Curated Closet

I’ve written before about how I would follow whatever trends were popular at the time – whether for fashion in general, or what the rest of the campus was wearing. The idea of a capsule wardrobe wasn’t at all on my radar in the early 2010s, and shopping was as much a hobby as a bonding activity, so my frequent clothing shopping would not have been something I would have questioned at the time. A decade later, I was learning about capsule wardrobes – but those, too, felt more aspiration-oriented than instructional, especially with the flat-lays on Instagram showing clothing and accessories that were not already in my closet nor within my budget.

Last year – 2021 – was the first time I really paid attention to the idea of a curated closet, as opposed to buying a string of trendy statement pieces and hoping for the best. In particular, the closing sale of Le Château – and the fact that I tracked it from the announcement in October 2020 to the actual closing around April 2021 – made it so I was looking at everything that was listed on the website for weeks at a time before making any purchases. I had already been thinking about doing a No Buy (in the flimsiest of ways), but there were also items that I didn’t have in my closet – like pant suits and blouses – that were plentiful on the website. I held off on making any purchases for a few months, mostly because I wanted the deeper discounts, but in part to not deal with the headache of purchasing clothing that fit the wrong way and then not being able to return it (this would have been around the same time that non-essential shopping was not allowed and malls were closed as a result).

The benefit of waiting out the cycle of sales (some sales were buy X number of items, get an additional percentage off – others were these specific categories are a deeper discount) was doing the math to figure out just how much I would save and that I was building the habit of waiting it out rather than leaning into an impulse purchase. On top of that, with the additional time, I was thinking about what I already owned (and actually wore) and what I could reasonably add to the rotation. This was one of the first times that I thought about what I was adding to my wardrobe in context to the rest of what I wore (or at least that season), rather than just buying because I thought it was cute and the discount was an impressive percent. I still bought a larger quantity over that half-year period than I would in one sitting, but it was items that all went together or were for specific events – such as a pant suit set and 1-2 tops that matched the colours in the tartan pattern, or a clutch that matched both something I already owned and an evening gown I was buying.

In comparison, my long-term habit of shopping was “if it looks good on me, I’ll buy it.” While still living in Montreal, it was a lot easier to spend the afternoon shopping, in person, which meant that I was seeing what the store wanted me to see rather than being able to look through items online with filters. I’m fortunate that I lived in a city that had a wide variety of options for clothing and that 90% of what I tried on would fit me (the biggest issue being pants were too short), but in trying everything on, I would form attachments to whatever fit well enough – I start with feeling the fabric (usually some poly-blend), then imagining events and outings that I’ll wear the item while trying it on, then end with walking out with a massive bag of fast fashion for under $100. When I moved for work, much of my online shopping would be done while heading to bed, aiming to have a “quick look,” but sometimes spending up to three hours hours finding a way to meet a shipping minimum – or trying to find every variation of an item.

By shopping as a hobby or for the thrill of the deal, I ended up with a wardrobe of hardly any basics – whether they were statement pieces or short-lived trends – which made it harder for me to feel inspired to put something together when I was overwhelmed by everything looking back at me from my closet. That isn’t to say that I would wear a neon yellow sequin skirt with an ostrich feather halter top for my Monday morning meetings, but when you only have patterns to work with, it can still be headache-inducing. Now, however, I lean into the fact that I have a handful of colours that I like to wear (navy blue, burgundy, forest green), some patterns and prints (stripes, tartan, floral, houndstooth), and I generally stick to the three-colour rule when planning an outfit. I also don’t feel like I need to buy as much when I know that my combinations are basically endless, especially if I’m being more thoughtful about trying out different outfit ideas.

If I could impart any advice for someone who is in a similar situation, I’d say what worked best for me was assessing the following:
1) See what you like the most in what you already own – whether that’s colours, patterns, prints, cuts, or fabric. This is less to do with brands you like, and more what you like on your body.
2) When considering what you feel is missing, think about what’s influencing that: are you being swayed by what you’re seeing in advertisements or posts/videos online (more of an impulse, maybe), or is this a general item (a suit, a clutch, a pair of block heels) that you can use for something coming up (work on Monday, an experience/outing, a specific event) that can also be useful for future wears because it goes with other stuff in your closet?
3) Do I have something similar enough to it already? For example, I have three accordion midi skirts, in three different colours: one is green with white polka dots, one is black pleather, and the navy blue one from this month’s capsule is plain. While I love the way that midi accordion skirts look, I would need to find something completely different to warrant considering buying another one.
4) What else does the rest of this work with? While some items are event specific (like Halloween costumes), I try to think about what else this item will work with for what I already own. If the item already “passes” point 3, I want to consider why I might not have this item already (price, wasn’t in fashion, didn’t know it existed), and whether it will go well enough with the rest of what I wear. I struggle the most with this point for shoes/heels since you can argue that most shoes can fit with the rest of what you’re wearing if you just have confidence, which is how I’ve ended up with two pairs of heels that are the same colour but different shoe styles.
5) Lastly, I genuinely have to ask myself: do I like this as art or do I like this as clothing? I like to think that I appreciate fashion as an art form, but that doesn’t mean that I need to wear the art (at least, not all the time). I like to believe that clothing is about having your body covered enough for the temperature, art is to be observed, and fashion is the middle point between the two. Perhaps this is not as common an issue for others, I don’t know, but I definitely have bought items because they look nice but were virtually unwearable.

