I have too many cardigans. It’s almost like I have an addiction to cardigans. If you peer into my closet, you’ll notice a sea of cardigans lined up in front of you, which may cause you to ask:
“Why does one woman – who spends the bulk of her time at home in loungewear – need SO many cardigans?”
In today’s post, I explore areas of duplication, why they can occur, and what to do about it.
Now, your “thing” may not be cardigans. It may instead be jeans, shoes, graphic tees, or trendy blouses. It doesn’t matter what you buy too much of – or have too much of; it’s likely a source of anxiety for you, just like my overabundance of cardigans is for me. And if it’s a source of stress in your life, it bears exploring what’s going on and how you arrived at such an overloaded state of affairs.
When Duplication Is Okay – and When It’s Not Okay
Before we delve deeper into the problem of over-duplication, I want to stress that it isn’t always bad to own a lot of a particular type of item. For instance, if you work in an office and are required to dress in business clothing, perhaps your assortment of blouses or suits gets worn regularly. Or graphic tees may be such an integral element of your signature style that it makes sense for you to have a vast collection. I’m not talking about these types of duplication, because if one owns a wide array of certain types of pieces and actually wears them frequently, there’s no problem that needs to be solved.
The situation I’m addressing in today’s post, however, is quite different. What I’m referring to is when we do not regularly wear the items in question. Instead, we wear them rarely – or not at all – and it causes us to feel guilty. We might feel that we’ve wasted money – and sometimes a lot of it. To add insult to injury, even when we realize what’s going on, we still might not be able to stop buying jeans, shoes, t-shirts, blouses, cardigans, or whatever.
My Cardigan Obsession and Collection
Now that I’ve given you a few examples to outline the problem and highlighted a couple of situations in which duplication may not be an issue, let’s step out of the hypothetical and back into my specific situation of cardigan overload.
Mid-length and duster-style cardigans are part of my signature style, so it makes sense for me to have a decent-sized collection of them. They work well with my statuesque height (I’m 5’10”), they’re comfortable, and I like the way they look on me. I typically pair them with slim pants or jeans, fitted or fluid tops of all sleeve lengths, and mid-heeled shoes or booties. I feel good in this “uniform,” and I believe that it’s slimming and in line with my three style “guideposts”: dramatic, polished, and elegant.
I own cardigans in a rainbow of colors, as well as a small assortment of patterns (mostly stripes, but also dots, space dye, tweed, and marled prints). The problem is that there’s a lot of duplication within my cardigan collection. I don’t have just one cardigan in each color or pattern; in some instances, I have several very similar cardigans, which is not a good thing.
How We Can End Up with Many Similar Items
I don’t want to have so many highly similar items, and I didn’t set out to own multiples in the way that I do now. What I wanted was to find a moderate number of amazing cardigans that I love and can’t wait to wear. But sometimes when I wasn’t able to find exactly what I was looking for in the stores or online, I did a bad thing. . . I settled. I bought an item that checked some of the boxes, but not all. I thought that what I was purchasing was “good enough” and that “it would do,” but inside my subconscious mind, I intended to continue looking for something better.
When we purchase something on our shopping list that isn’t quite what we truly wanted, that item often doesn’t get checked off the list. Instead, we continue searching for a better representation of the item, and we may keep buying more and more similar pieces in our ongoing effort to find the “Holy Grail” item that will ultimately satisfy our desires.
One “tell” for this type of behavior is when you bring a new item home yet go weeks or even months without wearing it. In the back of your mind, you might be thinking you’ll find something better, at which point you’ll then return the substandard garment hanging in your closet. This might be okay if you actually do the return, but many times the deadline passes and you’re unable to get your money back. You’re then stuck with something you don’t love and aren’t wearing.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat
To try to assuage our guilt, we periodically push ourselves to wear our unloved items (what I’ve termed “wardrobe benchwarmers”). If we’re lucky, we realize we like an item more than we thought and move it into our regular garment rotation. But more often than not, we feel “ho, hum” about our outfits all day long when they feature one of our benchwarmers. At the end of the day, we shove our mediocre – or worse – pieces to the back of our closets, where they become perennial dust collectors. Then the next time we want to wear say, a blue cardigan, we head out to the mall – or open a browser window – to search for something better than what we already have.
