The Joy of One: Handbag

Okay, everyone…are we ready to talk about One Handbag? This should be a good one.

I don’t know if I’ve ever told you before, but I’m a “bag person”—not a designer bag or novelty bag person, but a utilitarian one. I get excited about zippered compartments and adjustable straps and water bottle holders (be still, my heart!).

And to be clear, I’m not a bag person who wants a different carryall for every occasion or day of the week. I’m far too lazy for that. Not only can’t I be bothered to make such a decision in the morning, there’s no way I’m going to shuffle the contents around from one bag to another. Rather, I want to use the same one, day in and day out, so it’s one less thing to think about.

{Do you see a pattern emerging in this series? The more I write about the Joy of One, the more I realize I’m just trying to make my life as easy as possible.}

Anyway, given this lofty expectation for my One Handbag—the ability to use it for anything and everything—I feel like I’ve been on the hunt for it most of my adult life.

In fact, whittling down my collection of almost-perfect bags was a major part of my decluttering. At some point, I realized that when I found a better one, I didn’t need to keep the runner-ups—I could let them out into the world, where they might be the perfect bag for someone else.

The One Handbag challenge isn’t all that difficult—the hardest part, really, is finding it. Five years ago I found mine, and I wrote about it here. And you know what happened next? I went and had a baby, and had to start the search all over again.

Why? Because it was too small to carry all those little-person things we moms must lug around. At first I resisted, and simply didn’t bother to carry them. But after a few episodes of not having snacks, or a sippy cup, or an extra change of clothes at the playground—plus an unhappy child and plenty of parent-shaming gazes—I retired my beloved seatbelt bag (ie. gave it to a friend) in favor of something more child-friendly.

The first thing I did was revisit the Etsy shop from which I’d purchased it, in hopes of getting a larger one. Unfortunately, however, it had closed. So I kicked back, poured a glass of wine, and leisurely clicked through Etsy’s handbag category in search of an alternative. (This is about the only way I shop these days.)

And I guess my handbag stars were aligned that night, because I found the little beauty pictured above. And here is where I tell you why I love it so:

• The gray color is neutral, sophisticated, and doesn’t heat up as much as black in the summer sun (important when taking long walks or hanging out on playgrounds).

• The nylon material is super-lightweight, and the bag folds down to almost nothing for storage and/or transport (like in a suitcase).

• The material is water-resistant—perfect for my rainy climate.

• The material is vegan, so no harm done there.

• The material appears to be durable and stain-resistant so far (and it’s taken quite a bit of abuse in daily wear).

• The strap adjusts from shoulder length to cross-body length, for a variety of carrying options.

• It’s handmade, not mass-produced; and even better, made to the exact size I requested.

• How sweet is that bow? If I’m only going to have One Handbag, it has to make me smile. :)

I’m happy to report that it’s performed beautifully as a daily bag. It’s roomy enough for outings with my daughter, tailored enough for professional meetings (it even fits a file folder), and nice enough for a night out. Since I’ve owned it, I’ve never felt need for anything else.

So that’s my One Handbag for now (and hopefully, far into the future). I’d love to hear your thoughts on this challenge. Could you do it? If not, why not? And if so, tell us all about your bag!

(Edit: here’s a link to the bag for everyone who’s asked for it.)

{And just a little reminder: only six days left to pre-order The Joy of Less, and receive a pretty bouquet of decluttering printables. There’s a dozen in all, one for every area of the house and some (frameable) quotes for inspiration. I made them myself, as a special thank you for your support!}

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.}

The Joy of One: Coat

One Coat

One Coat

When I moved from the Northeast to the Pacific Northwest, I took the opportunity to rethink my outerwear. I no longer needed my heavy winter coat (goodbye snow, ice, and sub-freezing temperatures!), but I did need something more waterproof (hello rain!).

I wanted just One Coat that would work for fall, winter, and spring, and settled on a mid-weight raincoat with a removable quilted liner. I opted for one with a hood, to eliminate the need for a hat (and hopefully, an umbrella—optimistic, I know, but so far, so good).

As far as color goes, I normally default to black for outerwear. But since this would be my only coat, I decided on gray instead—mainly so it would work in spring as well as colder months.

