I keep a suitcase in the basement that I fill with clothes that are headed to resale. With as much closet purging and as little clothes buying as I’ve done in the past year, I have been consistently convinced that each trip to resale will be my last for at least the next 6 months, if not a year. Because if I’m adding very few new clothes, and each time I’ve purged my closet I’ve gotten it down to just my favorites, how is it possible I could still have more stuff to get rid of so quickly? Well, apparently, it is possible, because look:
I sold back clothing about two months ago, so this new pile-up was a surprise. The suitcase was so full of clothes that I felt compelled to take a look at what I was getting rid of and why, since obviously a mere two months ago I loved these very items too much to part with them. Here’s is a brief sampling of some things that went from my love it list to my loathe it list in just a few weeks.
Three pairs of jeans. I wear jeans most days of the week, so I’ve always kept a lot of them in my closet – like up to 12 pairs at times. But I’ve been steadily decreasing that number, because I’ve noticed that while yes, I always want to wear jeans, I also always want to wear the SAME jeans over and over again. So why should I keep so many? These three did not make the cut.
Two summer dresses. The striped on on the left is very cute and I did wear it a lot, but I got it at Target so it wasn’t the most well-made garment I’ve ever bought, and after being repeatedly laundered it’s starting to look a little shabby and slightly shrunken. I definitely got my use out of it though, so I feel good about letting it go. The pink dress is an inexpensive one I bought at Gap, and I wore it a few times, but it fell victim to the “one in one out” rule (I talk about letting it go in more detail over on the Tiny Homes site). I was very tempted to say screw the one in/one out rule and keep both dresses, but I’m very happy with my new dress, and in just a month I have already worn the new one more than this old one, which has been hanging in my closet for nearly three years.
These shorts make me feel fat. Therefore, I feel irritable every time I put them on and end up taking them right back off. I have another pair of green shorts that don’t make me feel fat, but I kept these because….yeah, I don’t know.
This shirt, cardigan, and blazer are all from Anthropologie. I kid you not when I say that close to 70% of my wardrobe used to be comprised of items from Anthropologie. I haven’t been able to afford to shop there in the past year, and cutting my Anthro habit made a big impact in stemming the flow of clothes into my wardrobe, since I rarely walked out of that store without buying something. I currently have about 10 items from Anthropologie left in my possession, which for me is a little weird. I think I hung onto to these three more out of nostalgia for my favorite store than any real desire to wear them. But a whole spring/summer went by without me wearing the shirt or cardigan, and while I still like the blazer well enough, I’ve slowly gotten rid of most of the other items that I used to wear it with, so now it feels like odd man out. It was time for all of them to go.
I actually wore this halter top from the Banana Republic outlet store a lot, and I remember buying it on a whim and it being on such a great sale I thought “If I wear this five times I’ll get my money’s worth out of it.” I definitely got my money’s worth, but the last couple times I tried it on I felt like it looked too boxy and ended up changing into something else, so I feel like my infatuation has ended. But no guilt on this purchase at all!
I do, however, have guilt over this black Diane Von Furstenburg dress which I held on to for YEARS, because it was very expensive, and well, because it was DVF. But I rarely wore it. I’ve never been a big fan of shirt dresses, but I’ve tried valiantly over the years to try to like them by purchasing various incarnations of the style. I saw a picture of myself wearing this dress shortly after I’d worn it to our Godson’s christening, and I looked like a total frump. After that, I never really wanted to wear it again. My Godson is now seven years old. Time to let it go.
I have a LOT of guilt for getting rid of these boots. Not because I like them, but because a) I spent waaaay too much money on them, and b) I purchased them while on vacation in Vienna, and made poor Ron go into store after store one day for HOURS while I searched for the perfect black boot (important side note: I already had three pairs of black boots at home, and was wearing a fourth pair that I really liked while I was on this stupid quest). I wore them only a handful of times, because holyhelllookattheheelsonthosethings – I’m lucky I didn’t fall down and break/sprain something/everything. Every time I wore them I was worried I would catch that open heel on something and trip, so needless to say, I was not the epitome of graceful when I wore them. And therefore, I never wanted to wear them. And every time I looked at them in the closet, I was reminded of my bad judgement. It will be nice to be free from their mockery.
I could go on with more pictures and stories, but it’d be more of the same, and this post would take an hour to read. In addition to the items I’ve specifically shown here, I also sold a bunch of t-shirts, sweaters, work out clothes, and a few more pairs of shoes – and walked out of resale with $204. If I had any nostalgia about letting these items go when I went in, I can assure you I didn’t have any left when they handed me the money.
