3 Outfits for 30 Days: Experimenting with Less Stuff (+ 8 Lessons Learned)

3 Outfits for 30 Days: Experimenting with Less Stuff (+ 8 Lessons Learned)

How many outfits is too many outfits, how many outfits is not enough outfits… and how many is just enough? I’ve been wondering this question ever since I first started decluttering my wardrobe back in 2012.

At the time I had a whole wardrobe full of things I didn’t like, didn’t fit and that I didn’t wear, yet I couldn’t bear to part with anything.

I thought I’d never be able to shrink it, but as I did I found it actually became easier to let things go. And with each round, I realised I needed less than I thought I did.

I’ve been hovering at the 40 things mark for a while, but I still feel that I probably have more than I need. I still gravitate to wearing the same few things ALL of the time.

I don’t find any joy in having lots of options. Give me my comfortable, most worn-in things any day.

Rather than do another round of decluttering, trying to chase the line where “enough” becomes “not enough”, I thought I’d flip things on their head. Go straight to the “not enough” to see how it felt, and what I learned.

So, I picked 3 outfits to wear for 30 days.

Here’s what I learned.

3 Outfits in 30 Days: Did It Actually Happen?

The 3 outfits consisted of: two pairs of shoes, 1 skirt, 1 pair of trousers, 1 dress, 2 shirts (1 sleeveless, 1 short-sleeved), 1 cardigan and 1 denim overshirt.

And yes, I kept to it! The most interesting thing for me was that I didn’t wear the trousers at all.

As someone who lives in trousers, this was surprising – but the weather was a little too hot, and so I kept wearing the skirt. The dress got a bit of wear, but was mostly kept for work-related things and occasions where I needed to be smart.

3 Outfits for 30 Days: What I Loved About the Challenge

I didn’t find wearing 3 outfits for 30 days to be a trial at all, although it isn’t something I’d want to stick to forever. In particular, this is what I loved about it:

1. Making wardrobe choices was easy.

There was absolutely no thinking about what to wear, and I loved this. Wake up, check the weather, dress accordingly (cardigan vs no cardigan). It definitely made the mornings easier.

2. I love wearing the same thing every day.

The challenge really confirmed this for me. I like to wear the same thing over and over. I’m just not someone who takes great (or any) joy in picking out outfits, and accessorizing accordingly.

I get more joy picking up the thing I wore yesterday and discovering it doesn’t need to be washed and I can wear it again today, zero effort required!

I wondered if I would get bored wearing the same thing day in, day out. I did not get bored at all. I relished it! At the end of the challenge I continued to wear the same skirt and shirt for another week at least.

I just don’t need so much variety.

3. Getting 30 wears

I hate waste (you might have noticed) and clothing takes a lot of resources to make. Take cotton – there’s preparing the land to plant the fibres; growing, watering (so much watering!) and harvesting the crops; spinning and processing the cotton into yarn; weaving and dying the fabric; cutting and stitching together the garment, and transporting the finished product to the store.

I’m sure there’s a heap of steps I missed, too.

The point is, it takes a lot to make one garment. If we want to maximise these resources, respect the growers and workers who grew the fibres and manufactured these garments, and not let good things go to waste, we need to wear the things we own, and often.

Lucy Siegle coined the idea of “30 wears” meaning that all items of clothing we own should be worn at least 30 times. (If it isn’t fit for purpose, or we don’t think we will get that much use out of it, then we probably shouldn’t buy it in the first place.)

There’s nothing like sticking to 3 outfits for 30 days to ensure you get 30 wears out of things!

Okay, so even with the skirt I didn’t actually get 30 wears in 30 days (probably more like 27!) but it felt good knowing that I was using what I had to the full potential.

3 Outfits for 30 Days: What I Didn’t Love About the Challenge

As much as I loved the challenge itself, there were a few things that I didn’t love, which mostly centred around the practical.

4. It was a little too limiting.

I’ve already said that I love wearing the same thing again and again, and I do – but sometimes the choice was a little bit restrictive.

