Until very recently, I suffered from a pretty bad case of Aimless Wardrobe Syndrome.
I felt lost when it came to clothing. I assembled outfits at random. If I ever looked good, it was at the cost of 35 minutes of standing in my closet, hemming and hawing like an asthmatic donkey.
It seemed like a pretty insignificant problem. But eventually, I realized it was quietly harming me every dang day. I was wasting way too much time, money, and spoons deciding what to wear. And it somehow left me feeling worse about myself, not better!
This led me to develop a cure for my Aimless Wardrobe Syndrome. And in retrospect, it was so obvious that I’m sorta kicking myself for not figuring it out sooner.
It requires a bit of time to set up. But it transformed my daily life for the better. Since I developed this system, I’ve been shopping less, buying less, and spending way less time considering my options. And y’all know how I value my money and my time! Yet I also love everything I wear, and wear everything I love. It kicks ass.
Here’s my system. Steal it!
Diagnosing Aimless Wardrobe Syndrome
Aimless Wardrobe Syndrome is the most common form of clothing dysfunction in our cursed modern society. It affects people of all genders, ages, professions, lifestyles, and fashion proclivities.
The symptoms are easy to miss because they present differently in everybody. People with aimless wardrobe syndrome might…
- Shop frequently and enthusiastically OR hate shopping with a burning passion.
- Have an unmanageably overflowing closet OR far too little to wear.
- Own a very eclectic, scattershot wardrobe or basically wear a uniform.
- Value clothing, fashion, and style as a form of self-expression OR wish the entire enterprise was lost in the flames that burned the Great Library of Alexandria and we’d all been going around naked since 275 AD.
That’s right: super fashionable people suffer from it too! Their inherent coolness and put-togetherness is a façade. They’re white-knuckling their way through the same struggles as everyone else.
When I was younger—and way more pedestrian—I scornfully proclaimed my disinterest in clothing and shopping as part of my “Not Like Other Girls” phase. Spoiler alert: It was all cover for my Aimless Wardrobe Syndrome. I wasn’t confident in my ability to do fashion, so I devalued it. Thank god for personal growth!
(If that’s where you’re at, no judgements. It takes time to un-learn reflexive, performative hatred for anything coded as feminine. Your aunties are here, beckoning you to the other side! The journey is long, but worthwhile!)
Aimless Wardrobe Syndrome and the actual harm it causes
The weirdest part of my presentation of Aimless Wardrobe Syndrome?
I owned clothing that I loved. And I never wore it.
Every morning I reached for the same four ratty, pilling pajama pants I’d gotten as hand-me-downs over a decade ago. I’m one of those assholes who got Pandemic Swole™️, so it was extra baffling to me that I felt so bad about my appearance despite being happier than ever with my body.
One day, I reached for my slobbish defaults and truly noticed the whisper of revulsion that ghosted through me.
It’s the damn clothes!
Now I could see that climbing into this slovenly uniform was a daily act of self-sabotage. How could I get Dem Good-Good Positive Vibes flowing if the first thing I did each morning was cover myself in sad, worn-out clothing I had never chosen, much less loved? It wasn’t respectful to my body or my mindset. My cheap ass needed to change my ways.
Track your clothing like you track your spending
We’re on the record as being kinda anti-budgeting. (Sex is great and all, but guys, have you tried stoking minor controversy in your niche personal finance subgroup by suggesting that young people can skip the “create a budget” step and still be successful?)
Basically, we find budgeting to be too proscriptive. We value the neutrality of tracking. It allows you to actually see what your problems are before you leap to solutions suggested by internet randos who don’t share your circumstances or values.
And the same foundational technique of controlling your finances also works on your clothes!
It’s really easy to find proscriptive guides that say “Here are the timeless wardrobe staples everyone needs!” But it’s very unlikely that these tedious lists of wRaP dReSsEs and cLaSsIc TrEnChEs are actually representational of what you need.
Instead, I found it tremendously helpful to ignore the “buy stuff” noise, and start by making a list of what I already owned. Once I did that… magical shit started happening.
Step one: Get all of your clothing in one place
Because I’ve lived in so many tiny dorms and closetless shared apartments, I’d grown used to storing anything I wasn’t immediately using in boxes or suitcases. Even though I’m now a big girl living in her very own house, the habit remained.
