Planning for Lent: Wardrobe Reduction

The season of Lent is one that is meant to remind us of our mortality, our inter-dependence, and (for us middle-class, privileged folks in the United States) the luxuries we often overlook.  Admit it: for the majority of the world’s people who live on less than $2.00 a day, most of what we consider commonplace is downright extravagant.

Many of us fast from luxurious foods, some of us find new ways to look at our food consumption practices, others of us take on a practice that may otherwise seem tedious (like daily prayer, or walking to work instead of driving, etc.).  This year, I plan to reduce my dependence on material goods… particularly clothing.

The Plan:

By the end of Lent, I will have reduced my wardrobe by 50% (giving that 50% to Goodwill).  That may sound like a lot of clothing, and it should.  I mean, think about what 50% of your wardrobe looks like.  But it’s also a lot of clothing that is truly unnecessary.

Let’s think about it: how many of our pieces of clothing do we actually wear? I mean, how much of our wardrobe is functional and not just ornamental?  I am, of course, talking about that dress that I wore once to a wedding two years ago and never put on again.  And yes, I am talking about those (many) pairs of pants that I have yet to discard, though my waist will never be the size it was in my sophomore year of college… ever again.  And of course, I am talking about the third pair of jeans I bought last month, despite the fact that I already own five pair.

This, friends, is an unhealthy dependence on hoarding clothing.

So, to accomplish this goal I will need a schedule of sorts.  This is where the planning comes in.

How many pieces of clothing do I need to discard in order to reach 50%?  Do I simply cut one half of my total pieces (whatever types of clothing those pieces those may be), or one half of each type of clothing (jeans, sweaters, dresses, dress shirts, etc.)?  Will this Lenten practice include the reduction of pairs of underwear (don’t worry, I wouldn’t donate used underwear… gross), or just those items visible to the public?  Do I use a combination of strategies… for instance, the untried but probably true: “if you haven’t worn it in the last 12 months, you should toss it” in addition to some other, purely numbers-based strategy?

Though I may not know the specifics, the first step will be cataloging my wardrobe.  This (admittedly) appeals to my obsessive personality, so it should be an interesting challenge.

By this Saturday, I will have compiled a list of all the clothing I own… I have yet to decide if I should post this list online.  Obviously, there are pros and cons to a public list of my wardrobe.  On the one hand, it can be inspirational: if I can get rid of half of this, imagine what you can do!  On the other hand, it could cause you dear readers to loose all respect for me: “She owns hot fuschia pedal pushers… and didn’t get rid of them?!  For shame!”

On an entirely different note, seeing a list compiled of all the clothing I own may be itself the impetus to cut it in half.  It’s one thing to be well provided for; it’s an entirely different thing to be swimming in a mass of clothing you will never wear again and for which you probably have little appreciation.

Whether public or private, this list will be compiled by Saturday.  By Easter, a substantial amount of the bulk will be gone.  Let us not forget, however, the largely failed Great Pantry Staple Challenge… I must be steadfast, bold, and unapologetic in my wardrobe whittling, lest I fall once again into a pit of excuses.

By the time Easter comes, I hope to have developed a new appreciation for the luxury of clothing.  By the end of Lent, I hope to have shed some of my dependence on clothing to define my public appearance.  It’s a small but present reminder to me that changing the way we think about appearance, beauty, clothing, and our habits of consumption begins with your own practice.  This, friends, will be one painful but necessary opportunity to practice.

I’m interested to know: what are you planning to do for Lent?  What do you think of this experiment?


5 Replies to “Planning for Lent: Wardrobe Reduction”

  1. I like your idea, and I hope it goes well for you! I think you should get ride of half of each type. UNLESS you have a gabillion t-shirts that you honestly just do not wear. Then maybe you could substitute 2 t-shirts to save one dress? The details are up to you.

    After you chuck half your underwear, you can go out and buy a fresh pack to donate. I once helped with an underwear drive for Dignity U Wear, since apparently that’s what they always have a shortage on.

    As for me, I’m stopping playing Cafe World (like Farmville), and using the time I probably would’ve spent playing that to pray the rosary/read the Bible/something religious that I haven’t quite pinned down yet. Tomorrow I’m arranging the tables in my cafe to spell LENT and closing the doors :)


  2. I love the idea of the list, published or not. I have been meaning to go through my own closet (and drawers and boxes) for some time. When I go on a trip I make a list of what I will bring–down to socks, bras and belts– and each item must serve a purpose *and* augment the purpose of at least two other items. (Can’t take those brown heels if everything else I’m taking is in the black, gray camp and I’ve already got one pair of heels packed) Why don’t I apply the same method to my closet? I’m reluctant to go all function and no fashion because of the power that certain pieces of clothing have for me and my own evolving sense of agency in relation to my gender identity, but I don’t think that an overstuffed closet = fashion but rather, as you point out, an obsession with consumption.


  3. This is a wonderful project! I’ll send you a Lenten calendar from Global Women’s Project first thing tomorrow. Our calendar is focused on precisely what you’re doing – taking stock of the many luxuries in the lives of so many of us in the US. The calendar suggests small donations on many days, and the money all goes to our partner projects around the world – supporting women who are empowering themselves and helping their communities be sustainable.

    As a personal aside, I’m interested in hearing more about the giving-underwear-to-thrift-stores disdain. I’ve done this, and bought underwear that was used. I just wash things before I get rid of them, and wash underwear from thrift stores before I wear them. Could there be actual germs left behind after washing that could really make me sick? Couldn’t these same germs be on someone’s pants when they’re wearing a thong?

    – Anna Lisa, on the Global Women’s Project* steering committee

    *Global Women’s Project has no official position on used undies.


    1. Thank you for the calendar! Once A. told me about it, I started reading up on your website; very excited to learn more! I like, too, that many of your donation suggestions seem to be proportional to some other thing… that it’s not just a random amount, but an amount that reflects some quantity of luxury that we experience on a daily basis.

      – – – –

      On used undies: it’s just a personal preference, really. I don’t believe any germs would be left (especially after washing prior to donating them, and the [I hope] standard washing most charities do prior to selling them); but it’s also a realization that I, at the risk of disclosing too much personal information on the internet, tend to wear undies until they’re almost useless. Holes, torn bands, etc. They probably wouldn’t do much good… though any underwear is better than no underwear, I admit. On that note, however, I am taking to heart another reader’s suggestion to buy at least one pack of “fresh” undies to donate. Just because I have personal hang-ups about donating my undies doesn’t mean charities shouldn’t have any on their shelves.


  4. I love the undies conversation! And I’m glad you were brutally honest, Jacq, because I have the same problem with mine–I wear them til they’re PATHETIC! (Glad Nate doesn’t give a flip.) Donating a new pack sounds like a great idea.

    You know, instead of donating to a thrift store, why not donate to a local women’s shelter, Latino/a center, or somewhere else where your wonderful items will be immediately received as DIRECT aid??

    and soooo glad that 1) you’re getting a GWP Calendar
    2) I connected two of my favorite women!


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