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How Many Clothes Do I Need in My Closet?

pandemic clothes

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by Ellen Blake

Changes in attitudes about clothing during Covid19

article updated 10/15/2020

In February of this year I wrote the article below about my overstuffed closet. I talked about my frustration that I owned lots of clothing, but often felt I had nothing to wear. I was unsure what to keep and what to give away or toss. After all, there might be a time when that one outfit was the perfect attire for a future event. However, over the course of a couple of weeks, I made difficult decisions and ultimately pared down my wardrobe to remove the items that, in the words of Marie Kondo, no longer sparked joy for me. 

That was before the world shut down in response to Covid-19. I look now at the many items that remain in my closet and wonder if I will ever wear most of them again. I hunker down at home in comfortable clothes with no desire to put on heels or a dress.  At most, I wear a nice shirt with shorts or jeans; after all, people only see me from the waist up on zoom calls. I venture out to the supermarket or for a doctor appointment on occasion, but seldom bother with nice clothes or make up. With a mask that covers most of my face, I admit I put little effort into how I look other than to comb my hair. I run into people I know sometimes, but they don’t recognize me. Everyone seems caught up in their own world, doing what they need to do quickly and getting home.

Some people feel better when they dress up

Recently, one of our 50Plus-Today authors, Arlen Hollis Kane, wrote an article called, Why Don’t We Dress Up Anymore? She described her love of fashion and her weekly shopping excursions with her mom in New York City where she lived and bemoaned that people dress much more casually these days. She feels dressing up is a lost art – and not just during the pandemic. Why not dress nice, even when hunkered down at home? 

I think that’s a good question. After I read her article, I decided to spend a little more time on my appearance, even when home by myself. My motivation dwindled significantly as the pandemic dragged on and I needed to find a way to stay energized and excited about my business. The result? I feel better and am more productive when I dress up a bit. I am still not likely to put on a fancy dress, heels or a full face of make-up, but I do wear my work clothes and at the very least put on lipstick.  It just seems to make the day a little happier for me.

Your thoughts?

pandemic clothes

Original post 2/20/2020

First world problem

I have too much stuff. I’m frustrated that I have nothing to wear, yet my closet is overflowing. I hate to get rid of something that I just know I’ll wear at some point, though to be honest, that day never comes. And because my closet is crammed with so much stuff, I waste a lot of time looking through everything to find something to wear.  Additionally, I have duplicates because I forget what all I already have – out of sight, out of mind – and buy similar outfits at the store. I don’t have the time, space or money to continue this way. I need to do some serious purging and, as Marie Kondo says, try to keep only those items that “spark joy” for me.

How do you know when it’s time to say goodbye?

I asked a few friends how they determine when it’s time to purge an article of clothing. One woman said she gets rid of anything she did not wear in the past six weeks, while another waits until the two year mark arrives to purge an item. Others were somewhere in between.  Still others decide to let an item go if it goes out of style or no longer fits. You may wait a long time for the styles to change back or to lose weight; better just to clear them out.

Why limit your options?

Another wise friend explained a closet full of mix and match essentials is the best way to go to maximize your personal style and simultaneously simplify your life. Barack Obama is an extreme example of this school of thought. He wears only gray of blue suits in order to pare down decisions. This way, he does not waste time or energy when he chooses what to wear in the morning. According to Vanity Fair, limiting his options is his secret to getting so much done. He also believes the act of making a decision erodes your ability to make decisions later, something psychologists call decision fatigue. 

Questions to ask yourself when you purge your closet

Go through your wardrobe with the following questions in mind to help decide which items make the cut. 

  1. When did I last wear this piece?
    The time frame is up to you, whether two years or six weeks, but if you did not wear it in the recent past, chances are you won’t wear it again. Give it away, I promise you will survive without that one top.
  2. Do I need to update or replace?
    I don’t know about you, but I still have old favorite clothing items with holes or stains in my closet. If you didn’t manage to fix the issues in a long time, realistically are you ever going to do it? Get rid of these pieces. Also, if an item is dated, when it comes back in style finally, it will be just different enough that it still doesn’t work. Be strong – toss those too.
  3. Is it a duplicate?
    Do you really need six black long-sleeved blouses?  Probably not. You likely reach for your one favorite most of the time anyway.
  4. Does it fit?
    I’m not asking if you might be able to squeeze into it…does it fit comfortably and appropriately? If not, can it be altered? If the answers are no, those pieces need to be purged too.

How often you do laundry is a major factor in the number of articles of clothing you need. I like to have two weeks worth of clothing available before I absolutely need to run the washing machine. I often do wash more often, particularly with exercise clothes, but I want the flexibility to forgo that task if I’m busy.

Your lifestyle is important too. For example, I work from home and go into the office only once or twice/week, which means I need only four professional outfits in my closet. At home I wear pants and a top; as a side note, I don’t wear sweats around the house – ever – for me it’s a form of weight control. I don’t want my clothes to expand comfortably when I overeat, which happens easily when you work from home. Back to pants and tops, I estimate the minimal number of each I need to keep on hand for during the work week is six to eight shirts and four to six pants. A couple more of each to get through the weekends. We tend to go out on Saturday nights, so I need a minimum of two cute going out outfits. Undergarments, socks and exercise clothes need to be sufficient to provide fresh items daily.  If you go to formal events every now and then as I do, you need a few options available in the closet. 

The bottom line

Use the above questions and examples as a guide when you decide to simplify your wardrobe and life. The right answer is personal and different for every individual. You may find the more your closet is edited, the easier it is to start the day.



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