What’s In My Closet?

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Having this blog, I often get comments that I have a small and boring collection of clothing, or people comment on how much clothing I have and ask where the heck do I keep it all. I think both groups of folks are correct – I have a pretty simple collection of clothing, but I feel as though I have a lot because I shop smart, stay on track, and take care of the quality items that I purchase.

If you go to this post, you can learn about my recent closet clean-out and see pictures of my closet. Though it is considered a walk-in closet, it is pretty small and I share it with my husband. I believe that my bar of clothing is shorter than most individuals have in a regular closet in their homes.

When my husband and I moved into this home ten years ago, we didn’t have this closet. Out house was build in the ‘40s and the bedroom closet seemed to be an afterthought – it was placed over the stairwell so it had a sloping side wall, making half of the hanger bar useless. my husband and I shared about four feet of closet space in our bedroom. We didn’t have a hallway closet, or our guest bedroom’s equally small closet (sloped wall was replaced by built-in deep shelves made from splintered scrap wood – not useable for clothing) was used for outerwear and out-of-season clothing that could not handle being packed into a box in the attic.

Due to such little closet space, I learned to make do with less. In fact, when I moved from my bachelorette pad to our nest, I had to get rid of several lawn and leaf bags full of clothing because I just didn’t have the room. After working so many years in apparel retail, I had amassed quite a collection of clothing and accessories. I went through cocktail dresses with the tags still on them, sparkly tops for a night out that were worn only once, dozens of pairs of jeans in my current size, a size bigger, and several sizes smaller just in case I lost the weight I had been carrying for more than two years.

I thought about my life – I am not one who attends cocktail parties on a regular basis, and I rarely go to flashy nightclubs. I needed clothing for work, and casual attire for the weekend. A handful of fun tops and versatile dresses would get me through any social event. I went through each item, deciding whether it was worthy to be in my closet, should be stored for the future, be donated, or be passed on to a friend. I ended up keeping about 25% of my original wardrobe.

Once I had my core wardrobe, I had to stick to it. No shopping sprees – where would I store my purchases? If I bought something new, it had to be for a good reason. Usually if I bought something new, it meant it was replacing something I already owned. Shoes had the same rules, as that I only had so much space on that single shelf above the hanger bar.

Off-season clothing was stored in plastic tubs in the attic, and I had one tub in the attic that held clothing that I kept for sentimental value – my denim jacket from high school, a sweatshirt with my sorority letters on the front, the Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses I bought for a steal that weren’t my current size but were too nice to donate. Because I kept it to being in just one tub, I had to be picky with what was worthy of sentimental real estate.

I lived with this cramped clothing setup for ten years, and it was the best experience. Not having space made me care more about what I purchased. There wasn’t any dusty corner of a closet for bad purchases to hide, or the room to wade through too-small or dated pieces to find something to wear to work each morning. When I went into stores, I was constantly thinking, “Do I need this? Will it go with what I already own? Is it worthy of my precious closet space?” If I had any hesitation, I wouldn’t purchase.

Now I have a bigger closet – my daughter’s room is the old guest room, but we still have that sloping old bedroom closet which now holds our coats (and camping gear, and boxes of photographs we inherited from my father-in-law, and winter boots, and Christmas gifts I buy in advance, and the vacuum cleaner, and…). Though my new closet has more space, I try to stick to the habits I acquired over the past decade. What is currently in my closet:

closet wardrobe oxygen
Click on image to see it larger
Abbreviations: AT (Ann Taylor), ATL (Ann Taylor LOFT), S/S (short-sleeved), L/S (long-sleeved) NYDJ (Not Your Daughter's Jeans),  BR (Banana Republic), B&W (black and white), Cardi (cardigan), LE (Lands End), LEC (Lands End Canvas), RL (Ralph Lauren)

As you can see, it’s not as much as you would think. Go ahead, go through the past couple of months of outfits I have worn on here, you will see that it’s the same darn things I am wearing over and over and OVER, just in different ways. The items in gray are out-of-season items that I still have in my closet because I think they could possibly be combined with other items to make them wintry. That which is in red are items I need to replace or remove from the closet – too big, worn out, etc.

As for shoes, I currently have:

Click on image to see it larger

Same rules apply – red means they need to be replaced (old, no longer fit, etc.), gray is out of season (I store all my shoes in my closet at all times – nowhere else to keep them). Pretty small collection, especially when you consider that three of the 11 current shoes are for dressy occasions.