Lather, rinse, repeat. If the above scenario happens often enough, it’s entirely possible to end up with five or more very similar pieces, only to still be searching for the one garment that truly checks the box in question. And that, my friends, is how I’ve ended up with so many cardigans! I have a lot of “okay,” “it will do” cardigans that I don’t love, and a much smaller number of cardigans that I feel great in and can’t wait to wear.
An Epiphany and a First Step
I had an epiphany about this issue recently while trying to put together my outfit for a get-together with a friend. Instead of working out on my elliptical trainer that morning like I’d planned to, I ended up trying on every single one of my cardigans. I was determined to figure out which ones I loved, which ones I hated, and which ones I was on the fence about. Fortunately, five less loved cardigans were still eligible to be returned, and I plan to sell at least three more on eBay or Poshmark.
I moved the “on the fence” cardigans to a separate section of my closet to increase their visibility. I plan to wear them soon to decide if they’ll work for me on not. I’ll likely donate a few of my “on the bubble” cardigans, as I don’t see them evoking the dramatic, polished, and elegant vibe I’m aiming for. Before I purge a single garment, though, I’m going to document the reasons why it doesn’t work for me (which may be a follow-on post). It will be helpful to understand which features of my castoff pieces have me feeling “meh” versus fab. That way, I can better avoid buying anything similar in the future.
Dealing with the Overload – A Step-by-Step Process
I’m not going to beat myself up about my cardigan “addiction.” Instead, I’m going to learn from it and vow to do better, armed with my new knowledge. That’s what I recommend you doing, too, if you find yourself with too many of a particular category of wardrobe item in your closet.
Here’s a step-by-step process to help you deal with the overload:
Step One: Dedicate some time to try on everything in your problem category, preferably paired with appropriate accompaniment pieces (what you might actually wear the item with). It’s easier to determine if something does or doesn’t work when you make an actual outfit with it.
Step Two: As you try things on, divide them into three groups: love, don’t like (maybe even hate), and “I’m not sure.”
Step Three: Put the loved items back into your closet, optimally organized by color and pattern.
Step Four: Bag up the “don’t like” items (or set them aside for selling on a resale site, such as eBay or Poshmark – but set a deadline for when you’ll actually do those listings).
Step Five: Set the “maybes” aside in a visible place (perhaps on a garment rack or at the front of your closet) and vow to wear them as soon as possible, at which time you’ll make a concrete determination about their fate.
Tips to Streamline Your Editing Success
As you’re doing your try-ons, it’s helpful to jot down your thoughts about each piece – what you do and don’t like about it. When you opt to pass something on, make a few notes about your reasons for doing so.
When you later wear your “maybe” pieces, ask yourself how you feel in them:
- Do I feel comfortable both physically and emotionally?
- Do I feel true to my personal style when wearing this?
Be as honest with yourself as possible, and try to make a “keep or toss” determination about each maybe item immediately after you wear it (or while you’re wearing it). If you’re still unsure, wear the item a second time shortly thereafter and push yourself to decide at that point. It shouldn’t take more than two wearings to determine an item’s fate.
If your questionable item is a wardrobe staple, you may feel that you should retain it as a “placeholder” until you find something better, but that’s only a valid argument if you’re actually wearing the piece in question. If you’re not wearing it anyway and you just don’t like it, there’s no good reason to keep it! Don’t hold on to anything out of sheer guilt. Forcing yourself to keep something just because you feel guilty for buying it isn’t going to make you feel any better. In fact, you may feel worse every time you see the offending item hanging in your closet unworn.
Facing the Truth about “Sunk Costs”
You need to face the truth that the mistake has been made and your money is gone. Yes, you might be able to recoup a portion of your losses by selling unloved items online, but if you’ve been reading my posts on that topic (including this last one), you know that it’s a lot of work and not exactly a cake walk!
But whether you opt to sell, consign, or donate, get rid of anything that makes you feel bad! Hindsight is always 20/20, and all you can do at this point is learn from your mistakes and choose differently the next time around. If it’s a case of “it doesn’t fit me now, but it might later,” at least get it out of your closet! Everything that’s in your closet should fit your current body, lifestyle, and style aesthetic.
