Keeping a Streamlined Wardrobe

I’ve received several questions from readers on how I manage to store/organize all of my purchases, because I’m always buying new clothes. I chuckle, because all my clothes are in a tiny closet (shared with Nick’s ginorm flannel collection). Reading through extrapetite, I see how this blog may seem like a chronic shopaholic’s diary. Despite frequent purchasing, however, I keep a small and streamlined wardrobe where most pieces are worn monthly. I can’t stand clothes overflowing my closet, or sitting around collecting dust. Thus, I wanted to share my thought process behind wardrobe maintenance…

1. Keep track of what you buy. First and foremost I keep a manual spreadsheet of clothing purchases. I use Mint for overall money management, but the manual aspect of typing up a spreadsheet forces me to recount everything I’ve bought and assess their keep-worthiness. For July, I ordered $455.19 in clothing, returned $164, and sold $36. I hate doing returns, and retailers probably hate me too, but I like bringing items home to think them over.

2. Be critical of what you keep. Blogging and reading blogs has caused me to review all purchases with a very critical eye. A few years ago, I’d be so overjoyed with something fitting small that I may not think twice about keeping it. These days, I thoroughly consider the following:

– fit (and get an alterations quote, if necessary)
– quality and value (include the cost of alterations, which can be hefty)
– compatibility with my existing wardrobe (how many things can I pair it with?)

3. Part with items that don’t (or won’t) get enough wear. If an item doesn’t meet the above tests, but I still really like it, I usually have no problem with indulging in frivolous purchases. But there must be turnover. As soon as I realize something is not getting enough wear, I’ll donate it or pass it on to a new home. Blog sales, eBay, as well as the AN Forum marketplace are all outlets for this.

Also, items initially dubbed as “keepers” are re-assessed periodically. If I am reviewing my manual spreadsheet a month later, and notice that a purchase has not yet been touched, then surely it will be returned or re-sold. Such was the case with a pair of Talbots shoes. I realized I was keeping purely for the bargain and good quality. After a month, I didn’t reach for them once, proving that I didn’t need them!

Readers – Do you keep a streamlined wardrobe? Please share your tips and advice!
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  1. Anonymous wrote:

    I LOVE that you posted this! So genius, yet it makes so much sense!

    Posted 8.29.12 Reply
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    You could also use apps like Stylish Girl or Stylebook to keep track of your wardrobe…you can have it with you on your mobile device as you shop to avoid unnecessary purchases and time consuming returns.

    Posted 1.28.12 Reply
  3. An wrote:

    These are great tips. Thanks for sharing as I will definitely be following in your foot steps.

    Posted 9.3.11 Reply
  4. Samantha wrote:

    What a great post! This is so helpful because the husband and I are going through some financial changes. We are re-evaluating our budget, and a spreadsheet would be a really great tool for me (as long as I actually review it monthly)! Thanks!

    xo, sam

    Posted 8.29.11 Reply
  5. Vivian wrote:

    What's a good program/application of spreadsheet to use? Word is hard for me to use because IDK how I will keep that organized at all unlike what you have on the photo above. And is Mint a trustworthy program to use especially you need to type in your account information and all?

    Posted 8.28.11 Reply
  6. M wrote:

    I've been reading your blog for around a year now but this is my first comment. It's so informative and helpful and this post proves it. Thanks to you I just sat down for two hours and set up spreadsheets to get a better prospective on my shopping habits. And thankfully, it's not as scary looking as I thought it would be! 🙂

    Posted 8.28.11 Reply
  7. jessica wrote:

    Intriguing. I used to track how often I wore all my garments – just listing everything out forced me to acknowledge when I was getting towards "a lot" of certain items (ahem skirts), and it was a visual reminder which garments didn't get worn very often.

    I've since stopped that and just do a periodic purge of items that don't get worn very often. It helps that I have a tiny closet! Once everything gets too crammed, I know it's time to start reassessing. I would not call my wardrobe "streamlined" by any means but I make sure that everything I buy is 1) versatile [it has to match at least 5 other items in my closet before it comes home with me], 2) fits my lifestyle [I stopped buying clothing that is casual-only because I have enough of those and too few opportunities to wear them], 3) is well-made, classic enough but with interesting details, fits well, and is not something I'd get tired of wearing after 5 times. My aim is for garments that cost at most a $5/wear over their lifetime.

    Also, I will spend more on shoes because I have bad feet and am very picky about that.

    Posted 8.27.11 Reply
  8. I love your spreadsheet! I'm a spreadsheet fanatic and immediately started a monthly shopping budget spreadsheet when I began making real money (and participating in the online shop/return cycle). It's interesting to see the difference in our instinctive organizational approaches.

