The Joy of One: Shoe

I feel a little guilty that last week’s One Coat challenge was so easy. It was a good warm up, though, and I hope it inspired some of you that yes, it can be done! We often discover on our minimalist journey that what might seem daunting or pointless at first can actually be quite doable and gratifying.

But still—a bit of a struggle makes for a more interesting blog post, doesn’t it?

Well, I have that struggle for you today, as I tackle what might be the most difficult item to reduce to One: shoes.

Now, I’m no Carrie Bradshaw when it comes to footwear; beyond looking presentable and feeling comfortable, I have little interest in what’s on my feet. And I can’t help but think that as long as I’m wearing shoes, nobody else cares about them either. Again, maybe that’s just another perk of living in the PNW; I might feel differently if I were walking the streets of Paris each day.

Furthermore, as a long-time minimalist, it feels excessive to me to own even half a dozen pairs. That’s how many I had when I lived overseas, and since then, I’ve managed to scale that down further. So, to be fair, I’ve started this challenge with a pretty good head start. But still…from a purely logistical point of view, this is hard.

I thought of all sorts of reasons not to attempt this particular challenge: it’s not healthy for my feet, it’s not healthy for my shoes, I have a formal event coming up, I might get bored, I’m bound to look unfashionable or inappropriate at some point. Or even worse: some mishap may ruin them and I’ll really be up the creek.

But did that stop me? Of course not. :)

As with my One Coat, I’ve been working on the One Shoe challenge since May. (Moving was a great excuse to say goodbye to some shabby shoes.) I knew I’d be walking A LOT in my new hometown, so durability and comfort were key. In the past, I’d always relied on Merrell for walking shoes; but while I like the support they provide, I wanted something a little less sporty.

My husband suggested “barefoot shoes.” I laughed, thinking he meant the kind with articulated toes that bear a striking resemblance to ape feet. But as it turns out, they’re also available in normal-looking styles (the “barefoot” refers to the minimal structure and support). I found a nice little ballet flat online, and decided to give it a try.

Since Plumblossom didn’t start preschool until September, the two of us spent the summer exploring our new city (she in the stroller, me pushing for miles and miles and miles). I worried that after a long day of walking in barefoot shoes, I’d be hobbling around each night in pain—especially since my feet were used to much more support. But lo and behold, after a few days of adjustment (ie. getting accustomed to feeling the sidewalk through my soles), they were wonderful. I never rubbed a blister or suffered from foot aches or pains. Color me surprised!

For an everyday shoe, then, I was set. The ballet style works with my entire wardrobe, so I was able to wear them all summer and into fall.

So far, so good. But now let’s talk about some potential minefields and pitfalls of the One Shoe life.

  1. Work. Will your One Shoe work for work? For me it does, because I work from home (literally barefoot). But even when I worked in an office, the environment was casual enough for a ballet flat. Obviously, this is entirely dependent on your work situation, and may result in your needing One Work Shoe.
  1. Formal events. Sofia Coppola is my inspiration here—if she could wear ballet flats to the Oscars, I can surely wear them to our school’s fundraising gala. Right? I’d love your opinions here. I’m 5’7”, so I don’t need the extra height. But can flats really work with a little black dress?
  1. Athletics. In the past, a hiking shoe was a must-have for me. But at the moment, hiking is no longer one of our primary activities; Plumblossom has grown out of the backpack carrier, but doesn’t have the stamina to walk long distances. For now we have more fun walking the trails in our local parks. That said, I’ll likely need to revisit this issue in the future, and I do encourage anyone who engages in specific athletic and/or outdoor activities to have the appropriate One (Hiking/Running/Whatever) Shoe for that purpose.
  1. Weather. This is the factor that’s really tripped me up. I was cruising along just fine in my One Shoe, congratulating myself on my minimalist magnificence—then November came, and it started to rain. And rain. And rain. And rain. I don’t really mind wet feet (and have braved many a soggy day in them), but am concerned with the toll such weather is taking on my shoes. If it doesn’t stop raining so much, I can’t imagine they’re going to make it through the year.

