7 Steps to a Minimalist Wardrobe

a(Photo: Mzelle Biscotte)

When I decided to pursue a minimalist lifestyle, one of the first areas I tackled was my closet. I had too many clothes that I didn’t wear, and too little space in which to keep them. I wanted a wardrobe that was simple, elegant, and functional — and I wanted to be able to retrieve the pieces, and put them away, without any pushing, pulling, or wrestling.

Over the course of a few months, I pared down my closet to less than half its original contents. I sold quite a number on eBay, gave some to family and friends, and donated the rest.

The reward: a spacious closet, and a well-edited wardrobe that perfectly suits my needs.

Want to do the same? Just follow these seven easy steps, and you’ll never again have “a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear:”

1. Purge everything that doesn’t fit. Ditch the “fat clothes,” the “skinny clothes,” and anything else that bunches, pulls, stretches, or sags in the wrong places.

2. Purge everything that doesn’t flatter. Get rid of the mom jeans, the baggy sweatshirts, and any other items that make you look or feel frumpy.

3. Purge everything you haven’t worn in the last year. Twelve months’ time is sufficient to cover all the seasons and occasions for which you need apparel. If you didn’t wear something last year, you probably won’t wear it the next.

4. Choose a base color. Pick a neutral like black, brown, navy, or khaki for your “foundation” pieces (like pants, skirts, and suits), and purge the rest.

5. Choose accent colors. Select a handful of shades that flatter you, and limit the rest of your apparel (like shirts and sweaters) accordingly. Choose colors that complement your base and each other, for optimal mixing and matching.

6. Pare down your shoes and purses. If you’ve chosen a base color for your clothes, you no longer need a rainbow of footwear and handbags. (Black shoes and a black bag, for example, go with everything in my closet.)

7. Accessorize. Instead of buying trendy apparel, stick to classic pieces and spice things up with scarves and jewelry. They’re significantly smaller and easier to store.

And remember, don’t put your rejects in a landfill; they may be perfect for someone else! If you don’t want to deal with selling them on eBay or in a consignment shop, be generous and give them away. Here’s a list of organizations that could use your donation:

In the US:
Dress for Success
Goodwill Industries International
Purple Heart Pickup Service

Vietnam Veterans of America
The Salvation Army

In the UK:
British Red Cross
Oxfam
Cancer Research UK

You may be able to take a tax write-off, so obtain a receipt and record the value of donated items.

If you’d like to pursue a more minimalist lifestyle, decluttering your wardrobe is a great place to start. Each item you toss is like a weight lifted off your shoulders—and you’ll no doubt be inspired to tackle the rest of the house!

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Related posts:

  1. The Minimalist Wardrobe (aka The 10-Item Wardrobe)
  2. More Minimalist Wardrobe Musings
  3. My Minimalist Wedding Dress

57 comments to 7 Steps to a Minimalist Wardrobe

  • Kate

    I am just going through this now! Thanks for the tips

    Do you find you spend more on clothing after becoming minimalist in order to get the best quality?
    Because I did my sums and I’ve spent close to $2000 on clothes over 6 months (I know :( I was disgusted as well)
    for example instead of paying $50 for synthetic boots that aren’t as comfortable and wear out quickly and require another pair down the road, I spent $300 on pure leather. Do you have any suggestions for this type of problem?
    While I actually don’t own much, with this spending I still feel like a consumer and that I’m not making progress

    • Erica

      I think it’s important to remember that a high price does not equal quality. Most of the time, higher quality goods do cost more, but just because it costs more does not make it a quality item.

      When making a purchase, it’s up to the consumer to investigate the product. Does it have good ratings? What makes it better than the cheaper one? Is it really better or is it all in the marketing?

      This can be time consuming and frustrating when all you want to do is have the right product and move on with life. But in the long run, the time spent doing the research to buy the right product will reap better rewards. You will be happy with what you have because you will feel a sense of pride knowing you did your homework, and found the very best product that you could afford.

