Image by Steve Adcock from Pixabay

This is part of my series: American Zombie: How To Stop Being A Mindless Consumer.

The average American household annually spends $1,6041 on clothing and related services, e.g., dry cleaning. That’s a lot of money for stuff you leave crumpled in the hamper.

But wait, it gets better: Over 50 years, these households will spend $80,000. Now that’s a lot of money. Especially when you consider what else you could do with 80 grand. (As a poor college student, I would’ve thought, “That’s 80,000 junior bacon cheeseburgers from Wendy’s!”)

So today, I want to give you a simple strategy for keeping your clothing costs in check: Limit the amount of space for your clothes.

For example, all of my clothes are split between a large dresser (shared with my wife) and a small walk-in closet (also shared with my wife). Any shirt I buy and any pants I purchase must fit in my side of the dresser or my half of the closet.

This self-imposed limitation means that I seldom go shopping because I just don’t have room. But when I do buy clothes, it’s very intentional. Like when I go to Van Heusen once a year in search of a few button-down shirts. I have enough clothes to last for two weeks—that’s all I need. As a result, I spend far less money on clothes than the average man.

At times my closet gets full, and I start searching for additional space. Maybe I’ll take over the spare bedroom’s closet. Or perhaps I’ll hang a few shirts on the rod just above the washer. When this happens, I know it’s time to donate unwanted things to a local thrift store, like DI. This frees up space and quiets my desire for more room.

The alternative is to always look for more space. And I’d find it, starting with the spare bedroom. I’d slowly fill the closet with pants and parkas—and immediately forget about them! Once the closet was full, I’d install racks in the bedroom and hang tons of shirts.

I might even end up like my friend Giorgio. He’s a wealthy empty-nester and proudly claims to have 400 Hawaiian shirts. And 200 pairs of pants. Whenever he goes shopping, he buys a shirt. Or two. In every color. He crams them in the large closets of the large bedrooms of the second floor of his giant house. Giorgio spent at least $15,000 on shirts and pants. Probably more. Worse yet, he’s likely forgotten what he has and bought duplicate items, which he’ll soon forget about.

I don’t want to be like Giorgio. I don’t want to drain my bank account and pack my basement with $15,000 worth of clothes. So I limit my space. Half a dresser and half a closet are all I need.

One benefit is that my closet and drawers are full of stuff that I actually want to wear. There’s just no room for stuff I don’t like.

Now it’s good to limit your space but there are exceptions. In the words of Hector Barbossa, these rules are “more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.” For example, I keep my winter coat, scarf, and snow gear in the hall closet. I’m not sure why I do; I just do.

Now my career as a software developer doesn’t have many clothing requirements. I never have to dress up for work and never need to vary what I wear. Your situation may be different. Perhaps you need 3X as much space as me. That’s OK.

But whatever your situation is, you should limit the space for clothes. Perhaps you need a couple of dressers and an entire closet. That’s fine. But draw a line somewhere. You’ll spend less money and have less stuff filling your house. Best yet, you’ll have less debt and greater financial security.

Thanks to Thomas Weigel and Diane Callahan for reading drafts of this.