Since I began dressing in a seasonal, 33-item capsule wardrobe in March, I’ve noticed certain clothes emerging as most-worn favorites. Some of these items were worn so much that I ended up replacing them along the way.
This is by no means a list of must-haves, but these pieces all saw a lot of wear, and they’ll form the basis of my year-round capsule wardrobe going forward.
I wore my last pair so much that I replaced them this fall with a high waist version. Other styles (straight leg, wide leg) are growing in popularity again, but I still like my skinnies best. They make an oversized sweater and sneakers feel polished, they work cuffed or long, and they compliment heels as well as they fit under boots. I’m a fan. I liked the flap pockets on my old ones, but my new ones are stretchier for an even better fit.
2. Chambray shirt.
After months of searching, I finally found the perfect one at the thrift store. I layer this under sweaters, over tops, wear it tucked or untucked, tied or belted, with a skirt or jeans…it’s incredibly versatile. My version has button tabs so I can roll up and secure the sleeves in warmer weather.
This was a full-price purchase more than two years ago and has been a three-season wardrobe staple for me. I loved wearing it with sandals in the summer and with leggings or tights and boots in the cooler months. Before I found my chambray shirt, I would fold and tuck this one into skirts or pants.
The first version wore out and was replaced in the summer. Both were found at the thrift store. This was another three-season piece with plenty of layering and styling possibilities. It will retire briefly for winter and likely return for my spring capsule.
I purchased this braided leather belt with brass buckle in the men’s department of the thrift store, so it has a long tail to knot or wrap. Since there are no holes it can be buckled anywhere and works with a variety of outfits. It was my favorite accessory with my striped dress or jean shorts, which brings me to #6…
6. Denim shorts.
I already had a couple pairs of flowy shorts and was on the lookout for something a bit more casual and structured. It took a while to find denim shorts that weren’t distressed or cut offs. Oh, and they had to be the right length! This secondhand find made the hot month of August so much more bearable!
This lightweight sweater is just my color and goes with more than you might expect. I like to be prepared for cool temps, even in summer (wishful thinking?), and this folds up small enough to fit in my purse. It adds no bulk under a jacket and works under or over a belt.
One of my few “dry clean only” items, this vintage find was probably my most-worn piece this fall. I especially liked it over button down shirts.
This lightweight long sleeve tee feels perfectly, casually comfortable with jeans or shorts and makes a great base for a scarf or necklace.
10. Bronze swing tee.
After beginning my capsule wardrobe and taking a shopping hiatus, this was one of the first pieces I bought. I had scouted it online and love the sleeves and neckline. It’s an interesting basic.
11. Brown boots.
I replaced my falling apart synthetic boots with these Frye leather boots (purchased gently used for 80% off retail!). I did have to stretch the calves a little in a really un-glamorous process involving screwdrivers (seriously DIY), but now they are a great fit with tights or jeans. They cost more than Target boots, but I’m glad I waited for a deal and made the investment. I plan to have these for years to come.
Another pair of Frye shoes, these were a gift and purchased new. They are super comfortable, work with laces or without, and I like that I can chase my daughter around the playground in shoes I also wear around town. These are a very “me” substitute for gym shoes.
13. Faux leather jacket.
I added this piece for fall, and I love it! I had planned to save up for a leather jacket, but this synthetic version works better for my life right now. I don’t worry about wearing it in the rain, working setting up vintage displays, or playing with my daughter. I’ll still save up for the real thing at some point, but in the meantime the pleather is perfect.
Technically jewelry is not part of my capsule collection; I don’t count it in my numbers or swap it with the seasons. But I did find myself reaching for these pieces most days, and not just because my friend makes them! The stamped metal cuffs go with everything and feel like a signature look for me.
Whew, you made it through the whole list!
What were some of your favorite or most worn pieces this year?
Note: I included links to the exact items or similar ones when necessary. You can see my actual wardrobe (on hangers or worn by me) here, here, and here. Much of my clothing was purchased secondhand or in previous season/years, so some links point to sold out or unavailable items. Visible prices are no indication of what I actually paid.
