7 Steps to a Minimalist Wardrobe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vietnam Veterans of America
The Salvation Army

In the UK:
British Red Cross
Oxfam
Cancer Research UK

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

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

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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

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?

My Minimalist Wedding Dress

I recently received an email from a reader named Elise, who wrote: “You mentioned that you are married. I’d love to know what you have done with your wedding dress and other keepsakes.”

Great question, Elise! After the big day, many women struggle with how to store the “dress of their dreams”—as well as all the other stuff they accumulated from the ceremony and celebration.

Fortunately, I was a minimalist before I got married—and knew I could never manage to drag around a big, bulky, and delicate garment for the rest of my life. My husband and I also wanted little to do with the usual marriage accoutrements (favors, invitations, albums, cake, presents, and the like.)

Therefore, instead of a traditional wedding, we eloped and got married in Iceland. Now, as many of you know, I’m an inveterate carry-on traveler—and I was not about to make an exception for this occasion (especially considering the dilemma I’d have if my luggage was lost!) Getting married abroad, therefore, presented a unique packing challenge: how to transport a dress, shoes, and other accessories in my carry-on bag.

An over-the-top, white satin “princess” dress, complete with veil and train, were obviously out of the question (and not really my style anyway). To top it off, I had little shopping time; we had only a month to do all the requisite paperwork, and get ourselves together, before departure. (As you may have surmised, my husband and I are pretty spontaneous and not particularly adept at long-term planning).

I had one requirement for a wedding dress: that it fit in a standard-size ziplock bag, for easy, no-worry transport. Fortunately, I found just such a garment: a cocktail-length lace dress in pale blue and gold. It folded down to practically nothing, and the fabric showed no wrinkles. I accessorized it with a long white cardigan (it’s cold in Iceland!), and some kitten heels that were slim enough to fit in my toiletry bag.

After a short and sweet ceremony, we sent out postcards of Reykjavik (the capital of Iceland, and city in which we were married) to announce our wedded bliss. In lieu of a reception, we went for a nighttime dip in the Blue Lagoon. By keeping things simple, we deftly sidestepped the barrage of gifts that usually accompanies such an event: china, flatware, fondue sets, linens, small appliances, etc. (We already had a furnished household, and certainly didn’t need any more stuff!) Friends and family were content to treat us to dinner, and bottles of wine and champagne, after we returned home.

Therefore, the only “keepsake” we have to store is our marriage certificate. Our photos are all digital, and my dress is now part of my regular wardrobe. We have no “wedding china,” “wedding linens,” or other sentimental “wedding things” that we’ll feel obligated to keep for the rest of our lives.

My advice to single minimalists: if you take the plunge, keep it simple. Otherwise, you may accumulate a lifetime’s worth of stuff in just one day!

I’d love to hear how others have dealt with wedding dresses, gifts, and other keepsakes!

Minimalist Wardrobe: How Many Shoes are Enough?

Every once in awhile, I like to analyze a category of my possessions. I list what I own, and the reasons I own it. This exercise helps me gain perspective on exactly what I have—and more importantly, why I have it.

This week, I decided to take a look at my shoe wardrobe. Years ago, I determined that the best way to minimize my shoes would be to stick to a solid color. I chose black—so out went the brown loafers, the navy blue pumps, the bronze kitten heels, the silver flats, etc. (The base colors of my clothing are black and gray, so I knew black shoes would match everything.)

The grand total: six pairs of shoes, which I think seems like a lot for a minimalist. However, they each satisfy a certain need, so I’m not sure how to pare down any further. Here’s the rundown:

1. Ballet flats. These are my everyday shoes in the spring and summer. Wonderfully versatile—can be worn with pants, capris, shorts, skirts, and dresses.

2. Walking shoes. Black slip-on Merrells that function primarily as my travel and sightseeing shoes (or anytime I plan on walking more than a mile or so). They’re also my everyday winter shoe when I’m not wearing my boots. They’re versatile in the sense that they’re super comfortable, yet attractive enough to wear to a nice restaurant. The only drawback is they can only be worn with pants.

3. Knee high boots. I wear these constantly in the fall and winter with tights and skirts/sweater dresses. They’re slightly more frivolous than the first two pairs, but still play an important role in my wardrobe.

4. Office heels. Professional-looking heels appropriate for both work and dressier (but not formal) occasions. I wear these with skirts, suits, pants, and day dresses.

5. Dressy heels. Fabric sling-backs suitable for cocktail and more formal dresses. I wear these to weddings, parties, formal dinners, and cultural events like the opera, symphony, etc. Although I wear these the least of all my shoes, I’m always glad I have them when I need them.

6. Hiking shoes. These are a new addition to my shoe wardrobe, purchased for rambles in the English countryside. Unfortunately, my walking shoes were not up to the task (and would have been quickly ruined by the rain and mud). While I was reluctant to acquire another pair of shoes, they’ve enabled me to explore the gorgeous UK countryside with my husband.

At this point, I have to come to terms with the fact that my lifestyle requires a certain variety of footwear. If I owned only ballet flats, I wouldn’t be able to go hiking, or walk long distances while traveling. If I owned only walking shoes, I wouldn’t be able to wear skirts or dresses. Furthermore, neither pair is appropriate for business suits or formal attire.

If I was a hermit, I could certainly manage with a single pair of shoes. However, while I’m a big proponent of minimalism, I don’t believe it should detract from my experience of life. Therefore, I hope my little discourse on shoes (which may appear somewhat trivial at first glance) illuminates a more important point: that minimalist living is not so much about living with as little as possible—but rather, as little as possible to meet your needs.

(Note: I also started a thread on this topic over at The Simple Living Network; please see the excellent discussion there if you want to read more about simplifying your shoes!)

The Minimalist Wardrobe: Choose a Base Color

Once upon a time, the clothes in my closet ran the gamut of colors—I had warm hues, cool hues, neutrals, pastels, jewel tones, etc. What’s more, I had a variety of accessories to “match” this rainbow of apparel.

No more. In my quest for a minimalist closet, I found the secret to a well-edited wardrobe: choosing a base color.

Ideally, your base color should be a neutral like black, brown, navy, or khaki. I chose black—mainly because it’s flattering on me, travels well, and hides stains (if I splash something on myself at lunch, I can still make it through the day without looking a mess!).

This strategy has transformed my look, my closet, and my shopping habits. For the most part, I stick to black for bottoms (like pants and skirts) and add color with tops. Almost anything goes with black, but my wardrobe consists mainly of grays, burgundies, purples, and blues. I also have gray pants, and a gray skirt, that I can wear with either black or colored tops.

Furthermore, I’ve been able to significantly pare down my accessories. I no longer have the need for footwear or handbags in varying shades of brown or navy. A black purse, or pair of shoes, goes with everything in my closet—which means I can get by (and still look put-together) with far fewer purses and pairs of shoes.

The surprising part: although my wardrobe is a fraction of the size it used to be, I never feel I have “nothing to wear.” In fact, I find that I look (and feel) more well-dressed than when I had two closets full of clothes. Building a wardrobe around a base color ensures that everything goes with everything else—even if I dressed in pitch darkness (or by pulling out pieces at random), I’d end up with a matching ensemble. It doesn’t get any better than that!