Years ago, I read an article that posed the following question, “If your house was on fire and you could only save half of your wardrobe, which items would you pick?” Although the premise is somewhat morbid, the question is quite thought-provoking. Back when I was writing Recovering Shopaholic, I considered creating a challenge based upon this question, but I never quite got around to doing it. However, my mounting frustration with my burgeoning wardrobe brought this concept top of mind once again.
In today’s post, I introduce the start of what I’m terming the “Half Project.” I explain why I decided to take it on, what I’m hoping to accomplish through this effort, and the rules that I will be following over the course of the challenge. The “Half Project” will last for one year and I will post periodic updates between now and its close on April 30, 2020. As with my previous challenges, including Project 333 and LIWI, you’re welcome to join in – the more the merrier! I always love when others are doing the same challenge as I am, and I enjoy reading about what everyone is learning along the way.
Why I Decided to Do the “Half Project”
Back in January, I shared that my theme for 2019 is “freedom.” There are many ways in which my life doesn’t feel free and I’m going to address as many of them as possible over the course of this year. It pains me to say that more than six years after I started writing about my struggles with my shopping and wardrobe, I continue to experience difficulties in these areas. In fact, I definitely have to admit that I have backslid since I stopped writing Recovering Shopaholic. While I’m not back to square one by any means in terms of how much I spend and own, my closet is too full and I’m feeling overwhelmed by my wardrobe.
Having too many clothes is getting in the way of my freedom. Not everything fits into my main closet, it’s not easy to figure out what to wear, and I feel a lot of guilt and remorse for having purchased too many items. My husband and I have gone to great lengths to pare down our belongings, but my wardrobe is a glaring exception to our minimalism success story. It feels “off” to have an overflowing wardrobe, especially when deep in my heart, I truly do want to live with less.
I also want my closet to consist only of items that I feel good in and look forward to wearing. I don’t want to keep less loved items around just because I bought them and would feel guilty about letting them go. This is counterproductive to my ultimate goal of freedom, which overrides all of these other concerns. I’m tired of feeling bad about my wardrobe and myself. Life is too short for self-flagellation, as well as wearing clothes that are fussy, uncomfortable, or not in line with the way we want to look and the image we desire to project.
You may wonder why I have once again fallen prey to over-shopping and accumulating an over-sized wardrobe, especially after all of the hard work (and over 400 blog posts!) I’ve done on this area of my life. I explained this situation pretty well back in December and I’m working hard on the underlying issues that have led to it. I have also adopted some practices that are helping me to better cope with my depression and anxiety, which are huge contributors to my compulsive shopping. I still need to be more consistent with these practices, but at least I’m moving in the right direction. Hopefully, by looking inward and devoting more attention to emotional and psychological factors, I will be able to avoid anxiety-related shopping better in the future, but I need to take some steps now to “stop the bleeding.” This is where the “Half Project” comes in…
What is the “Half Project”?
After remembering the morbid house fire question, I decided to re-frame it and apply it to my wardrobe in my thankfully still intact home. I wondered how easy it would be for me to live with just half of my clothes, so I thought, “Why not make a challenge out of it?” I always learn a lot from doing wardrobe challenges and they help to make the often tedious process of downsizing more interesting and fun. So I selected half of each wardrobe category in my closet to wear over the course of the next year. This isn’t just a short-term challenge, though. My objective is to ultimately cull down to a permanently much smaller wardrobe, so my hope is that by living with less for a year, I will solidify this practice as a habit.
While your categories may vary, here’s how I broke things down:
- Blazers/Tailored Jackets/Vests (I lumped these all together, as I own very few of each)
- Cardigans – Long (I have a lot of these, as they are my preferred topper type)
- Cardigans – Short/Mid-length
- Casual Jackets
- Cropped Pants
- Full-Length Pants
- Dresses (included here because they serve as a bottom – and a top…)
- Long-sleeved tops to wear with pants
- Short-sleeved tops to wear with pants
- Sleeveless tops to wear with pants
- Tops to pair with skirts (shorter length, as I’m not a “tucker” – I don’t have many of these)
As has long been the case for me, I have far more tops and toppers than bottoms. In fact, in almost all categories of bottoms, I didn’t even select half to include in my active wardrobe, as I wanted to make sure that I have chosen only pieces that look and feel great. There’s room for improvement in my bottom pieces for sure, but the ones I have selected should carry me through this year fairly well.
I’m only including “out and about clothes” in this challenge, although I intend to ultimately pare down in other areas as well. The reason I’m not including shoes, accessories, lounge wear, and sleepwear in the “Half Project” is because I no longer have a problem with overbuying such items.
I have already pared down my jewelry such that it now fits into a 14” by 10” three-tier stacker (similar to what’s shown here), rather than the over-sized jewelry armoire that I used for years (pictured here). In terms of shoes, I maintain a collection of 20-25 pairs, which I feel is a reasonable number for me. I rarely buy new shoes and accessories these days and the storage I have for such items keeps my accumulation in check, as there is only room a limited number of pieces. At this point in my life, out and about clothing is my only area of over-shopping, which is why the challenge is primarily focused there.
The Rules of the Challenge
Of course, what is any good challenge without rules? So here are the 10 rules I’ve come up with to keep me honest as I navigate the “Half Project” – and also for you if you choose to play along:
- Pare each wardrobe category down to half its original size. If a category contains an odd number of items, you can keep the extra item for your active wardrobe (i.e. if you have 9 items in a category, you can select 5). Your categories can be the same as mine above, or they can be comprised of whatever makes the most sense to you. They can even be as simple as tops, toppers, and bottoms. If you feel that you have too many shoes and accessories, those items may also be included in the challenge, even though I’m opting to focus just on clothing.