Hopefully this can be helpful to you, too, if you are looking for ways to slow down on your shopping, make the most of what you already have, or check in on yourself before buying something you might need 🙂

I’m Not Buying It

While a lot of what has gone into my continuous efforts to have a successful No Buy have been internal factors (will power, avoiding temptation, motivation), there’s been one major external factor that I wasn’t fully expecting back in January: the rate of inflation.

Canadian shoppers are somewhat in a less great position for purchasing power, since anything imported will cost more, and the Canadian dollar is not as strong as the American dollar. Even for some things that are made in Canada, to buy new will still be fairly expensive. Granted, I’m no economist, and my observations are strictly based on what I’ve seen while in different provinces.

Anyhow, what I’ve been thinking about for a while (last two months or so) is that there’s no way I can justify spending X amount of money on clothing when the prices have jumped so much – regardless of my no-buy status. I’m not picking on one store or another in making this post, but to see the cost of a recycled material dress of a basic cut and style go from $39 to $49 is ghastly. Ghastly but helpful (to me), as I’m much less willing to throw that kind of money around. Perhaps this is the same as how it’s easy to spend $3-$5 a day on a coffee and treat on the way to work, but if you were shown the total amount for a month, you might be less inclined to spend it. Which, for the record, you absolutely should be allowed to treat yourself, things are tough enough as it is, you don’t need to deprive yourself of simple joys.

Before I go any further, I do want to address that I am fortunate enough to not technically be impacted by the change in prices for clothing. I haven’t bought any new clothing in a year, and my last time thrifting was in October 2021 – and despite my trickle of decluttering, I’m certainly not wanting for options to dress myself. I realise fully that this may not be the case for someone who has children, whose body is changing, or can only justify buying clothing when items are falling apart.

I’m also at a point in tracking my clothing that still nothing has reached 30 total wears (including my running shoes!), so it’s not like I need anything new. Even though we’re 5 months into the year, I still haven’t reached a justifiable point of needing something for clothing – and I think that slow pace of consumption (the opposite of an impulse buy for me) has made it all the more visible how much more expensive something is since the last item I bought in person was under $10 (and under $40 online). Had I still been buying when the same type of dress went from $39 to $42 to $47 to $49, I don’t think it would strike me as as much of a jump.

I feel like I have some more digging to do on the topic, particularly in light of where the low prices are coming from that I would previously be drawn to (as in, who is being cheated out of a fair living wage along the way), and what else I can learn about and the decisions I make to reduce my need for buying more – including learning what a quality garment looks like and where to find them once needed.

Later this week, we’ll have a look at my empties for the month – and next week I’ll be having a check in on my May goals. Thanks for reading!

May Bye-Bye Bin Deep Dive

It feels a bit early to post about what’s leaving my home in the sorta-middle of the month, but I have a clothing/product swap coming up, and I wanted to get photos of what’s on its way out. There are also two items – a black bodysuit and a bottle of body wash – that have found new homes already and won’t be in the post.

For these 17 items, two were pulled from the summer bin during the season flip, and nine were pulled from my various drawers – all of which have not been worn this year. The scrunchies, pillow cases, and jewelry were pieces that I’d been on the fence about for a bit (as in, each time I looked for something else in their storage spot and saw them, I’d go “hmmm…”) and figure now’s as good a time as any with the upcoming swap. Also, I want to note that the clothing is kept bundled up not for disrespecting the clothing, but more so that I understand that a solid chunk of my readership belong to the no/low buy community and I don’t want to have the items incite desires to shop.

I have a few things to highlight for the “why” of a piece being decluttered, which I’m doing for my own sake for rereading in the future and for the sake of making sure I’m equally intentional about what leaves as what comes in.

