Beginning My Minimalist Capsule Wardrobe (+ Lessons Learned)

Beginning My Minimalist Capsule Wardrobe (+ Lessons Learned)

It seems hard to believe, but the less you have, the less you realise you need. Back when I had over 200 items in my wardrobe, the idea of reducing it to 100 seemed crazy. Then I got to 100, and realised I still had way too much stuff.

Something else I noticed: the less I had, the easier I found it to declutter.

Maybe this was because I was flexing my decluttering muscle, and it was getting stronger. Maybe it was because I could finally see the wood for the trees, and was being more honest with myself. Maybe it was because I began to realise what I actually wear, and it made less sense to keep the things I didn’t.

Even with 40 items, I know I have more than I need. Now I’m starting to build a capsule wardrobe: a collection of pieces I can wear year-round, along with a few extras for the weather extremes of summer and winter.

In Part 1, I talked about why you might want a capsule wardrobe to start with (even if you’re not a minimalist), and why it has absolutely everything to do with zero waste.

Here, I’m going to talk about how I’m beginning my capsule wardrobe.

I’m a show-and-tell kinda girl, and I thought I’d share some pics of what is in my wardrobe right now, what’s working, and what I’ll do differently next time.

Beginning My Minimalist Capsule Wardrobe (+ Lessons Learned)

I’m not a believer in numbers when it comes to minimalism, I’m a believer in “enough”. Building a capsule wardrobe means working out what is enough for me.

I also hate waste (you might have noticed)! I tend to wear my clothes into the ground. Many things I own are too tatty to donate. There comes a point when I no longer like to wear them (everyone has their own tolerance levels) and when that happens I will compost or repurpose.

I take the “slow” approach to wardrobe minimalism. If I still wear it, it can stay  – so long as I know I will wear it again in the near future. If I know I won’t, there is no point in keeping it. Going slow has given me time to adjust and learn lessons along the way. As things wear out, I will choose better next time.

Building a Capsule Wardrobe: The Clothes I Started With

This is what remains of my wardrobe from my pre-minimalist and pre-capsule wardrobe days. I’m building on this and filling in the gaps to make my wardrobe more practical and wearable in future.

Summer Tops:

I really like the style of racing back tops, and find them very comfortable in the hot Perth summers.

The first three appear identical, although two are silk and the green one is polyester. They all have a slightly different cut, so of course, I have a preference (the orange one on the left).

The two blue tops are not that dissimilar, and again, I have a preference.

The bright coral top to the right is cotton and I purchased it new because it was cheap (before I thought much about these things). It feel cheap too, and the cut isn’t great.

I’ve realised that when I own two or more things that look the same, I will always gravitate towards one of them.

Unless this is the only type of top I wear (and it isn’t) it makes no sense to own five tops that are so similar. Especially when I wear one of them weekly, and the others sparingly.

As they wear out, I intend to keep one or two in my closet. No more than that.

Other Tops:

These are my other tops. The purple one is very old and beginning to wear out.

Shorts and Skirts

Whilst I love the purple stripy skirt (it is silk), it is impossible to pair with anything. It goes with my green racing back top, and that is it. That means I can only wear it in the height of summer. In a capsule wardrobe, it isn’t very practical.

I’ve never faced the dilemma of getting rid of something that I like and I wear. I used to struggle with getting rid of stuff I didn’t like and didn’t wear (!) so this is quite a step forward. But to own something I will only wear a handful of times doesn’t really make any sense. At the end of the summer, I’m going to let it go.

Jumpers and Cardigans

I like the assortment of thicknesses and different styles. My husband hates my oversized jumper on the right, so that might not get replaced. I probably wouldn’t choose a short-sleeved wool jumper again, either!

Dresses

Of the four dresses I own, one is for the depths of winter and one is for the height of summer.

The left one was an online purchase and is organic cotton, fairly traded. Thing is, the fit isn’t great, and the stitching around the collar is ripped where it wasn’t sewn well. I hate how I feel in this dress. My brother recently saw a photo of me in this dress with my sister, and asked her if I was pregnant. That was the final straw. I decided it had to go.

