You know that perhaps you have too many clothes when your wardrobe rail breaks.
This happened to me last Friday. Because I was sick of tripping over my collection of sub-$10 canvas shoes, from my local op-shop I bought one of those IKEA hanging shoe storage units. It looks like this, except in plain black. It cost $8, which I thought was overpriced but didn't fuss about because it was a charity shop. But if the retail price is $17.99, I got it pretty cheaply.
I have lived in my current house for almost five years, and the wardrobe rail has always bowed alarmingly in the middle. I have to say that this, more than any single other factor, is why I have been trying to sell my old clothes on eBay.
When I hung up the shoe pigeonholes and filled them with shoes, I was very pleased with my newfound tidiness for the 30 seconds or so until the rail fell off at one end. However, my cat was very pleased with his new cushion.
The rail – which is metal with some kind of latex coating – was actually bent in the middle. I got my trusty sledgehammer and banged it straight again. Then I headed down to the local hardware shop, where one of the Bondi Vet's younger brothers sold me three brackets for $5.
Since I don't own a power drill, it was Handy Dad to the rescue. He helped me reinstall the wardrobe rail, this time reinforced by the three brackets screwed into the wardrobe ceiling. Now the weight on the rail is spread five different ways rather than just two.
Once I had a functioning wardrobe again, I tried to be ruthless and cull anything I didn't wear. In the dead of night I took four bags of clothing and accessories to the same op-shop that had precipitated the disaster. But it really didn't make much of a dint in it:
All my coats and jackets are on the far left, hidden behind the door. Then you can see some of my rainbow of cardigans. Then my shirts and blouses, then skirts, then long dresses, sleeveless dresses, spaghetti-strap dresses, short-sleeved dresses, long-sleeved dresses, cocktail and evening dresses. Then a section of stuff I'm planning to sell on eBay. And on the very far right, the notorious shoe pigeonholes.
That is just the wardrobe. I also have a chest of five drawers: the bottom drawer is knitwear, the next up is pants and foldable skirts, the next up is, shamefully, accessories, and the top two contain undies and other lingerie.
My T-shirts used to live in the accessories drawer; now they're crammed into one of those giant IKEA bags. My underwear collection grew too big to keep in the drawers, too; now a giant plastic tub holds my socks and tights (with a cardboard divider stickytaped into it). And I have a hatstand for my bags, scarves and hats.
Is it wrong – is it wasteful, narcissistic, shallow, compulsive – to own this much clothing? For instance: I own 16 cardigans. Sixteen cardigans. Does even Emma Pillsbury own that many? I also didn't have enough clothes hangers for everything. I bought a dozen more on Saturday at Big W, suckered by the sign that said, "That's 29c per hanger!"
In popular culture, women with large clothing collections are presented as out-of-control spendthrifts, the idle wealthy, fashion-obsessed, or combinations of the above. Think of Carrie Bradshaw's walk-in wardrobe and its obscene upgrade for the Sex and the City movie, Cher Horowitz's computerised outfit selection system or Rebecca Bloomwood's dangerously overstuffed cupboard.
I wouldn't put myself in any of those categories. None of my clothes or shoes are expensive or 'designer' – they are all from op-shops, trashy teenwear shops or discount department stores. Yet I don't really follow fashion; I tend to buy plain, non-trend items and keep things for years.
For a while I've been meaning to blog about clothing repairs – and perhaps I still will – but basically, I also extend my clothes' lifespan by mending them. So the only reason I get rid of something is if it no longer fits, is irretrievably stained or has totally worn out.
The other reason I have so many clothes is because I'm obsessed with repeat purchases. If I like something in one colour, I will buy it in others – usually at the same time. I see it as good value. If you eliminated all the clones from my wardrobe, you'd probably halve it.
It's also interesting that there are deemed to be two sorts of large wardrobes: the well-organised large wardrobe and the jumbled, messy large wardrobe. The storage and organisation industries prey on women whose clothing collections are so large they can never find the item they're after when they want it.
But I'd argue the well-organised wardrobe is much scarier. The sort with spots for everything, and everything always in its right place. It reminds me of Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest: "No wire hangers!" Doubtless she would be appalled at my plastic hangers – no lovely wooden or padded hangers in my wardrobe, I'm afraid. In the numbers I require, they would probably cost more to buy than my clothes.