And here is the pile of stuff that didn’t sell that I will be taking to Goodwill:
I guess the lesson I learned from this little exercise, and will probably still be learning for a while to come, is that I still have a lot more than I actually need, and much of what I am still clinging to is for reasons other than “I love it”. I’m still finding my lagom.
I’ve been asked a lot lately how it feels to finally be out of debt. And my first response is always the truth – that it feels amazing, great, a total relief!
But what I usually say next, because it is also the truth, is that life doesn’t feel that much different yet. In fact, we’re guessing it will be a few months before we really start to feel like we can relax financially. To get out of debt, we put every spare cent we had towards our credit cards, which means we were frequently down to our last couple dollars at the end of the month. As a result, there is no extra “fun” money cushion available to us at the moment, and we actually had some significant expenses this month that were planned and expected, but need to be paid all the same. For instance, we had to do some repairs to the duct work in our house after we discovered one had come loose and we were paying to heat the crawl space instead of the house, which cost about $500. We put off Stella’s annual shots and vet exam for a couple months due to our finances, which we felt really anxious and guilty about, so we said we’d make it happen this month no matter what and we did – to the tune of about $250 bucks. So we may not have to come up with our usual credit card payment anymore, but we still do have to come up with close to $1,000 this month. I’m just grateful we don’t have to come up with the credit card payment ON TOP of that.
So yeah…life is not all that different for the most part.
But there is one effect of being debt-free that HAS surprised me – knowing we will soon have some discretionary income again has made me want to get rid of more stuff! I had felt pretty plateaued out on the whole purging process, and felt like maybe I had finally reached my lagom in certain categories. But right after we got out of debt, I suddenly felt this surge of of wanting to get rid of things, especially where my clothing was concerned. Weird, right?
Well, maybe not. Because when I think about it, much of the reason I was holding on to some items was because I wasn’t sure how long it would be until we were out of debt and I was no longer on such a strict shopping lockdown. I was hesitant to throw out too many of my clothing options when I knew I couldn’t buy something new if I got bored. And that fear made me clingy.
But knowing that it’s now an option (within reason) to replace something that is worn out, or to add a new item to my closet that I really love and think I will use, made me start to reevaluate things I’ve hung onto that I don’t love as much. Also, the weather in Portland has been absolutely glorious, so a couple weeks ago I took my spring/summer stuff out of storage and retired my heavier winter clothes. As I was about to hang each stored piece back into the closet, I really took a minute to decide if I still loved each garment, and in several cases the answer was either “no” or “eh…I dunno.”
This time, instead of doing what I’ve always done – which is to just shove everything back in the closet anyway – I decided if the item wasn’t a definite “I love it” piece, I would test drive it. I would wear the item as soon as possible, and if it was uncomfortable, or didn’t really suit my lifestyle anymore, or made me feel frumpy, or dove me crazy in any way, it had to go.
It proved to be a great exercise. Some items I only wore half a day before I couldn’t stand it anymore and changed into something else. Some things didn’t even make it past getting dressed in the morning and checking my reflection before they landed in the giveaway pile. In truth, I was probably being super duper extra critical of everything, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing in my case. As someone who has been prone to emotional and impulse buying, it’s good for me to practice being really, REALLY critical of purchases, whether that’s before I buy them (preferably), or admitting that they were mistakes after the fact and letting that acknowledgement make me more cautious moving forward. I found myself learning a TON about what I really love and want, and what I need to carefully consider and avoid the next time I’m about to buy.
For instance, I’ve been a such a sucker for a sale in the past, that I’ve been known to buy things that aren’t my actual size, thinking I may take them to a tailor, or that the fit isn’t as bad as I think it is. The items I test drove reminded me that I will pretty much NEVER take something to the tailor (because I’m lazy), and the fit is absolutely as bad as I think it is. As a result I barely wear the item. Like this very cute blouse from Anthropolgie:
It was on sale, and I loved it. But it was one size above my usual size. I bought it anyway, and then every time I wore it, I spent a lot of time checking to make sure the neckline was still in place (it often wasn’t). It looked great if I stood perfectly still, but as soon as I did something crazy, like, you know, move around, I was showing the world my cute blouse AND my cute bra. Classy.