And so I will confess here: during the worst deluges, I broke out the rainboots. Sigh. I didn’t really have to, but I wasn’t quite ready to ruin my wonderful shoes.

So, to summarize: I believe I can make it through the year with just One Shoe—but because of my climate, I may need to supplement occasionally with One Rainboot. Alternatively, I can purchase another pair of my One Shoe, and save the shabbier pair for messy weather. I’m not sure which solution is more in keeping with the spirit of this effort.

So that’s where I stand on the One Shoe Challenge. It’s certainly more doable than I expected, but would take an I-don’t-mind-ruining-my-shoes-in-bad-weather mindset to perfect it. I intend to keep it up for the next year (at least), wearing these shoes on all but the wettest of days.

Some of you may be wondering, why is this woman doing such a crazy thing to begin with? To see if it can be done. To give you a heads-up on what to expect if you attempt the same. To let you be an armchair minimalist while I get wet feet or look less-than-fashionable. To push the boundaries, and make us aware of what we own and consume—so that even if One Shoe isn’t in the cards, it doesn’t seem so crazy to have One Sneaker or One Stiletto or One Snowboot.

Minimalism is my work, my art, my public service—and yes, my chance to rebel against the status quo and have a little fun. I’m not suggesting One Shoe is right for everyone (or anyone). I take it to an extreme so that you can follow along and find your own balance.

I look forward to your Comments, and can’t wait to hear what you think of this challenge!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or joining my email list.}

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105 comments to The Joy of One: Shoe

  • Dinah

    I got planter fasciitis last year, which caused me to end up buying a black, closed toe pair of Birkenstocks. They are all I wore all year, which worked out fine. I wore them at the office, camping, vacation, etc… yoga is my main excercise, which requires no shoes. They worked great and now it is time to get them re-soled and my foot is healed from the shoes. I did not set out to live with one pair of shoes, but by default I did.

    • I too have plantar fasciitis. Last year I bought a pair of New Balance 624v3 trainers in black leatherette and I have literally worn them every day since. They are warm, comfortable, supportive and they fit my orthotics, but they are limiting. Fine for cycling, walking, light trekking, etc, but you can’t wear them with a dress or skirt.
      Also, although I live in the countryside in Normandy and couldn’t give a stuff about fashion, I still get criticised by friends about how ugly these shoes are – I’ve been quite surprised by the negative reactions. Bought in May last year, they are now starting to fall apart, so I don’t think they’ll actually last a full year. They are currently stuffed with newspaper next to the woodburner (it rains every day here in winter and yesterday they got soaked – and I’m typing this in my Uggs, which are what I wear as slippers). Having just one coat or one pair of shoes in our kind of weather just isn’t feasible – you need two of everything to let one lot dry every day!

  • Kaylan

    I am so loving this series of One. i currently own 5 pairs of shoes – One snow boot, One winter dressy boot, One black ballet flat, One sandal that can be worn in water, and One athletic shoe. They all serve very different purposes and all get a lot of use. Unless our activities or climate changes I’m not sure what I would get rid of, but minimalist footwear is something I consider often.

  • DH

    I’m a woman & most of my life I’ve worn just one pair of sneakers. It began because I have a hard time fitting comfortably in any shoe. Dress shoes were a nightmare. So while it wasn’t originally done for minimalist reasons, it now has become what I stick with. I don’t use them as often since I don’t go out as much. But I use to wear them all day long every day & had no issues. I’ve worn outfits that are fancier than my shoes, but I just don’t worry about it anymore. Anytime I tried wearing something else, I was so uncomfortable, it wasn’t worth it. The truth is one only needs dressier shoes because of what others’ opinions are about it. In reality, we should be able to wear what we want without judging ourselves or others.

    (not talking about those that love shoes & are wearing them because they want to or other similar scenarios)

    Regarding vegan products. I personally haven’t found the quality or style to be what I need/want when it comes to pretty much everything. Especially clothing & shoes. It just makes more sense to buy what works, even though I’d prefer if it weren’t harming anything. I have one leather purse I’ve owned for 15 yrs. This would never happen if it were made out of other fabrics (in a style that works for me). My diet & personal care products are vegan so I’m already doing my best in that area. Of course I will continue to search for other vegan products in hopes to someday replace most or all animal ones.