Trousers (Pants)

I have a pair of heavy denim jeans, a pair of thick cotton-denim trousers, and a pair of leggings. I had a thinner pair of summer jeans but they wore out, so I am looking to replace these.

Building a Capsule Wardrobe: What Was Missing and What I’ve Added

At the start of this year, a fair few things I owned completely wore out. This was my chance to fill the gaps with items I deem more suitable, practical and useful. My capsule wardrobe has begun.

What was Missing: Tops

Despite owning 8 tops, the styles of 6 of them are very similar. Most sit at the scruffy end of the scale. I’m giving more talks and running more workshops this year, and I need clothes suitable for presenting in.

Also, many of my tops are quite snug and short, and I’m not as keen on the tight-fitting, midriff-exposing clothes as I was in my twenties.

I decided the gaps were: something loose-fitting, a t-shirt, a top smart enough to present in. I also wanted a navy blue shirt.

A trip to the charity shop led me to these:

The t-shirt has not been a good buy. It was an expensive brand and looked unworn, but it has bobbled in the washing machine and lost its shape already. The dirty cream shirt is probably a better choice than the bright white shirt I already own, and is less fitted (which I prefer). The blue button-down shirt is exactly what I was looking for. The last top is 100% silk, and I really like silk in the summer.

I didn’t need to buy 4 tops, and I only intended to buy 3. I’m still experimenting with “enough”. I can take things back to the charity shop if in a few months I realise I don’t wear them.

What was Missing: Bottoms

Perth gets hot. I wanted another pair of shorts. Also, none of the new tops I purchased were suitable with any of my current bottoms. I thought a denim, navy or grey pencil skirt might work well. I also wanted a replacement pair of lightweight summer jeans.

I ended up with these:

Honestly, I would have preferred shorts without the embroidery and fake holes. But they fit the best out of all the shorts, so I took them. The skirt was exactly what I was looking for. It is more cotton than denim, and very lightweight.

These three items increased the wear-ability of all of my tops no end!

What was Missing: Jumpers and Dresses

I wanted a lightweight jumper, a casual summer dress (maxi dresses are too impractical for me to wear everyday) and a smarter presenting dress.

I found these at the charity shop:

I love the denim shirt. The sleeves are super long, and it can work as a cardigan, but with more practical uses. The first dress has been great in the really hot weather. I wasn’t sure if the stripy dress was more ‘fantasy me’ than real me, but it is so comfortable, and I’ve worn it. I love the dress on the end, but time will tell how easy it is to wash! I love colour, and it was satisfying to find something so bright.

It was never my plan to choose so much blue, but I already have a lot of colour in my wardrobe. I needed some neutrals to balance it out. My plan is to choose bright tops and dresses to mix in with these as I need to replace things.

In total, this is 34 items (with some to go at the end of summer/when they wear out). I also have two jackets, three scarves (one summer, one winter, on in-between), cycling shorts and top, a summer hat and a winter hat, swimming wear and underwear. Plus a few pairs of shoes.

I’m amazed when I look at this, that I can see there is still room to reduce what I have. Far from the days when I panicked about whether I would have enough to wear if I decluttered, I realise that I have plenty.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your wardrobe essentials? What staples do you seem to live in? What have been your worst “investments”? How have your wardrobe basics changed over time? What is your biggest wardrobe regret from your younger days? Do you have a capsule wardrobe, and if so, what tips would you add? Anything else to share? I love hearing your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

39 Responses to Beginning My Minimalist Capsule Wardrobe (+ Lessons Learned)

  1. Staples:Black jeans, mens cotton trousers light weight, mens(for length and pockets) polyester lightweight trousers, one polyester skirt.

    Two white polyester v neck long sleeve ( now I am older) tops, 2 white cotton T shirts, one white linen long sleeved blouse. Skivvys (?) various colours.

    Leather brown Clarks brown ankle boots, good trainers, water proof adventure sandals, wellies.

    Wool (fleece), waterproof long rain jacket, wool x 3 v neck long sleeved Ts, 3 pairs wool leggins ( thermal)…

    But so much more in wardrobe! Have two, so moving stuff gradually when I wear them

    • Forgotten items: one nice white sleevless loose-frilled top to go under a nice soft grey wool long cardigan for going out, and a long sleeved linen blouse for over t shirts.