    Posted 8.26.11 Reply
  9. Anonymous wrote:

    Thank you so much for letting us know how you keep your ever expanding waldrobe organized on the spreadsheet. My problem is I know what colors I look good in, so now I am stuck with 4 dfferent tops of the same color. Love your blog

    Posted 8.26.11 Reply
  10. I catalogue my clothing on my iPod touch in photos so when I am in a store eyeing yet ANOTHER grey sweater, I don't buy it.

    Posted 8.26.11 Reply
  11. LG wrote:

    Love the spreadsheet idea. In terms of organization, I am constantly purging clothing (and other household items) via donations to Goodwill and/or selling the more designer pieces. While I don't keep a spreadsheet, I do 2 things that help keep the shopping/budget under control.
    1) After looking online, in stores and in magazines at the beginning of each season I create a wishlist, then periodically review it as the season goes on to determine if I still want those items or if they are on sale.

    2) I photographed almost every item in my closet and uploaded it my computer and an iPhone app called My Style Fashion Assistant so when I am out and about I can determine if a piece already goes with my current wardrobe or not, and also do I already have something that I can use in its place.

    Love your blog!

    Posted 8.26.11 Reply
  12. I do a very similar thing except I list every single thing I buy from a new pair of shoes and even to a cup of coffee (figuratively speaking. I don't drink coffee!). I also track my income for occasions like Chinese New Year, birthdays, and Christmas. Every little bit counts!!!! I'm usually good with keeping everything on track.

    Posted 8.26.11 Reply
  13. May wrote:

    Thank you so much for sharing your personal financial details and providing a voyeuristic view into one "real woman's" shopping habits. Sometimes following style blogs can feel expensive with everyone showing what they'be bought. It's nice to know the bloggers don't always keep everything they show us! I'm constantly reassessing my closet and trying to donate the things I don't love or don't fit my lifestyle. I try to shop only looking for specific items I feel I need to round out my wardrobe. Before I walk out of the store, I try to ask myself whether I really need something, can I make at least 3 outfits out of this purchase, and whether I am swooning over it, to minimize returns. I figure life is too short to wear things you don't truly adore or don't make you feel good.

    @Megan, I thought Mint had a relatively new feature where you could categorize cash? Not sure because I use my credit card for everything to get rewards.

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  14. Megan wrote:

    I have a question since you use Mint-I've just started using it and am really enjoying it, except….what about items I pay cash for? For example, I have coffee and restaurant budgets, but these items are often paid for in cash, and Mint won't let me delete my ATM withdrawals!

    I usually shop in "bursts" (lots one month, then nothing for a couple) so I keep track to see how much I'm spending with Mint. One month over is OK, a couple is….not a concern, but after that I try to be aware and cut back for awhile.

    I'm really picky about clothes and try to stick to items that I really love. I also clean out my closet twice a year-basically, at the end of each season, if I didn't wear an item all season (eg. a tank top sitting in my closet unworn all summer), I donate it.

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  15. Vicky wrote:

    Jean, you'd become a great manager! I know I'm off topic, but this is the quality I have found in you. I'm sure I'm not the first person who said that. With the type of discipline and organization skill you have you will be blooming everywhere on everything. Because of your post, I now officially started a spreadsheet to log my purchases. I'm not sure I'll like what I see though. lol.

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  16. faye lu wrote:

    OoOh i love the spread sheet idea! my only simple rules are make sure everything is out in the open, where i can see everything, in order of clothing type (cardigans, dresses, work dresses) and if i haven't worn it in 6 months – it goes to charity =)

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  17. Hotashi wrote:

    I feel like this is such an important topic to discuss. There are so many blogs and youtubers that post about their "hauls" or show off the endless amount of products they purchase on a consistent basis and I can't help but think that this sends the wrong message about consumption and financial planning.

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  18. I want to try this spreadsheet idea! My problem is that I don't often buy "everyday" clothes – I buy "vacation" clothes, so it never seems like I have anything good to wear LOL!

    I've started saving casual outfit inspiration pics, and am going to start building a wardrobe that is stylish but appropriate to my lifestyle (as a SAHM). I recently got rid of a LOT of "meh" clothes – even if I'm at home all day, if I wear "meh" clothes, it bums me out, so I got rid of them 🙂

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  19. The spreadsheet idea is brilliant! I will be doing this, thank you 🙂

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  20. Anonymous wrote:

    If you have a GAP/BR/Old navy card, you can get an extra 30% off on top of the 50% off denim sale! Use code GC1.

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  21. Katherine wrote:

    This is such a good idea – I also use Mint but I don't have a concrete place where I track all of my clothing spending – I tried to do this for a while and failed spectacularly – I need to start this up again.