    • DH, I struggle with certain vegan goods as well. I had one pair of vegan shoes, and the were little sweat boxes. I suppose that some would say that I am making excuses, but, like you, I make the most ethical choices I can. My diet and my personal care routine are vegan, so I am a little less bothered by the leather (shoes) in my life. I did find a durable handbag (moop) made of waxed canvas, so that is good.

  • Diane

    I love the ONE concept!! I live in Southern California so weather is not an issue. I have one black ballet style shoes, one pair athletic shoes, slippers and flip flops. If I had to pick just one it would be the athletic shoe because walking is important to my dog and me.
    Keep the ONE stories coming!

  • Susan

    I so love this campaign of One! Thank you for taking it on. It is thought-provoking and also somehow aesthetically pleasing to picture one this one that. I am inspired to take a look at my shoe collection.

  • Jeanne Heinsohn

    Your One concept has really inspired me to rethink just how many of anything I truly need. Currently, I have nine pair of shoes. I’ve been downsizing slowly for a little over thirty years. When I was a kid, my parents made sure that I had a very good pair of well-fitted shoes for school/church , tennis shoes for play, and house slippers. Now, all I really need is a good pair of walking shoes and dance sneakers. I like having house slippers to keep from tracking outside dirt and chemicals into my home as low as possible. Dress sandals seem like a necessity, too, even though they’re not. Most of the nine pair of shoes are extremely well made SAS shoes that are made in America. I went to these because my knees have no cushion left from years of over use and not wearing supportive shoes. When I was young I was very strong and thought very little about the demands I put on my body. I wish you would reconsider the ballet flats. You’re so terrific! Please take good care of yourself.

  • Alexia

    I think being minimalists is a great way to find joy and live simpler if your life is overwhelmed with possessions. I have never had very much to begin with so I have always lived with less and I understand wanting to simplify even more But I think one pair of shoes is taking it to dangerous extremes and very bad for your feet. My foot doctor after I healed from a broken ankle told me NEVER to wear ballet flats. they have no support. Your feet are to important to risk. I live in 300 square feet with 6 pairs that are not visible in my one very tiny closet and take up virtually no room as they are on the bottom of my closet. 4 pairs are supportive walking shoes, 2 are dress sketchers also very supportive for my feet and doctor recommended. Believe me after you fall in ballet flats and spend a year in a cast not being about to walk at all, you will want something supportive to protect your feet! One pair is not feasible for anyone and not wise for foot safety and good foot health.

  • Tina

    I usually wear sneakers because my feet always hurt. For dressier occasions wearing slacks, I have black oxfords, for dressy occasions wearing a dress, I have black flats. I also have snow boots- I live in Chicago- and flip flops. I don’t think 5 pairs of shoes is excessive. I see people on Tv with 30, even 90 pairs of shoes. That’s ridiculous unless you are a major celebrity.

  • I don’t like shoes. If I had my way, I would be barefoot, or just wear socks. Good support flip-flops would be the alternative. I am loving this concept of one. It further defines your style, likes and dislikes as well. Keep it going!!!!

  • Yvonne

    I’ve been going back and forth about weighing in on this topic. Frankly, it seems a little past ridiculous that you struggled with whether or not to wear proper shoes in the rain. Too often these kinds of things give minimalism a bad name. Any lifestyle that threatens to rob you of sound reasoning based on extremism should be a big red flag! There are a lot of health reason alone to reconsider this including not only foot health but spinal too. When you’re young, you think your body will always do what you ask it to. I’ve worked in the health field and I can tell you the best life is one spent with a body that you took care of properly. Physical afflictions are very expensive to all areas of your life, not just financial. A person’s bad health is not just their burden but often the very real burden of family and friends.

