Minimalist Challenge: 7 Steps to the Perfect Tiny Wardrobe

Before I was a minimalist, my two biggest areas of acquisition were my house and my wardrobe.  I was constantly buying new home décor and planning updates and upgrades to our space, and I bought new clothes nearly every week.

I always thought that a new outfit would make me look more attractive, more stylish, more professional, more successful – just more than what I felt I actually was.  I thought that scoring supposedly great deals would make me look financially secure and savvy.  (As if spending money I didn't have on stuff I didn't need was a smart money move!)

tiny wardrobe

Looking for satisfaction

It's amazing the power I attributed to my wardrobe.  Based on my behavior, I obviously thought my wardrobe could reflect who I was – my strengths and abilities – better than my choices, behaviors, and what I actually did and accomplished.

I thought that having all of this would make me happy, but then I'd have to go back out and buy something else, something more... so my wardrobe was never complete and I was never satisfied for more than a few days.

As Courtney Carver, creator of Project 333, explains, "There is nothing you can buy that will finally make you not want anything."

For a dedicated shopper, that's disheartening.

The secret to contentment is the opposite behavior.  You must recognize that you already have enough – maybe even more than enough.  This recognition leads to gratitude, and opens the door to creativity.

That's right – limits actually encourage creativity.  How many ways can you combine what you already have?  How can you keep inspiring yourself without buying more?  You won't find out until you dress with less.

The iconic tiny wardrobe

Way back in the 1980's, fashion maven Donna Karan introduced her "Seven Easy Pieces" wardrobe, a collection that is now classic.  Her tiny wardrobe would still work today!  It's mostly black and very chic, with a bodysuit, tailored blazer, cashmere sweater, dress, skirt, leather jacket, and white shirt.  The epitome of minimalism.

Karan's innovation is a capsule wardrobe – a small number of pieces that combine in many ways, taking you from the office to date night.  Variety can be achieved by adding different shoes, handbags, belts, scarves, or jewelry.  (According to stylist Erin Ross, "Accessories do all the work.")

You don't have to be so formal either.  Substitute a denim jacket for the tailored blazer, use a Breton-striped sweater, soften the dress style to A-line, and change the skirt for a great pair of jeans.  Your basics are black, white, and denim, but you could change the black leather jacket for a bright color, if you like.

Don't get stuck with a trend that's not right for you.

A word of warning here:  Donna Karan's Seven Easy Pieces are great, but they're not the definitive last word on a capsule wardrobe.  You have to choose pieces that are comfortable and flattering for you, that you would love to wear.  You might like bold, bright colors or softness and ruffles.  You might be a khaki and chambray person... or not.

And I'm absolutely not suggesting that you run out and buy a capsule wardrobe.

You have the ability to create a useful, life-simplifying tiny wardrobe from what's hanging in your closet now.  In fact, you've probably done it before.  You've been on vacation, right?  You packed a small selection of items that suited the activities you were planning.  And because your suitcase has a finite amount of space, you chose items that would mix and match to make several outfits.

All you have to do is apply the knowledge you have to pack for a week or two to what you'll need for the next few months.

Wait a minute... if you have enough clothes for a week or two, you actually have enough for the upcoming season, unless you're royalty or a movie star.  You don't need a different outfit every time you appear in public, do you?  Ten to a dozen or so outfits gives you plenty to work with, and some of the same items of clothing will show up in more than one outfit.  (That's the beauty of mix and match.)

Why do you want a tiny wardrobe?

A capsule wardrobe is great for travel, of course, but it's essential for a simpler life.  It saves time, money, and space.  It's eco-conscious.  It challenges you to be creative with what you have, while clarifying your preferences.

A capsule wardrobe does away with the feeling of overwhelm and "I don't know what to wear."  You don't just resort to wearing the same thing every day because of decision fatigue.  You feel confident and put together in your favorite pieces.

