What a summer engineer wears

Engineering my summer, project one details: The CPW Challenge

The Venn Diagram

As with many of my Ideal Life Themes, there is an overlap. For my first summer engineering project, I am going to tackle that ever elusive and unquantifiable issue of paranoia, and slap it down over my somewhat obsessive tracking of my closet and see what happens.

We manage what we measure.

I wish I could remember the first time I heard that sentence. It has influenced so much of how I undertake my life, even in my personal, every day life. I am quite determined to provide myself with the framework, guardrails and discipline I need to thrive, and for this, I must set specific, measurable and achievable goals. Without goals and rules I simply shrivel up.

I am very unlikely to meet a goal if, for example, I say “I should scrub the sink till it shines.” However, saying “you will scrub the sink till it shines twice this week”? That sucker I’m gonna knock outta the park. I might even do it three times, just to spite myself. The first iteration is exciting enough. Who doesn’t want a sparkly sink? But it isn’t specific. The second one means I can check a little box and have the satisfaction of doing what I said I would do.

It isn’t always so easy to turn my life into a series of checkboxes. Indeed, not everything lends itself to a check box. Sometimes I have to get more creative.

Cost Per Wear

My Buy No Clothes in 2021 Challenge has afforded me a fantastic opportunity to get down to the business of actually wearing all the fabulous clothes in my closet. I started my closet inventory quite some time ago, making note, to the best of my memory, when an item entered my home, how much it cost, why I liked it, any repairs or any alterations I may have made to it.

I started it on a little Google spreadsheet with a little formula which calculated my CPW: the Cost Per Wear.

At this particular moment, my global CPW for my closet is 0.35€. This of course, is fantastic. However, it is a great deal because of how many hand-me-downs or exchanges or thrift store finds I have in my closet. Of the things I myself have actually spent money on, the CPW is far less impressive.

Of the approximately 150 (!!!!!) items in my closet, there are only nine that are above 1€ per wear. Only nine!!!!

Not one but not one hundred either

The infamous “One Hundred Day Challenge” that I have been allowed to tag along on without getting any skin in the game is one dress for one hundred days.

I love the idea, but here, I have nine items I need to get some wear out of. Sure, they have none of the benefits of wool, not one of them has pockets. But these are the cards I was dealt; these are the items I decided, in years past, to spend too much money on and are not pulling their weight in my closet.

I also follow along with some ladies who do something called a “capsule wardrobe,” that is, selecting only a limited number of clothing items for a limited amount of time. This seems more along the lines of what I want to try. I’ve got a grand total of nine items I want to see progress on. That’s a great place to start.


Setting a goal for any challenge has to be something feasible.

Of these nine items, one is a swimsuit, one is a winter dress and two are leggings. I do intend to hit a pool a few times this summer, so it makes sense to include it in my summer CPW challenge. However, I am going to exempt my winter dress and leggings. It is summer, after all. They’ll get their own treatment later (wrings her green hands and cackles, “I’ll get you my pretty…and your lacy leggings, too!)

So I am down to six items I need to cycle through this summer: four dresses, one swimsuit, one skirt only refashioned from a way-too-expensive maternity dress that I have owned for 6 years and have barely ever worn.

If I wanted each one of those items to individually be at 1€ per wear, I would need a total of 138 days. Is this even feasible? There are approximately 90 days in summer.

But let’s take out the swimsuit. It can’t stand on its own. The likelihood that I will wear it as many times as I need to do get it down to 1€ per wear is very low.

We’re down to 116.

Nope. This is still not an achievable goal. I need an achievable goal, or I will lose interest.

So…let’s take out that way way way too expensive maternity dress-become-skirt. I love what I have turned it into. I know that it has become something I would wear absolutely every day if I could. So I don’t feel the same nagging necessity to include it.

Now I am down to 87 days. Four dresses for 87 days.

This, my friends, is doable. It will take me the end of August, but hey! We can do this!

I won’t entirely ignore the skirt-from-maternity dress. I will still have to do things like sing at church, and none of these four dresses are ones I would wear to sing at church anyway. So that skirt will get some wear: it’ll be my Go-To Church Skirt for the summer.

Motivation and reward

So now that I know that I need to cycle through my four dresses: rainbow (13 wears from being at 1€ per wear), green linen falls-apart-every-time-I-touch-it (21 wears), green shouts-look-at-me-every-time-I-wear-it (29 wears) and my yellow lace princess dress (24 wears), I have my work cut out for me.

How am I going to keep myself motivated? Do I get a reward for this? Well, keeping myself motivated is easy. I really want to see my CPW go down.

However, I have so much enjoyed working my way through the rainbow (as evidenced on my Insta), that I am going to need to find a new schtick for a bit. We will make this happen. I will get myself motivated for this, even though I have so loved chasing the rainbow. The Instagram community of fashion-loving, super-positive and encouraging ladies I have found will help keep me motivated and will totally get why I am doing this.

As for a reward…well, obviously there must be a reward. I love to celebrate things! For each dress I get down to 1€ per wear, I will give myself a tea party. A Marco Polo tea party. (My mouth is watering already!)

There we have it!

After all those laborious calculations, we have a first goal for the summer. Part of it is to lean-into the fact that no one really is paying attention to what I wear by wearing the same four dresses all summer. Part of it is to make progress on my ever elusive CPW goals.

This article is part of a series called “Engineering my Summer”:
Part One: Engineering my Summer
Part Two: Brainstorming my Summer
Part Three: Nobody is watching
Part Four: What a Summer Engineer wears (you are here)

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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