My Wardrobe, Myself

The intersection of clothing, emotions, and life

I’m now more than a third of the way through the wardrobe “half project” that I launched in early May. The objective of this year-long challenge is to pare my wardrobe down to half of its original size, to only those items that I feel good in and look forward to wearing. The reason I embarked upon the half project is because my theme for 2019 is “freedom” and having too many clothes feels like a burden and weighs me down. Additionally, since I have become relatively minimalist in terms of all of my other possessions, my overly large wardrobe sticks out as a glaring exception to the way I want to live my life.

In today’s post, I’ll update you on how I have progressed with the challenge since my last update back in July. I’ll let you know what I have swapped out, what has been swapped in, what has been purged, and how I’ve done with the rules I established for the half project when it began. I also compare and contrast how the “ideal wardrobe” numbers I calculated in my last post line up with the initial half project calculations I made for my wardrobe categories.

wardrobe half project before and after

Moving from overabundance and chaos to a streamlined wardrobe through the “half project” challenge. 

What I Swapped Out in August

August was a month during which a lot of swaps occurred between my “working wardrobe” and my “holding zone.” By that time, I had been dressing for summer weather for well over a month, so I had a much better idea of what I wanted to wear and what was working best for me in my warm weather ensembles. I also made some purchases and other clothing acquisitions (gifts, hand-me-downs) during July and August (more on these below) and I wanted to integrate my new items into my main wardrobe.

When all was said and done, I ended up swapping out 25 items during August:

  • Pants/Jeans: 3
  • Cardigans: 4
  • Jackets/Coats: 4
  • Long-Sleeved Tops: 4
  • Short-Sleeved Tops: 8
  • Skirts: 1
  • Dresses: 1

These items are all shown in the photo below:

August swapped out items

I swapped out these 25 items for various reasons during August. 

Because I made so many swaps last month, I won’t go into the specific reasons for each one, but I’ll highlight some of my reasons for making the swaps.

  1. Unworn items with tags: There were two duster cardigans that I’d never worn even though I purchased them in the spring, so I returned them both for refunds. I tried reaching for these cardigans a few times, but the fabric and fit just never felt right to me. I also have two other cardigans in the same color and pattern (cobalt, black and white striped), so I didn’t really need duplicates, especially when I’m working to cultivate a smaller wardrobe.
  2. Fit issues: Some of the swapped out items technically fit me, but I didn’t like how they looked or felt on my body. It’s possible that I may be happy with these garments if I’m able to drop some more weight (I’ve slowly dropped some weight in recent months…), but since I don’t want to wear them now, I removed them from my working wardrobe for the time being.
  3. Style issues: Personal style usually evolves over time and there are some items that I once liked but no longer feel drawn to wear. For example, I no longer like a lot of embellishments or ruffles on my garments, so I opted to swap out pieces that included such features.
  4. Duplications: A few of the items that I swapped out are quite similar to other pieces in my working wardrobe. Since I prefer the other items and reach for them more often, I swapped out the lesser loved garments.

Three of the items that I swapped out have been purged, four have been set aside to sell online, and the others are now in my holding zone. I will decide on the fate of the holding zone items as I proceed with the challenge.

The Fate of My June and July Swapped Out Items

I swapped out 11 items in June and 12 items in July. I thought it would be interesting to give an update on where those items are now:

  • Returned: 2
June and July swaps - returned items

I returned these two items that I swapped out in June. 

  • Consigned / Donated: 11
June and July swaps - Purged items

These 11 June and July swaps were either consigned or donated. 

  • Downgraded: 1
June swap - downgraded item

I downgraded this tee to at-home wear only.

  • In Holding Zone: 7
June and July swaps - holding zone items

These 7 June/July swapped out items are still in my “holding zone.” 

  • Swapped Back In: 2
June and July swapped out items - Swapped back in

I swapped these two items back into my working wardrobe. 

The swap feature of the challenge is helping me to understand what is and isn’t working for me. It allows me to experiment with items for a while before deciding upon their ultimate fate. If I opt to swap the seven June/July swapped out garments in the holding zone back into my working wardrobe, it will be a “make or break” situation, as the challenge rules dictate that items swapped out a second time need to be passed on. As you can see, however, more than half (57%) of my June and July swapped out items have already met that fate. Things are usually swapped out for a good reason, but I’m glad that I held on to the two items that I swapped back in, as they’re working better for me now than I thought they would.

