Minimalism isn’t for everyone, but for me, it is the natural progression of my desire to have quality pieces over MORE pieces, my financial constraints/goals right now (getting out of debt), and my overwhelming urge to just HAVE FEWER and more meaningful things.
This isn’t about being someone else, or that woman who owns all of “The Ten Things Every Woman Must Own” (even though she doesn’t wear half of them) – this is about making your life better by having fewer, better, more meaningful things.
But the hardest part, after admitting you may have a shopping problem, is taking that first step towards purging your overflowing closet, making it more manageable – and ready for adding a few new things if necessary.
I did it in several steps and it took years in total, but now, I’ve got it down to less than 100 pieces – all things I love and wear.
I don’t think I could have done this in my 30’s, or even just a year or so ago. You really have to be ready to make a significant change, and to do the work. It’s not HARD work, but it can be frustrating, and quite depressing, once you get in your closet and boxes of clothes to realize how much money you’ve wasted on things that you never wore as much as you thought you would, things with the tags still on them, or things you bought with your sale goggles on.
For me, the most important first step (and also the inevitable outcome), was stopping arguing with reality (I heard this term on Oprah radio. It’s perfect in this situation!). Before I even started to get rid of things, I had to face the reality that my life is much more casual than most, and come to terms with the fact that I needed to start dressing for my “every day” life – the life I have now – instead of the life where I own a small boutique and/or Pure Barre studio and hang out on the beach during my off time!
I work from home
Sometimes I work from home ALL DAY and don’t leave
I wear “home clothes” at home
I travel pretty frequently, but mostly to see family. Sometimes Leo & I take quick city vacations.
I have very few occasions where I have to “dress up” – none, really
I prefer flats
I wear black, white, or grey only
Honestly, what I would wear for my “fantasy” life isn’t that different than what I do wear now, I would just get to wear things more often, and for people other than myself. Which shouldn’t matter much, but sometimes it does. I do believe in dressing for yourself, and in what you love, no matter the situation (as long as you’re appropriate), but I also appreciate having a REASON to get dressed, you know?
Once I was firmly entrenched in my reality, I decided that I needed to get rid of most things I hadn’t worn in a year or more, unless they were seasonal, or special items. I don’t really have many of those types of things, but I did decide to keep a couple of special occasion dresses (cobalt blue ACNE dress for one) and a camel hair blazer that I don’t wear much.
Then, I finally had to part with things I love, but didn’t fit, or that I didn’t wear frequently enough like my beloved Goldsign jeans, Mociun dress, anything silk…
I also decided that I wanted to get rid of anything that wasn’t black, white or gray. Period. I didn’t own a lot that didn’t fit into that color scheme, but there were some things, and they went, without question. Also stripes or any pattern at all, even black/white or gray/black, except for one long, long-sleeve black/white striped top.
I found it helpful to do these things in steps, gradually. I took a long time, longer than I should have, but basically I put things in boxes or in a second closet that I didn’t wear much, didn’t like, or didn’t want anymore. If they were still there in a year, never having been touched, then they were the first to go.
Everything in your closet should be something that makes you smile AND that contributes to your being YOUR BEST SELF
I still have a box full of clothes up in my closet I’m still deciding what to do with. It’s full of t-shirts & tops I could layer come fall/winter, so I wanted to give them another season to see if I reach for anything. If I don’t, then they’ll be purged next spring.
Overall, that is what has worked for me – my journey has been long, and full of back and forths, and it’s not over yet! (hopefully it won’t ever be…). Maybe these suggestions will help you?
Stop arguing with reality – accept yours
What is your lifestyle? What do you like to wear for work? for play? Nearly everything in your closet SHOULD fit your current lifestyle, with only one or two items for special occasions. Unless you have special occasions very frequently (formal dinners, cocktail parties, etc., etc.,) and need more than one or two. In that case, then, your “lifestyle” is such that you need more “formal/special” clothes – and that is your reality. Stop buying jeans 🙂
Also, accept what you love. If you love to wear flats, then stop arguing against them, and wear them! If you love hot pink, wear it! If you can live in sweats, and you’re happy with that, then go with it! This isn’t about being someone else, or that woman who owns all of “The Ten Things Every Woman Must Own” (even though she doesn’t wear half of them) – this is about making your life better by having fewer, better, more meaningful things.
