I do this exercise every year :
Set a timer for 10 minutes.
Sit someplace with a pen and paper.
List everything in your closet without looking at your closet.
This exercise is a reality check. If you love everything you own, you should at the least remember it right ? If you wear every thing you own, you should be able to list it. If you cant recall a big percentage of garments, something is not right and it should be acknowledged. Even if nothing is to come of this exercise, I like making lists and here is one. Every garment is a data point, for future analysis.
The purpose of computation is insight, not numbers.
– Richard Hamming.
Calculate your recall and precision rate. Percentages aside, the number of clothes you forget is a pretty honest indicator.
My numbers : The clock ran out on me. I could list 44 out of 52 garments in my closet. The garments I couldn’t recollect off the top of my head, are the ones I wear the least or the ones I don’t really need but have held on to.
Some totally un-substantiated hypothesis :
< 40% recall rate : You are the average first world consumer who has too much and uses too little of her closet. Perhaps a shopping fast will allow you to notice the things you already own ?
50-70% : You could be in the top 20% among the first world consumers. Shop your closet to re-discover the rest of your closet. Rediscover the forgotten gems.
70-90 % : You maybe the 2% among the first world consumers. If you can write it all down, I assume that you edit your closet regularly and know whats inside it. I would think its alright to forget a few ? Are we meant to remember everything we own ?
100% : A women in control of her closet. All the minimalists I know can list everything in their closet. All the curators I know can list what is being shown in their gallery. All the editors I know can list what made it on to the rack. Irrespective of the size of the closet, you are at-least aware of whats inside. This is a good sign.
[ If you do take this test, let me know your results and your interpretation of your result. ]
Other indicators of a tamed closet :
Your partner should be able to list most of what you own. [ It’s a good thing when people see you repeat outfits. It’s a sign of intimacy with the garment and with you. ]
Your friends/coworkers should be able to recognize most of your clothing. An optimal closet is one where everything gets worn often.
You see wear and tear on your clothes on a yearly basis.
You don’t haul clothes. You buy a garment or two occasionally. You don’t get rid of piles of clothes. You let go of a garment or two seasonally.
The tendency is say no more often than saying yes.
When you buy something and bring it home, you are able to stand in the closet and say “I needed this garment in-spite of everything else I own”.
Your closet gives you a sense of calm and not add to the chaos of daily living.
How many years do you think it will take you to wear out your clothes ? How does it compare with your life expectancy ?
If I die today, will anyone want to inherit the clothes ? Or will it all rot some place ? Will it all be unloaded on to a thrift shop ? Will the thrift shop accept the contents ? Will be it a burden on the future generations ? Will it end up in a landfill ?
What is the right closet size ?
I don’t know. I publish a closet inventory every year with an intention of collecting data so that I may answer that question, one day in the future. I have all my needs & wants met by this closet of mine. It’s not the number but the items in it but the utility of the garments in it, that made it right size for me. I am from India. I can never, in my right mind say ‘this is my minimalist closet’. An average Indian owns much less than half of what I own. I have long abandoned the idea of owning the smallest closet possible. What I have, is my idea of abundance. I have shifted the focus to building a closet where I don’t hoard or waste clothing. This is what it took to make me content. Writing down this list made me happy and grateful. The items with a * were purchased second hand.
*Steven Alan shirt dress – navy
*Stella McCartney shirt dress – black
*Celine tent dress – navy
*No-label midi shirt dress – navy
Goat sweater dress – navy (Too tight)
*Vintage denim dress – navy
*Current/Elliot ikat maxi – navy.
*Celine tuxedo dress
APC indigo maxi dress
*Tibi maxi dress
*Zara Red wool dress
Everlane cashmere – gray
Everlane cashmere – navy
Iris & Ink cashmere – red
Gray and white stripes
*navy and pink stripes
*navy and white stripes
Zara leather jacket – black
*Vintage leather jacket – red
Zara polyester duster – navy
*Everlane swing – khaki green
*Celine double wool black coat
*Stella McCartney mauve coat
In Storage :
AllSaints drapey wool jacket – black.
APC polka dot top – navy ( at the tailor )
Burberry trench ( need to sell ).
Some notes :
- The major chuck of inventory is the same as the list from April 2017. Else, using the word ‘sustainability’ on this blog is pointless.
- I am not for counting things and competing with the minimalists on who owns the least. This exercise is the equivalent of budgeting. One shouldn’t be afraid of bookkeeping. I see it as an exercise in discipline to keep a tab on the numbers. I have list for EVERYTHING ! I never want to look back and say ‘where did it all go?’
