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The Non-Fashionista’s Guide to Beginning a Capsule Wardrobe

I never thought I’d be writing a guide to beginning a capsule wardrobe. Any longtime readers of this blog will know that I struggled for years to declutter my wardrobe. I fell for every excuse in the book. Yet with determination and time (and a lot of encouragement from you all!) I have decluttered from a few hundred items to around 40 today.

Now I’m ready for the next stage: beginning a capsule wardrobe.

What is a Capsule Wardrobe Anyway? And Why Would I Want One?

The term “capsule wardrobe” was coined in the 1970s. It is defined as a small collection of staple pieces that don’t go out of fashion –maybe 30 items or fewer, including shoes and possibly accessories. These can be supplemented with a couple of seasonal items.

Bonus for people like me – if it was never in fashion in the first place, then it can’t go out of fashion either! Hurrah!

The benefits? Having a streamlined wardrobe of pieces that you love, wear often and are interchangeable with other pieces makes life simpler. There’s less choice and less stress, it takes up less space and it means less waste.

Owning clothes we don’t wear is a waste of time, resources and money. We waste time buying them, and then maintaining them, before ultimately getting rid of them. It also brings about a huge amount of guilt for most of us.

Why would we want to put ourselves through that?

If you’ve ever stood looking at your full-to-bursting wardrobe yet couldn’t find a single thing to wear, you might benefit from embracing a capsule wardrobe.

The Non-Fashionista’s Guide to Beginning a Capsule Wardrobe (Part 1)

You’ll notice that I say “beginning”. I am no master of the capsule wardrobe (yet!) but I wanted to share what I’ve learned so far. I have a lot to share, so I’ve divided this into two parts.

In this (Part 1) I want to debunk some myths, outline the basics and get you thinking about your own wardrobe.

In Part 2 (next week) I’ll share my own wardrobe – yes with pictures! – and explain what is working, what (and how) I hope to improve, and how I’ve still managed to incorporate patterns and colours into my wardrobe. (Important point: I do not promise to offer any fashion advice or style tips! But if you don’t want a wardrobe made up entirely of grey, you might find it helpful.)

Myths About Capsule Wardrobes

Myth 1: A capsule wardrobe should be made up of neutrals.

Not true! If you’re looking for pieces that go with lots of other pieces, neutrals can do that. But so can colours, and patterns. It’s all about understanding what goes with what.

There’s no reason why bright tops can’t go with neutral bottoms, or patterned trousers with plain tops. Combining patterns works too, and if you personally like the combo, then it is a win. There’s definitely no reason not to embrace bright or patterned dresses!

Don’t feel that you need to give up your personal sense of style to embrace capsule wardrobe living. You don’t.

Myth 2: Capsule Wardrobes are all about shopping.

Capsule wardrobes are about finding staples, not about having a small amount of clothes that are rotated (usually donated or landfilled in order to buy more) every couple of months. It is perfectly possible to develop a capsule wardrobe and not need to buy any new stuff.

I’m all about reducing waste. I wouldn’t be advocating capsule wardrobes if I thought they weren’t part of this.

Last year, I only purchased a single item of clothing. One piece for 365 days. By not buying anything new, I was able to really drill down to what I liked to wear and what was practical. When my clothes began wearing out at the start of this year, I was absolutely clear what I needed to make my wardrobe more functional.

Myth 3: Capsule wardrobes are only for fashionistas.

(Rolls on the floor laughing) I do not profess to have any sense of style. I do not want to spend time thinking about piecing outfits together. I have wasted far too much of my life already trying to squeeze into items that didn’t fit, resenting my poor choice, feeling guilty about my overflowing wardrobe and bemoaning having nothing to wear.

Capsule wardrobes are for anyone who wants a practical, functional, no tears approach to getting dressed in the morning.

Stylishness = optional.

Tips for Beginning a Capsule Wardrobe

#1: Figure out what you actually wear.

What you like and what you actually wear are two different things. Sometimes we don’t actually wear the things we like. That’s usually because we like the idea of them, but they are not actually comfortable, or possibly don’t fit well.

Our fantasy self has completely different wardrobe ideas to our actual self. If it isn’t going to be worn, there is no point owning it.

#2: Play the slow game.

No need to rush to the shops! Take your time to decide the kinds if things you like, and what you actually need.

Think about the weather. Think about the colours and fabrics that you enjoy wearing. Think about wearing out what you already have, and replacing it with something better next time.

The longer you take, the better the final result will be.

#3: Start to think about ‘what goes with what’ with the things you already own.

Sometimes things are difficult to pair with anything, and we don’t wear them. But other times, it’s just that we don’t have anything suitable.

If there’s an item that you love but you don’t wear because you’re missing a piece to make it work, think about adding that to your wardrobe. Be careful though, of having too many items that only go with one other thing.

The more we own that goes with multiple other pieces, the easier it is to get dressed, the less items we need, the more use everything will get, and the better it will be.

#4: Have a List Ready Before You Go Shopping.