So I hauled it all out.
I am hella embarrassed to admit that by spreading my clothing all over the house, I had clearly forgotten about some of it. I found a small suitcase filled with winter clothing that had vanished from rotation for two years. Oops.
Next, I did my laundry. All of it. Son, that washer was running for days.
But it was important to leave my clothing with nowhere to hide.
Step two: Build a virtual closet of all the clothing you own
Using Pinterest, I started a new board called “My Wardrobe.”
I added subcategories for every type of clothing: pants, sweaters, short sleeve shirts, swimwear, shoes, etc.
Then, I began the admittedly tedious process of finding a photo to represent every piece of clothing I owned. Pro tip: it’s a lot less tedious if you crack open a beer and put on a Girl Talk album!
For a surprising amount of stuff, it was easy to find photos of the exact product. If I searched for the brand name plus a short description (“Madewell plaid shirt”), Pinterest usually turned up the real thing. If not, I could find a similar stand-in.
Here’s what it looked like when I finished:
Step three: Free yourself from the stuff you don’t wear and don’t like
Warning: putting all the clothing you own together in one place is probably going to give you some feelings of guilt and shame.
- Throwing away something I loved until it was too threadbare to wear made me feel like a traitor.
- Donating gifts that just aren’t my style made me feel like an ingrate.
- Realizing I’d procrastinated on fixing a button for three fucking years made me feel unspeakably lazy.
- I felt personally responsible for both climate change and global poverty when I confronted a shirt I’d had shipped to me from overseas, yet had never actually worn.
- Acknowledging that things don’t fit like they used to is nobody’s idea of a great time.
Push through it. Do what you have to do.
If you let those items stay in your wardrobe, the feelings of guilt and shame will stay with them. You’ll have to confront them every day when you look in your closet. Better to just remove them permanently. Release yourself from the curse of starting every day feeling bad about yourself.
Step four: Eliminate wardrobe redundancies
My inventory revealed I owned three swimsuits. One of them makes me look like a slutty Star Trek villain. The other two are… fine… but fail to make me look like a slutty Star Trek villain.
“Self,” I asked myself, “will there ever be an occasion in our life where we don’t want to visit a large body of water looking like a slutty Star Trek villain?”
The answer was no.
I honorably discharged the other suits. And did the same for some jeans, dresses, and underwear that failed the same redundancy test. If you only reach for it when everything else is in the laundry—news flash, you don’t really like it! Get rid of it and do the laundry instead.
This will also help you add to your wardrobe more constructively. If I find a dress that’s rad as hell, I pull up my “dresses” board and look at what I already have. Is this dress bringing a brand new dimension to my wardrobe? Or am I making something I already own obsolete by wasting money purchasing its replacement prematurely? Answering questions like that will help you avoid wasteful shopping.
Step five: Fix holes and dead-ends in your outfits
If your closet is anything like mine, you have some stuff in there that you love but almost never wear. Now is the time to ask yourself: “Why?” What’s holding me back?
For me, I usually found I had nothing to wear with it.
Example: I LOVED a lacy backless blouse, but I never reached for it because I lacked the right kind of undershirt to wear with it. So I started a new Pinterest board of items I needed to find in order to fully enjoy my wardrobe, and stuck a photo of a low-back camisole on it. A few weeks later, I saw the perfect one hanging on a sale rack. My beloved blouse became the frequent flyer it deserved to be.
Finding holes in your wardrobe is wicked easy once you have it all collected together visually.
Pull up the boards for shirts and pants and start mentally matching them. Ideally, everything you own should have a few potential partners. If you hit a dead-end, note it. You may realize you’re only one black skirt away from functionally having ten new outfits.
Step six: Keep your choices positive by focusing on the life (and body) you have right now
I can’t believe I wasn’t doing it this way before. This is what it looks like to shop strategically!
I now have a list of things I would truly benefit from owning—stuff that would help me be happier and less wasteful. If I’m going to a mall or clothing swap, I take a glance at it to remind myself. And if I don’t find anything, I walk away no worse off.
This system made it really easy to see how much space I was saving for my life to change in ways I didn’t want it to. Physical space in my closet, and emotional space in my head.