Also, both these skirts have been hanging in my closet for years:
I don’t wear them that often. Why? Because despite the way I WISH my body was shaped, my actual shape does not look good in a skirt that’s cut like this. Again, if I stand perfectly still, it looks great. As soon as I start walking though, skirts like this start inching up around my hips and I spend all day tugging them back down. They’re meant to hit just above the knee, but frequently on me, they scrunch up to miniskirt length. I did make it through a whole day in the brown skirt, but it made me miserable and when I got home, I immediately took it off and threw it in the giveaway pile.
This shirt is a perfect example of how shopaholic crazed I can get sometimes:
I saw it online, and it was on sale. I dawdled about buying it for a couple days, but then decided I was going to get it, because it was the style I was looking for, I loved the color, and it was on sale. But when I went back to the website to purchase it, they no longer had it in my size. Suddenly I went from wanting the shirt in a nonchalant way, to an obsessive, white hot panic to track down another one just like it at any cost. I trolled the web for a couple days and found another one for double the price of the one that had been on sale, and was just about to buy it, when I happened to check back with the initial website, and they suddenly had it available in my size again. I triumphantly bought it, and was so excited to get it…until it arrived. It was much cuter online than in person – in person it was much boxier, and the neckline was a lot lower than I’d realized. Much like the blouse mentioned above, every time I wore it I found myself checking to see if my bra was showing. I kept it for longer than I should have, trying to convince myself I liked it, because when I thought about the fervor with which I’d pursued it, I felt stupid. But that’s the trouble with keeping things that make you feel that way – every time you look in your closet, they mock you and remind you of your mistake. I decided it was better to admit my error and get rid of it, rather than have to look at it every day and feel guilty.
In the end, the size of the pile I amassed really surprised me:
But I didn’t feel hesitant about getting rid of any of it. I took it to resale and walked out with $84, which I’ve used to replace some of my worn out basic summer staples like shorts and t-shirts. Everything I bought I found on incredible sales ($8.99 for some summer t-shirts at J. Crew, are you kidding me???), and I love the colors I chose, the quality of the items, and how they fit.
I have less stuff in my closet now than I’ve ever had, and while there still may be a few “on the fence” items lurking in there, I am pretty thrilled with everything I’ve kept, and still feel like I have a lot of stuff – maybe even too much. It may not be be lagom yet, but it sure has been a pleasure to get dressed in the morning.
For the first time in…well, EVER, we have our taxes done this year before April. There was a definitely method to our madness– because we are still making significantly large payments to our credit card debt, we decided we would need to plan ahead and figure out a way to save if we owned any money. We did end up owing some, but not as much (thank God) as we thought we might – in fact, our accountant’s fee was more than what we owed the government, so we are grateful and will be able to pay it in full by the due date.
I asked our accountant how many years of back tax paperwork we truly needed to save – and she said five years was probably enough, but if we wanted to play it safe, seven was the official number. Because nothing freaks me out more than the thought of having to reconstruct a financial year from memory, I decided to go with saving seven years, but was still able to purge about three years worth of excess paperwork, which felt great. I set aside an afternoon, plugged in the shredder, and took savage delight in watching all those old bills and receipts get chewed to bits.
But as I was feeding the papers into the machine, the balance on a couple of our old credit card statements caught my eye, and I stopped to read them more carefully. You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, when you are a shopaholic, so is an old credit card statement. It was like stepping back into a Mall of Shame.
For example, look at the average amount of money I spent just in the month of June several years ago:
Granted this was a couple months before we got married, and it’s true that expenses can be high during that time – I know a couple things on this statement were wedding related. But let’s face it, there is a lot of Nordstrom-ing going on this month. What I also know was that during this month I had left my full time corporate job to take a part time writing job, at a 40% pay cut with no benefits. There is NO WAY I could afford this level of buying. And yet…there it is, in black and white, all the places I bought stuff that I probably didn’t need and definitely couldn’t afford.
I flipped forward to the month of our wedding, to see if our spending slowed down any, now that we’d had time to adjust to my new reduced income, but the bill from our joint credit card reflects no such change:
Again, some more wedding charges, but did we need to go out to eat that much? And how about throwing away $39 on a late fee (which happened ALL THE TIME during those years). It should also be noted that we had just received a crapload of presents and new stuff for our wedding, and spent a bunch of money on souvenirs from our honeymoon in Mexico, so WE DIDN’T NEED ANYTHING. It’s…sad, really.