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  22. Oh, I left my blog link hoping you'll check it out. Just started blogging and would love to see what you think of it!

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  23. That spreadsheet is a organizer's dream! I don't know if I'd have the time to keep it up, but it is very inspirational. I am a closet hoarder that likes to do a seasonal donation/sell clean out. I like to buy things for that "one occasion" that I'll need it for (looking at my closet, you'd think I live a very glamorous lifestyle) but all that leads to is having a lot to wear for specific occasions but not much to wear for everyday. =)

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  24. Tiffany wrote:

    Just wondering, when you sell your clothes, where do you sell them?
    Because I love your wardrobe!

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  25. projectroe wrote:

    great idea! I use Mint for money management, but breaking down my shopping into more detail will really help me out, and make me reassess the validity of the purchase. 😀

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  26. Anonymous wrote:

    Even though I read your blog all the time, this is my first time commenting. I too keep a spreadsheet on the Google Docs version of Excel (so that I can access it from home or at work) of every single purchase I make. One column describes the item, the column next to it lists the cost and I tally it up at the bottom. Judging from your apt, you are the opposite of a pack rat and so am I. There is nothing that drives me nuttier than having stuff lying around that I don't need, especially since I live in a small studio and space is at a premium. Plus I just feel so much better with a closet that is streamlined and full of great pieces that I can grab all the time. What I find to be important when buying clothes has shifted from quantity to quality over the years and I have no qualms about spending a lot on a high quality piece that can endure multiple wears. I live by "cost-per-wear." For example, it's okay to spend $250 on a pair of Theory trousers that fit beautifully because I wore it once a week for 3 years straight. It's NOT okay that I spent $250 on a pair of Kate Spade heels that I wore once because it was too high for me and finally had to consign at a huge loss.

    I set a yearly limit for myself in terms of clothing expenditures and try to stick by it. For 2011, my goal is to not exceed $1800 in purchases and I am on track to come under that amount. I find that it really helps for me to give myself concrete limits ("I will spend no more than $1800 in 2011." vs. "I will spend less in 2011.") in order to best follow these goals.

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  27. Anonymous wrote:

    thanks for the tips and i appreciate you for sharing your spreadsheet. I was starting to wonder how you keep it all organized because i can barely manage!

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  28. JC Rineer wrote:

    This is a great plan.

    I too keep a list of things that I have and don't have so that I don't buy duplicates. Also I have a rule: When I buy one thing, I get rid of one thing.

    I also use to get so excited about a small piece of clothing, I use to buy it without thinking about whether or not it actually FIT me. I don't do that now; being critical of the clothes I try on definitely helps.

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  29. Carla Krae wrote:

    I can't believe some of you keep spreadsheets.

    Is my stuff organized? Yes. Is it also in many places? Yes!

    Too many chaotic moves that weren't my choice had my stuff pretty scattered. I finally have all my stuff here, what was left of it, but all the nice clothes are stuffed in a spare bedroom closet.

    It was a yay to get everything under one roof again after 12 years, but boo that I gained weight and can't fit most of my wardrobe right now. It's a good thing I work from home because I'm currently alternating between 2 pairs of pants, lol.

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  30. Cher wrote:

    My work wardrobe is pretty stream-lined and fairly minimal. Some days I think it's too minimal! I also purge often. But I do my best to just buy what I think fills gaps in working towards my ideal work wardrobe. I allow myself a little more leeway with my casual clothing. My denim collection is definitely not minimal! LOL. Overall, I usually don't buy a whole lot, but I will splurge on quality pieces that are classic and I know I will wear forever. I really, really hate replacing things because of poor quality. I also keep track of what I buy. I use Mint as well. I used to use an excel spreadsheet, but I found it unnecessary after a while. I find that sometimes I buy a lot but I also return a lot mostly because most of my shopping is done online. I haven't been blacklisted yet!

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  31. Vickey wrote:

    Totally brilliant post! I find that I tend to keep purchases purely for it's "bargain-ness" rather than out of real love for the item. I'm currently in the process of streamlining my wardrobe so your tips couldn't have come at a better time.

    I'm not a petite (I'm 5'5) but I love reading your blog anyway because you've got great taste and style. Keep up the good work!!

