slow fashion

The Problem of Plenty: How to Create a Sustainable Closet (From a Former Shopaholic)

There is something alluring about a shopping mall. Clothes hang on large racks, color-coordinated by size, calling to you to pick them up and place them in your shopping cart. Large posters of fashion models are hung on every other wall, dressed head to toe in items you can purchase right then and there. Shiny designer handbags sit on glass shelves and endless accessories are on display in the sparkling windows of large big-box stores that promise a sense of identity in the form of fabric.

 It’s difficult to turn away from all this brilliantly executed marketing, so little by little, you end up filling up your shopping cart with items you want, forgetting that you may already have something similar in your closet. All that you can think about at that moment is how you’re going to style the cute new top that’s sitting in your shopping cart. Week by week, or month by month, with every shopping trip you end up buying more until your closet is filled up to the brink. You’ve accumulated too much, and the thought of breaking your cycle of consumption feels overwhelming. So you’re left to deal with an overflowing closet and the itch of a shopping addiction that’s all too easy to scratch.


This is a common story for many women, my former self included. In fact, up until a few years ago, this was my story. With a credit card in my hand and an endless list of items I wanted to add to my closet, I ended up at the mall every few days. However, despite my ever-growing wardrobe, I still found myself saying the same phrase every morning: “I have nothing to wear.”

This is a phrase that you may have said at least once in your life, most of us have. For myself, no matter how many items I purchased, somehow it always felt as if there was never anything to wear. However, after some introspection and taking a step back from my bursting closet, I realized that the issue wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to wear, but rather, just the opposite: I had too many clothes. I was overwhelmed.

The good news is that the solution to this all too common dilemma  (I know I’m not the only one) is as simple as slowing down your trips to the mall. The bad news is that this can be extremely difficult, especially now that online shopping has become more popularized and made buying new apparel as convenient as clicking a button, literally. In 2021, the number of online shoppers is estimated to be approximately 2.14 billion, and it’s likely that this number will continue to grow.

So how does one fight the urge to buy more and transition into a more sustainable lifestyle that is less harmful to the planet and one’s wallet? The answer is almost too simple. Shift your focus to creating a closet that you can easily pull from every day. Chances are, you already have everything you need — all that’s missing is, perhaps, a proper way to re-organize and declutter your items so that you can make use of your wardrobe, rather than feel overwhelmed by it. And guess what? You can do this while still remaining fashion-forward. Here’s how.

Approach your closet like a store.

Take everything out of your closet. There’s probably a huge pile of clothes you’ve accumulated over the years. You’re not alone in that. In fact, according to a 2019 McKinsey report, an average person buys 60 percent more items than they did fifteen years ago.

Split everything you own into two separate piles: keep and sell. This is the exciting part! If you’re a shopaholic, you may find clothes in either group that still have tags on them (oof!). Or, you might find items you haven’t seen in ages hiding behind your recent purchases. In some ways, this assessment step replicates the thrill of shopping.

Find your style and (responsibly) pass on everything that isn’t it.

What is your style? What type of silhouettes do you gravitate towards? Understanding your style will make it easier to dress every morning. Whether it’s a color palette you gravitate towards, or a particular cut you prefer, knowing your likes and dislikes will be a game changer when it comes to refining your closet. As for those items you don’t want to hang onto, try your hardest to refrain from trashing them. According to the World Economic Forum, one garbage truck full of clothes is dumped in a landfill every second.

Instead of adding to this problem, pass unwanted items onto friends that you think might be interested. Similarly, avoid donating items (which also often end up in landfills) and instead see if you can sell any to new owners or repurpose them into eye-catching D.I.Y. projects for your home. \

Once you have items in your closet that suit your style, you’ll shop less frequently and be selective in your choices when you do choose to purchase items in the future. You’ll also have an easier time figuring out what to wear every AM.

Sew, mend, and repair what you can.

Life happens. Clothes tear and rip in odd places. However, when your favorite top tears, try not to throw them out and instead see if the damage is repairable with a little sewing work. Create a sewing kit with threads and needles, repair it traditionally, or if you’re feeling ambitious, add a fun new design to the original pattern. This would be a great time to embellish and be creative, be it adding a patch or embroidering the damaged area. Use this opportunity to have fun with your clothes, personalize your favorite top, and wear it longer. You can even try to dye your clothes with items you already have in your pantry! Don’t be afraid of making a mess or creating something out of your comfort zone. You might end up with a unique piece that has all the elements of your favorite clothing item and didn’t cost you one cent.

When you do need something new, buy used.

I wasn’t always a fan of thrift stores. My thought process was: why buy something used when I can buy something new? This is a common mindset. Many of us just want the next best thing, not knowing that older pieces often hold as much value, if not more, than the new shiny items at the mall.

While fast fashion is highly focused on producing trendy items at a quick pace to later sell at an affordable rate, vintage fashion holds different values in the contemporary world. According to Fashion Revolution, items are deemed vintage when they are 20 years old or older. They are medium to higher quality, and usually irrelevant to current trends. While fast fashion is based on mass production, often lacking quality, clothes deemed vintage are usually more durable and made with higher quality materials thanks to the designer’s attention to detail. Furthermore, because vintage items are limited in quantity, their value can skyrocket over time.

Challenge yourself to do better.

I may not know you, but I would guess that you only wear half the items you own. According to a study conducted by a German removal and relocation company, Americans only wear 18% of the clothes they own.

For at least a week, challenge yourself to hand-pick 15 items from your closet — pants, tops, outerwear — and create multiple outfits using only those limited items. Using this method, you’ll likely discover that you can create multiple outfits using only a few items. Not only do you get to be more creative with this approach, but you’ll soon realize that you don’t need to buy a new item every week or for every new event.

From one recovering shopping addict to another, I can assure you that it is possible to slow down your consumption. It’s possible to remain fashion-forward without constantly buying new. The trick is to not follow every trend and build a closet that will stand the test of time. (And this doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to experiment! It just means that you’ll find creative ways to approach the wardrobe you already have.)

And you may be surprised at what you can do with all that extra time no longer spent shopping the racks. My weekly trips to the mall have turned into more time spent at the easel, more time reading, and more time writing about things I actually care about — like how to deal with the problem of plenty.

Want to get involved? Join this year’s #noNewClothes Campaign and take the pledge to live more sustainably!