      Certainly, this does come with being a bit of a consumer. But we cannot escape being consumers completely. We must use some products, like shoes for example. It’s far better to do your research and buy a comfortable, durable, well rated pair that will last years than to buy the pair with a $300 price tag and the big recognizable name, only to find that you paid $300 for a name.

      Unfortunately, It’s a buyer beware kind of world.

      • zoe

        I really like your comment; ……..buy the pair with a $300 price tag and the big recognizable name, only to find that you paid $300 for a name.———

        It’s so true.

  • Kathryn Fenner

    @Kate–I think you are on the right track–if you have fewer things, you will use them more, so they have to be of higher quality to last. The query you need to make is whether you are paying for more than higher quality–there is a break point, I find, where paying more doesn’t buy more. In my experience, really cheap shoes don’t last, or worse, hurt me feet so I can’t wear them. Paying more–say $100 or so a pair, gives me shoes that are comfortable and last. Paying $500 a pair gets me high style and a fancy name.

    Think about the cost per wear. Think about how much you enjoy the item–cost per util, in economist terms.

  • hestden

    I also think that when one makes more of an investment in clothing, it’s valued more. Often then, one takes better care of it since it’s less disposable.

  • I love this! My theory on clothes (and everything else, actually) boils down to the “per use” theory. If you are going to wear it a lot or use it frequently, you should invest in a quality product – you save money in the long run and have a better experience. When I lived in Boston, I spent a lot more on a winter coat than I did when I moved to Seattle. Same with shoes – I hike more than I attend swanky events, so I’ll easily spend upward of $100 on good trail shoes but will spend the least I can get away with on strappy heels. Figure out how often you’ll use (or how long you’ll own it) it and spend accordingly.

    And you can’t go wrong on buying quality neutral basics and jazzing them up with accessories. This is even more fun if you travel a lot like me because you can buy small things from each destination that will totally change the look of your basic clothes and remind you of the good times you had.

  • I’ve been spending the last few months doing just this! I own a lot of black items (shoes and pants and purses) so black was the obvious ‘neutral’ choice, though I do have some silvery gray shoes that I splurged on so I’ve got gray as a neutral base, too.

    The biggest problem I’m having is summer clothes. Winter is easy because I really can’t go wrong with a black/gray pants or skirt, a solid colored tank or a white button-down shirt and a cute cardigan or sweater. That combo is pretty much a staple in my wardrobe. Summer, though, is difficult! Too hot outside for a cardigan or even a scarf, but wearing a tank to the office isn’t professional (not to mention its cold in the air conditioning!). I’m trying to figure out some alternatives, but its hard. I’m not a huge fan of t-shirts for the office – I’d like to find some lightweight, short sleeved blouses that I can wear.

  • I purged my closet and drawers of 75-80% of my wardrobe about 3-4 months ago and have never felt better. I wear about 80% (yes, I have found that I can purge further) but it is so wonderful every time I open the doors to the bare empty closet. I would have thought I would have been feeling a tremendous loss about now but quite the opposite happened.

  • I went through the purging the closet thing in the last year and I was shocked when I filled up 7-8 of the big black lawn & garden garbage bags! I had no idea there was that much I wasn’t wearing or had gotten tired of. I took all of them to a place here locally that gives everything away for free. I like that. I’m of the mind that if I give it away for free, it should in turn be given away for free.

    I’ve done the same thing Kate has done, spent more on better quality since then, but I’m really happy about that. I agree with what hestden said. And I like what Betsy said about traveling and buying clothes in the new place to remind you of your times there.

  • This is exactly the advice I’d give to others who are willing to get rid of 90% of everything, but I don’t follow it myself out of personal choice.

    I like having variety. Not just one bag, but many. And I like that I can choose to bring a gym bag as my work bag during the week, but if I go out on the weekends, I grab another purse, or perhaps something else, like a clutch instead.

    That being said, I know I have a lot of clothing, but I do wear them on rotation at least, so not all is lost.