I decided to look at a statement from close to a year later, to see if I’d finally pulled it together:
There may be less line items on this one, but holy crap, look at the amounts spent at each place. $541 in just one trip to Anthropologie? Don’t forget I’d already been there twice already that month, dropping $226 the first time, and $58 the second time. And $478 on boots at Bella Moda? Another $200 on shoes at Johnny Sole? And clearly my dedication to keeping Nordstrom in business hasn’t waned this month – four visits to the tune of about $240. Yes, I did make a $400 payment, but I spent more than that in just ONE visit to Anthropologie – there was no way I was getting ahead of my debt.
If you have been reading this blog for a while, and ever wondered if I was being dramatic about my shopping habit, I hope this clears things up. I have a real problem when it comes to shopping. I almost typed “had”, but I’m not so cocky as to think I’m over it yet – one of the only things that has kept me in check this past year was the cold grip of fear that closed around my heart whenever I thought about our debt to income ratio. I haven’t shopped because I felt like I absolutely couldn’t do it and still cover our basic bills. But as our debt is dwindling down, I find myself wondering what will happen after it’s gone, and I have disposable income again- will I go back to my old ways and rack the debt back up? I’d like to think I’ve learned my lesson and I wouldn’t – that from now on I will be responsible and level-headed when it comes to shopping and debt. But the truth is, I really don’t know. I guess only time will tell.
I live in Oregon. Therefore, sweaters are a big part of my life. Even in the summer, I almost always have at least a light cardigan with me, because the sunniest day often starts out as a gray and drizzly morning. I also loathe super air conditioned spaces, so I usually stuff a sweater in my handbag just in case I find myself in a freezing theatre or meeting room at some point.
I’ve invested a lot of money in my sweater collection – over the last few years, I’ve tried to buy good cashmere whenever possible, since it’s what I always tend to reach for, even if I have another non-cashmere sweater in a color that would look better with what I’m wearing. I’ve also had a tendency to buy multiple sweaters in the exact same style and color (black v-neck, black crew neck, black cardigan), but definitely wear one more than the others (the cashmere one).
Again, one glance at my sweater shelf was a clear indication that I owned too much of a good thing:
That shelf is actually pretty deep – what you can’t see in the picture is the pile of sweaters BEHIND the front row, which is stuff I don’t wear as much, but can’t seem to part with, or stuff I do wear, but has fallen behind the front row when I was stuffing other things in.
So, as with the process I used on the t-shirt shelf, I pared it down. I found this one a lot more difficult. A sweater at Anthropologie can cost anywhere from $98 to $168, and it’s hard to just toss that kind of spending in the resale/goodwill pile. I have a lot of guilt for that kind of spending, especially if I didn’t wear the item enough. Hanging on to it makes me feel like I just might start to wear it and redeem myself – though in my experience that is almost never the case.
I completely eliminated the “back row” of sweaters, parted with some rarely worn cashmere (didn’t love the color anymore), mended a couple moth holes on items I still liked but wasn’t wearing due to damage, and even tossed some old favorites that were just looking worn and shabby. The hard part is I don’t have the money to replace these items yet. But as you can see, I still have plenty and won’t be shivering anytime soon:
And again, as with my t-shirts, I could probably lose at least five or six more and not miss them. As we move into fall, I’ll be keeping an eye on what is truly getting worn, and getting rid of anything that just sits there warming the shelf.
Next up: Pants and workout clothes.
It is well documented on this blog that Anthropologie is my favorite store. I own a LOT of clothing from Anthropologie, and have spent way, way more money there than I could really afford. While on my stuff diet, I’ve been monastically disciplined about not even going in to an Anthropologie, which for me, is easier said than done. Especially right now, since I am in the midst of a teaching job RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET from an Anthropologie.
To avoid straying, I’ve just been avoiding it. I barely even glance at the display windows for fear I’ll want to go in. As I walk by, I repeat a little mantra to myself about how good it feels to be out of debt. I remind myself that once I am debt free, it will be more reasonable to shop there again, and even then, only once in a while.
But last week, I found myself with a couple hours to kill after my class ended. I was scheduled to be a storyteller that evening at Back Fence PDX, and I was already downtown and close to the venue, so it didn’t make a ton of sense to fight Friday night rush hour traffic back home before the show. I wasn’t hungry enough to get an early dinner, so I found myself aimlessly wandering around The Pearl District at loose ends. And like a little homing pigeon, I found myself standing in front of Anthropologie.
And they were having a SALE.
