Thursday, February 7, 2013

Frugal February Day 7: Clothes Culling or How Not to End up Buried Under a Pile of Your Own Diapers on Hoarders

One of my biggest expenditures, other than eating out, is on clothing. Sometimes accessories, sometimes shoes, often lately dresses, the idea of something new as a "pick me up" is hard to resist. Moving from my apartment, where I had a decent-sized closet, under-bed storage and two chests of drawers, to our house where I have a dress rack but no closet, small under-bed storage and only one chest of drawers, was an adjustment. But it's been a good one. A smaller space means that I have to make do with less and it's helping to ensure that I get rid of things in a timely manner.

I'm no expert but I have been experimenting with different strategies to avoid a) buying stuff I'll regret and b) keeping stuff I no longer enjoy. I basically try to adhere to the following guidelines (rules sounds too harsh- unless you like the naughtiness of being a rule-breaker, in which case, call them rules and go on with your bad self)

1. My sister and I made a pact last year to stop buying "disposable clothing". Disposable clothing is categorized by us as a) pieces that cost less than $10 (usually with good reason) and b) things that are "nice enough" that you'll invariably hate a year from now.

 I recognize that for a more "daring" piece, disposability can be an asset- you're okay buying something trendy if it's also cheap enough to risk it- but normally, if it won't become a favourite, we talk each other out of buying it. We know each other well enough and have gone through each other's closets enough times to know what styles end up getting the sack year after year. For her it's thin sweaters with ties and generic "chino-style" pants. For me it's usually wide-legged dress pants and cable-knits. We are drawn to them only to hate them months (or even weeks, if we're being honest) later.

Even though we try to cull regularly, the 80/20 rule definitely applies to our closets. I'm making a conscious effort to change that but for now, I really do wear 20% of my clothes 80% of the time. The question we always ask the other when they're hemming and hawing over something in the changeroom is: do you want to wear it tomorrow? If the answer is no when it's brand new and shiny, you're never going to want to pull it out of the closet when it's a few months old.

2. Same goes for size/fit. If it doesn't make you look amazing right now, it's not worth it. You may lose those 10 pounds, you may get a curvier butt, you may sign up for some sort of scientific trial that leaves you with a tiny waist and the ability to shoot lasers out of your mouth but if it isn't something you want to put on your current body, it's just a scrap of fabric taking up room and making you feel inadequate. If you must have a "goal outfit" make it just that - A goal outfit. If you love it to death and feel that will be a motivator then hang on to it, but a second wardrobe of clothes is impractical, space-wasting and, frankly, depressing.  You should be able to look at your closet and be delighted by choice - not overwhelmed by the daily search-and-sort you have to do to find something appropriate.

3. Don't buy two of something - it makes it less special. This one is weird, and, of course, your mileage may vary, but for me, buying two of something is a recipe for a quick trip to the local donation bin. I remember when I was in high school, an American Eagle opened up for the first time and oh, but I was eager to shop there. I bought a pair of men's shorts (such a bad-ass) and two of these bright tank tops, one in yellow/blue, one in green/white. I loved the hell out of both of those tank tops.. for about six weeks. Then I started ignoring them whenever my fingers passed over them in my closet. Eventually, I just tossed both of them at once, after realizing they'd been in my closet for four years and I hadn't worn them in two.

The secret there is that I'd really only loved the green one. I bought the yellow one two days later when I was making my way through the sales rack and decided I might as well buy another. That was my mistake - now that "have-to-have-it shirt" became the "been-there-done-that-bought-the-t-shirt". It was immediately made "old" by the presence of another. I've since learned that even if I love a shirt, I shouldn't buy it in several colours - just last month I threw out two shirts that I loved when I got them but were too similar to styles or colours I already owned. Ugh - my loss, your gain, Canadian Diabetes Association.

