Living with a minimal wardrobe (and loving it)

Living with a minimal wardrobe (and loving it)

Most of us wear 20 percent of the clothing we own, 80 percent of the time. There’s no point in holding on to something that you just sort-of, kinda like. We chose to have 20% wardrobes. Why have more? Here's how I reduced my wardrobe and absolutely LOVE IT!

I have two pairs of pants.

One black, one dark blue. When one gets dirty, I throw it in the wash and wear the other. If they both get dirty, I can pull out one of my two skirts, or wear a pair of pajama pants around the house until the load of laundry is finished.

A few years ago, that would have been incomprehensible. Who has only two pairs of pants? And why would you even want to?

When I was younger, and especially back when we couldn’t afford to buy much at all, I held on to clothing tightly. I wanted to have more options, more outfits. For whatever reason, more seemed better than less. Like it would make up for not liking much of what I had, or wishing for something different.

And so my wardrobe, though never huge by any means, was larger than it needed to be… with shirts I sort of liked, and pants that mostly fit, and colors I looked all right in, and skirts that I would wear once in a while.

My buying decisions came down to price, and the temporary thrill of having something new. Rather than waiting for something just the right style and fit (even if it meant I ultimately had less in my closet), I bought things because they were a “good deal”.

But most of the time, they weren’t.

Last year, while traveling and living out of backpacks, I was forced to pare down my wardrobe like never before.

Oh sure, I’ve decluttered, and tried to clear out my closet every year or two. It would help a little, but honestly, it never made enough of a difference.

So you can imagine the shock it was to go from a semi-full closet, to this:


My entire wardrobe amounted to: 1 pair of jeans, 1 pair of zip-leg travel pants/Bermuda shorts, 1 pair of Capris, 1 skirt, 1 dress, 2 tank tops for layering, 4 short sleeved shirts, 2 long sleeved shirts, 1 3/4 length shirt, 1 warm yoga jacket, 1 rain jacket, 1 pair of flip fops, and 1 paid of sturdy sport sandals. A couple scarves, 4 pairs of underwear, 2 pairs of socks, 1 bathing suit and one nightgown rounded it out.

Getting dressed in the mornings became a cinch because it entailed choosing clothing that was a) appropriate for the weather and b) clean. That didn’t leave much room for picking and choosing. Many days, my outfit was determined for me, like it or not.

Which sounds bad.

Except it wasn’t.

To be real, I definitely had days where I was sick of my meager wardrobe, eager for something fresh and pretty to wear. Particularly when we were in cities, like Buenos Aires or Paris, where I gazed a bit longingly at the beautiful women around me, so classy and feminine and confident with their style. It was hard that my slim pickings were primarily practical travel clothes. If you’re going to wear things repeatedly, it helps if they’re cute.

At the same time, it was so freeing.

I couldn’t get caught up in deliberating over this outfit or that sweater or which pair of pants looked better. It was all basically mix and match, and getting dressed became an effortless part of my morning routine.

I couldn’t hoard or build up my wardrobe, because when sitting on my backpack and having my husband help me yank that zipper shut failed to do the trick, it was time to purge. And so I did, multiple times throughout the year. If something was looking ratty, wasn’t serving the purposes of where we were or the weather that we were in (unless it was a high quality piece worth holding on to), I discarded as necessary.

I couldn’t make what I wore a bigger deal than it needed to be.

Since coming back home, my husband and I have made a deal with each other. To buy less clothes, but higher quality. And the cardinal rule… if we don’t love it, we don’t buy it.

I’ve written before that:

They say that most of us wear 20 percent of the clothing we own, 80 percent of the time. Which means, there’s no point in holding on to something that you just sort-of, kinda like.

I know it’s tempting when you feel you don’t have enough to wear, but the reality is that if you don’t feel good in it, you won’t wear it anyway.

It’s true. So we’ve decided we’d rather just have 20% wardrobes. Why have more?

If less is enough, why have more?

When we first got back, all our previous clothes had been packed away, and were buried in our storage. We had no choice but to go shopping for a few new duds to tide us over until we could move in to a house and unpack.

Between what I bought, and then what I unpacked a couple months later, I’ve already realized that I have more than I want. Well, except for pants. I think I’ll stick with two.

But shirts and sweaters, not so much. I feel like I have twice as many as I want (maybe 30 items in total, for both summer and winter), so I’m giving them each a chance, wearing them for a day, then I determine if they get hung up again, or added to the “give” pile. It’s growing quickly, and that makes me happy, as I pare back down to what feels like a manageable, minimal wardrobe once again.

Soon, I’ll be down to what I wear on a regular basis, and what I feel best in. I want to be able to wake up in the morning and make simple choices out of a handful of favorites.