  1. The impulse buy: The grey shorts and matching tank top set in the top middle was part of an impulse order, and these items were specifically added to meet the minimum to get free shipping. But get this, the store had run out of my size, so I sized up, placed a second order, received it, and realised I wasn’t likely to wear it with it being the wrong size. I’ve worn the shorts and tank top as a set a few times on really warm nights as pjs (I wasn’t planning to wear this set out of the house, mind you) – but my thought process behind purchasing them was “this is cute,” rather than “this fulfills a need I have within my closet.” This was purchased last summer, so just about a year ago – though, if nothing else – it shows the progress I’ve made in mindset.
  2. The attempted upcycle: The striped shirt to the right of the grey set and the blue and grey dress under it are next. Both are basics from Old Navy (a striped shirt and a swing dress), and both managed to get stained from one art project or another. I thought tie dye and bleach dying would be the way to spiffy them back up, buuuuut I took a “just do whatever” approach rather than planning out what it was supposed to look like, so I ended up with pieces I didn’t love (mind you, now that I think about it, I’ve never liked how my tie dyed pieces look…). Are they still wearable? Absolutely – there’s nothing structurally wrong with either piece, but I certainly wouldn’t wear them in public, and I already have enough “wear around the house for cleaning only” clothing that I don’t need more.
  3. The collection completer: The tan shorts in the bottom left are also from Old Navy, whose shorts fit me well enough for the most part (inseam is usually the kicker for me, I’m 67% leg and quite tall). The shorts I bought in 2019 include a bunch of neutrals – olive, navy, black, grey – and one striped pair. Being as pale as I am, buying anything tan online is a complete gamble as to whether it will entirely blend in with my skin. I’ve referenced this in an instagram post before (referring to a shade of pink for leggings that would leave me looking undressed), and it’s not a serious issue by any means, but, again, this was an instance of my motivation for purchasing the item being something other than meeting a need I have for my wardrobe. For the record, the “need” I justified in purchasing these shorts was, “I want a full set.”
  4. The swap find: While I fit in “straight” sizes for clothing, finding items that fits properly from thrifting and clothing swaps is not always successful (which is no different than trying on clothing in a store, just to be clear!). The Adidas running shorts were found last year from a clothing swap between friends, and I’ve since found shorts that fit me better and cover me more – so to a new home they shall go.

I don’t know that I’ll do as deep a dive for each bye-bye bin post in the future, but if there are pieces that fit these patterns, I think it would be worth it.

Next week I’ll be back with my empties for the month on Monday and a goal reflection on Thursday. Thanks for reading 🙂

Storage Bins are my Enemy

I know these are fighting words in the organization and decluttering communities, but this is strictly about my own beef with how storage bins are *too* good at their jobs.

I get clutter-blindness rather quickly, which means that it’s easy for me to forget for days on end to put away my bag of bags and wallet after going grocery shopping (or months, if we’re talking about the one paperclip that is just out of reach under my desk when I sweep the floor). I also find it hard to remember what all I have unless I can see it – which has even happened with clothing, where, once, my closet was so jam packed that I forgot entirely about 10+ items and was pleasantly surprised to refind them (and then reckoned with why I have so many navy blue tops that they all blend into each other). Which is where storage bins come in.

For my style of organizing, things that are not regularly in use will be tucked away in drawers, under my bed in zipper-top containers, or within one of many compartments in my arts supply half-wall unit. For everything else, I keep a fairly open-concept style: my closet doors are open so I can see the hanging clothing and my shoes; my earrings hang from a ribbon on the wall (barring those which came in a box, which, unsurprisingly, aren’t worn as often); my body products are on a small shelving unit in my washroom instead of under the sink; and I took off my pantry/cupboard doors so I could see everything (my kitchen is tiny and I would bonk my head a lot reaching for spices, so that’s a 50/50 on my motivation to do so). Think of the way that a bookcase is curated and organized, and that’s what I strive for throughout my apartment as a whole.

Where my cattle ranch’s worth of beef comes in is that at least a small part of my continued shopping habits from 2018-2020 were fuelled by not knowing just how much I had because it was all in storage bins. Dresses and tops that easily get shoulder dents from narrow hangers? Storage bin. Easy gift items for the holidays? Storage bin. $400 of yarn, all rolled up but not in use? Storage bin (that I could barely close). Fountain pen refills? Ziploc bag, in a pencil case, in a storage bin. I have no idea how many candles/ornaments/mugs/treat kits I have, so what would I do while I was out and about? Buy more, just in case. Nothing sounds as backwards as “Well, this bath gift kit is a backup in case there’s someone I forget, even though I’m buying it on Boxing Day for the following year,” but that was the logic I used (for the record, the kit in question is verging on claiming squatter’s rights for how long it’s been living in my closet).

Not to get off track or try to be too deep about storage, but I wonder if I would even need the bins for seasonal clothing if I had enough room in my closets and drawers for all of it? The top two shelves of my washroom shelf unit would be empty were it not for my 45 or so total backup body products, and even if I bought new when I reach the last 15% of a product, I could store them under my sink for the 4-5 remaining uses. Maybe I wouldn’t get rid of the half-wall unit that doubles as a standing desk since it houses infrequent-use stuff like tools and winter hats and scarves, but could I condense my infrequent-use items all into one place? Sounds like something to reflect on and maybe turn into a month-long project for May.