What I Swapped In During August

As I mentioned above, there was a lot of turnover in my working wardrobe since my last update. While I swapped out 25 items, I only swapped in 23. Many of the items that I swapped in were new acquisitions, including some gifts that I received for my anniversary and birthday, as well as some items that I selected from my mother-in-law’s closet while clearing it out following her passing. Although she was shorter and smaller than I am, because she often wore loose-fitting garments, some pieces that I liked actually fit me. I’m not sure yet how I will feel about wearing them, but I opted to swap three of them in last month. If it feels too sad for me to wear them, I will swap them out and try again later. It’s hard to know how I will feel… It may feel comforting to wear her clothes and it may just be too soon.

I also made some purchases during July and August that have been integrated into my main closet. Unfortunately, I didn’t stick to my challenge rule of only purchasing two “out and about” items per month after my initial two-month shopping pause. Although I could make some justifications about why this happened, I’m not going to do so because the bottom line is that I broke my own rules. I do believe that I can get back on track, but an influx of new items has long been my Achilles heel when it comes to my wardrobe. I have written about this issue many times on this blog and my previous one, but this post on “closet churn” and this one on shopping and happiness probably best outline where I am with this today. If I’m ever going to maintain what I consider a “just right” wardrobe on a continual basis, I’m going to have to stop the churn!

Here’s a breakdown of my swapped in items by category and a quick look at what I swapped into my working wardrobe last month:

  • Pants/Jeans: 4 (vs. 3 swapped out)
  • Cardigans: 1 (vs. 4 swapped out)
  • Jackets/Coats: 0 (vs. 4 swapped out)
  • Long-Sleeved Tops: 0 (vs. 4 swapped out)
  • Short-Sleeved Tops: 11 (vs. 8 swapped out)
  • Sleeveless Tops: 2 (vs. 0 swapped out)
  • Skirts: 1 (vs. 1 swapped out)
  • Dresses: 4 (vs. 1 swapped out)
August swapped in items

I swapped these items into my working wardrobe during August. 

Most of the short-sleeved tops (9) and the cardigan can also be worn at home, so they are not exclusively “out and about” items. However, during the hottest months of the year (usually August and September), I don’t typically mix and match my at-home and out and about wardrobes as much, so I decided to include these tops in my working wardrobe, which is centered on out and about wear. As things cool down, I’m sure I will wear at least some of the tops and maybe the cardigan at home as well.  It’s also possible that I may return a few of these things if I don’t wear them soon. I’m supposed to return anything that I haven’t worn within two weeks, but I think I’m going to extend that limit to a month given that I only wear out and about items roughly half of the time.

Unfortunately, I’ve found that casual t-shirts tend to have the shortest lifespan in my closet. They just don’t tend to be made as well as other wardrobe items and no matter how much I “baby” them, their longevity is often limited. Many of them don’t meet the 30 wears benchmark that I would like to reach for all of the garments I buy. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to matter what brand the t-shirts are or where I buy them. I have had Target tees last longer than ones purchased at Nordstrom, for example, and most brands are inconsistent in terms of quality. The poor quality of tees leads to my buying quite a few of them each year, as my casual lifestyle dictates that I wear these items often. If there are t-shirt brands that have consistently worked well for you and have lasted for 30 or more wears, please share them in the comments section.

Some Challenge Statistics

Since I started the “Half Project” in May, I have made a lot of swaps and purged quite a few items. Here’s a quick breakdown of how my “out and about” wardrobe has shifted over the past four months:

  • Items Swapped Out: 46  (of these, 18 have either been returned or purged)
  • Items Swapped In: 43 (of these, 36 remain in my working wardrobe)
  • Total Items Purged: 45 (some of these pieces were purged from my holding zone or “skinny box,” not my working wardrobe)
  • July/August New Acquisitions: 19 (10 purchases, 6 gifts, 3 hand-me-downs)

Of the items I purchased, only four could be considered “out and about” only items, but I still want to be careful not to buy too many new items, especially since I don’t mind wearing the same at-home garments over and over again. My at-home wardrobe is still relatively small and I don’t really need to add much to it at this point. Additionally, just because some of my items can do “double duty,” in reality I don’t tend to wear a lot of them at home, particularly during the summer months.

