to use bleach and hydrochloric acid). My only real change is I don't need to dress professionally in the summer (I wear patio dresses and nice flip-flops most days). I calculated that I want to wear everything (except going out dresses) at least once every three weeks. That means wearing everything at least 14 times per year. Even with a really small wardrobe, I may have enough dresses alone to make it three weeks without wearing the same one twice. That's frightening. Going through my closet last night and the items removed to the guest room for Project 333, I told my husband, "I don't think I ever need to shop again."(He looked very excited by this idea!) Even with under 100 items of clothing, I have so many things that won't go out of style and won't wear out, I really will only need to replace a few things in the next five years. What a revelation.

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    1. I'm sorry, but what is a patio dress? I've never heard that expression before.

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    2. I googled it and it seems to be another name for a maxi dress. I'd never heard that term either.

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  12. This is very helpful! The challenge for me has always been the going-out dresses and skirts. We do not average 2 dressy events per month! However, what is perfect for a winter graduation may not work for a summer anniversary party, etc. It is just no fun IMO to wear the same dress for evy occasion like Kinsey Milhone and her all-purpose black dress in the Sue Grafton series

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  13. Interesting post. It's important to review location average temperature & rainfall as part of the needs analysis, as well as whether one feels cool or hot, lifestyle and activities. Variety is the spice of life - that's what accessories are for.

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  14. Thank you Janice, for this post. It has come at a time when I am reviewing and revision my spending/shopping habits and trying to subdue my addiction to buying clothes. I am that 'closet full of clothes/nothing to wear' gal. I appreciate the link to RS as well. I have been working very hard to subdue the clothing monster and I'm doing well....but I really want to embrace the minimalist idea to. I want a beautiful, versatile and very functional wardrobe.

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  15. Interesting approach! I had the devil of a time with frequency of wear. So...I popped over to Debbie's site. I should say I slid down the rabbit hole and ended there. lol. It was a productive visit. As a result, I did a complete closet inventory and yet another purge. I started this wardrobe journey with your Core Four series. I moved through a round of Project 333 and a month-long challenge to wear only ten (10) items. Where I landed after this morning's purge is at a total of fifty (50) garments with an eye to reducing that number to thirty-five (35). I get loads of compliments. People think I own tons of clothes. Laundry day is much less hassle. Shopping is a targeted search for upgrades and replacements due to wear. I use accessories to best advantage now. I always look nice and am very happy with my wardrobe. Thanks for getting me started and keeping the inspiration fresh!

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  16. Very good post. It makes a lot of sense, too. I spend a lot of time thinking about my wardrobe...probably too much time. I have purged a lot over the past few years; I have also slowed WAY down on my shopping since the beginning of the year. I have not taken the time to figure the number of garments I need, though. Developing a succinct wardrobe that really works is HARD work! There is so much to think about with regard to coordinating color and garment styles. So often, the colors and styles I like are not to be found in the stores. So, I have reverted to sewing again. I made a pair of lined gray-taupe moleskin pants two weekends ago. They are high-waisted with wide legs, very 1940s Katherine Hepburn. I have worn them on Monday of each of the past two weeks. By this past Thursday, I began wondering if anyone would notice if I wore them again! I think I have found a keeper! My challenge is to make ALL of the garments in my closet have that kind of appeal. I think the real progress begins when you find garments that meet every one of your discriminating criteria. Only then will it truly be loved. The rest is just make-do. That is why we look into our closets and think we have nothing to wear... because we have nothing that is absolutely perfect for us.

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  17. Excellent post! This is my 2014 resolution. I am trying so hard not shop but it is a weekly struggle. I like how you put this-makes a lot of sense. Thanks!

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  18. Thank you for this, and of course, all of your other wonderful posts. Last night (LOL) I spent much of the evening reading all of Debbie's posts about quantities. I think I spent most of my night, thinking about my clothes and maybe going even further with purging, esp. in regard to COLORS, which I really love and enjoy wearing. I do know which ones look best on me and believe the only way to better manage my clothes is to use fewer colors. Anyway, it seemed a wonderful coincidence, reading her posts and this post within a 24 hour period. Best regards, Kirsten

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  19. What a great read - I read this earlier this morning and have been pondering it all day! I am in Calgary Alberta, and it sounds as though our weather is pretty similar to yours. (We are into our 6 month of autumn here - not fun at all . . . )

    I sew my own clothes (and my husband complains that I have too many - don't they all?) and I think that this would be a great approach for me - I work in an office and am acutely conscious of wearing the same garment more than once a week (no reason to really, it is all in my head), so this plan makes sense.

