How to Use the Three-Word Method to Simplify Your Wardrobe and Home

With clothing trends evolving faster than ever, you might feel that a minimalist wardrobe is going to look dated very quickly, which could discourage you from creating one.  How can you keep things simple yet flexible?

Enter the three-word method to help curate your personal style.  If you dress with choices that are your personal favorites, your wardrobe can still evolve over time without having to replace everything every few months (which generally results in the type of closet that contains 150 pieces and "nothing to wear").

I came upon this idea by accident while I was researching something else.  I give that disclaimer because it apparently first appeared on TikTok, which is the epitome of trendiness – not my scene at all.  Created by New York-based fashion stylist Allison Bornstein, the three-word method went viral on social media earlier this year.

vintage sophisticated feminine style

What is the three-word method?

The three-word method is as simple as it sounds.  You just choose three adjectives to identify your personal style.

I'll admit that I love the idea of three words because it's minimalist, yet easily personalized.  Bornstein uses the method to help her clients choose clothing and put outfits together, and she explains that the three words help you describe the style you currently have as well as the style you want to have.

So one or more of your three words may change over time.  Your choices aren't set in stone, and the process is not meant to be intimidating.  Bornstein puts it this way:  "Don't let the fear of getting it wrong prevent you from accessing this."

How do you choose your three words?

The first step is assessment.  Open your closet and pull out your most-often-worn, go-to pieces.  Hopefully, if you've gone through at least one round of decluttering, this is a decent percentage of what you own.

Ask yourself, "What makes these pieces my favorites?"  Usually we focus on color, cut, neckline, sleeve length, fabric, or other details of style.  In this case, you want to determine a more metaphorical attribute that draws you to the garment.

Perhaps your favorite trousers are:
  • tailored
  • oversized
  • casual
  • sporty
  • or fitted

Maybe your favorite blouse is:
  • feminine
  • colorful
  • preppy
  • elegant
  • or sexy

Your favorite jacket might be:
  • flowing
  • neutral
  • playful
  • glamorous
  • or classic

classic tailored colorful style
Other adjectives that could describe the clothes you reach for again and again are effortless, bold, unexpected, vintage, comfortable, monochrome, whimsical, tomboy, Bohemian, sophisticated, or something else.

Next, you'll want to narrow your choice of words to three – and this might take some time.  I started with classic and comfortable, and then stalled on my third choice.  I wear quite a bit of black and dark wash denim, but I also like jewel tones.  So was my third word "colorful"?  I don't wear tight clothes, but I really don't care for baggy styles, so was my third word "fitted" or "tailored"?

Bornstein suggests that the first two words should describe your current style, while the third word could nudge your style in a direction you'd like to go.  You might realize that most of your closet is tailored and neutral, but decide you'd like to incorporate more feminine looks as well.  Or maybe you see that your clothes tend to be preppy and fitted, but you'd like to add some vintage vibe.  You could look for a couple of pieces in thrift stores and charity shops (perhaps start with jewelry or a handbag).

Maybe you'll discover that you don't have a personal style – your pieces are unrelated and your look is undefined.  That could explain why you've had such a cluttered wardrobe in the past.  Now's your chance to set some perimeters and goals which will help you choose with more wisdom and care going forward.

Bornstein says the three words create your fashion "north star."  If you're trying to change from trend-driven to classic or maximal to minimal, the three words may prevent a lot of fashion failures from landing in your closet.

Getting out of the closet

comfortable streamlined organic kitchen
The three-word method could be helpful in other areas as well.  How about using it to describe your cooking style?  If you decide that your desired meals are low-carb, fresh, and streamlined, your kitchen will hold very different foods and tools than if you choose to describe what you prepare there as spicy, traditional, and vegetarian.  You'll also see which kitchen items aren't useful or appropriate for you, making them easier to declutter.

If you use the three-word method to describe your home decorating style, you may have a new tool to help declutter unwanted furniture or d├ęcor.  You could realize that heavy drapes and multiple trinkets are no longer what you want to live with, or that you really love your comfortable overstuffed sofa.  You might decide to thin out your jungle of house plants, or to accept the vintage Oriental rug your mom is discarding as she downsizes.

The three-word method can help define your personal style in a way that's simple, clear, yet flexible.  Give it a try.

COMING JULY 1st:  The revised and expanded 3rd edition of my best-selling book, The Minimalist Wardrobe!*  Pre-order a Kindle copy now and save 25%.

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

In the 1940's the average person owned 36 items of clothing.  Today the average consumer has 120 items, with 80% going unworn.  Maybe we're too influenced by brands, trends, coupons, and sales.  Maybe we're bored and looking for the few moments of excitement a purchase brings.  Maybe we lack confidence, and believe that stylish clothes will attract the respect and recognition of others.  Or maybe we hang on to too many clothes we'll never wear again.

The 3rd edition of The Minimalist Wardrobe (packed with 7 additional chapters and 40 pages of new content) can be your guide to a simpler wardrobe that passes the "feel good test" and lets you wear your favorite things every day. 


  1. My three words are comfortable, casual, solid colors. That applies to both my wardrobe and our home furnishings. I do have a few prints/patterns but they are the exception.
    Linda Sand


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