Getting Started on Your Minimalist Wardrobe

Getting Started on Your Minimalist Wardrobe

Breaking Up with Throw Away Fashion for Good

Step One:  Watch The True Cost, available on Netflix or Amazon Video.  In order to step away from needing more clothes, more outfits, more fashion, you might need a mind shift.  I certainly did.  When we got married, my husband and I moved into a small four bedroom home.  That meant I had four closets upstairs that I filled with clothes.  Packed to the gills, and I never felt like I had anything to wear.  I bought more, because I only felt good when I was wearing something new.  I was a full time grad student, and Joe was working in an entry level job, not making a whole lot of money.  We had literally no disposable income, but we somehow scrimped enough to afford to fill up my closets.  On my birthday lists?  Clothes.  Christmas?  Clothes.  

Clothes. Clothes.  Clothes.

I slowly weeded out things I definitely wasn't wearing as I had kids and had to empty closets in their bedrooms.  Still, my own closet was so crammed that I couldn't find anything, and I still would opt to buy 3 inexpensive shirts rather than one high quality item.  I had no idea that there might be a moral issue at play in these decisions.

Last year, I started reading about minimalism and became convinced that my closet was a major source of anxiety for me.  Trying on outfits that didn't work was time consuming and disappointing.  Putting pressure on myself to have new, nice, and fashionable clothes was a losing battle.  There will always be someone with more - more outfits, more quality, more variety.  When I let go of the pressure and decided to minimize my wardrobe, I freed myself.  Knowing that I was making a conscious decision to get rid of most of my clothes allowed me to re-wear the same outfits without shame.  This was living intentionally.  

If you are serious about wanting to live greener (or just simpler), you may need to address your relationship with clothing and shopping.  Before shopping, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I know what I'm shopping for?  If the answer is no, you might just be looking for a pick me up.  Fulfill your need with something else.  A massage? A special drink?  A phone call with someone you love?  A dinner out?
  • Is this a need or a want?  
  • Can I find what I need second hand?
  • Is there a sustainable fair trade or American made company that makes what I'm looking for?
  • Am I buying a brand that will wear out within a year or two?

Once you have addressed the mindset of buying LESS overall and higher quality when you do buy, let's talk about paring down what you currently own.  We keep clothing we don't wear for all kinds of reasons.  Here are a few I used:

My kids might want this when they grow up.  I might fit in it, again, someday.  It almost looks good.  It looks good, even though it is uncomfortable. It doesn't look good, even though it is comfortable.  I spent a lot of money on it, so it seems wrong to get rid of it.  I got it as a gift.  I wore it when [insert historical moment in my life].  It's a classic.  

While these might seem like good reasons to keep things, I found that the more clothes I had, the more I felt I needed.  It sounds backwards, but that is the way it was.  I needed to clear out and see some space between my clothes.  If you think you might be the same way, do a quick google search or Pinterest search of "capsule wardrobe" or "Project 333."  I find it motivating to see clean shots of put-together looks made from just a few classic pieces.  Next step, clean out.  Get ready, it's going to be hard, but it's going to be awesome.

First, finish all of your laundry (you are probably already on top of this, but it was a necessary step for me).  Next, put ALL of your clothes in one place (I like putting them on my bed, but you could choose the floor, your living room, whatever).  Don't forget your underwear, because I know you have 60 pairs, but you wear the same 7 over and over.  Now, START SORTING.

Pile One:  I love this item and wear it all the time.

Pile Two:  I love this item, but I rarely wear it. 

Pile Three:  I like this item.  I don't want to get rid of it, but I don't wear it very often.

Pile Four:  Nice item, but I wouldn't miss it.  

Pile Five:  Definitely donate.

Once your piles are made, you must address them immediately, but first, some things to think about.  As you put things in Pile One, you need to think about what you NEED.  For instance, I had 3 crew neck sweatshirts that I wore for lounging at home.  They are bulky and take lots of space in my dresser.  Sure, they were all super comfy, but did I NEED three?  No, I didn't.  In my wardrobe and in other rooms of my home, I try to live by the rule of One.  If I can make do with one, I get rid of the extras.  Why have multiples if you really don't need them?  If you really need them, keep multiples, but be honest with yourself.  Now, act:

Pile One:  Hang those babies up!  As soon as you have rid yourself of duplicates and are comfortable with the things you have, put them away and cry with happiness that your closet and drawers are clean. 

I'm getting some use out of the trunk I took to college!

I'm getting some use out of the trunk I took to college!

Pile Two: Now, don't panic.  I'm not making you get rid of these (yet).  Put these clothes in a box or trunk.  You get to keep them for a year.  Yay!!!  If you go back for something, maybe it's meant to be in your wardrobe!  If you don't, a year later you can reassess and donate.

Pile Three: You may need to sort through this pile.  It's going to disappear, because some of it really belongs in Pile Two.  Some of it belongs in Pile Four.  Sorry to make you do double work, but that's just how the process goes.

Pile Four:  Check with your friends and acquaintances - does anyone want these clothes?  I want my clothes to have a second life when I am done with them, so I will consign or sell to a store like Clothes Mentor or Upscale Cheapskate before I donate.  I don't always trust that my donated clothes are getting a second life.

Pile Five:  I usually take my donate pile, throw it in a hamper, and put it in the trunk of my car for a few months before dropping it off at donation center.  I considered taking a picture of the trunk of my car to illustrate this, but decided it would be more embarrassing than funny. Usually, we donate the day we need to clean the car for a long trip.  You may want to research donation centers near you to be sure you are comfortable with the organization you use.  That is a conversation for another time, but you may want to consider what will happen to your clothes once they are donated. 

The piles!  This is a process that must be repeated, but it's so much easier after the first time.  This was a year after my initial wardrobe inspection.

