How to shop less and get a better wardrobe – A style interview with Debbie

by Sylvia

How to shop less and get a better wardrobe |

We talk a lot about style and clothing here at 40+ Style. As you know I believe in the look good, feel good principle.

But I also believe in a manageable wardrobe and making the right decisions for your style personality, which is one of the reasons I created my style course. Even though I do give recommendations for products, it is not my intention to let you shop too much. Rather, they are there to help you make the right choices. You should never spend more money than you have as debt will ultimately make you feel worse.

That was the case for Debbie who became a shopaholic. She decided to do something about it though and created a magnificent blog to document her progress. I’m so pleased that she agreed to participate in our style interview series and tell us more about her experience!


Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

I live in San Diego, California, with my husband of 13 years. We don’t have kids, but we do have two adorable cats who we love to spoil. I have a diverse work background, but my two main career arcs have been in the personal development realm and in high-tech (I’m originally from the San Francisco Bay Area). I have a Master’s Degree in psychology and a life coaching certification. I’m currently focusing on writing, both my blog and several e-books, but I may also return to doing coaching and speaking, as I have done in the past.

As a point of reference which age group do you belong to or perhaps you are willing to share your age?

I’m 47 (will be 48 in three months). I believe in being proud of my age instead of being ashamed of it. I try to take good care of myself and am working to age gracefully, but I believe we can be beautiful and vibrant at any age!

Can you tell us a bit more about your blog “Recovering Shopaholic” and why you created it?

Debbie with her husband in Bali |

As long as I can remember, I’ve loved to shop. From the time I was a teenager, shopping has been my favorite pastime and I’ve pretty much always overspent on clothing, shoes, and accessories. For a number of years, I was in serious debt as a result of my overshopping and had to be bailed out of debt several times, as well as use a debt consolidation service. More recently, debt hasn’t been an issue for me, but I haven’t been able to stick to a clothing budget or refrain from buying too much on a regular basis. I struggled with overloaded closets, undefined style, and a continual feeling of “I have nothing to wear!” despite having a wardrobe comprised of hundreds of items.

In 2011, I started to track what I bought and what I wore in an effort to pare things down, shop less, and better use what I have. By the end of 2012, after tabulating my statistics for the year, I realized that over half of my wardrobe had only been worn once or not at all during that entire year! I had also overspent my budget almost twice over and felt I had little to show for it. Clearly, something needed to change!

I decided to set some goals and rules for both my shopping and my wardrobe and blog about my progress and the insights learned along the way. So I started “Recovering Shopaholic” in January 2013 as a way to keep myself accountable and connect with fellow shopaholics also looking to mend their overshopping ways. I had no idea how many people would read my words and how my posts would impact my readers, but I’m incredibly pleased with the following my blog has gained over the past sixteen months. I feel honored to play a role in helping other women shop less often and more mindfully, better manage their wardrobes, and gradually trade their full closets for fuller lives.

How has the blog helped you reduce your clothing expenses? What have the effects been of thinking very consciously about your spending habits?

Debbie Roes in coral |

I had set a clothing budget for myself for ten years prior to starting my blog, but I never took it very seriously. I continually bought too much and although I paid lip service to wanting to turn things around, my actions never really backed up my words. When I started blogging, I publicly stated my clothing budget and committed to sharing monthly accountability posts in which I revealed what I bought, what I purged from my closet, and how well I did at sticking to my budget and other shopping rules. Knowing that I would need to be accountable to my readers has helped me to stay on track, although I have also faltered on a number of occasions. But my readers have helped me to course-correct and the introspection I’ve done in my blog posts has led to powerful insights into the motivations for my shopping behavior.

I learned that I shopped for all the wrong reasons and was very unconscious about what I bought. My shopping was more about trying to avoid negative situations and feelings in my life than about any particular items I bought. In fact, I regularly returned at least half of what I bought and many of the pieces I kept were rarely worn. I also shopped as a way of feeling less lonely through connecting with fellow shoppers and sales associates. I struggle a lot with insecurity about my appearance and my accomplishments, and shopping helped me to feel more successful and attractive, if even for a short time. But the “high” feeling I received from buying new things was very short-lived, so I would need to shop on a continual basis in order to receive the positive feelings I was seeking out.

