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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!

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!

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!