Now that I’m in the home stretch of my fall Project 333, I thought I’d share an update. This three month term began October 1st and ends December 31st, and so far temperatures have spiked into the 90s and dipped into the 20s Fahrenheit. That’s quite a swing to manage with around 33 items of clothing…
So I’ve cheated a couple times. I had to temporarily pull out my big vintage fisherman sweater and my Sorel boots, and I’ve realized I really don’t have a warm coat or many sweaters left. I’m well equipped for most Southern winters, but last winter (and several days of this one) have pushed my mild winter wardrobe to the brink. My pieces consist primarily of lightweight “fashion jackets” that do little to actually thwart the cold. I’m keeping an eye on the thrift stores for a few warmer pieces, and until then I’ll pile on the layers. Thankfully, most days have lows in the 40s-50s, temps that are comfortably manageable with what I have.
I’ve also decided to keep a few spots in my closet for vintage favorites. My small collection of vintage dresses contains more statement pieces than basics, so I haven’t figured out how to fit them in a 33 item capsule collection. But there are occasions that call for a statement. I’m bringing in a few of these pieces as a sub-collection.
This season I have replaced a few items that no longer work. I bought a new pair of dark wash, high waisted skinny jeans since my others were wearing out and getting a little pointy “tail” in the back. Do you know what I’m talking about? Once it happens, the pants are pretty much done. The old jeans moved on to the “lounge wear” category (or more accurately, the “work wear” category when I’m setting up vintage displays or sorting through things in the garage).
I also ditched the charcoal skirt. I didn’t try it on before including it in my collection (lesson learned!), and it doesn’t fit well at all anymore. I still wore it once, but I immediately pulled it from my closet after seeing the baggy, saggy selfies. A plaid skirt (found on super sale!) has taken its place. While not as versatile, the new skirt is a fun piece that fits my style well, and I expect to wear it plenty this winter.
Oh, and I added a couple new pairs of shoes! I’ll share my accessories at some point.
When I did follow the rules, which was most of the time, I took some bathroom mirror shots to show how I put everything together. Fall clothes are my favorite, and they’re the easiest for me to wear. I really love these clothes, and I don’t have to think too much about them or work too hard to make outfits. I’m wondering if those two things aren’t related, and maybe that’s actually the crux of capsule dressing: effortless style.
Here are some outfits, cheats not included:
Do you have a favorite season for dressing? Have you found a way to incorporate statement pieces in a capsule wardrobe? Are you ready to try this in January?!?
When I first started cleaning out my closet, I faced some strong internal resistance. My dialog (because don’t we all talk to ourselves about these things?) sounded something like this:
What if this comes back in style? I should probably keep in just in case…
What if I gain or lose ten pounds? Even though it doesn’t fit now, I might need this size one day…
What if the weather gets unusually hot or cold? I’d better be prepared…
What if I get invited to a formal event? I ought to hold on to this prom dress…
Wait, what?!? Does this sound familiar?
For years, I catered to the “what if,” and I think this was the primary cause of my crowded closet. Even a serious shopping habit can be offset by ruthless editing, but I had a math problem; I kept adding without subtracting. There are benefits to being prepared, and holding on to things seems like a money saver. If I already have it, I won’t need to buy it…right?
There is a certain comfort in having a stock pile of clothing (or anything, really), but life rarely shakes out exactly the way we anticipate.
In reality, I will want to buy (or rent, or borrow) a new dress if I happen to be invited to a formal event. If I lose ten pounds, it could very well be during the winter, and those tiny linen pants will be of no use. I could gain ten pounds in the summer when those next size up corduroys won’t be wearable. In either of those cases, I would probably want to get something new to embrace my new size. Unusually extreme weather only lasts briefly, and I could probably manage a few days of snow by piling on lighter layers. If something comes back in style, there is little chance of me wearing the trend again and in the same way.
Last spring I found a piece of advice that made letting go seem a little easier: store it at the store.
Store it at the store.
I decided that if “what if” was my main hesitation in letting go, I would store at the store instead of in my house. If I could get a similar item for less that $20 in less than 20 minutes, I would definitely store it at the store.
