In my post about How Many Clothes Do I Really Need?, I talked about the “Carrie Bradshaw Method,” of how to determine this. But what I didn’t really get into was why we keep buying clothes we don’t wear, why we hold onto them for so long, and more importantly, what to do about it.
I have a theory, which may or may not be scientific, that we hoard clothing we don’t like or even regularly wear because there is something psychologically comforting about having a lot of stuff.
For a lot of human history, stuff was scarce. Food was scarce, clothing was scarce, shelter was scarce. Things and stuff were hard to come by. Everything had to either be found or hunted in the wild or made by hand and could easily take months to complete, years if buildings were concerned. Humans, in my opinion, developed to be greedy because being greedy meant surviving.
Have you ever seen someone on TV or in a movie, or even in real life (or maybe you experienced this yourself), and they live in an empty house with a mattress on the floor and nothing on the walls?
If you’re a particularly sensitive and empathetic person, like me, you probably felt a twinge of anxiety and pity for them, regardless of if the person was happy, not at risk of being evicted, and well-fed or if the home was clean. A thought maybe crossed your mind: “Where is all their stuff?” “How do they live like that?” “Is that really all they have?”
On the flip side, watching hoarder documentaries or seeing a vast warehouse stuffed to the top could also cause a twinge of anxiety because, regardless of the filth in a hoarder house, it’s too much stuff; our brains get overloaded or even indignant because they have too much. If someone has more than they need, our minds automatically think subconsciously, that’s not fair.
Ultimately, when it comes to hoarders, I think they keep everything because their stuff comforts them like a child’s security blanket. To get rid of all that stuff or to take away a child’s blanket triggers a primal fear- I’m not safe anymore, I won’t survive.
So whether you’re just an extreme shopaholic with a closet bursting at the seams and drawers stuffed full or a diagnosed hoarder, I think that this subconscious, primal mentality is the biggest reason why we hang on to clothes we don’t wear. Most of us already only wear 9 to 11 items consistently so it has a lot less to do with necessity, repeating outfits, or wanting a variety of options in our style than we might think.
I think it really comes down to the excuses we make for our extra spending or clothes hoarding. And I know for me personally, the main excuse I tell myself is, But what if I need it later?
This excuse is easy to succumb to because I know that I cannot objectively say that I will never, under any circumstance need that shirt to complete the Perfect Outfit for some event. Life is full of surprises and endless possibilities so yes, there is a chance that I may have the perfect opportunity to wear that item in the future and I’ll regret not buying it now. It plays into the subconscious fears about stuff that we all evolved to have.
We believe the item is scarce and off-price stores like T.J. Maxx, Marshall’s, Burlington, and Ross structure their stores to prey upon this fear. They mix items together randomly so that even there are 3 items of the same size and color, you’ll never know they’re there like you would in a department store. T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s especially promote their “treasure hunt experience” in stores and it works; that’s why TJX is so successful while traditional retailers are struggling. They make their merchandise rare by constantly switching things up and bringing in new clothes and marking down old ones, not by offering high-quality pieces. Their inventory turnover rate is insane compared to traditional retailers. TJX and other off-price retailers ensure that if you leave the store without buying that item, it will not be in the same spot when you come back tomorrow if it’s even in the store at all, and you can’t just order it online, so you regret not buying immediately. And customers know that indeed, it won’t be there tomorrow if they leave and change their minds. This is how companies get their customers to make impulse buys and a lot of it has to do with, in my opinion, evolutionary psychology.
The next excuse we tell ourselves is, Well, I can always just return it later if I don’t like it. Right… and how often does that actually happen? It’s much more likely that you’ll lose your receipt and the store won’t take it back for full price and then you get mad. And as a former retail associate, I will tell you that it’s not because we want to rip you off, it’s because there are scammers out there who steal items and then try to return them, obviously without the receipt since they never paid in the first place, so the company has a “lowest price without receipt” policy or a “store credit only, no cash or card” policy. Yes, 9 times out of 10 the customer is honest but without a receipt, you have no way to prove that you’re being honest. Plus with all the sales and coupons, we don’t know how much you really did pay for it, and the coupon value is non-refundable. We can’t give you $40 back for a dress if you used a $10 off coupon on it and you really only paid $30 for it. Stores would lose a lot of money if they just gave refunds without receipts.
And even if you don’t lose your receipts, a lot of stores, particularly the off-price stores, have a 30-60 day return window. We are busy people and that return window will come and go before we even sit down to catch our breath. So when we do go finally return the items, we’re told that it’s past the return window and unacceptable. Or we never even try to go at all and that’s how things end up in the back of our closets for years with the tags still attached.
How to Stop
The way to stop our overflowing closets from getting even fuller is to first, recognize the false mindsets for the lame excuses that they are and then put in place checkpoints that each purchase must pass in order to be completed.
1. Will I wear this more than once?
Wearing something only once is a total waste unless it’s for your wedding or for prom. Remember, we only wear 9 to11 items consistently so unless you’re Dolly Parton, if this isn’t going to be a part of your 9 to 11 items or you don’t have some type of regular event that you can plan to wear a fancier item at consistently, then this item will likely just end up at the bottom of your drawer with the tags on.
2. Where will I wear the item within a month?
If you can’t answer this question with a concrete day, time, and location, then why are you buying it? Again, unless this is your wedding or prom dress we’re talking about, there is no need to buy clothes so far in advance for an event that maybe one day will happen. And even if the event is a sure thing, plans change, people get sick, etc.
3. What exactly will I wear this with?
There’s no sense in buying a skirt that won’t go with any (or even just 1) of your tops or vice versa unless, for some reason, you only wear tops and not bottoms… (you nasty.) If you think that maybe this item will work with something and you need to see the outfit together in person and try it on, then ask yourself the next question:
4. If this doesn’t work, when exactly will I take this back?
If you buy something with the possibility that you’ll need to return it, set a return date within the time frame of the company policy and schedule it into your calendar like an appointment that can’t be missed so that you don’t lose your money. Be aware of using coupons on this item as well because if you return it, you don’t get your coupon back. And always be sure to check the store’s return policy on that item, especially if it’s a clearance item so that you’re sure it’s not final sale and you know how long you have to return it.