  2. It all looks lovely!

    The mistake I made was to choose very bland, neutral clothes! I no longer have a job to go to, so why I did this I don’t know. I find my drawer of clothes quite depressing to be honest. I will gradually replace things as they wear out with something a bit more ‘me’.

    • Thanks Aurora :) I think that’s an easy mistake to fall into. Whenever I’ve seen a capsule wardrobe post it’s always neutrals. They aren’t really me, either! I like blue and grey, but I’m too messy for white and black doesn’t suit me at all. My purple skirt is probably the other extreme – lovely but completely impractical. But there’s plenty of options in between.

      Good luck with brightening up your wardrobe! :)

  3. There are things I’ve found easy to get rid of – ‘this was a big mistake’, or items I’ve worn to death – and there are things I wear and wear like my jeans. And then there’s the in-betweeny stuff like the skirts I used to wear to work and ‘Hey, they’re fine and I still like them’ but I’m not sure if they still fit in my life! I feel like I’m throwing everything up in the air and seeing where it settles. On the plus side, though, I haven’t bought any clothes or accessories since November, which for me is phenomenal!

    • I don’t think I can say I’ve found it easy to get rid of anything Caro! Maybe the big mistakes ;) Items I’ve worn to death have to literally be torn to shreds before I can bring myself to get rid of them. Well, I guess that depends on how comfy they are. A few things I was very ready to get rid of my the end!

      That’s been an interesting challenge for me too – I like it and I wear it, but can I really justify the space it takes up for the amount of use?

      I never intended to go a year without buying anything. I suspect if I’d set myself that challenge, I would have rebelled within days! But it’s quite satisfying when you look back, I think. Feels like an achievement! :)

  4. Luckily where I work, I can wear jeans. So I have 3 pairs of jeans for the winter and 3 pairs of denim shorts for the summer, all blue. I found that having colors for pants and shorts just made things difficult. I have one summer skirt and one winter skirt and no dresses. I am currently weeding out tops that are too short or too tight through the stomach. I would never pick some random number to limit my wardrobe to. Doesn’t make sense to me.

    • That sounds so perfectly simple and satisfying, Mary Ann – I love it! I think coloured bottoms have worked best for me when they are plain, and when I’ve thought about what they go with when I’ve bought them! (Rather than getting charmed by the outfit and ignoring the practicalities.) No dresses… I think dresses have been something I’ve embraced more in the last few years. Possibly the Perth weather is more dress-suited. I don’t think I really wore them in the UK – except the knitted dress!

      I’m with you on not setting limits by arbitrary number. When I first started decluttering, I set myself a target of 100 things – and when I got there realised it was far too much! Now I know, it will probably change according to wear I’m living, where I’m working, the kinds of things I’m doing. So what if it’s not a pre-determined number?!

      • It was fun to read, indeed! I am inspired to create my own wardrobe spreadsheet and get a comprehensive picture of what and how much clothing/shoes/accessories I own. There are places I can improve upon.

        Based on my own expriences, I’ve learned that I have to be realistic about what I truly like to wear. This mainly has to do with the item’s compatability with the weather, my day-to-day lifestyle, the colors and cuts that look best with my body, skin tone and hair color, as well as what makes me feel comfortable and at ease. The fantasy me used to be a problem before I became aware of it. It’s also very easy to buy and keep something because it might come in handy one day or someone said everyone should have it in their wardrobes because it’s a classic piece. I tried the all black Winter look but it didn’t feel very uplifting after a while and I got bored with the look so I am trying to incorporate a bit more colors into my wardrobe for the cooler months.

        Anyway, off to read your Wardrobe Decluttering guide!

        • Thanks Natalie! Glad you found this useful! :)

          Ah, fantasy ‘us’. If only I’d realised this about 15 years ago, I could have saves myself so much money/stress/time/wardrobe changes! Black doesn’t suit me at all, so the little black dress is never going to be my thing. I think any kind of “classic piece” is not my thing!

          Let me know what you think of the guide!

