As a former shopaholic and bargain-bin junkie, I’ve been reflecting on my five-year journey towards a more minimalist lifestyle. I haven’t shopped retail in three years. I only own second-hand clothes. And I believe my life is fuller and richer because of it.
Based on the changes I’ve made, I’ve been exploring ways to help consumers pare down their lives — starting with their closets. I offer styling sessions, closet clean-outs and lifestyle makeovers for women in the Boston area. But being limited to one geographical area, I wanted to offer a few tips for those of you who aren’t Boston.
1.) If you haven’t worn it in a year get it out of your closet.
Most of us are saving the jeans we haven’t worn since college and a pile of stained t-shirts (you know, for craft night). There is a psychological synapse in our brain that makes us latch onto material things because of nostalgia, memory association or the scarcity mentality. We worry that someday we may actually need that shirt with the deodorant stains.
My journey into minimalism has taught me the golden rule of material happiness: if you don’t wear it, then get it out of your closet. Sell consignment. Use as kitchen rags. “Upcycle” into a piece of clothing that you will wear. Make a t-shirt blanket. Whatever you do, don’t let unworn clothes rot in the back of your closet. Physical clutter often translates into mental clutter.
2.) Make your wardrobe functional — not seasonal.
Many women tackle a full closet overhaul as soon as the seasons change. All of the summer clothes go into the attic and all of the winter clothes come out to play. But depending on where you live, a seasonal closet isn’t always the best way to optimize your wardrobe. Summer skirts can be worn with a pair of tights, sweaters can be worn over tank tops, cardigans can be worn over lightweight blouses.
All of my clothes live in one closet and three drawers. T-shirts live happily next to wool leggings and summer dresses hang happily next to down-vests. I don’t have an overflow of excess clothing sitting in the attic or basement anymore. This allows me to access a much more functional closet with clothes that I know I’ll wear.
3.) Mix and match the unexpected.
Who said black and navy don’t go together? Yes, you can mix patterns and stripes. Throw on the pearl necklace with the denim shirt, rock the tulle skirt with ankle boots, put on your jean jacket with pinstripe pants. Combine the unexpected and you’ll have endless options and need only half the size of your wardrobe. The “rule”: if you’re mixing patterns make sure the color scheme doesn’t clash; if you’re mixing colors make sure the patterns are consistent.
4.) Shop to fill holes, not to fill a void.
Retail therapy is the kryptonite of aspiring minimalists. And who can blame them? Pretty, new things make us feel good, while shopping acts as a way to connect with friends or debrief after a long week.
But before you wreck hanger havoc, peruse your closet for holes. Is there a suede jacket in there dying for a black pencil skirt? Would a white button-up prompt you to wear the crew-neck sweater with the tags still on it? Figure out the pieces of your wardrobe that are missing. Oftentimes, they’re the “connector” pieces that would prompt you to wear some of the pieces in your closet that never get worn.
Make a list and the next time you go shopping, look for those specific items instead of another black dress you don’t need.
5.) Accessorize at the thrift store.
I love basics. I love color schemes like black, tan, denim and grey that only need a pop of color to transform into a totally different look. Colorful scarves, bright jewelry, funky sunglasses or a fun hat are all you need to keep your closet small and tidy but your wardrobe fresh and new.
Best of all, thrift stores like Buffalo Exchange and Goodwill are overflowing with accessories for a third of the price of new. You can feel good about keeping clothes out of the landfill and giving them a new life in your wardrobe.
Have something to add? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Live in Boston and want to schedule a styling session or closet clean-out? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An update: The Kickstarter project that I wrote about last week was successfully funded on Monday, November 11. Andrew Morgan and his team raised $76,546 to create The True Cost documentary about the fast fashion industry. I know several of you who donated after reading my post, so thank you very much for your support of this hugely important film.