I recently had an unexpected opportunity to test the efficacy of the 20/20 rule. We needed a roasting pan (and by “we” I mean my husband, who is the chef in our home). When I went to look for the pan, I realized it had been in the drawer of our old oven. We had gotten new appliances, and I forgot to check the drawer before the old ones were removed. Since dinner depended on a roasting pan, I stopped by the thrift store and found one in pristine shape for $5. The errand took less than 20 minutes, including the time it took to wash the pan.
I didn’t intentionally give away the roasting pan, but I saw how it might not be so terrible to find myself unprepared in one of those “just in case” moments. After that experience, I used the 20/20 rule as inspiration to give away some books I have already read, some art supplies I haven’t used in the last three years, and some extra plastic kitchen utensils that were taking up drawer space. I decided two slotted spoons were plenty, and in the unlikely event that I needed more, 20 minutes and 20 dollars would be more than enough to make that happen.
If the item is easily borrowed, I can also store it at the store. I don’t need to hold on to that heavy carry on luggage with the marginally functional zipper; I have another one that works perfectly, and I can borrow one from family if I ever need two at once. Friends often borrow serving pieces from me. I like to entertain and have a large collection of vintage dishes, so these items are not burdensome for me to keep. They bring me joy and serve a purpose, and I’m happy to share them. My friends could “store those at the store,” in a way.
In the process of minimizing, I found things I haven’t worn or used in years, things I was unlikely to wear or use in the near future. These are things I wanted to let go of, but I held on to them out of fear…because really, for me at least, the core of “what if” is fear…of insufficiency, inadequacy, of not enough. I no longer want fear as a motivating factor in my life. I don’t want fear deciding what stays in my closets or cabinets or drawers.
So goodbye, dress that I kept because I was afraid I might need to wear it one day! That dress took up space. It occupied physical space that I would rather use for something I enjoy wearing often, and worse than that, it wasted emotional space. I want to spend more energy living my life in the present and less effort planning for what might be.
Now when I consider getting rid of something, I ask, “Why not?” If the answer is that I really love and/or use said thing, then it stays. If not? Add it to the giveaway pile. I’m pretty sure I won’t miss it, and if I do, it’s probably stored at the store.*
Do “what ifs” interfere with your attempts to simplify?
Are your “what ifs” motivated by fear or something else?
What could you store at the store instead?
*So far, this has only backfired one time that I recall. One summer I gave away my favorite fleece lounge pants. They fit well and were broken in to perfection, and they were the most comfortable thing I had for wearing around the house. In a fit of ‘roid rage (I had to be on prednisone and was having mood swings and hot flashes), I cleaned out my dresser and donated some things, including my beloved lounge pants. In that moment of heat and bloatedness, I couldn’t imagine ever wearing them again. Whenever the weather gets cold now, I do have passing thoughts about those fleece pants. Maybe this year I’ll find a suitable replacement. So…usually “store it at the store” is helpful, unless you are medicated…in which case, best not to make any rash decisions. 😉
Today is October 1st, a day I have eagerly anticipated for at least the past two weeks, because today begins a new round of Project 333! This will be my third cycle of the minimalist fashion challenge, and I am looking forward to trying a capsule wardrobe during my favorite season.
If you are a new reader here or are unfamiliar with Project 333, here’s the one sentence summary: live for three months with a thirty-three item wardrobe.
It is radical, but it is not militant.
When I tell people about Project 333, the most common response is, “Wow, that’s so cool! I could never do that!” I get it. That’s how I felt when I first heard about Project 333 as well. I love shopping and have an eclectic sense of style, and I thought this sort of challenge would be great for people who didn’t like to shop and preferred monochromatic outfits. But sometime over the past year, a metamorphosis took place. I transformed from a curious observer into an impassioned participant.
Finding blogs and pins of capsule wardrobes (both actual and aspirational) inspired me, but here’s what finally won me over to Project 333: it is radical, but it is not militant. The rules are offered as guidelines, a structure within which to challenge yourself. They can easily be adapted or omitted or ignored. There are no grades for perfection, no awards given for adherence, and no shame or consequences for mistakes or even failure. It’s just a practical, doable set of steps to try out dressing with less.
So I adapted and adjusted and made it work for me. It’s my Project 333-ish.
