Closet creep: Why?

In style blogland, a perennial topic is that of de-cluttering, especially the closet purge. Most writers detail experiences with the Three-Pile Method. Even though I know this material like a Beatles song, I will read every one of these posts intently.

However, in a kind of Wardrobe Groundhog Day, over time a predictable cycle occurs: first, the joy of the refined, airy closet, followed by posts that feature a perfect new whatever, and within a year or two, another purge post.

So the question is, how does a recidivist succumb? Few of us (and I definitely count as one) go out one day and say, "Hey, it's time to buy another three pairs of navy pants and six white tees". Not many women have work or social requirements that dictate we can't wear the same thing too often– I mean, Kate Middleton repeats her clothes.  

I reflected first on my own habits.

1. Replacements that aren't
I buy the new black v-neck to replace the one that's on its last legs, but then keep the last-legs sweater because it has the perfect not-too-low neckline and really does have some wear left, at least around the house. (Hi Mom; no, of course I'm not throwing that out.)

2.  Hero-itis
I find a spectacular jacket, coral with gorgeous white embroidered detail down the front. Wow, I love it! In the dressing room, I'm styling it with everything I own.

Then I get it home, and I do not wear it, maybe because spring in Montréal is two weeks long, and then it's hot in summer and the jacket's too summery in fall. But it sure is pretty, so there it hangs, next to other 'special pieces' that always get free passes during purges, till they fill a quarter of the closet all on their own.

 3. The magnetic pull of small things
Always room for another scarf (for some women, it's shoes or bags). Whether secondhand or new, the prize enjoys an initial run, maybe even several seasons of prominence, until another crush comes along. Meanwhile, the stack grows, the shoe rack squishes tighter.

4.  Spare feels unsatisfying
Post-purge, a little inner voice says, Whoa, you have no clothes anymore! Did you really think this will be enough? I visit a friend who rotates a half-dozen winter coats plus a full MEC storm suit for biking, and think, I have only two? Maybe another one would be OK?

And, there's boredom: the same jeans, again? Even the most dedicated minimalists will admit they get sick of their stuff.

The fix is philosophical

Keeping a decluttered closet is akin to maintaining a healthy weight: I've made a lifestyle change, and now can either "put it back on" or not.

At least every several weeks, I remind myself that I don't need more, and the desire for more is the fast track to the next purge, unless I follow the one in/one out rule. This means giving myself permission to change things up occasionally, as long as something exits, concurrently.

Also, I remind myself that I chose to buy better clothes and wear them longer, so I can just belt up about the fact that my blue cashmere v-neck has been in rotation since before eBay existed.

Boredom is assuaged by a deeper dive into the scarves, or by switching up jewelry. If I need a spirit-lift, a small consumable serves: a plump, glowy mango, new notebook, tea.  

But that's me. If other cyclical wardrobe-parers are reading, kindly tell me how you stem a slip back to crammed closets and old habits.