Thus far, no items have been swapped out or in twice, which is good. As I stated above, the challenge rules dictate that if I swap something out twice, I need to pass it on for donation or consignment. We’ll see if that ends up happening before the end of the challenge. I suspect it may happen a few times, but probably not all that often.

  • Items Currently in Working Wardrobe: 127
  • Items in Holding Zone: 37
  • Items in Skinny Box: 16
  • TOTAL: 180

“Ideal Wardrobe” Size vs. Half Project Calculations

When I started the half project, I tallied up all of the clothes in my main closet, holding zone, and “skinny box” and separated everything out by category. Then I divided each category’s number in half to determine how many items to start with in my “working wardrobe.” Of course, I didn’t know how many items I would ideally need in each category, but I figured that those initial numbers would be a good starting point.

Last month, I revisited the “ideal wardrobe size” exercise and determined how many items I would need for each category based upon desired frequency of wear, weather considerations, my typical activities, and what I like to wear. I ultimately determined that an “out and about” wardrobe consisting of 118 items (57 for summer and 61 for “not summer”) would be optimal for me. But how do my calculations for that exercise compare with my initial “half project” benchmarks? Well, let’s see…

First, here’s a reminder of my ideal wardrobe size numbers:

Summer Wardrobe:

  • 7 pairs of pants(based upon 10 wears per year)
  • 14 tops to pair with pants(based upon 5 wears per year)
  • 9 toppers to pair with pants(based upon 8 wears per year)
  • 7 dresses/skirts(based upon 5 wears per year)
  • 4 tops to wear with skirts(based upon 5 wears per year, splitting dress & skirt wears)
  • 7 toppers to wear with dresses/skirts(based upon 5 wears per year)
  • 9 pairs of summer shoes(based upon 12 wears per year)
  • TOTAL = 57 items

“Not Summer” Wardrobe:

  • 10 pairs of pants/jeans(based upon 10 wears per year)
  • 21 tops(based upon 5 wears per year)
  • 21 toppers(based upon 5 wears per year)
  • 9 pairs of cool weather shoes(based upon 12 wears per year)
  • TOTAL = 61 items

Now let’s compare and contrast those numbers with my half project benchmarks. To make it easier to do the comparison, I’ll list the half project benchmarks followed by the ideal wardrobe size numbers in parentheses. I didn’t specifically separate out the summer and “not summer” items when I did my half project calculations, so I’ll just list out the categories that I worked with.


  • Long pants/jeans: 16 (10)
  • Cropped pants: 8 (7)
  • Skirts/Dresses: 12 (7)
  • TOTAL: 36 (24)


  • Tops for skirts: 6 (4)
  • Long-sleeved tops (for “not summer”): 25 (21)
  • Short-sleeved / sleeveless tops (to pair with summer pants): 26 (14)
  • TOTAL: 57 (39)


  • Toppers for skirts/dresses: 5 (7)
  • Toppers for pants: 26 (30)
  • TOTAL: 31 (37)


  • 13 (18) – I didn’t separate them out by season for the half project

GRAND TOTAL:   137 (118)

As you can see, the numbers aren’t too disparate, although some of the categories vary quite a bit. I would actually be satisfied if I ended up with either grand total at the end of my “half project.” I haven’t been including shoes in my half project, although I did make an initial calculation for that category when I was originally planning the challenge. I decided not to include shoes, as I haven’t been overbuying in that category for a number of years now. The same is true for accessories and jewelry, and I’m basically happy with my current numbers in those areas.

I don’t know that I’ll be able to winnow down to the number of tops that I calculated in the ideal wardrobe exercise, as I like more variety there, but I’m going to at least try to reach my half project benchmark of 57 total out and about tops. As I mentioned previously, some of my tops do “double duty” in that I can wear them both at home and when I’m out. What I hope to end up with by the end of the challenge (May 2020) is a collection of just 39-57 tops that are only wore out and about. I’ll aim to reach the lower end of that range, but I’m only going to get rid of items that I’m no longer happy wearing (but I’m sure that I’ll also downgrade some tops to at-home wear only).