  • [...] I couldn’t resist getting rid of some stuff myself. I have gotten rid of about 1.5 feet of CDs and DVDs. CDs are actually pretty hard to get rid of. Three quarters of a foot of CDs were simply donated to freecycle, where they go like hotcakes. I also went through my closet and got rid of a bag of clothes. This is now only 50% full. I can’t tell you how convenient that is in terms of getting things in and out. I like it! (Also see Miss Minimalist’s 7 steps to a minimalist wardrobe) [...]

  • Heather

    I like variety too. I enjoy changing things around. I do try to buy quality over quantity and I have a running list of what I need instead of just buying randomly. I work in corporate, so I have to have professional clothes, no business casual for me. At home, I am mostly yoga pants or jeans and a white t-shirt. Simple and easy.

  • Gil

    I won’t kid here..Downsizing my wardrobe has and continues to be a challenge, but I have managed to get rid of a lot of clothes that I haven’t worn for some time and/or had no intention of wearing. I bought a lot of thnigs for the mere fact that they were on clearance or the “looked” good at the time.

    A couple of things that have helped me is avoiding the sales racks..This just entices me to but more. Also keeping it simple when I do buy. Classic styles and solid colors will never go “out of style”. Trendy, faddish styles are just mere clutter after a while.

  • [...] 7 Steps to a minimalist wardrobe at Miss Minimalist [...]

  • Ruth

    Nice advice! For those looking for quality who are not second-hand-store experienced, I suggest you check out some in your area. Many “used” clothing stores have not only high quality, but never-worn high-quality pieces. Also, to make your clothes last longer and help the environment, try washing in cold water and hanging your clothes to dry–we hang ours inside on a rack and it works great; you don’t need to have an outside clothesline.

  • HK

    What a coincidence that I blogged about my own closet, and then I read your post! :P

    Very inspiring, as always, MM.

    HK (I have a new blog- I wanted a fresh start, in case you noticed my old one was gone).

  • i was wondering if you could tell us how you handle “seasonal urges.”

    i’m really into simplicity, not as much minimalism as you, but i really get the girly urge each season to freshen my wardrobe with pretty things. i don’t go overboard but i really love buying a new cardigan in the lastest color for instance. i know i can stick to a basic black one but i really love that fresh feeling of a new article of clothing. maybe it’s a new bag or a pair of sandals. how do you handle this. how do you stay satisfied/content with the same, useful clothes. i’m soooo curious.

    ~janet

    • Janet – If that cardigan or new bag or sandals can be more than a one-purpose item (meaning you can only wear it with one outfit) then what’s the harm? Wearing black all the time gets boring! So if there’s a plum cardigan that you absolutely love and can see your self wearing with a lot of what you already own then go for it! And maybe, if you want to feel less guilty about buying another item, you can pick a cardigan from a past season that you don’t really enjoy wearing anymore and use the new one to replace that old one.

    • If you have curbed your consumerism to what you deem as an acceptable level for other areas of your life, it sounds like this may be an area that you place at a higher value to gain personal satisfaction/pleasure. Weigh your priorities and determine if 1 article of clothing per season or per 6 months still fits in your overall life plan & budget. Tweak this number if necessary, then enjoy your wardrobe!

      You are still probably buying less than the average person, and if you want to maintain a minimalist household, don’t forget about the “one item in, one item out” rule.

  • Excellent and practical tips, Francine!

    When I gave all my purses away (and they were Coach too!), my girlfriends thought I was completely nuts and a raging lunatic. (Hey, I still might be, but that’s what makes life interesting!) I now only own a wristlet, not much bigger than a man’s wallet, which fits my phone, keys, ID, and credit card/cash. Simple versatility and I no longer have shoulder cramps from carrying a 10-lb. purse around! Yeah!

  • Kai

    @ janet: I´ve lived with very little clothing for a couple of years now, that means about 7-8 t-shirts, two pairs of pants and so on..
    well, these 7 t-shirts won´t last very long, because i wear all of them every week. That means, that i do need to buy something new every season, because things just get a bit too old.
    so if you always get rid of one old thing before you buy something new, you´ll always have only a little and still also have new, seasonal stuff.

