My Wardrobe, Myself

The intersection of clothing, emotions, and life

In my last post, I wrote about applying the “Goldilocks Principle” to our wardrobes to help us reach the “just right” point in terms of how many clothes we have and how well they suit our lives. I suggested four exercises to facilitate that process, one of which I called the “Plate Exercise.” This exercise entails going through all of the clothes you own and asking yourself whether or not you would buy each one again today (add them to your “wardrobe plate”).

When I wrote about the Plate Exercise, I had not yet done it because I had just come up with it while writing the post. However, I took some time to do it this past week, so I will share the outcome today, along with my thoughts on what I learned from the process. I will also give you an update on my Nordstrom Anniversary Sale (NAS) shopping back in July/August and how I feel about that sale two months later.

By the way, even though I have been writing a lot about wardrobe-related topics lately, this blog has not morphed into a virtual replica of Recovering Shopaholic. I still plan to write about lots of other topics here, as I’ve done previously (see my archives for a list of posts both chronologically and by category). However, as it’s nearing the end of the year and I’ve continued to work on my 2018 theme, essential, I’ve moved my consideration more toward my physical belongings, including my clothing. My last two posts and this one have come about because there’s a strong disconnect between my vision of an essential wardrobe and the contents of my closet. This issue has been top of mind, which is why I have been writing more about it. For those who are more interested in my other topics, I will definitely be getting back to those soon.

Doing the “Plate Exercise”

wardrobe evaluation

Would you buy the items in your wardrobe today if you had that choice? 

Since I had gone through my closet not that long ago (more on that in a future post), I opted to do a “lite version” of the plate exercise. I have photos on my computer of almost all of the clothing, shoes, and accessories I own, so instead of evaluating the physical items, I used the images I have instead. I looked at the image for each item and made a quick determination about whether or not I would purchase it today. I created two folders – one for things I would buy today and the other for pieces I would leave in the store – and copied each image into one of them. I was originally going to just evaluate the garments in my working closet, but I decided to also include what’s in my “holding zone” (the items that either don’t currently fit me or that I’m considering passing on) to help me better identify my current preferences and why certain things aren’t working for me.

The basic end result of my Plate Exercise was that I would buy approximately two-thirds of the items I own again today. The remaining third would be left in the store for one reason or another (more on that below). When I separated out clothes and shoes, I noticed that the proportions stayed the same in that I would buy 65% of each category again today and would reject the remaining 35%. My numbers were somewhat better when it came to accessories in that I would purchase roughly three quarters (74%) of them again today.

My percentages with the “holding zone” items were not so favorable, but that was to be expected. I would purchase only about half (47%) of those pieces again today and would leave the other half (53%) in the store. The majority of the holding zone items that I would buy again are things that don’t currently fit me well. I still like the colors, styles, and silhouettes, but I don’t like the way these garments look and feel on me at my current weight and size. While I could wear most of them now, I wouldn’t feel comfortable in them (physically, emotionally, or both), so they are in limbo pending either weight loss or my sad decision to pass them on. The holding zone items that I wouldn’t buy again today mostly have something “off” about them in some respect. As I look at that folder right now, I realize that I’m hanging on to many of these items because they were either costly shopping mistakes or prior favorites that I no longer love but am second-guessing myself about. I expect to move at least some of these items along in the near future…

As I recommended in my last post, I took my Plate Exercise a step further by looking at the common elements among the items that I would re-purchase today and those that I would reject. This portion of the exercise was very helpful and I highly recommend it. For the sake of not having this become a marathon post, I won’t share my full lists here, but I’ll include some notes below about what I noticed with my clothes and shoes to give you a sense of what I learned. Because pictures are so helpful to illustrate points, I also show some examples of my actual pieces in each section.

Clothing Common Elements:

Would buy again today:

  • Black or jewel tones
  • Black and white stripes/prints
  • Mild embellishments
  • Knits, especially with a bit of stretch in them
  • Straight-leg pants and jeans (often look “skinny” on me)
  • Tunics
  • Casual v-neck and crew neck tees (including graphic tees)
good clothes examples

Examples of the types of clothes I would buy again today

Would NOT buy again today:

  • Warm tones
  • Too much embellishment (i.e. ruffles) or “busy” items
  • Flimsy fabric (especially cotton/modal blends without spandex)
  • Uncomfortable or scratchy fabric
  • Too short for my height / hit me at a bad spot (widest part of hips or calves)
  • Anything with a “church lady vibe” (too dressy/stuffy)
  • Too tight or borderline tight in the hips, especially with little or no “give”
  • Too similar to wardrobe favorites (“splitting my wears”)
  • Items bought with “sales goggles” on (bought just because of low price)
bad clothes examples

I would not buy these pieces again today for various reasons…

Shoe Common Elements:

Would buy again today:

  • Black or cool tone metallic colors
  • Streamlined styles or mild embellishment
  • Silver hardware
  • 2-inch heels (seems to be my “sweet spot” for most shoes)
good shoe examples

Examples of the types of shoes I would buy again today. 