The process I outlined above is what I’m going to do with my plethora of cardigans. I already went through part of the process when I tried them all on and made my initial determinations, but I need to finish the job. I’ll report back soon and let you know how it goes…
I hope you found this post to be helpful, especially if you also have an overabundance of certain items lurking in your closet. If that’s not your situation, good for you, and I hope I still held your interest and provided some value.
If you have any additional tips or suggestions you’d like to share for how to stop the madness of buying similar pieces – or too much in general, please include them in the comments section. I look forward to reading your words of wisdom, and I wish you all the best with your wardrobe management journey.
32 thoughts on “If One is Good, Five isn’t Necessarily Better”
Thorough, thoughtful, and inspiring, as always!
Thank you so much, Suzanne!
Ha! What is it about cardigans? I have already purged so many, yet I still have duplicates and triplicates. I don’t feel guilty about these things anymore, but I do get aggravated when I see unusable things taking up space. I had four olive green cardigans, but only ever wore one of them. Duster, cropped, waterfall, and classic button front. I attribute it to my lazy shopping habit, which is to say hey, I need an olive cardigan, then order ALL the olive cardigans I can find, then never get around to returning the ones that don’t work. I did finally pass on the duster (poor fabric quality) and the cropped (weird sage-olive color). I feel OK with keeping the other two. I’ve done the same with peach-pink cardigans – it’s nearly impossible to find the exact peach color you want, and of the three I currently have, none is quite right! And grey – I have four but one has a purplish tint and one is yellowish, and although they are beautiful, they look absolutely awful with my other grey clothes. I will have to set aside some time to do the try-ons. And, obviously, be more mindful about purchasing.
On a completely different topic, I have recently discovered Fishers Finery athletic pants and they are LONG ENOUGH! They come in several different styles and fabric weights but the ones I have are the straight leg yoga pant. I wear a 34″ inseam and the Tall size is a couple inches too long for me! Also extremely comfortable, and have pockets. This probably sounds like an advertisement 😆 but I just wanted to share since you are a fellow short-pants victim.
Happy Equinox/first day of Spring to you!
So you see my plight, Katrina… Cardigans DO have a way of multiplying, don’t they? I think a lot of people struggle with this sort of problem, even if it’s with something other than cardigans, which is why I opted to write this post. Sometimes when we have multiples, only one or two are actually usable, so it’s good that you got rid of the two olive cardigans that you didn’t love (and also good that two of them DO work for you). I agree that color can be challenging, especially when we order things online. The color never seems to look the same in person as on my monitor! I hope things go well with your try-ons, when you get around to doing them. Sometimes we end up feeling like we have MORE once we get the “dead weight” out of our closets.
Thank you so much for the athletic pants recommendation! I’d never heard of Fishers Finery before, but it DOES look like they have some good options for pants with long inseams (and also petites, for those who need the shorter lengths). They also have good sales going on now, so I appreciate your sharing this resource with me and others.
Oh dear. I have too many shoes, jackets, handbags and necklaces! I have done the settling thing too many times. I also often buy 2 of something I love in case one gets ruined or wears out. I need to stop doing that.
I have been there with ALL of those things, Jayne! One step at a time… I don’t always think it’s bad to buy a backup of a loved item, but I think it’s good to WAIT until one is SURE that it’s actually a loved item. I’ve bought backups before and ended up not loving the item as much as I thought I would. Now I know to wait a while… and I still don’t buy backups very often (maybe once or twice a year at most).
Necklaces! I am
looking at you ,! A few months ago, I would cringe when I would notice my huge collection of costume necklaces hanging on top of my dresser.I finally wanted to get rid of most of them and I did feel lighter afterwards…and not dread the embarrassment if someone would notice ! My daughter and grand-daughter took very little, neither did consignment store, so off to donation they went, most were still current…I did a smaller purge of earrings and bracelets at the same time… I only have 2 rings that I wear continuously… great article as always Debbie!!!
Good for you for paring down your necklace collection, Claudette (as well as the rest of your jewelry)! You’ve been following me for a while, so you may remember the jewelry overload that I used to have (here’s a link to my first post on that topic for others who are curious: https://recoveringshopaholic.com/2014/02/11/jewelry-inventory/). I’ve pared down considerably over the years, but now it’s feeling like too much once again, so I’ll likely do another purge soon. It’s interesting how what used to feel “normal” to me now feels like too much. Paring down is much like peeling an onion… Enjoy your downsized jewelry collection! You’ll probably wear your pieces more now that you have fewer of them.
