Much to my mother and father’s mutual consternation, I was never very interested in clothes. I was much more interested in reading and traipsing about through the trees and the mud. These pursuits were fine when I was younger, but some kind of “on” switch was supposed to flip once I hit puberty. My parents seemed so sure that I would suddenly know how to coordinate colors and take a keen interest in accessorizing various outfits. These skills never quite materialized—nor did any ability to manage seemingly baffling equipment such as hair dryers, curling irons, and the various bottles of product accompanying them.
By the time I became an adult and left college behind me, my mom would sigh and tell me that my clothes looked “worn” or complain that I needed a professional wardrobe. She even bought several items for my closet as a 30th birthday present. It should come as a shock, then, when I say that I am attempting to downsize my closet and reduce the amount of clothing I’ve stuffed away inside it. As my husband and I prepare to move into our dream tiny home, we are both facing the reality that this is all that we will have for traditional closet storage for both of us.
For many women (and men), such a downsize would be laughably implausible. After all, according to these infographics, the average American family (2.5 people) spends $1700 on clothes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women are likely to spend nearly twice as much on clothing annually. As James Wallman notes in his BBC article, the average British woman will purchase 59 new articles of clothing every year and owns 22 pieces of clothing that she has never worn. Another illuminating statistic: Americans generally wear 20% of the clothes in their closets about 80% of the time. Our future tiny closet will be entirely too small to wear such a small percentage of the clothes that we own.
My goal in downsizing my clothes is to not only the practical consideration of ensuring that my clothes will fit in our tiny house but also to practice more mindful living, especially when it comes to the small everyday choices I make. Although I certainly do not intend to wear clothes into tattered remnants—or forgo them entirely—the textile industry is a fetid one and notorious for sweatshops, poor working conditions, and even enslaving workers. Not for Sale came out with this report in 2012 that evaluated about 300 companies for their records on workers’ rights, working conditions, and transparency/tracking in the manufacturing process. Not for Sale evaluated the totality of the manufacturing process. While some companies have solid records on the actual sewing of the garments, many others do not trace the cotton back to its original source. Uzbekistan, for example, is the second largest producer of cotton in the world, but the country utilizes children as young as ten for as many as 70 hours a week to pick that cotton. Moreover, their system keeps farmers in a cycle of poverty by enforcing strict quotas, setting prices, and threatening their children’s expulsion from school if the children do not also participate.
As I will be buying fewer clothes in the future, my goal will be to select companies that have more ethical business structures to reduce my own unintentional contributions to global slavery, which is currently estimated to be nearly 30 million people. Don’t believe that slaves work for you? Check out slaveryfootprint.org. In addition to purchasing fewer garments, I also want to knit or sew more of my own clothes—something I enjoy doing though it is certainly not for everyone. It is my hope that, although I will have fewer clothes tucked away in our closet, I will also have fewer invisible skeletons lurking inside them.
Tips for Right-sizing Your Closet:
Your closet space may not be so limited as my own will be, and you may enjoy accessorizing more than I do. It’s entirely possible your dad didn’t take you to go buy clothes when you were 13 and practically beg you to spend his money on clothes that were both girly and sophisticated. Even if you’re not sartorially adverse or facing the equivalent of closet purgatory, you can still right-size your closet so that you don’t end up hauling a bag of garments you’ve never (or rarely) worn to good will.
(1) Don’t impulse buy. If you don’t buy it, it doesn’t end up in your closet.
(2) Don’t buy clothes you don’t love. I’ve been talked into buying clothes that didn’t really seem “me” or that I felt uncomfortable wearing. That discomfort never goes away, and you end up wearing whatever it was less and less until it ends up in that good will pile.
(3) Buy versatile garments. Those bright turquoise capris may look adorable (a matter of taste, I suppose), but if you cannot make several outfits with them, they take up valuable real estate in your closet and are more likely to end up in the category with the 80% of clothes that aren’t worn.
(4) Buy colors you like. I once bought an orange dress because the fit was flattering; I even had two strangers in the store tell me that it looked good on me! It was, however, bright orange. The color never grew on me, and I wore it less and less until, just this weekend, I took it to good will.
(5) Be label aware. If you want to be an ethically conscientious consumer, do your research and visit stores looking for brands that reflect and support your values. On the bright side, it may help you better stick to rule #1.
(6) Be honest about your shoe needs. This falls into rule #3 as well because many people will view shoes as accessories, but—much like clothes—only wear about a quarter of them. According to this report, women on average own about 20 pairs of shoes but only regularly wear 5 pairs. Buy comfortable, practical shoes, and they’re more likely to emerge from the closet.
(7) Consider learning how to sew, knit or crochet. Clothes used to be so valuable that they were quite literally handed down between familial generations. Learning to make a garment yourself will not only give you a better sense of appreciation for the time involved (and give you a sense of pride in getting a complement on something that you made yourself), but it will also allow you to make clothes that actually fit your body because they are made for your body!
The Grand Reveal: The Clothesline
After downsizing my closet when the husband and I moved in together, I’ve gone through my closet two more times (most recently this weekend) in preparation for our impending move to Casula Mellita, our dream tiny house. Here’s all my “dirty” laundry. I’m confident that more things are going to end up in the donation bin once we actually move in because I cannot get over how much I still have!
Shorts (OLD): 1
Tan work pants: 1
Black work pants: 1
Sweater vest tank (handmade): 1
Short or cap sleeve shirts: 3
Dresses (matchable to cardis): 3
Sleeveless dresses: 5
Midlength sleeve shirts: 5
Long-sleeve shirts: 4
Formal dress: 1
Backpacking pants: 2
Long underwear: 2
Short-sleeve wool t-shirts: 3
Long-sleeve wool t-shirt: 1
Thermal wool t-shirt: 1
Horseback riding pants: 2
Bicycling tights/shorts: 2
Sock liners (hiking): 3
Socks (horseback riding): 2
Half chaps: 1
Hiking socks (wool): 7
Midweight Marmot layer 1
Wool sports bras: 2
Sports bras (athletic): 3
Shorts (athletic): 3
Capri pants (athletic): 1
Short-sleeve wicking shirts: 4
Wicking tanks (athletic): 4
Sock pairs: 14
Boxer shorts: 1
Capri pajama bottoms: 1
Flannel pants (handmade): 1
Swimsuits (lap): 2
Riding paddock boots: 1
Hiking boots: 1
Athletic shoes: 1
Flats (grey, red, black): 3
Flipflops (gym shower shoes): 1