I purchased it late last spring, and wore it on a few rainy days before summer. The real test began this fall, and I found it to be the perfect weight as the weather turned cooler. It’s also kept me dry in what’s turned out to be a particularly wet season. To be honest, I never expected to use the liner; but when temps hit freezing last month (it gets that cold here?!), I finally fastened it in. And I’m happy to say, it’s kept me nice and toasty.

So, let’s do a versatility analysis:

  1. Weather. As it turns out, it’s the ideal weight and warmth for my region (both with and without the liner). Will it work for those of you in Michigan or Minnesota? Not this particular one, but I did come across several others that were significantly warmer. Find the right one for your climate, and you’ll be all set.
  1. Color. Gray has worked out well—it goes with everything, doesn’t show a lot of dirt, and will be brighter and cheerier than black when spring arrives. Personally, I think gray has a sophistication all its own, and the slight sheen on this particular coat makes it a touch dressier than your average trench.
  1. Occasion. Okay, it’s not quite glamorous enough for a black-tie event—but in the rare event I attend something in a ball gown, I’ll leave it in the car and brave the cold for a few steps. I wouldn’t hesitate to wear it to dinner, a party, or the ballet; things are a bit more casual here in the PNW. And for everyday errands—grocery, post office, school run, coffee shop, walks around town—it’s perfect.

I have to say I’ve found a certain satisfaction in having a (nearly) empty coat closet. It’s lovely to have one less decision to make in the morning when I’m trying to get myself and a little one out the door. I just grab and go without a second thought.

Just a note here (which will apply to the entirety of this series): I’m not going to mention specific brand names in my post. I don’t want it to be misconstrued as an advertisement, product placement, or sponsorship of any kind. The items I talk about are ones that I’ve purchased (often after much research and deliberation), and I have no relationship with the companies who make or sell them. This series is not about items you should buy, but what features make them so versatile that you could potentially own just One. (That said, if you really, really, want to know about a specific product, feel free to email me and I’ll be happy to provide the information.) Whew…glad we got that out of the way.

So I’m happy to report that One Coat is turning out to be a rather easy accomplishment. I’ve been doing this particular challenge since May, but I see no problem in continuing another full year from now (and far beyond that). Of course, that’s in large part due to my lifestyle and climate. I’d love to hear from others around the country (and the world)—would One Coat work for you?

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

Minimalist Wardrobe: Slow Fashion

This past summer, I saw the documentary The True Cost. It’s a heartbreaking look at how our society’s addiction to cheap clothes impacts the people who make them. (I hope some of you will watch it and spread the word–everyone should know where their clothing comes from.) Needless to say, it made my commitment to having a tiny wardrobe that much stronger.

I’ve never been one to embrace fashion to begin with; as I’ve written in the past, I love the idea of a uniform. The fact that my entire wardrobe can fit in a suitcase gives me a great deal of joy (strange but true). I don’t enjoy shopping, and just to avoid it, try to buy clothes that will last as long as possible. I’m sporting the same top in a family photo from last Christmas as a tourist snap in front of the Parthenon five years ago.

But every so often, there comes a time when I have to replace a beloved item. In an ideal scenario, I would be able to sew, and whip up a replacement myself. Unfortunately, I am truly deficient in such skills (not for lack of trying) and equally unenthusiastic about owning a sewing machine. So I usually wind up in a store, or on the Internet, looking for something suitable.

And that’s where the stress begins…I look at “Made in” labels that say China or Bangladesh or Vietnam or Cambodia, and I worry about who sewed that particular garment. Are they working long hours, in dangerous conditions, separated from their families, so I can buy a pair of yoga pants? I’d read enough sweatshop exposés—before seeing this film—to make me uncomfortable with this. But now I can barely bring myself to purchase any clothing that’s mass-manufactured.

I’d love to say that buying secondhand solved my problem, as it’s such a wonderful way to meet our consumer needs. But I have to admit—with great frustration—that when it comes to clothing, it just hasn’t worked for me. The problem: I have my “uniform” curated to such a degree that I’d waste days combing through consignment shops looking for the right article of clothing. It’d be a miracle to find it, let alone in the right size and good enough condition that I wouldn’t have to repeat the process again anytime soon.