“when you bring a new item home yet go weeks or even months without wearing it”…I have gone YEARS without wearing some items in my closet! What am I thinking? I just did my spring closet refresh and eliminated quite a bit of clutter, but I have to re-think all those poor things that have been waiting years to be loved. Obviously, they are not ticking any boxes for me. I think it’s because I purchased them for a fantasy lifestyle and not the one I am living. Great post.
The fantasy lifestyle issue is a big problem for a lot of people, Lori, including me! This past year has ironically helped me with that, though, because it was a lot harder to justify buying certain things. I still DID make some of those types of mistakes, but far fewer of them. It’s hard, though, when we like fancier clothes but they just don’t suit our ultra-casual lifestyles. Sigh… I used to actually invent activities so I could wear my clothes, but that’s quite backwards, isn’t it? Good for you for doing the spring refresh and paring down! We can’t turn back the clock such that we didn’t buy certain things, but we can learn from them. Fingers crossed that we will do so!
My problem is settling! That and looking for the perfect color to match or work with some favorite orphaned garnent and then not returning the not quite right piece.
Yes, settling is a huge problem, Annemarie! I suspect it’s been even more challenging with so much online shopping going on, especially when one has to pay for shipping and returns (I always try to avoid that, but it’s not always possible). I’m trying to be a lot more mindful about returning things right away if possible, but it’s not always easy!
You nailed it, Debbie! Your reasons for acquiring duplicate cardigans ring true for many of the “settling” mistakes I’ve made.
My thing is probably jeans. I’ve cultivated quite a collection, but I never wear them around the house. Even during “normal” times, I only wear my jeans for a few hours at a time, maybe five days a week. Each pair checks some boxes, but some less than others. Nevertheless, after all the work I put into gathering them, I struggle to let them go.
When I read your post this morning, I knew I’d want to comment and likely benefit from reading what you had to say—but I had no idea how much. I intend to use the steps you’ve suggested to narrow down my jean collection and possibly more. Thank you!
I’m so glad you resonated with this post, Jenn, and found it helpful! I have issues with jeans, too, and I also don’t wear them around the house (and I don’t wear them outside of the house as often as you do). I struggle to let go of jeans as well, and will usually put ones that I’m not wearing into a holding zone for a while before actually passing them on. I just listed three pairs for sale and I felt sad to do so, but I know I’m very unlikely to ever wear them again. I hope the steps I suggested will help you to pare down. Good luck – and please let me know how it goes for you.
Interesting post! After years of trial and error, my solution to keeping my wardrobe under control is to keep a spreadsheet of my clothes (and another for.my shoes) so that I can always check what I already have. Each row is an item and each column a variable that I can filter on: type (+ neck type, sleeve length), colour, purpose (work, casual, party), season (all, summer, winter), brand, other. I meticulously store my clothes by purpose, then season, then type, then colour (pink, red, burgundy, aqua, blue, navy, purple, grey, black). Before I buy, even if it is a 3 euro blouse at a second hand market, I carefully check if the item is the right size, is of quality, fits my style and colour palette, is made from natural fibres, and will either replace something I already have or fill a gap in my wardrobe. And I will only take that item home if I love it. Even then, I do not consider it a keeper until I have actually worn it (for most items, that’s the next day). It takes some effort but I very much enjoy the process and, even more, the result.
Thanks so much for sharing what works for you, Sue! I used to have a spreadsheet with all of my wardrobe items, but I stopped doing that a few years ago because it was so time-consuming (probably because I bought WAY too much!). I didn’t have as much detail on it as you do, though, but I did include number of times worn at the end of each year (I don’t track wears anymore). I love that you’re careful even with buying very inexpensive secondhand items, as they all still count, too! You seem to be a very smart shopper. I welcome your sharing additional tips, either on this post or on future ones.