To clarify, I don’t have my heart set on a spartan, minimalist monochrome apartment with zero storage space. I just need to operate within my Goldilocks Zone of open storage for frequent-use items as opposed to using the wrong type of storage for my stuff. Or, you know, have slightly fewer total items in my dwelling to begin with.

Shopping Habits Part 3: Forging an Identity

Here are parts 1 and 2 if you need a refresher before jumping back in.

If you take a look at your wardrobe as is, I’m sure there are a handful of things that you could infer about yourself: the colours you prefer (or prefer to dress in), the climate you live in, maybe how tall you are, how much money you’re willing to spend on clothing (or appear to be willing), maybe your job/the field you’re in, and what aesthetics you’re drawn to. I use “infer” since it’s not likely that you have a plain t-shirt that lists everything about you in neat bullet points, but instead we can make generalizations about who else wears similar (or the same) garments and has the same style as you.

With this in mind, I’m going to talk about how much I relied and still rely on clothing for my self-expression. By around age 12, I moved from only shopping with my mum to mostly shopping with friends as a group outing. Friends who lived closer to the suburban mall a metro ride away introduced me to new boutiques that were heavily marketed and engineered to draw in young teen crowds. Too afraid to split away from friends – both for safety and social repercussions – I spent many afternoon hours circling displays of graphic tees and neon skinny jeans that I absolutely didn’t need but still purchased. We were all self-proclaimed bargain hunters, but that point was negated by how frequently we shopped. As I’ve mentioned before, I had a uniform from grade 7-11, so much of what I wore was weekend cozies or Bat Mitzvah/Sweet 16 garb, with a few select outfits that fell in between. Though I never was outright copying my friends (unless ironically for Twin Day), there was still a lot of overlap between how I dressed and what they wore.

CEGEP was a bit all over the place for specific looks – I think one week I wore a burgundy duster with a tight black v-neck and galaxy print leggings, and the next day I was in a purple and black bodycon dress with a blazer and heels (and I wasn’t even giving a presentation in class). The pieces were inexpensive and easy to swap out with a basic/neutral tone top, so I had fun with intentionally looking like Cher Horowitz’s closet directory had a mind of its own. There was definitely no one here who dressed like me (or at least to this extent of zany), and I had no problem with that – especially after 5 years of a uniform. I was my own interpretation of what was on trend, I had a body that was easy to clothe, and friends that didn’t balk at my gauzy, neon, pink button-ups.

Skip ahead to university, and everything was purple. School events (especially athletics) would follow the “head to toe purple” dress code, and the more the better. My first year was the most extra for this, with me buying official and student-designed school merch, spending more on clothing and accessories than I did on textbooks. The campus as a whole would regularly wear purple on a daily basis, which we only really noticed when we left campus or the student village and encountered locals who dressed in more than just one colour. Things mellowed out by my fourth year, but I still own some 10 or so school shirts and sweaters.

For work, I knew what a Young Professional in Montreal looked like, so I stocked up on office-friendly attire before moving out of the province for work. I felt overdressed in my setting with most of my colleagues dressing more casually than I would, so I shopped some more to fit in (rather than wearing my perfectly fine and still professional clothing!!), because I already stood out enough with being youngest on staff, being bilingual, and being an out-of-towner in a relatively small community. Even after attending a fairly small university and seeing mostly the same people every day, this was the same experience, but zoomed in, which meant that feeling like I stood out was all the more visible (according to me, in my brain – no one said as much, but that’s anxiety for ya).

Where am I now with all of this? I dress as “fancy” as I want for work, regardless of how others are dressing. I’ll show up in a suit or a monochromatic look (my go-to looks for weekday work), but I’m picking my outfits according to what I feel that day (or what I have to do) rather than doing mental gymnastics of what could be counted as overdressed for the people I work with. Did I wear turtlenecks every day last week? Yes. Did I enjoy it? Also, yes – and that’s where I’m at now, not wasting time worrying about others’ response to what I wear, but seeing if it makes me happy.

You could argue that none of this matters, I just need to be clothed and respect the rough dress code at work and in other social settings. However, a key part of how I express myself – and how I feel! – has to do with how I’m dressed. If I’m in cozier clothing (pj-adjacent, if you will), I’m 100% less likely to work on Important Stuff TM and it will take me longer to go from task to task. If I’m struggling to put together a weekly summary email for a tutee’s parents, I throw a blazer on and can get back to work. The second example probably has more to do with taking a break and getting up from my seat than actually wearing the blazer – and having a few minutes to mull things over without the cursèd blinking cursor mocking me – but it works, so I keep doing it.