Get rid of things you haven’t worn in a year or more
unless they’re seasonal or “special” items. This doesn’t work for everyone, but if you have a casual lifestyle where you can pretty much wear everything all of the time, then you shouldn’t really own much that doesn’t get worn within a year. If you do, purge it.
Get rid of things that don’t fit or are in very bad shape
That goes for clothes that are TOO SMALL also; at least put them away – I always found that having things around that I was too big for was more depressing than motivating. Anyway, this follows from dressing for the LIFE you have now – dress for the SIZE you are now, not the one you want to be. Accept and love your body at any stage and have the right clothing to fit it.
Decide on your colors and get rid of things that don’t fit within those parameters
Also patterns. I got rid of all my stripes, except a black & white striped shirt, because I never wore them. Stripes are one of those things I enjoy more on other people…not me.
KEEP ONLY THINGS YOU LOVE AND THAT LOVE YOU BACK
Everything in your closet should be something that makes you smile AND that contributes to your being YOUR BEST SELF. when you wear it, you must feel like “you” not like someone else. You must feel comfortable in your clothes and happy in them. Invest in pieces that are the highest quality you can afford so you won’t have to worry about them falling apart, or replacing them next season. Anything that can’t give you those things, get rid of. Period.
*when I say “get rid of” I mean donate or give away or sell. PLEASE do not throw anything away, unless it’s really really gross. Also, you can get rid of things to a box up high in your closet if this feels better – temporarily of course. If you haven’t touched the box in a year, then get rid of everything in it.
**I am not an expert, and these are not rules to follow for creating a minimal closet. This is my journey, these are my experiences, and guidelines I’ve created for myself. I’m passing them on to you in case they’ll help you on your journey. That’s all. This is not meant to be hard.
I don’t think we’re meant to struggle so much with our wardrobes. But we shopaholics and fashion/style-lovers are constantly searching and looking at what’s new, what’s interesting, what’s different and we’re always tweaking/refining our wardrobes. Ultimately, this should lead to less, not more, but on the journey to less, we will inevitably acquire more. We ARE perfectionists, I think. In our wardrobes at least. And that is where we go wrong. It’s where I’ve gone wrong; searching for my perfect wardrobe. In the past, that never-ending search had always left me with too much and at the same time, not enough…
But more on that next week. There is no such thing as perfect. Right??
read more in the The Minimal Closet series:
BRAVA!!! This is SO good that I’m bookmarking it for inspiration when the task at hand seems too tough. It’s really a day by day, step by step walk…and I might be on it for life.
Back surgery is scheduled for mid-September, so I’ve got time to go through some things before then….gently, with no bending! Haha!
On the plus side, I had a fantastic weekend at my daughter’s bridal shower and got to spend some really fun time with my 15-month old granddaughter. She’s a little ham! Plus, my mom and I discovered that we make good roommates: We had to share a bed….I snore and she’s deaf! 🙂
Thank you for an interesting post. You are so right about buying for the life you have. In the past I have bought things that are beautiful but I never wore. Now I try to be more disciplined.
I CAN’T DO IT.
Grechen Reiter says
what? yes you can! what can you NOT do? what’s tripping you up??
what is it that you WANT to do?
LOL. I want to do it.
I am just frustrated by how hard it is even when I resonate completely with your minimalist closet musings. But just as quickly as I get rid of stuff, I fill in the gaps with the ‘right’ stuff. And I equally frustrated knowing this is a first-world problem I am struggling with! It is not only the money that I can’t get back, but the time that I could be spending on other things. Some of it, for me, is a genuine love of beauty, the tactile element of good fabric, a recognition of beautiful workmanship and original design. Some of it is also filling holes in my life — as you mentioned in a previous post. Learning to live with holes instead of filling them up seems nearly impossible.
