What This Single Wardrobe Item Taught Me About Minimalism

What This Single Wardrobe Item Taught Me About Minimalism

I recently took a trip to the charity shop to find myself a black, long-sleeved top. My previous one had life-expired at the end of last winter, and I needed one to wear underneath a big thick woolly jumper dress (we are in the depths of winter here in Perth, and Australia gets colder than you might expect).

The shopping trip was uneventful – after visiting a few stores, I found a suitable black top (made from 100% cotton – I’m trying to reduce the amount of plastic fibres in my wardrobe) and took it home.

What I bought wasn’t interesting. What was interesting was the realisation that came afterwards.

What one black top made me realise about minimalist living...
What one black top made me realise about minimalist living…

I was trying to remember what the last item of clothing was that I bought. I thought back over the last couple of months, but I couldn’t think of anything.

I thought back a little further, but still nothing.

I remembered that at the start of the year I went on holiday. I definitely didn’t buy anything whilst I was away, and I didn’t buy anything new for the trip. I thought back to last year. I remembered I purchased a new bra (actually, two). That would have been last September. I didn’t buy any new clothes for 9 months.

What was most interesting to me was not that I hadn’t purchased any clothes for 9 months, but that I hadn’t even noticed. I hadn’t wanted or needed to buy anything, and so I hadn’t.

What I owned already was enough. There had been no struggle, no doubt, no frustration and no resentment that I hadn’t purchased anything. That’s what it is meant to feel like, I realised. Minimalism, decluttering and finding our “enough” has nothing to do with going without, or holding back.

It is about finding our “enough”.

Being content with what we have. No chasing more or pursuing better.

How things change! Of course, it didn’t used to feel like that. It didn’t feel like that at all! There was a time when I bought new clothes to cheer myself up, to feel better, to “prepare” for a holiday or new job, for a special occasion or event,… oh, and if I just happened to be walking past a shop window and saw something I liked.

I was never a prolific spender, but I had way too many clothes. The idea of not buying anything new even for a couple of months would have sparked fear, resentment, and probably a rebellious why-shouldn’t-I-buy-it shopping trip. (In fact, I remember an specific occasion where that did happen!)

So what changed?

I realized that I owned too many clothes.

That was probably my first realisation. That my wardrobe was full, yet I didn’t wear many of the things that I owned.

I realized that if I couldn’t bear the idea of throwing any away, I had to stop buying more.

In the beginning, I found wardrobe decluttering really hard. I couldn’t bear to part with anything! I didn’t want to get rid of the tatty old worn out stuff (I care too much about waste) but I didn’t want to get rid of the shiny new stuff either. (I would enjoy wearing it once the old stuff wore out, surely?)

My logic was, that if I couldn’t bear to get rid of anything, then I had to stop buying more.

The logic made sense at the time, but it didn’t seem fair. I resented it. Have you ever felt like that? My tattiest clothes made me feel grumpy when I wore them. Every now and then I’d buy something new – because I wanted to cheer myself up, because I was sick of the same old tatty things, or because I needed something to wear.

Despite having a full wardrobe, I just didn’t seem to have anything to wear.

I realized that my relationship with clothes was all wrong.

I started really asking myself why I had a wardrobe full of clothes, but nothing to wear.

I asked myself why I purchased things, and then never wore them.

I asked myself why I used clothes shopping as a way to cheer myself up.

I found some answers.

I realized that I had a tendency to buy clothes that were a little on the tight side (rather than the next size up) because I really wanted to be slightly slimmer than I was. This slimmed-down version of myself never happened, so I was left with a lot of items that were a little too clingy, tight and uncomfortable.

I realised that many items I owned and liked simply didn’t match with other things that I owned. They weren’t complete outfits.

I realised that when I did buy new clothes, it was a reaction to feeling miserable wearing tatty things. I care about waste, but if wearing tatty clothes makes me want to go shopping, that doesn’t work, does it? I realised that I was a little too swayed by adverts and shop windows.

I realised that other things brought more meaning to my life than clothes shopping, made me happier and were far more fulfilling.

I realized that I needed a wardrobe full of things that I actually liked to wear, and that fitted.

This seems so obvious, but the theory did not match the reality when it came to my wardrobe. There were plenty of “used to fit, and maybe will fit again” items, even though I knew it had been years since I last wore them.

There were plenty of items I liked the look of, but didn’t find them comfortable, or practical. There were plenty of items that didn’t match anything else.

What I needed were clothes that did fit, were versatile and practical, that I liked and wore often. Anything else was wasted space (and resources).