Capsule wardrobes are all about being clear what we need. Opportunistic browsing doesn’t fit in well with that. Rather than just going shopping, have an idea of what it is you’re looking for before you hit the stores. It can be super specific (a denim pencil skirt with pockets) or much more fluid (summery tops).

If you’re looking for something to go with other things, make a list of them, or take photos on your phone. Better still, wear them when you head out so you can see what works.

#5: Seriously Consider Shopping Second-Hand.

The fashion industry is a huge burden on the environment. The average Australian buys 27 kg of new clothing and textiles per year (the second-highest in the world after the US), and only 15% of donated clothing is actually re-sold by charity shops.

By choosing second-hand we can reduce resource consumption and our own environmental impact. Choosing second-hand is also a cheaper way to explore our own preferences and styles, and second-hand items rarely bring the same attachment as new ones.

Whilst I love the idea of supporting sustainable fashion businesses, I think for those starting out, second-hand is a better option. Once you’re clear about exactly what staple pieces you need, that is the time to start exploring ethical brands. These are often investment pieces, and well worth the money so long as you’ve done the research first.

Ethical, sustainable clothing that we just don’t wear misses the point.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have a capsule wardrobe? Are there any tips you’d like to add? What are your staples? What have you decided isn’t worth the money spent? How has your capsule wardrobe changed over time? Or are you right at the beginning of the journey? If so, what have been your successes to date? And your struggles? Please share your thoughts below!

Stop Chasing and Start Living

From an early age we are taught that bigger is better, that more is better. Maybe we aren’t taught it directly, but all the advertisements we see show us that the more we have, the happier we’ll be. The more we earn, the more respected (and powerful) we’ll be. The better we dress (and the more we spend on face cream), the more beautiful we’ll be. The more holidays we take, the more relaxed we’ll be. If we work hard, we’ll be able to accumulate all this stuff, we can live happily ever after in a nice house and afford to retire comfortably and live in the countryside.

I used to believe this too. I had no reason not to. It seemed to make sense. A big house must be far better than a small one. Six bedrooms and space for a pony must be better than two bedrooms and just enough space to swing a cat. A job where you earn a heap of money must be far better than a job which pays only an average salary. A hundred pairs of shoes must be better than ten pairs of shoes. Several holidays a year must be better than one. Surely?

Like many, I graduated from university, went travelling, came home and got a full-time job. That’s what you do, right? I was at the bottom of the corporate ladder, but I was determined to climb it, to get that great job with the fat paycheque and buy all that stuff that was going to make me happy.

Climbing the ladder means working hard. I had to jump through hoops and put my hand up for “projects” that increased my workload but reflected well on me, and were noticed by management. I’d work extra hours, and take work home to try to get ahead. Slowly I began to climb. I got a few successive small promotions, with bigger teams, larger budgets, more pressure…and further to fall.

But I wasn’t enjoying my job. My passions in life did not match the work I was doing, and it was getting harder and harder to put extra effort into something that I had no passion for. I was frustrated, and miserable.

I started questioning what I’d been led to believe. Was more really better? I wasn’t earning big bucks, but I was earning the national average, so I could afford to pay my bills, go on holiday and still save a little. It was enough. I doubted I’d ever reach the heady heights of the luxury I saw on the billboards.

It seemed like aspiring to a life like that could only ever bring disappointment. Even if I worked harder and got closer, would relentless pursuit of promotions and payrises really bring extra happiness?

Slowly, another idea began to grow in my mind. What if, rather than working towards having more and then being happy, I learned to be happy with what I already had? What if, rather than trying to earn more money, I found ways to spend less?

If I am happy with myself and my situation, and accepting of who I am, I reasoned, even though I’m not perfect, then I don’t need to chase the external rewards I’ve been told will make me happy. I don’t need them. Who I am now is all I ever have.

That’s not to say I don’t (or I shouldn’t) aspire to change or grow or be more, and chase my dreams.

It just means I shouldn’t depend on this for my happiness.

What makes me happy is spending time with friends and family, being in nature, gardening, cooking and good food. Learning new skills. Seeing new places and experiencing new things. Being connected to my community. Contributing to society, and having a positive impact.

I’m not alone: research shows the three main things that make people happy are close relationships, a pastime they love and helping others.

What helps with this is having time. I don’t want to work more hours, I want to work less. I don’t want to spend more time cleaning a bigger house and shopping for stuff to fill the extra rooms. I don’t want to be too busy working (or too tired after working) to miss living life right now.

I stopped chasing. I stopped thinking about work as a career and started thinking of it as a job; something that paid the bills. I reduced my hours. Colleagues thought I was unusual: after all, I wasn’t semi-retired and I didn’t have children, the two socially acceptable reasons to work part-time hours, but it didn’t matter to me what they thought.

I spent more free time growing my own food, and doing the things that brought me joy. Interestingly, I found that with less time spent at work, I enjoyed my job more. I also felt less inclined to shop and “treat” myself – something I hadn’t consciously noticed I was doing in the past.

