I Wrote Down Everything I Bought For One Year

And this is what I learned.


Some of the buys that made my list.

In December of 2013, I issued myself a challenge. For one calendar year, I’d keep track of every single apparel item and accessory I bought. The idea came to me as I did my annual pre-new-year closet purge, a very serious affair that is as cathartic as it is enlightening.

As I sorted a mountain of clothes into Toss, Donate and Consign bags, I realized that my shopping habits were creating the sort of closet I didn’t want to have: one that was reasonably packed but not ‘thoughtful’ or ‘curated’ or ‘edited’ or any of those other buzzwords that fashionable people cling to. My walk-in is a whirl of colors, ruffles, fur, kimonos and caftans and is quite obviously lacking in anything that could be remotely considered practical. For every fantastic piece—a pair of gorgeous silk pants by The Row—there was an equally forgettable item—a pair of polyester-heavy pants by BCBG. I loved most of my things, but not all of them.

I’ve long recognized that my shopping modus operandi is pure impulsivity. I buy things when I am very happy, or very sad, or very bored. I buy most things when I feel a very particular sort of pang in my chest. The problem is that I get this pang over things that are appropriate for a life that I don’t actually live, i.e. a gigantic neon green Roksanda Ilincic ball-gown skirt that I had to own but have still never worn because one doesn’t wear neon green ball-gown skirts to places like work or CVS or Acme.

But this didn’t—and still doesn’t—bother me, though I know it probably should. What bothered me, in a quite bizarre way, was the thought of my future granddaughter rifling through my closet long after I’ve started wearing nothing but muumuus, and finding hole-y vintage, disintegrating Zara and faded French Connection dresses slotted in next to my beloved ball-gown skirts, high-quality vintage and admittedly wacky designer finds. I have two visions of the perfect closet, and they are:  1) Brilliantly spare, like a capsule collection in which everything is of the finest quality and goes together in a very chic and minimal way. 2) Crazy, colorful and packed with layer upon layer of fantastic things, like a very fun treasure chest of the sort Iris Apfel has amassed.

Since I am not a minimalist when it comes to fashion, I’ve given up on the first idea. It’s just not going to happen. But to achieve the second—a wild collection of fabulous pieces in which I love every single thing I own—I had to start fresh and shop smart.  So I started a list in my iPhone and kept it all year.

Keeping this list forced me to really consider what I was buying before I handed over my debit card. After all, I didn’t just want a tally of items, but a list that includes only things that I really love, things that will last, and things I will actually wear for longer than a season or two. With everything down in writing, I found that I was less likely to mar my list with an ill-conceived H&M buy or a quick Zara haul. And so my list ended up being much shorter than I’d anticipated. I began walking away from things, deciding between two items instead of buying them both, giving myself a night to think a purchase over.

At the end of the year, I’d bought exactly 25 things. Eight of these were vintage items, fifteen of them were from local boutiques and designers, six were bought in Europe, and only four were bought online. (This was interesting; for all my online perusing, I pull the trigger much less often than I thought.)

Though I didn’t do this exercise for financial purposes, it was enlightening to see how much I actually spend on clothing and accessories a year. The final number: $2,475, which was staggeringly less than I’d anticipated. Looking back on my buys, only one was a throwaway purchase: a $19 ring I bought during a particularly long day of Best of Philly scouting. I threw it away last month after nearly all of the rhinestones fell out.

Everything else, though, I find myself wearing constantly: a pair of slouchy black drop-crotch pants from local atelier Ninobrand in Rittenhouse, a full-finger ring from Brussels, a studded leather jacket from Malena’s Vintage Boutique in West Chester, a beautiful vintage skirt found in Paris, a pair of Alexander Wang blue fur shoes from Barneys (well, a bit less so with the shoes, as the weather has to be just right for them).

Writing everything down—much like a food diary—helps keep you mindful of your consumption. I was happy to see that none of my purchases came from fast-fashion chains and that the bulk of them came from boutiques rather than mass-market stores. Everything I bought, too, was of high-quality (well, except that ring). Of course not all are practical (a sheer top with a giant tiger appliqué on it; a pastel fringed skirt; those fur shoes) but they were thoughtfully purchased and they add a delightfully quirky layer to my wardrobe, which is just how I like it.

My closet now is still far from perfect, but it is more tightly edited. I love and wear everything I own, and I’d be proud to hand it all down to my grandchildren. You know, in sixty-some years. Except for the ball-gown skirt. I might want to be buried in that. At least then I’ll have a chance to finally wear it.