Rita said…
You've nailed it! I have nothing to add.
Roberta said…
What FINALLY made the difference for me was to do an inventory of my closet post-purge. Now when I want something new, I check the list, and if it's already there (another pink skirt), I don't buy it. When I see it there in black and white, I don't want it, somehow. But I'll tell you, I had to inventory everything eventually, because I kept buying "little things", like scarves and tights, just to feed my habit. Tights are apparently my methadone. 26 pairs.
Murphy said…
I think I purge over-enthusiastically and end up with fewer clothes than I need for variety during the cold, dark winter. So I buy replacements (that aren't - as you so aptly said). Then later, I decide to spring-clean and down size again. I think the real problem is that the sleek minimalist closet pictures I admire are not realistic for my lifestyle. I need more realistic goals.
SewingLibrarian said…
And a fifth reason: when I see a jacket that I've put so much work into, I hate to purge it even though it doesn't match my lifestyle any longer. I let it pass, thinking I'll find a way to wear it with my casual clothes. Then I don't.
Kristien62 said…
I am always purging. It is never done. Currently, I'm reading Marie Kondo's book in the hope that I will be inspired to finally get it done. But, I'm coming to the realization that I just like clothes. I don't buy jewelry, expensive cookware or any other thing that might get out of hand-oh, I forgot books. I do buy too many books. I am trying to be realistic about what I actually wear, and, like you, I have some lovely jackets and sweaters that I should just have framed since I will probably never wear them. I am seriously considering accepting things as they are and moving on. Maybe a goal of keeping my tiny closets neat and dust free. Now that is doable.
Cathy said…
Great post! Boredom and hero-itis are my downfalls. I buy too many "great pieces" that end up getting too little mileage because they don't really fit my lifestyle. Then I get bored with continually wearing the basics. I try to use scarves and jewelry to jazz up the basics but still stray at times. I have a small closet (older house) so the size alone keeps me from going overboard (college tuition payments help too, lol); when the closet is too crammed to see anything, I know I have to abstain from buying more for a while.
Madame Là-bas said…
You hit the nail on the head with your weight analogy! I don't ever go far enough. I make plans to eliminate 5 items a week, 20
a month but I lose momentum just like my weight loss efforts. There are those "heroic" but rarely worn pieces. Shoes (3 pair of lovely brown loafers)...but since life as a grey haired women, I don't wear brown. It seems a waste but I'm not going to wear them.
I have two broken drawers and I would be advised to stop buying clothes and to reward myself with a well-constructed smaller
dresser. Since I have been wearing the same grey clothes this fall and winter, I have loved playing with scarves, silver jewelry and
freshwater pearls. Your post truly resonates with me!
Duchesse said…
Roberta: I have carried an inventory in my purse, but apparently can sneak around it. I've even carried a "Do Not Buy" list to remind me I have enough straight leg jeans, black pants etc. Love your methadone metaphor; mine is bras.

Murphy: One of my GFs has that perfect Parisienne closet. When she lived in Canada, she told me to always buy colourful sweaters in the fall, when you can find them, for late winter. By the end of Jan. they are hard to find, and a rich shot of colour is such a lift in our dreariness.

Kristien: There are women for whom a lot of clothes spark exponential joy. Would they be Contra-Kondos? Agree you can be too thin, closet-wise. (But my downfall is too much that is indistinguishable to anyone but me.)

Cathy: Space constraints provide an excellent incentive for paring, if you resist armoires and other "faking a closet" furniture. I really do prefer my whittled closet but see I am susceptible to re-upping unless quite disciplined.

Mme: You may not thank me for this, but have you thought of dyeing your shoes, maybe just one pair? Shoes that fit well are not easy to find. (If they do not fit perfectly, out!) And brown does not have to be worn with beige or earth tones only; brown shoes look great with blue denim. (Dapper Italian men wear only brown shoes with blue suits, never black.) 20 items a week! That's an impressive goal.

Sewing: Absolutely; that jacket is a testimonial to your skill and creativity. Now I am curious, wondering what it looks like and how to wear it casually.

rb said…
ugh, I do this and it drives me nuts. Some of it is pursit of the perfect wardrobe that I will never have. Some of it is being unable to resist a great sale (January is tough - I love merino wool and cashmere, and it's my birthday month, so many excuses.) And some of it is an itch to try out a new style for myself.

Last year's failed experiment was finding the just-right Chanel-style jacket. Two cheap and one expensive version later, plus the fall purge, I now only have the expensive version, and I don't really wear it. Turns out Chanel jacket is not a flattering shape on me, so every time I go to wear it, I end up swapping it out for something more flattering instead.