I realized, each time I decluttered, that I could manage with far less than I thought.

Most of us have full wardrobes, and wear the same five or so outfits every day. Back in 2014, I thought reducing my wardrobe down to 100 items would be a milestone achievement. At the time I owned 169 items, and that was after 2 years of decluttering!

Yet when I got to 100 items, I realised that it was still far more than I needed. I wasn’t wearing everything I owned. As I reduced further, I still knew there were items I didn’t wear often enough. I went from feeling like I “needed” things to being very clear that I didn’t. I had enough.

Minimalism is not about going without. Minimalism is about finding our “enough”. In those 9 months, I never felt like I was going without. Not buying anything new was easy.

It hasn’t always been easy, but slowly, something has changed. I stopped pursuing more. I stopped seeking solace through shopping. I let go of the idea of “needing” more and embraced the idea of “enough”.

Owning less has been eye-opening, satisfying, and ultimately, very rewarding. But wanting less is even better.

Now it’s your turn – I’d love to hear your thoughts! Are you working towards pursuing a life with less? What lessons have you learned along the way? What a-ha moments came to you? Have you struggled with letting go, and what are your reasons? What obstacles have you faced? Have you ever felt guilt, or resentment, or frustration in the pursuit of less? (Surely it’s not just me?!) How have you been able to turn that round? Or is it something that you still struggle with? Are you new to the journey, and if so, what are your biggest challenges? I’d love to hear about your experiences so please share them with me and leave a comment below!

40 Responses to What This Single Wardrobe Item Taught Me About Minimalism

  1. Awesome blog post. You’re SO right we own WAY too many clothes and only wear our “uniform” anyways. One trick I use is to turn all my coat hangers the wrong way round at the start of the year then once I’ve worn an item I turn the coat hanger round the right way.Then after 6 months or a year I get rid of everything I hasn’t had its coat hanger turned around. Then I go through my drawers and pull everything out and if I can’t remember wearing something I get rid of that too. Also I have an one in out out rule. So if something new comes in something already in my cupboard must go out. This at least means my wardrobe doesn’t increase in size. Keep up the great work, M x

    • Thanks Madeleine! Yes, we do. I do a similar thing – I find the scarf technique better than the coat hanger one (same principle – tied a scarf at one end of the wardrobe rail and put things you wear to the left, and see what is and isn’t worn) – the main reason being I am too OCD to cope with the mixed-up coat hangers! ; )

      Originally I started out with a 3 month limit but like you, I found 6 months to a year worked better – especially when the seasonal weather is longer than 3 months.

      Oh my goodness, you are very committed! I love all your rules. Thanks so much for sharing! Love the drawer one. I wonder now, if I listed everything I owned, if I would actually remember it all?! I love one-in, one out too, except I’m still culling. That will be the maintenance period!

      Thanks for all the tips Madeleine : )

  2. This resonated so much with me, I spend way too much time looking for clothes, buying them and often returning them. Although I think I have a smallish closet (under 100 items not including intimates) I feel overwhelmed by the amount yet I still buy because I am unhappy with what I have. Like you one of my main issues is that I buy clothing that isn’t my size I wish I had a curvier body so the majority of my clothes are at least one size too big which leaves me feeling frumpy when I wear them. I also struggle with clothing sensitivities which leaves me constantly searching for that ‘perfect’ garment or outfit that will make me feel like a 10 without setting off the sensitivities. I really want to shop more ethically as well but again I struggle with being a petite size which many ethical retailers don’t stock so I resort to ebay and the shear amount of time and money I have wasted on garments that don’t fit is ridiculous. I am desperately trying to cut back on my spending and create a cohesive wardrobe but it feels impossible, your post has given me hope that in time I might succeed.

    • Thanks for sharing Sarah! I used to have a similar thing actually, and what changed for me was moving to Australia. Firstly, I didn’t know any of the stores or brands, so I didn’t get sucked into the pull of “wanting stuff” in the same way. But also, in Australia, very few stores offer free postage unless you’re spending hundreds of dollars, and nobody offers free returns (unlike the UK where both are free regardless of what you buy). Once I’d stepped out the of internet shopping cycle I felt so much better – and I could also see what a waste it was – spending time ordering, trying stuff on, sending it back, all those trucks driving all over the place plus all that packaging. I’d never noticed that I was inside this system until I stepped out of it.

      I am totally the opposite – I want to squeeze into everything! ; ) I am planning on learning to sew so that if I buy things and they don’t fit, I can adjust them. It’s been on the to-do list for far too long but it will happen! Maybe that’s something you can consider? I’ve also found when shopping on eBay that I stick to brands I already know and like, as I know how their stuff generally fits me. Browsing just means I end up disappointed.