Conclusion and Next Steps

It was very enlightening for me to make the comparison above and I hope you found it interesting as well. I feel like I’m on the right track with my “half project” even though I didn’t do a good job of sticking to my purchase limit this summer. I believe that I’ll do better with that in the fall months, as I don’t typically buy as much late in the year. When the weather cools down (usually in November), I’ll focus on wearing my “not summer” items and winnowing them down to only those pieces that I like most.

I was relatively satisfied with my cool weather tops and toppers earlier in the year, so I should find myself needing just a few additions and replacements. Pants are a whole other ball of wax and I never overbuy there because it’s just so difficult for me to find ones that I like and which fit well. In fact, I’m not even going to limit my pants purchases because if I hit the “mother lode” (unlikely, but anything’s possible!), I will stock up. I’m tired of feeling unhappy with my outfits because my pants are uncomfortable, too short, or ill-fitting, so I’m focusing more energy on hunting for better options. Since the trends are shifting to looser fits (but ugh on the dreaded high rises that seem to be everywhere…), I may have better luck.

I plan to do another half project challenge update once I reach the six-month mark in early November. At that point, I’ll share more statistics and photos and also update the shopping list that I put together in my July check-in.  Between now and then, I’ll mostly turn back to non-wardrobe topics, including more of my thoughts on Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, an update on my 2019 “freedom” theme, and some insights on life that I’ve learned in the wake of my mother-in-law’s passing. As always, thank you for reading and I welcome your comments.

16 thoughts on “Wardrobe “Half Project” September Update and Ideal Wardrobe Size Comparisons

  1. Tara C says:

    I’m sorry to hear about your mother in law’s passing. It sounds like you are making good progress on your wardrobe project, despite some excess buying. I went overboard on t-shirts and lounge wear this summer, after not buying any for a year or two. There are two shops in particular I am not allowing myself to set foot in for the next two years as a result. My impulse control is still poor and once I get into a store I love and see lots of things I want, my discipline goes out the window. I am doing better on my perfume buying however. My current project is to get down to one bottle a month, eventually one bottle a quarter. I’m also limiting the $ per milliliter and concentrating on lower price range items, as I am finding that prices are not always a good indicator of how much I’m going to enjoy something. I’m getting better at finding things that satisfy me as much as a more expensive item at a lower price point.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Thank you, Tara. It sounds like you’re doing a lot better with your perfume buying, which is great. I like the way you’re approaching that, as well as your clothing purchases. Before internet shopping was prevalent, the only way I could get out of shopping debt was to stay out of stores, but it’s harder now that we can buy things 24/7. I think staying out of problematic shops (and presumably their websites, too, if they do e-commerce) makes sound sense. Out of sight, out of mind often works well. I agree with you that price is not usually a reliable indicator for how much we will like something.

  2. Krissie says:

    Sorry to hear about your mother in laws passing, and it sounds like you will have some insights for us soon. Thank you for the wardrobe updates too which I find intersting and a useful guide for my own clothes, I went to one of my favourite stores yesterday and and was appalled at their current range for our upcoming summer. This store has been having bad and worsening reviews for some time now. On the way home though I thought to myself how this has done me a favour really, as I can almost and surely remove that store from my shopping radar,
    Another interest ing thing is I went on an 8 day vacation 2 weeks ago. It was a winter one and I packed mindful ly for I think the first time ever, took much less with me. I felt a bit nervous about that, but.. found I came home with about still half of packed stuff unworn. It really amazes me how little we fo actually need, and yet at home I agonise over every clothing item. Lo8king fwd to your next post!

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks, Krissie. I’m glad you find my wardrobe updates interesting and useful. Yeah, a lot of stores are declining as of late. I don’t have many real favorites anymore since it’s so hit or miss. Congrats on your packing success! One thing I learned, which should be intuitive but isn’t always, is to pack my favorites when I travel. I used to use that occasion to wear “benchwarmers,” but that was misguided. I find it a relief to have fewer choices when I travel, even if my packing isn’t perfect. I should really remember that “ease” when I want to buy more stuff, but there is frequently a disconnect there.