Overall, clothing is a key component of how I express myself. I like getting dressed up, I love themed events, and I have fun with putting together outfits and accessories. What others see about me first is how I’m dressed, which matters to me more along the lines of “this is precisely who I am,” and not at all a “what if they don’t like the way I’m dressed?” thing. How I dress will change throughout life – I don’t know that clothing from age 27 will last to age 72 – which is fine, so long as what I’m using, how I care for it, and what I do with it when I’m seemingly “done” with a piece is handled in a thought-out manner. There’s nothing inherently wrong with associating identity with clothing – who *hasn’t* heard “oh, this is so you!” while shopping with friends – I just need to be more mindful how much I’m bringing in.

Fun for Free: Podcasts

Keeping it shorter today, so you can dive right in on your new podcast finds! I listen to these podcasts on spotify, though I’ve linked websites and specific episodes for the pod rather than the apps when possible. Happy listening 🙂

Ologies:

Ologies is a podcast about different fields (-ologies) of research and study, though the episodes are casual and lighthearted in tone (as in, not the stereotype of academia being dry). Alie Ward has a background in science communication (you may have seen her on TV or Netflix), and is able to weave together more formal information with fun facts about the topic, and offers the interviewees to share their story of how they got into the field. The vibe throughout is like a guided museum tour on the topic of the week, and the audience questions (asked in advance) allow for pure curiosity and some “explain it like I’m 5” type questions to come through. She has bleeped episodes on the website if you’re not one for profanity.
Episodes I’d suggest for the No Buy/Low Buy community:
1. Decluttering: if you’re trying to get rid of extra stuff, this is a good episode to have on before diving in. I found this episode around the same time as watching youtube content about decluttering, and it’s always nice to have another opinion or method to consider.
2. Procrastination: Understanding why your brain does what it does makes it a lot easier for you to work with (rather than against) how your brain is wired. I found this to be super validating to listen to, especially if you’re someone who has a mindset that procrastination is a moral failing rather than something that takes practice to manage.
3. Fear/Stress: Officially, these two episodes are about the topic of fear, but I include “stress” in the title since the topic is not about phobias, but about how fear (“stress”) can control your life. Of the three episodes, this one has had the deepest impact on how I view stress and approach difficult situations.

The Conscious Style Podcast:

The Conscious Style Podcast focuses on education and interviews with change makers in the slow fashion sphere. The first season touches on establishing definitions for slow/sustainable fashion, and then later goes into interviews with leading activists, fair wages for garment workers, and how to make fashion more sustainable in your community. The second season is focused on the circular economy for fashion, so if you’re already well-versed on the topic, feel free to dive into the second season outright.
Episodes I’d suggest for the No Buy/Low Buy community:
1. Make & Mend your own clothing: I’m someone who will demote a piece of clothing from “wear in public” to “pjs only” if there’s a tiny hole in it, so listening to this episode helped me to realise how much more I can get out of my pieces from taking care of them beyond just washing. The discussion also covers the difficulty of finding clothing for your body if you’re not straight-sized, and how empowering it can be to dress yourself in items you’ve made.
2. What is Slow Fashion: If you’re editing your closet, exploring your own style, or looking to support local garment makers, this episode can help with navigating what counts as slow fashion and the benefits of it.
3. Social Media & Fast Fashion: I’ve spoken to a handful of others in the No Buy/Low Buy community, and the topic of social media and how that influences our desire to shop fast fashion – so hearing it be broken down and examined was validating and helped me to be aware of the efforts behind online ads to push me toward consuming.

Life After MLM:

On the surface, Life After MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) might seem out of place compared to the rest of the suggestions. However, I believe that much of how MLMs stay afloat is through pushing overconsumption (regardless of my opinion of the product quality) – and that it’s also important to be aware of how MLMs can seem like a good choice to pursue when you want to make some cash on the side, especially if you’re doing a No Buy/Low Buy to reduce your spending while cutting down on debt. There’s also the point about people who are in a vulnerable position may be more likely to join something that seems like a good opportunity to help them out of their tough situation.
Episodes I’d suggestion for the No Buy/ Low Buy community:
1. Intro Episode: Getting to know Roberta Blevin’s story and why she’s so passionate about helping get people out of MLMs. You might have also seen her in the Vice documentary or in LulaRich (if you have Amazon Prime).
2. Income Disclosures: I’m sure we’ve all worked some jobs with crap hourly pay, though I’ve never only made pennies per hour. I found this episode to be eye-opening to see what information is out about how much you can expect to make (if anything).
3. The BITE Model: A two-parter, but helpful to understand how people can be controlled by others within the context of MLMs. I’m including this in the suggestions for the sake of seeing how intentional some behaviour patterns can be – and because I was shocked about how many of these I’ve seen in action at not-great work places I thought were supposed to be tolerated/normal.

Later this week, I’ll be back with some more psychology & fashion. Thanks for reading!