      I hope this helps! Good luck and I have confidence in you that you will get there : )

  3. I love this! I’ve only recently had the lightbulb moment that I don’t need many clothes, I’ve unsubscribed from all the shopping sites as I don’t want to get sucked in by a sale, that’s always been my biggest pull to buy something, how ridiculous! Also after watching the film ‘The True Cost’ I feel really uncomfortable with the whole fast fashion thing.

    • Thanks Amy! : ) I love lightbulb moments – this for me was a long and drawn-out process of realisation! (You’ve probably saved yourself 3 years of anguish!) I was exactly the same with sales, and I did the same. I’d be tempted by things I didn’t know I needed – and therefore clearly didn’t need! Good on you.

      True Cost is great – informative, well-made, thought-provoking. I’d recommend it to everyone!

  4. I found that project 333 was the thing that finally helped me to “click” about the number of clothes I had that I never wore, or never enjoyed wearing. Choosing 33 garments for the first three months was easy enough, and by the third three month period, I looked at so many clothes and thought “you are never going to make it into any 33 ever”, and simply gave them away. For me this was more about choosing what was in than the wrench of choosing what to throw out, so it didn’t feel like an exercise in suffering. I’m fascinated to read everybody’s experiences.

    • “you are never going to make it into any 33 ever”, I just love this phrase! I really need to do my wardrobe, I don’t have a lot but I know of at least two jackets I haven’t worn for years, waiting to drop 10 kilograms…but I probably would want a new jacket if I did ever lose that weight! Fortunately I hate clothes shopping so that makes for a minimal wardrobe anyway!

      • Jenni, I love that bit too! I’m sure all of us have things we keep and we could say that about them. Your experience is exactly what happened to me, actually. I told myself all the nice stuff would be worn when all the old stuff wore out, but 3 years later all the old stuff was still going. And I thought to myself, am I even going to want to wear this new stuff when I get there – it’s 4+ years old already, I’m older, my tastes have changed. Better sell it/give it away and let someone else use it, and when the time comes I can choose pieces that I love now, not 4 years ago!

        Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Donna, for the longest time I was scared of Project 333 (rather embarrassed to admit that now) – it just seemed too extreme to me. Once it got within my grasp I opened myself up to the idea. I’m still “using up” some tatty but comfortable clothes, but I honestly believe my wardrobe can be (will be) 33 items. So good to hear that you’ve had such success with it!

      I love hearing other people’s stories about wardrobe decluttering. It’s such a personal experience – I guess because we use clothes to express ourselves (although the extent varies with us all). Thanks for sharing your story Donna!

  5. …”Minimalism is about finding our “enough”. Love it! I’ve framed those words to be a reminder. Thanks Lindsay!

  6. “I hadn’t wanted or needed to buy anything, and so I hadn’t. What I owned already was enough. There had been no struggle, no doubt, no frustration and no resentment that I hadn’t purchased anything.”

    That’s amazing! I know I shop too much, but haven’t yet found replacement habits or weaned off myself “just browsing,” which really means “hoping to fall in love with something.” Working on it.

    • You know what, Rebekah?! Realising that is the first step, so you’re on your way ; ) I realised I shopped too much way before I ever really did anything about it. I have to say, moving country probably sped up the process for me because I was no longer familiar with the brands, and even the sizes are different. Remember, it took me 3+ years to get to where I am now, and there’s still some distance to go ; ) Change takes time!

      Good luck! Knowing you want to change is definitely the most important step. If you’re ready for the next steps: find something fun to occupy your time, unsubscribe from tempting email newsletters and only go shopping with a list! Let me know how it goes!

  7. You are so right! Honestly I have been trying to reduce the volume of my closet for years…. If you know Dominic Loreau a minimalist wrighter who lived years in Japan, she has been my wake up call. But my problem is… I am always afraid to give something away and regret it… In fact I have lost and gain pounds so many time in the last years that I have like a four size of clothes closet… And because I don’t what to buy knew stuff, I keep everything! This is a huge problem for me. I am presently trying to maintain my weight. If I succeed for six more month, I think I will be good to give a very big part of my clothes!

    • Thanks Julie! I haven’t heard of Dominique Loreau but I will look her up! Thanks for the tip. It’s interesting you say that about regretting giving stuff away, because when I think about my reasons, regret isn’t one of them… yet I tended to keep stuff I didn’t need. For me it was more the guilt (the money spent, the waste and the not-being-quite-slim-enough). I guess I wanted to believe I would wear them!