Debbie in black & white outfits |

I am in the process of learning new ways to cope with my negative moods and insecure feelings. Writing about my emotions and experiences on the blog has been helpful in processing my feelings positively instead of shopping to push them away. I’m also working to discover new hobbies and interests and other ways of connecting with people so that I can feel less lonely.

Better understanding my reasons for shopping and cultivating new coping mechanisms has helped me to shop less and spend less money overall. In fact, I was able to stick to a reasonable clothing budget for the first time last year! The awareness that blogging about my shopping has given me was instrumental in this success.

By limiting your clothing and accessories budget, you really had to start thinking which clothing items were essential and really YOU.

How did you analyze your own style and what have been the results in terms of a successful wardrobe?

Debbie Roes in jewel tones |

This has been an ongoing process and I still feel I have a lot of work to do on refining my style after years of mindless shopping. Last year, I purchased 76 items (yes, that’s a lot, but down quite a bit from my previous buying of 150-200 items per year!), but I would estimate that approximately half of those pieces should have been left in the store.

Toward the end of last year, I started sharing not only what I bought, but why I purchased those items. I also shared my reasons for purging particular items from my closet. This introspection has been invaluable in helping me to see the maladaptive buying patterns that I had. As one example, I purchased a lot of items in consignment stores that ended up being mistakes. I focused too much on brand names and low prices rather than on my lifestyle needs and personal style aesthetics. I also tried too hard to adhere to trends that weren’t really “me.”

It’s only recently that I’ve started to circle back around to the colors, styles, and silhouettes that are the best fit for my body, lifestyle, and personality. As a result, I feel that my wardrobe is finally starting to come together. Ironically, as I pare down my closet more and more, I become happier and happier with what I have. Truly, less is more when it comes to the size of my wardrobe. I dress better with less and it’s easier for me to get dressed each day, too.

Tell me a bit more about project 333 and why you participated in it. Would you say it is effective and do you recommend it for others?

How to shop less and get a better wardrobe - project 333  |

Project 333 is a minimalist wardrobe challenge in which participants get dressed using only 33 items for a period of three months (read more about the rules here). “Purists” of the challenge include shoes and accessories in the mix, but I opted to only count clothing pieces. I originally took on the challenge in April 2013 as a result of a dare from Courtney Carver, the creator of Project 333. I wrote a post on her blog on my fears about dressing with less and what I was doing to address them (see my post here).

Although I was definitely apprehensive to begin Project 333, it was probably the most helpful thing I did to address my oversized wardrobe and compulsive shopping habit. I truly learned that I didn’t need nearly as many clothes as I thought and that I actually dressed better when I had fewer items to choose from. I also raised my standards for my clothing pieces and began to appreciate my closet favorites more. Another benefit of the challenge is that it helped me to refine my personal style and better understand my clothing preferences. I would definitely recommend the Project 333 challenge for others, especially those who feel overwhelmed by their closets and dissatisfied with their wardrobes. If it seems too scary to select only 33 items for three months, you can modify the rules to suit your personal needs (i.e. more items, a shorter time frame, or different capsules for work and play).

In your recent shopping and wardrobe goals update, you write about the importance of regularly reviewing those goals. Why is that important and how have these goals and their review helped you?

Debbie in pink |

I think that many people set goals for themselves at the beginning of each year but never take the time to review these goals after the fact. It’s very difficult to make progress with goals if you don’t keep them “top of mind.” If we review our goals on a regular basis (I aim for monthly), we are better able to course-correct as needed and we have a greater chance of actually fulfilling upon what we set out to accomplish. This is true for shopping and wardrobe goals, as well as all other types of goals.

