Sunday, February 28, 2021

Cleaning House, Part Two: My Minimal Wardrobe


Dear readers, it has been a couple weeks, but I'm back. As promised, today's post is about my wardrobe and how my recent venture into minimalism has changed the way I approach clothes. Now, I'm not going to, for one second, pretend I'm a stylish person who has it together when it comes to dressing. I'm not, and I don't. This post is just about where I was, where I am, and where I'm going with my closet.

As you know, all this started when I binge-watched Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix back in December. Her first step to tidying was taking all your clothing out of your closet, piling them up, asking yourself, "Does this spark joy?" and letting things go if they didn't. 

And that's where I ran into my first problem. Very little of my clothing sparked joy, and I quickly realized that if I threw away everything I felt nothing about, I'd have nothing to wear. I'd been dressing on autopilot every morning for years, leaning into safe pieces and colors and combinations, not interested in what anyone thought, least of all myself. I think the last time I worried even a little bit about what I wore was when I was going to PHC and working to comply with a pretty strict dress code and an unspoken professional standard, but as soon as I graduated, all that went out the window real fast. 

I'm not really into putting a lot of effort into dressing. Clothing is not a vector in which I've ever really felt comfortable "expressing myself," and the more I have tried in the past to dress well by some indefinable standard, the more stressed and insecure I've become about it. The thing is, I really value being able to roll out of bed, dress, and be on the road in 15 minutes flat, and I prefer to be both comfortable and nondescript both at work and around town. That's just who I am, and I'm not going to put myself down about it anymore.

On top of all that, I have a problem with stores. I get really anxious with all the bright lights and visual clutter and choices, and downright panicky inside dressing rooms. It's been common for me in the past to buy something that that didn't really work just because I'd tried on three things already, and I just needed it to be over. Let me know in the comments if this happens for you too. 

A couple years ago, I thought that I had solved my store problem by using Stich Fix, which, if you don't know, is one of those subscription services that ships five pieces to you a month (or however often), chosen by a stylist who's never seen or met you. And honestly that worked fine for a while. I really enjoyed the service, and I got quite a few good pieces through it. The problem was that it lulled me into even more passivity about my wardrobe than I was already in. The result was what I just described: a wardrobe full of things I felt literally nothing about because I put exactly no effort into deciding what I wanted, going out, and choosing them over other options. 

By the time I finished my many rounds of decluttering my home and life, I had still barely touched my wardrobe. I could see the problem. I could admit that there was a problem. But I couldn't name it and I certainly didn't see my way to solving it. Enter Youtube. The Youtube algorithm is lovely. It does a pretty stellar job of giving you not just more of the content you've already expressed interest in (by liking and subscribing) but also similar content you didn't even know you needed.

Along with all the minimalism content I was enjoying, Youtube started recommending me stuff about capsule wardrobes and Project 333. If you don't know, a capsule wardrobe is an intentionally smaller version of your closet. You take out a limited number of pieces and wear only those for the next season, or whatever period of time you choose. Project 333 is minimalist capsule wardrobe challenge to take only 33 pieces out of your wardrobe (not including underwear, activewear, sleepwear, and loungewear) and only wearing those pieces (including jewelry, shoes, bags, and outerwear) for 3 months. 

The point of capsule wardrobes and Project 333 is to simplify your life and force you to be intentional about choosing pieces of clothing that mix well together. No matter how many clothes we own, we only have room in our brains to process a limited number of pieces, so we either spend a lonnng time in the morning, stressing over a unique outfit, or we accidently default to a smaller portion of our wardrobes: our favorites and our basics. People who have a love and passion for fashion tend to have a little more room in their heads for this stuff, but I am not those people, and you probably aren't either. 

The idea of a capsule wardrobe really got me thinking. I didn't like the idea of setting aside some of my clothes for months, but I did like the idea of owning a limited number of pieces and forcing myself to be intentional enough about choosing those pieces that it would work. I watched a lot of Youtube videos about what kinds of pieces people were putting into their Project 333 capsules. How many pairs of jeans? How many tops? How many shoes? What colors? Exactly how mixable do the pieces need to be? And then I made a spreadsheet. 

My spreadsheet is still in flux as I'm still in the process of determining what exactly I do and do not need, but it currently has 45 items on it (not including underwear and accessories). It's not a list of every piece I own; it's a list of every type of piece I either own, or think I should own: 2 Pairs Dark Wash Jeans, 1 Pair Black Jeans, 1 Pair Light Wash Jeans, etc. It's a comprehensive list of specific categories I need to keep filled. If a category is filled, and I like the piece that's filling it, there's no reason I should purchase a piece of the same category just because I see it in a store and it's cute. Likewise, if I go to the store looking to fill the category of "light-colored cardigan" I don't get to leave the store with a dark-colored cardigan, no matter how tempting it might be. 

Annnnnnnnd this is where I stalled out again a couple weeks ago. I had my spreadsheet and I had my wardrobe paired down to just what I needed whether I liked what was there or not, but I just. didn't. know. how to move forward. I didn't want to start shopping only to make the same mistakes all over again. I realized I didn't even know what I liked when it came to clothing. It had been so long, and I had changed so much since I'd last made completely independent, non-autopilot choices on the subject. This is when I started reading The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees. I had initially planned to skim it for tips and tricks, but ended up reading it closely and taking notes instead.

Rees talks a lot about personal style and what it actually means to be yourself in what you wear. The book contains many practical, active exercises to figure out what you want your closet to be, what you need it to be, and how to get there, which is 100%, all of the above, exactly what I needed, and I would recommend this book to literally anyone. Even male people. It's really good. 

It helped me finally realize that my Jeans, Top, Cardigan "uniform" is totally okay and actually super efficient as long as I like it (which I do), that my color palette is lacking because I got myself in a rut, but I can totally fix that, that the ratios of my wardrobe should match the ratios of my real life (30% Relaxed-Sporty, 60% Casual-Smart Casual, and 10% Business Casual-Special Occasion), and that it is both possible and very important to walk into a store with a very, Very specific list and not compromise on it at all. 

And so much more. Rees stresses the importance of doing the research on what you personally like and what you don't like, what works on your body and what doesn't, and what your personal, unique style is in one sentence. Mine is "cozy librarian with a secret double life (presumably as a spy)." She talks about how to judge the quality of garments, how to make the pieces of your wardrobe work together efficiently and how to identify and fix laundry bottlenecks. She talks about the difference between basics, key pieces, and statement pieces, and neutral colors, main colors, and accent colors, and above all, the difference between building a wardrobe for the person you wish you were with the life you wish you had and building one for you. The actual you. The one who has to wear it. 

So as you can see, reader, I've started on a journey here that's not even a little bit done, but I am so excited. I am way more excited about my little closet than I have been for years and way more confident than I ever was about what I like to wear and why. The big thing I keep coming back to is just the desire to have less, but make it work better. I'll keep you posted.

Thanks for reading. See you next week! Don't forget to leave a comment! 


  1. I went through a lot of my clothes this year too. I still have too many, mainly sweaters. I understand just dressing for comfort I do that most days too. The styles I tend to go for are a little more laid back anyways. I love simpler ones. But also tend to go for slightly grunge inspired or more artsy looks.
    It's hard to figure out what your style is, but I just started letting myself have fun with it. (Cut my hair and I love it!)