an organized view of a minimalist’s wardrobe

A photo of author Jo Bennett wearing a structured 40's inspired wool hat.

My Lillie and Cohoe winter hat happily received by a colleague.

I don’t have enough clothes.

Folks who know me could take this statement two ways. It may not be a surprise that my wardrobe is small. My Facebook friends are used to my photo posts, featuring many formerly-loved items I want to give away, such as evening wear, hats, jewelry and handbags. I drop off clothes in good condition at Goodwill about four times a year. On the other hand, should a minimalist desire to own more things? Ultimately, my goal is to be aware of what I need and what I want.

My adage has always been Reduce What You Have, Love What You Got. This, of course, depends on individual preferences. I do not like having a lot of stuff. In my wardrobe I only want items which are functional, comfortable, clean and which help me feel good. Each piece should ideally be loved and used often. With this philosophy, I should have my garment collection under control. So why do I still have things to get rid of?

In my younger days, I followed trends; fitted jackets,  darker tones and strutting in high heels. Now, as an almost 50 year old, I prefer relaxed tunic blouses, embrace vibrant patterns and enjoy flat or wedge-heeled footwear. My career shift has influenced my clothing needs as well. I rarely attend cocktail events anymore and my business look now is, relatively, casual. To embrace the changes in my life, I welcome the opportunity to retire some of my former external identity.

But I have to wear something! I admit I am not a fan of shopping. Living in a major metropolitan area provides a wide variety of shops yet I find most standard fit pieces do not suit my body shape and are made of incredibly cheap materials (possibly by hands working in poor conditions). It took some time to learn not to impulsively pick up anything that ‘might’ work. Finding a perfect piece does require an investment of time and money but, with a little awareness and preparation, I win in the long run.

1) KNOW THY SELF

  • Assess your lifestyle. I live in a four season region (Ontario);  I require a professional wardrobe (which doubles as, or gets downgraded to, casual wear) and sporty gear for hiking and working out.
  • Know your shape. I have a long torso with broad shoulders. Mid-length skirts are more flattering on me than pants.  I skip anything that uses a stretch fabric.
  • What is your taste? Simple lines? Complex patterns? Urban or rural? What makes you feel happiest? I like a classic look with strong colours (and maybe a dash of sparkle 😉
  • What is practical? Perhaps to work in a dusty environment you need lighter coloured clothing. I avoid polyester in warm weather. Use lower cost items like scarves and jewelry to add variety to key pieces to provide more options.
  • How much do you need? For bottoms, I have 2 slacks, 2 jeans, 4 skirts (plus exercise pants) This gives me plenty of variety for work and play.
  • Think about finances. How much can/do you want to spend per season on clothing? I am self-employed so I time my shopping investment to coincide with higher income months.

2) FOLLOW THE SEASON

To make room in my very small closet, I put off-season clothes in suitcases down in our storage unit. I make a note during each season shift of what I need so that next year I know exactly what to add.

a) First, toss/donate clothes that don’t work. This could mean pieces that:

  • are stained, have lost their shape, are faded;
  • just don’t fit anymore or are uncomfortable;
  • have not been worn all season (you all know the trick – hang everything with the hooks facing you and every time you wear something, turn the hanger around. By the end of the season, an unturned hanger betrays each article not worn);
  • perhaps something just needs to be altered and you can get a second life out of it (less expensive than buying new)

b) Assess what you want.

Write down what you need to purchase for next season. For example, did you really need waterproof boots this winter but couldn’t afford them at the time? Were you making do with a pair of cords that were too baggy? Send them away and make a note to get a replacement in the Fall. Do not wear out the single, hard won pair of pants you own. If they fail in mid season, you will feel pressured to buy anything that is available. Have alternate sturdy choices so that you simple wardrobe will last for several years.

c) Shop (efficiently!)

Soon the temperature will be high enough to warrant unpacking my warm weather clothing. However, I have already looked at the list I made last October when I put them away. While shoppers are not in the mood yet to buy lighter fabrics and colours, I have already got exactly what I want because the stores are full of inventory. At the same time, if I know I was missing a crucial item this past Winter, I might glance at any remaining deeply discounted garments and pick up one thing to pack away for next year. Shopping with a specific list helps me avoid wasting money on items I don’t need.

Note: I am learning to take advantage of online shopping. With a wider selection to choose from, I can save time because I am not walking from store to store. I have become adept at detecting what will precisely fit and rarely have to return anything. Sometimes the location of the item is close enough for delivery to a store where I can pick it up, allowing me to avoid shipping costs (and having things flown or driven a long way).

It takes about a year.

As I unpack my suitcases, I find a few new pieces that I bought at the end of last season. A nice surprise! These items, together with a few new basics I have already purchased, mean I am set for the season. I can wind down into a lower income summer, knowing that I have what I need and no further spending will be required. I know there will likely be a small purge before packing up in October but the amounts are getting smaller. I am shopping less often, buying fewer, better quality items and staying on budget. I no longer have to wrestle with a closet cluttered with things that have outlived their usefulness and, by slowing down my purchase and purge cycle, I am doing my bit to alleviate a little pressure on the environment.

If you are struggling to tame the monster in your closet, consider hiring a professional. I work with clients over the phone. Alternatively, you can contact one of my colleagues in your area (we are members of the Professional Organizers in Canada) to come in for a few hours and help you out.

And now I can turn to more important things! I am excited about light coats and rain boots for walking. Eventually I will be able to simply slip on sandals, before heading out. Ah, nothing in the way of reveling in sunny warmth for many months, appreciating the green growth on trees and pretty flowers bobbing in the breeze.

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2 thoughts on “an organized view of a minimalist’s wardrobe

  1. Last year I donated two large garbage bags full of clothes I either wasn’t wearing or shouldn’t have been (according to my sister, who helped me with the process). Since then, with my new standards as to what is worth keeping, I’ve managed to continue paring down on an ongoing basis. Maybe there’s a minimalist inside me after all!

    Like

    • Jo says:

      You never know, Janet! 🙂
      I like your note about setting new standards. Makes paring down easy. Does this include a process for what new comes into your closet?
      Jo

      Like

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