The Minimalist Wardrobe

bee and daisy
© 2013 Christy King

“Dressing with less and adopting a minimalist fashion philosophy can work anywhere for anyone.”

- Courtney Carver

Most of us have more clothing, shoes and accessories than we wear. I know I do, and I don’t even like shopping or have an interest in fashion.

Luckily, there are lots of good suggestions for how to declutter your clothing, so you’re bound to find a plan that fits your personality and lifestyle.

One that’s particularly good for beginning and gradual minimalists is Courtney Carver’s Project 333. You choose 33 items of clothing, accessories, jewelry, outerwear and shoes, and that’s what you wear for a 3-month period.

Don’t worry. Not everything counts as an item (underwear and PJs, for example, are outside the 33-item limit), and you don’t have to get rid of everything else – you just box it up.

 My Almost Minimalist Wardrobe

I’m cheap and lazy frugal and efficient, so I created my own gradual method of decluttering clothes. I don’t like big projects, so I try to deal with issues as they arise and just pay attention to the surrounding items when I grab something to wear.

The most important thing (once again) is to dramatically slow what comes in. I no longer buy things just because they’re on sale or “they’ll do.” As much as I hate shopping, I’ll go to a bunch of different stores to find something that fits well and is comfortable. Also, if I get something new (whether I buy it or it’s a gift), I make sure to get rid of one – or sometimes two – other items.

I’ve gotten rid of all the clothes that are too big – I don’t want those to fit in the future. I’ve also gotten rid of nearly all the clothes that are too small. There’s one pair of jeans I kept that sort of fit now and will fit perfectly if I lose those last few pounds I’m shooting for. I keep these only because I have a really hard time finding pants that fit.

I’ve created sort of a uniform for work. I wear all dark pants that go with my black shoes and black socks. I’m still wearing out a few older tops, but my goal is to have all my “work” shirts be 3/4-sleeve button-down shirts. They can be worn alone when it’s warm and with a cardigan when it’s cold.

This works a lot better for me than having separate summer and winter tops since I live in the Pacific Northwest where it’s likely to be cold in the morning and hot in the afternoon on the same day.

To learn more about developing a “uniform,” see Timoni West’s post, Why I Wear the Same Thing Every Day, and What I Wear.

When I’m not at work, I usually live in jeans and tees. Though I wear them year round (over or under long-sleeved shirts in winter), I have too many short-sleeved t-shirts. I donated a bunch that I didn’t really like, but I still have more than I really need.

Since I have room to keep them, instead of donating the extra shirts I liked, I decided to keep a reasonable number out to wear and put the others on a high shelf. Instead of needing to buy new shirts when the ones I’m wearing are old, I’ll be able to “shop” from what I already own. This saves money (and time shopping).

Since I’m frugal, work clothes that no longer look quite nice enough for work become casual clothes, and casual clothes that become stained or worn often become sleep shirts or painting/yardwork clothes. Of course, I can use only so many of those, so some items end up in the trash or cut into rags.

Clothes that need repairs don’t go back in the closet. If I can do the repairs, they go to the laundry room. If not, they stay on hangers placed on the closet doorknob. If they’re still sitting there several weeks later, it’s pretty safe to assume that I don’t care about these items enough to keep them.

As I mentioned in Pack Light, for trips, I like to pack old underwear and sleepwear that are ready to toss in the trash so I can just throw them away on the trip. I have a bag I keep in the closet with things I’m saving for travel.

“And then there is what you actually wear.”

- Jennifer Skinner

Just a few weeks ago I finally donated a coat I’d bought a few years ago on sale. A lightly insulated and attractive raincoat, it was perfect for our winter weather, which is rainy and not very cold.

The problem was, I didn’t like wearing it. I probably sound like a total dork, but the noise it made when I moved really irritated me. I tried to convince myself to wear it, but wearing it made me unhappy, so I always chose another jacket.

If you have clothes, shoes or accessories you hate, get rid of them. It doesn’t matter how much money you spent on them, how beautiful or soft they are, how well they fit or how wonderful you look wearing them. If you won’t wear them, there’s no reason to keep them.

Are You Obsessed with Shoes?

If you love shoes, clothes, jewelry or accessories, it’s okay to have more than 33 (or even 100) items.

As I mentioned in my Simplify the Kitchen post, I have 10 kinds of flour. While most people probably can’t even list 10 kinds of flour, much less think it sensible to own all of them, I don’t feel guilty about it. I enjoy baking and regularly use them all.

On the other hand, I have little interest in clothes, shoes, jewelry or accessories.

Remember that minimalism is about focusing on what you need and love, not what anybody else thinks you should own. Don’t get rid of items you use and love just because someone else thinks you have “too many.”

That being said, even if you’re a clotheshorse, you probably have some things you never wear because they don’t fit, they’re no longer in fashion, they’re stained or you just don’t like them. Make sure you declutter all those items.

And if your clothes, shoes, etc. don’t fit comfortably in the space you have to keep them in, you’ll need to make some compromises. Either keep only your favorite items or declutter enough of something else that you can take over that space for your clothes or shoes.

For help building a stylish minimalist wardrobe, see Pixel Perfect, Everyday Minimalistthe Uniform Project and Miss Minimalist.

“When a woman says, ‘I have nothing to wear!’ what she really means is, ‘There’s nothing here for who I’m supposed to be today.”

- Caitlin Moran

Through a post by Joshua Becker, I found a great series of posts by Jennifer Skinner at The Very Small Closet discussing emotional reasons we hold onto our clothes. If you’ve gone through all your clothes and find that you can’t let go of items you know you’ll never wear, I suggest you read these posts and try to figure out why you’re holding on to things you have no need for. You may also want to try having a close friend help you declutter.

Your Turn

Do you keep clothes, shoes, etc. that you never wear? If so, why? Please share in the comments.

10 thoughts on “The Minimalist Wardrobe

  1. Great post! I definitely agree with you, what is “enough” varies from person to person and really depends on where you spend your time/effort. 10 types of flour would be ridiculous for me to own, but makes perfect sense for your lifestyle. But then again, I’m not much of a cook or a baker, as much as I try :)

    And thanks so much for linking to my series, I’m so glad that you liked it!

  2. Clothing is one area where I actually have less than 33 items.Some clothes I really like, and others are either falling apart or I can’t stand, so my purchasing goal is to replace these items. Since I’m a stay at home mom, sometimes I just stay in pajamas all day so I don’t really need a TON of clothes. I have clothes to go out in, and to go to church in, and that’s about it. I also wear only one pair of shoes, since I can get away with that in Hawaii…though I have 2 other pairs. Yeah…not your typical girl

    1. I’m definitely not your typical girl, either. However, I do have separate clothes for work than for relaxing and then still more for dirty chores (though these are just worn-out old casual clothes). And different shoes for work (Birkenstock clogs, sort of dressy and now several years old) than for summer knocking around (Crocs) and then winter knocking around (whatever boots have good support I can get half off at Goodwill) and finally hiking (Teva Sandals and hiking boots). Oh, and rain boots – it is Oregon after all!

  3. This is a major theme in my life right now and I truly enjoy reading about how people determined what is “right” for them in a minimal closet. To help determine the same for myself, I committed to a modified (2-months per round) Project 333. I exclude jewelry, outerwear, loungewear, PJs, undies, workout wear, and swimwear, but I whittled those down to only my favorites and have set aside the rest to repurpose, donate, sell, or throw away. I started 2/14/13 and am wrapping up my 3rd Round. At the end of each Round, I pick my 3 favorite and 3 least favorite outfits and note honorable and dishonorable items. I then grade each item that was used in the Round as red (get rid of it), orange-to-yellow (not sure yet), and green. Because P333 involves picking well-made things I’m pretty sure will work, my reds are minimal, but oranges are surprisingly plentiful. My goal at the end (2/28/14) is to hang my favorite and “green” items on a separate rack and carefully analyze everything else. If I didn’t wear it in a year, it will be easy pickings. If it’s yellow, I want it to complement and support my favorite things to round out a useful and beautiful wardrobe. If it’s orange, it will probably go. As I’ve moved along, I’m also trying to purchase more mindfully. Where it is made? How is it made? It is useful and beautiful? I want my dollars to vote for good things, and I want the things I buy and wear to reflect my core values (People over things. Experiences over things. Less is More. Things must be beautiful and/or useful – and preferably both.

    1. I’m so impressed by organized people!

      Although I didn’t mention this in my post, my goal is to eventually have all my cardigans handknit (by me). Right now I have only 1 that I knit, but I do have another on the needles. Of course, it’s been on the needles for a long time….

  4. Thanks for this! I found that after many years of working, I have migrated to a sort of uniform as well. Still, when I cleared out my closet recently there were plenty of things that I have not worn in years. I’m sorry the Very Small CLoset is no longer up. The posts on why we keep unused clothes was enlightening.

    1. It was a great series. It’s nice that she’s at least kept what she previously wrote available. I’m always fascinated by how the human mind works. It’s so odd that we ourselves seem to so often lack control of our own minds. Of course, I have a philosophy minor, so I’m a bit of a navel gazer!

  5. Hi Christy, I do like clothes, but I have a fairly small wardrobe. I want my clothes to be attractive, comfortable, and functional. Even when I was working (I’m retired), I wear the same sorts of clothes all the time. Since they are comfortable, that’s no problem. About once a year, I go through all my clothes and give away anything that I am not wearing. One tip: To minimize the number of tops you need, buy a sweater or jacket that has lots of your favorite colors. Then you can wear many different tops with that same sweater/ jacket.

I'd love for you to share your ideas and experiences.