  5. I could not have so few items, simply because in my rental flat, the washing machine is shared, in the basement, and I have to book slots to wash clothes. I end up doing 4 big loads once a month, and that’s it. So I need enough clothes and underwear to last at least that long. However, I have only bought a handful of clothes each year since the start of 2016, all of them ethically sourced and most of them are nice shirts for work. I’m slowly giving away my nice clothes that no longer fit to the 15 year old daughter of a friend. It’s good to know she will enjoy them.

    • That is so true Claire, our circumstances will always have an impact. You got me thinking – here in Perth it is sunny enough to dry clothes outside on the line all year round, and we rarely have more than three days of rain in a row in winter. If I lived in the UK where it can rain non-stop for weeks at a time, I’d probably have to revisit this and no doubt I’d need more!

      I bet your daughter’s friend is really enjoying her free wardrobe additions ;)

  6. LOVE the skirt you bought! I also got a long sleeve button up demin shirt last summer and love it. I’m going to pair it with a white tshirt. I keep all my clothes in my bedroom closet, which isn’t huge, including all my winter coats & snow pants (I live in Canada). Aside from 2 summer pants, shorts & some tshirts, I wear these clothes all year, I don’t have capsule wardrobes for each season. I also have 2 fleece jackets I wear inside our house all fall & winter because it’s chilly. I have 2 casual dresses, and 3 dressy dresses that I wear to xmas parties or if invited to something more fancy (doesn’t really happen much any more the older I get). I did get a new long linen shirt recently that I know I will wear all summer long.

    • Thanks Holly! I was really pleased with it. When I went into the shop I had a very clear idea of what I wanted, and this fitted the bill exactly!

      I’m with you on the not needing a capsule wardrobe for each season. I have a single wardrobe rail, I don’t really have spare wardrobes to store my out of season stuff and honestly – I couldn’t be bothered with all the extra fuss! And the idea of wearing something for 3 months and then swapping it is also too much effort. I like things to last multiple winters or summers.

      I also think, we can have unseasonally hot or cold weather, or we can go on holiday to a place with a different climate, so why pack stuff away? Now I’d reduced my wardrobe, it’s easy to see what I have, and it isn’t like the odd super-seasonal thing is getting in the way.

      Thanks for sharing your wardrobe contents :)

    • Hi Suzie, great question! I am of the belief that whatever the washing label says, we can almost always go one step higher! So if something says hand wash, then putting it in the machine on a cold hand wash setting is fine!

      So I machine wash all my silk, but on the hand wash setting and in cold water. I use regular washing powder, but much less. If I can’t put things in the machine, I know they will sit on the side for months and go unworn, which doesn’t make sense. Maybe they won’t last quite as long. But honestly, the racing back tops I’ve had since 2011 at least (I had them when we moved here) and I wear the orange/red one all summer. The yellow skirt I had and wore constantly for 3 years at least until it fell apart. Maybe it depends on the quality of the silk for the coarse feeling, because whilst my new tops feel a little course, the older ones have always been soft.

      I’ve heard that white vinegar is a great fabric softener, so a small amount of that might help make your fabric softer. But look it up before you try it – I could be wrong! ;)

  7. Hi there All,

    I have continued to enjoy over the years your approach to decluttering Lindsay, and work on in the background consistently.
    I think I have had this chat previously, but always worth a re-mention!!

    The only perspective I can add from experience is: the value in replacing a worn out item, with the best you can afford; like very pricey (on sale hopefully!)
    Rationale
    * excellent design, cut, fit and how it looks on your body,
    * Ideally made in AU-so that can account for some of those costs,
    * the quality of materials means good value fabric,
    * not contributing to the ‘cheap as chips’ (not actually) mentality that proliferates,
    * and that if you totally rock it-you will wear it to shreds..

    Cheers..Su-lee

  8. I just emptied out of my (already pretty small) wardrobe everything that did not fit/feel comfortable and the things that were synthetic only fabrics (which I hate wearing for lots of reasons) and when I looked at what was left I had mostly blues and greys with a touch of black and cream. I had been trying to focus my style for ages with pinterest boards and lists and it turns out it was in my wardrobe the whole time! Suddenly the brown and purple sweater and the green dress and the orange cardigan screamed “out of place” and were also removed. Some things have been put in storage, some my teenage daughters gladly took off my hands, and some went straight to the charity shop. It is true that the less you have the easier it is to identify gaps and what is and is not working. After all the years of trying different methods of decluttering my wardrobe I think it may have finally “clicked”.

