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(Della Rollins/Della Rollins for the Globe and Mail)
(Della Rollins/Della Rollins for the Globe and Mail)

Smart Cookies

What I learned from wearing six items for a month Add to ...

Despite what you might think, living in six pieces of clothing for 30 days is doable. Even when the month includes a wedding, a weekend in Vegas, multiple work events, coffee dates, and walks with the pup. That was the challenge I set myself. For one month I was freed from the daily "What will I wear?" time-sucking dilemma.

Sure, after too many washes and wears, colours faded, my pants ripped and a button fell off my dress shirt, but I did it. For this experiment, I relied on inexpensive costume jewellery, scarves and belts, and then played with hair styles and trendy nail colours to update my look. Strict window-shopping policy only.

And, at the end of the month, surprisingly I was not totally sick of all the items - although I am retiring the sweater dress, T-shirt and black cardigan.

I am a "zombie" shopper - buy before thinking. So the self-imposed break from impulse spending (which accounts for more than two-thirds of women's purchases) saved me something like $350.

I also discovered three essential steps to feeling good about future buys: Assess what you have. Invest in what you need. Get creative with what you want.

There are two approaches to assessment: You can play Carrie Bradshaw à la Sex and The City: The Movie, trying on clothes while your friends yay or nay your wardrobe. Or you can do the hanger test. Flip your hangers backward and when you wear something, slip the garment back in the right way. A simple way to visually see what you're actually wearing. More than 80 per cent of your closet is likely clutter.

Determine what you need by creating a list of basic pieces, such as a great pair of jeans, a fitted blazer, a crisp white dress shirt, and so on. But before spending any more cash, consider the alternatives. I found some of my staples by hosting a clothing swap party. I also redeemed points from my Amex Gold Rewards Card to get more than $300 worth of gift cards from my favourite stores. And I consigned five preloved pieces to free up cash to reinvest in my wardrobe. I'll continue to invest in the staples before spending significant money on the trendier pieces: the ones with the shortest closet lifespan.

When it comes to wants, ask yourself if you're buying for your real life. We've all made a few fantasy life purchases. Mine include a pink Chanel knockoff jacket, a tutu, and a floor-length black gown. Since I don't sip martinis with SJP or live in Genoa City, they sat unworn, decoratively, in my overstuffed closet.

A few Canadians are trying variations of this experiment or going so far as to ban spending for a year (such as Lindsay Trudel in Vancouver, who discovered in her first month after doing the hanger test that she only wore about 7 per cent of her wardrobe) . It's empowering to have a strategic approach to spending, and it's calming to have a clutter-free closet.

But you don't need to go Puritan: Hang on to at least one fantasy outfit, just in case.

Shop and save

Shop in store to find the right fit and style, but buy online. My girlfriend and I both found designer jeans we liked in store and then bought the same pair on eBay for 50 per cent off.

Always search for promo codes, whether buying online or in store. Retailmenot.com is a great place to start to find discount codes, free shipping and two-for-one buys.

When investing in clothing don't use cash. With cash you just walk away with the receipt. If your item is damaged and you lose your receipt there is no proof of purchase or any additional options if you've exceeded the return policy time frame. If the purchase is in your spending plan use a charge or credit card. Pay it off, get the protection, and earn additional points if you collect them.

Angela Self is one of the founders of the Smart Cookies money group.

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