The one exception I'm willing to make here is if you find something you love that's a classic (think dark blue, straight-leg jeans, great fitting plain white blouse, favourite t-shirt in a discontinued style), then I'd recommend buying two of them - but storing one (if you have the space) until the first wears out. I once had a fabulous pair of dark blue denim pants (yes, a pedant might call them "jeans" but they were thinner than jeans, with a good amount of stretch.. was I wearing jeggings? Oh god. They were probably jeggings) and I loved the hell out of them. They made my butt look great and they were comfy as all get out. When the inside leg of one side wore right through, I was devastated, despondent. I was more upset than I had any right to be, really. I sincerely wish I had bought two pairs because now they're long gone and I didn't even have the sense to read the tag so I could track them down again. And I haven't found a pair of pants like them since.

Another example, The Boy has a dark blue military-style button-up shirt in a timeless style that both he and I adore. He bought two of them and put the other away in a drawer. Now if the first wears out or fades dramatically, he can just switch it out for the other.

But I have accepted I just can't buy two of anything similar at the same time. The "fun" of owning the item is immediately cut in half by its twin. Like I said, it may be different for you, but I just can't fool myself any longer.

4. Take it out of your closet. When I'm unsure of whether to toss a piece or keep it, I take it off its hanger, fold it, and put it someplace out of the way for a day or two. I don't know why my brain thinks this way, but once it's out of my closet (or dress rack, in my case), it stops being "my clothing" and I can think more objectively about it. Often times that's all it takes for me to decide that a skirt or dress isn't worth my time any longer.

5. Consign it. I'm a recent convert to consigning but I was amazed that I made some actual money off of doing this. I had a few small bags of clothes I was going to give away anyway, and I took the best of the bunch to a consignment shop near my parent's place. I had to make a meeting in advance but the whole process was fairly painless. It's a little humbling to have someone paw through your clothing with a discerning eye but if you can get past the feeling of rejection, it's a great way to pick up a little cash. The place I went to charts your purchases online so you can see what's sold, how much it's going for, and how much you'll make off the deal. The place I went with also donates all the stuff it doesn't sell to local women's shelters. All told, I made about $35 off of my batch of about 10 items. Not everything sold but at least it ceased to be my problem the minute I stepped out their door. Great experience - I'm going back again in another week.

6. Have an honest friend. My sister and I are brutal on each other's wardrobes but it's necessary. Growing up, we'd try to get rid of things in our closet with our mom's help but every time we'd discard an item she particularly liked she'd moon "oh.. that was such a pretty piece. I always thought you looked so nice in it" and then she'd sigh like she was Catherine, pining for Heathcliff on the moors or something. We'd guiltily ask for the piece back and then hang it up, never wear it, and wait until she wasn't looking to throw it out.

Now we're wiser. We buy our own clothes so mom's not in the picture anymore, and occasionally we'll get together on the Straight Talk Express and hammer at each other's egos for a bit. It's all done out of love, of course, and we're only doing it out of a desire for the other one to look amazing. If we're being particularly kind we'll scrunch up our noses and mutter "not your best". If we're at the end of a particularly gruelling session we're more likely to yell "are you kidding me with this shit?! What are all the other hobbits wearing this year?" and then grab the clothing out of the other's hand and cram it in a grocery bag.

We usually do this twice a year - once in the spring and once in the fall. I go through my clothes first and remove whatever doesn't fit, has holes, or doesn't suit me for whatever reason. I take the "maybes" off their hangers and fold them (see guideline #4). Then I do an impromptu fashion show for my sister and she hurls abuse at me until we both just want the day to be over with our mouths full of pizza. We've got it down to a science now so it doesn't take more than an hour or two (often depending on how nimble the clothes-tryer-oner is feeling that day). It's a great feeling when it's over because you have tangible proof of your success and you feel you can justify bringing a few more "have to have it"s into your life.

So, that's it - those are all the tips I got for ya. Do you have any surefire ways to make sure your closet stays manageable? With the state of mine lately I'm starting to think "controlled fire" has its perks...

 * Note: not necessarily are you going to wear it tomorrow. Otherwise I don't think us Canadians would ever buy a pair of shorts

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