From time to time, I think about ditching my spreadsheet too, but it is not so difficult to maintain now it’s been made. I can imagine giving up on recording wears (although I did enjoy your posts on that). I have alternative systems for keeping track of my clothes’ usefulness. For multiples like socks, tights and underwear, I always return clean laundry (konmari folded) to the back of its drawer (I have a small set of drawers that separate smalls, with a shoebox in each for in season or everyday items and half a shoebox of space beside it for the rest). For my folded basics, I return laundered items to the left of its type (a much larger set of drawers holds items like T shirts and lounge pants, organised into different seasons in different drawers and separated into type [v neck, round neck] within each season with IKEA drawer boxes). But I only return to the left and take from the right here until I have worn all the items of a new season. After I have ‘worn a season’ (and purged what no longer works/fits/brings joy), I go back to sorting by colour. I use the same system of returning fresh clothes to the left of their type and purging from the right for my ‘hanging heroes’ too when a new season starts. I very much enjoy getting to know my clothes again each season, and introducing new items to my old favourites. I also find that knowing my clothes so well really helps when I go shopping.
You have such wonderful systems, Sue! I really appreciate your sharing them here. I do similar things as you do with t-shirts and pajamas, which I store in drawers. I don’t do the KonMari folding, but I like that look and may give it a try. With hanging clothes, I continue to use the “hanger trick” that I’ve written about numerous times, where I turn my hangers all the “wrong” way at the beginning of the year and then turn them back the right way after I wear something. That helps me to see what I am and am not wearing, although not HOW OFTEN. I may track wears again at some point, but after 10 years (I think), I was ready for a break. I like what you do at the end of each season, as well as the idea of enjoying old favorites!
I do like systems, I guess 🙂. My KonMari folding is not strictly above board though (for instance, I fold socks together but then open one slightly and fold it over the other so they stay attached). But I like the result. I do read about backwards hangers everywhere but I don’t like the look (too messy for me). I only hang backwards if it’s an item I haven’t warn yet (which encourages me to wear it asap so I can turn that hanger). But I have taken to putting tiny elastic bands on my hangers to indicate wears (black because they match my hangers and don’t stand out). But I only do this if I return a blazer or cardigan or skirt or something that I have worn and not washed. The bands help me decide when things need cleaning.
I fold my socks just like you do 🙂 I can understand not liking the look of hangers going different ways, but it works for me. Some people instead place items they’ve worn on one side of the closet, but I don’t do that because I like to organize my clothes in a particular way. Good idea to put the elastic bands on your hangers. I sometimes put small binder clips on my hangers to indicate items that need to be altered in some way. There are lots of fun systems we can use in our closets!
Oh the settling. I don’t have an over-abundance of any type clothing (I’m more likely to deny myself new clothes than buy new ones), but my beloved flannels are the worst offenders. Of the 7 or so that I own, not one fits properly. With all of them, I love the color, the flannel pattern and the material, but none of them fit well. I’m only 5’7”, but I have broad shoulders, lanky limbs, and minimal bust. All of them (except the one that we hacked into a short sleeved shirt after I wore through the elbows) have sleeves that are too short, and I can only fully button one of them because they don’t fit across the shoulders.
At some point I need to stop settling, and acknowledge that I am going to need to buy a much bigger size (or a men’s shirt), and have a tailor add darts to feminize the fit and remove the extra fabric.
My jeans could use a good purge though, I have enough now of the 1 style that works for me, that I can purge the rest of them. Except for that one pair that is so old they are soft like pajama pants, those get to stay!
I too have broad shoulders and long arms and have trouble with doing buttons up and getting sleeves long enough.
Have a look at this link for styling ideas, which include either wearing the flannel shirt open with a top underneath or leaving the top few buttons undone with a top, tank or cami underneath and also rolling up the sleeves.
