I’m starting off this year with a little experiment.
A few weeks ago, I noticed a gaping hole in my wardrobe. I didn’t own a rain jacket.
Now, I live in Portland, OR where it basically drizzles 9 months out of the year. And while it’s easy to get by without a rain jacket (I’ve been doing it for a few years, I guess), I realized that if I had one it would see pretty much constant use. In other words, the cost-per-wear would be extremely low.
Contrast this with some of the other parts of my wardrobe. I own about 5984932822380929 light cardigans. While they’re great for layering and I do enjoy them, I only really wear about half of them. But when I see a good one at the thrift store, I just can’t pass it up — even though I have enough.
How does this happen? How is it that I ignore the obvious holes in my wardrobe for so long while continually acquiring more of what I don’t need?
I decided to clean out my closet, and to try something new while I was at it…
The wardrobe inventory:
The beginning of the year seemed like a great time to clean out my closets. But this time I did it differently. Instead of randomly pulling out things I hadn’t worn, hemming and hawing about what to keep, I decided to take an inventory, and write down exactly what I own.
Here’s what I did:
I went through my closet and inventoried all that I had, using a spreadhseet. On the left column of the spreadsheet, I put some general categories: skirts, blouses, knit tops, etc. In the second column, I wrote how many I had.
You can get as specific as you want here. I had a main category for knit tops, but then broke it down by purpose into things like “warm pullover sweaters,” “knit tops / t-shirts,” and “light layering sweaters.” You could also categorize things by season if you live somewhere with big changes in climate through the year.
These are my actual numbers. PLEASE DO NOT SHAME ME. Ha! I own way way way more clothing than I thought I did. This is mainly because I’ve collected a lot of vintage that is squirreled away and doesn’t get worn, plus I put things away seasonally so I don’t see it all at once. I had absolutely no idea I had this many dresses.
I’m embarrassed that I recently mentioned here that I don’t own a huge amount of clothing. Obviously I was fooling myself!
I also made sure to take any staples in my wardrobe and list those specifically. These are things that get a lot of use, and that I’d need to replace when they wear out, so I want to make sure I know what I have. For example, under “pants” I made sure to have a separate line for “dark rinse jeans,” something I wear at least once a week.
2. Decide what staples you don’t have.
Is there anything missing from your inventory that you actually need? Staples that you haven’t gotten around to replacing yet?
My non-existent rain jacket would be a good one to include here. Ballet flats for Spring would be another staple that I’m currently lacking.
3. Decide how many you need.
This is the hard part.
It’s time to take a good hard look at what you have and decide how many of each you actually truly want in your life. In the third column, I wrote this number for each item.
One thing I’d say is try not to look at how many items you own when you’re deciding on a number. I noticed that while I was doing this, the number of things I currently have would heavily influence how many seemed like the “right” number.
This process might be embarrassing, particularly if you’ve collected things you don’t use much. I’m pretty embarassed by the number of vintage purses I have that just sit on a shelf. They should really go to better homes. I don’t even think about them.
On the other hand, there are categories of things I wear all the time (day dresses) and I don’t mind having a lot of them. I get a lot of use out of them, as long as they meet the criteria I outlined.
Then there are things I wear a lot (pants), but because they’re so basic, I only need a few pairs.
It is totally up to you, based on your own personal preferences and lifestyle. You don’t have to feel bad if you want to have a lot of options in one area, if you know that you’ll use them.
It’s all about having more of what you use, less of what you don’t.
4. Calculate the difference.
In the fourth column, I used my spreadsheet to automatically calculate the difference between column two and column three. In other words, subtract column three from column two.
Aha! Now I can see at a glance what I have an excess of, what I have the right amount of, and what I don’t have! Missing pieces have a negative number, excess have a positive number, and just right are zero.
4. Decide on criteria.
This was really interesting for me, though I think it’s optional. For the fifth column, I wrote notes on any criteria for purchasing or making an item in that category.
For example, under “sweater dresses,” I wrote: “warm, classic, neutral.” I figure if I have only one sweater dress, it should be basic and warm. Make sense?
5. Using your inventory.
At this point, you’ll probably have some definite actions that you’ll want to take. I know I did.
You might want to start getting rid of stuff immediately. You might have a new list of sewing projects to pursue.
Personally, I immediately made a list of things to make myself this year. Intrestingly, many of them were knitting projects, which I hadn’t anticipated. But now, looking at my “to make” list, I can see it’s full of things I’ll actually wear a lot!
For stuff I have excessive amounts of, mostly I decided not to get rid of anything else (other than the stuff I culled while doing the clean-out/inventory), since it’s all still useful and wearable and there’s no reason to waste it. I just won’t worry about replacing it when it wears out on its own.
The main point is, you will now have a complete picture of where your time and money has gone, and perhaps where it should go in the future.
I plan to keep my inventory up to date whenever I buy or make something new. Of course, I’ll change things and edit it as time goes on, as undoubtedly my preferences and style will evolve over time.
By the way, if you think all of this work sounds crazy, it really didn’t take much more time than any other big closet clean out. In fact, I probably spent less time deliberating over what to keep and what to donate than I normally do.
Do you want to try this out yourself?
I took my own inventory and generalized it slightly to create a template you can use. You’ll still need to customize it for your own wardrobe, but I think this might save you a lot of time. It should automatically calculate column 4 for you. It will also automatically calculate totals for each category (so if you enter the number of button-downs, woven blouses, and woven shells, it will tally up the total number of blouses for you).
It’s an .xlsx file, and you should be able to open it in Microsoft Excel, Apple Numbers, or Google Spreadsheets (which is free).