    Enough from me - I am off to start planning my summer wardrobe - winter is going to end soon, isn't it??!

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  20. Thanks Janice, this is a great post and a very helpful way to actually think about my wardrobe rather than just buying because I see something I like. My needs are different - I live in northern California (we have a rainy season, not really winter) and I no longer work outside the home - but the math is adaptable and brilliant!

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  21. Okay, I'm in! Watch out wardrobe - here I come! I think of my wardrobe as already very well edited but I need to do a refreshing. A few years back I realized one area I didn't have enough in was winter coats - we're talking Michigan here! As a frugal fashion girl it seemed right to think one marvelous winter coat was enough - until I wore it every day for months and months! Now I think, for me, it's okay to have a coat wardrobe since all my weekend outfits are built around it. Love you posts Janice!

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    1. I agree - for those of us who have to wear a winter coat every day for almost six months, having more than one doesn't seem an extravagance! I really love my parka from Lands' End, and wouldn't trade it for anything, but after wearing it 150+ times, I could stand a break. Maybe a pink or blue parka???

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    2. Yes! DH convinced me to get a pink parka instead of another black one. It is so much fun! I actually wear it more than my black coat.

      I was actually wardrobe planning before popping over here. I started with a basic wardrobe - similar to yours, but also added basic summer items for a complete basic wardrobe. I know from experience that I need about 10 shirts in the summer (laundry doesn't always happen every 7 days), so I figured an additional 15 items for summer - 10 shirts and 5 more bottoms or toppers. For winter, I figured 10 shirts/sweaters, and 5 more bottoms. The total is about 45 garments for everyday wear. I think this is the minimum with which I would be comfortable. I wear dresses every Sunday to church but not during my regular week, and I like variety, so I planned for 12 dresses/skirt and tops. I would also add capsule wardrobes for specific activities - formal, beach/swimwear, exercise, active/hiking, and skiing.

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  22. "Just enough" is such a personal concept.

    I choose to wear any piece of clothing twice a week, rather than twice a month. That's partly because I just don't have that much money to own more, partly because my closet is 30 inches wide, and partly because I'm a minimalist at heart.

    I live where there are four distinct seasons, so I arrange my clothes in four wardrobes for 13 weeks each. I like to have 10-12 pieces for my "outside the house" life, both work and weekend. What works best for me is three "trios" of three-piece outfits and one dress in each wardrobe.

    Trio one, chosen for maximum professional impact. Worn together, this is an outfit you could give a speech in. But each piece dresses up other outfits or makes them more formal. Jacket, blouse, skirt.

    Trio two, chosen for maximum travel packability. Worn together, you could be stranded in an airport for 24 hours and still arrive ready for a business conference. Ponte knits and jerseys. Slacks, top, cardigan or knit jacket.

    Trio three, chosen for being suitable for a kid's soccer game but still OK for casual Friday. Pullover or other sweater (best if it can be worn buttoned up and without a blouse, for another "look"), collared shirt, slightly less dressy slacks.

    Dress: Suitable for the dressy occasions that come during that season (graduations in spring, holiday parties in winter) but still good for the office. Simple enough to style different ways, must work with jacket.

    If I find that I can't keep up with the laundry in any season, I add a top or two.

    What I've learned: Minimalism is freeing. Also, quality trumps all. If you're going to wear something a hundred times before you part with it, it better hold up. Unfortunately, I've paid a lot of money for things that didn't survive many cleanings. I now choose somewhat sturdier fabrics and cuts. That helps.

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    1. I like your plan! Another way of looking at the closet. Thanks!

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  23. Hm. I have the opposite problem, I think. Counting only pants that does not have holes in them, I have three. One woolen pair for winter, a pair of jeans to play with the kids in, and one beige for summer. I think the average wear for the woolen pair is 4-5 times a week. I need to add more pieces to my wardrobe, but struggle with finding the time to shop, the perfect fit and good wardrobe construction.. I'd hire Marta as my personal shopper in an instant

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    1. Flattered! But my 12-year-old daughter laughed at the idea of me helping someone shop ...