On the really hot days it would have been great to wear shorts, but they weren’t on the list. Having a more sensible pair of trousers might have been… well, sensible.

I managed and it was fine. But a bit more choice – even just a couple of items – would make things easier when having to dress for particular occasions.

5. When you have only 3 outfits, laundry becomes challenging. 

With such a small number of outfits, laundry was a challenge.

I could dry clothes outside in a matter of hours. My biggest problem came because I needed something to wear whilst actually washing the laundry.

It wasn’t a problem with the skirt, but it was a problem with the tops.

On a couple of occasions I resorted to wrapping a scarf around me as a makeshift top whilst I did my laundry, because I didn’t want to cheat. I also wore the cardigan as a top (which I hadn’t thought of before, but worked very well).

But it would have been easier to have included a tee-shirt or another top.

Another other challenge came with running the washing machine. My entire wardrobe took up less than half of the washing machine (although there was still clothes for exercising, underwear and socks).

In order to not waste power and water by running it half-empty, I washed my clothes with bedding and towels.

A couple more outfits might have relieved the constant need to be doing the washing (and believe me, I wear things for as long as I can before laundering).

3 Outfits for 30 Days: Lessons That I Learned

I don’t really think I had any big A-HA moments; it was more reconfirming things I already knew or suspected to be true.

6. The more things that I can pair with other things, the better.

What I really liked about the items of clothing that I chose was that pretty much everything could be worn with everything else*.

(*Well, in my opinion they could. I have no idea about fashion and no sense of style, so you may disagree, but in my mind it all works!)

When I realised that both the cardigan and over-shirt could be worn as tops in their own right, I was thrilled! Options galore :)

One of the ideas behind a capsule wardrobe is staples that mix-and-match. Whilst I’ve always known this, realising how much difference it makes when everything goes with everything else has made me determined to ensure that future purchases don’t just go with one or two things… they go with (almost) everything.

Oh and whilst we’re talking about capsule wardrobes, you’ll notice that my wardrobe is not full of pastels or black or muted tones. I like colour, and I think it’s still possible to choose staples that are fun.

3. Quality, quality, quality (and natural fibres).

It was interesting to see the process of an item having 30 wears in such a short amount of time. I don’t launder my clothes after every wear, but with the small amount of items I wore it was noticeable how often they were going through the washing machine.

If I wore a shirt 3 times and then washed it, that’s still 10 washing machine cycles for 30 wears.

It made me realise how often in the past (long before this journey started) that I’d buy clothes based on {cough cough} aesthetics or price alone. Practicality was out the window.

Without realising, of course, that dresses made entirely of sequins are impossible to wash once, let alone 10 times; and tops that cost $2 from a fast fashion store aren’t designed to go through the washing machine and come out the same shape and not pilled and bobbled.

I learned my lessons with both of these things a long time ago.

But a reminder never hurts.

And I think it’s useful to not only ask the question “can I imagine myself wearing this item 30 times” but also the question “will this garment withstand at least 10 washing machine cycles, and probably more?”

Also, when it comes to having less, natural fibres makes a big difference. The red shirt I wore is polyester (purchased from the charity shop). Honestly, I feel like I’m wearing a plastic bag when I wear it, it breathes NOT AT ALL, and it needs washing after every wear.

By contrast, the blue shirt is made of Tencel, breathes beautifully, and can get away with a few wears before washing.

When your wardrobe is minimal, this matters. Yet more reasons to choose natural fibres over polyester.

8. Less is better.

And finally. For me, yes, less is better. When I (finally) reduced my wardrobe down to 40 things back in 2017 I still suspected I could still live with less.

I was right. More importantly, not only can I live with less, but I prefer it this way.

I don’t believe in prescribing numbers of things to own, and I definitely don’t think 3 outfits is a long-term solution for me, but challenging myself to live with less has definitely helped me realise the things I like to wear, the amount of choice I like to have, and the kinds of garments I’ll chose in the future.