And here are the clothing items I’m including for fall:
Left to right from the top:
Row 1: Green Button Tank | Striped Tank (*T) | Asymmetrical Black Tank (V) | Blue Striped Tee (T)
Row 2: Bronze Swing Top | Wide Stripe Knit Top | Purple Dolman Sleeve Tee | Navy Cashmere Pullover (*V, T)
Row 3: Plaid Button Down (*V, T) | Chambray Shirt (*T) | Plum Vest (*T) | Black Cashmere Cardigan (*V, T)
Row 4: Rust Cardigan | Blue Knit Moto Jacket | Brown Barn Jacket (*T) | Plaid Coat (V, T)
Row 5: Faux Leather Jacket (*) | Skinny Jeans | Straight Leg Jeans | Green Jeans (*T)
Row 6: Charcoal Skirt | Rust Pleated Skirt (*V) | Purple Convertible Dress | Sleeveless Trench Dress
Row 7: Striped Shift Dress (*T) | Chambray Dress
The asterisk (*) marks new items added to my wardrobe, the (V) signifies vintage, and the (T) means the item was thrifted.
In case you’re counting, that comes to 26 items. I’ll include my shoes (which bring my count closer to 33-ish) and selected accessories in a later post.
If you’ve been contemplating taking the plunge into capsule wardrobe land, now is a great time to start! The seasons are changing, the temperature is dropping (at least in my hemisphere). Nature is undergoing a wardrobe makeover and heading toward minimalism. There are so many good resources to encourage and inspire you (like this Project 333 Blog Tour, in which I’m grateful to be included).
It does not have to be all or nothing. If you aren’t ready to have a closet quite this small, why not try packing up ten things and seeing if you miss them at the end of three months? Or donate one thing you’ve never liked wearing. Or try wearing thirty things for one month. Or spend hours browsing capsule wardrobes on Pinterest—hey, it’s inspiring! If you’re wanting to do this but have hesitations, just start somewhere. You might find, as I have, that less can feel surprisingly satisfying. In the meantime, “Yes, it is cool. And you could totally do it.” At least that’s how I answer my friends.
For the past two weeks, my toddler daughter has been asking if it’s fall yet. Every time she’d see a leaf float down into the yard, she would cheer, “It’s FALL!” And now it finally is!
Like my daughter, I’m ready for a new season. At this point in the year (and in my three month capsule wardrobe), I’m itching for a change. Fall is my favorite season, and the corresponding clothes are a big part of that.
As October approaches, I am assessing my wardrobe from the last season and deciding what stays and what goes. Wearing the same 30-something pieces of clothing for three months has taught me some things about myself.
“Sporty” is not a word I would ever use to describe myself or my style, and with that acknowledgement, I’ll be sending my floral track pants and my printed sweatshirt on to new homes. Those outfits felt a bit more casual than I like, and wearing heels to dress them up was impractical for my daily life. No big deal–I spent less than $15 to try out the look, so I don’t feel guilty about consigning or donating the clothes.
I’m also ready to admit that there is a certain length of skirt I will not confidently wear without tights or leggings. I had one such skirt in my summer capsule, and though I wore it often in winter (with tights), I didn’t wear it once in the past three months. That’s okay, too. I’ll skip this skirt for my fall collection and maybe bring it back when the weather is consistently cool enough to wear tights with it.
Several things have also worn out after three (or in some cases, six) months of regular wear. I have already replaced my striped tee, and I’ll be swapping my striped dress and striped tank for my fall closet. Hooray for new stripes!
I bought the (nearly) new striped pieces from the thrift store, and I spent less than $25 on all three of them.
Other retiring pieces include my black crochet top tee (too faded), my beloved beaded sandals (falling apart, and I’ve already glued them back together twice), and the light wash jeans. I usually wear dark wash jeans, but I thought a lighter wash might be nice for summer. So many fashion bloggers made them work, and I felt inspired to give it a try. I paid less than $8 for those secondhand Anthropologie jeans, and it was worth it to discover that I do actually prefer a darker wash.
With the change in seasons, the worn out pieces, the mistakes, and the items I’ve been wearing regularly for months (some since March!), I am packing up or giving away almost everything in my summer collection. Some of the pieces will go in the drawer until it’s time to reassess next spring.