    I was always taught to dress appropriately for the occasion. A pair of shoes for each season and activity seems reasonable and minimalist to me. Let’s not completely abandon our senses at the expense of good judgement or our health. Can’t we teach our children that extremism in any form is not a way to thrive and be happy in life? Its dangerous to place a misplaced ideal over common sense and health.

  • Elise

    Can you give a link to where you buy your flats? Been looking into minimal style footwear and I didn’t know you could get nice looking ones too :0)

  • Rob

    As a guy, I find the shoe thing a bit mystifying, but I would still have a hard time with not having proper shoes for each activity. So, I need a pair of sneakers for routine wear, a pair of dress shoes for days when I have to be above casual at work, a pair of hiking boots for extended walking, and a pair of dance shoes for ballroom. That’s four. On top of that, I also have a pair of sandals (for summer), slippers (for winter), a second pair of ballroom shoes (for carpet rather than a smooth floor), a pair of Ren Faire boots (just because, and they are rather old now), a pair of steel-toed safety shoes for certain work situations, and a pair of ice skates. That’s 10, of which at least four and maybe six are the bare minimum.

    One pen, on the other hand…

  • Christine

    I’m yet another person who has about half a dozen shoes for different purposes. Mine are work shoe, athletic shoe, sandal, rain boot, winter boot, ski boot, and slipper. In my climate it would not be possible to get down to one, but I wear the same two pairs 95% of the time. I could probably reduce by one or two pairs, but most of the activity specific shoes have value for me.

  • Sandra

    Hi there,
    Happened onto your blog today, perfusing the web for minimalism ideas, concepts,
    Very intriguing, and a lot of the ideas fit in with my new efforts to make life easier, and concentrate on other more important things in life than caring for and organizing my possessions!
    I wonder, though, if this exercise isn’t going a bit too far? I mean, I’m not a shoe person, and I certainly wouldn’t tell someone how many pairs of shoes they should keep. But for me, I need one pair of walking shoes (or runners, for exercise) one pair of boots, one pair of flats, one pair of sandals, etc.
    That’s still so much less than I used to own. My closet is a dream now, and I am appropriately attired, and more importantly have the right footwear for various parts of life, to keep my feet healthy, and warm and dry in the rain.
    So, I think you should keep your rainbows. Keep warm and dry!
    For what it’s worth…..

  • Sarah

    Ohhh wow I want to know all about your shoes. I’ve been considering trying a barefoot shoe and so I’d love to know about your experience.

    Did you get those really nice ballet flats that have a vibram sole? I wore cheap ballet flats for years and they really messed up my feet. But that was becuase they had no support and a rigid bottom, which is I think the worst of both worlds. My arch fell a bit and my feet constantly hurt. I ended up switching back to sneakers.

    Do you find you walk toe-heel? Or do you still land on your heel and roll through like we do when wearing normal shoes? Or do you do something in between? I used to walk toe-heel in junior high and high school (mostly because of a medical thing that made it hurt to land on my heel, and then it just became habit) but when I try now, my calves become exhausted quickly.

    You walked all around town and it was ok, but you think hiking would be too much? Is that because of the uneven ground and potentially sharp rocks or because hiking is more strenuous?

    Anyway I’d just really like to know how you find your shoes. I’ve been wanting to try a lighter shoe and would love to know more about it.

  • Paul

    I have recently bought a pair of leather Vivo Barefoot Oxford, and I used them recently at a business meeting. They go great with formal suit and jeans, and no-one noticed their minimal structure. I even removed the insulating insole that came with them. I’m usually barefoot in summer and around the house anyway and I wanted something that would allow my feet to behave as natural as possible when out and about. These shoes are great! I also have two pairs of Sketchers GoWalk 2, which are excellent everyday shoes although not waterproof. I use a black pair for everyday work use…yes I can get away with them! I have a pair of brown roebuck casual shoes but I could do without them, and a pair of Berghaus walking boots, which I haven’t used for a couple of years and could be donated to be honest! I also have a pair of very comfortable, but traditional Oxfords for best/work. I could probably make do with my black Sketchers and my Vivo Barefoots for everything. I will no doubt keep what I have until they wear out, and just minimise to Sketchers and Vivi Barefoot with one pair of each from now on!

