How to Start a Minimalist Wardrobe

4 simple steps to start your journey toward your perfect wardrobe.

Bright, airy, simplistic. You’ve seen the photos. The shirts are perfectly spaced on a gorgeous wood coat rack. Underneath, there are three or four pairs of shoes accompanying each other. A singular purse has slung itself casually on the rack. A hat tilts its head towards you on the other end. The trendy chair poses on the side, adding that extra flair; it’s almost like the quintessential, stereotypical French lady with her little dog.

The scene is perfect — too perfect. You look in your closet: dark, cramped, chaotic. How did it get this way?

Instagram can be a constant scroll of comparison. Each perfectly curated photo seems to point out your flaws. “You’re not that organized” or “you’re not that well traveled” or “you’re not that amazing.

This constant barrage of photos can become overwhelming — and you’re not alone. In many ways, your closet is a source of comparison. “You don’t have that Chanel purse” or “you don’t have that many shoes” or “you don’t have that big of a closet.”

Instead of feeling like your source of pride and joy, carefully selected like an art piece for a museum, you feel like your closet is always lacking, despite having an abundant amount of clothes. Sooner or later, you view these minimal wardrobes, delicately chosen and artfully hung. If you’re like me, the idea of a minimalist wardrobe becomes more and more appealing. How can I get a wardrobe like that?

You look at your wardrobe and sigh. But I love everything here. Do you, though? You might have loved it when you bought it, when it fit you, or for sentimental reasons. That’s great! Now, however, you’re on a new journey to purge, but you don’t know where to start. This is totally understandable, considering most of us express ourselves through our outfits. We don’t need to change our expression, but limit the number of items needed to do so.

I would like to preface this article by saying I’m very new to this as well! My start in ethical fashion and sustainable living only began a couple months ago, but I’ve been unstoppable ever since. After watching The True Cost, a documentary about unethical treatment towards laborers and environmental destruction in the process, I couldn’t not change. I had to make a change. I always knew fast fashion was bad, but I didn’t realize that it was far beyond Forever 21 or the complexity of the issues.

Upon further reading and researching, you might find it hopeless, but I truly think minimalism, eco-friendly living, and ethical accountability is a growing movement. And it’s powerful. And you can be a part of it! Isn’t that wonderful?

So, let’s begin! How do we start a minimalist wardrobe anyways? There is tons of advice on how to start one, the number of items, and the best way to purge. Most suggestions exclude loungewear, sleepwear, underwear, workout clothes, and jewelry from the minimalist closet. I would suggest finding a way that works for you. Here are a few popular ways to purge your closet:

  • Remove, dump, replace, organize. Many articles will tell you to remove everything from your closet and dump it on your bed. (The act of physically removing the item from your closet is supposed to help you.) Then, only replace a set number of items back onto your clothes rack. For instance, maybe you are limiting yourself to 20 tops. Only hang 20 shirts on your clothes rack and organize accordingly. Then, repeat with other items of clothing, such as jeans, jackets, etc. Personally, I would choose to organize by color. What I like: physically removing and replacing the item seems like a good mental practice; if you’re putting it back, it must be a good top.
  • 40 hangers. For this one, pick 40 matching, aesthetically pleasing hangers. Then, you’re only allowed to hang those 40 items. Nothing more, nothing less. What I like: the hangers are motivators to keep everything pretty, so you’re not tempted to keep adding clothes to the rack.
  • Try on each item. Follow the first bullet point, but after you’ve placed everything on your bed, try it on before hanging it back up. This may be time consuming, but definitely worth it! What I like: even if you like the item, you have to try it on, justifying whether it fits or if you like how it looks on you.
  • The Three Month Test. After you purge your closet and create your minimalist wardrobe, store everything else in a bin for three months. After three months, consider what you missed and didn’t miss. For example, did you really need three skirts or does your lifestyle work better with more pants and less skirts next time? What I like: there’s no fear of donating too much, plus it’s a good way to practice before fully committing to a truly minimalist wardrobe.

The lists and ways of creating a capsule wardrobe is endless. Everyone has their own method to their madness, so I think you should go for what sounds good to you. Here’s my plan:

  1. Put everything on the bed.
  2. Store everything that doesn’t seem to fit my life into a bin.
  3. Use pretty hangers to minimize the cluttered look.
  4. Stay Frugal (Keep Items)

My personal preferences: I don’t want seasonal capsules. I want a truly minimalist closet. I’d rather have 100 items total instead of 40 items per season, which comes out to be 160 items total. Plus, I’ve never been one to store clothes away. Either I like it or I don’t.

In addition, I like neutrals, along with blush and army green (that I like to use as neutrals sometimes). I’m plain and only wear patterns with dresses and kimonos typically.

