Culling the Wardrobe for Minimalism

I’m going to share what my wardrobe looks like now. Like I said before — the wardrobe is one of the easiest places to start with minimalism — but remember that it’s not the end goal. That being said, I’ll share how I paired down mine to only the bare essentials, and the effect it has had.

How I did it

I did it over multiple sessions, and I’m not done

I did this over about two weeks, with probably 4 different sessions. It was easy to start because I had so much I didn’t need, but after the first session, I was still left with so many things I rarely used. Even now I have a few of those left. I kept coming back with plastic trash bags and filling them. I made a bunch of separate trips to the thrift stores to make donations.

The hardest part

The hardest thing was getting rid of stuff that cost a lot, or that I really liked, but I didn’t use. For example, I had a really nice G-Start jacket that I’d bought back in England. I used it to death when I was out there, and I thought it would be a jacket for life. It wasn’t cheap either. But it had to go because I wasn’t using it. My black Patagonia jacket had replaced it years earlier as my daily go-to. I grabbed the G-Start jacket and tried it on. I was thinking why haven’t I used this in ages? It was fitted and restricted movement in the arms. I had gained a little weight since I originally bought it, but not much. I made the decision: you have served me well, but your time is over, and chucked it in the bag.

Since I have expensive taste, I had a bunch of difficult items like this. But the thing is, we always over-value things we’ve paid a lot for. I decided to measure an item’s value based on how much actual usage it was bringing me, rather than how much I paid for it or how long I’d had it. That made these hard choices easier.

Quick progress was inspiring

After my first session, it was amazing to see how much space opened up. It was already looking great. I had probably 50 empty hangers left over. This inspiration kept me going. I had a vision in my head (of a very simple wardrobe) and it was unfolding before my eyes. So if you’re going to do this, remember to take a step back and admire your progress. Focus on the vision of what it’s about to look like, and aim for it with laser focus.

The ancillaries

We all have a bunch of things we might need one day. For me (and probably for you), these things are neckties, belts, beanies, hats, a dinner coat, a waterproof shell coat, nice boots for winter, nice shoes for meetings and weddings… They’re all the things we don’t use daily, but we know we’ll need one day. Seems perfectly reasonable to keep them, right? After all, you spent your hard-earned money to buy them.

This is where it gets personal. My own ‘vision’ was particularly sparse. I didn’t want a bunch stuff lying around that I was only going to use once a year. To me, having a simple wardrobe was more valuable than storing things that didn’t get regular use. I bagged almost all of them; my waterproof shell jacket, my two ties, all my slacks, my dress shoes, extra belts, more shoes, more boots, all my sandals, old or mismatching socks and so on. I got brutal about it.

For me, this was probably easier than it might be for others because I don’t work in an office all day, I rarely need to be presentable at all, and the times I should be, I usually don’t care. These are ALL the ancillaries I kept:

  • One Levi’s button-up shirt. I kept this because it fits well, I love it, and it covers many bases if I must be presentable, like for a wedding.
  • My Levi’s jean jacket. This actually falls into the I just love it too much category. I only ever wear it when I’m wearing khakis, but I wear jeans almost every day. This is the ONLY thing I’m keeping that doesn’t get regular use.
  • Snow gloves. We get heavy snow every year, and I use them when it gets super cold, so I deemed them ‘essential’.
  • Summer running shoes. I don’t run a lot, but I do walk a lot. I keep these in the car for when I go on walks, and they get use every week.
  • Trail running shoes. I do hike a lot, and when there’s no snow on the ground, these are what I use.

I replaced a few things

As I got down into looking at each item one-by-one, I realized that I was keeping multiples of the same item because I wasn’t happy with any of them. Socks, t-shirts and jeans fell into this category for me. I chucked out all my cotton socks (I hate cotton socks) and bought 3 new pairs of “Wooly Bully” socks from Defeet (highly recommended!) Now, I have about 10 pairs of socks (which is still way more than I need). One extra-heavy hiking pair for snow, my 3 Defeets for winter, one lighter Defeet for summer, the one pair of Smartwool socks I haven’t yet killed, and 3 pairs of lightweight summer ankle socks for running and walking. I went to the Levi’s outlet and spent time trying on jeans to find that perfect fit, bought a pair, and now I’ll be throwing out all but one other pair of jeans. I also bought a new black hoodie; the Ten Year Hoodie by Flint & Tinder. Love it, use it every single day.

I changed how I store clothes

I used to be a big fan of hanging everything. It’s quicker than folding and makes things really accessible. I don’t really do that anymore. For one thing, I have I think a total of 6 items that I hang now… My daily-wear Patagonia jacket, my hoodie, and my 5 t-shirts. Everything else gets folded and place on my makeshift ‘drawer’ (two cheap shoe racks stacked on top of one another).

I like folding things a bit more because it gives me a little more time with each item I’ve chosen to keep. It also takes up less space and looks neater than hanging. I even fold my socks now!