My Shopping Habits – Part 2

I’m back with the next instalment of my relationship to shopping, and how it developed over time (you might want to check out part 1 for this post to make sense). This is the narrative overview before we get into the “why” of the choices I’d made, which will be part 3.

For me, clothing falls somewhere along the spectrum of “utilitarian” and “literal art, but on my body,” with most of what I own falling in the middle, which we’ll call “I’m choosing to wear this.” I define “utilitarian” clothing based on the purpose that they serve in covering my body: warm clothing in the winter, lighter fabrics in sweltering heat, and rain boots for any terrain that is not completely dry. The “I’m choosing to wear this” clothing is what I reach for for everything else, whether that’s running errands, holiday/themed events, lounging about, fancy dress, or work. If the item can be cute while serving its purpose, splendid, but I’m not too worried about the panache and pizzazz of a knee-length puffer coat when the hair escaping from my hat instantly freezes from the humidity of my breath. I do, however, worry about what’s under that coat when I arrive to my destination and what I wear is a reflection of who I am.

I’ve lived most of my life in Montréal, which has its own mix of high fashion, streetwear, chic, trendy, and classic looks. Throughout high school, we had a strict uniform to follow, so the clothing I chose to wear was trendy late-aughts/early-’10s teen fashion – wordy neon graphic tees, layered tank tops with lace trim, and imitation Roots sweatpants (why buy the real thing when you can get the same from Garage and three v-necks for the same price?). My first semester of CEGEP/2-year college, I was dressed a mess while figuring out what I would wear every day, despite the purpose for being there was my academics. 17-year-old me knew that what I wore casually as a 15-year-old was not going to cut it (according to whom? I still don’t know). During the break between first and second semester, I went all out at the Boxing Day sale at Urban Planet, the spiritual older cousin of Shein. Spending not much more than $300, I came home with a haul of patterned leggings, sheer button shirts, bodycon skirts and dresses, and a slew of basics to balance out the zany monstrosities I dared to call pants. This was at the height of peplums, skater skirts, and galaxy print everything, in case you needed a refresher on why this was normal school clothing. I was known at school for being the leggings girl (someone for real asked me if I owned any “normal” pants halfway through the semester), which was fun until I had to mentally keep track of 30 pairs to avoid having repeats too soon after each other.

University was a whole other ball of wax in diving head first into a theme to latch onto and dictate what I would wear. Anything that was related to the school colours, I would wear it – not to mention the veritable windfall I was for the bookstore and student design shop after snatching up anything I could fit into my teeny, tiny budget. All in the name of school spirit, and I would wear purple like I knew of no other colour. This slowed a bit by my third and fourth years (limiting my shopping to only the cute stuff, and not one of everything), and other colours re-entered my wardrobe as I continued to shop sales at stores off campus.

Graduating and starting work at my first real job resulted in just as ferocious a shopping spree as 2013 Urban Planet, but now in the name of professionalism. Blazers, pencil skirts, flowy blouses, trousers, and some sensible shoes – not that I was starting from scratch, mind you, I just wanted to have options. Once I started making money, I turned to online shopping for clothing in my free time. Old Navy was a favourite, since they had a “tall” section available online, and I was in need of pants that didn’t look like they were borrowed from my 12-year-old cousin. Well, “in need” of more options, but I told myself it would be good to have more options for the days when I’m running behind on laundry and need something to wear (as opposed to, you know, just doing the laundry??). In between these hauls were the various warehouse and outlet sales that I’d go to, and I started to run out of space in my closets, so I bought storage bins and hoped that would do the trick. I had gotten to the point of such rapid consumption that there were items that would be squished and hidden between two other items in the closet that I would forget they were there, but still order more.

The beginning of 2020 did not see this slow down all that much, as I had orders coming in roughly every other week – some were necessary cookware now that I needed to actually feed myself without the cafeteria at work as an option, while I indeed still had the audacity to purchase more clothing like I was leaving my apartment any time soon (I did a total of zero Zoom Happy Hours, so it wasn’t even for that). Things slowed down more over the summer, and then my bank account got another workout once Le Château announced that they would be closing – which ended by summer 2021. I was still strategic (hmmm) about waiting for the right time in the sales once I figured out what the pattern was for additional percent off versus total percent off based on category – since that’s what normal people do to buy clothing, no?

Luckily, I didn’t go into debt over this spending habit. My need for bargain hunting outweighed any desire for an item that was full-priced, and I never got into designer or luxury clothing (thankfully). The potency of bargain hunting did a number on me, and I remember buying two evening gowns at a store-closing sale for under $15 apiece (91% off, for anyone interested). Luckily, I did have an annual event to wear them to, but at the same time, how many gowns does a 22-year-old need?

