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. I’m thinking of something like these pieces from Icebreaker, though designed a bit differently:

(Photo: Icebreaker)

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! :) ). I do think such basics can look quite chic when dressed up with a colorful scarf:


(Photo: Icebreaker)

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


The fashion industry is the prime example of an activity dedicated to using up resources, not to create satisfactions, but to create dissatisfactions with what people possess—in effect to create obsolescence in otherwise perfectly satisfactory goods.
–E. J. Mishan, 1967 (as quoted in Less is More by Goldian VandenBroeck)

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 (a la H&M), 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

aPhoto via Icebreaker

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). For those of you who are curious, it’s available here.

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.

(Note: for my male readers, here’s my husband’s minimalist wedding band.)

{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.}

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
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!

{If you’d like to read more about minimalist living, please consider subscribing to my RSS feed, or signing up to receive new articles by email.}

Declutter Your Jewelry Box

Let’s face it—we all have clutter in our jewelry boxes: broken chains, gifts from old flames, grandma’s wedding ring, an uncle’s old watch. Jewelry, however, can be especially difficult to purge. Unlike most clutter, gold and gemstones have intrinsic value—tossing them in the trash is like throwing money away.

Good news: the price of gold is near its all-time high, and jewelers everywhere are buying it from people like you and me. (It may seem contradictory that jewelers would want to buy gold at such a high price, but they make a profit by selling it to a refiner.)

Here’s how it works: clean out your jewelry box of all the bits and bobs you no longer want. Take the pile down to your local jeweler. The jeweler will separate out the gold from the costume (not gold) pieces. You can facilitate this process by looking for 10K, 14K or 18K stamps on your items; in the absence of such markings, the jeweler will use acid, or an electronic tester, to determine the gold content. The jeweler will then weigh your pieces on a scale, and use a multiplier to calculate the gold (“scrap”) value in dollars.

It’s a great way to get rid of (and get cash for!) broken, common, or unattractive jewelry that has little antique value or artistic merit. Finer pieces, or those with quality diamonds and gemstones, will command a higher price than this “scrap” value, and should be taken to an estate jeweler for evaluation.

And if you don’t need the cash, consider gifting sentimental pieces to someone in the family; Uncle Ed’s pocket watch may not be your cup of tea, but it might be a treasure for a nephew or grandson!

Minimalist Wardrobe: The Power of Accessories

scarf(Photo: Breibeest)

I’ve noticed something funny. I can wear an ensemble that someone has seen me in multiple times; yet if I pair it with a scarf, unique necklace, or interesting pair of earrings, they’ll invariably comment on my “new outfit.”

Such is the power of accessories. They freshen up an “old” look in no time flat, and better yet, demand very little storage space. (I’m focusing mainly on scarves and jewelry here, as handbags take up *too much* storage space and merit a post unto themselves.) Guys, I imagine this is how ties function for you, as I’d have a hard time telling if you wore the same suit five days in a row; the tie, however, I would notice.

I hate having an overstuffed closet, and over the years have pared my wardrobe down to the essentials. The pieces are rather classic, and consist mainly of bottoms (pants and skirts) in black and gray, a handful of dresses, and tops in subtle colors (burgundy, slate blue, eggplant, etc.).

However, I’m kind of “girly” and crave a bit of novelty every now and then. Instead of filling my closet with trendy pieces, I’ve been able to satisfy that craving with the occasional accessory purchase. My indulgences are usually handmade jewelry and silk scarves from Etsy. Both take up precious little space, but add an interesting touch to my wardrobe basics.

It’s also a great strategy for packing light. When I travel, I tend to wear the same outfit two or three times. I’ll bring a scarf or two, however, to alter the “look.” They weigh next to nothing, instantly dress up whatever I’m wearing, and are infinitely easier to transport than another change of clothes.

Does anyone else use a similar strategy to stretch a minimal wardrobe?