I’m certainly not the only one that enjoys the benefits of a half-empty closet. Tsh shared the other day on Facebook how light she felt after cleaning out her closet. Crystal has shared her her own minimalist wardrobe and tips for having one yourself.

What about you? Is less more for you when it comes to clothes? Or would you like it to be?

Top image credit Al Muya

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  1. I have lived with a “capsule wardrobe”…to give a minimal wardrobes it’s posh name…for decades. I mostly wear red or black, a smattering of grey so all are interchangeable. You don’t need six pairs of everything…except knickers!

  2. I love having a minimal wardrobe! The problem is, I’m stilling hanging on to to some “meh” pieces because it takes time to save up for better-quality versions. I think it’ll be worth it in the long run, though–to have a few pieces that look great and will last well.

    1. I totally get that. You still need to have clothes in the process, right? It makes sense to hang on to some things just so you have something to wear, and then in time, you’ll gradually replace those with items you love. I am still doing that with just a couple of my summer shirts, too. All in good time. 🙂

  3. how do you deal with the issue of needing “work clothes” too?
    if I only had one set of clothes and they were good I would end up with nothing nice to wear. i have goats to milk and wood to help cut up, and lots of garden and generally dirty work… would I have good and work clothes but just a few of each?

    1. Aprons! Not the cutesy ones but the real workhorse type. It’s what women used to do all the time! 🙂

      1. that is so funny, I just made myself an apron today…it’s kinda a “cutesy” one , but also should be very useful, I was tired of getting holes in all my shirts at the belly button from opening jars with my shirt…lol…I my need to make a “heavy duty” apron too 🙂 thanks for the encouragement n good ideas!

      1. I hear ya, that sounds about how I would be…I really want to limit my clothes but I hate to get rid of something that isn’t wore out and then need it doen the road ehen something I have dies on me. could I just store some of my stuff as a back up or would that defeat the purpose of the clothing purge?

  4. Loved the post! I also have a minimal wardrobe- one pair of jeans, seven skirts and seven tops( one is a “fancy ” outfit for when needed). One sweater, 3 pairs of shoes- my boots for around the farm, sneakers and sandals for everyday. I live where it snows so I also have a coat and jacket. Love the freedom!

  5. I’m hanging in to clothing for when I lose my last 10 postpartum pounds. I’ve tried not to purchase anything larger, so I feel like nothing fits well… which makes me want to shop for better-fitting pieces. This Summer I’m losing that weight so that I can pare down! I did all of my laundry yesterday and since it’s not usually all clean at once I was shocked by how much I have. *sigh*

  6. Though I know I’ll never be quite that minimalist — I sort of love having different styles to suit different moods — I do long for the day when I can purge more thoroughly. I’ve had four babies in the last five years, gaining up to 65 pounds each for the last two. Even though my closet and drawers are overflowing, it seems like I only ever have 3-4 things that fit in any given week. I hang on to things I don’t love (some I barely even like!) because there might be a week when nothing else fits! Some day the fluctuation will end . . .

  7. I only have 3 pairs of pants myself and a couple dresses. But shirts….I have a ton of. A color change or a style change can make you feel perky when your down. i love your idea of being minimal, but to pare it down to 5 shirts or so. Not this girl. With Walmart, Kmart, Target and some of the $5.99 clothing stores around me I can have 15 shirts for almost nothing. I have purged my closet completely of all cloth that does not fit except for my wedding dress and 1 other dressy dress that is only 1 size too small (hoping to fit into it someday). I agree that we need to get rid of clothing we do not wear! When I did that last year it was an amazing feeling to get rid of all those clothes and shoes that I did not wear. i had so much more room in my closet! Anyway, good article! Enjoyed reading it!

    1. I can understand wanting to have less bottoms, but lots of tops to mix and match with. I don’t have only 5 shirts, that was just for the traveling, and out of necessity for that one year. Now I have more like 15-20 including sweaters.

  8. I would SO love to do this… but how?! With each pregnancy I fluctuated sizes for a year or two after, and then some. The size/seasonal wardrobe, combined with Sunday Church-wear and the rest of the time clothing… and an extremely cluttery brain that induces me to further chaos, how do I figure on what I need – when we have four differing seasons and sizes that range from 12-18?!

    1. I agree it’s very hard to pare down your clothes between pregnancy, nursing, and regular sizes.

  9. I definitely agree with the statement that we wear about 20% of our wardrobe 80% of the time…well sounds about right for me anyway, however I do not know if I would be ready to part with the other 80% :S The yearly purge of admitting to myself that ‘although I have held onto this item for dear life in hopes that I may one day squeeze back into it but will never likely wear it again’ is very freeing after the devastation subsides. For now though, I applaud you on your practicality and simplicity 🙂

  10. So funny you wrote this because I believe we have too many clothes and just stuff! We are in the process of purging our house which is no easy feat and the next big project is clothes. We also believe that less is more and quality over quantity of classic, key pieces and we should be good! Plus I would have way less laundry to do and that makes me happy!!