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  24. First, I want to say you are amazing. I follow your blog and love what you do and how you think, so thank you for your inspiration. My observation on the discussion on optimal wardrobe size is that (for me anyway) an entire category of clothing is missing - sports clothes. All of your post makes sense but it doesn't include all of the stuff that takes up an entire dresser for me - winter and summer running gear, cross-country ski clothes, bike shorts, tops and gloves and yes, I own two pairs of super lightweight pants, a vest and felt boots just for fly fishing :) Your conclusions still work - having too much messes up your home and your mind. And the fact that sports attire is ever more specialized (volleyball shoes anyone?), makes it even more challenging.

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    1. I don't include sports gear in my own calculations - I walk/run in moisture wicking tee shirts and yoga pants, and I think I'm perfectly justified in owning five of each, as well as owning five severely ugly and amazing running bras! For me, the right number of sports garments is enough to be able to workout regularly without having to do laundry every other day; in a 2-person household, weekly laundry is more efficient.

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  25. This year as I have reworked my wardrobe (with you as my inspiration) I have struggled with this issue. Gone are now all items that I don't love, don't fit, that don't work with the rest of my pieces, or are not flattering colors or styles. What's left? Beautiful pieces in great colors that all work together. There are still way more pieces than I need. However, what do I love? I do love most of what I have. Please don't guilt me into throwing it all away. I'm a creative type. I love to have some room to play. I love the experience of reaching into the back of my closet and finding a treasure I haven't worn in a while. What fabulous thing can I do with it? I get bored with the same old thing. I need variety. I crave different, new, exciting, surprise. Is a practical number more important than all this creative expression?

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    1. You can do whatever works best for you and what makes you happy! If you're delighted with your closet and your choices, then don't let anybody tell you that you should have anything different - the core goal of this is for each of us to have what's best for us, and that will be different for each person.

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  26. Janice, Thank you so much for highlighting my blog! I loved reading about your optimal wardrobe size. I also enjoyed the comparisons you offered at the beginning of the article about the food and the houses. It really puts things into perspective when you consider things that way, doesn't it? The more I read other people's thoughts on ideal wardrobe size (my post on the topic generated many comments), the more I realize that my wardrobe is still FAR too large. I know I could probably get by with HALF of what I have even though I've basically cut my wardrobe size in half already over the past year. But we're all working at a different pace and I'm still proud of myself for the progress I've made thus far. But I'm also going to continue to work on cultivating a smaller, more workable wardrobe like the one you described. Again, thanks for linking to my blog! I hope that some of your readers will enjoy reading my thoughts on shopping behavior, wardrobe management, and related topics!.

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  27. It's time to sort and cull my closet, so this was a timely post. Sometimes life is simpler with less.

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  28. Oh dear, all those garments ... all that stuff in your wardrobe!

    I adopted the Katherine Hepburn style of dress years ago. Black pants, black tops and shirts in various colours! Your biggest decision each day is .... "errrrr what colour shirt do I wear today?"

    Yes, I know, I look the same, each and every day, right? But at my age I don't care and I'm neat, tidy and 'almost' stylish (well, OK I plonk on a scarf and hat or something else just as good if the weather is colder!). But I'm witty, vibrant, a great conversationalist sooooo, no-one really 'sees' what I'm wearing.

    I have 3 shirts for summer, 3 shirts for winter ... 2 winter pants and tops and the same for summer stuff. LOL no overcrowding in my wardrobe. And everything is washed constantly so I assure you I don't 'stink'!

    At may age comfort is the ultimate "fashion accessory". OK, old crone signing off. Enjoy the angst of fashion kids. LOL I won't be!

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    1. I like this idea as Katherine Hepburn is one of my style icons. I do manage with a similar number of garments when travelling. Unfortunately I need a few more items in my wardrobe while I am still working but the ultimate aim is a the K Hepburn wardrobe. Maryann

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  29. I love you, Anon @ 4:20 am (!)

    Janice, don't think it reduces to your formula, b/c I need that exotic silk kimono top for parties (but certainly not 2x/month) and am not parting with my '70s Halston black top (worn maybe once every few yrs) or a stack of sarongs for the rare poolside appearance. When you need those things, you •really• need them. Agree that 80% are the workhorses you describe. And you are right, the "just OK" pieces and over-bought duplicates need to go.

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  30. Maybe those items that don't fit into the count could fit into one medium garment bag and one medium plastic tub and be stashed in the basement/attic/guest room for those extraordinary needs. There you can also put that one or two items that you "just can't part with" for whatever sentimental reason.

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