      Good luck with maintaining your weight Julie – is that a promise that if it stays the same, you will have a big declutter?! ; )

  8. I completely agree! If there is something I really need (a pair of black flats, maybe) the first place I go is to a resale shop like Goodwill. I have not needed to buy anything new in a long time because our society throws away so much stuff that I can surely find what I need in a slightly used version either online or in a thrift shop.
    I have even satisfied my shopping compulsion by buying other used stuff and then selling it at a local flea market. This is a win-win because the nonprofit benefits when I buy their used items, I make a little money and I encourage people who buy from me to look for used items before buying new stuff. Thanks for pointing this fact out.

    • Thanks Lisa! Yes, Goodwill is definitely the place to start – and for me, it reconfirms that there is too much stuff in the world already, and I don’t to be contributing more to that!

      That’s a great idea – there is the saying that there is no such thing as waste, only stuff in the wrong place, and so much we see in charity shops would be so useful to somebody, if only they knew it was there! Plus some people aren’t going to go shopping in charity shops, but will go to flea markets and antiques fairs even though it’s the same stuff! Thanks for sharing : )

  9. That is so awesome! I love having a small wardrobe. I’m on my 3rd (nonconsecutive) Project 333 and I love it. It’s really helped me to be strategic about adding pieces to my wardrobe instead of impulse shopping and also helped me define my style. I haven’t quite figured out my wardrobe “enough” but I’m getting closer and I don’t shop for entertainment any more. :)

    • Thanks Stephanie! So I’m intrigued… what happens in between the Project 333 sessions? I’ve heard of the program of course, but I’ve never looked into it too deeply. Why were they non-consecutive and what happened in the middle?

      I’m still working on “defining my style” if I can even call it that – not quite sure that style is a thing that I have! ; ) The first task was reducing my wardrobe, and the next stage will be building the blocks of a capsule wardrobe – in future I want to replace what I have with more versatile pieces, and simplify a little more. Always a work in progress!

      Thanks for sharing!

  10. I have more than 100 items I’m sure. But I also do wear a lot of it, and I find I do wear most of it out.
    I struggle with “throwing out” because so much of my clothes come from the op shop, when they are due to be discarded, they aren’t in good enough condition that the op shop would be able to resell, and I’ve already got too many cleaning rags!
    I do have an etsy shop that I’ve put loads of my clothes on to sell because I like vintage and retro.
    I can also fluctuate with weight, but I buy for what I fit now. If I find things aren’t fitting I go shopping for specific items I need (at the op shop of course!)

    • Oh Sarah, I hear you completely! I struggled for so long with not wanting to throw my tatty stuff out, but then I realised there was actually a bunch of nice things I was “saving” – and I figured if I couldn’t throw the tatty stuff out, then at least I could sell the nicer stuff. I wasn’t wearing it anyway (or not often, anyway). When stuff gets really tatty I now compost it – and retrieve the non-biodegradable parts like stitching or elastic later!

      That’s the lesson that took too long to learn – buying for what fits now!

      Thanks so much for sharing!

  11. Love your insight Lindsay. I am still wrestling with my wardrobe and my relationship with clothes. I’ve got a long way to go but lots of what you said above really resonates with me.

  12. Even though it’s been a long time since I bought anything new, I still have trouble getting rid of old stuff. Weird, yes? Seems like it’s a “thanks for the memories” kind of thing — I start taking old clothes out of the closet and it becomes an “oh I remember when I wore that” moment, and it somehow sneaks back in.

    • I don’t know if it’s weird, Sandy… I had trouble getting rid of old stuff for years. But it was less of a “thanks for the memories” and more a “I remember when that used to fit” type of thing! Do you plan to wear them again when you put them back, though? Because if not, couldn’t you just take a pic and let them go? If it is just the memory you want. Only an idea!

  13. Great post and blog Lindsay, it sure lightens the load to declutter and get rid of clothing etc that you know you’ll never wear again
    x

  14. Amazing post! Isn’t it a great feeling when you realize the desire to shop has been gone for a while? I had never had a thing about clothes or shoes but I loved to find interesting pieces for my home. My home is my sanctuary and I loved finding art that spoke to me. My other weakness was books. I could drop a couple of hundred dollars on books in an afternoon. When I first vowed to stop shopping I turned it around and began buying more food for the house. That came to an end when I visited my first farmers’ market. The atmosphere was so different than being in a store that I dreaded having to walk in a store. Today I rarely buy anything but the essentials and I feel like a totally different person.

