My recent posts about my shoes (HERE and HERE) got me thinking about something very important when it comes to my closet (and possibly some of your closets as well). To a certain extent, it really doesn’t matter how many clothes, shoes, or whatever types of items we own. What matters are the things we’re actually wearing. The rest is simply “filler” that gives us a false sense of security that we have a sizeable wardrobe or “enough” to wear. In today’s post, I expand upon this concept, using the example of my shoes (since that’s fresh in all of our minds) to illustrate my points.
The Number Isn’t the Real Issue
As I mentioned in my May 12th post, I currently own 28 pairs of shoes. This often feels like too many shoes given my present lifestyle, but if I were wearing all of them at least semi-regularly, I wouldn’t worry that much about the number. I’d likely put the brakes on new shoe purchases to cap the number that I own, but then I’d just wear what I have and let the overall number gradually decrease by means of attrition. As shoes wear out, or when I stop liking particular styles, I’d purge them and get my collection down to a more appropriate level for my needs and preferences.
But my primary issue isn’t that I have too many pairs of shoes in my closet. The real problem is that I have a number of shoes that I rarely or never wear. When I stare into my closet, I see what looks like a lot of footwear options, but can I really call them that if they’re never being chosen? If some of my shoes are only worn once in a great while simply because I feel guilty for having bought them, do those shoes even belong in my wardrobe?
When I wrote in my initial footwear “Rule of Ten” post that I wasn’t ready to own just ten pairs of shoes overall, that was only partially true. It’s not so much that I feel a strong need to have a semi-large footwear collection (opinions vary regarding what that means); it’s more about the fact that I have so many shoes already. If I take a good, hard look at what I’m actually wearing in terms of my shoes, I realize that I mostly reach for the same few pairs over and over again each season.
If I Were Starting from Scratch Today…
Most of my remaining shoes are fillers that I’m either not wearing at all or that I only wear occasionally just because they’re there. I probably wouldn’t purchase at least a third of my shoes today if I had it to do over again. There are various reasons for that strong assertion, but the bottom line is that I would leave those shoes in the store rather than take them home with me (or I’d return them if they were purchased online).
If I were starting from scratch today and visited a hypothetical shoe store that only carried the twenty-eight styles of shoes that I currently own, I’d have a relatively easy time selecting which ones to buy for year-round wear. I think I’d discover that I’d do fine with far fewer pairs, as I have a good idea which styles best suit my personal style aesthetic, the occasions in my life, and my comfort needs.
Of course, I’d have to try things on in order to make the right determinations related to fit and comfort, and it would also be helpful to view photos of my clothes to properly assess which footwear options would best fit into my wardrobe. But if I didn’t already own the shoes in question, I think it would be quite easy to choose the best options from among them. As the old saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. It makes sense that I would know now which of my shoes I should or shouldn’t have purchased, as I’ve had them all for a while and I understand the issues with some of them. Should I have been able to foresee those issues at the time of purchase? Well, that’s a different question, and one that I’ll examine later on in this essay.
The Same Would Be True for My Clothes and Accessories
I presented the example of my shoes above, but I believe the same would be true for my clothes, jewelry pieces, and other accessories as well. There are simply a lot of items that I wouldn’t purchase again today if I were offered a “do-over.” I don’t feel all that bad about some of these pieces because they were either inexpensive or served their purpose for me over time. If I’ve worn something a number of times but no longer like it or it no longer fits me, the guilt factor is relatively low. But if I purchased an item and rarely or never wore it, I feel a tremendous sense of remorse. I feel like I should know better by now what will and won’t work. After all, I’ve been writing about my wardrobe for years at this point, and I’ve even written two books about shopping and wardrobe management. Clearly, I don’t always follow my own best advice.
The guilt causes me to delude myself about the truth of many closet items. In my heart of hearts, I know the answers. I know what should stay and what should go, for the most part. Sure, there are a few questionable pieces that I either need to take for a “test drive” or spend time trying to style before gaining clarity on their appropriate fate, but those are more the exception than the rule. In most instances, I know why I’m not wearing a lot of my pieces – and I know that I shouldn’t have purchased them in the first place.
We all have our favorites, and most of us wear some garments, shoes, and accessories more than others. It’s the rare person who wears everything equally. If that’s you, more power to you, but I’ll probably always have an uneven distribution of wears among my closet pieces. I’m fine with that, but what I’m not fine with is having the false sense of security that comes from a large wardrobe with lots of filler in it.