So I’ve decided to try custom instead. I recently had to replace a top, and instead of running out to the mall, thought long and hard about exactly what I wanted—something super-versatile, that travels well, could be dressed up or down, and worn for practically any occasion (a tall order, I know!). I ended up working with a seamstress, and selecting a tunic-length wrap top that can be worn with pants, or as a short dress with leggings. I’m thrilled with the result—I’d so much rather buy one thing that’s exactly what I need than a handful of items that don’t quite fit the bill.

In fact, I would love to see a Slow Fashion movement, in which we buy just one or two garments a year handmade to our specifications. Find an Etsy artisan (or a local tailor), provide your measurements, and buy just what you need when you need it—thereby bypassing the mass manufacturers altogether. The cost per article may be more expensive, but you’ll save money by avoiding all those fashion “mistakes”—you know, the stuff that looked great on the rack (or a model), but ultimately doesn’t fit you, flatter you, or suit your lifestyle. And if you find fashion a form of personal expression, what better way to enjoy it than have a hand in the design? It’s actually a more expressive way to use fashion than the indiscriminate consumption of cheap, trendy items.

So what do you think? Would Slow Fashion work for you? Please share your thoughts in the Comments!

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

Extreme Minimalism: Wardrobe

Let’s wrap up the Extreme Minimalism series with a topic that’s always popular: clothing!

It’s been over a year since I wrote More Minimalist Wardrobe Musings. In that post, I asked, “So (laundry concerns aside), what if you could have one perfectly-comfortable, perfectly-designed outfit that you could wear everyday — and nobody cared, or ridiculed you for it? I’m not talking scrubs, or military dress, or a UPS uniform, but something you looked fabulous and felt great in. Would you want that?”

For me, the answer is an emphatic yes! Although I haven’t adopted one yet, I’m completely smitten with the idea of a uniform. I’ve given more thought to what would constitute my ideal ultra-minimalist wardrobe (ie. something I could pack in a tiny bag), and it would include the following:

1. Sleeveless or short-sleeve dress for warm weather.

2. Long-sleeve shirt that can layered under or over the dress for warmth.

3. One pair of pants (trousers for my British readers—don’t worry, I don’t plan on running around in my underwear!)

4. Lightweight but warm (and water-resistant) jacket for cooler weather.

For fabric, I like merino wool, as long as it’s ethically-sourced; it’s comfortable in a wide range of temperatures and easy to care for.

Before you call the fashion police on me, please note that I’m doing a thought experiment here on how little I’d need for a nomadic minimalist life–I’m certainly not suggesting that everyone ditch the contents of their closet and go to work in the same thing every day (though in the spirit of full disclosure, I’d be tempted to do so! :) ).

So that’s my clothing Holy Grail: a sort of modern day wandering monk, in merino wool and ballet flats instead of saffron robes and sandals. Pieces that can be layered for different climates, are versatile enough for a variety of activities, and can be laundered in a sink and hung to dry overnight.

What would your ultra-minimalist wardrobe look like?

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

Minimalist Maternity Wear

At this time last year, I was a few months into my pregnancy with Plumblossom. My goal had been not to purchase a single piece of maternity wear, and rather make do with what I already had.

Naïve and ambitious, I know—but I’m proud to say that I almost achieved it.

The first trimester was easy. Although I never had any morning sickness, I also didn’t have much of an appetite. I’m glad I didn’t run out to the nearest Motherhood store after my positive pregnancy test, because my normal clothes fit perfectly fine for the first few months. And as I wanted to keep my pregnancy secret for as long as possible, my attire didn’t tip anyone off (though declining wine at dinner raised a few eyebrows!).

In the second trimester, some items started to feel a little tight around the waist. Uh-oh. Fortunately, it was summer, so I lived in three shift dresses. Their A-line shape was ideal for my expanding baby bump, and actually looked quite chic with a pair of ballet flats. I also had two pairs of linen drawstring pants that accommodated my growing waistline.

It was in the third trimester, though, that reality hit. My dresses still fit, but temps were dropping; and although I’m no fashionista, I don’t do linen with snow on the ground. I had a pair of yoga pants with an elastic waist to wear around the apartment; but without any bottoms I could leave home in, I finally broke down and hit the maternity section of my local department store.

