How to Create a Minimalist Wardrobe

You've seen them on Pinterest, those perfect capsule wardrobes.  Or maybe you've read the posts about people who wore the same dress for 30 days – and no one even noticed.

We so often think that to project a successful image we need a room-size closet full of the latest designer clothes, shoes, handbags, and jewelry.  But some of the most famous people in the world have turned their backs on fashion trends.  You might even argue that their success is at least partly the result of ignoring fashion in favor of focus and productivity.

It's not just tech businessmen like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg who do this either.  Way back in the 1980's, designer Donna Karan introduced her "Seven Easy Pieces" wardrobe, which still works.  Director Christopher Nolan and designer Michael Kors each wear basically the same outfit every day (Kors once told the Seattle Times that his black and white outfit makes him feel "fresh and glamorous and graphic.")  Angelina Jolie is one of the more dazzling women in the world on a red carpet, but usually favors black pants, ballerina flats, and either a loose white blouse or a black turtleneck, with little to no jewelry.  And minimalist trendsetters Courtney Carver and Joshua Becker stick with 33 pieces of clothing, including shoes and accessories.

Ultimately, it's not the number of pieces that's important, but the willingness to pare back, experiment, and find out what is enough for you.

And there are certainly payoffs to creating a minimalist wardrobe, starting with the obvious benefit of spending less money.  Rather than shopping every week or two for the latest styles, a curated wardrobe allows you to shop a few times a year with a list of items you need to replace.  Fewer shopping trips saves time, too.

"We tend to put meaning into our things, which are really meaningless," says psychologist Jennifer Baumgartner.  When we own less, we free our personal image from what we own or wear, allowing us to express our personalities more directly – by what we say and do.

Impress with your character,
not your clothes.

Joshua Becker

Here are some practical steps toward minimizing your closet.

12 Tips for Creating a Simpler Wardrobe

1.  Admit that you own too much clothing.

This is where it all starts.

2.  Wear fewer colors.

Most of us gravitate toward a few colors anyway because we like the way we look in them.  By choosing a base color (such as black, gray, navy, brown, khaki, or denim, for example) and then sticking with one or two other coordinating colors, you wind up with a wardrobe that can mix and match.  Fewer colors also means fewer accessories (shoes, belts, handbags, etc.).

3.  Discover your true style.

Owning fewer pieces doesn't mean you must dress unattractively.  In fact, by discovering your perfect color, cut, and fit, you feel good in your clothes every day.  And isn't that what we want from our wardrobes?  You can feel put together and confident when you focus on a few well-loved favorites.  

4.  Choose items that work for multiple occasions.

Courtney Carver, creator of Project 333 (paid link), suggests dressing up leisure wear and slightly dressing down work wear.  For example, a tailored skirt, shirt, and blazer could be traded for the same shirt and blazer worn with trousers or jeans, or the skirt could be worn with a tank or tee and a cardigan or unconstructed jacket.

Obviously, an attorney probably still needs his or her tailored suits, in which case item #2 is the best option.

5.  Purchase higher quality items.

With fewer clothes, each item is going to be worn and washed more often, so quality really becomes an issue.  Joshua Becker says he never used to pay attention to clothing quality, but now he always does.  "Things need to be more durable," he says, "but you end up looking more presentable."

It's also smart to treat your clothes well.  I use the cold/gentle cycle when washing and hang dry most items.

6.  Do a quick initial purge.

Clothes you no longer wear, that don't fit, or are stained or damaged in some way are easy to remove.  Clothes you bought that still have the tags on can be a bit more difficult, because we have the tendency to not want to "waste" things we've purchased.  But if an item has been hanging unworn for many months, it's already being wasted.  Go ahead and donate these things if it's too late to return them, and try to figure out why they just weren't right for your body or lifestyle so you can avoid the same purchasing errors in future.

7.  Donate, sell, and discard some more.

To remove the clothes that may be "perfectly good" but that you don't really need, turn all of your hangers in the reverse direction.  After wearing an item, turn the hanger to its normal direction.  After a month or two, remove the clothes you never touched.

8.  If all else fails, pick a number.

Start with five or ten.  Flick through the hangers in your closet and remove 10 items – any 10 you want.  Put them in a bag and drop them off at a donation center.  You may find that this task wasn't too difficult, so go ahead and do it again!

9.  Impose a shopping ban.

For many of us, clothes shopping is a habit.  To break the cycle of purchasing and discarding, declare a freeze.  I recommend 90 days to practice this new self-discipline.

10.  Avoid sales racks.

When you are shopping for clothes, be wary of sales racks.  While a sale might enable you to get a better price on something you need, more often sales are designed to get us to buy something we don't.

11.  Consider owning one.

Sometimes one is enough.  One bathing suit, one black belt, one winter coat, one formal outfit....  Insert your own ideas based on your occupation, lifestyle, or climate.

12.  Experiment with less.

Test your assumptions about how many clothes you need.  Try placing half of your clothes in another room for a couple of weeks.  You'll be surprised how much easier it is to get dressed with fewer items to choose from.  Most of us really do wear a small percentage of the clothing we own and would be happier with fewer daily choices.  But you'll never realize that until you put it to the test.

There are many reasons the capsule wardrobe movement is growing.  A minimalist wardrobe is less stressful, more convenient, and lets you wear your favorite outfits every day.  I think you'll love it once you experience it for yourself.

Photo by Alexandru Acea on Unsplash


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