Would NOT buy again today:

  • Dressy styles
  • Too shiny
  • Gold hardware
  • Warm tones
  • Flats (except for sandals I wear with maxi dresses and skirts)
bad shoe examples

Some of the shoes I would not buy again today – flats, shiny, warm-toned, etc. 

These notes will be useful for me in terms of my future shopping, along with the “Do Not Buy” and “Okay to Buy” lists I mentioned in my last post. I want to be very targeted with what I buy, especially since I’m trying to decrease closet churn and reduce shopping mistakes. I won’t be purchasing much more this year beyond replacing some basics, but doing the Plate Exercise and creating the aforementioned lists will help me form  a workable plan for 2019.

An Update on NAS…

Speaking of shopping, I want to give you an update on how I fared with shopping the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale (NAS) back in July/August. Prior to venturing out to shop what has long been my favorite sale, I took some time to check in on my shopping progress and setbacks and revisit key strategies I’ve learned for successfully navigating the veritable minefield that is sales shopping.  Armed with an updated shopping priorities list and a series of questions to target my purchasing, I browsed the sales offerings online and then visited my local Nordstrom to try things on at the start of the sale.

That initial shopping trip was very mindful and quite productive. Everything I bought was something that I had identified as a priority, including booties, a long knit blazer, and two nightshirts. Since my birthday is in early August, I knew I would receive money from family members, which is usually applied toward enhancing my NAS shopping budget. Not everything I was interested in was available in the store, so I had to place an online order as well, but I left the store feeling satisfied and like I had shopped consciously and appropriately for my budget and my life.

Unfortunately, I didn’t stop there… I allowed myself to be sucked in by the various bloggers and online forum members who were posting incessantly about this “big sale.” I was alerted to items that had escaped my notice during my initial perusal of the Nordstrom website and my local store’s offerings. I shopped the in-person sale again with a friend and also ordered a few additional items online. The majority of what I bought during that follow-on shopping was later returned. I didn’t spend a ridiculous amount of time and money on the sale like I had in years past, but it was still too much and I wasn’t proud of myself for getting caught up in the NAS frenzy.  I mostly stuck to my word about saving my returns to do all at once so that I wouldn’t shop more. However, since I live so close to the store now, I did “piggyback” doing returns on top of other errands, taking care to do so when I wouldn’t have time to do any additional browsing.

What I Bought at NAS

When all was said and done, here’s what I ended up with from NAS:

2018 nas purchases

These are the 9 items I bought – and kept – from this year’s NAS.

I mostly focused on enhancing my shoe wardrobe, as I hadn’t purchased many shoes in recent years, had passed on quite a few pairs, and a lot of my existing pairs have become worn out. I also needed a pair of dressy shoes to wear to my brother’s wedding last month. Since I don’t dress up often, I was happy to be able to find a deeply discounted pair at NAS.

I haven’t worn all of my NAS purchase yet since it’s still quite warm where I live, so there’s still a possibility that I won’t keep it all. The two sleep shirts have already become “workhorses,” and I can see other pieces earning that status as well once we move into fall and winter. I ended up exchanging the two pairs of booties I bought at NAS for alternate pairs (one more deeply discounted than at NAS and one at regular price) earlier this month. Both of the original pairs has seemed like a good idea but ultimately weren’t right for my style and lifestyle. I swapped out the heavily embellished black booties for a more streamlined and subtly embellished pair, and the replacement gray booties are more cool-toned and are a better match for my wardrobe.

NAS 2019 and Beyond…

I’m not sure if I’m going to keep shopping the NAS, as I find that I don’t end up keeping much of what I buy there! It seems like I had the right idea back in 2013 when I opted to skip the sale altogether. I tend to waste a lot of time and energy on a sale for which my track record isn’t very good. I think I have continued to shop NAS more out of FOMO than for sound reasons. It’s a much better idea for me to wait to do my fall shopping when the weather cools down where I live, which often isn’t until October or November. Even though the stores start selling fall items in the scorching heat of summer, there will still be a large selection of items to buy a few months later.  If I do opt to shop NAS again, I think I’ll be extremely targeted about it and aim to get just a few very specific items like wardrobe basics (bras, sleep wear, etc.).