Keep in mind the numerous benefits to owning a minimalist closet. You will have more money (because you’re not spending it on clothes). You will have more time (because you’re not stressing about what outfit to wear with your closet that seemingly has nothing). You will have more opportunity to live your life (because you’re not chasing trends — you’re chasing life!).

Consider those who have minimal closets: Mark Zuckerberg (grey t-shirts), Simon Cowell (black v-necks), Carrie Donovan (big glasses, pearls), Steve Jobs (black turtlenecks, blue jeans), etc. Just visit this article on 18 famous people who always dress the same to understand the company you’re in. Hint: it’s excellent. Let this motivate you in your time of weakness when you’re having a tough time letting go of items.

If you’re like me, you might get weirdly sentimental about items. “This was my husband’s first clothing gift. I can’t give this away!” Seriously, it will happen, and it will be weird. If you don’t wear it, should you keep it? Do you truly love it? Are you just keeping it because you feel guilty that you haven’t worn it more? Have you been waiting to find the perfect item to match it, but nothing seems to work? Weight change? You’re keeping it for your “someday” lifestyle? Consider these things and you might find it is only being kept for reasons outside justification.

 

Step 1: Put Everything On The Bed

After dumping everything onto my bed, I felt like it was easier to decide what stayed in my closet. I’ve purged before, but I’ve never it off the rack and placed it onto my bed. If you’re having trouble deciding your style, I think this will help a lot.

Using this method, I was able to remove items that I’d previously keep. For example, I had a Hogwarts t-shirt I’d gotten at a thrift store, but my husband asked, “When do you wear that?” I realized I was keeping it for a future trip to Universal Studios.

Physically removing it from your closet so that it has to be put back on a rack seemed to help me. Bonus: If you have a buddy who won’t encourage you to keep everything or justify keeping everything, they might be helpful too!

 

Step 2: Store in a Bin

Everything else that didn’t fit my lifestyle anymore went into a 13.5 inches (H) x 20.12 inches (W) x 33.0 inches (L)bin. I filled the entire bin and removed at least 35 items. I liked the idea of placing it in a bin, rather than donating it. Typically, when I would purge, it would immediately be donated because I knew it didn’t fit my life anymore.

This time, however, I was trying to be particular about the fit, style, etc. Each item had to have a purpose outside of the following phrase: I want it. As a result, putting it in a bin felt “safer.” I will say, however, that I love the way my closet currently is, so maybe I’ll end up donating everything in the bin anyways.

 

Step 3: Use Pretty Hangers

It sounds silly, but I love the uniform look of no-slip hangers. I already had a few, but I got some extras. (I know, I know — not minimal.) I am hoping this will encourage me to keep it this way. I don’t plan on buying new hangers ever again (unless these ones no longer hold up). I’m sure it will be many, many years before the need to buy hangers arises. Honestly, I’d love to keep purging, downsizing, and organizing until there’s only a few hangers left. This would be ideal, but I am starting a minimalist wardrobe. This is the beginning stages, not the finale. When I get there, I’ll get there.

 

Step 4: Stay Frugal

This might be strange to some, but I kept items that some would probably remove. Like I said, I’d rather have one minimal closet than seasonal closets. I’ve never been one to store my clothes away in a bin for a season or two. Besides underwear, socks, a couple workout clothes, three pairs of shorts, and pajamas, everything is hanging up, I want to visually see every piece of clothing I own. If it’s hidden, I’m not going to wear it. If it’s out, I’m more likely to wear it. If I don’t wear an item that’s already out, then it’s definitely time to get rid of it.

There are a few reasons I kept more items than a typical minimalist. First, I kept items that I know I’ll need again, but I don’t need right now. For example, an interview outfit. Trying to find an outfit that works for an interview can be hard. You want to look and feel confident! For this reason, I felt it was important to keep it. Buying clothes because I suddenly need it for a job interview seems silly to me. In addition, borrowing an interview outfit is more difficult than borrowing a dress; the fit and occasion is different.

Second, I travel a lot. While I live in California and certainly don’t need a heavy weight jacket, I know I will if I visit somewhere cold, such as Iceland or Switzerland. Again, why get rid of an item that’s already working? Minimalism is about only things you need, not things you want.

Thirdly, I am in the beginning stages of paring down. When I purchase something in the future, it must fit my lifestyle, personal style and convictions, work for numerous occasions, etc. If I buy something, it must be meaningful and multi-functional; it must add purpose to my life and my closet. Then, I can get rid of certain items.

For instance, I have a pair of flats I’ve had for at least five years, but they work for many occasions (weddings, work, interviews, everyday). As a result, until I find something to replace them, I won’t get rid of them yet.

I hope this encourages you to attempt a minimalist wardrobe! It’s definitely a process. You won’t be able to start it overnight. I think the more often I purge, the easier it becomes. I hope you’ll join me on this new journey. At the very least, I hope it will encourage you to revisit your closet and view it with fresh eyes and an open mind.

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