With this personal history on the books, I’ll leave the topic here for now. Catch you later this week with my thoughts why small changes are a more sustainable approach to me. Thanks for reading!

My Shopping Habits

Living somewhere with four distinct seasons means you need to dress for different temperatures. Living somewhere with four distinct seasons means you have many “opportunities” to shop throughout the year to “update” your wardrobe, whether by season, sales, or more frequently through the fast-fashion trend cycle. I would only shop sales (self-proclaimed bargain-hunter here!), which would result in more items coming in – even if I’m spending the same amount of money. Shopping online, I’d comb through each page of the website looking for hidden deals, seeing if there’s anything that I could add either to reach my free-shipping minimum or to treat myself. In person, I could spend a whole day at the mall, circling the same displays, trying clothes on, and walking out with an armload of bags. This would happen once a month, on average. I wouldn’t plan what I was buying, and when I did, I would leave the store or online transaction with at least twice as much in hand. My biggest trap was getting every variation of something, so I could have a “complete” selection to take from to dress myself – whether that’s eight pairs of shorts that are the same length but different colours, or wanting to get all the prints and solids of a dress. Especially when ordering online, I wasn’t paying attention to the quality of the items I was buying – whether the stitching was in an odd place for my body, things weren’t a great fit, or the garment would hang funny on my frame. I’m not yet well-versed in spotting quality garment-making, but I know what I don’t like and what I’m unwilling to tolerate being on my body.

I wasn’t consciously focusing on avoiding repeating an outfit, though I know from experience that I could go from August to early November without the same outfit being worn twice, since 2018. The definition of “outfit” has changed since 2020, where previously it meant I had enough clothing to wear something different for 100 days or so, with only accessories and shoes being repeated. Now, however, that would be more about the combination of what I’m wearing: maybe I’ve worn this top with these shorts a few weeks ago, but now the top is paired with a skirt and a cardigan as the fall weather sets in. The volume of clothing and accessories that I have – both per season and in total – means that I can likely go a full year without wearing the exact outfit twice. I don’t need to be able to do that; I don’t have any desire to be consumed by thoughts of whether this turtleneck and skirt combo has been done with these boots and earrings.

“these were next to each other, so I got them both,”

In December’s digital declutter, I rewatched my old haul vlogs that still live on my laptop. I realised that nothing from those videos is still in my closet. Well, I do still have the same bedding and towels (mostly) that I bought to move on campus as a first year, but nothing else is in my possession. 19-year-old me and 27-year-old me don’t have the same taste (nor the same body), and much of what was purchased was in my university colours, which aren’t in my wardrobe in any significant way now. Having sat with this for a bit, and after another rewatch, what stood out to me now was the language that I was using to talk about the purchases: “these were next to each other, so I got them both,” “this matches everything else in my closet, so of course, I had to get it,” “I think this will look good in case I need a backup,” and probably most relatable, “it was cute, so I needed it.” I’ll be honest and say that some of the basics (tank tops, in this case) have been forgotten to time, though everything else that was purchased was well loved – some pieces even staying in rotation all four years of my degree and even after I’d finished university – so it wasn’t as though they were bought and then dumped a month later, at the very least.

It’s been about a year and a half since I’ve really scaled back my shopping for clothing, but there are shopping patterns that creep back in when I’m not being intentional. I still get a rush from getting a discount percent-point that would look great on a report card, and when I was looking for turtlenecks while thrifting last fall, I felt the urge to get them in every colour available. For about two weeks, thrifting caught my attention – the combination of inexpensive prices, a wide variety to browse (the men’s section had looser fits for turtlenecks), and the unpredictable nature of whether I’d find what I’m looking for. I thought this would be better for me, after all, since it’s not adding to the demand for new clothing, it’s extending the life of an existing garment, and I’m helping the local economy by shopping in-store (as opposed to going through apps). However, while walking from one thrift store chain to another – out to purchase only the specifics on my list – I caught myself thinking, “well, if I don’t find a houndstooth skirt today, I can always come back in a few weeks, and maybe see if they have a few more colours of turtlenecks as well.” At that moment, I had five turtleneck shirts that I’d thrifted across three shops, and another on the way as a birthday gift (please note, I’m using the turtleneck throughout as an example of how pervasive the desire can be for me about a specific item or style of clothing).