Hope this gives you some ideas
I join you and Sally on having those same types of fit issues with tops, wjgravity – it’s definitely frustrating! I highly recommend getting things tailored, especially if there’s only ONE fit issue that needs to be corrected (like the darts that you mentioned). But don’t try to completely remake a garment via alterations, as that can be problematic (I wrote about that on my last blog: https://recoveringshopaholic.com/2016/05/10/alteration-failures/
Sally’s link includes some great ideas for flannel shirt styling! She’s always so helpful at sharing tips and resources for all of us. I wish we had a Uniqlo in my area…
Good luck with purging your jeans. I struggle with that wardrobe area, too, especially since it’s so challenging for me to find jeans in the first place. How wonderful for you that you have a pair of jeans that feels like pajama pants! That’s a “Holy Grail” type of item for me that I’m still looking for…
I have an 11-month-old (my first). In those first few months post-partum (shirts) and until last month (pants), items that I hadn’t gotten around to moving along for not liking the fit became what I wore when the things I liked best did not fit. Also my office work became remote. Before the baby, I never wore yoga pants outside of the house and got dressed for the office even when working from home.
I was in my early twenties when I bought all in to the idea of not having anything around you aren’t using or doesn’t make you happy, but I might have to admit my life over the last year has tempered my zeal some. And yes I have now sometimes worn yoga pants outside.
Congrats on your new(ish) baby, Anne! That’s great that some of your not-so-great-fitting items came in handy when you were post-partum. There can sometimes be an upside to procrastinating about clearing our out closets. And with a change in life situation can come a shift in priorities. Where I live, wearing yoga pants outside the house is very common, especially during the past year. I don’t think it’s a crime by any means, but it can also be overdone. Finding balance with what we wear and what we do or don’t keep can be a challenge, but it sounds like you’re finding your way. All the best to you!
Would it ever help to visualize in you head what the item you are considering buying would look like in your closet or in your drawer, with your other clothes? A clerk saw me meditating on this once and asked if I was all right! I think she thought I was having a seizure, seriously.
Debbie, you know I have a small wardrobe, and this works for me every time. It may be because I do not want a big collection of clothes.
I do something similar.
I have a photo album of all my clothes on my iPhone/iPad. When I find something online that I am thinking of buying, I save the photo and then add it to my photo album of my clothes to see how it looks with everything else.
Does the colour go with the rest of my things, do I have something already that is too similar, so I don’t really need it, does it fit with the style of the rest of my clothes?
Often I realise that I don’t need it, then I remove that photo and don’t buy it.
When I used to go shopping in a store, I did something similar, but in that case I would hold the item near the photos of my clothes.
It definitely cuts down on shopping mistakes and enables you to have a cohesive wardrobe.
I definitely do that type of thing, Gail, but I can’t always remember everything that’s in my closet, as my wardrobe is a lot larger than yours! What helps me the most is to maintain a “shopping priorities list” and stick with it steadfastly. I haven’t been doing that as zealously lately, which at least partially explains the overabundance of cardigans. I definitely need to course-correct, as it’s easier not to bring something in than to have to deal with having too much and the guilt surrounding that.
I would be well-served to use a method like what you describe, Sally. I have photos on my computer, but not on my phone. I know there are apps that serve a similar purpose, but many of them are iPhone/iOS only and I have an Android phone and tablet. I love your practice of saving photos of items you’re considering and seeing how they work (or not) with your existing wardrobe. Wonderful idea!
Hi Debbie. Very interesting post. It made me think about my cardigans. I like the idea of a cardigan – it should add a stylish and functional layer to my outfit. In reality, cardigans are hard to fit on me because if they are too thick or boxy, they don’t balance my proportions or fit my shoulders/chest.
(I am 1-2 sizes larger on top than bottom.)
The cardigan that I wear most often is a camel-colored cashmere cardigan I bought on Ebay several years ago that has a waterfall front and is shorter in the back. I can wear it open or throw the long “tails” in the front over my shoulders to add warmth.
(Since I am petite, long cardigans tend to overwhelm me or make my legs look shorter.)
I guess – for me – the question is not what I have but what I can throw on and not fuss with at all later.
One more thing – I might have to purge two petite cardigans that I bought from LOFT a few years ago that I have worn maybe once to make space for something more useful.
Interesting that cardigans are hard to fit for you, Maggie. I have the fit issue a lot more with jackets, as they always seem to be too loose in the torso once I fit my broad shoulders. I don’t do well with boxier fits, either, though. Your cashmere cardigan sounds very versatile and the best of both worlds with the long “tails” and shorter overall length. I agree that it’s good to have things we can put on and not have to fuss with! I’m glad this post got you thinking about what you might be able to purge, like those two Loft cardigans. I’ll share what I purged in my next post…
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