I’ve had some hits and misses in my wardrobe choices this summer, and I feel like I have a clearer understanding of my style. For summer, I included some pieces that I liked but weren’t my favorites; they seemed like necessary basics. For fall, I’m ditching that philosophy. I pretty much love every single thing that will be in my closet from October to December. I feel happier with my closet overall, and I’ll be interested to see if I miss those basic pieces. In the meantime, I’ve started putting outfit ideas together, and nearly all the combinations–even the weird and quirky ones–feel especially like me. I can’t wait to share them.
So…October (and thus a new season of Project 333) starts in a week. Are you ready to try a minimalist wardrobe challenge?
My love of vintage started early. When I was six or seven, my dad gave me his old transistor radio. He showed me the dials, and we tuned in to hear The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine”. That was the only music I ever heard through that little radio; every time I’ve flipped it on since, I’ve only gotten squeaks and squeals and static.
This object became a treasure for its nostalgia and its aesthetics. With its candy apple red plastic and shiny silver speaker, the transistor looked so different from the functional 1980s clock radio we had in our house. Hearing that one song over the airways became a magical memory. I also remember my dad telling me about hiding this radio under his pillow and secretly listening to rock ‘n’ roll when he was a child. When I see this radio, I see a story.
When I was nine or ten, I went with my mom to a large antique market and made my first vintage purchase. I found these tiny leather books that captured my imagination. They were small and beautiful. The embossed leather covers and the smooth printed pages felt important. With my mom’s money, I bought them and began my vintage collection and discovered my interest in thrifting.
As I work toward simplifying my home and my life, I am considering the form, function, and significance of my possessions. The more I clean out and donate, the more I can appreciate the things that remain.
These pieces obviously hold meaning for me. They will stay in my home, not tucked away in a closet but displayed where I will see and enjoy them. I will continue to clean out and donate to make space for these things that are important to me.
Vintage items, even those not as sentimental as my radio or books, intrigue me because they have a built-in history. The unknown story behind these things piques my interest. Often the forms of vintage items bring back memories. I feel an attachment to history and humanity when I buy vintage.
Buying secondhand also carries an element of redemption. I appreciate discovering forsaken or forgotten things and giving them a new life.
Some of my favorite pieces are four oil paintings, all made by the same artist in the 1950s. This man was not famous and was likely a hobbyist, but his work spoke to me when I found it at a thrift store. I wish I could express to the artist that his work is being enjoyed more than half a century later.
This is how buying vintage and simplifying coexist for me. As I bring in new (old) things, I let go of things that are less beautiful, less interesting, or less important to me. Some of these things (the transistor radio, the books) will stay with me forever. Others will remain in my house for a season and then travel on to someone else. This refining ebb and flow allows me to collect without becoming overwhelmed. Rather than dulling my space or my life, simplifying spotlights what’s important and makes space for the interesting and the beautiful.
P.S. I love helping other people incorporate interesting and beautiful vintage treasures into their homes and lives. If you live in the Atlanta area, come shop at Salvage tomorrow. It’s a one day event, and I’ll have a booth there (Hark at Home) along with another forty or so vendors selling vintage and handmade.
One thing I love about Courtney Carver’s Project 333 is her careful clarification that it is not a “project in suffering”. The rules are there for you to follow, modify, adapt, or ignore. If something wears out, replace it. Swap things that aren’t working. It’s a great system and starting point that can be adjusted to different climates, lifestyles, and body types.
I deviate from the rules of P333 by not counting my shoes and accessories (or my outerwear in colder seasons–I count sweaters and jackets that would be part of my outfit but not coats that I would only wear out in the elements). I include up to 33 items of clothing and 8-10 pairs of shoes. In my summer collection, I have four belts, three scarves, and a selection of jewelry (though I generally wear the same 5-10 pieces). Obviously this ends up being much more than 33 items. I may try a strict 33-item wardrobe in the future, but for now this system works for me. It has helped me ease into a lighter way of living.
I also still do some shopping while participating, though I try to focus on finding specific items rather than impulse buys.
I mentioned in an earlier post that one top has left my collection, and I’ve added in one dress and one pair of jeans. I also left some space in my original count to add a few things. My galoshes are also falling apart, so I’ve swapped them for some brown loafers that will work for rainy days.