  11. I like the idea of a minimal wardrobe, but I don’t think I could do it. Church clothes, office clothes, outdoor work clothes, date night/wedding/funeral dress clothes, school clothes…everything has a different dress code. Add to that fluctuating weight, the tendency to get spit up on right as I’m leaving for work, and ever changing weather…I’ll never have a very minimal wardrobe

  12. I so enjoy your articles and pictures you post with them. 🙂 I have been purging for a few months now since we painted our kids rooms and replaced the carpet (after 7 years and 3 dogs). Before we put their rooms back together we decided (me really) they should really purge because there was so much stuff they didn’t play with or use. My daughter still has quite a bit but it is more manageable. As she is growing out of her hand me downs I am not replacing anything (because 20 shirts is too much in my opinion). As for me I have gained weight so the tanks I bought last year don’t fit right now. I want to hold onto them though as I plan to get the weight back off. My jeans are uncomfortable so I wear my active wear type pants for now. I want to buy a pair of jeans that fit but at the same time I know if I can get 10 lbs off the ones I have will fit fine. Suggestions? Thank you

  13. This is perfect timing as I’m trying to figure out how to pack our family of 4 for a 3-month stay in Montana (with little closet room). I’ve been thinking it’s a great time to just simplify anyways (especially with Tsh’s article too). Thanks!

  14. Nice post! I love having a minimal wardrobe. I just went from owning two shirts to four and I feel so decadent! Ha! Right now I have: 1 jeans, 1 linen pants, 1 pj/yoga pant, 1 tank top, 3 t-shirts, 1 long/sleeve shirt, 1 skirt, 1 dress, 1 shorts, 1 sweater, 1 jacket, 2 bras, 2 socks, 2 underwear, 1 scarf and 4 shoes. Took years to take the leap and have so much less. I spent two months with only two shirts and three weeks with only one shirt. It was pretty awesome and now I know I *can*. But I decided to settle on four, it feels right.

  15. Very recently, my family sold off almost everything we owned in our 2,500+ sqft house and left with only what we could fit in a truck and a car. My husband and I now have a collective wardrobe that now fits into one carry one bag. ONE. I only held onto the pieces that I absolutely, positively loved. It’s been freeing in some sense and it made me realize how much we were holding onto unnecessarily.

  16. I am trying to pare down my closet as well. My problem is that our worship team color coordinates on Sundays, so I have to have skirt in black, brown, navy, khaki and two shades of grey, plus whatever the color is for that service, and a blazer to match if we are in suit season. What I try to do is buy clothing that I will wear during the week as well, with a jean skirt or something. I would be ok with tees and flowing skirts to mix and match, but dressy is what I have to work with!

  17. Such a wonderful read. I recently had a major de-clutter in my home & the clothing was big on my list as with 3 little ones the amount of clothing we had was crazy. I’m a stay at home mum & have no need for a big wardrobe & the sheer volume of clothing was stressing me, making so much more work washing, putting it away etc. I looked at what I loved to wear & only kept those items & the kids clothing was cut down to 5 sets each. It has been a month since the big cull & so far working well & I wash every 3 days. I love that others mentioned aprons, I wear one over my clothes most days, it keeps them cleaner & less washing. I have 1 pair of jeans, 1 pair black going out pants, 2 maxi skirts, 5 long sleeve tops, 2 tunics, 2 summer tops & 2 summer dresses & 3 cardigans. I did keep 6 pairs of underwear. The kids clothing is items that can be layered so the girls dresses that I can pop a long sleeve top under & cardigan over the top on colder days but in summer they just wear the dress on it own & my son 5 long pants, 3 shorts, 3 T shirts 5 long sleeve tops & a few knitted vests & jumpers

  18. Loved this post and completely agree. I realised that most of my wardrobe was full of ‘OK’ clothes that I neither loved nor enjoyed wearing nor looked great in, but held onto because it wasn’t rubbish enough to throw away. Now I’m learning to buy and use only that which feels truly great.

  19. Great article! And I totally agree. When I went on the World Race (11 months in 11 countries) doing mission work, I also literally lived out of a backpack. We mostly worked in really poor areas, and lots of dirt, so “dressing up” was rare anyway, but it was so much easier. Since being home, all the stuff, clothes, even kitchen appliances seem to bog me down! Yet, its hard to get rid of things, because of all the false messages society has ingrained into us. Thank you for trying to change that mentality!

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