I came away with two items: one pair of black maternity pants, and one pair of black maternity leggings. They both had a wide elastic (and oh so comfortable) band around the waist, enabling me to wear them right up until delivery. I paired the pants with my tops and sweaters that still fit, and wore the leggings with my shift dresses. I also fashioned a “maternity cardigan” from an old ribbed turtleneck: I cut it straight up the center, and added a tie closure at chest level—leaving the bottom to fall open around my belly.

I had one other item that served me well in those final months—what I now call my “Superdress.” A little background: in 2008, I did a “No Clothes Shopping” challenge for the entire year. I then spent the holidays in Italy, and on Jan. 2, 2009 (a day of huge sales in Rome) I bought a gray sweater dress. The stretchy knit clings to my normal figure—but on a whim, I tried it on in my sixth month of pregnancy, and was pleasantly surprised to find it stretched to fit my bump…and still did so in my seventh month…and eighth month…and ninth month as well! I only gained 22 pounds during my pregnancy, but still…that’s a pretty impressive dress when you have a basketball-shaped belly. :)

The Superdress, in regular and expanded mode

I know only a small percentage of my readers are currently pregnant, or plan to be so in the near future. However, the minimalist strategies I used for maternity wear can be applied to any situation for which you think you need new clothes (such as a new job or social event):

Scour what you have. Dig deep in that closet, and give what you have a chance—that’s how I discovered my amazing, expanding Superdress.

Repurpose what you have. Be creative: for example, a short dress can become a tunic top with a pair of leggings.

Remake what you have. Even if you’re not a skilled seamstress, a pair of scissors and a needle and thread can go a long way.

Borrow. Whether you need a dress for a cocktail party, a tie for an interview, or a maternity top for a few months, consider borrowing from a friend. The bonus: you can return it later and save space in your own closet.

Don’t buy until you’re desperate. When your only alternative is going naked, it’s time to go shopping.

I did get a little extra mileage out of my pants and leggings the month after Plumblossom was born. However, I was back in my regular clothes rather quickly, thanks to the excellent fitness program she devised for me: doing thousands of laps around our tiny apartment trying to get her to settle and sleep.

Since I don’t know if I’ll have another child, I’m glad I didn’t accumulate a lot of specialty clothes; otherwise, I’d now be faced with the dilemma of whether to store or declutter them. To be honest, my two-item maternity wardrobe is actually still wearable. I can fold over the belly band on the leggings, and they fit just like a regular pair. The pants, on the other hand, are a bit frumpy and relegated to the back of my closet—for those days when everything else is in the laundry, or when I eat a particularly large meal. ;-)

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

One Less Thing: Fashion Trends

It’s hard to believe now, but back in my early twenties, I was something of a fashionista. I had two closets full of clothes, and regularly browsed a number of fashion magazines (each fall, I eagerly awaited Vogue’s phonebook-size September issue). I spent far too much time, money, and effort dressing for some imaginary spotlight—embarrassing to admit, but true.

Fortunately, somewhere along the line I tired of the excess—the stuffed closets, the barely-worn clothes, the pieces that were “out” just months after I bought them. The whole endeavor seemed an exercise in futility and waste. So I called it quits on my fashion habit, and unloaded the vast majority of my wardrobe in a no-holds-barred eBay extravaganza.

It wasn’t easy emptying my closet of the designer pieces and vintage “finds” I’d so delighted in acquiring. I sold pieces I’d worn just once or twice for a fraction of what I’d paid for them. As I shipped out each item, I felt an incredible amount of guilt and anguish over the money I’d wasted; yet at the same time, I felt a flood of relief over ridding myself of the evidence.

Around the same time, I also became aware of the environmental impacts and human rights violations of the fashion industry—which effectively put the brakes on new purchases, particularly those of the trendy variety. To be honest, it was a relief to step off the fashion treadmill: I no longer knew, or cared, whether chunky knits were “in” for fall or peasant skirts were de rigeur for spring. Instead, I became interested in building a small wardrobe of quality, classic pieces that would stay in style and last as long as possible.

