Beware Wardrobe Fat

Don’t let mindless consumption leave you feeling bloated.

Quick – how many pairs of running shoes do you own? If you have a ready answer for that, you probably own what most reasonable people would agree is a “normal” number. If you have to stop and think about it, you’re probably in the danger zone. If you honestly have no clue – I dunno, 30? 40? 53? – then you just might have a gear problem.

I say “gear problem” and not “shoe problem” because I’m using shoes here as a proxy. If you own so many shoes that you can’t track them all, it’s very likely that you also own more running stuff in general than you need. Maybe even more than you want, if you’re being honest with yourself. Still not sure if this describes you? Here are a few more questions: At registration or packet pickup for a race, do you automatically accept the shirt, even if you already have a hundred race shirts at home, and this particular specimen isn’t all that attractive?

Do you have at least 10 items of running apparel that you haven’t worn even once in the past 12 months?

When you dress for a run, do you often struggle to find a certain shirt or pair of gloves amid your collection?

Do you sometimes purchase running apparel clandestinely, fearing your significant other’s reaction upon learning that you’ve bought yet another jacket or pair of socks?
If you answered “yes” to more than a couple of these, you may want to rethink your relationship with running gear – to ask, as Tyler Durden does in Fight Club, whether the things you own have ended up owning you.

Speaking of which: do I have Fight Club on DVD? I think I do. I have so many DVDs, although I can’t remember the last time I watched any of them. I really should just give those things away…

I bring all of this up because I recently did a big gear purge.

I’m not sure what prompted it. Maybe I was inspired subconsciously by Marie Kondo. She’s the best-selling author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a book that’s been on my wife’s nightstand, and the de facto leader of a movement to declutter, streamline and simplify. She urges readers to look at each thing around and ask themselves, Does this spark joy? If it does, you keep it. Otherwise, you load it into a catapult and let it fly. Or something like that.

Before we go on, bear in mind that I am not, nor have I ever been, a gear addict or a hoarder. Really. As far as gear ownership goes, I consider myself fairly average for a guy who’s been running regularly, several days a week, for 20-something years. Also bear in mind that I did a fairly major purge before we moved across the country two years ago, plus other, smaller ones since then, giving away items a few at a time. Even so, for whatever reason, I felt it was time for a good cull.

So I got a notebook and a pen, to record everything for charity receipt purposes, and started sifting. The results were eye opening.

For one thing, I had somehow wound up with 18 pairs of running gloves. Eighteen. After selecting a dozen pairs for donation, I still had six left, which seems more than enough to me. Among my other piles were two jackets, nine long-sleeve tech shirts, nine short-sleeve tech shirts, three singlets, five beanie-style hats, three caps, two hooded pullovers, two pairs of shoes, and six pairs of undershorts/wind briefs.

Even post-purge I am in no danger of missing a run for lack of clothing. I still have, at last count, 10 pairs of shorts and 24 tech shirts – 12 long-sleeve, 12 short-sleeve. I won’t even get into my sock drawer.

It felt good to jettison this stuff. Good to have it out of my life, good to know that someone else might be happy to have it. Best of all, it made me think. I found myself asking, How did I wind up with so much junk? And, Why did I cling to it for so long? And, perhaps most important, How can I end, or at least slow, this constant accretion of stuff I just don’t need?

The short answer to the first question is that I just wasn’t paying attention. I would run a race, get a shirt, toss it on the pile. See a pair of shorts on sale, figure, Hey, I can always use another pair of shorts, and whip out my credit card. Attend an event, get a free jacket, stuff it into my bag.

It’s sneaky, like mindless eating. Gradually, steadily, you consume a bit here and a bit there – tech shirts, tees, hats, tights, vests – until one day you wake up and realise your closet is 20 kilos overweight.

Why did I cling to this much stuff for so long ? That’s a tougher one. Inertia? Sentimentality? Laziness? Some hardwired impulse to gorge while I can, as a hedge against future scarcity? It’s probably a little bit of each.

As for ways I can end or slow this problem, there’s a simple answer for that, I think – be more mindful. Stop getting stuff just because I can. Stop accepting stuff just because it’s free. Start asking myself, Do I really need this? Do I really want it? Really?

I’m already making progress. When signing up for a race, for instance, I used to automatically check “Medium” under “Shirt Size”. No more. Today I opt not to take a shirt at all, unless it’s exceptionally high quality or the event itself holds some special meaning for me. I used that same rule in my recent purge and held on to my Boston Marathon shirts.

Oh, and by the way, to answer my own question: I own just one pair of running shoes. Well, one pair that I actually use for running. I’ll admit I have been thinking lately about springing for a second pair.

No more socks, though.

Unless of course they’re buy-one-get-one-free. I mean, I’m only human.


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