Monday, 20 February 2012

On wardrobe culling, Part 1

After having given it some thought, I finally engaged in some serious wardrobe culling over the weekend. By serious I mean that I bagged up a lot of clothes to donate. By a lot I mean not actually all that many considering how many clothes I have. All I can really say is "Holy macaroni, Batman, how did this happen?"

I have been holding onto so much crap it isn't funny. The crap in question can be roughly divided into four categories:

1) stuff I used to like and wear years ago but have grown out of, mentally or physically

2) stuff I used to love and then just forgot about

3) stuff I bought thrifted and never really got to wear for whatever reason (fit, colour, randomness)

4) stuff I bought because I bought into a trend, or because I saw it on someone else.

The first category is pretty easy to live with: even if the clothes don't fit me anymore, I at least wore them in the past. The second category is sort of wonderful, actually: I've been re-acquainted with some oldies-but-goodies. The two remaining categories are the ones I'm having a tough time accepting.

I think the main reason I've held onto the thrifted crap and the trend crap / someone else's style crap for so long is embarrassment. I guess I don't do all that well with admitting my own mistakes, and I don't do well with guilt. I have bought stuff, then realised the next day that it wasn't going to work for me, but it would prove too difficult to fully admit it. Maybe I just didn't want to deal with buyer's remorse, the money wasted, or my inability to spot an obvious flaw. Instead, I'd say "darn, I'll figure out a way to wear it anyway." "I'll try it again tomorrow. Or the day after." "Maybe I'll re-work it. I'll take off the sleeves. I'll hem it." "Or maybe I can wear that colour with a tan." And yet, I'd somehow know that I had made a mistake, that I wasn't going to tan, that I never managed to rework an ill-fitting garment successfully. I just didn't want to admit it to myself, and I kept holding onto clothes that I didn't love. After all of my previous culling attempts, there were (and are) still way too many clothes like that in my wardrobe. Time after time they kept creeping in somehow, and there they remained, because to admit failure is not always an easy thing to do.  

As I was digging into my mess of a wardrobe over the weekend, it became obvious that yes, I have made plenty of mistakes. I've had moments of clarity like that before, and they led to nothing: I'd get rid of my mistakes and then make more of them. I tried a different approach on Saturday: I started trying stuff on, and I tried to remember why I had decided to buy that particular piece of clothing. I tried to remember the last time I had worn it, and if I didn't remember, or if I didn't recall the way that garment made me feel, I'd fold it away. I asked myself what was wrong with whatever needed to go: was it the colour, the fit, the hem length? Once I started asking myself questions and being honest with my answers, it got surprisingly easy to admit that I had made mistakes. Because you know what, everyone has made mistakes, and to acknowledge them and to understand them is the only way forward. If we don't fully admit to ourselves what we have done, we will never change.

After about two and a half hours of culling, I had bagged up five big garbage bags of stuff. I couldn't help but admit that I had barely begun the process, that there was a lot more stuff that needed to go, but then I stopped myself. I had to, because getting rid of all of that stuff felt a little bit... too rewarding. I've been there before: I've culled one day, lived with an emptier wardrobe for a week or two, and then started buying again.  I figured that I'd better do this in stages this time. I don't want to get too comfortable. I am not ready to see a healthy wardrobe just yet.

Pictures from a Montgomery Ward catalogue, 1950.


jesse.anne.o said...

I am in a similar phase right now. I'm trying to pace it by making sure I get rid of something every time a new item comes in. I have noticed I'm being very careful when shopping. I've had $70-80 worth of credit to Beacon's Closet for ages and even though I've tried on upwards of 20 items each visit on both of my recent trips, I left with one clothing item each time. The second round I decided to buy two new necklaces because yet again I'm trying to make more of an effort in the accessories area. (Does this make me feel like an AbFab character? Yes.)

I also noticed I have a ton of things that are just fit issues and need a tailor (or even more pathetically, a dry cleaner) so I'm putting my focus there as well. Making those things work. Which means I should probably have a "don't buy it if it needs work" rule.

It's so hard to figure out what I'll actually put to good use though. I wish that part were easier.

Sarah said...

I've been doing something similar, too--for each item that I get rid of I write down what I was thinking when I bought it and why I'm getting rid of it. That exercise makes clear that I have a lot of items in your #3 and #4 categories. I'm hoping that this will help me be more effective at evaluating things when I'm shopping.