  • Amber

    I do not know where the author got her shoes, but I will share that I found my barefoot ballet flats at softstarshoes.com. They are a great minimalist footwear company in the PNW.
    These shoes are my only summer shoe and my kids have only worn this brand of footwear (ages 2 and 4 yr olds).

    They also explain on the website how only barefooting is a safe and healthy thing. :) It took me a few months to transition from feet used to constant arch support and plantar fasciitis to completely barefoot feet – but SO worth it for my health and minimalist life. Now I only have one shoe/boot by the back door at a time. I live in Minnesota, so right now it’s my Steger Mukluks. ;)

    Smiles!

  • Cherryl

    I’m sort of celebrating the joy of owning one versatile shoe, though I do own three pair in total. About a year ago I happened upon a trendy ankle boot in black, with steel/bronze buckle details, in Good Will for $6–never worn. It turns out the heel is just right, the shoes are waterproof, and the fit is so comfortable I’ve worn them in rain, snow, and drizzle. I’ve worn them for very long walks and nature hikes. I’ve even worn them with a pair of black ponte pants and a cami on a formal night on an Alaskan cruise, albeit with a very dressy gauze tunic that elevated the look to high fashion!

    I had packed my 30 day wardrobe in a carry on bag, and included my black heels and sneakers, but didn’t need either. So, yes, I could live with just this one shoe. Except that to exercise at the gym it looks a little much, and the buckles could be a hazard. So I suppose I’ll call the black sneakers my One Gym Shoe, and ditch the heels.

  • Lilly

    I own 27 pairs of shoes and use about 5 of them all the time. I wish I had the willpower to get rid of half of them.

  • kathie

    Your One Series is so wonderful! I own 6 pairs of shoes and I think those are too many (2 PRS sneakers, black biker boots, hiking boots, black heels and Jesus sandals). I will most likely remove the biker boots, one pair of sneakers and heels and sandals and replace with ballet flats which I wore while pregnant and found completely comfortable. Thank you!

  • Patty

    I too would like to know where these ballet flats came from as they look to minimize that ugly shoe ‘toe’ cleavage that most flats have. I won’t wear them because of it. UGHHHH!! This looks like it might cover that. Where did you purchase these Francine?? or a name brand???

  • Lisa Dixon

    I am not really a shoe person anyway- I have a comfy pair for work (preschool teacher), these are often joggers (trainers? I’m Australian), the joggers again for the gym/ exercise, a pair of flat shoes for everyday outside of work, and a pair of (30 Year old!!) black ‘court shoes for very rare more formal occasions. In Winter I have a pair of black boots for work and everywhere else! I had the dreaded plantar fasciitis and now have to wear orthotics, so that makes buying new shoes a hassle, so helps me keep my shoe collection small as well.
    Just finished reading your new book, loved it, now I am inspired and excited to embark on becoming a ‘minsumer’!

  • kasia

    I love this series idea so much. I LOVE IT. I want my whole life to be filled with multi tasking things as much as possible. The way in which you decide, and the practicality you bring to it – so good. I think there is a fine line in minimalism where a person can get rid of too much (like in theory, you can give away your kitchen, but then you have to eat out for all of your meals, in my mind this is giving away too much, and requiring you to outsource too much where owning just a few items would really add to your life).

    I had unsubscribed from your site during a time where the only new updates were the ‘real life’ stories but now I am coming back.

  • Lela

    Hm. I have two pairs of shoes, and make sure that the shoes I buy have it ALL. Both pairs are not only stylish, but also very comfortable. I can wear them both to work (tile floors), through the forest, or in town. They’re even vegan. One’s a cap-toe, pull-on engineer boot, and the other is… Well, a popular, lace up work boot…I could reduce it down to the latter (as they handle 12 mile hikes with no pain), but I wear through shoes pretty quickly if there’s only one pair.

  • Jen

    I think one rain boot is a good option for one reason: Puddle splashing! One of my favourite past times and I’m 26 with no kids lol

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