As an example, one of my goals relates to paring down the size of my wardrobe. Doing periodic closet inventories helps me to see where I am at a given point in time as compared to my desired end point for the year. Tracking the size of my wardrobe helped me to pare down my closet pieces by half last year! If I didn’t check in on this goal from time to time, I probably wouldn’t have made as much progress in one year’s time.

How would you describe your own style?

As I mentioned above, my style is still evolving, as is probably true for most of us. I would say that my style is classic and sophisticated overall with some artistic and creative elements thrown into the mix. My favorite colors are black, white, grey, and jewel tones, and my favorite patterns are stripes and polka dots. I like to wear scarves and unique jewelry pieces and I enjoy combining colors and patterns in a variety of ways.

I would like to add more artistry and a bit of edginess to my style moving forward. I really like the asymmetrical garments and striking jewelry pieces that Sylvia regularly wears and would like to add a few such items to my closet. I would also like to move away from mainstream retail pieces and buy more one-of-a-kind and dramatic items.

Where do you live and how does that influence your style?

Debbie wearing stripes |

I live in San Diego, California, which very well may be the “ultra-casual” capitol of the world. It’s very common to see women in shorts, tank tops, and flip-flops here, and jeans, t-shirts, and Ugg boots also abound. I am not a big fan of the types of clothes commonly worn here and am often viewed as being “dressed up” in what I wear.

Being originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, I like to dress up a bit more and have had to tone that down somewhat in order to better fit in where I live. That being said, I don’t think I will ever be a flip-flops and shorts kind of girl. I prefer to wear skirts and dresses over shorts and sandals and heels over flips-flops. I feel that I’m continually trying to modulate my style preferences with the ultra-casual vibe of where I live. I don’t want to compromise my sense of style based upon my location, but I also don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb, so it’s a balancing act for sure.

Do you feel you have a signature style?

I think I am known for wearing stripes on a regular basis. I have striped pieces of all sorts in my closet – dresses, skirts, and various types of tops. I love to wear horizontal stripes, vertical stripes, and diagonal stripes in all different widths and colors, but my favorites are black and white striped pieces. I never get tired of wearing striped items, but I’m trying to mix things up a bit recently and incorporate other types of patterns into my ensembles. But I think I will always love and wear my stripes, as they feel like “me” and I feel fabulous in them.

What inspires your outfit choices the most?

I would say that my moods play a very large role in what I wear. I am introverted by nature, but I’m 5’10” and naturally stand out wherever I go. Sometimes I like to stand out and dress accordingly, while other times I prefer to blend in a bit more. I am working on being more comfortable standing out, as I like to dress in a more dramatic fashion and wear heels despite my statuesque height.

Do you take things like color profiling or body type into account when you dress?

Debbie wearing scarves |

I haven’t been officially color profiled, but I did take the “Dressing Your Truth” course last year. I came out as a Type 4 and feel the styles and colors represented in that type resonate well with my personal preferences and what looks good on me. I am working on dressing more in the bold and striking way that is emblematic of that type, as I really do feel my most attractive in such styles.

In terms of body type, I definitely aim for figure flattery in what I wear. Although I have broad shoulders, I tend to carry excess weight in my lower half. That said, I know my hips and thighs are not as large as I think they are. I struggled with eating disorders for many years and still suffer from lingering body image issues that affect the way I dress. My efforts to camouflage what I viewed as “huge hips and thighs” have led me to dress in ways that also covered up some of my better features, such as my small torso and waist. I’m working to embrace my body as it is and to celebrate my best points while accepting that I’ll never have the slight bottom half of a Victoria’s Secret model. It’s a process, but I’m making progress slowly but surely…

Has your style changed at all after turning 40?

As I edged closer to 40, I worked to transform my previous quirky, “cutesy” style into a more mature and classy way of dressing. However, I probably went too far in that I lost a lot of my personal style in the process. I’m now working to recapture more creativity in how I dress while still aiming for sophistication.

Do you believe in dressing ‘age appropriately’ and what does it mean to you?

