Do you ever think to yourself, “I have nothing to wear!” yet your dresser drawers are filled to the brim? Or, are you trying to make sustainable fashion choices? You might want to try a closet audit, which is essentially a stock count of your wardrobe. It can look different for everyone and entails sifting through every clothing item you own, counting, categorizing and calculating how often you wear each garment. In the lens of sustainability, a closet audit is more than a spring cleaning activity, it can be a helpful exercise to think deeply about your consumption of clothing, move away from buying sustainable alternatives and saying goodbye to long forgotten impulse buys. After all, not buying anything is the most sustainable practice.
Megan McSherry, a slow fashion and sustainability influencer thinks everybody should try a closet audit. McSherry makes sustainable fashion content on TikTok and Instagram under the username, Acteevism, and works to educate her audience about sustainable fashion practices and environmentalism. In January she completed her first closet audit and documented all of the clothing she wore for a month. At the end, McSherry found herself in possession of 337 items of clothing.
“That's crazy. And to think it doesn't include underwear, or socks or pajamas. Like that's a lot of items. And that's coming from somebody who has been on a sustainable fashion journey for years,” McSherry said in an interview with United By Zero.
For the 25-year-old influencer with a background in business administration and supply chain management, the closet audit looks more like filling in a master spreadsheet and then calculating the cost per wear of each item. The spreadsheet contains a variety of categories to fill in such as, type of clothing, the country it was made in, new or second-hand, material type and length of time you have owned the item. McSherry has a premade closet audit spreadsheet available to download with purchase from her website.
Megan McSherry lives in sunny Los Angeles, where she is a full time sustainable fashion content creator. Photo courtesy of Megan McSherry.
We chatted with McSherry about her experience doing the closet audit and adapted the conversation into a Q-and-A format. Below you can read our conversation. It is edited for length and clarity.
What is a closet audit? And can you explain the process of what you did?
A closet audit can look kind of different for everybody. But what it was, for me, was literally looking through every single item in my closet and putting it in a spreadsheet. I'm a big spreadsheet gal, a big data gal. I got that from my background in business. But it's so hard to tell what clothes are in your closet, especially if you have drawers and things are hidden. I wanted to have a better idea of what clothes I did have because I felt like I was buying a lot of clothing.
So I have a big spreadsheet. It has the name of each item or like a little description, the brand that it's from, if I bought it new or secondhand, when I bought it, if I can find that specific date, how much I bought it for. You'll be surprised how much data and information you can pull from just looking in your email for order confirmations – it'll tell you how much you spent on the item and when you got it. So I collected all that information and I started that process at the beginning of the pandemic.
And then I also decided on top of that, that it would be cool to track how often I wear things. So I have a little [cost-per-wear] tracker. Every day, I click the items that I'm wearing that day and have a fancy little formula in my Excel spreadsheet that calculates how many times that shows up. So I can calculate the cost-per-wear of my items. It's just a ton of data. But really, what it entails is literally looking through every single item of clothing that you have, just to try to get something away from that.
Do you think other people should audit their closet? Why?
I absolutely think everybody should do this in one way or another. Not everybody has to have a spreadsheet. The first kind of test that I did with looking at what I wear was when I worked at Vans. I did an internship at the Vans' headquarters and I started off by taking a silly outfit selfie in the bathroom mirror every morning, and I would kick my foot up so you could see what shoes I was wearing. But after a few months, I had like a ton of pictures of the outfits that I wore every day and I could see that there were patterns. Like, I wore a jacket pretty much every day. I would never consider myself a jacket person. But I would wear high waisted pants and a shirt and a jacket, or a dress and a jacket. And so that made me look differently at the items in my closet.
Maybe the next time I need a good denim jacket it's probably worth investing in one that I really love, versus trying to find one super cheap at a thrift store that checks a few boxes, but you know, isn't perfect. It just made me think differently about what I was wearing just from being able to look at it.
There's a lot that you can learn, like how much clothing you have in your closet. I think there's a ton of benefit to actually looking through everything. You'll be surprised at how many items you realize you have that you totally forgot about or are in the depths of a drawer that you never would have found unless you went through this exercise. I think it's also a good way to look at things that maybe you like, but you like way more on the hanger than you do on yourself. I love bright colors and patterns, but I don't wear bright colors or patterns. So it was a good opportunity for me to really look through the clothes that I had and the clothes that I wore.
How long did it take you to do this process?
It took a while. But I think you can do it in sections. For a while, I would just sit in my closet and type out all the little descriptions of things [in the spreadsheet]. And then, go back and try to find more of the data: Did I buy a new or secondhand? Or how much was it? Or when did I get this? You can go by sections of your closet, like, do a drawer at a time, one drawer a day, 10 minutes a day.
Again, if people don't want to commit a ton of time to doing this they can go more of the route of documenting what you actually wear with a picture. And then you can just look through it visually. That takes way less time. Everybody has time to snap a quick picture of their outfit at some point during the day. Even a mirror selfie. So there are other ways that you can, kind of, audit or look at what you're wearing. But yeah, it did take me a good chunk of time, like a few days of that's all I was doing.
I'm definitely interested in doing something exactly like this. I saw your post and I was so inspired. I was like, “I'm gonna write down what I'm wearing in February every day!” So I've been writing it in my little notes, but I want to count everything because I do love organizing.