  • Mia

    Hi Francine,

    Thanks for the great post! Just thought I’d share what has worked for me.

    My four-season minimalist wardrobe:

    - bra, panties, camisole, thermal underwear
    - dress*, sweater dress*, short-sleeved top*, long-sleeved top*, shorts, pants
    - belt, bag, tights, socks, flat sandals, ballet flats, knee-high boots
    - sweater, cardigan, light coat, winter coat, shawl*, bonnet*, gloves
    - swimsuit*, sporty top*, cycling shorts, fitness pants, sports socks*, sports shoes*
    - cocktail dress*, formal dress*, heeled sandals*
    - nightie*

    * Pieces in accent colors. All the rest in black or grey.

    Except for the socks and panties, I have 1-3 pieces or pairs of each item.

    When buying pieces for my wardrobe I keep the following in mind.

    - style: classic and simple
    - materials: as much as possible, cotton, wool/cashmere, silk

    And of course, everything should fit me perfectly. If something doesn’t, I have it altered immediately.

    I hardly ever go shopping as I’d rather spend my time doing other things. But when I do go shopping, I make sure I only buy pieces I love. Even if it takes me a long time to find the “right” item, I try to be patient and wait and keep looking. Better have pieces I love to wear from the start than buy something that will do but will almost never get worn and will surely be replaced soon. :)

    Hope others will share their wardrobes as well. :)

    • @Mia – thank you for a comprehensive four season list. I am having a hard time deciding what to keep and what to give away as I’m in the depths of winter with chilly overnight temps -2c(30f) needing thermals and in the summer here we get up to 45c (113f)! I can’t even think about swimwear in the winter. But now is the time to try everything on as it will start heating up in just a few months and it’s almost impossible for me to try on clothing without getting overheated! I will be heading for my cupboard today, thanks for the inspiration MM.

  • Jean

    Francine, I’ve enjoyed this article and the commentaries.
    Years ago, I received the advice to buy my wardrobe twice a year. I’d considered it but wasn’t able to merge the quality vs “fresh fashion idea” too successfully. Some years, the styles available were just not flattering. I may re-visit this concept again.

    Jean

    ps: High 5 to Nina from another no-purse carrying wristlet-only wearer! :-)

  • Love this post, except I don’t choose a base color. I like to wear taupe heels and bag with any color skirt: black, brown, blue…all of my clothes match together this way and I get the variety of multiple base colors.

  • kat

    Considering purses, I have always thought my mom was silly being in love for 20 years with her simple leather purse and matching wallet. Watching myself throwing away fashion purses and wallets the dozen over the years, I decided saving for a real leather wallet and purse. The wallet i bought new as a present to myself for my graduation and the purse from the same brand as my mom’s but used on ebay, and I couldn’t be more happy now (since 5 years happy with these quality items). I don’t even look at overpriced fancy faux leather stuff anymore. Same goes for a really beautiful pair of high quality british oxford leather shoes. A copy of which I recently saw at urban outfitters for almost the price that I paid. Life is good!

  • Beth

    I’ve been trying to do this very thing for a week or two now, but I have a question for you.

    What do you do if following these or similar purging rules is going to put your wardrobe down to almost nil?

    I’ve never been a huge clothing person (my weakness was always random kitschy crap), so most of my clothes are second-hand from my mom or my sister. Of the few items that fit that I actually like, I almost regret buying them (on yet another credit card… too bad I didn’t find the frugality mindset sooner!)

    I may end up interviewing for a job soon, but I have nothing appropriate for the interview or job. I have almost nothing I like, even with a not-too-large wardrobe to begin with. Most of it’s awful or ancient and ill-fitting.

    What on earth can I do?

    • kat

      hi beth,

      you could ask friends or family if they can borrow you a “job interview uniform”?
      If you don’t love your wardrobe, you could consider taking a friend with you next time you buy something and let them help you with the decision

  • [...] Clothes – Put all of your clothes in a pile and begin to sort into three categories: keep, donate, [...]