I took some time over the rest of the week to comb through my following list and unfollow any accounts that were more aspirational than inspirational

What was equally concerning was that I’d moved the target of my behaviour – shopping for sets or varieties of things – to a different location with lower price points, meaning that I would still be bringing in more “new” rather than making do what what I had already. Part of this came from learning about capsule wardrobe accounts on Instagram, and frequently seeing neutrals and basics all over my feed and explore page meant that I felt like I couldn’t replicate these looks and be just as fancy/classy/put together as the women – or sometimes just clothes! – in the posts. I was using them less for inspiration to use what I already had, and more saw it as a checklist for my next thrift hunt. I took some time over the rest of the week to comb through my following list and unfollow any accounts that were more aspirational than inspirational, and anything that I wanted for clothing or shoes, I left on a wishlist for my birthday. Full honesty, I forgot about what precise pair of shoes I’d added to the wishlist (but knew they’d been purchased), which was a lesson in the difference between a need and a want. If I had to go shoeless in the interim, I’d definitely have those shoes in mind – but I was fine choosing from the 10 other pairs that I could comfortably wear for work in the weeks that passed. I don’t regret now having the shoes – they add a touch of polish to my workwear without having to wear heels – but I certainly could have gone without to no consequence.

I clearly have a lot of thoughts about my relationship to shopping, so I’ll pause this here for now, but I will absolutely be coming back to this topic in the future.

Clothing Inventory Reflection

The Plan:

Over the next half-week, I want to go through all of my clothing and accessories to both: 1) tally how much I have, both by category and in total, and 2) put together a detailed inventory of what the item is, where it’s from (store/brand), new or thrifted, and what year I bought or received it. I suspect this will take longer than the 3 days I’ve given myself to get this post out (editor’s note: it’s Thursday, and I’m only half done), but I don’t want to rush myself, get frustrated, and then leave the project half done. I want to do this for the sake of diving in deep on my biggest purchase categories, and maybe also get reacquainted with pieces I forgot I loved.

Thoughts while Sorting:

Know who has 75 shirts and tops?
Me.
Know who wears 75 shirts and tops throughout the year?
Me, kind of, but also not really.
My biggest category of clothing is tops by far, and living where we have four distinct seasons means that I’m going to need a variety of sleeve lengths so I’m not uncomfortable in any weather. To be clear, the total of 75 does not include heavier sweaters, hoodies, or crewnecks, but does have most combinations of collars/neck styles and sleeve lengths you can think of. It’s taking me the better part of a day (about 5 hours) to go through everything I have hanging in my closet, and I’ve reached a point of activity-fatigue from writing out everything. There’s no external force pushing me to be this thorough with my tracking, but I do want to have an itemized inventory to be able to track each time I’ve worn something so I have more than just the hanger being flipped over after the first wear. I’m looking for data that’s more robust.

Where I’m hesitant:

I do have a lot of clothing, and it fills different purposes:
1) work clothing
2) fitness
3) casual, but still put together
4) running errands
5) wow, it sure is cold out
6) this will be covered in paint or dye, or will get dirty
7) I wear this once a year to a specific event, so I still need it for that specific event, and
8) these clothes have cycled out of every other category and are now worn to bed/lounge-wear.
I don’t think that I need to toss a bunch of stuff – which would defeat the purpose of approaching this with intent – and that if the item can continue to serve the purpose it serves, it can stay. I’m not sure what to do with sentimental shirts from events that I do still wear. I don’t have a solution for this yet – which is okay! – but I’ll be sure to mention it when I think of something.

After the fact:

My biggest takeaway from this experience, so far, is that the busiest year of my life, 2019, is the year that I have the least specific memory of when things were bought or gifted. That’s not to say that I expect myself to have an encyclopedic knowledge of every item that I own (which would be exhausting), but the number of question marks placed next to items bought that year is telling.
This was the year that I was absolutely doing too much (have you ever attended a concert in another city, then flew out to a third city the following morning to attend a wedding that afternoon? 2019-me has, and 2022-me is exhausted just typing it out), and how I was consuming was exactly what fast fashion cycles were made for – especially since a solid pile of that clothing is no longer in my possession. On a positive note, I did find that about 25 items* were from 2017 or earlier (the oldest clothing article was from 2011 or earlier, and my oldest pair of earrings is from 2005), and likely have each been worn more than 30 times. I feel that having revisited everything has given me a better understanding of what I’m working with – ya know, the difference between “this is clothing in a closet” and “this is my functional and intentional wardrobe.”

The numbers (aka, what you came here for):

Here’s how I decided to categorize all of my clothing, not counting undergarments or winter gear, presented in descending order:
– Tops: 75
– Earrings: 65
– Bottoms: 39
– Shoes: 35
– Sweaters: 22
– Scrunchies: 21
– Dresses: 20
– Athletic wear: 16
– Bags/purses: 14
– Formal wear/gowns: 11
– Skirts: 9
– Jackets/coats: 7
For a total of 334 items living in my closet and jewellery boxes.

What I’m working on next:

Next up on the blog will my first instalment of Fun for Free on Monday, and then working on my yarn stash. Oh, and finishing my written inventory of the other half of my clothing. If you’re interested in seeing what I’m up to in between blog posts, my instagram account is @ladywithless. Thanks for reading!

* individual entries are not done yet, so that number might be higher for items that I don’t wear for work