After my initial closet clean out in March, I realized I no longer had a green top in my wardrobe. Green is one of my favorite colors, so I’ve been on the look out for a flattering and versatile top to fill this color hole. This month I finally found one! It cost a little more than I wanted to spend, so I left the tags on while I considered. Then something lovely happened: it went on sale! I was able to get a price adjustment and receive about a third of the cost back, and now I feel great about my purchase. This is a year round shirt that I can wear under or over things, buttoned, tied, tucked or untucked. It’s the perfect shade of mossy, forest-y, olive-y green.
I feel a different sort of delight with this purchase. Rather than the adrenaline rush of spending money and acquiring something new, I feel something more akin to when I finish a project or complete a household chore. It’s satisfaction, not velocity. I think I’ve discovered a different kind of shopping.
This week I’ve made two more purchases of this sort. I have been looking for some jean shorts that fit the following criteria: not cut off or distressed, not too short or too long, mid-rise, dark wash, good quality, inexpensive. After months of scouring the thrift store and trying on plenty of duds, I finally found some that fulfilled all my requirements! So these are going into my capsule wardrobe, and just in time, as temperatures are in the high 90s Fahrenheit this week. Jeans are starting to get a little too hot and sticky most days.
I also had a top hit the wear out point. My blue and white striped tee (J.Crew, purchased at the thrift store over three years ago) was already starting to fade, but this week it got a hole. Goodbye, striped tee. It survived longer than I ever expected, especially considering I wore it when I was nine months pregnant. I don’t know how it returned to its original size after so much stretching! But now it’s done. Stripes are a staple for me, so I knew I wanted to find an alternative. I bought a blue and white more subtly striped Gap tee from the thrift store, and it will be replacing my old one.
I am about midway through this season of the project, and these adjustments help my closet feel fresh and interesting.
The best thing about my new additions, though, is that they inspired me to remove some things. I filled a shopping bag with clothes and accessories to donate, and I love that clearing out is now a part of the shopping process for me. Shopping involves maintaining my closet, not just endlessly growing it.
I’m about six weeks into my second round of Project 333, a minimalist wardrobe challenge that involves wearing just thirty-three items of clothing for three months. I bend the rules by not counting shoes and accessories in my 33 items, though I’ve chosen to limit those as well. I started this round with 28 items of clothing, and I have since lost one item and gained two (more on that later!) to bring my working total to 30. I left a little space in my count this time so I could fill some holes or bring in a couple fresh items, and I think this is a good approach for me.
Here are some snapshots of outfits I’ve put together this round:
Like I mentioned, I have made a couple modifications to my collection since beginning this round. The mint tee (seen in the fourth outfit from the top left) has not survived. Pasta with marinara sauce, a toddler, and overly ambitious stain removal tactics left the top with two large bleached out circles. So that shirt has left the collection.
I have added two items that were both hand me downs (hand me overs?): a maxi dress not yet pictured and a pair of straight leg designer jeans (seen in the bottom row, third from the left). Free clothes can be a help or a hindrance to dressing with less. In this case, these two items fit me and my style well, and they filled gaps in my wardrobe. I was thankful to accept these generous offers.
I’ve also noticed some differences in seasonal capsule wardrobes. In my first round, I tried to make a different outfit for each day of the project. I made a game of it, and I enjoyed the creative styling challenge. Making unique combinations was easier when the weather was cooler and I could layer sweaters, jackets, and scarves.
Though I have fewer layering options in the summer heat, I’m still finding plenty of new combinations. I’m also repeating outfits at will. The second outfit from the top left (striped tee, dark skinny jeans, black canvas sandals) has been one of my summer favorites.
Another aspect that makes summer more challenging is laundry. I live in the Deep South of the United States, and the weather gets HOT! Sweat is an unfortunate summer reality, and my items require more frequent laundering this time around. I have adjusted, but I’ll be happy when the weather cools down again in a few months.
I have now been dressing with less since March, and I am dressing with more freedom and confidence than ever before. I haven’t fully cracked the code on my impulse shopping, but I’m making strides. I can now say with assurance that I have enough. Thirty-three items are enough–more than enough, even. I would rather have a closet contain 33 items I love than one bursting with things I sort of, kind of like.