Here are some examples of thoughts I had…
Don’t keep stuff for weird “just in case” reasons
“I hate this fancy sweater-dress because it’s soooooo itchy and uncomfortable. But I can’t get rid of it! What else could I wear to a winter wedding!?”
If there’s an emotion controlling this choice, I’d say it’s confusion. If I can think of one very specific situation where I might want this clothing item, it means I have to keep it, right?
Wrong! That’s how you end up hoarding clothes, losing track of what you already have, and wasting finite resources on stuff you don’t like.
Listen… If I’m invited to future hypothetical fun events, do I really want to do so while strapped into a dress that itches like mange? Fuck no. Donate it so it can be worn and appreciated by someone who hates comfort.
Don’t keep stuff in the hope your body will change its size and shape in a way it never has before
“I bought this when I was in denial about the size of my shoulders, which are AS BROAD AND LIMITLESS AS THE PRAIRIES I HAIL FROM. I can’t rotate my arms too much when I wear it or I will Hulk right out of it. But maybe I should keep it? In case my shoulders suddenly shrink??”
Yeah, don’t let self-loathing control what you wear, either.
It’s one thing to keep clothing that does fit you in some circumstances. In cases like that, fine—box those clothes up and stick ‘em in the basement. They’ll be there if and when your body needs them.
But if I’m being honest with myself, I kept a lot of clothing because I didn’t want to admit that some fixed feature of my body was going to change. (“This dress is too short for me. Better stick it in the closet so I can wear it later, when I’m younger.”)
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown out of most of my bodily insecurities, because they were never my authentic self-evaluations! Just misogynist bullshit I picked up and eventually realized I could put down. But some clothing was too tightly tied to those old emotions. They’re not welcome to join me on my journey to becoming a smoking-hot old lady.
Don’t keep clothes that represent a part of your identity you’re ready to move past
“I really don’t like wearing these stuffy button-ups and dress pants anymore. They just aren’t me. But what if I need to get a new job at a company with a more formal dress code? I should play it safe and keep all my nice work cosplay!”
This one is fear! Don’t let fear pick your clothing, either. Fear is bad at pretty much everything except running very fast.
I am at a bit of a career crossroads. After a long, long journey from poverty and debt to financial stability, I really don’t know what the next book in my career should look like. Do I make BGR my full-time focus? Do I stick out my corporate day job until I have enough to truly retire? Should I throw caution to the wind and do something completely different? I don’t know! And I’m taking my sweet time figuring it out.
But there’s one thing I know for sure: I am never, ever going to go back to being the young woman who wore pencil skirts and blazers every day in a desperate bid to be taken seriously by her shitty leaders and peers. Those garments served me well. The ones that aren’t too worn will do a lot of good at the interview-wear charity I donated them to, I’m sure. They’ve always felt like they belonged to someone else anyway, so I think it’s a fitting end.
But the only thing I know for sure is that I am not moving toward a future where I need props to be given the respect I deserve. It will be the kind of life where I love what I wear and wear what I love. Eliminating everything that doesn’t “feel like me” makes it easier to be seen and known for who I truly am.
Have you self-diagnosed yourself with Aimless Wardrobe Syndrome?
Bitch Nation, does my struggle resonate with you?
Are you already living that “love what you wear, wear what you love” lifestyle?
Or are you like me a few months ago—stuck in a uniform you’ve grown to hate? Do you also stand before your closet in total befuddlement when it’s time to get dressed? Do you feel like a shithead when you realize how much clothing you own, but don’t wear?
How about my solution? Are any of you using a similar method? I know there’s a whole section of the internet that’s super into “closet management” and I was too scared to read deeply into it. But I’m very curious to hear about what’s worked—or not worked—for y’all.
So please tell us about it in the comments below!
Note: Piggy and I will be off for a few weeks on our annual summer break, starting… nnnnnnow! We’ll be back soon, rested and refreshed, with more financial wisdom (and freckles) in a few weeks.
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Pardon us while we continue to inject Pinterest with our gentle “hey, uh, maybe buy less stuff” counter-programming…
And if you want to hear more about what we’ve said about clothing, here ya fuckin’ go!