The Effects

The uniform

I didn’t plan this, but it happened anyway. I’m not one of those people who needs to have an ‘outfit’ for every day of the month. I don’t really care. I want to be comfortable and prepared for bad weather — that is my criteria for clothing. This is my (winter) uniform from the top down:

  • Black Ten Year Hoodie by Flint & Tinder, small
  • Charcoal grey sport t-shirt by REI
  • Black lightweight merino long-sleeve thermal by Icebreakers, small
  • Dark blue Levi’s 501 jeans, 32/32
  • Cold days, beige fleece thermal bottoms by Terramar, medium
  • Warm days, cotton boxer shorts from Debenhams
  • Charcoal grey Wooly Bully wool socks by Defeet, medium
  • Black-on-black Authentic shoes by Vans, 8.5US

What about washing?

Well, I have to admit I rarely wash my clothes anyway, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. Most of my clothes are not cotton, which means they don’t start smelling very quickly. This is particularly true for my wool clothing, like socks and thermals — they naturally regulate sweat/temperature, and have a natural “anti-microbial” aspect which keeps them from hanging on to bacteria, which is what makes stuff smell bad. I let my jeans get really dirty before washing them, and I usually wash my jeans maybe 5 times during their entire lifespan. I wash boxers and thermals the most often, and jeans and t-shirts less often. If jeans or my hoodie gets dirty, I’ll usually spot-wash it in a sink.

Your mileage, of course, will vary depending on how much of a clean-freak you are, and what materials your clothes are made from, and how many clothes you have.

The time

Having less also means taking less time to choose (what you’ll wear). This is a nice side-effect of cleaning out your wardrobe to only the bare essentials. We should spend time on the things that matter (and clothing doesn’t really matter).

The mental energy

This was a big one for me. The effect of having a clean and well-organized anything is that you don’t have to worry about it. Having less means having less to organize, less to clean, and more time for the things that really matter in life. I love that I don’t have to think about what I’m going to wear every day. Do I worry about my local baristas seeing me in the same clothes every day? No, but that’s a personal thing. If you’re really into fashion and just love clothes (you have my sympathy), then I’d encourage you to focus on curating a modular wardrobe — where most things you keep can be used interchangeably to create different outfits. Less is more.

Musings

Quality over quantity

Owning less gives you the space to curate your wardrobe in a better way. For me, I’m always thinking about quality; what’s going to last a long time, and what’s going to perform well. I try to buy locally-made stuff when I need to buy something. But buying quality items doesn’t mean I’m always spending hundreds of dollars on things. I’m not going to buy a $1,000 Gucci jacket because of the quality when I can replace the Patagonia jacket I already know I love for far less money. I’m not buying designer jeans; my go-to Levi’s cost $40 a pair.

Quality is only relevant to a certain point. I can replace a pair of $40 jeans. I can’t really replace a pair of $250 jeans, even if they fit a little better, or have a nicer look. It’s simply not worth it to me. But on the other end of the spectrum, I won’t go to Old Navy or H&M and buy a $15 pair of jeans because the quality is shit. They won’t last. It’s a balance, and that balance is different for every item, for every usage, for every budget.

I say this carefully, because I know what it’s like to be that person who goes online to find ‘the best’ possible thing, and then strive to buy that thing, almost regardless of cost. (You know this about me by now!) This approach has rarely served me well, and now I buy things that are going to last a decent amount of time and strike a balance between style, function, comfort and price. That being said, I’m still a ‘designer’ who struggles with it, and I still find myself looking for that ‘perfect thing’.

A dedicated section on bags!

As you all know, I’m a bag geek. I had a LOT of bags. A serious collection. This area was difficult for me. I could think of a reason to keep every single one of them, but in the end, I knew it wasn’t what I really wanted or needed. I got rid of 12 different bags. The only ones I kept are my (relatively new) Topo x Woolrich backpack, my waterproof North Face backpack (for the camping I’ll never do, of course), and then I replaced all my messenger bags with a new purchase: a Carrerita from Crafted Goods. Oh yeah, and I kept my Patagonia fanny-pack (for Americans) / bum bag (for everyone else). I use that for carrying small items while hiking. I plan to replace the two backpacks with another ONE from Crafted Goods.

(Speaking of Crafted Goods, it’s exactly what it sounds like: I found a solid, affordable bag maker that meets 90% of my needs year-round. I can’t recommend these guys enough. Their work is amazing, and relatively affordable. This was a huge #win for me!)

The end

In the end, was it worth it? I probably ‘lost’ thousands of dollars spent on clothing, shoes and bags. And what did I gain? Mental space, physical space, time and focus. But what did I really lose? Nothing. That money was gone long ago, and it’s not like I could have somehow gotten it all back. In a word, I simplified a little part of my daily life and it feels great. I would recommend it to anyone.

Again, the point isn’t about clothing, or even minimalism. It’s about life. It’s about where our precious time and energy are spent, and it’s about what we really care about. I’m happy to report that this little exercise was totally worth it, and I can’t wait to take it into other areas of life. I’ll be reporting on all of it… So stay tuned.