Not purging everything at once--that's good advice!

Teeny said...

I've recently culled my is all sitting in drawers waiting to see if i will like it in winter or again at all. And that felt good! It feels so much less stressful to be able see what is in my wardrobe, to get the chance to wear it all,to have less choice and wearing what i really like. I think having too many choices makes me agitated. We've also cut off our cable TV so have about 7 channels now - 2 of which i occasionally watch. Before it was confusing and irritating to have such a plethora of garbage type options. kind of the same predicament with my wardrobe. i'm feeling really pious can you tell? But i don't feel like i need to replace anything. I don't want anything else.

Cynthia said...

I have been culling this weekend, in preparation for taking a whole lot of my stuff to a big consignment sale.

I'm going to do a blog post about it, but I was a little consternated to see that what I was getting ready to toss filled up my shower rail quite nicely, and would probably be considered a wonderful wardrobe by someone with lesser means (or more self-restraint) than I.

I keep things for the same reasons as you -- basically, embarrassed that I haven't been able to make them work and that I wasn't responsible enough to return them in a timely fashion. What I did notice about my rail o' stuff, though, was that with only a couple of exceptions, it was all bought in the years before I started the blog and started to think more systematically about my wardrobe. So I just have to get rid of it, and not let it build again.

Shey said...

Good job Waves, congratulations!! =D I know it's so hard to put things in the donate pile, last Spring my closet was so crammed I could not even see what all I had in there, I emptied and donated a lot and my closet hasn't been as crammed since, however there are still a couple of pieces that I am still holding on to, mainly it's the vintage, because since they are vintage they are hard to come by again right? Well at least that's why I have been holding on to them, but you've inspired me to do the same, to ask me and respond with honest answers, this Spring when I put up my Winter clothes I want to make sure that it's only the clothes I wear all the time and not just something I feel I must wear because it's there. The funny thing is that I'm more attached to my throated stuff than my new clothes that I bought, I guess because like I said, it wasn't easy to find them, some I had been wanting for a long time and so there was time and patience put into buying them. I think it's time for me to do a second clean up in my closet, I think I'm ready for phase two. =)

Kitty Frank, Realtor said...

Over the past year or more I have fell into a system where if I put something on...and then change it before leaving the house..that item then is put on a couch I have in the entryway to our bedroom. Then as I walk past it everyday I try to put a name to why I didn't wear it. It helps to finally identify EXACTLY what is wrong with it: the sleeves are too baggy, the color is too muted, the hem is a little short/long. At the same time, I can think through why I have kept it so long when it obviously wasn't working for me: such as I really need a soft gray sweater, or I would like to have more green tops, or I want something fun in animal print.

Once I get these two ideas figured out the item is ready to go to donation or resale. This little workaround has prevented me from buying the same mistakes over and over because I have clarified exactly what it is that I need!

Anonymous said...

I like this approach of asking yourself questions about why you bought certain things. Do you think you could select one item, picture it and then walk us through the internal monologue.

I know I have purchased things that I've never actually worn in real life. Most of the time it has to do with fit...because I don't like to try things on when I shop. Love the illustrations from Montgomery Ward.

Sunjo said...

I realllly need to cull, especially since I'm going to be moving soon. My closet is screaming for space and I have piles everywhere. My main problem is that I don't own a lot of stuff that I don't love. I guess I need to narrow down and get rid of things I actually don't wear often. I'm WAY too nostalgic about some of my older clothes...

mycatssaymeow said...

I have also decided to do my culling in stages. I have read about others culling and then within days buying up big time, things that the *think* that they need or will work, clearly without thinking it though.
With respect to your comments re piles #3 & #4... I think in the culling process is a lesson to be learned. If you figgure out exactly why each of the specific items ended up in those piles you will hopefully not make the mistake again :)

tigerteacher said...

