About a month ago, I received an email from a reader who wanted some advice for her struggles in paring down her wardrobe. She told me she hadn’t seen advice anywhere that fit her specific situation. I could have just responded to her questions via email like I usually do, but since I’ve been blogging for a few years now and have read many comments from readers, I knew many of you could likely relate to this reader’s challenges. I also believe that those who have overcome similar struggles in the past could offer her additional advice beyond that which I am able to give. So I decided to answer the questions in a post rather than through email.
Summarizing the Questions
I will do my best to summarize the reader’s questions here, as her email was quite a few paragraphs long and I want to preserve her anonymity. This reader is an aspiring minimalist who wants to own less but finds herself with a closet full of items that she either likes or loves. However, she feels she owns too much overall, especially for someone who really wants to adopt a minimalist lifestyle. She is hesitant to store some of her items in boxes because that doesn’t feel “clean” or minimalist to her, yet she also doesn’t want to get rid of anything that is still in good shape and which may be hard to replace in the future. Compounding the issue is the fact that she plans to get pregnant soon and worries that if she stops working for a while, she won’t be able to afford good quality business clothes if she gives up the ones she has now.
I know that most of us think our challenges are unique to us, but I’m guessing that many of you resonated with the last paragraph and were nodding right along. Many of us want to be minimalists – or at least more minimalist than we are now – and many of us worry about getting rid of things and later regretting it. So I’m going to give my best advice to this reader and others with similar challenges, and I hope that others will also chime in with their helpful tips on this topic.
First, My Personal Story…
I will start by sharing some of my personal story. Those who have been reading this blog for a while may be familiar with what I’m about to share, but it may be new for many of you. I started this blog in January 2013. At the time, I had 272 garments and 55 pairs of shoes! Shortly thereafter, Courtney Carver, the creator of Project 333, dared me to take on that challenge and I accepted it. I wrote about my fears and how I planned to address them in a guest post for the Project 333 blog.
I had no idea how I was going to wear only 33 items for three months, let alone select those items from my burgeoning wardrobe. But I did… It took me days of painstaking analysis to make those selections, but I did it. I mostly stored everything else away, although I did get rid of a small number of items that either didn’t fit well or were past their prime.
I thought I either liked or loved everything else in my wardrobe, as well as my 33 items for Project 333. But as the challenge went along, I started to feel differently. My standards started to increase, especially as I wore my 33 items more often than I had ever worn my almost 300 items before the challenge. Interestingly, when we only wear our clothing a few times per year, our expectations of our pieces are much lower. Things often seem good or even great when they are on the hanger, but do we truly love these items on our bodies and as we move through our day-to-day life? My experience was that I didn’t love nearly as many pieces as I thought I did.
At the end of my first term of Project 333 (I did another stint of that challenge in early 2014), I was able to let go of a lot more items. I learned that I didn’t need as much as I thought I did and I felt less anxiety about having enough (see more of what I learned here). Over time, I have found that my standards for my clothes continued to increase and my tolerance for having a smaller wardrobe went up as well. I didn’t start out wanting to be a minimalist and that still isn’t my primary aim. I mostly just want to love what I own and wear all of my pieces more often. I am gradually meeting that goal more and more as time goes by.
On Boxing Up What We’re Not Wearing
So that’s a bit of my story, which hopefully will be of some help and comfort to my reader, as well as others who struggle in similar ways. But I would like to offer more advice regarding her specific challenges. She mentioned that hiding clothes in a box doesn’t feel “clean” or minimalist to her. I understand what she was trying to express, yet that is exactly what is recommended to those who embark upon Project 333. Courtney Carver specifically states that those doing the challenge should box up the clothes they’re not using and store them away for that three month period.
When it’s time to switch out the capsule wardrobe for the next season, that’s when participants go through the boxes and decide what stays and what goes. They get to see what they missed and what they feel they can live without. It may not feel “clean” to have these boxes of extra clothes in your home, but it’s part of the process. Over time, the boxes become fewer and fewer, such that Courtney now maintains just one small box of out of season clothing.
While I still have a lot more clothes than Courtney and other true minimalists have, I have been able to pare down quite a bit over time, too. All of my clothes now easily fit into my closet, whereas before they spilled into a second closet and under the bed boxes. I feel it’s important to mention that all of the clothes I have culled were things that I felt I liked or even loved at one time. I just raised my standards such that what constituted an “8” or higher is now much different than it was before. I would love to get others’ thoughts on this topic, as I suspect many out there have had similar experiences, regardless of whether or not they’ve ever done Project 333.
On Special Occasion and Business Wear
There’s nothing wrong with holding on to clothing we might need at a later date, such as business or special occasion wear. But I think it’s important to go through these items regularly (at least once a year, if not every six months) to make sure they still fit and are still in line with our personal style aesthetic. If one has a baby, of course the old clothes won’t fit for a while, so it’s not necessary to try everything on while your body is in transition. Yet the second part of the process is still important for everyone, going through your “just in case” items regularly.
Look at all of the clothes you’re keeping on hold and ask yourself if you would still want to wear them to a professional job or formal occasion. If the answer is no, there’s no use hanging on to most of them. You might want to keep a few pieces so you’re not left high and dry should a last-minute event come along. But the best approach is to only keep garments you love and would look forward to wearing. If you have an adequate number of such pieces, why hang on to ho-hum items that don’t make your heart sing?
Fears of Culling Too Fast
My reader also expressed concerns about culling her wardrobe too fast and potentially regretting letting certain things go. One way to get around this concern is to have a “hidden holding zone,” a sort of weigh station where clothes stay for a certain period of time before heading out the door. I think a month or two is a good timeframe for pieces to reside in the hidden holding zone.
At the most, I would recommend keeping things in the hidden holding zone for a season. In that scenario, you would go through your seasonal wardrobe at the beginning of that season, separate out what you’re considering letting go, and put those items into the hidden holding zone (which can be an alternative closet or boxes that you store out of sight). At the end of that season, you review those pieces again and determine whether or not you want to keep them. During the season, if you find you miss an “on the bubble” item, you can easily retrieve it and wear it again.
That’s my advice for my reader about her culling concerns. I hope both she and others found what I had to say helpful. For more advice from me on the subject of wardrobe culling, please check out my book, “End Closet Chaos: Wardrobe Solutions from an Ex-Shopaholic,” as well as the following posts:
- Decisions, Decisions… The Keep or Purge Question
- Reader Question – Help with Paring Down a Large Wardrobe
- Do You Have a Closet Set Point?
- What is Your Ideal Wardrobe Size?
Now it’s your turn to share…
- What has helped you through your wardrobe purging challenges?
- What advice do you have for those who want to downsize but worry about doing it too fast or not having enough of what they need?
I invite you to contribute your experiences and suggestions in the comments section of this point. I’m sure you have some helpful tips that I neglected to mention (or just might not know about). Many thanks in advance to all those who share their words of wisdom!