  3. Gail says:

    I have always had similar difficulty with pants until I discovered that it is so worth paying the price for L.L.Bean’s pants with hidden elastic tabs in the waist. They change size with your body, and my waist seems to grow and shrink all the time. Dress pants I never found difficult, but cotton ones were always too big in places and/or too small in others. Maybe I am lucky, but I don’t need to go through the complicated (for me) record-keeping if I am careful when I buy something. Perhaps an additional reason my wardrobe is so small is that I am quite picky on comfort and fit–and color, to be honest–when I buy something.
    When you are finished paring down,Debbie, will you work on another big project? I am in awe of your statistical savvy and your determination. I am also jealous that you are in the throes of discarding/giving away. It is like a sport to me! You said you have minimalized in other areas. I have as well, but kitchen items seem too plentiful around here. I have the storage, and I seem not to be able to do without anything more. I crave a pare-down project!
    Did you pare down your books, too? That was hard for me, but I did it.
    Continued well wishes and respect.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      That’s great that you have found pants that are more “forgiving” for you, Gail. My midsection is not where I gain weight, though; it’s my hips and thighs. My goal has been to replace all unforgiving pants (or at least most) with looser-fitting and/or stretchier types. I’m making progress there, but it’s slow because what I want is hard to find. I’m sure I will continue to take on projects related to my wardrobe, as I enjoy the challenge and the introspection. I have successfully pared down in all areas except for my wardrobe. Well, I DO successfully pare down there, too, but then I always seem to accumulate more (so that is my biggest challenge). I wrote about my book pare down back in 2015 – you can read that post here: Books can be challenging, but using the KonMari method really helped! I don’t have too much trouble with kitchen stuff, but my mother-in-law sure did! It took us several days to clear out her kitchen. We didn’t take much of her kitchen items because we basically have what we need.

  4. terratrevor says:

    Good progress you are making Debbie.

    It wasn’t that long ago that I was in a similar space, so I remember well. I’m continuing on with another low buy year. Now that my closet has reached the size I want it to be, I’ve placed my closet on a diet.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Thank you, Terra. You’re doing so well with not buying much. I like the expression “placing your closet on a diet.” My closet is kind of a yo-yo dieter lol. That’s the habit I really need to break!

  5. Lori says:

    After struggling for years with trying to limit and pare down my wardrobe without much success, I have finally made some progress this year. Your “Half Project” set this in motion. I was also looking at other blogs and found some with ladies whose style I related to, so I just started interpreting their looks for myself. Also, the biggest hurdle for me seemed to be paring down my color choices. I finally have and I feel this has been a key factor in my new attitude toward clothes. Watching Audrey Coyne’s YouTube videos really helped me. My colors are not her colors, but I have narrowed things down to just three accent colors per season and just 5 items in each color. I hope it lasts! Good luck with your project and I hope you end up loving everything you keep. There really is no reason to keep anything that does not make you happy and that you look forward to wearing.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I’m happy to have played a role in your successful wardrobe management, Lori. I had never heard of Audrey Coyne until I saw your comment, but I have now watched several of her videos and enjoyed them. My style is different from hers, but I like her concepts and will definitely watch more. Limiting my color choices has helped me a lot with both shopping and getting dressed. Not as many choices to ponder and less decision fatigue. I agree with you that there’s no reason to keep things that don’t make us happy. What I really need to do is be much better discerning in the stores and/or do better with returning anything that is questionable. As I’ve heard one blogger say, if it’s not a “Hell, yes!”, then it should be a NO!

  6. Harriet says:

    Ever since your first post on your “Half Project,” I have been thinking of doing the same thing. I told a friend about it and how I just didn’t think I could get rid of half of my clothes… even when doing it by categories. She suggested just looking to eliminate a quarter of my clothes and that seemed doable. Right before you started your project, I had moved my spring/summer clothes into my main closet and got rid of quite a bit at that time so that’s partly why half seemed like too much. The biggest category in which I got rid of more than half was my camisoles. I love them and wear one almost every day. In the warmer months, they help with sheer clothing and in the winter, they keep me warm. I can easily find a reason for a new one, but instead I got rid of over half. I enjoy looking at (and wearing) the ones I kept… all neatly organized by color.
    I love reading about your journey and all the statistics, but honestly, I eagerly read all of your content. I’m so sorry you lost your mother-in-law. I’m sure your husband is grieving too. All the best to you both.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I love that you modified the Half Project to suit your needs, Harriet. Definitely not everyone needs to pare down their wardrobe by half. As in your case, it may only be certain categories that need to be pared down. I don’t tend to have too many bottom pieces, but I have been working to pare down the ones I don’t enjoy wearing. Congrats on downsizing your camisole wardrobe! I’m glad you’re feeling happier about what’s left now that you’ve taken out the lesser loved ones. Thank you for sharing how much you like my content and thank you for your condolences and good wishes.