    • Thanks for sharing Noni! I loved this story. I think it’s easy to get lost into a world of aspiration on the internet, and you’re right, we already know what works for us – even if sometimes we choose to ignore it. I find magazines and images unhelpful, because they show me what suits other people, and all too often I confuse that with what suits me!

      Really loved hearing about your wardrobe transformation :)

  9. Hi Lindsay,
    I enjoyed your guide. I had way too many really good quality clothes in my wardrobe, so letting go has been hard (I know, sunk costs). I know my colours, and my body shape (Trinny and Susanna) so I didn’t buy ‘mistakes’, I just had way too much. What really helped me to build a capsule was following the Vivienne Files. Choosing a limited palette of colours that I really loved and looked good in, instead of lots of colours from the autumn palette; and the concept of a core of four neutrals has made it really easy to focus on building just a few pieces that all work together. I’ve gradually reduced and am selling off all the clothes I just don’t need. I still have too many, but as things wear out they won’t be replaced. I think in a year’s time I’ll be down to a small, functional, natural fibre core of really good quality pieces.
    I find guides like yours and regular posts from Vivienne keep me questioning and motivated to reduce, so thank you!

    • Thanks for sharing Ness! I sold off some of my better quality clothes too; at the beginning, it helped ease/offset some of the guilt for buying stuff I didn’t wear. I’ve found I’ve got less attached to things as time has gone on. Now I’m happier to give things away and accept that I made a bad choice, but I don’t feel guilt like I used to.

      I’ll have to check out the Vivienne files. Sounds interesting! Colour is such an important thing to consider. As a teen I loved black and hot pink (in a kinda punk way) but really, neither colour suits me. Accepting that I am probably a pastels girl wasn’t easy at the start, but when I wear clothes that suit me I do feel better in them!

      Thanks for sharing :)

  10. I’d like to share as my wardrobe could not be more different. I have a lot more clothes than this, but not a massive amount. But I do wear most of it. I’d have to say that I would get bored with 5 tops.
    I have at least 20-30 favourite items. I love retro- 80s, 50s and 40s and I love wearing it.
    For eg off the top of my head I have at least 5 different jumpers – all very 80s and all get worn. I probably have another 10, all suit the variable weather in Melbourne. Also because of our weather I have to wear many layers – sometimes 4-5.
    I don’t do “neutral”. I wear a lot of black but love pairing it with bright colours (always with the jumper or jacket on hand because melbourne weather also changes through the day).
    Having said this I rarely buy clothes! I wear them to death (usually past this! I’ve been known go out with moth holes or stains visible!).
    I still consider my wardrobe sustainable, this is because there is about 1-2% of it that is new. Only underwear which is always sustainably sourced.
    Most of my life I have loved opshop digging. I could spend hours, and perhaps some would go straight back to the shop. It’s one way of donating money to them I thought! Unfortunately it is not so much fun anymore as nearly all of it is cheap, badly made and badly fitted. There is rarely anything good /handmade to be found. If it is, it is usually marked up considerably.
    Perhaps my wardrobe will be a victim of this in the long run, as my retro clothes wear out there is nothing to replace them with!
    I have an etsy shop where I sell retro clothes – items that were my mothers, my grand mothers or some items I have found in an opshop that I feel would reach the retro community better via my shop. I also have some stuff that I have bought and decide I no longer want to wear (some 70s retro is not really me) and clothes that I have upcycled, all to give a new life with someone else.
    I could cull a few pieces and often do, but I couldn’t live with 33 items/capsule style. I would fast run out of things to wear as I only wash a full load once a week, and often wear items 2-3 times before washing. I wonder how you fill the washing machine?

    • Hi Sarah, I absolutely loved this and thank you so much for sharing! It’s always great to hear others perspectives, and as you say – we have very different approaches, so I loved hearing about yours.