I don’t have a specific clothing budget for each month, or each season. I have a budget for that which isn’t necessary for the family unit – clothes and beauty products for me, clothes for Emerson and my husband, home décor, dinners out, concerts, Starbucks runs, that sort of thing. Some months I find a show at the 9:30 Club more important than a new pair of shoes, sometimes the shoes win. Some months, there is no money for shoes or shows. I go with the flow, and know I have a base wardrobe that will cover any last-minute situation.

I don’t go to malls to shop because there is too much temptation. I will go into stores to try on, but rarely purchase same day. I will mull it over, and then either return to buy or look online to find it cheaper. I do a lot of online window shopping where I will find things that look good, put them in my virtual shopping cart, then close the shop’s site and think about it. If I can come back later and still find it as lovely and versatile and useful, then I may purchase if it fits into my current budget.

I stick to a pretty simple color palette, and purchase mainly solids so they are more timeless and mix and match with ease. Lately I have been on a stripes kick, which is a cheap and easy way to add some variety to the wardrobe. In the past I have had kicks for animal prints, pinstripes, polka-dots, leather, all things green… this is usually the way I add a fresh spin to my wardrobe basics. These little accent pieces can become wardrobe staples or can easily be replaced come the new season without losing too much money on the situation.

I carry with me a list of what I really need – right now it’s pencil skirts in black and denim in my new size, new tall boots in black, and I would like a crisp white shirt that looks great with the sleeves buttoned or rolled up. This way, if I get distracted by some expensive indulgence, I can think, “Do I really need this sequined miniskirt more than a black pencil skirt? Think how much mileage I got out of my current black pencil skirt – wouldn’t it feel good to have another great piece like that in my wardrobe?” It keeps me balanced and always on the hunt for the perfect blend of quality, price, and fit.

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. I feel like  you have more than this…. what about all of your colored skirts? Like that orange one, or the teal one? Sorry to nitpick.

  2. Allie, thank you so much for ‘putting it all out there’ and creating this wardrobe inventory. I love style blogs and find them incredibly inspirational. But the great bulk of them begin and end with showing great outfits/looks, and some of them move on to showing you HOW to create great outfits/looks….but the key to looking great consistently (with limited funds, space, and time) is building a great WARDROBE.

    and there is a huge dearth of information on wardrobe building! which is why i love your blog so much. Thank you for your efforts and time and guts (!) in letting us all learn from your experiences! steph

  3. LOVE this post – and love that inventory. Particularly like how you’ve highlighted the things which need to be replaced etc – I think that applies to lots of my clothes. I know I have plenty of clothes but I guess a lot of them are looking very tired and it’s time to do some staged retirement!

    I’ve been weeding out my closet off and and on over the past couple of years during pregnancy, house move, and post-baby, but it’s still not where I want it to be in terms of matching my current lifestyle. I am definitely inspired to do this list thingy on the weekend and see if I can see things a bit more clearly. Thanks Allie. x

  4. I started making a list last night and realized just how much stuff I have in my closet! Thanks for the idea. I haven’t even finished yet–have yet to do shirts and tops. But I did find a t-shirt from last year that I had forgotten about that I am wearing under my cardi today! And I have been told that I look as if I’m losing weight. Score!

  5. I keep most everything in my closet except for workout/sleep wear. I own two pairs of yoga pants, one pair of casual knit pants, two hoodies, one sweatshirt, two tanks and about four casual tee shirts. If it doesn’t fit in the bottom drawer of my bureau, there’s a problem and I need to pare down.

    Top drawer – lingerie and socks
    Second drawer – knit tops (my tanks, striped tees, etc.)
    Third drawer – Jeans
    Bottom drawer – Workout/loungewear

    The drawers aren’t especially large – my bureau is actually my nightstand. 🙂

  6. I think that I really need to do this – because I’m pretty sure that, like Grace, I don’t have enough tops that go with my various bottoms. Fortunately, I’ve pared down considerably due to my weight loss, so it should be easier to accomplish. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I only have two pairs of pants and 4 pairs of jeans right now – and 2 of the jeans of bordering on too big.

    I’m wondering though – did you only do the closet? And do you have other clothes in a dresser? The only reason I ask is that I don’t see any casual t-shirt and yoga pants type items on there – so I thought that maybe you just didn’t list workout clothing. Although really, I should inventory that stuff too because I’m pretty sure that I have way too many pairs of yoga pants (for yoga, not for wearing out in regular public spaces!).