Erin Ross says a capsule wardrobe is like a menu.  "It's like having dinners for the month already figured out!"  But if you feel like a last minute change, you can always pull out a different jacket or pair of shoes, because everything works together in your curated collection.

choose your style

7 steps to your best tiny wardrobe

1.  Consider your lifestyle.

Where do you go and what do you do?  If this seems too boring and basic to consider, just think back to the last time you bought something "fabulous" that you've never worn.  That piece, as beautiful and stylish as it might be, doesn't fit your lifestyle.

2.  Consider your climate.

If you live in Seattle, Minneapolis, or Atlanta, you're going to need different clothes than I do in the Sacramento area.  To create a wardrobe for four seasons, you want one main collection that can be supplemented with sweaters or sundresses depending on the time of year.

3.  Consider your body type and style.

The idea is to pick what fits and flatters you and build from there.  Start with the three or four outfits you wear most often and feel most comfortable in.  They can be the foundation and guide for your wardrobe.

4.  Collect.

Time to get real.  Pull all your clothes out of the closet and drawers and heap them on your bed.  All of them.  Seeing what you have, and maybe the mistakes you've made, is essential.  You may laugh or cry, but you'll be even more determined to get a handle on your wardrobe situation.

5.  Classify.

Go with your gut reaction as you sort your clothes into piles on the floor:

  • Keep.  I love and wear these items regularly, and feel happy and confident when I do.
  • Huh?  I might want these, but I'm not sure why.
  • Donate.  These items don't fit my lifestyle, climate, or body, but they're usable and might suit someone else.
  • Trash.  These are worn, frayed, torn, stained, stretched, faded, etc.

Box or bag up the donations immediately and get them out to your car for drop-off.  Throw out the trash.

6.  Choose your pieces.

  • You'll need the basics – tops and bottoms.
  • You'll probably find that you prefer to wear two or three colors (which don't have to be black, white, and gray).
  • Choose mostly solid fabrics and just a few prints.
  • Each piece needs to coordinate with at least three other items.
  • Try on clothing from the "huh?" pile.  Would you go to the store and buy it today?  Will you actually wear it in the next couple of months?  If not, add it to your donations.
  • 24 pieces (for example, 7 bottoms, 10 tops, 3 dresses, 4 jackets) will combine into well over three dozen outfits – more than enough to wear something different every day for a month.
  • Accessories add more color, variety, and fun.

7.  Close the holes.

You don't want to do laundry every day because you've got one shirt that is part of almost every outfit.  If that's the case, buy more than one of that particular shirt!  The same goes for your favorite pair of jeans or that super-flattering jersey dress.  This is one situation where duplicates might be required.

Or maybe your one pair of black sandals are a bit worn, and you know you'll wear a pair this summer.  A new pair needs to be on your shopping list.

Please note that I'm not advocating a spree!  Planned and focused acquisition will make your wardrobe more usable.

Do I have to get rid of all the rest?

As Courtney Carver loves to say, "Less isn't nothing."  Minimalism isn't plain white walls, a mattress on the floor, and a gray 10-piece wardrobe.  It's what works for your peaceful, comfortable, clutter-free life.

Once you've chosen your capsule wardrobe and returned it to your closet and drawers, you're not obligated to get rid of the remainder of your Keep and Huh? piles.  However, do box them up and hide them for a while.

After you've been dressing with less for a couple of months, you can look at them again.  Maybe you'll want to wear them in the new season, or maybe you'll feel differently about them and be able to let them go after all.

You might be satisfied already.

Related article:  One Surprising Reason to Declutter Half of Your Stuff

Interested in learning how less is more when it comes to your personal style?  You'll love my book, The Minimalist Wardrobe: Buy Less, Choose Well, and Feel Confident Every Day, available on Amazon.*  It can be your guide to a wardrobe that passes the "feel good" test and lets you wear your favorite things every day.

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.


  1. This might be a question for a therapist (!), but my wardrobe problem is, I cannot seem to make a break from my past life. I lived in a big city and had an exciting professional life that included dinners out, business travel, conferences, special events, etc. Then during the pandemic, I retired and moved to a small town. I still have my closet of clothing for what is now past. Any suggestions for how to accept and move on, without always holding out a secret hope for that past life?


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