I hesitated in the doorway, mesmerized by the row of sale racks front and center as soon as you walked in the store. I am a SUCKER for an Anthropologie sale. Their regular priced things are so expensive you can sometimes reasonably talk yourself out of buying them, but the sale items? Those are actually attainable. I like attaining. And I am currently starved for attaining. Would I have the willpower to resist buying something if I were to go in and just browse?
I decided to test myself. If I failed, I knew Anthropologie has an excellent return policy, so once I got home and the guilt kicked in, I would be able to undo the damage. I went in.
I felt all the familiar rushes of my habit wash over me as soon as I walked in. I immediately felt calmer. Happier. Excited. Inspired. Everything I usually feel when the potential of a purchase is before me. But before I let myself start browsing the racks, I took a second to think about my recent closet purge. Because there is a lot less in my closet at the moment, I am keenly aware of what is hanging there. I know what I have enough of, and what I want to replace. I even have a good sense of the colors, and what would go with what I already have. I thought about the clothes I just got rid of, and why some of those items had been given away after having been barely worn. As I started looking at things, I found myself being a lot more selective than usual.
As I perused each item, I asked myself “Do you LOVE it, or do you just like it? Do you already have something similar? Will it go with most of what you already own? Is it easy to launder, or will you have to pay for drycleaning? Can you see yourself wearing it for more than this season? Will you be able to wear it on auditions? Would you get rid of something you already have to make room for it? If you bought it, would you be able to show it to Ron and explain why you had to have it, or would you feel inclined to hide it?” Most items didn’t make it through this line of questioning – especially the last one. And I knew that if I felt ashamed for buying it, and for how the money spent would affect the goals Ron and I have set for ourselves financially, it wouldn’t be worth it.
The employees at Anthropologie will usually see me staggering around with an armload of items while I’m still shopping and whisk them off to start me a dressing room. They don’t have an item limit in their dressing rooms, so I usually lose track of how many things I’ve pulled till I get back to the fitting area and am startled by the huge pile of stuff I’ve accumulated. But on this day, I was carrying so few things by the time I headed to the dressing rooms, no one had really noticed me. I probably looked like a low sale customer. Or, you know, normal.
I only took seven items in. As I tried each thing on, I asked myself the same list of questions all over again. In the end, there was only one dress that I really loved, but it still couldn’t pass all of my questions. I hung everything back up, and walked out of the store empty handed.
Was I glad? Eh, sort of. Proud of myself, for sure. A little wistful. But not depressed or sad. And definitely not guilty or ashamed. I had walked into the ultimate den of temptation and walked out triumphant.
Round One: Me – 1, Anthropologie – 0. I’m sure a rematch will be soon…
Every year, in May, my heart beats a little faster when I receive this particular postcard in the mail:
Anthropologie is my favorite store. I spend waaaaayyyy too much money there. Say what you will about it (Overpriced? Yes. Fashions can be weird? Yes. CEO is apparently not a great guy? Probably, if the rumors are true.), I still lovelovelove it. There is an Anthropologie right across the street from a theatre I work at a lot, and I have found it impossible not to stop in and browse all of the lovely things whenever I’m on a break. And I usually buy something. Or a couple things, especially if there is a sale. Just walking into the store makes me feel a little happier.
Because I am an “Anthro” member, and membership has its privileges, I get a coupon for 15% off any purchase in my birthday month, May. In the past, I usually have gotten a gift card from Anthropologie as one of my presents, so I have happily gone in to reap both the discount and the gift card at the same time. That has always been a very fun day for me.
But as you know, this year, I only got one thing for my birthday, my new Mac. I have no regrets – I love it. But in my current financial straits, and with no gift card to help out, and the average cost of most items in the store being over $100, 15% is not going to do much for me. I would have to put anything I bought on my credit card, and I am adamant about not doing that right now unless it’s an emergency. I am also in the process of completely re-evaluating my wardrobe, and it seems a little dumb to run out and buy new things before I’ve gotten what I already own pared down and organized so I can see where the gaps are.
So I’m not using my birthday month discount this year. Last night, just to be sure, I went online to see what was on display, and really, for the most part, there wasn’t anything that made me delirious with want – which was kinda surprising. Either I am getting more focused and less crazy on the whole wardrobe issue (let’s hope), or the stuff just wasn’t that great right now (maybe – it seemed to be a lot of sack-like things, or weird tops with peplums. I’m not big on peplums).
It makes me a little sad – my Anthropologie birthday splurge was always a ritual that brought me a lot of joy. But I’m open to that being replaced with some other happy thing – like being out of debt.