  • Francine, I’m loving your blog! This post describes how I’ve been handling my wardrobe for years–it works. I’m going to be doing some fine-tuning all around the house in December, and reading your blog is making me look forward to it all the more!

  • henry

    as a guy i have three basic groups of cloths for me to wear in my life…work –play cloths–workout cloths ..

    for working out group of cloths i use my issused items from the military to work out in for they still are good for all around workouts ..

    my basic office wardrobe is l.s.shirts with ties and drockers and dress shoes ..

    my off work play cloths is basic jeans and t-shirt and couple of shirts that go with the jeans with hikeing boots as my basic footwear ..

    my three basic cold weather and spring and fall jackets are a MA-1-flight jacket and Carhartt baggy brown color quilted lined barn jacket with gloves and watch cap for really cold weather if need along with a windbreaker to wear as it need ..

  • I just purged 5 totes of stuff from my apartment and recently did your “base color” concept. Excellent idea, and wonderful for someone lazy like me. I don’t have to think in the morning, just get dressed! With two little ones running around constantly vying for my attention, this is a great improvement for me :)

  • [...] drooling over, because it goes with everything. I love the ideas from Miss Minimalist’s 7 Steps to a Minimalist Wardrobe. Unfortunately, going through my closet made me realize, too, that I need to go [...]

  • Elaine

    Such good ideas for getting rid of clothes. I lost 70 pounds and I was holding on to the pants thinking I’ll need them. I gain the weight because I was drinking a lot and I quit so no worries about me gaining it all back. I have a problem with buying purses. It’s an addiction I’ve had for years. Any suggestions?

  • Heather

    I recently had breast augmentation and find that I feel like I look better, things fit better and that I can even throw on my old paint clothes and go out in public because I feel I look good regardless of what I am wearing. I think confidence is key and loving the few peices you do own and feeling great in them regardless what they cost. Everyone has a beautiful quality whether it is natural or purchase. (yes I said it). We are packing to sale our house, really getting hard core into down sizing our crap and minimalizing everything. I have my $219 boots for the winter and the zipper broke, but I bought them from nordstroms and they already sent out a new replacement so buying quality and from stores with great return policies are a bonus when spending on the higher range for your few items you choose to own. We like our house clothes and a couple “going out” outfits. I love my designer purses and prefer quality or quantity. Maybe my expensive boots were not quality or it was a fluke, however choose to shop with a store with a great return policy is like insurance. Yes I have new giant boobs, not many clothes guess I should join a nudiest minimalist society ;) just teasin

  • Heather

    Oh I was thinking it would be fun to have a minimalist fashion show and state how many peices of clothing you have photograph them and see how many different combinations/outfits you could come up with :)

  • Narwagner

    I like my 3-in-1 coat, especially since I live in an area with four distinct seasons. I can wear just the parka (rainy fall), the fleece (spring), or both the parka and fleece together (snowy winter).

  • Caroline

    My best color is indigo, and I really like wearing colors, but wearing too much of one color seems a tad ridiculous (I bought an indigo winter coat! My raincoat is purple!). Maybe I could do the reverse of selecting a neutral base and instead pick a few popping base colors that really look good on me and then layer with neutrals to tone them down? Of course navy is close to indigo, but then I wouldn’t want to wear indigo and navy together…would I? I’m still torn about all this… I used to think my books were my toughest stuff enemies, but I’m revising that to clothing, shoes, and bags.

  • Caroline

    O I didn’t even mention that my glasses are a slightly purple-tinted blue…dang

  • [...] The post that started it all: 7 Steps to a Minimalist Wardrobe [...]

  • I’ve been reading your blog the past few days but had not read this post yet. Until now. An hour after I just finsihed purging my closet (for the last 9 hours mind you) of clothing and other items.
    It is the best place to start and I feel so much better too. So glad its done, all though there is still a little more work to do. and Tomorrow I’m going to start the dresser drawers!

    :)

  • [...] I can shamelessly call this idea brilliant because it is not my own.  I found this idea over at missminimalist.com.  The author, Francine Jay, also elaborates on her wardrobe ideas in her book “The Joy of [...]