The piles!  This is a process that must be repeated, but it's so much easier after the first time.  This was a year after my initial wardrobe inspection.

Once you have pared down, you may find you have some holes in your wardrobe.  Some minimalist will tell you to just deal with it, but I think it's ok to fill the holes.  Do you need a casual super comfy t-shirt to wear all the time with jeans?  Go ahead.  Did you hate all of your cardigans but you need one?  Fine, find yourself a cardigan.  When you go to fill the holes, go through the questions above and shop in order - 1. Second hand, 2. Sustainable (check out the app Good On You to find ratings on this), 3. Super high quality so you don't have to buy, again, 4. Classic piece that will go with a few different pieces.

In my final wardrobe, I have ended up with more than Project 333 (33 items for 3 months/1 season) folks, but much less than I used to have.  I have gone from overflowing 4 closets and dresser drawers that don't shut to a pretty roomy closet and drawers that are half full.  I have recently pulled out my trunk with my maybe-clothes after a year.  I have also spent time over the past year filling holes and pulling things out of my wardrobe as I realize I'm not wearing them.   Capsule wardrobe people usually work on a wardrobe per season.  That might work some places, but I have found that to be difficult where I live.  We sometimes have warm days in the middle of winter, and spring can get pretty chilly.  I don't pack away most of my clothes (with the exception of super summery clothes in winter, and super warm clothes in summer), because I wear lots of things throughout the season.

To give you an idea, here is what I've settled into for work:

1 pair of skinny jeans, 4 pairs of colorful jeans (green, dusty pink, bright pink) that I wear to work and for casual wear, 1 pair of black work pants, 1 pair of navy work pants, 1 high waisted flared skirt, 1 black and white pencil skirt, 1 navy pencil skirt, 2 blazers, 1 mustard cardigan that I wear with virtually everything I own, 2 cozy flowy heavy cardigans, 10 tops, 7 dresses, 2 pairs of flats (black and nudish/grayish), 2 pairs of pumps (black and nude), and 2 pairs of boots (black and brown).  Pictured below are my basic spring pieces.  All mix and match.  Many of these pieces were purchased new before I started making an effort to purchase second hand, and many of them are not sustainably produced.  I only recently educated myself on some of the issues surrounding clothing production.    For what it's worth, I have no interest in judging where and how others are purchasing their clothes.  We all do good where we can, and not everyone is in a position to spend much time or money on shopping perfectly.  Sometimes, we need to just buy what is available and affordable.  Choose what works for you.  Maybe that is putting in the time to shop second hand (if this is the route you choose, please know there are some pretty sweet second hand online shops these days - Thred Up and Poshmark have been good to me.  Maybe you have the means to shop only sustainably produced brands. Maybe it just means purchasing less.  You do you.

Plus my favorite dresses - these were all purchased second hand.  

For casual late winter, early spring:

5 pairs of jeans mentioned earlier, 3 dresses (2 are overlaps from my work wardrobe), 4 neutral t-shirts for warm days, 2 long sleeve shirts (one half button, one chambray), 3 sweaters (to go with leggings or jeans), 1 pair of casual sneakers, 1 pair of slip on sneakers, 1 pair of birkenstocks, 1 pair of super warm boots, 1 pair of warm boots, 1 pair of booties.

In addition, in my dresser, I have undergarments, loungewear, exercise clothes, and a few of swim suits.  I have weeded through these and have kept only what I truly wear over and over again.  Because these don't go out of style, I really wear them until they are no longer wearable (or, in the case of my 2 pairs of yoga pants, I wear them way past when it is acceptable.  Both have multiple holes in them.).  I also wear 2 pairs of gold earrings, 1 pair of silver earring, a long gold necklace, a short gold necklace, and a short silver necklace.  Not all at once.  I'm not Mr. T.

The reason the Rule of 1 doesn't apply to 5 year old boy wardrobes.

The reason the Rule of 1 doesn't apply to 5 year old boy wardrobes.

I use the same process in my kids wardrobes, with one caveat.  The rule of one doesn't usually apply.  Since they tend to get things dirty or tear them, I am more likely to have 2 or 3 similar items.  I still tend to purchase simple, mix and match.  I find that we pick a color scheme and work within it.  I buy almost exclusively second hand for my kids.  I have an upscale consignment shop I love for nice clothing and a couple of second hand stores that I don't mind for basics.  I have to sort through and minimize for them more often for them than for myself.  Probably every other month, I am setting aside clothing from their wardrobes.


On that note, happy spring cleaning to you!  Wardrobe clean out is a lot like working out.  You won't regret it.  The biggest challenge will likely be keeping your resolve to not fall back into quick fashion.  Rebuilding your wardrobe and repeating this process repeatedly would be buying right into throwaway fashion.  We don't tend to think of clothing choices as moral choices, but watching The True Cost has changed my mind about that.  Clothing can feel like an addiction - constantly needing more.  It isn't easy to give it up, and I still probably have more than I absolutely need.  It took some self-talk to get through my first few special occasions re-wearing dresses, putting on the same items weekly for work, and deciding on just 3 pairs of earrings.  I choose not to go through traditional clothing stores at all, if I can avoid it.  I'm shopping at Target much less, and, when I do go, I intentionally avoid the clothing section.  Exposing myself to clothing less helps immensely.  When I see cute clothes, I still get that gut reaction that I want more.  However, the benefits of paring down and resisting building back up far outweigh the challenges.  I get dressed easily in the morning, because my choices are limited and the options are easily visible in my closet.  I feel confident in what I am wearing, because I'm not trying to keep up with a goal I can never reach (having the most, the best, and the cutest wardrobe).  I am easily reaching a more reasonable goal - to live within my means and maintain a limited, high quality capsule wardrobe that is respectful of both the environment and humanity.