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minimalist wardrobe

If I Were a Minimalist in High School

Kristin at Buzzfeed did a video recently where she followed different high school dress codes for a week. At first, this made me wonder if I could follow my high school alma mater’s dress code but that it made me wonder how I would have been different if I had been a minimalist when I was a high school student.

Oh yes - That's my sophomore year picture, Fall 1994.

Oh yes – That’s my sophomore year picture, Fall 1994.

I went to a Catholic high school in Northern California, and our dress code was fairly strict – no shorts, no shirts with writing or images on them, and no open toed shoes were some of the restrictions. If I were the confident self-accepting person I am today back then, I think I would have gone the Jobs/Zuckerberg route and had a personal uniform that I would where every day. Judging by my current closet, probably would be blue jeans and a dark gray v-neck T-shirt. I can picture my childhood closet with 5 matching T-shirts, 2 pairs of jeans, and a solid-colored hoodie for cold days. The only things that might have changed day-to-day would have been the color of my underwear and socks, which shoes I wore, and whether I wore jewelry and/or make-up.

Given my experience with shaving my head this summer, I could easily see myself going through high school with a shaved head – or as close to it as the school’s dress code would allow. (Students weren’t supposed to shave their heads, but some guys would do it over summer break. It would be unfair for the school to punish them for something they did during vacation.)

I can rock the bald head. Photo by Devon C. Adams Photography, used with permission

I can rock the bald head. Photo by Devon C. Adams Photography, used with permission

If I were a minimalist in high school, I wouldn’t be surprised if I used a capsule wardrobe, inspired by Project 333, for the rest of my clothes. A person doesn’t need many material goods to be happy, so why accumulate it? I am not sure if I would apply the same minimalist rules to my leotard collection. As a gymnast, I had about 2 dozen beautiful leotards and I loved them, but I also wonder what it would have been like to have 6 matching leotards that I would have worn each night to practice. Some people might wonder if it would have been weird or boring; I wonder if it would have been a badass.

If I were a minimalist in high school, I would have done a lot more and a lot less with my time. I would hope that I would understand that school was my job, and accepted that there were a lot of classes that were required for graduation but pointless for my life – like literature (most fiction does nothing for me because it’s not real, especially really old fiction) and religion (I’m Agnostic). I would have cared even less about school spirit days and other functions and cared more about spending time with the people I liked. I suspected I would have done more, with less, and been happier and put more energy into developing myself as a person.

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

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.

Minimalism Project: Closet Clean-Out 2014

Last year I made the commitment to being more of a minimalist and got rid of a lot of things that served no purpose in my life, which included a major closet clean-out. Now that the new year has started, that process has started again.

One of the first things I did on January 1st was go into my closet and flip every hanger so that the hooks were facing into the room rather than towards the wall.

Part of my Closet on January 2, 2014

Part of my Closet on January 2, 2014

As I wear each garment and it comes back from the wash, it will be hung on a hanger and placed back on the rod with the hook facing the wall. At a glance I can assess what I have and haven’t. At the end of the year, if there’s something that hasn’t been worn, I will probably never wear it again so I will get rid of it. Of course specialty items like my ski gear and evening gowns are exempt from this process but even they are subject to the wardrobe chopping block if they aren’t going to be used.

Same Section of my Closet on January 9, 2014

Same Section of my Closet on January 9, 2014

I’m a bit of a dork and definitely neurotic so I extended the project to include garments that are on the shelves of my closet like my jeans, sweaters, and workout gear. I created a checklist that listed each garment individually and taped it to the side of the shelves. Whenever I wear one of these items, I cross it off of my checklist.

The List on my Closet Wall - January 2nd and 9th, 2014

The List on my Closet Wall – January 2nd and 9th, 2014

As I hung the checklist I thought to myself, “Why do you have 3 pairs of yoga pants? Didn’t you get the REI yoga pants to replace the Nike ones because they were getting threadbare?” I grabbed the pen that lives in the closet off the shelf, crossed off the Nike pants, and tossed them into the donation pile.

I did a similar process last year to clean out my closet and at least 30 garments didn’t survive to 2014. I will be interesting to see what makes it through this year. I will have to remember that having nice things is meaningless if they serve no purpose and that a garment is not a substitute for a memory behind its acquisition.