I think this can be taken too far and result in a very boring and homogenous way of dressing. I don’t believe in having too many rules based upon age alone. For example, why shouldn’t an over-40 woman wear shorts or shorter skirts (within reason, of course) if she has great legs and is proud of them? I don’t think a woman over 40 should dress like a 20 year-old, but we don’t need to dress like grandmothers, either! In fact, grandmothers don’t even need to dress like grandmothers! I think that we can continue to have fun with clothes and style no matter how old we are. No need to wear frumpy clothes at any age!

Which of the outfits on your blog are personal favorites and why?

Debbie wearing some of her signature stripes |

While my blog is not specifically a style or outfits blog, I do sometimes post my ensembles to illustrate the points and concepts I discuss. I also share outfit photos to illustrate how my style is evolving as I pare down my closet and shop less frequently and more mindfully. In this article I have shared my favorite outfits from the past year. My photos don’t have beautiful backgrounds and are not professional quality, but they do depict my personal style and how it’s grown over the course of my recovering shopaholic journey.

Do you follow trends? And if yes, which trends excite you at the moment?

I do follow trends, but I try to just pick a few trends each season to wear. There are so many trends and they change so rapidly that it is very difficult (almost impossible, in my opinion) to follow all of them. In fact, trying too hard to be trendy and “current” was part of what drove my overshopping in recent years. Especially as I crossed the “40” threshold, I tried too hard to be “in” and that led to a lot of emotional stress and frenetic shopping for me.

My favorite current trend is the black and white trend, which is a combination I’ve loved to wear for a long time. I also love that midi skirts and wider-leg pants have come back onto the fashion scene, as well as lower-heeled shoes. I try to be comfortable in what I wear and I love when styles that allow for comfort are also trendy. I love high heels, but my middle-aged feet can’t tolerate them as well as I used to. It’s nice to be able to take advantage of lower-heeled styles this season.

Do you have any fashion and style tips for women over 40?

My advice for women over 40 is the same as what I would tell all women – stay true to yourself. Dress for yourself rather than other people, as you’ll be much happier that way. Take the time to learn what you like to wear and honor your personal style.

I think it’s helpful to track what we wear so we can make sure to buy things we like and stay away from the types of garments that will just hang in our closets. The simplest way to start is to turn all of your hangers backwards (so the hooks point outwards) and as you wear a garment and hang it back up, turn the hanger back around. Over time, you’ll see what you reach for time and again versus what just doesn’t get worn. When you shop, you can buy more of your preferred styles (but just one or two things at a time!) instead of things you think you should be wearing but just aren’t.

What are your plans for your blog and how do you see it develop over the coming years?

I definitely plan on continuing to blog for the foreseeable future. I would love to continue to grow my audience and to offer whatever content and offerings will best serve my readers. I have one e-book which will be available later this month (on shopping tips) and plan to release my second e-book (on wardrobe management) sometime this summer. I also plan to create an e-course later this year. I am also considering incorporating audio (perhaps a podcast) and video into my blog at some point. In addition, I want to make it easier for new readers to find the content which will be most helpful to them in their journey to stop shopping compulsively. So watch for some revisions and additions to my website very soon!

Anything further you would like to add?

Debbie with her beloved cat Coco |

Thank you for inviting me to share my story and insights in this style interview, Sylvia. I appreciate your including me in this feature even though my blog is different from most of those who appear in these interviews. Although my blog is not an outfit blog and it often focuses on issues other than fashion or style, I hope that many of your readers can benefit from the topics discussed, as well as the insightful comments shared by members of my community. I know that many women struggle with shopping too much and having unmanageable wardrobes, but there is hope to turn things around. I’m living proof that one can become a recovering shopaholic and cultivate a smaller and more workable wardrobe!

Thanks for a great interview Debbie! Don’t forget to check out her blog Recovering Shopaholic for many more tips and stories.

Do you shop for the right reasons? Do you wear all the clothes in your wardrobe?