- All new, unworn items must be included in the active wardrobe. If you don’t want to include such pieces in your selected half, they either need to be returned to the store or passed on via consignment or donation (if an unworn item doesn’t currently fit you and cannot be returned, see rule #4).
- Place the un-selected items into a “holding zone,” preferably stored elsewhere from your regular closet. If you are unable to relocate these items elsewhere, push them over to one side and separate them from your active wardrobe by a colorful or distinctive hanger.
- Items that don’t currently fit but that you still like can be stored away and revisited later. I have opted to limit this category of items to what will fit in a single plastic storage bin. Once that bin is full, I cannot hold on to anything else that’s too small (for some people, the issue may be that things are too big) unless I remove something else to make room. My goal is to either re-integrate these pieces into my main wardrobe by the end of the challenge or pass them along. I may keep a maximum of 10 items that don’t currently fit me after the end of the challenge.
- Once a month, you may swap out items from your “holding zone.” Whenever possible, these swaps should be “like for like” (i.e. a short-sleeved top for another short-sleeved top). However, since you may find that you need more of some item types than others, it’s okay to swap a piece out for something in a different category. But try to stay “in season” with swaps in order to keep things honest. For example, don’t swap out a sweater for a tank top in the summer unless you don’t think you’ll want to wear that sweater again once the cooler weather returns (in which case, it should be passed on).
NOTE: I originally limited the number of swaps to 5 items per month, but since rule #6 will manage “churn” within the challenge (items can only be swapped out once), I have updated this rule as of June 4th to allow for unlimited swaps. The objective of the challenge is to end up with the best possible HALF from one’s starting wardrobe. This may require more swaps since many of us aren’t sure which items work best, especially if we haven’t worn some pieces in a while. Sometimes things seem good at face value but are actually not, as I’m discovering several weeks into the challenge…
- An item can only be swapped out only once (keep track of swaps). If you decide to swap an item out a second time, it will then need to be donated or consigned. The only exception is for size changes, in which case the item can be stored in the off-size box (which I call my “skinny box” because I was able to wear these things when I was thinner!).
- No shopping for the first two months of the challenge and then after that, no more than two new items per month. Take some time with the challenge to get a sense of what you may actually need, if anything. Since the objective is to end up with a smaller and more functional wardrobe, it’s important to keep purchases to a minimum. For many of us, the reason why our closets became so overloaded is that we shop too indiscriminately and buy far too much. The initial moratorium on purchases will allow us to focus more on what we have and to identify any wardrobe gaps that might exist. Also, if we limit the number of pieces we can buy, we’re likely to think harder about our purchases and ultimately make better choices.
- New purchases must be worn within two weeks of purchase or returned. If you opt to keep a new item, you will have to swap out something else in your active wardrobe in order to make room for it.
- At the end of the year, all holding zone items should either make their way back into the active wardrobe or get passed on for consignment or donation. I have decided that as a compromise, I can hold on to a maximum of 10 holding zone items after the challenge, as there are sometimes logical reasons why items don’t get worn (i.e. they’re formal pieces or they’re for occasions or weather that didn’t come around in a given year). Of course, you may select an alternate number to keep, or you can be ruthless and get rid of the lot!
- Items can be donated, consigned, or re-purposed at any time. By “re-purposed,” I mean that an “out and about” item can be designated for an alternate type of wear. As one example, an out and about top may be downgraded to lounge wear or sleepwear. It’s helpful to keep a running list of consigned/donated items, along with the reasons why they were passed along. This helps with identifying patterns of types of items that consistently don’t work out so that hopefully we won’t purchase such pieces in the future.
Closing Thoughts and Next Steps
Over the past couple of days, I have selected which items to include in my active wardrobe and I have moved everything else out of my main closet. In the process, I tried on a lot of things and decided to pass some of them along to new homes. I have separated out additional items that don’t currently fit well to be stored in my “skinny box” (which I keep in my garage so I don’t have to look at it and feel bad) for the time being.
Weight loss has been very challenging for me since I went through menopause three years ago, but I’m slowly making progress in that area. I’m still not sure what’s realistic for me in terms of a post-menopausal size that I can reach and maintain without severe restriction and obsession, but I want to figure this out before the end of the year. I may never be as slim as I was before “the change,” and my body shape and composition have also shifted, but I want to find a way to make peace with my body as it actually is. This is another piece of my “freedom” goal for 2019 – freedom from obsession about – and intense criticism of – my body.
In my next post, I’ll share what I’ve learned from the “Half Project” even in its infancy, and I’ll highlight some of the items I’ve chosen to pass on and why. I’m already noticing some patterns, both in terms of what I’m keeping and what I’m moving on, that I believe will help me to reach my goal of having a smaller and more functional wardrobe. The challenge is already helping me and it just started!
As I mentioned earlier, I’d love to have others join in on the “Half Project.” If you choose to do so, feel free to modify the rules to suit your personal needs. If you only overbuy or have an overabundance in certain wardrobe categories, you can opt to just focus there. You can also choose to do the challenge for a shorter – or longer – period of time or even pare down a smaller amount of items.
I’m open to questions about the challenge and suggestions for how to possibly improve upon it. If you’re doing a different challenge now or did one in the past that you found beneficial, feel free to chime in about that as well. There are many ways to cultivate a more workable wardrobe and different things work for different people. We can learn a lot from each other, too, so feel free to share.