100 Clothing Items or Less – What I Learned in 2014

I like shoes, pants, shirts, and hair styles that express who I am. I enjoy wearing clothing that is tailored to my body type, well-made, textured for outdoors, colored in earth tones.

In early December of 2013, I was unhappy with my clothing situation. I had stuff in my closet, but not many pieces I loved. So I decided to do something counterintuitive and go all of 2014 without buying new clothing. I hoped this fast would help me to feel more thankful for the quality items I had, and gain clearer perspective about missing pieces, or pieces to replace. I’ve found that one of the best ways to see what role food plays in my life, and to gain perspective about what role I want it to play, is to go without food for 24 hours. Why not try this concept with clothing, and go for twelve months?

So, with only a couple of weeks left in 2013, I needed to take inventory and see what purchases I would need to make before launching my new resolution in January. I tend to be fairly minimal by nature, and whenever I make new purchases, I try to give away older items, maintaining a streamlined wardrobe. But it had been a while since I’d gone through everything, so I pulled all the clothing out of my closet, lugged it into my office, went through it piece by piece, and created this spreadsheet (which has been updated since).

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I ended up with around 150 items. When I really evaluated each piece, and considered the role it played in my overall wardrobe, I realized I had many pieces that I didn’t love, and that were unnecessary. So, slowly, I folded and placed each item I no longer wanted in a bag, and gave them all to a friend. I counted each pair of socks as one item, each tie as an item, each belt as an item, but did not count clothing exclusive to a particular activity like biking or climbing shoes. I whittled my entire wardrobe down to about 115 items. I’m not sure whether 115 will sound like a lot or a little to anyone who reads this, but I will say that I was surprised how many items I had. You might try this activity for yourself to get a frame of reference.

After sorting, I made a list of repairs I needed to make to certain items (sewing holes in my Smartwool socks, etc.) if they were going to last me all of 2014, and I made a list of items I needed to replace. I purchased a new pull-over, a new pair of casual shoes, and a few pairs of socks, and gave away the items they replaced.

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Now I was ready for my 2014. I chose as my mantra, “Fully enjoy each item I own.”

As the months in 2014 ticked by, I tried to non-judgmentally observe my experience, and here are a few realizations I gleaned in the process.

  • In January through March, I learned that I compare myself to others often. I notice what others wear, and tend to feel a need to look my best whenever possible. As I was mindful, I realized that much of this inclination was the result of subconsciously internalizing marketing messages from clothing retailers. I noticed just how much of an appetite I had for buying new stuff and keeping up with the latest styles. By April, my mind learned that I meant business about not buying new stuff, and I slowly began to just opt out of keeping up with others in my mind. Letting go of the competition, and having the freedom to dismiss marketing messages off-hand, ended up being a very relaxing experience.
  • Along the same lines, I gained a deeper appreciation for companies like Patagonia, who reminded me to enjoy the stories I was wearing in my older clothing, to be more selective about new purchases, and who empowered me to do my own clothing repairs.
  • I was most frustrated by small things. Not having socks that matched well. Not having a shirt with the right cut. Not having just the right tie or shoe.
  • A friend gave me three Patagonia short-sleeve button shirts half-way through the year, and they came just in time. I thought my short-sleeve plaids would get me through the year, but I only had 4, and three of them were several years old and begging to be retired. But, like nearly all shirts, the shirts my friend gave me were too wide for my taste. So I got on YouTube, and learned how to tailor a shirt. I found a “pinch-and-pin” shortcut that made tailoring them easy, after a lesson or two on using a sewing machine from Angela.

creations 2Gaining control over the fit of my shirts was really fun! I could now take a shirt I loved and fit it to my tastes. Rad!

  • Towards the end of the year, I consciously broke my goal and made a few purchases. I purchased one more short-sleeve button shirt (it was on sale and I loved it), and I made a few purchases that I justified by characterizing them as “gear” rather than “clothing.” These included new running shoes (I hit 750 miles on mine and desperately needed an upgrade), new hiking pants (I blew the crotch out of my old ones, again, and could see there was no way to securely sew them up this time), a hooded running sweatshirt for cold morning runs, and a tank top for exercising. All in all, I’m happy I made these purchases and don’t feel like they tainted my resolution.

The best part of this fast, like the best part of all fasts, was when it ended. As I held off on new purchases throughout the year, I learned a lot about what I really wanted in my wardrobe and what I didn’t. Fasting gave me a great excuse to be mindful about my clothing on a whole new level. At the end of 2014, I went through my entire wardrobe again and gave away everything I didn’t love, and bought replacement items that I loved. Ironically, I now felt deeper certainty about eliminating even more pieces from my wardrobe, getting my list down to just under 100 items, which is where it currently sits. I made several purchases a few weeks ago, and I am happier with my wardrobe than I have been in years!

This experience has taught me the satisfaction of making fewer and more thoughtful purchases; it has also helped me to exercise my restraint and more thoughtfully enjoy each piece I own. I wasn’t perfect, but it turns out that the solution to my wardrobe dissatisfaction in 2013 was a year of simplifying and restraint in 2014.

Were you successful (or not) with any of your 2014 goals? Do tell.

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3 thoughts on “100 Clothing Items or Less – What I Learned in 2014

  1. At first I was thinking, “Wow, that’s really anal.” But then it made me think. What an interesting way to really ponder on the role of materialism in one’s life, consider how much you really “need.” Huh. Interesting exercise.

    Liked by 1 person

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