I think a great step any of us who struggle with overshopping could take would be to avoid reading the blogs and forum posts about “amazing deals” and just pay attention to our own shopping priorities. It’s all too easy to get swept up in the enthusiasm bloggers are shouting from the rooftops, but we have to remember that they are earning lots of affiliate dollars by getting us excited to buy what they’re touting. I don’t begrudge their earning a living, but as a recovering shopaholic, I do need to protect myself from engaging a serious case of “the wanties,” which is an ongoing danger.  While it’s true that I have gotten some excellent deals at the sale over the years, I have to ask myself whether or not it’s truly worth all of the time and energy I’ve put into it. After all, there are always “great deals” and sales available and NAS has long been a problem and a challenge for me.  Perhaps it would just be easier to give it a miss next time around in order to save myself a lot of time, attention, and money.

Your Thoughts?

I have shared a lot in this post, but now I’d like to hear from you. If you have done the “Plate Exercise” or something similar, what did you learn from it? I’d also like to hear about your experiences in shopping NAS or other big sales. Do you fare well with your sales shopping or are you better off just buying things at regular price when you most need them? What tips and suggestions do you have for me and your fellow readers? I invite you to share your insights in the comments section.

18 thoughts on “The “Plate Exercise” and NAS Shopping Update

  1. Terra says:

    Another lovely post. I’m glad to see you are settled in and happily writing here. In my mind wardrobe related or other musings are equally insightful and valuable. Most important is to do what you are doing, following your heart and allowing your writing lead you.

    As for me, I’ve deliberately moved into a dreamy space in my spare time. I have a way of being too work focused, too future oriented, accomplishing too much. My current project is Vein of Gold, Julia Cameron. Back to writing morning pages, weekly artist dates in addition to my usual long morning walks. Doing my serious writing and posting my ponderings in my online journal.

    Wishing you all things wonderful.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Terra, and for sharing a bit about what’s going on with you. Yes, I’m trying to follow my heart in what I write about and hope that readers will be interested in what I have to say. I love that you’re in a dreamy space right now and are working on Vein of Gold. I know the work of Julia Campbell is really valuable and helpful for artists of any kind. I think it would be something good for me to revisit, too. I wish you all things wonderful as well!

  2. Tara C says:

    Since the NAS now occurs when I am out of the country every year, I really can’t buy much. All I bought this year (and had shipped to my SIL’s house) is a 3-pack of my favorite Donna Karan deodorants which is a special deal they only do for NAS, and then used my Nordstrom notes to buy a Clinique eyeshadow and a bottle of perfume.

    I have bought one pair of shoes, some sweats and yoga pants this year, so I’m doing well on restraining clothing purchases. Perfume remains my achilles heel, and with the massive amount of stress I have endured this year for various reasons, I have way overspent. I am now on a mega-austerity budget for the next 15 months.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Good for you for using NAS to get things that you really need, Tara. I sometimes forget that they have things besides clothes, shoes, and accessories, there! I’m amazed at how few items you’ve bought this year in terms of clothing and shoes. I know that perfume is the difficult area for you at the moment and it makes sense that you have bought more considering you’ve been under a lot of stress. I shop more during stressful times, too, as I know many of us do. I hope that your stress will lessen soon and I wish you the best with your mega-austerity budget from now through the end of 2019!

  3. Jenn says:

    I enjoyed and feel encouraged and enlightened by your recent post, as I do all your posts. Shopping or not shopping.

    Lately, I’ve been keeping track of the outfits I’ve been wearing, how I feel about them, and the different activities they would be appropriate for. I’m hoping it will help me see what my favorites have in common, what makes them versatile, and further define what I love and what is so-so.

    I’ve also started to go through a spreadsheet of all my clothing and accessories and “X” the “yes” or “no” column—as to whether I’d buy them today. Painful. (I have to hand it to you, Debbie, for both doing this exercise and sharing your results with us.) I’m noting common elements of the items and I would and would not buy again. I’m considering putting some of the items I regret purchasing in another closet to see if I miss them.

    One area was tricky. I no longer work in an office, but I still have dress shoes, a few skirts, and items I wear only for funerals. (An activity, that as the years accumulate, I can’t avoid–complicated by the fact I don’t look good in dark colors.) So while those aren’t items I’d buy today, I’m glad I have them.

