The Minimalist’s Wardrobe

What exactly is a minimalist? Based on what I see on the various Facebook pages I follow, this is a highly contentious question.

I know what I think it would look like. I also know that it means different things to different people. There so many schools of thought on the issue: there are the aesthetes–the people who live monastically with hardly any furniture at all and seem to be martyrs to the cause of minimalism. There are the functional minimalists–keeping their belongings to a strict minimum that fits within a certain number or space.

I am a petticoat minimalist: I invented this term to mean that I can have as many pretty, fluffy, delicate things that can fit in my closet, as long as I actively wear them all. This might mean wearing a blue chiffon party dress alone at home while I drink tea, but at least I will have worn it.

The Purges

I cannot count the number of times in my life I have done a purge of my closet. When I was shopping actively and didn’t have to contend with space issues, I probably had four or five times the amount of clothes I currently own.

I worked at Express one year in college and I spent nearly every penny I made on clothes from the store. I quit after one traumatic experience I had while working there, and purged all of my purchases soon thereafter. This was not about the clothes. This was how I dealt with the trauma.

It must have worked as a healing mechanism, because about two years later I regretted that purge as I searched in vain for a charcoal gray v-neck t-shirt I was sure I still had…only to remember that I had donated it along with the rest.

I remember years and years ago a little Cathy comic strip. Cathy was debating getting a new hairstyle. The idea was “when a grown woman feels it necessary to do something with her hair, it is because she needs to gain control over some area of her life.” She then contemplated a few out-of-control areas of her life, then pointed to a new hairstyle and said, “that one will do.”

I think my wardrobe has often filled in that need for me: when I need to gain control over some area of my life, my wardrobe is an easy substitute. It is far easier to throw out clothes than to deal with relationship issues. It is way way way less damaging to purge shoes than to confront dysfunctional friendships.

I have never purged down to nothing. Never down to only thirty-three items, like one minimalist closet guru recommends. Never down to a ten-item wardrobe, as another prescribes.

I have purged for many different reasons: moth infestation, emotional health, size-based. Very rarely have I purged an item from my closet because it is worn out–and even then, especially then–I will find a way to recycle it into a rag. If I managed to wear it out, it is because I had some mega-positive feelings about that piece.

I have forged my own definition of minimalism based on my lifestyle, but it is influenced by ideas I have picked up from elsewhere. Here is a little bibliography of my research into Minimalist Closet Theory 101.

Method 1: The Uniform

The adherents to this method of minimalism are the aesthetes. They have a limited palette, a limited selection. Take, for example, Steve Jobs iconic looks, Mark Zuckerberg’s gray t-shirts and hoodies or Elizabeth Holmes black turtlenecks.

I could never imagine myself deleting my entire wardrobe and starting over with only five of the exact same thing. However…

You are thinking, she is going however us on this point? Knowing what we do about Lily Fields, there is zero chance that she likes this method.

Au contraire! I have managed to glean a tiny bit of wisdom from the uniform method: when I find a style and fit that I like, I am not embarrassed to make it the centerpiece of anything and everything I own.

Case in point: The wrap. I like me a wrap sweater. I like me a wrap dress. I like it because it is adjustable around my bloaty midsection and can still look flattering. Here:

Method 2: The Ten-Item Wardrobe

This neat little TED talk by Jennifer L. Scott discusses her journey from clotheshorse to Mme Chic. She does a fantastic job on her website of documenting how she actually lives like this.

The essential of this method is that each season she has ten pieces in her wardrobe that she mixes and matches (basics don’t count in this number).

This method is great. I simply have too many clothes to pick just ten, and I am not willing to purge down to that number. Knowing that this number is floating out there, however, means that this could be aspirational as my current wardrobe ages.

What I did learn in the short term from her method is that even with kids, we can still wear the pretty clothes. Aprons exist for a reason. Mesh laundry bags exist for a reason.

Method 3: The 333 Capsule Method

The 333 Capsule is not 333 items, but rather, 33 items for 3 months. This number sounds far more doable that Mme Chic’s 10 items, but on the other hand, 33 includes shoes and basics. The method breaks down “how many of what” you can have per season.

I have tried this method, but never to the point of purging my closet down to only 33 items.

It is an extremely helpful method, as long as you can get the rest of your items out of sight, otherwise I was tempted to cheat and once I cheated, the floodgates were open again.

Having fewer items in the closet really does help make decision-making easier. Also, it can be fun in the last month of a season to start thinking about what items will be included in the next season’s capsule.

What I don’t love about this method is that, at least for me, seemed to encourage shopping. I found myself wandering stores thinking about what I “wanted” for the new season, as opposed to rotating in and out older items.

Method 4: The Suitcase Method

This is my own little proprietary method, mixing the best of all of the above methods.

I pretended I was leaving on a two week vacation and could only take an amount of clothes that would fit in a suitcase. These items would then go in the Boudoir and would be what I could wear for the month.

The rest of my clothes went to live in the suitcase or in bins in the basement. The suitcase contained clothes I loved but didn’t make the cut for the month, the bins in the basement contained things I rarely ever wore and wasn’t sure if I would miss. I actually called the bins in the basement my “Thrift Store” and would, periodically, peruse them to see if there was anything there I had forgotten about.

This method was successful for me because it only lasted a month, so I could get a greater variety of my clothes into rotation than with the more seasonal approaches.

The Petticoat Minimalist

This is where I am at today: everything I own is accessible and fits in the space I have available. I don’t have a set number of anything. But for the most part, I love everything. My goal is to wear it all as much as possible and to keep track: CPW, mending, refashioning, Go-To Outfits. Measuring a closet is a difficult thing, but as they say, “We manage what we measure.” So these little efforts keep me honest about the state of my closet and how often I actually wear what I own.

Conclusion

Even if we aren’t the top-level minimalists, we can glean inspiration and new ideas about how to manage our wardrobe from people who are.

This kind of paring down of a closet can help make decision making easier. This, combined with the practice of Mise en Place can, in the long run, dramatically increase contentment about our closets.

Closet contentment is just one small piece of the contentment pie. However, it is a piece that can be relatively easily broken down into manageable tasks. I encourage you to try Mise en Place as a way to start growing in contenment.

Contentment is always the goal…a monolithic, terrifyingly accessible goal, if we are willing to do the work to get there!

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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