- I expect a shelf life of 3-7 years with regular wear from the garments in my closet. I am no longer terrified of aging and death of garments. [ Valar Morghulis. Valar Dohaeris. All men must die. All men must serve. If it applies to men, it definitely applies to clothes.] I wont save them out of the fear of wearing them out and buy more on the side. I don’t intend to take them all to the grave with me. To be honest, I consider it a successful purchase only when a garment is worn out in a reasonable amount of time. Given the size of my closet and the fabrics I choose, I wear out about 2-5 garments a year depending on the condition of the second hand garment when I purchased it. If you bike/use public transit/do physical labour, clothes wear out sooner. Let them wear out. Replace them with more current pieces when they do.
- Knee length dresses no longer work for me. I am more comfortable in midi and maxi dresses.
- I have added sweaters and t-shirts this year. I call it ‘the Californication’ of my closet.
- I wore out quite a few of my silks in the last year. I sold them as a lot on Craigslist. The buyer was a very young woman from our neighborhood and I could see the glee in her eyes when she tried on the Burberry blue shift dress. She saved me the trouble of listing it on eBay and making trips to the post office. This is my lazy approach to decluttering.
- This year, I purchased my first floral print shirt. It feels very festive when I put it on. I am also trying out high waisted pants from COS. While I like how they look, I dislike how they feel. I can’t bear to have the fabric pressing on my stomach after I eat a full meal or chug down a mason jar full of water. The fashion pundits talk of ‘pants sucking it all in’ but to me, it screams “corset”.
- I put on 6 lbs this year. After months of hoping it will go away, I realized that it’s here to stay. The leather jackets don’t zip up anymore. Is it possible that your shoulders have gotten wider in your 30s ? ( I would like to think that its the yoga, burpees, digging and heavy backpacks. But how can I differentiate what I want to be true from what is true ? ) The Celine tent dress pulls at the shoulder when I swing my arms. Now that Phoebe Philo has quit Celine, I want to keep her pieces as a collector or sell for profit. The Stella McCartney pinstripe dress needs repair and the fused lining has made it impossible for me to do it myself. The Zara trench needs repair or the donation bin. I am in need of some wardrobe housekeeping.
- The most worn garments in the last year : Zara trench, Everlane navy cashmere sweater, R13 black denim, Steven Alan shirt dress, Son De Fleur linen shirt and Ganni polka dot shirt. The least worn are the APC indigo maxi and the Tibi maxi dress.
- My special occasion wear : maxi dresses. They are easy, effortless and comfortable while threading the line between not-so-ordinary and I-am-a-peacock-look-at-me. The dresses I own do that well. [ A recent observation : if your entire party is dressed in little black dresses, you stand out for wearing something with visual saliency. But if your entire party is peacock-ing, you stick out for wearing something understated. I seem to be in both these situations because I am an Indian immigrant. ]
- The oldest clothes in my closet are from fast fashion brands. Someone suffered to make them for me. I am trying to get every possible wear out of them as an ode to the people who made them.
- My mother is in America for 6 months. She has a trench coat and some tunics that I get to borrow. She wears some of my dresses as tunics. I love dressing her up. Its my way of paying it backward. Every year, I get some clothes as presents/hand-me-downs from friends and family. I need to dye them indigo or navy blue to be able to use them. I haven’t processed by batch coz I currently don’t have a place to dispose the used dye. Pouring it down the drain is also not recommended. Inspite of being a natural dye, if I pour it into the soil in my backyard, I can’t grow plants on that lot. Some countries allow the harmful synthetic dyes to be dumped into the local rivers. The gardener in me cringes at that thought.
- I don’t enjoy finding organizational hacks and doing closet edits. I do seasonal capsules instead. Not everything hangs at once. The knits + t-shirts get folded and go into a dresser. I have a 1950’s style small closet in our bedroom. My color palette tames the visual clutter. I enjoy the negative space as much as the clothes that hang. Capsules provide it.
- I associate personal style with entropy. I may experiment but the chaos needs to reduce over time. With time, I want to be left with a minimalist closet with a uniform. I would like to be left with my old and most fav clothes.
- While I love reading wardrobe inventory posts on blogs, I think these lists should stay private. Closets should have a sense of mystery and romance. Somebody in the world should wonder “what will she wear today” and appreciate your outfits. It could be a spouse, a co-worker, a friend, a child, a date, a friend you share sartorial secrets with, a stranger, a blog reader, a cat, …. Inventories give away too much information. I won’t open the door to my closet and show it to you unless you are a confidante in real life. But since I blog about minimalism and sustainability, I need to publish this list every year in the spirit of being transparent and ethical. I can’t chant “Buy less. Buy better. Make it last” otherwise can I ?
Right : Fall/Winter closet. Left : Spring/Summer closet.