  7. Thank you so much for the great post. I have been reading your blog for awhile now but have never commented. Your’s is one of the first style blogs I started reading, and it is my favorite! (I learned about Sofft shoes and Lands’ End Canvas from your blog, and they are now some of my go-to brands). I appreciate your classic style and how chic and well put together you are. I recently cleaned out my closet and have a list of items I am shopping for, but didn’t think of listing the items I currently have. Great idea!

  8. I got my hanging organizer at a store called Hold Everything which was an offshoot of… I think Williams Sonoma. However I know other stores have these things – Real Simple now has a line of storage solutions and they have a sweater organizer and bins that fit: http://www.realsimple.com/magazine-more/real-simple-solutions-closet-products-00000000029196/page12.html

    And BTW, your pivot table sounds like something my sister would do – I admire her organizing skills, and yours!

  9. Where oh where did you find that hanging closet organizer? After reading your post, I looked on Target, Walmart, Bed Bath, and even Ebay – but can’t find one like yours with the drawers.

    I just started a “closet audit” last week. As OCD as this sounds, I’ve created an excel pivot table that lists categories (tops, sweater, pants, etc.), the item, what dates it was worn on, and the total times worn since Jan 1st. And then I have another sheet that lists the entire outfit for each day (helps remind me how many different looks can come from the same pieces). One of my resolutions was to cut my yearly clothes spend in half, so I’m trying to start by shopping in my own closet and focusing on having staples and key pieces… instead of lots of “stuff” that I only wear once or twice. Your cleanup blog was fantastic and inspirational to my efforts!

  10. This is exactly why you’re my fashion role model. You’re always so well put together and I never see something and think “oh, she’s worn that a TONS time before.” And you have a relatively small wardrobe!

    Thank you for posting this – it’s definitely an inspiration to someone like me [lots of stuff in the closet, nothing to wear, etc].

  11. Exactly Karina – this entire blog was based upon my German exchange student in HS – she had a teeny amount of clothes that were perfect for any situation, her body, her lifestyle. I learned from her.

    Thanks for that link Kristen, I may have to check that top out! 🙂

  12. European women do the same thing. They don’t have tons of clothing, but a small wardrobe of quality pieces that will mix and match and last a while. They spice it up with accessories that take up much less storage room. American women are the queens of excess. I for one, could pare down considerably and still have plenty to wear.

  13. This was a really well-timed post for me. I am back in the office and needing to work on my work wardrobe some, as it seems I have a ton of clothes but very little that I can actually wear. The way you listed things out makes it pretty clear to me, even before making a list of my own, what the problem is: no tops! I have a few pants, a lot of skirts and dresses, and a lot of sweaters and jackets, but no tops to base everything on. Any chance you want to do a post on non-button down work appropriate tops soon?

  14. Thanks for an inspiring post! This year I’ve decided to not buy any item of clothing without needing it, and at the same time start creating a good basic wardrobe, and there are so many great tips here. I have very little closet space too, and need to downsize my wardrobe.

  15. I am really not that organized, I just don’t have a lot of spending money so I am far more thoughtful with my purchases. Sometimes they are misses and I end up donating or selling or swapping them, sometimes they are hits. 🙂

  16. I am so impressed! You are so organized, and make good use of all the items in your closet (as shown by your awesome daily outfits).

    The thought of making a list of my own makes me shudder because it would be sooo long. Probably not a bad idea in that case since it would make me really evaluate my purchases, and not just buy stuff because I
    “like” it, or it’s a great deal.

  17. thank you so much for putting it all out there! i really appreciate it. and you’re right, seeing everything in separate categories, does show where more/less is needed. if i get home early today b/c of snow, I may start this task of cataloging my closet. it is so nice to see it all in a spreadsheet like that. thanks again for all of the work you put in to this!!!

  18. Yeah, I totally made the list today when I was supposed to be using Excel for something work-related. But the closet contents are so minimal and used so often it was easy to whip up. I was glad to do it because it really made me see that which I have plenty of (dresses) and that which is lacking (pants and skirts).

    Baby steps is a great way to get on the road to simplicity and organization. Working full time and dealing with a toddler, I have found the only way i can keep my house relatively clean is baby steps – I will clean the toilet today, the sink tomorrow, do one load of laundry the next day, clean out the fridge the next. The same holds true for a wardrobe – little is better than none at all! 🙂

  19. YOU are SO organized !
    OMG! you even have a list ???!!!
    I have THOUGHT of doing this BUT I have always said that first I need to clear my closet.
    I do it bit by bit every month, weeding out things that no longer fit, look good or I simply do not wear. But, it’s not enough as I continue to struggle
    with space. My goal is to FIT in the space I have. I have a long journey to go.

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