I owned (with a mortgage) a flat in the UK, which I sold when we moved to Australia. My husband and I have been renting for the past four years. I laugh when people say that renting is money down the drain, or a waste – actually it’s a great deal because you get somewhere to live in exchange for your money. There are plenty of things that I consider a waste of money, and renting is definitely not one of them.

We’ve been able to live in a suburb we couldn’t afford to buy in and live car-free with excellent access to everything at our doorstep. Now we plan to buy a flat, because we want to move to a new community and the project is something we believe in. We didn’t think about re-sale factors, or whether it was a bargain or over-priced when we bought it because we aren’t buying it to sell. We are buying it to live in. Maybe we’ll never need (or want) to move again.

We don’t need more. We need enough. Learning to accept what we have and being able to find pleasure in the simple things is something we can all do. Chase dreams, but don’t chase more in the pursuit of happiness. You might never get there.

Sold the Toaster, bought…an iPad?!

Inspired by Tiny, the movie I saw a couple of weeks ago, and reinvigorated to declutter, I’ve been listing things on Gumtree this week and I’ve had some success. People want to buy my old stuff!

I’ve talked before about why I think selling stuff can be better than donating it to the charity shop. There’s no guarantee the charity shop will want it, and with electrical goods, not all places will accept them as they need to be tested. If you can find a new owner yourself, that is the best outcome from a waste point of view. If you give something away for free, it’s harder for people to say no, even if they don’t actually want it – they see a bargain!

Toaster

We put the toaster in a cupboard six months ago as a test to see if we really need it. After all, we have a grill, and we had a small kitchen with limited bench space. Now we’ve moved, we have even less bench space.

BREAKING NEWS! The grill will make toast just as acceptably as a toaster! Who’d have thought it?!

We don’t eat bread very often, and when we do, the grill is perfectly adequate for our needs. I’m the kind of person who stands over the toaster, impatiently popping it up to see if the toast is ready, so having to watch over the grill isn’t a problem. It’s not like bread takes a long time to toast!

Besides the toaster, we’ve had $2 here and $3 there, and amused but happy people removing clutter from our house this week. The toaster lady was looking for a toaster for her workplace, and thought to check Gumtree before buying a rubbishy cheap one from the store. We sold our dustbuster vacuum (something my boyfriend has owned for years) which was fine for floorboards, but completely impractical for our carpeted flat. The guy who bought it had just purchased a cheap vacuum for $40. The first time he used it, it died (taking planned obsolescence to the extreme?!). So he checked on Gumtree, saw we lived round the corner and gave us $5 for ours. He was blown away by the fact he could buy a vacuum for $5! An Electrolux, no less! We were happy to be rid of it, but I also hope that these transactions inspire people to look on Gumtree or eBay for what is available second-hand before buying something new.

Which brings me to my next confession…

We’ve bought an iPad.

ipad

I would love to say we don’t need one, but after much debate (probably a year’s worth!) we gave in and decided to get a tablet. We only have one laptop and no TV, and my boyfriend likes to watch DVDs on the laptop. I like to use it for all my blogging, research and other projects. Rivalry!

My phone is so completely useless it barely does anything other than make calls, and I thought a tablet might be a practical alternative. Laptops really aren’t that portable, are they?

I looked at all the second hand sites, but as I was buying something that expensive (second-hand ones sell for almost as much as new ones) I wanted the guarantee it wasn’t stolen or faulty.

I actually found a compromise via the Apple Store. They sell refurbished products (my sister bought a refurbished computer from them a while back and it’s been perfect). A refurbished product is basically a pre-owned product that has been returned to the store and repaired for reselling. Buying from Apple means it still comes with a guarantee. I’d seen other stores that offer this too, but customer comments told me that replacement screens were often cheap knockoffs, and not very good, and the guarantees are much less.

I think my boyfriend was expecting a beaten-up old thing to arrive in a bashed-up cardboard box. But no, it arrived looking just like new. It even had the unhelpful plastic cover wrapped around it!

Sad face : (

Stupid plastic protective iPad Cover

Despite the plastic cover and my guilt over questionable ethics (you can read an article I wrote about ethical electronics here), I have to say, I’m actually blown away by how clever, fast and useful the tablet is proving to be! It’s much easier to read from than a laptop, it’s better for looking things up, and it means I can finally get round to learning how Twitter works! (If you’re on Twitter, follow me at @TreadMyOwnPath, and feel free to give me tips on how it all works – I’m a newbie!)

So out with the old, and in with the new. Overall we still have less than we started with, and the iPad is something we actually use, so I feel like we’re still heading in the right direction. Plus, I sold the toaster using the iPad! That’s some consolation, surely?!

What do you think? Am I just kidding myself ?! How do you feel about splashing out on new technology? More importantly, could you get rid of your toaster?!

PS Whilst the decluttering is going well, I still haven’t tackled the wardrobe. I’m putting off, I mean, putting it back to next week.  : /