    Despite all my efforts to get my shopping under control, I struggle when I feel like my life is out-of-control or when I feel inadequate. That’s when I overbuy–especially blue jeans. Like you, I don’t wear them at home, and I spend the majority of my time at home, but when I’m out and about, a well-fitting pair does wonders for my confidence. Lately, I’ve been on a hunt for straight legs, which so far, do not flatter me. But for it seems that for me anyway, most lessons are learned the hard way.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I think keeping track of your outfits will be valuable for you, Jenn. It made a world of difference for me when I was doing it. You can read my thoughts on that topic in the “Outfit Journal” series I did on “Recovering Shopaholic” ( Keeping an outfit journal was one of the most helpful things I’ve done in terms of my wardrobe management, style, and shopping, and I may revisit it again soon. Yes, it’s painful to realize how many items I own that I wouldn’t buy again today, but I know my percentage has improved and I’m trying to focus on learning from the exercise rather than beating myself up for my mistakes. Great idea to move the “No” items into another closet to see if you miss them! I may “borrow” that idea from you… 😉

      Good point about the types of items we NEED but aren’t excited about. Most of us have those types of items and we need to keep them around. That’s one of the reasons I use the question “Does this add value to my life?” rather than “Does this spark joy?” when I go through my closet.

      I really resonated with your last paragraph. Last year was the first year I exceeded my budget since starting my blog in 2013, and it was because of low self-esteem related to menopause (and the associated body changes) and my gray hair transition. I felt unattractive and was trying to buy clothes that would make me feel better about myself. But while having good-fitting clothes that I feel attractive in helps, most of the self-esteem work needs to come from within. I agree that most lessons are learned the hard way, but at least we’re still learning and growing!

  4. Wendy says:

    I think I always have the plate exercise in my head when I go through my wardrobe. Now I just eliminate items I would not buy again while before I would hold onto them to see if they can be useful the next year. Out of all of the items that have been donated or sold, and believe me when I say there were mountains of items, I have only regretted getting rid of maybe 5 items. I love the plate exercise since it really makes me examine in detail why certain items work better than others. I only have like 20 items right now I would buy again, that works out to be a little more than half. I’m also not a huge shoe and bag person so those items have remained in my wardrobe for years.

    Items that I should not buy more of:

    1) Jeans!! I insist on trying different types because I love the way they look but I very rarely wear them.
    2) Wool sweaters – I adore knits but they are not practical when I have to cook 2 meals a day.
    3) Plain t-shirts – I find myself churning those too frequently as I am very picky about the cut of the t-shirt and they must be 100% natural fiber.

    Items I frequently wear and need more of:

    1) Elastic waistband linen shorts – bought a pair on a whim while shopping with a friend and have been wearing them constantly
    2) Print t-shirts – I have one that I love but have not been successful finding ones I like more.
    3) Winter pants – have yet to find ones that have remained in my wardrobe for more than one winter.

    Great food for thought as per usual Debbie. Look forward to read your post on your recent wardrobe purge.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      How great that you always keep the “Plate Exercise” top of mind, Wendy. It’s wonderful that you only regret getting rid of maybe 5 items. I’m sure my number isn’t very high, either, but I’m curious and will have to check… I usually much more regret having bought something in the first place than having gotten rid of it. The getting rid of is usually more of a relief!

      Thanks for sharing your lists here. They make a lot of sense from what I know about your life. I struggle with plain t-shirts, too, and have better luck with the prints as well. Jeans are always a challenge… I know some people who do great with them, but I’m like you in that area. I will post about my wardrobe purge soon. There may be more purging to come this week, as I have to move all of my clothes out of the closet tomorrow to prepare for new flooring to be put in our bedroom. When it comes time to move it all back, I suspect some items won’t make the cut!

  5. Kim H says:

    I skip NAS for most of the same reasons you mentioned. I find that I am not good at guessing what I’ll need for the next season, so I end up with poor choices when I buy fall clothes in July.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Same here, Kim, and I should know better by now! It seems that my NAS purchases drop like flies in terms of being returned. I don’t know that I will keep everything shown in this post, as some of it is still unworn at this point because our summers start and end late here on average. I really just need to sit it out and deal with the FOMO!

  6. Katrina B says:

    Your posts give me so much to think about that it takes me forever to respond. I’m still mulling over the closet churn post, and thinking about how the amount of churn represented other things that were going on at different stages of my life.

    I feel like I dodged a bullet by never getting interested in the NAS — that would certainly have put me deeper in debt. I was more of an opportunistic or accidental binge shopper (clearance racks), although if I had happened to be in a Nordstrom’s in the middle of a sale, that would have done it.