    • Thanks so much Lois! Yes, it is. When we moved we talked about things we might need – such as a table that seats more than 4 people. It very awkward when we have friends round, and even with the laptop on it there isn’t enough space for us to eat dinner comfortably! But we are both so apathetic about shopping that nothing changes – a good thing. It gives us time to realize what we need and what is wishful thinking. (We do need a table.) I can’t believe you used to spend $200 in an afternoon on books! That is a different Lois to the one I know ; )

      I love feeling free from “needing” stuff ; )

  15. Ever since reading a wonderful book called ‘Clear your clutter with Feng shui’ I’ve been doing just that and I now find I enjoy getting rid of things more than I ever enjoyed acquiring them! I must admit that friends do give me clothes etc which makes it easier for me to further pass them on. I’ve definitely found my enough and what I especially love is the feeling that I have time to do things other than shopping.
    Love your posts Lindsay. So wise for one so young.

    • Oooh, that sounds like a good book Frances! I don’t know much about Feng shui but I do know less clutter = more calm, which must have something to do with it!

      I’m very wary about accepting anything from friends – I’ve found it hard enough to let go of my own things without the extra stress!

      I love that too – after all, who doesn’t want more time?!

      Thanks Frances!

  16. Such a good read! It basically summarised what I am going through. Got rid of plenty of clothes (the charity shop was thrilled when I brought them over) but still think I can do with less. Definitely passing on clothes I haven’t worn in a season.

    Also, we moved over the weekend into a smaller house which meant a smaller wardrobe and I can tell you, that’s the best way to declutter – when you can’t close the wardrobe, you have to get rid of stuff :))) …now I just need to do with the other non-clothing items that are still sitting in our living room waiting for their new place to live….lessons from the wardrobe clearout will surely come in handy.

    • Thanks Zdenka! It’s so interesting, the more I give away and think “oh, but I need the rest” the more I realise that I don’t. We need so much less than we think!

      Haha, I can relate! We chose not to have a built-in wardrobe in our bedroom, it seemed like a waste of space. I’ve been looking for a wardrobe but we realised that for such a small amount of clothing, a wardrobe will take up more space than the clothes. So we purchased a clothes rail. We decided, what doesn’t fit on it doesn’t stay! we do have a chest of drawers too.

      Yes, apply the rule everywhere! Moving is the best time to decide what you really need and what to let go : )

  17. I finally dealt with the ‘too many clothes’ issue by settling on one simple style, one ‘uniform’, and doing away with other types of clothes. I just buy dresses and long (below the hip) tunic tops in any colour, which I wear with ‘black legs’ – black tights, leggings, shoes and tall boots (except for some coloured sandals/flip flops for summer). I like dresses in T-shirt/jersey material, which don’t pull in at the waist, so it doesn’t matter if I gain/lose a little weight. This did away with the whole deal about skirts and trousers and having to find matching blouses, T-shirts, jumpers, sweatshirts, etc. and made putting an outfit together much easier. I do have a couple of black long-sleeved T-shirts to wear under the summer dresses when the weather is colder. I have about 30 summer outfits and another 30 winter ones, but could manage on about 8-10 in summer and 12-15 in winter. Because I know I’ve got more than I ‘need’ & I love what I’ve pared my wardrobe down to, I don’t feel the urge to keep buying stuff.

    • I love this Gruzia! As I wear things out I intend to replace them with a more uniform style – I love the simplicity and that way I know everything will go with everything else! I agree with you about choosing your fabric well – I always used to choose clothes that were very fitted, which looked great if I was at the weight I wanted to be – but I never am! Accepting that I need to buy clothes that look good now and are comfortable has been a huge learning curve for me!

      Thank you so much for sharing this – very inspiring! : )

  18. Actually, since writing this I’ve decluttered some more and now have about 20 summer and 20 winter outfits. 12-15 winter outfits would work out around: 7-8 dresses for work, a party/best dress, and around 6 other outfits for casual wear (not including comfortable, shabbier old clothes to wear around the house). Instead of getting thick jumpers, I layer up these clothes if it’s really cold. The summer here (UK) is shorter, maybe mid-May to early September, so I’d probably count on about 5 work dresses, with about 5 other summer dresses/tunic tops for leisure time.

    • Ooooh, thanks for the update. I love hearing about your progress! I’m a huge fan of layering too. That way I can extend the season of the things I wear, rather than having stuff that is only suitable for a few weeks a year. I need to do a wardrobe update and share on here! : )

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