Are you thinking about trying a capsule wardrobe or Project 333? Are you already dressing with less? I’d love to hear about your experience!
Over the past few weeks, I have watched crises and struggles unfold, not only in my news apps but in the lives of people I love. Though my own home is peaceful, this feels like a season of suffering. My heart breaks for friends and loved ones and for those I’ve never met. I haven’t felt much like blogging, especially about clothes.
Here are some of the things I did manage to do: cry, pray, sing, talk, listen, hug, exercise, sit around, stay up too late, sleep too late, play games, eat, not eat, read, work, think, draw, cry again, pray some more, and wait.
And I also managed to shop.
I have so much good fullness in my life–people I care about, pursuits I enjoy and find meaningful–but still I shopped.
I felt compelled to seek comfort through consumption, and for a few moments and hours, I found it.
While browsing racks of clothes, I felt peaceful and in control. I could focus or let my mind wander. I could accomplish the task of acquiring something. I could make decisions or not. I felt powerful and productive.
It’s a little embarrassing to admit this.
If there were a spectrum of healthy-to-unhealthy coping mechanisms, I could easily classify shopping in the neutral middle. I’m not going into massive debt, I’m not hurting myself or anyone else. I can justify it. But if I’m trying to live with less—and I am—I’m not sure I want shopping to remain my automatic response to difficult emotions. It doesn’t seem to line up anymore. It feels a little self-sabotaging.
On my most recent retail therapy excursion, I really didn’t have money to spend. I had already spent most of my month’s fun money on clothes (and you’ll note that even now the month is less than halfway done). While I was shuffling hangers, I took comfort in knowing the tags were still on my previous purchases. If I found something else I liked, I could always return the other things. I wish I didn’t find that so reassuring.
I enjoy shopping, and I don’t mind that I enjoy shopping. I like finding interesting, beautiful, unexpected things. Sometimes I find shopping inspires me and feeds my curiosity and imagination. But shopping for comfort does not inspire me. At best, it temporarily distracts me, delays the inevitable. And plenty of other (free) things can inspire and feed curiosity and imagination even better than buying things.
In the end, I didn’t buy any clothes on that outing. I went home and spent time with family and friends and dealt with the undercurrent of emotion in quiet company.
I don’t want to stop shopping completely. I do want to stop trying to buy off unpleasant emotions. In so many ways, I can’t afford that. It’s not about the action but about my motivation. If I’m shopping to fill a hole or meet a need (in my heart, not my closet), I am going to be left unsatisfied.
Full disclosure: this wardrobe simplifying thing is still a work in progress for me. I have clothes in two closets, one dresser, and two under-bed boxes. I still have too many clothes. But I am making progress!
Here is my closet from February and my closet now:
I have also done some major cleaning out in the second (guest room) closet. A couple months ago, that was an “open at your own risk” type of closet, the type to open v-e-r-y c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y. It was packed to a comical, pile-toppling point. If you came to my house now, you could not only open the closet door, but also safely step inside! The single rack is still full of clothes on hangers (mostly my off season or vintage pieces), but a guest could easily stash a suitcase there. Progress.
I’m still learning, and I feel my relationship to my belongings being transformed. Simplifying is a process.
If you are interested in simplifying your wardrobe and don’t know where to begin, here are some ideas. These are things I’ve found helpful in my closet makeover, and perhaps they can get you started on your own journey.
1. Start the “keep” pile with your favorites and your basics.
Begin by setting aside the items you love and wear often, the things you know you want to keep. Sometimes it’s easier to eliminate some clothes once you’ve identified what stays. Also include your wardrobe basics or staples, like your favorite jeans.
Note that your basics might not be typical neutrals, like a trench coat or a white oxford shirt. Just because these items appear on many “must have” lists does not mean you must have them! I do have a trench, but in a darker tan that suits me better than classic khaki, and I prefer my blue button down to white, especially since I spend much of my time with a toddler–crisp white and everyday childhood messes do not mix well for me. High-waisted, rust-colored shorts might not be everyone’s basic, but for me they are a staple. They go with all my favorite tops, can be worn with flats or heels, and I even sometimes rock them with tights and a sweater in the fall.
