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What to wear? Everything

Save money and tame closet clutter with a 'wear everything challenge.'

By Donna_Freedman Sep 21, 2012 11:23AM
Logo: Businessman adjusting necktie Tom Merton, OJO Images, Getty ImagesHow's your wardrobe working? Somewhere between "I haven't got a thing to wear" and "I haven't got a single empty hanger yet I keep shopping" is a comfortable (and frugal) place to be.

Shopping trips and closet purges are not the way to get there. Not right away, anyhow. Try a "wear everything challenge" instead.

The process is pretty simple: Wear every seasonally appropriate item you own at least once. No falling back on the same few favorite chinos or skirts. Seriously: everything.

If you balk at leaving the house in those lime-green parachute pants, ask yourself: Why do I still have them? Start a "discard" box and add to it every time you unearth a garment that makes you shudder.

'Only when I have a need'

That's the whole point: to look seriously at what you own and decide whether it's doing you any good. For example: 
  • Are you hanging on to outfits from college or, worse, high school -- stuff that is out of date, age-inappropriate or no longer fits?
  • Do you shop when bored or anxious?
  • Are you a trend-follower, always looking for the next hot style?
  • Did you buy those size-too-small trousers as an incentive to lose 10 pounds? (Yeah, that'll work.)
  • Are you helpless in the face of a great deal? (Hint: If you don't need it, it's not a deal.)
That last habit dogged personal finance writer J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly. His version of the wear everything challenge, "The one-year wardrobe project," was to put all his shirts and sweaters in the spare bedroom, then take out what he wanted to wear each day.

At the end of the year, 37 articles of clothing had gone unworn. Roth admitted that he tended to overbuy at thrift stores or Costco. Now he has resolved to shop "only when I have a need for something."

Those 37 shirts and sweaters went to a charity shop. You might also decide to donate your discards. If the items are in great shape, however, you might be able to sell them on eBay or place them at a consignment store.

Taking control

Don't rush to fill the extra space in closets and dressers. First try new combinations of the remaining garments. You may develop what blogger Susan Wagner calls "a distinct personal style."

"When you are relying on what you already own rather than constantly shopping, you have an opportunity to put the best pieces in your closet to work -- the ones that fit well and make you feel good," she writes in this post on BlogHer.


A streamlined wardrobe might work for you. Plenty of professionals get by with several nice suits, some oxford shirts, and a handful of ties or scarves.

And if you do need to fill in some blank spots? Buy quality items. A cheaply made blouse or shirt will wear out quickly, making it not such a good deal after all. You can find some very high-quality items at those thrift or consignment stores. Failing that, use a price comparison website to find the best deal.

Taking control of your shopping will help you take control of your life: less anxiety about keeping up with trends, fewer worries about credit card bills, more cash to put toward your personal financial goals. Roth estimates that those unworn clothes cost him about $750. You might or might not want to think about how much you spent on those lime-green parachute pants.

More on MSN Money:

Sep 23, 2012 7:46PM
 I gave away over 200 clothing items 10 days ago. I am 51 and felt like who was ever going to get stuck with this task would  be very angry and burdened.  I feel like Imelda Marcos. I kept a wardrobe from 12-18 because I may start chemotherapy soon, and steroids but on allot of weight. My background in bargain hunting, and personal shopping have clothed my neighborhood,family,friends, and the homeless. I never made more than 18k a year.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.