As for sale shopping, I stopped visiting outlet malls altogether, and I unsubscribed from most email alerts from retailers. January this year was not perfect, but it was better than last year's January.
Susan said…
Closet creep happens to me when I try to escape the rut of a very small wardrobe and branch out--always to find that the new acquisition do not suit me in one way or another.
Susan A said…
I am all of the above and then some. When I slip into the need-to-buy mode, I try to switch gears immediately. Go for a walk, research a new recipe, email a friend, read a blog! It's a bit like emotional eating. Delay your response and the urge goes away, at least some of the time. We are only human.
Leah said…
Since I thrift all my clothes, it is much less expensive to go find some new style or fresh pop of color to get out of the rut/cure the boredom (though of course those smaller price tags do add up!). The irony being, like Susan said, that I usually end up with something that doesn't really suit and realize I should've stuck with the things I love and already own.
What helps me is trying to shift from a "scarcity" mentality to an "abundance" mentality; I wrote a post about it recently on my blog -
Unknown said…
Regarding the switching gears comment above, I've found the Amazon wish list to be very helpful. When I see something on a fashion blog that catches my eye, I add it to my shopping list on Amazon. It satisfies the itch to do something, and several days or a week later, if I still want the item, it's easy enough to find and purchase. Usually, however, I look at my list and wonder what I was thinking when I clicked on the item.
SewingLibrarian said…
Duchesse, I have quite a few jackets that fall into this category, but your post today has inspired me to try an aqua-colored tweed collarless jacket with my winter white corduroy jeans, a tee, and some sort of casual necklace or pendant. Maybe the jeans and tee will bring down the dressy factor enough that I won't feel strange wearing it.
Also, thank you for the comment on Tuesday's post. I'm going to send you pics of the medal.
Duchesse said…
rb: The word swap reminded me of a few clothing swaps I've attended; at one in particular I swapped an Aran sweater that made me look like the world's biggest macramé exhibit for a cocktail dress I needed for a party. Maybe that would be fun for you, to host or attend. Nearly everyone has good things that were mistakes.

Susan: Do you know the old but still relevant book "Simple Isn't Easy"? It transformed my thinking from "rut" to "knowing what works". And yet, there are times when I too want to try something different. The best approach for me is to keep that to just a couple pieces.

Stella A: Trying a new recipe gives you "something new" that doesn't take closet space; what a great idea.

Leah: Thank you for the link to your blog! I have long seen that thrifting doesn't necessarily decrease consumption. Some persons go nuts buying endless bargains (and thrifting is so much fun), stuff their closets, and end up wearing few of their finds.

Sherrie: Deferral is a superb technique. I did the same thing when eBay first appeared. I am going to use your Amazon Wish List tip!

Sewing: That jacket with jeans sounds like a beautiful combination, especially in our deep-winter landscape, and I would •love• to see your heirloom medal!
LauraH said…
Great post! After identifying it and working on it, I still suffer from a form of hero-itis that I call buying for my fantasy life. I'm a lot better at avoiding this but is still takes a real effort.

To avoid general over-buying I use a technique similar to the Amazon wish list mentioned above - I bookmark stuff and then go back and look a week or so later. Amazing how much I can walk away from after a few days have passed. Another coping technique - unsubscribing from most sites - this one really helps. Opening the closet and actually reminding myself of what I already own is a good one. And I guess the best one is - I just stop looking. I do allow myself to buy the small pieces I often wear - cashmere gloves, scarves - if I find them in my colours.
Duchesse said…
LauraH: Online shopping is the greatest impulse-buying enabler since the sample sale! A number of readers have used the list or bookmark. But they have ways of getting to us- those damn pop up ads so you keep seeing the thing. Every time I think I've turned off tracking, it only seems to last awhile.
KSL said…
I'm cracking up, because I get sucked into the "spring" jacket, every year, and it's totally useless in LA. So many of us love that third piece, and I always wonder what actually works for spring/summer?
Duchesse said…
Kathy: Spring is probably the hardest season to dress for in many parts of North America, with its temperature swings and rain. here, our winters are long and dark so the temptation of a bright "springy" piece is nearly impossible to resist. Hope I have learned to keep it to a light sweater or tee, not a pricey jacket.
Duchesse, you are right about the pullovers. Just about nothing left but pastels (which I loathe) and black - I do not need another black sweater.

There are few things that I hate shopping for as much as bras, but I'm about as busty as Her Majesty. Expensive and frustrating. Even though I've lost some weight, that reduces the band but not the cup...

By the way, PM Justin Trudeau wore a blue suit and brown shoes at his swearing-in. And I've seen men older than him with lovely silver hair (yes, often Italians) doing the same.
Mardel said…
I get sucked into pretty things, or thinking I need to fill a gap or find a replacement, that ends up achieving neither. And there are a few of those "special" pieces still haunting my closet. Mostly, I am not buying, and I find walking away and coming back makes a huge difference. Or bookmarking a page and coming back, often to find "what was I thinking" occurs far more frequently than sadness at something that got away.

I find my closet still shrinking as I realize that I am perfectly content to wear certain things over and over again. And I have postponed starting to sew garments again precisely because I know how much harder it will be to free them if they don't find an active permanent home in my closet. But I am getting closer.

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