      The key thing here is that you said “I wear most of it”. I am the total opposite. I’ll live in the same thing. Wear, wash, repeat – until it falls apart. That’s why I know I can still get by with less – even though I have reduced so much.

      I had a chat with a friend of mine recently, and she was saying that she had so many clothes and felt like she should declutter, but she loved picking out outfits, she loved choosing what to wear, she wore everything she owned. And I said – then why declutter?! For me I hated most of what I owned, and never wore it. I want to feel like she does, but for me that means a handful of outfits. If clothes are something you really enjoy and appreciate, I don’t think there is any point trying to cull. It’s the same end goal – the feeling of calm and contentedness!

      Sounds like you and her have some common thoughts on this, Sarah! I can hear your passion oozing out of the page! And I love it :) I’m sure you would look at my various baking tins and consider them slightly unnecessary ;) I love how you’re trying to pass good pieces onto new owners too. I wouldn’t have the energy for that – but I can see it is so needed.

      Thank you so much for sharing how you’ve made your wardrobe sustainable. Loved all your ideas. Hopefully retro will be around for a while yet!

      Regarding the washing machine – my husband’s clothes are much bigger than mine, and he will wear shirts for work then change at home, so he might get through 2 shirts a day. (Drives me crazy!) So he generates a huge amount of laundry, which works for me as I can add my few pieces in. Our laundry is 80% his stuff, I think! We probably do 2-3 loads a week. Also, I’m not too worried about adding bedding or towels or tea towels to a regular load. I’ll wash them on a higher setting on their own, but for in-between washes it helps fill up the drum. Hope that helps! :)

      • No, I bake a lot too! Though I don’t have a lot of tins.
        Thanks Lindsay.
        I say I wear “most” because I still have a few to get rid of – which is why I’ve read on and read the guide. I’ve also found it very useful to send on to those people that do want to minimise and come up with all the excuses!

  11. Really enjoying your blog Lindsay! I am in the process of decluttering and moving towards less waste in our household for about a year now and with every step I am learning that you need less and less. I have not find the ‘enough’ yet either. Thanks for sharing all this advice.

    • Thank you so much! Isn’t it interesting how the less we have, the less we realise we need? I think it helps to build momentum too. At the start I as worried about donating things in case they were useful. As I went down the track I realised they wouldn’t be, and found it easier to let go.

      Good luck with the decluttering!

  12. Hi Lindsay, most thought-provoking. My life-style is different in that I am retired and at home most of the time so I have plenty of older clothing for home and garden and a few options for shopping/library etc, do you change into older stuff when you get home? it sounds like Glen does. I recently went through all our clothes and re-packed our drawers Konmarie style which I really like. Now at the end of summer I can see there are plenty of ill-fitting items that I will remove later today…just thinking out loud I suppose! Keep up the good work xx

    • Hi Sue, thanks for taking the time to comment! As I mostly work from home now I really took the “wearing everything out” idea to heart! I realised at the end of last year when I had some meetings to go to that my public wear was quite limited! If I do go out I tend to change when I get home, I guess I like to “preserve” my better stuff. I tend to wear the same 5 things 90% of the time. I just get comfortable with one outfit!

      We have embraced the Konmari style of folding and we both really like it. So much easier to manage!

      There’s a few things I need to let go of now it’s getting to the end of summer. Maybe in a couple of weeks…

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  13. Hi, I’ve been wondering what handbag is that in your picture. Could you also do a wardrobe capsule with the shoes, bags and accessories that you kept. Thanks.

    • Hi Soraya! The handbag doesn’t have a label. I bought it from a second-hand vintage store that sold second-hand leather bags, only this one isn’t leather. The lady was selling it cheaply as she didn’t sell non-leather, but this was such a good mimic she hadn’t noticed. (It’s pretty obvious now as the “leather” is peeling off.)

      I hadn’t thought about it before but you’re right, I’ve never taken a picture of my shoes. I’ve no idea why not! I will add to my list. As for accessories, I have three scarves – one very thick winter scarf, one summer and one in between; a woolly hat and a summer hat; and a couple of belts. But yes, great idea! I will add to my list :)

      Thanks so much for the suggestion!

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