I found the secret to massively simplifying my wardrobe.
I could hardly stand one more day of staring at my closet every time I had to get dressed, feeling overwhelmed that nothing seemed quite right.
I always thought I was a careful shopper, but I finally realized that I wasn’t being very smart about it. I’d buy stuff on sale, or buy something because I thought it was cute, but I never actually sat down and created a plan.
That all stopped last year when I purged practically everything I own, including the clothes in my closet.
Before I tell you how I did it, here are the benefits of a minimalist wardrobe:
1. More free time. With less time shopping and deciding what to wear each day (since there’s less to choose from), you’ll have more time to do what you enjoy or need to do.
2. More financial freedom. When you spend less on clothes and items that you don’t really need, you will have more spare cash to pay off debt or save for something special like new furniture or a fun vacation.
3. More happiness. You won’t miss the clutter, and with less clutter, you’ll be able to move through the world feeling much lighter.
4. You’ll look better. When you pare down to only clothes that you really love and that fit well and look good, you’ll feel more confident and happy.
How to downsize your wardrobe:
All you need in a minimalist wardrobe are these essential items:
>> 2 nice dresses (suggested: one black cocktail dress, one colorful for weddings or other semi-formal events)
>> 2 suit/work jackets
>> 3 skirts (casual/dressier depending on your style and profession)
>> 3 blouses (including one white button-down)
>> 3 sweaters (one cardigan for layering)
>> A few T-shirts
>> A few camisoles or sleeveless tops for layering
>> 2 pairs of trousers
>> 2 pairs of denim jeans
>> 3 coats (suggested: one thick wool, one raincoat, one lightweight jacket for layering)
>> Undergarments based on your laundry schedule
Here’s how to purge:
Set aside two hours. The easiest and most efficient way to purge your closet is to do it all at once, so find a time when you can devote at least two hours to the job.
Pull everything out of your closet. Start with a fresh closet, and the job is much easier. You’ll immediately start to see what it can feel like to have an open, airy closet. So take everything out, including clothes, shoes, accessories, boxes, and junk. You closet should be completely empty when you’re finished.
As you take each item out of your closet, pile it on your bed in categories. All pants in a pile, sweaters in a pile, and so on. Display your shoes on the floor and put your accessories in a corner because they are the last things you’ll be dealing with. You can hang coats and jackets on doors, but always keep all clothes in categories (coats, dresses, shirts).
Sort by category.
Now go through your categories of clothes and take one group at a time. Say you’ll start with shirts and blouses. First, get rid of all shirts/blouses that you don’t love—whether they fit or not. This includes shirts that you “should” love because you got great deals on them, or because they were gifts and so on. You don’t want a closet full of “shoulds,” because that creates guilt and clutter. Now try on the shirts/blouses that are left and keep only the ones that fit you perfectly, and that look really great on you. No exceptions.
It’s far better to have only two things in your closet that you feel great in, than a wardrobe full of mediocre or poorly fitting clothes. Once you’ve sorted through your first category, choose your next category, such as pants. Go through the same exercise. Do this category by category until what’s left in each category are items that you love and that fit you really well.
Weight gain exception:
Let’s be honest about your weight. You probably have some items in your wardrobe that used to look great on you but now they’re too tight. I suggest keeping a couple of these items if you really love them, and hanging them somewhere where you’ll see them often. Hopefully, this will be an incentive for you to get back on a diet and exercise routine so you can wear them again. But be honest. If you’ve been hanging on to tight clothes for years, telling yourself you’ll start dieting and exercising soon, but you never do, then get rid of these tight clothes unless you’re ready to commit to starting on your diet and exercise program tomorrow. No exceptions. Enough procrastinating. Procrastinating breeds clutter and stress.
Fix and clean.
You’re down to piles of categories that fit really well and that you love. From this group of clothes, pull out anything that needs repair or cleaning, put them in your car or shopping bag, and on your next trip out, drop them off at the dry cleaners.
Get rid of duplicates.
This is the hardest part of minimizing your wardrobe. Say you have two black cocktail dresses or three white blouses. Unless you wear these things a lot, you need to choose your favorite and donate the rest. Otherwise, you’ll never have a truly minimalist wardrobe.
I admit this is hard to do—but the thrill of having a minimalist wardrobe is so incredibly freeing, that once you make the decision to do this, you’ll be happy.
But let’s say you’re just not quite ready to pare your wardrobe down to this extreme. No problem. Pick your favorite white shirt, black slacks or cocktail dress (whatever you have duplicates of), and put the other duplicates in a box. Store the box somewhere out of sight. The goal of parking your duplicates is simply so you can start enjoying what it feels like to have a truly minimalist wardrobe. If, after a few weeks of living with your minimalist wardrobe you find you still miss some item in your box, then go get it. But give your minimalist wardrobe a try before you start scrounging around in your boxes. If six months passes and you haven’t looked in your box, then take the box to a consignment or thrift store.
Think solid colors for layering items, and only buy items in your color palette. Jackets/coats, cardigans, and camisoles should be solid and/or neutral colors to mix and match with patterned statement pieces like tops, dresses, and pants. Aside from the layering items, the rest of your wardrobe should only be pieces that match your color palette.
Keep the accessories that match multiple items in your closet. Belts, scarves, shoes and jewelry can get out of hand pretty quickly, but they are also great accent pieces to make a minimalist wardrobe more versatile. For instance, you can completely change the look of a black cocktail dress by adding different accessories, wearing a different jacket or cardigan and sometimes wearing it with heels or even nice boots.
Reduce your accessories to only those items that coordinate well with several outfits. Get rid of the pieces that only work with one look (unless you love something enough to coordinate your wardrobe around it). For instance, hold on to only one or two neutral-colored belts and handbags, and downsize your jewelry to pieces that compliment most of your wardrobe. The next thing is to reduce your shoe collection. Try keeping only a few pairs based on different needs, such as one pair each of the following:
>> Ballet flats
>> Athletic/tennis shoes
Shop with a plan.
Now that you’ve pared down your wardrobe to only the clothes that you love and that fit you really well and you look great in (no exceptions), you’ll probably find that you’re missing a few things. Go back to the list above, and write out a list of what you need to fill in. Maybe you have some basic cardigans or jackets and plain colored shirts and blouses. You might want to add a couple of patterned sleeveless tops for fun layering. But whatever you do, stick to the plan above and shop with a written list in front of you.
Ask for help.
If you’re having trouble making decisions, then hire a wardrobe consultant or ask a stylish friend for help. Look online or ask friends for suggestions. Or, you can get free consultations from larger stores. You can take photos of the clothes you have kept after doing your purging, make an appointment with a free consultant at a store, and ask him/her how to round out what you have.
Make this into a fun project, so play some music, drink a little wine (but not too much so you can make clear decisions)—whatever it takes to turn this into a pleasure fest. At the end, you’ll be left with clothes that make you look your absolute best, and that easily go with everything else. Bon style!
Author: Janet Luhrs
Image: petter palander/Flickr; Courtesy of Author
Editor: Catherine Monkman