Wait. Does all this mean my sweaters are not my friends?
Grechen Reiter says
LOL. i consider my sweaters my friends. truly. 😉
i don’t think you have to “live” with voids in your life. they’re much harder to identify and fill than voids in our wardrobes, but i think the work for us now is concentrating on what is TRULY missing from our lives instead of what’s missing from our closets. that is THE HARDEST thing. but until we identify that, and start working towards filling those holes (in earnest), then we’ll just keep trying to buy clothes to make up for it. i know…i can feel myself trying to fall back into that trap!
i think when we got dagny, that filled a major void for me – having something to care for and love – and I can see how important that was for me to have now. She’s helped a lot 🙂
but i also miss my family desperately and am constantly thinking that i’m missing the last years of my parent’s lives, my niece and nephew REALLY growing up, being with my sister. i get so emotional thinking about it. every day i want to be with my family, and i can’t. which overwhelms me and leads to a spiral down (and usually candy in lieu of clothes shopping lately. it’s cheaper! but way less healthy…)
finally – i’m thinking a lot about the “next phase” of my life, and what I want to do. i want to keep doing this (grechen’s closet, etc.,) but i also want to do more. I think i know what it is, but i keep having doubts and fears about actually doing it.. but that’s probably for a whole other post.
and of course, even though i have finally come to terms with – and am frankly pretty happy about – not having children of my own, i still have moments where i have thoughts…and wonder how things would be different, or think about my future without children/grand-children, or whatever, and go into slight panic mode.
So. there you have it. all my holes! LOL how do i fill them? i don’t know exactly. but i do know for certain NOW that i cannot fill them by buying more stuff. i can work harder to be grateful for what i have, and for the wonderful life i live now, and continue to push forward on filling those holes. that is all anyone can really do…one day at a time…
Thank you for such a thoughtful reply. I certainly don’t want to monopolize this post as other people will have connections with what you’ve said that take this in whole other directions. But, I resonate with many of these holes…early 40’s, far away from aging parents and friends, no children, in a stare-down with my future occupational options. The progress other people are making in this area are always such an encouragement.
Oh, it resonates…for sure. Especially the part about family being so far away, and not knowing what I want to do at this stage of my life. Going back for my Masters is a distinct possibility, but then there’s that money/debt thing again, and I kick myself when I see all of the CRAP in my closet. The trouble is, I used to have to go to the mall to shop, but now, the “mall” is in my hands! (i.e. My tablet)
It’s much harder to be frugal with all of the “shiny new toys” I see every day. But if I’m going to be successful, and have a future, I have to learn how to deal with temptation.
As usual, really wonderful thoughts. Debbie Roes of Recovering Shopaholic blog, compliments you and your blog on her latest….yours and hers are my favorite, everyday must reads. So happy you have found your Dagny, still missing my sweet Flash.
I did the major purge and have been happy with the results. I have heard for those of you who can’t do it that way there is another way. Leave everything in your wardrobe, as you wear your favorites move them to one section of your closet. If you wear something that doesn’t work put it in a box/bag to be donated/consigned when full.. You can’t wear any of the favorites again, unless they are needed as part of the new outfit, until you have gone through the whole closet. You will come across seasonal and special occasional outfits that you can deal with separately. This way you don’t stress in a massive purge but accomplish the same goal.
Texas Aggie Mom says
Hello from Texas, and greetings from a brand new fan and subscriber! I’m so pleased to have found your site through Debbie Roes at Recovering Shopaholic. I will be spending this holiday weekend pondering this profound post and trying to honestly define my wardrobe reality. The last paragraph is one I hope to commit to memory. It really doesn’t seem like this should be such a struggle, but the too much/not enough paradox is very real for me. I look forward to following your future thoughts on these issues.