It's funny. Recently, I haven't been thrifting too much and I think it's been a good thing. And, after a few years of barely spending on non-thrift clothing, I have actually invested in some blouses and pants. I LOVE each item I purchases and (gasp!) some of them weren't even on sale! Until the past year, which has been a very busy one, I would never have bought something that wasn't on sale. I thrifted lots of neat stuff with lots of personality that required a lot of time and attention to make it work. I still have some of these items and, now that I've invested in some good quality clothes that fit me well, they are easier to style. I'm not sure where I'm going with this, except to say that sometimes for me the siren song of the thrift shop bargain ends up exacting its price in time and frustration while I'm trying to get out the door in the morning! Enjoy your culling process and the freedom it can bring! :-)

lapindelune said...

I've often wondered if incessant wardrobe culling, followed by a fast replacement of items is just another form of 'fast fashion' in itself.
My one and only large cull took place about 12 months ago, and at first i found myself searching around in a frenzy to replace, except with intention to locate finer quality garments, which doesn't always have to be synonymous with high end/luxury (which is another kind of trap altogether!!). But I made my mistakes, and still so, even if they are less traumatising and few & far between nowadays.

I think a lot of my mistakes have arisen via seeing gorgeous stuff in wishlists/collages, laid out on style blogs in such a pristine and pretty way. This is a huge issue, really, for the reality of such outfits rarely live up to the dream. I try to seek images of regular people actually wearing the items that I covet, via googling (models are styled, so that rarely counts). Perhaps we have to learn to separate our true desire to possess a treasured piece from that pesky little impulse monster which lurks in the shadows.......if we feel impelled to pursue something due to having seen someone else look good in it, this might be a good indicator for caution.

It can only get better!

Red said...

This is a fascinating series of posts and I'm very grateful to you for writing them. I know it is not easy to be so honest regarding stuff one feels embarrassed or uncomfortable about.

And I agree that the stimulation of fashion blogging can be problematic; I'd liken it at times to offering cocktails to an alcoholic. I find your posts on this so refreshing especially because there are several fashion bloggers I read who are obviously lovely, good-hearted people, but who also very clearly have a deep addictive problem with shopping and accumulating. It can be painful to watch/read.

I have my wardrobe struggles too. I am battling a weight issue, for starters. I literally have three size range sets of clothing. We've figured out that if I got rid of all but one, we'd free up...oh, so much space that it IS embarrassing to admit.

But there are other reasons for accumulation. And I find that I end up struggling with the same behavior patterns over and over if those deeper reasons aren't explored, addressed, and ultimately treated with compassionate understanding.

One for me involves using compulsive clothing shopping as a strange sort of self-comforting ritual--surrounding oneself with things and forming attachments to them in part because human relationships can be difficult and painful. I've noticed that a lot of my friends who had troubled, difficult, and/or abusive parents tend to collect and hoard. Healing the wounds from childhood in these matters helps me greatly with my urge to accumulate...NOT simply to control it, but to actually FREE myself from it.

Also, I simply have an overwhelming love of beauty, and beautiful clothing is, for me, like great art. So that adds a second layer to the urge to accumulate--a wish to surround myself with beautiful things for the happiness they bring, and for how they elevate my mood and feed my spirit.

And lastly, though I'm a terrible slob in many ways lol, I am both very creative and very exacting in artistic terms. I think creative self-adornment can be vitally satisfying when carried out in a healthy way. (Defining healthy, and knowing it when you feel it, can be the rub there...)

But the thing is, I like lots of different paint colors to choose from on my palette; often, in order to get something JUST right creatively, I really do need a full selection of raw materials to work with.

It doesn't help that I'm also a rather mercurial person who bores easily!

In the last year I have given away or sold so much stuff (principally clothing) that it boggles my mind. But the best part is, I don't miss ANY of it, and I have had less and less drive to replace any of it. Gradually, my shopping urge has modulated itself to a gentle pleasure working with what I do have, and occasionally window-shopping for ideas while only very seldom buying.

(One huge discovery we share, I think, is that thrifting isn't always the best way. In the last year, I've refined my thrifting to the point where what little I buy I do wear; but like you I've also acquired a few very well-considered new items which I wear CONSTANTLY. Indeed....that IS perhaps more "sustainable" or conscientious behavior that glutting myself with nine zillion thrifted items.)

I just have to keep at it. My hope is that by this time next year I will have a completely clean, echoing basement with just a couple of racks and tubs of seasonal/dressy/costume-y clothing in one corner.

I wish you luck! I totally support you in your quest for balance and harmony in all things fashion-related.