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  32. lin wrote:

    this is an excellent post & very informative. in the past, i never really kept track of what i bought but looking at my closet, there are still unworn clothes. these are great ideas & i should watch what i purchase more rather than just getting it because it's on sale. i've learned a lot from reading your blog on good investments (in regards to clothes) and styling tips even though i'm not petite. thanks! 😉

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  33. Petite-ish wrote:

    Great recommendations Jean! I don't keep a streamlined closet at all (and my stuff is starting to take over my poor bf's closet), but sometimes I'll take out all of the items i own of one style/type (like belts, or white T shirts, etc.) to remind myself that I most definitely should not buy another. I give myself a little kick and have fleeting thoughts of selling a couple things, but then I get busy/lazy and forget all about it and buy another one 🙂 Your method is infinitely superior to mine. However, I can point out one advantage to being a pack rat: as fashion is cyclic, sometimes I will rediscover things in my closet that I had forgotten all about and then it's like christmas. And I've found some treasures in my mom's equally cluttered closets, so maybe my future daughter will want something I've saved

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  34. I was just going to post about this! I usually sell things if I end up not wearing them.I've noticed that recently I haven't been evaluating my purchases because I've been working so much. Next month I'm planning every purchase. No impulse buys for a month!

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  35. Mary Ann wrote:

    This is a great post – I often have a hard time holding onto things just because they are a great deal/value, then rarely, or never, reach for them. I did a major closet clean-out recently and found a skirt I haven't worn in YEARS! I was about to toss it into the discard pile and I realized if I altered it (shortened and cut off the flounce at the bottom), I would definitely consider wearing it. Worth a shot – I sew, so alterations are free! 😉

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  36. Olivia wrote:

    Awesome post – thanks so much Jean! Your blog is so helpful and informative and I really appreciate that you share your knowledge and ideas!!

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  37. wht a great idea to keep a log of everything you bought! wow jean, your so organize! I think my problem is just buying whatever that is on sale and not think about the value or if I can pair it with other clothes that i own.

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  38. Elle wrote:

    I definitely do not keep a streamlined closet but I desperately want to. I am in the process of renovating my closet right now and I am embarrassed by how much clothes I have. It's shocking to me how quickly clothing purchases can become a burden – I routinely donate a box or two of old clothes to Good Will but still have too many pieces that I can't part with because of how much I had spent on it initially. I don't think I'll ever get close to how curated your closet is but I do hope to be more critical in the future. I do see an improvement from before I started blogging though – I've received a lot of wise and invaluable advice.

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  39. B wrote:

    I also keep track of my closet in a manual spreadsheet, though it doesn't serve as a monthly budget tracking/purchase tracking. I keep it really as an inventory of my key pieces so I know what I have that are continuously rotated in my closet. This means dresses, tees, blazers, pants, shoes, jewelry, bags, etc. (I don't keep track of say, socks, or basic basic tank tops). It also means I can look at this sheet and count exactly how many pairs of shoes I have, or how many dress pants I currently own and truly wear. It actually does deter me from buying certain things JUST b/c it's on sale or whatnot. I'll look at my list of shoes and many times go, oh I really don't need a pair of pumps this month!

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  40. Brilliant! Thank you! I aspire to a streamline wardrobe and working at it. Honestly, I do not need new purchases unless replacing of old or worn out (rare as I rotate and maintain my things carefully) items. I started a spreadsheet of everything in my closet as part of my personal audit – oh man, it's brutal! It was also immediately obvious my worst crime is repeat buying.

    Great point about reassessing your favs regularly. All my things need to work hard to stay with me!

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  41. Whoa Jean, so organized!! I think I might have to start doing this too. I also think I need to purge a lot from my wardrobe I notice that now I'm about fit AND comfort these days and some pieces just aren't cutting it for me.

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  42. On more than once occasion, I bought an item because I thought I couldn’t live without it. A few months later, that item hasn’t been worn. Those items ended up on my blog sale. This is a very helpful guideline for those who likes to purchase new stuff but still want to have a streamlined wardrobe.

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  43. daisy351 wrote:

    I've recently started a spreadsheet with my monthly clothing purchases as well. I'm in grad school, so I have a limited budget. It's a good way to stay accountable for what I'm spending and not go overboard.

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  44. R.L. wrote:

    Love this topic! I strive to keep a streamlined wardrobe as well, especially since I know I'm moving apartments next year. Sometimes I can't part with something bec I think "What if it comes back in style?" But thanks to blog reading I'm slowly getting better about buying investment pieces and pieces that can be worn dressed up and down (key I think). I don't think your blog seems like a shopaholic's diary, lol. I like how you feature lots of items and seeing everyone's comments on them. You're always very practical about what you keep, and I think it makes your blog even more relatable.

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  45. kileen wrote:

    i definitely try and keep a very streamlined closet and have returned a large portion of my initial purchases (keeping a spreadsheet much like yours). i also go over my purchases very frequently to determine whether a particular purchase was worth the dent put in my monthly budget. so hard to stay within budget these days!

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply
  46. Anonymous wrote:

    You are absolutely brilliant, may I ask what is it that you do? Like do you have a day-time job?

    Posted 8.25.11 Reply

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