And now I’d love to challenge you! You don’t have to pick 3 outfits, you could pick 5, or even 10. Choose a number that you know will test you without driving you crazy, and challenge yourself to wear only those things for 30 days.

You might love it. You might absolutely hate it. Whatever happens, you’ll learn a lot about yourself and your habits in the process. Are you in?

Next, I want to hear from you! Are you game to give this a go? How many outfits is your comfort zone? And how many would be a real challenge for you? Have you ever done a challenge like this before – and how did it go? Do you love the idea or hate the idea? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

3 Outfits for 30 Days: Experiments with Less Stuff from Treading My Own Path | Zero Waste + Plastic Free Living | Less waste, less stuff, sustainable living, sustainability, minimalism, minimalist, wardrobe minimalism, decluttering, capsule closet, capsule wardrobe, ethical fashion, sustainable fashion, eco living, eco fashion, wardrobe crisis. More at https://treadingmyownpath.com

19 Responses to 3 Outfits for 30 Days: Experimenting with Less Stuff (+ 8 Lessons Learned)

    • That’s a good question, Suzanne! I’m not really a separate “summer wardrobe” and “winter wardrobe” kind of person, as in, I don’t have two entire wardrobes, but there are a few things I own for the height of summer and the depths of winter. I’m not going to declutter them and then rebuy each time the seasons change.

      So taking into account all the seasons and weathers… my guess would be 20-25 as an ideal. But that would require a lot of careful thought and curation ;) I think 40 is fine, but it’s definitely a little more than I need.

      Somewhere between 20 and 35 is my guess!

      Do you have any thoughts about yours?

  1. The timing of this piece is great for me. I have racks and racks of clothes and probably wear no more than 20% —not sure how the math works out exactly as I have 4 New England seasons to contend with. I am going to experiment but with more than 3 outfits. Maybe 5? If I like the outcome I’d probably figure out a number for each season.

    • Hurrah, I’m so glad you’re going to give it a go Katherine! Honestly, whether you love it or it drives you nuts, you’ll learn a lot about the kinds of things you like to wear and your habits! My tips would be try to choose things that can go with other things and will also layer; and check your calendar to see what you’ve got on over the month so you don’t end up having an interview and a wedding with only jeans or something else that’s not entirely appropriate!

      Good luck and let me know you get on!

  2. Hi. I hand wash my clothes every day. Since the clothes gather only mostly dust and sweat, I soak them in left-over bath soap, or laundry soap when there is none, and after two hours, rince them three times and hang them outside to dry since there is always sun out here in the Philippines where I live. This way, I eliminate the use of electricity. I use my washing machine only when I have to laundry my curtains and bed sheets and table runners. But I don’t think I can live with three clothes in 30 days since it is too hot in the Philippines and I have to change quiet often because of the sweat. Hope this helps.

    • Hi Leti and thanks so much for sharing. I confess, I love my washing machine, it’s one of those things that I really value. When I was a student I had to take everything to the launderette, and when I’ve been travelling I’ve had to hand wash things and honestly, having a washing machine brings me a lot of joy! I’m not sure I’d like to give it up. So I am impressed at your commitment to handwashing. That is great!

  3. I’m currently a couple of weeks into your previous clothing survey with a marker tied around my clothing rail. Like you, I tend to wear my favourite clothes over and over again and I’m already seeing despite having 41 things (yep, I counted, I might not even wear twenty of them. Funny how my perception of my clothes wearing is shaping up to be quite different from the reality!

    • That’s definitely true for me too Stephanie about perceptions! I’ve really found that by being able to physically experience things (either with the scarf trick, or by wearing 3 outfits) I have a much better understanding of what I wear/don’t wear and what my habits are than if I try to “think” about it!

