Why Your Wardrobe is Out of Control and How to Make It Better

Our closets are jam-packed, and getting dressed every morning can be an exercise in frustration.  Pieces get wrinkled, fall off their hangers, and get "lost" in the jumble of excess.

Let's stop creating stress and decision fatigue before the day has even started.

Why do we buy more?

In the 1940's, the average person owned 36 items of clothing.  Today the average consumer has 120 items, an increase of 233%.  We don't work harder; we don't go dancing more often.  We just buy more clothes.

You probably don't need a bigger closet, but it's likely you own too much stuff.  It's estimated that most people wear about 20% of their clothes 80% of the time, meaning that no matter how much we buy, we tend to reach for the same things again and again.

It's worth thinking about why we buy so much if we want to cut back on clothes shopping.

Are we influenced by brands, trends, coupons, and sales?  

  • Unsubscribe from store emails, because those coupons are designed to entice you to shop whether you need something or not.  
  • Stay away from sales racks, thrift stores, and consignment shops unless you're shopping with a plan, because even though they occasionally yield a great item at a reduced price, most of the time they lure us into buying something less than optimal simply because it's marked down.

Do we lack confidence, and hope that new clothes will attract the respect of others?  

  • Of course you want to wear colors and styles that look good on you.  Consider the pieces you wear again and again, because they'll give you clues about your preferences.  
  • Once you have your basic palette and silhouette, your clothes are just clothes.  Real confidence comes from inside – from your knowledge, talents, and personality.  Don't let your wardrobe be the first thing people notice about you.

Are we bored and looking for the few moments of excitement a purchase brings?  

  • The burst of dopamine which is released when we acquire or achieve something new is pleasurable.  But dopamine provides more than pleasure.  

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in heart rate, kidney function, and flexible movement.  It affects our levels of enthusiasm, motivation, and concentration, and enables memory, learning, and creativity.  Those feelings of boredom and lethargy that push us to shop for something new might indicate a dopamine shortage.

9 ways to increase dopamine without shopping

Rather than adding to your clothing (or other) clutter, try these nine methods to increase dopamine without buying something you don't need.

1.  Spend time in the morning sun.

Sunshine triggers the release of dopamine, and enjoying a bright morning helps regulate your circadian rhythm (which will improve your sleep).  Don't wear sunglasses – sunlight in the eyes is the most effective.

During the winter, a short lunchtime walk may be beneficial.

2.  Drink coffee.

A moderate dose of caffeine (1 to 2 cups) stimulates dopamine production and increases dopamine receptors.

3.  Exercise.

This can be as simple as a brisk walk around the block.  Yoga has also been shown to increase dopamine levels in the brain.

4.  Use touch and massage.

Touch significantly impacts dopamine release, and this can include hugging, cuddling, tickling, kissing, or sex.  According to clinical trials published by the National Institutes of Health, massage therapy increased dopamine by an average of 31%.

5.  Listen to music.

Several brain imaging studies have shown that listening to music increases activity in the reward and pleasure centers of the brain, which are packed with dopamine receptors.  Take it a step further and start making music.  Research shows that performing music boosts dopamine levels even more than listening.

6.  Sleep.

Lack of sleep has been shown to reduce dopamine receptor sensitivity.  Do your best to get at least seven hours of restorative sleep every night.

7.  Try intermittent fasting.

Fasting not only lets your digestive system take a break, but triggers the release of neurotransmitters, including dopamine.  Articles I read suggested eating dinner at around 6:00 p.m. and then not eating anything until breakfast the next morning.  This creates a 12-14 hour fasting period every day.

8.  Eat foods high in magnesium and tyrosine.

These are the building blocks of dopamine production.  Magnesium is a mineral, and sources include bananas, avocado, spinach, legumes, and dark chocolate.  Tyrosine is an amino acid, and sources include almonds, pumpkin seeds, eggs, chicken, and fish.

9.  Learn something new.

Learning can be exciting and fun, and the feeling of success and satisfaction can stimulate dopamine release.  

  • Complete a crossword or Sudoku puzzle.  
  • Try a word-a-day calendar.*  
  • Try a new recipe.
  • Read a non-fiction book on a subject that interests you (my husband and I have enjoyed several books by Simon Winchester and Sam Kean).  

I'm sure you can think of many more ways to stay curious.

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.

Clutterproof your closet.

Jenna Haefelin of Spiff, a home organizing company in New York, suggests emptying your closet and going through all of it, asking yourself four questions:

  • Have I worn this in the past six months (or within the most recent appropriate season)?
  • Do I feel good when I wear this?
  • Is it a well-made staple I can use for several years?
  • Are there happy memories attached to this item?

Haefelin says that if you answer yes to three out of four of these questions, you should keep the item.  Let everything else go.

I suggest adding one more question:

  • Weather and activities permitting, would I wear this piece today?  If not, why not?

This uncovers items you need to clean or repair so you can use them, and sheds a bit more light on items you have mixed feelings about.  You either are or are not interested in wearing something, as opposed to thinking it might be handy to have for "someday."

This process creates a selection of clothing, shoes, and accessories that are comfortable, useful, classic, and attractive.

Keep it accessible.

For your keepers, implement some basic organizing strategies.

  • Hang suits, jackets, dresses, skirts, trousers, shirts, and blouses on their own sections of the rod, organized by color.
  • Fold sweaters, jeans, and tee shirts to store in a dresser or stacked on mesh shelves inside the closet.
  • A row of hooks can hold belts or necklaces.
  • Store off-season items on the highest shelves or at the far end of the rod.

For simple wardrobe suggestions, including four steps to a capsule wardrobe and reasons why a uniform might be right for you, plus tips for traveling light, plans for a complete closet makeover, and more, look for my book The Minimalist Wardrobe.

You can end closet frustration today!

Updated June 2023


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