    I do get the wanties all the time and often I have online shopping carts with dozens of items just ready to go. The trick of saving the shopping cart to come back later if I still want the things works well for me — I never want the things later. The other thing that used to work well for me was Polyvore. I could spend an hour “shopping” and put lots of beautiful (and very expensive!) outfits together, and then come back and admire them whenever I wanted. I was really sad when Polyvore disappeared.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I’m glad my posts give you food for thought, Katrina, and you’re welcome to comment late anytime. I haven’t had to close down comments on this blog like I did with “Recovering Shopaholic” because of SPAM. Fingers crossed that it will stay that way, as I like people to be able to comment whenever they read a post, even if it’s weeks or months after it was posted. So if you want to comment on the closet churn post, be my guest!

      I didn’t use to be into NAS, either, and discovered it exactly how you mentioned, by happening to shop at Nordstrom one year on the first day of the sale. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked, but my enthusiasm is definitely waning now. I love that you use the “power pause” by leaving items in your shopping cart instead of buying them right away. I do the same thing and it works! The only thing I don’t like is that some of the stores now email shoppers and say “Did you forget something?” That can be tempting, but I often just delete the message. The loss of Polyvore is a bummer for many people. It was a great way to be creative with fashion and often spend nothing. I don’t know if there are any good substitutes out there, but hopefully there will be soon if there’s not already.

    2. Claire says:

      Katrina B, so true about “the amount of churn represented other things that were going on at different stages of my life.” I have always felt that the state of my closet reflected the state of my life. Current state: somewhat haphazard but mostly getting the job done 🙂

      Debbie, hopefully the JOMO will outweigh the FOMO in regards to future NAS sales. But I do hope some of your purchases work out well, especially the shoes, those can be hard to replace!

      1. Debbie Roes says:

        I resonated with that comment of Katrina’s too, Claire. I’m glad to hear that your current state is “mostly getting the job done,” haphazard or not… I like your idea of focusing on JOMO in regards to future NAS instances. Fingers crossed about the shoes! I usually have better luck with those than clothes, as I don’t tend to overbuy them so much anymore so they are more thoughtfully considered. Agreed that they can be hard to replace – and comfort is key!

  7. Tonya says:

    Wow you can really tell the difference between the two groups of would I buy it now or not. Was it helpful to see it all grouped together like that?
    P.S. Those black and white print pants are beautiful. 😉

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Yes, there’s a big difference between the two groups, Tonya! It was very useful for me to do this exercise and I’m so glad I did it. I think that I am moving more towards fewer prints and embellished items while you are dipping your toe more into those waters! It’s funny that we both bought the same pair of printed pants 🙂 They have become one of my favorites and I hope to find a full-length pair at some point. I think that doing the “Plate Exercise” will help me to get rid of more “on the fence” items because I’m seeing that they just don’t work for me anymore even if they used to be favorites.

  8. Cathie Perkins says:

    I never really used polyvore, but I find Pinterest great for “virtual shopping” I have lots of clothes boards, I just pin stuff I love and I look at it but I don’t buy much of it. I have a board called “dresses for a dream” life, stuff that is gorgeous but I have no where to wear it. I also have a board of coats because I love them but live in a climate where it rarely gets below 20 Celsius in the winter. I also put stuff in a shopping cart on one of those deal of the day type sites. I put them in a cart and think about them and mostly never buy them. They keep a record of it and if it comes back in stock they notify me and I have another chance. If I miss out there is always another thing done the track that I like. I have a ton of clothes now so really do not need anymore and am happily tracking my wears on excel for a few years now. I’m not where I want to be but I have a much better understanding of shopping pit falls and have lots of personal restrictions in place for my self. If I don’t really love it, and it loves me, I leave it. I love cheap shoes, but mostly they don’t love my feet so moving towards more expensive but supper comfy shoes that I will wear a lot and all day. Ahh restraint, it’s a constant challenge.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Your approach with Pinterest sounds great, Cathie! I have an account there, but haven’t used it much in recent years. I can see how it could be useful for capturing things we like without buying them. I know of one woman who would have monthly boards for things she was considering buying (she had a shopping calendar that dictated what she would buy then). Those boards helped her to make more mindful decisions and served as a “power pause” so she wouldn’t make any impulse buys. I use the same trick you mentioned of putting items in my online shopping cart without buying them. Not all retailers send reminders of abandoned carts, but if I really want something, I will come back for it. More often than not, I don’t, though. I hear you about the cheap shoes! I have to spend a lot more money on shoes these days, too. Yes, restraint is a constant challenge, but I appreciate your sharing your ideas with us here.

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