Paring my closet down to 40 hangers made me realize how much excess I have. Come learn how I’ve changed my ways!
The 40-Hanger Closet
I read about the 40-Hanger Closet from Living Well, Spending Less a while back, and it’s been sitting in the back of my mind. I already purged a lot when I moved from my 1,500 sq ft condo I shared with no one into Ryan’s 1,200 sq ft duplex. There wasn’t room for the things I’d amassed over the years. The idea of purging even more from my closet was daunting — yet somehow I couldn’t let go of it.
Every morning, I walk into my overstuffed closet and stare at all the options, like I have nothing to wear. A closet full (two closets full!) of things and I can’t make a decision. I always fall back on a handful of favorites, rarely wearing anything else. And because I was working for myself, a lot of times that was a hoodie — so much easier than making the effort to look nice. Finding the nice things in my closet among the mess was proving impossible.
Here are my closets. Can you blame me? First is the guest closet, which has dresses, skirts, and scarves (Oh, so many scarves. I love scarves.):
And our master closet, which has all of my sweaters and tops. It’s so full that whenever I pull something off a hanger, it sticks up and I have to stuff it back down into the fray.
I talked to Ryan about it, and he was on board to do his part for the 40-Hanger Closet (I love that he’s willing to go along with my experiments!). He started with a whopping 34 hangers of clothing and jackets, and was down to less than 20 in a matter of minutes. He also went through his drawers and got rid of quite a few old t-shirts. He purged things that were actually wearing out or had holes in them (thank you, dog), plus a couple that were dated (good bye pleated pants) or didn’t fit well. And a tie with a clarinet on it. Because, well, no reason is needed.
My section of the master closet plus the guest closet was worse. Not counting my “utility” clothing (jackets, hoodies, workout gear, etc.), I had exactly 100 hangers. Which meant I had to get rid of 60% of my “everyday” tops, sweaters, skirts, and dresses to get down to 40 hangers. I also wanted to go through all that utility clothing and my drawers to clear out what I didn’t wear there.
It was both easier and harder than I expected. Easier in that I chose the things I wanted to keep and the things I wanted to purge without much trouble. I didn’t do a lot of hemming and hawing — for 90% of my closet, I knew right away what I wore often and what just sat on the hanger. Soon we had one organized closet that had about 60 hangers. I had a few more than 40, but that included all my remaining skirts and dresses, which I moved to the master closet.
I ended up being able to hang up all my remaining utility clothing (much of it was folded on a shelf) and scarves in the guest closet. This will someday be our nursery, but for now this works. There’s still quite a bit of space in our master, so moving everything into one closet won’t be a problem when the time comes.
Now to the hard bit.
But first a disclaimer. I truly don’t want to make anyone reading this post feel bad — I’m just being honest about the way I felt as I cleared out my closet. We all have to figure out life on our own, how to budget, what to care about — this is where I am in my own journey. Please don’t take this as judgment of any kind!
Personally, I wasn’t prepared for was the embarrassment I felt during the process. As the pile of discarded clothes grew and grew, the more unsettled I became. I couldn’t believe how much excess I had. So many things I’d only worn a few times and then set aside because they were so cheaply made that they didn’t last more than a couple washes. Not one thing I owned was made in the US. 90% of it came from Old Navy and Target and the Gap, companies known for making their clothes, en masse, using cheap labor.
As an advocate for children who have been trafficked — which often includes working in sweatshops — I know better. And the fact that I still bought cheap clothing made me feel deeply ashamed.
I spent quite a bit of time praying and asking God’s forgiveness for putting my stuff before people. My heart was deeply affected. It was a hard weekend and I am thankful that Ryan was there to talk with and encourage me.
I’m learning I’m programmed by marketing, culture, daily deals, and Pinterest to love a bargain. How often does someone compliment, say, my scarf and I answer, “Target! $7 on clearance!” It’s in my bones to love a good deal.
I also read Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline (thanks for the recommendation, Laura!). It talks about the high cost of cheap fashion. It was like being slapped in the face, but in a good way. There’s so much more in this book than I could discuss in this already-long post, but mostly it comes down to how we don’t think about the sacrifices we make to have easy access to cheap clothing — underpaid workers, worker safety (think of the massive casualties in the recent Bangladeshi fire), environmental damage, and our cultural attitudes toward clothing.
I so badly want to care.
I want to see the faces of the people who make my clothes. I want to care they are being paid a decent wage, working in a safe place. I want to buy clothes made by artisans, rather than overcrowded factory workers. I want to support companies with manufacturing processes that don’t pollute the environment. I want to support American manufacturing, what’s left of it.
But how will I re-program myself? Target it so tempting! I honestly can’t see myself spending $200 on a pair of jeans — that seems outrageous. I don’t want to spend a lot to get an ethically produced shirt, only to flip my top if a friend’s kid spills orange juice on it and ruins it. I want to both care about the factory workers AND my friend’s kid more than I care about my clothes. It’s a balancing act that I’m just learning even exists.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg — I just bought a new iPhone without thinking about the people who made it. Gah.
I know I’ll never be able to be perfect, but as my friend Hillary says, “it’s always possible to be less evil.”
Year of Ethical Fashion
I’m joining Meet Me At Mike’s Year of Ethical Fashion. Guess that means I’m finally going to have to tackle garment sewing! And shopping in second-hand stores, something I rarely ever do if it’s not Halloween.
As for the clothes we got rid of, I’m letting a few similarly-sized friends go through them. Anything left will go to a mom’s group clothing swap my sister-in-law is holding in March. Anything not taken then will go to a local women’s shelter.
If you’d like to join along for the Year of Ethical Clothing, you can join the Facebook group here. You can also use the hashtag #yoef on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. If enough people join along, maybe we can actually change the way we understand fashion and the way we see the people who make our clothes. Join me!
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