  • I’ve purged a lot of what I own (not just clothes!) with tip #3 in mind.

  • [...] to do this.  In the process described below, I’m borrowing both from the Project 333 and the Miss Minimalist websites.  Here is my suggestion for a process that I’ve found to be helpful in minimizing [...]

  • Shannon K.

    After having endured a very painful divorce and during the ‘dividing of items time’, I realised I really didn’t want much and walking away with a small list of items: paint supplies, clothes, books, 3 pieces of furniture and my computer. Can’t wait to try the minimal lifestyle!

  • [...] Minimalist has a fantastic blog! If you are unsure how to begin with your wardrobe,  she has great tips. Also, her Joy of Less is a great [...]

  • Patty

    My closet is alot lighter because I dropped 30 pounds last year, and I had to get rid of every single pair of pants and jeans, and alot of shirts. Replacing things hasn’t been bad because I am an avid thrift shopper and garage sale-er. I would like to purge some of my work clothes, but right now I am unemployed and I hate to get rid of things I may need at my next job. But I didn’t pay much for most of them, under a dollar a shirt!

    I am still having a hard time letting go of my purses and my collection of Converse sneakers. I’m working on it though—I took a couple of pairs of my sneaks to the consignment shop, and got a really cute dress in exchange!

    One time I purged my wardrobe waaaay down, and I found I actually had an easier time getting ready in the morning, because I didn’t have to stand in front of my closet and figure out what to wear. Everything I had was a favorite!

  • Kerry

    I was wondering what advice you have for a mother of young kids who might be having more children. I find it really hard to purge my clothes because if I get pregnant again, I will need all those bigger/maternity clothes.

    I have a hard time getting rid of stuff, but am desperate for more space and less clutter. Please let me know if you have any advice and any encouragement for purging appreciated.

    Thanks!

    • Mims

      I would say, put them in a storage box so that they’re at least not cluttering your wardrobe. That way you can always get them out again when/if you get pregnant again and put the clothes you can’t wear in the box nstead, for when you have lost the baby weight again.

  • Kristen June

    I agree with Miss Minimalist that to be a minimalist doesn’t mean throwing out your wardrobe and buying really expensive quality clothes. That’s more of a matter of personal preference and financial freedom. That said, I recommend smartwool.com for wearable durable clothes. I bought some for my last partner, and his T-shirts outlasted our relationship. Buy anyway, you don’t have to buy new stuff if you don’t want to and especially if you are like me and can’t afford it. Just keep your favorites.

  • [...] 7 Steps to a Minimalist Wardrobe by Francine Jay [...]

  • Vicky W

    I’m a relatively new convert to the minimalist lifestyle and began my journey about six months ago by clearing out my wardrobe and donating unwanted items. While I still have a long way to go I have to say that living with my ‘new’ wardrobe of fewer clothes has certainly simplified the way I dress and by keeping only those items of simple, classic style which fit and flatter me best has gained me more appreciative comments than my ‘old’ wardrobe of mis-matched fashion failures ever did. Thank you Miss Minimalist for encouraging us to shop our wardrobes rather than the stores :)

  • grizzy bear mom

    I have grey and a blue jacket/skirt/slacks suits. I wear jewel toned shells with them and black shoes with them. It’s easier to build a wardrobe when you consider whether an item will match your suits or shoes. I gave up the impediment of a purse years ago. I wear a backpack to carry my wallet, book and snack because I have a long commute. I want to keep my hands free for shopping, grabing the subway rail, etc. I see woman carrying, purses and two bags. They look like pack animals. What ARE they carrying on their commute?

  • Badog

    On track with this too, did a massive donation to the local goodwill and simply committed to a half dozen or so jeans and shirts. I’m more relaxed and dont care much about the fashion thing anymore. Unfortunately I have to keep a suit of formal stuff in the spare closet due to clothing requirements for expositions and conferences but I’d rather throw out that stuff as well if it werent for the office job.

  • […] used this from Miss Minimalist to jumpstart this […]

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