Brilliant post Gretchen. I really enjoyed it. I find I am heading more and more to a minimal wardrobe and I have made great headway but I am currently at about 180 pieces in my wardrobe, across all seasons and we have very distinct winter and summer seasons. So if I were to divide that it might be around 90 pieces for the cooler months and 90 for the warmer but I don’t think it’s that even. I also try to buy a lot that is transeasonal and can be layered to take me through most of the year. 180 is pretty good considering when I started the process I had two full closets and three tubs full of clothing…I’m making headway 🙂
I get very disappointed with the waste and the money I have unwisely spent at times. And I really dislike seeing beautiful things hanging in my wardrobe that I don’t wear (for what ever reason)… it disappoints me and doesn’t make me feel good.
Recently I was trying to decide what to do with some very Chanel-esque shoes and a black quilted handbag. They are just not consistent with my style and I don’t use them BUT they are beautiful, so I was hit with inspiration and decided to ‘display’ them on the top shelf of my walk in. You can see them when I open the door and they are lovely. I am thinking I will also do this with a pair of vintage yellow leather loafers that I adore but don’t wear. I just couldn’t bear to get rid of them, partly because they hold special memories.
I think dressing for your real life is one of the best pieces of advice anyone can receive.
Looking forward to the next part of the journey and I am going home to finally get rid of my striped tees… thank you. I dislike them intensely on me but they are nice quality tees and I have been reluctant to move them on… they are out!
Oh and I think we can attain our own version of the ‘perfect’ wardrobe. And if I read another article on the 10 must have items of stylish woman… I may scream lol. Not every woman looks good in a white crisp button down;)
Grechen Reiter says
thanks so much for your comment pam! I’m so honored that debbie featured my link this week, her blog is always a must-read for me…
so strange – this morning actually, i had a dream/memory of ozzie which i haven’t had since we got dagny and felt guilty/sad that i hadn’t “remembered” him so much since dagny joined us. but i do. I think about him all the time, just now, more in appreciation for having him in my life for so long and not from sadness as much as before. i guess i have transitioned away from denial that he’s gone? anyway, i miss him terribly, but am thankful that he shared his love with me, and that now we have dagny to love also.
Grechen Reiter says
hello! also from texas 🙂 so glad you’re here; i look forward to interacting with you more!
Grechen Reiter says
such a good idea deborah!! i’ve thought about displaying the items i love but don’t wear very often in a “boutique-y” way, but haven’t got around to it. and honestly, i don’t have a lot of space to do that. but i think it would be a nice way to appreciate things that you don’t feel you’re ready to part with yet. and maybe you shouldn’t part with at all? maybe you’re meant to appreciate them from afar, as works of art, in a way?
i would love to hear how you get on with that – definitely display your vintage yellow loafers and appreciate them, instead of keep them hidden in the closet…
Texas Aggie Mom says
I just got around to reading your “about” section and see that we’re practically neighbors – I’m in the Fort Worth area! I spent this weekend reading your archives and re-reading those of Debbie Roes, but still went on a major shopping rampage to take advantage of all the Labor Day sales. Now I’m entering the week like someone in a twelve-step plan: one day at a time, trying not to buy anything I can wear for one whole week. Just one week with no shopping – surely I can do that! Next weekend comes the big closet purge and the honest assessment of its contents, using the ideas you and Debbie have articulated so well. And then what? I think that’s the one that scares me – what if I actually have “enough?” I look forward to following you on-line, and cannot thank you enough for sharing your story with those of us who share your fondness for all things wardrobe-related!
Thanks Grechen. It is a fun way to enjoy a few things that you don’t wear. I am lucky as I have a “walk in’ to myself and it has an almost useless top shelf.. .ideal for displaying items:) Oh and in the spirit of accountability… the striped tops have left my wardrobe 🙂
Diane Marie says
Wondering if you’ve tried Project 333? 100 items (not counting socks, underwear, pajamas and workout gear) still sounds like a lot to me especially for someone working mostly from home and with a color palette of only 3 colors. I don’t mean to sound judgmental, it’s just my opinion and of course, everyone has different views of what constitutes a minimal closet 🙂