P.S. Don’t forget to submit your entries for the latest mini dressing challenge by 17 May.

1 denton

Wow. I’m looking forward to following this blog. As a guy, I pretty much am on Project 352. That’s 3 sets of clothes for all 52 weeks. Lee’s jeans for three seasons, Territory Ahead shorts in the summer, and Land’s End cotton polos all year long. Of course I cheat once in a while if I have to go out, Burberry sports jackets and pants and Jhane Barnes shirts.

But my wife has been pretty much the other way, she’s always liked clothes and fashion but coming from a large Latin family with limited resources, she’s always felt very guilty about spending resources on herself. As we increased our resources and taste for fashion, I’ve done some of the same things. Buy fewer pieces but buy better ones. And especially buy used European and vintage American pieces while avoiding fast fashion at all costs. As far as closet space, I’ve tried to get her to ditch an old piece every time there’s a new acquisition. Living in a Manhattan apartment, that’s almost a necessity. I’m lucky that as a semi-pro photographer I have some sense of style and fashion and as a long married couple I know what fits her and what looks good on her.

Following trends is something I never understood. One year short sleeves are in, the next year long sleeves are. This is madness and what seems to be the route of crazy spending, as otherwise lovely wardrobe pieces have to be dumped into consignment shops and on ebay because they are so ‘last year’, and then replaced. I love buying last year’s (or last decades) statement pieces at 80% off.

2 Madame Flutterby

Well said!

I have always been baffled by the revolving door approach to fashion. Why purge your wardrobe of perfectly good (hopefully) clothing pieces in order to accommodate the next season’s trends? Buy the best quality you can afford where it counts, and spend (much) less on the “in” items that you may quickly tire of.

Ultimately, you will spend a lot less money and be much happier with your purchases if you know yourself.

3 Bastoni di fashion

My style post 40 has not changed, it all depends on the person. Love moda and fashion!

4 Patti

Great interview. I read Debbie’s blog regularly – she is so real and relatable.

5 Andrea

This article fascinated me. I think I have gone through something similar, but in the reverse. For years, I had very few clothes and very little money to spend on them. Once I had more money, I was lost in a sea of choices in the same way as Debbie was in her massive closet! I had no idea what to buy and was immobilized. I made TONS of shopping mistakes and I think this had to do with self acceptance. Great article!

6 Petra

A great interview Sylvia – Debbie is really beautiful, inside and out! Cute kitty too! I don’t have much in my wardrobe, compared to other women I know, and of that I keep wearing the same old things – I hate clothes shopping because clothes aren’t made for an apple shape as there are more “pears” out there! I’d love to chuck all of my clothes are start again. Maybe I should, because this interview has inspired me! Uh-oh, what have we started here 🙂

7 Greetje Kamminga

I think Debbie is following a great journey. And there is definitely a need for a blog like this. When I read the article I was wondering whether her reasons for shopping could be mine. But no I don’t think so. Then again, I could do with some guidance haha.

8 Lorraine

I think what Debbie has done is admirable. I am trying to be better!

9 Debbie Roes

A big thank you to Sylvia for inviting me to participate in this series! I was very happy to share my story in the hopes that it might help others who struggle with overshopping and managing a packed closet. I appreciate all of the kind comments that have been left.

For Greetje, I’ve written a few posts on the reasons why people shop too much. Here are a couple of links for you:

There are many, many reasons for compulsive shopping, but I cover a lot of them on my blog. I also offer a lot of tips on shopping smarter and managing our wardrobes. I welcome new readers and any and all comments! I’ve been blessed with a committed readership of kind and interactive people. I learn as much from my readers as they do from me!

Madame Flutterby is SO right in what she wrote about buying quality. It makes all the difference! Thanks again to Sylvia and all!

10 Greetje Kamminga

Well Debbie I have followed up on your links. Thanks ever so much for providing them to me. I am still not sure what my reasons are. I might still be in denial of the whole problem.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: