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capsule wardrobe

Thoughts about Fashion and Minimalism

Joshua Becker & Ruth Carter - Two Well-dressed Minimalists at Ignite Phoenix #16 (Photo by Tom Stokes, Creative Commons License)

Joshua Becker & Ruth Carter – Two Well-dressed Minimalists at Ignite Phoenix #16 (Photo by Tom Stokes, Creative Commons License)

About a month ago, a friend asked me to comment on Joshua Becker’s post 8 Reasons Successful People Are Choosing to Wear the Same Thing Every Day. This article brings up a lot of good points – if you have a personal uniform (i.e., Steve Jobs and his turtleneck and Mark Zuckerberg and his gray t-shirt), you save time and energy getting dressed in the morning. And you save money by not having an expansive wardrobe.

It appears the capsule wardrobe is catching on – a wardrobe of interchangeable pieces. Some people who are trying to be more minimalistic with their wardrobe do Project 333 – wearing a wardrobe that consists of 33 pieces for a 3-month period. I understand the concept of these ideas, but they’ve never appealed to me.

Being a minimalist has never been about limiting myself to owning a specific number of items but limiting myself to possessions that add value to my life. When it comes to the role of fashion in my life, I love this quote from Joshua Fields Millburn of The Minimalists:

Now nearly everything I own is my favorite thing. All my clothes are my favorite clothes. All my furniture is my favorite furniture. All my possessions are my favorite possessions—all of which I enjoy every day of my life.

I love wearing clothes that make me feel good – soft fabrics, comfortable cuts, and items that make me feel beautiful. If I’m not seeing clients, my everyday outfit tends to consist of jeans, a t-shirt, comfortable shoes, and a hoodie or cardigan if it’s chilly. When I’m speaking, I’ll trade in my hoodie for a blazer. If I’m seeing clients, I may take my outfit up a notch to dress pants, a button-down shirt, a tank top, and dress shoes.

Here are two of the things I do to make sure I’m mostly keeping the clothes I love:

1. The Hanger Flip. At the beginning of the year, I reverse all the hangers in my closet. When I put a garment away after wearing it, I flip the hanger back to the proper direction. After a few weeks, I can see what garments I’m wearing the most. By fall, I can usually tell what I should get rid of because I can see what I haven’t worn through the previous warm and cold seasons.

2. Select the Day’s Outfit in a Vacuum. I don’t open a drawer or step into my closet in the morning until I’ve decided what I want to wear. I don’t use visual cues but rather my knowledge of my wardrobe and that day’s calendar to select my outfit. It forces me to go with my gut feeling about what I really want to wear instead of getting lost considering all the possibilities.

The size of my wardrobe has diminished substantially over the last few years and I love it. (There’s no reason to own 15 sweaters when I consistently wear only 4 of them.) I love that my wardrobe is simple and filled with mostly classic pieces and awesome t-shirts. It makes getting dressed every day so much easier. I know that everything I own fits, serves a purpose, and feels good against my sensitive skin.

Closet Clean-Out 2015 Update

At the beginning of the year, I started my annual closet clean-out and I reversed all the hangers in my closet. The idea is that when I wear a garment, I’ll flip the hanger back when I put the item away. At the end of the year, anything that is on a reversed hanger is something I haven’t worn in the last year, so it’s an item that should be given away. This is something I’ve been doing for years, and every year I have fewer items and it’s easier to let go of things I don’t use anymore.

Part of my Closet - June 16, 2015

Part of my Closet – June 16, 2015

Last year, I thought I cleaned out a lot of my wardrobe, but when I moved last October, I challenged myself to replicate Ryan Nicodemus’ “packing party.” By the end of it, I had 10 boxes of stuff to give away and probably 2 of those boxes were filled with clothes.

A few days ago I stepped into my closet to assess how this year’s clean-out was going. The first thing I noticed is that most of my hangers have already been flipped back, which is a significant difference from past years. This is the smallest my wardrobe has been since becoming a minimalist. It might be the smallest it’s been at least since I stopped wearing a uniform to school. And I’m not going out of my way to wear things just because their hanger hasn’t been flipped yet. On most days, I decide what I want to wear before stepping into my closet.

I looked at the top of my closet and I noted that I have 6 pullover sweaters. This is a lot less than the 12-15 sweaters I used to have, but still – 6 sweaters?! What do I need with 6 sweaters?! Remember, I live in Phoenix. It’s pretty warm here most of the time. I took a quick glance through them and moved 2 to the charity pile.  It wouldn’t hurt to go through my jeans (I got a few new pairs for speaking engagements) and my accessories (which I rarely wear).  I definitely have more t-shirts and running shirts than I need, and I’m ok with that.

My annual clean-out isn’t about shrinking my wardrobe as much as possible. It’s about getting rid of things that don’t make me happy. I never want to feel uncomfortable in my skin, in my clothes, or in my home. When I get dressed, it makes me feel good because I feel comfortable and pretty in my clothes and I value myself enough to treat myself to fabrics that are super soft and garments that complement my personality.

I thought about challenging myself to do a capsule wardrobe – limiting myself to 33 items for 3 months – but I don’t think that would be much of a challenge compared to how I dress myself now. Instead, I’m going to continue my clean-out process and be honest about what brings value to my life when it comes to clothes.

Closet Clean-Out 2015

Glimpse into part of my Closet - January 31, 2015

Glimpse into part of my Closet – January 31, 2015

For anyone who has been following my minimalism project, you know I just got rid of 2 boxes of clothes during my “packing party,” which was inspired by Ryan Nicodemus of The Minimalists. Even so, it’s a new year and every garment is potentially on the chopping block again.

For me, minimalism is about getting rid of the things that don’t add value to my life. It is a constant process. Just because an item added value to my life last year, it doesn’t guarantee that it adds value to my life today. And if that’s the case, and that item should find a new home where it will be useful again.

On January 1st, I went into my closet and flipped every hanger so instead of curling towards the wall, each hanger was curled toward the center of the room. When I wear a garment and it returns to the closet, the hanger will be flipped back to the traditional position. I also took each pair of my shoes and flipped them so the toes were pointing towards the room rather than towards the wall. When I where a pair of shoes for the first time, I flipped them around when I put them away. It takes only a few minutes to flip everything around, and by using the system, I can see at a glance what garments and shoes I have and haven’t worn this year.

Historically, when I’ve done an annual wardrobe clean-out, it also included a checklist for garments that are folded like sweaters, workout gear, and T-shirts. I decided not to do that this year but instead will keep I mental checklist of what I have worn. The items that I don’t wear often will end up at the bottom of the piles and back of the drawers and I’ll decide by the end of the year if anything would be better off being donated to charity.

I got rid of a lot of clothes during my “packing party.” As a result, I seem to enjoy the clothes I have that much more and it appears I’ve flipped a lot more hangers to date then I did last year. It’s a very rare that I find myself rediscovering a garment in my wardrobe because I forgot that I owned it. It definitely makes me happier knowing that the things that I have actually help me be more comfortable and add value to my life.

I’ve considered trying the capsule wardrobe – creating a 3-month wardrobe based on mixing and matchng 24-33 garments. That might be something fun to try when I get back from all my spring travels.

Minimalism Project Update: Closet Clean-Out 2014 – Six Weeks In

As part of my ongoing attempt to be more of a minimalist, I’m cleaning out my closet again this year using the hanger-flip method. At six weeks into the year, I’d say I’ve worn 40-50% of my wardrobe.

The downside of using the hanger-flip method to clean out your wardrobe is you’re always aware of what you have and haven’t worn. There are days when I’m getting dressed where I specifically look for something I haven’t worn yet instead of thinking about what I feel like wearing that day. I’m sure there were a handful of times during last year’s clean out when I wore a garment just to “save” it from going into the going-to-charity pile, which goes against the principle of doing the closet clean out in the first place. If you have to make an effort to wear something, you probably won’t even notice if it’s not in your wardrobe anymore.

My Closet as of February 15, 2014 - I have a lot of T-shirts, but I wear a lot of them

My Closet as of February 15, 2014 – I have a lot of T-shirts, but I wear a lot of them

I was recently inspired to take a hard look at my wardrobe. My law firm celebrates T-shirt Friday every Friday, meaning that no matter what’s on your calendar, you wear a t-shirt to work. I was curious to know if I could go a year without repeating a t-shirt for T-shirt Fridays and I was a little astonished to realize I have 52 t-shirts in my wardrobe. That’s way more than what I really need. In my defense, some of those shirts are amazing – like the custom shirts from Ignite Phoenix. But there are others that I need to consider more closely. For instance, I usually wear a unisex small shirt but I have a few mediums for kicking around the house – but do I really need three of them?

I was recently at a conference where a vendor was giving away shirts with a really cool design, but by then they only had XLs left. I took one at the suggestion that I wear it as a night shirt. I already have an XL night shirt that I wear every night that I got at the same event last year. The XL night shirt that I used before that was one that I got in 1995 and I wore it until it became threadbare, practically see through, and was getting more holes every time I washed it. I won’t need another night shirt anytime soon so the new freebie went into the charity pile.

Looking at my t-shirts made me start looking at the rest of my wardrobe. I looked at the upper shelf in my closet and counted that I have 12 pullover sweaters. And remember, I live in the desert – I don’t need 12 sweaters. I took an honest look at them and pulled four of them out that I know I don’t wear anymore. I’m sure I could pare down the pile even more.

I also took a hard look at my garments on the hangers and pulled at least ten items out and hung them in the hall closet. If I find myself wanting to wear any of them later this year, I can go get it, but putting them out of sight provides a trial run to see what it would be like not to have them in my wardrobe anymore. I’m pretty sure I won’t miss any of them.

I accept that I probably never be a complete minimalist when it comes to my wardrobe. I enjoy the variety too much. I have admiration for people who can do it and make it work. If you want to be more of a fashion minimalist, consider trying to create a capsule wardrobe – a wardrobe built on ~33 items that can be mixed and matched for three months. If you want to go a more extreme route, you can replicate what Nadia Eghbal did and wear the same outfit every day for a year.

For those of you who are on Reddit, I posted a question about whether minimalism was harder from women than men – at least from a fashion perspective – and it generated a lot more discussion than I expected. Check it out here.