Want to join me in eliminating fashion trends from your minimalist life? Here’s what works for me:

1. Develop your personal style. Despite my lack of interest in fashion trends, I’m still too girly for jeans and a sweatshirt. My wardrobe consists mainly of dresses—I love the idea of a one-piece outfit, and can dress them up with hose and heels, or down with tights or leggings. In the summer, I live in simple shift dresses and ballet flats; in the winter, sweater dresses and boots. Season to season, I have no idea what’s in or out; I simply wear what flatters me and fits my lifestyle.

2. Don’t chase trends. Chasing trends does little more than part you from your money. In just a few months, that of-the-moment item will be yesterday’s news (and clutter in your closet). Even when such “fast fashion” is low-priced, it often comes with a high cost—namely, environmental degradation and sweatshop labor.

3. Don’t read fashion magazines. In this case, ignorance is bliss. Ads and fashion spreads are meant to make us feel deprived of the latest and greatest, and instill in us a fear we’ll be “left behind.” But when you have no clue what the “it” bag or shoe is this season, you feel no compulsion to acquire it. And guess what? The world doesn’t stop turning, and hardly anyone blinks an eye.

4. Realize you’re not in the spotlight. Unless you’re a celebrity or media figure, it’s doubtful anyone cares whether you’re wearing the latest designer outfit. And for those who have nothing better to do than judge you on your apparel—well, they’re probably not worth impressing.

5. Be aware of the impact. For me, guilt is an incredibly effective way to curb consumption. If buying a new outfit (that I don’t need) causes environmental harm, or involves someone suffering workplace abuse or dangerous conditions, I’d much rather go without. To the best of your ability, educate yourself on which brands use sweatshop labor or questionable ecological practices.

6. Think timeless. Stick to simple, classic pieces that always stay in style: a shift dress, black skirt, khaki trouser, white shirt, or wool coat can serve as a wardrobe staple for years (I’ve had some in my closet for a decade!). You’ll save cash, streamline your wardrobe, and never look dated.

7. Shop your closet. Despite your decluttering, your closet probably still holds some relics from years past. The bright side? When long skirts or animal prints come back into fashion, you may very well have an old favorite to pull out and wear.

I’m not against looking nice, and I certainly understand the desire to express one’s personality and creativity with clothing. However, I think that building a small collection of well-edited apparel is far more stylish than running out each season to purchase the pieces du jour.

What do you think? Do you have a passion for fashion, or are you blissfully unaware of the latest trends?

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

More Minimalist Wardrobe Musings

I was planning to write a deep, philosophical post on minimalism this week…but to be honest, I just wasn’t in a pensive mood. I am once again “between homes,” and the burden of dragging around my possessions between various hotels and sublets has inspired musings of a more practical nature.

I’m going to stay on the topic of wardrobe this week, as it constitutes the bulk of my baggage at the moment. In particular, I’ve been fantasizing about items that would enable me to reduce my load even more. And foremost in my fantasies are ultra-versatile items that address all my needs in a single package.

Warning: anyone who took issue with my 10-item wardrobe may not want to read any further, as the fashion transgressions in this post will be coming fast and furious. ;-)

You see, I’m the type of person who gets excited about the sleek “uniforms” in science fiction movies — you know, those monochrome futuristic outfits that people in spaceships wear. Yes, the minimalist aesthetic appeals to me; but even more so, the idea of a world in which fashion for fashion’s sake is irrelevant.

So here’s my magical minimalist wish list. I always enjoy “designing” these items in my mind, so thought it might be fun to discuss them here.

1. Transformer shoe

My fantasy: While I spend most of my time in flats, certain occasions call for a heel. I wish someone would create a comfortable flat, onto which one could screw a heel when needed. Perhaps a male version would involve an interchangeable sole — flat for dress wear, rugged for casual wear.

Reality: I was surprised to find these Camileon heels in a Google search. They adjust from a 1 ½” to a 3 ¼” heel — not quite a flat, but close! I also discovered another type of interchangeable shoe, in which different tops are attached to one base for a variety of looks — check out these offerings from Mohop and OneSole. Not what I was looking for, but an interesting idea nonetheless.

2. All-season coat.

My fantasy: I would like a coat that works year round, for everything from shoveling snow to going to the opera. I prefer a slim, tailored silhouette (in ¾-length) rather than a ski-parka look. In my mind, I’m picturing a three-layer system: the middle one would be a nice coat in a fall/spring weight, the outer would be a wind-and-water resistant shell for inclement weather, and the inner would be a zip-out fleece for frigid days. Extra points if the nice middle layer reverses to a different color.