Yeah, I'm curious! All these people are like, “I want to do this too!” And I want to know what people are taking away from it because everybody is so different and fashion and clothing means different things to everybody. Like, I'm definitely a sentimental type of person. I have so many t-shirts but so many of them are from an organization that I was involved with, or like a place that I lived for a while, or like so much merch from artists.
Who are people that might benefit from doing a closet audit or be interested in it? What types of people should be doing this?
I feel like anybody who feels like they have nothing to wear but have an overflowing closet, or people that feel like they know they have too many clothes but don't know where to start with giving things away or moving things out. Taking the time to look through every item you have and/or tracking what you do wear is a great place to start, because if you have a ton of items in your closet and you're [not] aware of what's in your closet and you see you're only wearing like a quarter of what you own, that's a really good starting place for thinking about what items to potentially move out of your closet.
And I feel like anybody who wants to get a better idea of what their personal style is. I think there's a lot of talk on social media about fashion versus style. And people are moving away from the idea that in order to be stylish or fashionable you have to be wearing the microtrends that are popular from fast fashion brands. And a great way to do that is by documenting the kinds of clothes that you wear. Finding what kind of outfit formulas you gravitate towards.
And people are at the beginning of their sustainable fashion or really anywhere in their sustainable fashion journey. There's so much that you can learn just from looking at the clothes you own, and taking the time to focus on what's in your closet and what you already own and what you wear, versus what sustainable clothes you could be buying. I think it is an important mindset shift for anybody who wants to be a more sustainable fashion person.
What, if any, are the downsides or maybe shortfalls of doing a closet audit?
That's a great question. I think it can be time consuming. Like this is my job to do things like this and get people thinking about it. So, I have the luxury of time to just do this whenever. It's not something that maybe everybody has the time to do as in-depth as I am doing it. Which is why I like to talk about different ways – like snapping a picture of your outfit and saving it to a folder and just looking through that folder on your phone every once in a while – that people can do that with less time. But it can be time consuming.
Otherwise, I don't know that there are downsides. Like it's always good to have more information. I think especially with fashion and clothes we forget what we have all the time. And there's always a push from social media and just the media, in general, to buy something new. So anything that you can do to tune that out a little bit and focus more on what you own, I think is a good opportunity.
In the month of January, McSherry wore 78 out of the 337 total items in her closet. She wore the Vans sneakers, pictured in the photo above, 14 times. Photo courtesy of Megan McSherry.
What is your personal philosophy when it comes to fashion sustainability? Are there any rules that you follow?
So I split it into two sections of sustainable fashion. There is a sustainable fashion industry. So that's like, where my business mindset comes in: What are companies that are producing new clothing? What are they doing to do that more sustainably? Looking at production, materials, the volume of new styles and just clothes in general that they're coming out with, their growth goals and how they're communicating those things. I'm a big stickler on greenwashing. So I think there's a lot that needs to be done there, a lot of policy in the works that will make that easier.
But I think something we don't talk about often enough is the non-business side of it. So looking differently from a consumer perspective at the need to consume: Why are you buying something? Do you actually need it? Or do you just feel like you need it because the businesses and companies are doing a good job marketing? The idea of trends versus personal style and what is “cool.” And doing things like this and really looking at the clothes that you own and focusing on that.
Also, the idea of a "conscious-purchase-decision." I have bought things from fast fashion brands, since I started my sustainable fashion journey. But the difference in those purchases is huge, because I used to just impulse buy whatever was on sale at the front of the store because I thought it was cute and it was like $5. Versus now I spend a long time thinking about making a purchase. If I do decide to buy it from a fast fashion brand it's because I can't find it somewhere else, it fits exactly the need that I'm looking for and I know that I'm going to take care of the item to extend its life cycle as long as possible. I'm going to sew on the button if it falls off. I'm going to air dry it, I'm not going to have it shrink in the wash the first time that I put it through the wash.
So just being more conscious and a little bit slower with your personal approach to fashion, I think is really important. And that is accessible to everybody. That is something that everybody can do. It's free most of the time and it's not saying, “You have to buy this sustainably made clothing item.”
What have you learned as a sustainability influencer? Are there any things that have shocked you as you've gone through this process?
I mean, sustainable fashion is a newer term. When I was at the very beginning of my journey you could not find a ton about sustainable fashion. So it's a newer area, it's growing really quickly. So I think there's still a ton of education that has to be done. There's still a lot of defending or defensiveness about things like Shein. Which I think is always shocking to me just because it's so clearly the worst option. And yet anytime I talk about it, especially on TikTok, people are so defensive in the comments. So that's been really interesting.
What do the people defending Shein in your TikTok comments say?
I think a lot of the time, it's like a funny audio that's going viral on TikTok that I used to call attention to how bad it is that people are dropping $300 at Shein on a regular basis. And people miss the point of it's the overconsumption that is the problem and the volume of what people are buying just to do a haul. They miss that and they go all the way to, “Well, sustainable fashion is inaccessible. So you're being classist for shaming people that shop at Shein.” Or some people [say] that Shein is their only option. … So it really is the shock factor, where people just jump to a very different conclusion than what you're trying to make.
In the next year, McSherry plans to document her outfits everyday and continue to use the closet audit system that she created. “I am always trying to bring a new angle to discussions about sustainable fashion and thought tracking my outfits for a whole year would be a great way to do that,” she said.