I have never been much of a fashionista. At age 13, when my classmates were trying their best to emulate the looks of 2004 style icons Hilary Duff and Mischa Barton, I chose to wear old dance class tutus over flared jeans. Upon entering high school, I switched from the “misplaced dancer” aesthetic to my own uninspired school uniform of skinny jeans and a zip-up hoodie. It just felt like that fashion was one of those things I never “got,” and so I retreated to being a witness on the sidelines rather than attempting to walk the runway.
It’s hard to analyze why I had such difficulty participating in an activity that seemed like every teenage girl is destined to strive towards. Perhaps it was the low body confidence of adolescence, the morning basketball practices that favored comfortable clothes, or maybe it was being raised in a metropolitan suburb where “fashionistas” shopped in Abercrombie & Fitch instead of the standard American Eagle. (Let it be known that I grew up in an era where A&F was actually cool, so this was not just some strange Canadian phenomenon.) Regardless of the reasons for my fashion aversion, the fact of the matter was that until the ripe age of 24, I stuck to buying the same hoodie + jeans uniform at the same cheap stores.
The catalyst for the fashion change in my mid-twenties was that, for the first time in my life, I had a positive cash flow. Add to the fact that I was at an age where I had more confidence in myself, and I knew what styles I leaned towards and what shapes fit me best, I was now on track to re-haul my closet. Goodbye to the Forever21 binge, and hello to the careful consideration of an $80 sweater. I slowly began to develop my core “everyday” wardrobe and replace my ill-fitting purchases of yesteryear with quality counterparts that looked and felt better. I also began to supplement my wardrobe with more unique pieces that I absolutely loved, like a funky blue and white jumpsuit that made me feel equal parts fashion-forward Parisian and 1940s prisoner. I was finally piecing together the wardrobe of a put-together adult!
Just as I had begun parting the fashion Red Sea, I ended up making a life-altering decision to quit my job and move home across the Atlantic. In addition to the general mania you are faced with when making an international relocation, I was also confronted with moving back into my childhood bedroom. Ignore the fact that living with your parents again after a near decade of independence is a mix of emotions and adjustments on its own, I was particularly annoyed about fitting my now curated wardrobe into a bulging closet filled with clothes I’ve neglected for years on end.
When I first moved away to University in 2009, I left behind a solid mix of “uncool” clothes, ill-fitting jeans, and a mountain of high school-branded wear. Every summer when I returned home, I would continue to add to this collection by contributing items I didn’t necessarily like or want but was too scared to throw away (you just never know when that bright pink peplum tank will come back in style). Four years of this behavior built a pretty hefty closet, and it only further expanded when I moved to Europe and repeated the same habit with every visit. Soon enough, my childhood closet became my own personal donation bin, filled with camp-branded sweatpants, bedazzled F21 dresses, and overworn Bongo jeans.
My mom hinted at the chaos of my closet during one pre-arrival conversation by suggesting she purchase a simple dresser where I could put all my “nice clothes” when I came back. Determined that I could fit my current wardrobe into the existing space, I declined her generous offer and pronounced a closet purge as my number-one task upon my permanent return. The quality of what lurked behind those white doors was no great mystery, but the sheer quantity of items I had amassed was not something I was prepared for. However, with inspiration from certain minimalists and a bounty of TFD posts under my belt, I set about on my closet cleanse. My method was simple and unoriginal: lay every item on my bed and sort into three piles — keep, donate and trash.
During this minimizing challenge, I also decided to document every item I was donating or throwing away. Out of sheer curiosity, I wanted to see just how much “value” I would be removing from my closet. Perhaps the total would be a reminder to my future self to not buy clothes I had no need or desire for. That total value? $1,000 CAD (about $780 USD).
Here is a quick breakdown of how I came to that amount (in CAD):
Now not all of that $1,000 represents misguided purchases — some were clothes I had loved but either outgrew or ruined from spilled sauces and dressings. (It’s funny, our desire to keep clothes much too small and much too stained, as if some closet fairy will magically rid each item of its faults during one enchanted November evening). Some were nostalgic alumni pieces that I kept for memory’s sake (until I realized that I won’t actually forget that I went to high school), and some were expensive pieces I had picked up on sale, purely drawn to the idea of belonging to a certain brand. But the overwhelming majority of the haul were ordinary pieces purchased at ordinary prices, simply things I just didn’t wear anymore. It’s this last category of items that I believe is a key contributing factor as to why our closets get filled up with so many unused clothes over the years — we don’t like to throw away money, and our material purchases are a reminder of that.
Take for example the high-waisted dress pants I bought last summer. I was in a new job and impatiently bought a pair that I didn’t really like the look or feel of, but hey, I was desperate. Over the course of a year, I probably wore the pants 10 times, and once I ended my employment, they remained untouched. Even though I knew I did not want to wear this pair again, I dismissed donating them and kept them in my wardrobe just in case I needed them one day. It wasn’t until I moved back home that I finally removed them from my closet, because even though I paid good money and they may, in fact, come in handy one day if that day ever comes, I’m sure I would find an alternative to wear.
So while some may interpret my closet purge as “losing” $1,000 (i.e. $780 USD), I like to think of it as freeing myself of dead weight and creating a clean space where items I love and regularly wear are on full display. If you ever consider doing a clearout of your congested closet, take a lesson from my experience and remind yourself that just because your clothes have a monetary value, that alone doesn’t justify their presence. As many minimalist enthusiasts have preached before me, it’s all about keeping things that you actually use, regardless of their cost.
Maggie Clark is a 26-year-old Canadian situated in Toronto, Canada alongside her wonderful golden retriever Cali. A nutritionist by trade, Maggie has spent the past four years working abroad in the food and healthcare industries and can be currently found cooking up a storm on Instagram @omnivoresdelight.
Image via Unsplash