Reality: While there are plenty of coats with zip-out liners, most seem to be of the sporty or trench variety. What I want may very well be out there; I just haven’t found it yet!

3. Removable sleeves.

My fantasy: I’d like to be able to wear my favorite tops in both summer and winter by simply adding or removing the sleeves. If they can do it with pants, why not with shirts? Let’s throw dresses in there as well; I’d love to be able to pop some sleeves on my little black dress when it’s cold. (Apologies to any fashionistas who are having a coronary right now!)

Reality: The examples I’ve found for “removable sleeves” on the web include an oversized “big shirt,” a medieval pirate shirt, and a gothic punk t-shirt. Hmm. Well, at least we know it’s possible.

4. Climate control fabrics.

My fantasy: I’m also dreaming of smart fabrics that can heat and cool me as needed — another requirement in my quest for a seasonless wardrobe.

Reality: Interestingly enough, it seems this high-tech function is best performed by natural fabrics. My go-to hiking shirt is an Icebreaker merino wool tee, which has kept me comfortable in a wide range of temperatures. I’m glad the company is expanding its line beyond sports and exercise wear. Silk is a candidate as well, though cruelty to silkworms is a concern.

5. A uniform.

Okay, I’m throwing this one out here to get your opinions, as it certainly has minsumer appeal — after all, the fashion industry creates a tremendous amount of waste and is often linked to deplorable working conditions.

So (laundry concerns aside), what if you could have one perfectly-comfortable, perfectly-designed outfit that you could wear everyday — and nobody cared, or ridiculed you for it? I’m not talking scrubs, or military dress, or a UPS uniform, but something you looked fabulous and felt great in. Would you want that? Or do you find variety, and self-expression through clothing, too important to give up? Please let me know in the Comments!

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

The Minimalist Wardrobe (aka The 10-Item Wardrobe)

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is how to create a minimalist wardrobe; and boy, do I love to answer it! I devoted an entire chapter of my book, The Joy of Less, to the topic; however, some readers have expressed the desire to see my tips in action.

Ask, and you shall receive –- in this post, I’ll illustrate some key strategies using items straight from my own closet.

(Men, don’t stop reading; although the clothes pictured are my own, the tips are gender-inclusive!)

What I’ve done is selected my core, or capsule wardrobe: ten items that can get me through the majority of my daily activities, in every season.

I didn’t include socks and unmentionables (we’ll take those as a given), or exercise/specialty wear (in other words, I don’t go hiking in my little black dress).

Furthermore, these items are particularly tailored to my urban, business-casual lifestyle, and work from office to dinner to weekend. If I were a construction worker or cabaret singer, my choices would be entirely different.

Okay, here we go — pictured below is my 10-Item Wardrobe:

Miss Minimalist's 10 Item Wardrobe

Miss Minimalist's 10-Item Wardrobe

First row: burgundy sleeveless top, plum ¾-sleeve top, slate blue long-sleeve top, black cardigan, black dress.

Second row: black skirt, black pants, black coat, black bag, black ballet shoes.

(Wow, you guys were right –- this is a lot more fun with photos!)

So what can you learn from my minimalist wardrobe? Here’s a brief overview of some of the techniques I elaborate upon in my book:

1. Choose a base color. Pick a neutral like black, brown, navy, or khaki for your “foundation” pieces (like pants, skirts, and suits). As you can see, mine is black –- it works with my skin tone, travels well, and hides stains brilliantly (important if you spend a lot of time on-the-go).

2. Choose accent colors. Select a handful of shades that flatter you, and complement your base. I’ve chosen burgundy, plum, and slate blue, but you have a world of pastels, earth tones, primaries, and jewel tones at your disposal.

3. Limit accessories to one color. My bag and shoes are both black; they go with each other, and everything in my closet. I love not needing footwear and handbags in multiple colors!

4. Dress in layers. I’m accustomed to a four-season climate, hence I’ve included everything from a sleeveless top to a winter coat. A cardigan is perfect for those temperatures in between. I find layers to offer much more versatility than heavy sweaters or season-specific clothes.