We Can’t Always Know What Will Work for Us
We can’t always know what will and won’t work for us when we’re in the store or perusing an e-commerce site, and we sometimes we’re still not sure once we get things home. There are some intangibles like how we’ll feel in a given item, how comfortable it is, and how well it washes and wears. I’ve purged many a piece over the years because of discomfort, fussiness, and poor quality.
I’ve gotten better at figuring out in advance what might be fussy, uncomfortable, and problematic with garments, shoes, and the like, but sometimes I’m still surprised when what I thought was a gem ends up being a dud. Yet the hard part is letting go of a dud that cost a lot of money and cannot be returned.
Selling some of these items online has helped to assuage my guilt, but I only ever recoup a portion of my initial investment. That’s the nature of the resale game; just like a new car rapidly decreases in value once you drive it off the lot, wardrobe items can usually only be sold for a fraction of their original cost, even when they’re “new with tags.” Despite being able to earn some money for closet cast-offs, the time investment in the process can make the whole thing feel like a “wash.” I often can’t decide if it’s worth it or if I’d be better off just donating pieces like I used to and simply cutting my losses, but that’s a topic for another day…
Many of us think we like certain items – and maybe we do in theory, but that’s not what matters. For instance, I like the look of some shoes that kill my feet, and I love to gaze at footwear that I can’t walk more than a few paces in. I also admire many items of clothing that wouldn’t work on my body shape or have no place in my lifestyle. The hope is always that I’ll recognize such issues in the store or within the return window, but that won’t always be the case.
Sometimes these types of items taunt us every time we see them in our closets. We think of the money that was virtually flushed down the toilet, but you know what? We’re not going to be able to get that money back, and holding on to things just because we “messed up” won’t help us in any way. It will only make us feel worse about ourselves, especially if we’re not wearing the items in question – and aren’t ever likely to do so.
Enter “The Rule of Ten”…
So, what now? I no longer want to be under the false illusion that I have significantly more outfit options than I actually do. I want my closet to house only my working wardrobe and not a lot of filler and fluff. That’s why I decided to implement the Rule of Ten. I’ve only applied it to my shoes thus far, but I’ve already learned so much. I’ll be doing another shoe post soon to address my summer shoes that are “on the bubble,” and I’ll also give an update on decisions I’ve made about the “not summer” shoes I was unsure about.
There’s nothing magical about the Rule of Ten. It’s simply a construct that I put in place to help me gain increased clarity about which items are favorites (a.k.a. “all-stars”) and which are “benchwarmers.” I don’t believe that ten is the right number of items for me (or anyone else, for that matter) to own in all wardrobe categories, but it’s a place to start that feels comfortable to me. I may decrease the number in certain instances where I need fewer pieces, or I may split up certain collections like I did with my shoes (into summer and “not summer” groupings).
The number and the way I specify the categories matters a lot less than the end result and what I learn along the way. I want to get the “dead weight” out of my closet. I’m thinking what I’ll do soon is determine my Rule of Ten (or fewer) selections for my various wardrobe categories. I’ll then either place the remaining items in “purgatory” (a.k.a. my holding zone) for a while or prioritize “trial runs” to see how I feel when I wear them.
I did that with a pair of shoes last week, and a short errand run was all it took for me to figure out where those shoes belonged (hint: it wasn’t in my closet!). The shoes ticked all boxes for me except the most important one – comfort, so it was time for them to go! Sometimes more than one trial run might be needed if the issue is more about styling, but if an item is uncomfortable or fussy, the decision can be made fairly quickly, as long as we’re honest with ourselves.
I’ve been gradually reviewing the various areas of my wardrobe. Just yesterday, I tried on all of my dresses and skirts, as well as the tops and toppers I typically wear with them. I’ll share my findings and thoughts from that experience shortly, but I’ll just say this for now… If your body, lifestyle, and/or style aesthetic have changed recently, it’s a good idea to conduct a wardrobe review. In some cases, all it takes is to look at everything and see how you feel about it, but I’ve found that trying things on can lead to some surprising results.
Some dresses that I thought were favorites had me feeling “ho-hum” – or worse. Due to the pandemic, I didn’t wear most of them in 2020, so it’s been close to two years since I put them on my body. A lot can change in that time frame, so I’m glad I made the effort to try everything on. Doing so eliminated the false sense of security I had about how many dresses I have to wear. I feel much better now knowing the truth about that section of my wardrobe, and I plan to gain that same level of knowledge about all of my other closet categories soon. Stay tuned for more wardrobe evaluation posts, and feel free to share your thoughts about this one.