  7. Jenn says:

    Another lengthy comment from me… The most important thing I’ve taken from your half-wardrobe project is to maintain a holding area. In the past, my decisions were limited to eliminate or keep; there was no in-between. I’ve found that having a holding closet helps me focus my decision making on the questionable items rather than scatter that energy by considering my closet as a whole.

    In terms of clothing items that I thought I’d wear out-and-about, I started with a total of 220. As of today, I’ve consigned or donated 81, have 4 items in holding, and added 11 to the stack of clothes I wear only around the house. That leaves 145 items in my active wardrobe. The number isn’t terrible, but many of those items bore me. So I still have work to do. But I’m pleased with my progress—due in part to the inspiration you’ve provided with your half wardrobe project and by my efforts to be more deliberate with purchases.

    I’ve created a spreadsheet that lists every bottom piece (or dress). Beneath it, I list every top or outer layer I might wear with that piece. I print these—one page per bottom piece and put them in a binder. When I dress to leave the house, I cross off tops that don’t work, make notes of what I wore, how I felt, etc.

    I prefer to shop online to allow myself time to make decisions. The other day, I thought I might have a winner in a pair of teal green skinny jeans. The fit wasn’t perfect, but I loved the color. So I gathered up the tops I thought might work with them and tried them on. Two of the tops worked but the outfit didn’t make me swoon. I returned the jeans.

    Eventually, I hope to come up with a palette of colors to (mostly) stick with and make my wardrobe more cohesive. (I’m definitely going to check out those Audrey Coyne videos!) I also would like to make my wardrobe more interesting—but not flashy.

    I’m tracking outfits that make me feel like “me” when I wear them. Like, how soft or bright is color? How light or dark? How cool or warm? Pretty sure of the answers, but I need to see them. I’m also tracking the seasons in which I can wear my items and using the stats I came up from your last post to see where those numbers fall.

    Obviously, I’m doing a lot of tracking, but eventually, I’ll only having to add new items to my spreadsheet and make better, quicker decisions.

    Love your posts, Debbie. They are inspiring, informative, and always of interest to me.

    Take care.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I enjoy your lengthy comments, Jenn, as we are kindred spirits in liking details and numbers 🙂 I’m glad the holding zone concept has been helpful to you. It has been something that has really served me well over the years and I will likely always have a holding zone, although I hope it will eventually be a much smaller collection.

      You have made AMAZING progress in such a short period of time and I applaud you! I hear you on some clothes being boring. I have the same issue, partially because I have a tendency to gravitate toward similar pieces much of the time when shopping. I love your spreadsheet concept. I did something similar with a list of outfits and I’m checking them off as I wear them (and crossing out ones that I’m “not feeling”), so we’re on the same wavelength… I think it’s great that your approach is helping you to make better purchasing decisions, too. Win, win! Tracking can be extremely helpful and I’m sure I will always do it in some form even though I’m no longer tracking wears for all of my items (but I may go back to that at some point, too – I’m remaining open).

      I think you would like the Audrey Coyne videos. I checked a few out after seeing Lori’s comment. Her latest capsule wardrobe one was very interesting, as she came up with SO many outfits with a relatively small number of pieces. Always inspiring to see such things! Keep up the great work, as you’re inspiring, too!

  8. Fiona says:

    I’ve found that Lands’ End do the best t-shirts for longevity!
    Good luck

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Thank you for the recommendation, Fiona! I appreciate it, as I continue to struggle with t-shirts standing the test of time. I will check out Land’s End the next time I need to buy some replacement tees.

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