I love pattern mixing, and for me, stripes are a basic. I wear my striped tops with just about any and everything. A capsule wardrobe can be black and white and gray, but it certainly doesn’t have to be.
Find your own staples, pieces you feel great wearing and can easily combine into outfits. Let these be your signature pieces and form the base of your wardrobe.
2. Eliminate duplicates.
You may find you have two or three very similar items but generally prefer wearing one of them. When I put my colorful tanks (or my oxford shirts, or my patterned skirts) side by side, I usually have a clear front-runner. The others serve as back ups or extras, and I can free up closet space by keeping the favorites and donating seconds. Now instead of going to my second best when my favorite item is dirty, I just do laundry. It’s slightly less convenient, but I actually feel happier and more comfortable wearing only my top tier clothing.
3. Store out of season and out of size items.
If you have the space (under bed storage, an extra drawer or closet space), store things you aren’t currently wearing, or at least move them out of the front of your closet. Since I had a baby two and a half years ago, I finally put those last couple maternity dresses in storage. No need to have these items right in my sight line when I’m dressing each day. The weather has also gotten hot, so under bed boxes and space bags keep my sweaters out of the way and moth-free during the summer. When the seasons change, it feels like a treasure hunt to rediscover what’s been hiding in storage. If space is at a premium, a wardrobe bag in the back of your closet or a box on a high shelf could keep these items out of the way.
4. Remove things that are worn out, stained, or beyond repair.
When I examined some of the clothes I wasn’t wearing, particularly former favorites, I discovered that many of them were worn out. It’s hard for me to say goodbye to once beloved clothes, but I am not going to feel good wearing the pilling sweater or the shirt with twisted side seams. If the items cannot be cleaned or repaired, I am better off without them crowding my closet. If you are particularly attached to something that is no longer fit for daily wear, consider whether it could transition to lounge wear. This is the best second life I’ve found for moth-eaten sweaters that I still like but wouldn’t wear out of the house.
5. Find new ways to wear what you have.
This won’t get anything out of your closet, but it might grow your appreciation for some things you already have. This is one of my favorite uses for Pinterest, where I keep a secret board of capsule wardrobe inspiration. I included the mustard cropped chinos from my spring capsule in my summer collection, and when I search “mustard pants outfit” or “mustard color combo”, I get lots of new ideas. If you have a piece you’re unsure about or wonder if certain colors work together, search for how others have worn them and find inspiration. You can do a regular internet search as well, but I like how easy it is to collect and store inspiration on Pinterest.
Also think about whether some pieces could be worn unconventionally. Two of my dresses also serve as tops when tucked into a skirt or knotted at the waist with a pair of pants. The two outfits on the right, from my late winter/early spring Project 333, show that in action.
6. Discover what you’re actually wearing (and eliminate what you’re not wearing).
Try the hanger trick or keep a log (written or photographic), or use an app or online resource to document what you wear for a season. If you are struggling with some of the previous tips, this one might lend some objectivity to the simplifying process. Becoming aware of unworn clothes may make it easier to part with them or could motivate you to make new outfits and transform these items into favorites.
Seeing what’s not working can also help with future shopping. Common themes among my unworn clothes included demanding care requirements (dry clean only, etc.), unflattering styles and colors, or items unsuited for the climate where I live. I now check care labels when I shop, and I limit “hand wash” and “dry clean only” items. I have also avoided buying additional cold climate items like heavy sweaters or lined pants; I live in the Deep South of the United States, and I will rarely have a chance to wear those clothes.
7. Go for a trial separation if you have trouble letting go.
Sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder, and sometimes out of sight is out of mind. And sometimes clichés also apply to clothes. Try stashing clothes about which you are undecided. I kept a pile in that doom closet for a couple months and then reassessed. Most of those items have since been donated, but I’m holding on to a few until I make my fall wardrobe. A box or bag in an out of the way place can give you a break from the clothes. If you haven’t accessed the stash or thought about its contents for a specified time (I recommend between one and six months), you might be ready to part ways. You could do this sight unseen or go through items again–whatever works for you. Or you might discover you are more attached to an item than you realized and choose to keep it in your closet.
Ready to try it? Let me know how it goes!
Have you already cleaned out your closet? What helped you get started?