5. Mix and match. Needless to say, everything in your capsule wardrobe should go with everything else. You should be able to get dressed with your eyes closed, and still look fabulous!

6. Dress up and dress down. You’ll notice that there isn’t anything overly formal or casual about my ten items –- no sequins or sweatpants here. I can wear any of these tops, for example, to the grocery store or a cocktail party. The same goes for my bag, my shoes, and pretty much everything else.

7. Choose classic styles. Avoid anything that’s too trendy or dated, or that calls attention to the outfit rather than you. I stick to simple, timeless silhouettes: my pants are straight-leg, my skirt is A-line, and my dress is a classic shift.

8. Make sure it fits. When you have a minimalist wardrobe, no item can hang around waiting for you to diet into it -– everything should fit now. A little trick: choose forgiving fabrics with a little bit of stretch, to accommodate minor weight fluctuations.

9. Make sure it flatters. Be honest here –- you know in your heart whether or not you look good in skinny jeans, cropped tops, or muumuus. Stick to the items that complement your figure, and you’ll always feel confident in your clothes.

10. The feel-good test. When considering an outfit, question whether you’d feel comfortable being photographed, or running into your ex, while wearing it. Sure, that may sound a little shallow; but pride in your appearance goes a long way towards minimizing your closet.

Well, I hope you had as much fun reading this post as I had writing it! I’ll be exploring some of the specific items in-depth as part of my 100 Possessions series (I’ve already covered my black dress and black bag).

But for now, I’d love to hear about your capsule wardrobe: if you had to discard everything but ten essentials, what would they be?

My Minimalist Wedding Ring


This week, Tammy of Rowdy Kittens wrote a wonderful, very thoughtful post about her wedding ring. I liked it so much, I was inspired to write one about mine.

When my husband and I married five years ago, we were already well into our minimalist journey. Instead of a big, expensive ceremony, we opted to elope to Iceland – I packed my dress in a standard ziplock bag, and we sent out postcards from Reykjavik announcing our nuptials. It was a beautiful, romantic experience; and best of all, the event left us with no debt or excess possessions.

Accordingly, I wanted my wedding ring to reflect our minimalist philosophy – so I chose a simple band with seven tiny diamonds across the top (pictured at left).

Instead of the big, flashy, multi-carat rings featured in magazines, I wanted slim, subtle, and elegant. I wanted the kind of ring I’d feel comfortable wearing all the time: while traveling, hiking, walking through urban neighborhoods, or riding the subway at night. I wanted the gold to be recycled, the diamonds to be conflict-free, and the piece to be handcrafted rather than mass-produced. I wanted a ring that would be timeless enough in style, and durable enough in material, to last me the rest of my life.

But mostly, I wanted a ring that reflected my ideals: meeting my needs with just enough, rather than the most I could afford.

(Of course, one can argue that no wedding band would be the “most minimalist” choice. However, my philosophy has more to do with owning a few carefully-chosen items than nothing at all.)

I wanted my choice of wedding ring to be consistent with the other consumer choices we’d made: like buying a cozy 1920s bungalow instead of an outsized McMansion; driving small, fuel-efficient cars instead of luxury models or SUVs (and eventually switching to public transit); opting for well-made, classic clothing over trendy or logo-laden items; and supporting artisans and small businesses instead of big brands.

Our choices may have seemed modest, frugal, or eccentric to some – yet they made us perfectly happy. We never found need for bigger, better, or more: our little house kept us as warm and dry as any mansion; our cars conveyed us from point A to point B without fancy hood ornaments; and my tiny diamonds sparkled just as brilliantly as one-carat stones.

In essence, we chose to “right-size” our consumption instead of “super-size” it. This strategy enabled us to live well, while achieving our dream of moving to the UK and traveling the world.

Sure, a wedding ring is a consumer item; there’s no doubt about that. However, it satisfies my criteria for inclusion in my life: it’s useful (I wear it everyday, and it does a superb job at deterring unwanted advances ;-)), it’s beautiful, and it’s meaningful. And when I see it on my finger, it reminds me not only of my commitment to my husband – but our joint commitment to the minimalist lifestyle that’s brought us such happiness.

{If you’d like to read more about minimalist living, please consider buying my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}