  4. Hi, I wear the same clothes over and over if I am at home, most are natural fibres. 2017 my husband and I travelled for 4 months but we had access to washing facilities and I wore 4 outfits in combination the whole time and it was such a relief. When we got home I continued to do this and have since taken a lot of clothes to the charity store. We are off again next week but not for as long and we are taking the small suitcases, so big win. The thing is no-one notices what you wear nor do they care.

  5. Last year I tried a similar exercise – managing with only six items of clothing during Lent (plus underwear, socks, exercise clothing and one pair of black boots). I chose black leggings, black cardigan, two tunic tops, one knee length dress and one calf length dress.

    I totally agree with you, so much easier to decide what to wear! Laundry was also difficult, I got round it by doing my laundry on the day I attended my exercise class and continued to wear those clothes until bedtime/washing was dry (this was during a Scottish winter so it was usually bedtime!).

    I deliberately didn’t tell anyone what I was doing to see if anyone noticed/commented. Only one friend said afterwards that she had noticed I was always wearing the same cardigan but otherwise not a peep from anyone.

    • Thanks for sharing Nancy, that is so great! I think dresses are great as they count as tops and bottoms and no need to worry about the top and bottom matching ;)

      I an’t actually remember now if I put my laundry on whilst exercising, I’m guessing sometimes yes but probably not as often as I could. That is a great idea!

      I don’t think people notice, and even if they do, so what?! Yeah I wore my cardigan again… there are worse things that can happen!

  6. I have been semi-forced into a similar challenge. I just had a baby (Congrats, me, yes, yes.) so much of my normal wardrobe of clothing -mostly the pants- doesn’t fit now and most of my tops are not breast feeding friendly. I refuse to buy new clothing just to fit for right now, because my shape is changing, so find myself wearing the same 2~3 dresses, leggings, skirt and a few tops over and over again. It’s really convenient, but I do miss having a few more options and really miss pants!

    • Hi Susi and yes, congrats you! I imagine having a baby would mean a lot of wardrobe changes, not only the things you mention but also things that aren’t pull-able and chewable and don’t show up stains! I wonder by the time you can wear other things you’ll still appreciate the convenience or you’ll be desperate for something different – or somewhere in the middle. See it as a great experiments on yourself! ;)

  7. I’m in! I was only thinking yesterday that I’d like to do an outfit challenge. I’ve never done one before and I really want to know how many outfits I actually need.

    I’ve gone through my clothes and made a list of my outfit choices. As it’s Autumn now and getting colder in our area (Central West NSW), I think I can do with 7 outfits comfortably. From past experience, I know that if I limited myself to 3 outfits like you did, my mental health would suffer as I find having too few clothes as depressing as having too many is overwhelming.

  8. Hi, great post. Your three outfits idea is like living out of a virtual backpack. When I hiked Te Araroa the long trail in NZ I had 2 choices.. daytime shorts and top, and nighttime thermals and warm down jacket…FYI my pj shorts and top were my over the thermals town wear. For 3 months I was contented and comfortable. But yes a bit sick of the colour scheme I had chosen.
    Laundry day was solved with standing around sweating in my raincoat and over trou. Lol
    Cheers Fiona

  9. The idea of drying outside, and it only taking a couple of hours – sounds lovely (from a very overcast Britain) – if i am very very lucky, maybe a day. Thank you for adding about having separate exercise clothing, people often leave this out of equations, and i just don’t know how it would be possible otherwise…

  10. Another great post. I really like how you talk about the issues with laundry as this is something i had thought about. I’m slowly decreasing what’s in my wardrobe but only as I find places to rehome the items. We’re drowning in pre-owned clothes in Ireland and I don’t want to add to that problem.

  11. Kia Ora Lindsay, really enjoyed reading this and the responses that followed. One of my concerns would be “what would others think?” So thanks for the sharing there. Funnily enough I already often wear the same outfit over consecutive days and love it, for all the reasons you’ve spoken about. Through the next month I’ll endeavour to do the marker on the clothes rail and then for Plastic Free July I’ll try 5outfits for the month Thanks for inspiring me

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