Thoughts on Stuff: How to Own Less Clothes Why Trying to Dress Better Lead to Shrinking my Wardrobe



thoughts on stuff, how to have fewer clothes, liturgy of life.
I never thought a picture of the inside of my closet with be blog worthy. Well I suppose there is a pretty good chance it still isn’t. Anyway enjoy.


You know the feeling,  you are standing in front of an overflowing closet, everyone is waiting on you. But the longer you search the more convinced you are, finally you cry in frustration,”I have nothing to wear!”


On one hand of course, you have a lot to wear, a closet full.   But on the other you may be right. There may be lot in there, but at least, if yours is like my old closet, it is filled mostly with items purchased on a whim at a great deal or maybe that held some sentimental value.  Most of them don’t fit well or just never looked as good on as you hoped they would and they usually can’t be paired together with anything else that you have.


Yesterday I posted some thoughts on consumerism.  Today I thought I’d follow up with one practical application. After all, getting dressed is universal (okay that may be a bit of an overstatement, I saw some folks having a bicycle race in the nude the other day (seriously?!) but most of us wake up and need to put something on). And we have the monstrosity that is our fashion industry trying to tell us we need to buy something new every few weeks to do it.  They are succeeding, at least, women today have 4x as many items in their closets than we did 30 years ago. And as a nation we are putting 14 million tons of textiles into landfills every year.


While those stats are astounding my journey to a smaller wardrobe really began as a quest to dress better.   After having a little girl I realized I wanted to dress well so I could teach her to do the same, to have fun, be creative, to express herself and at the same time recognize that how she dressed spoke to those around her about who she was, whether she liked it or not (you can read more about it here).


Once I started paying more attention to fashion I realized I wanted  to learn more about where my clothes came from so I could shift my purchases to companies with good ethics who treated their employees well.   But I soon realized that, at least for me, the first step toward responsible purchasing as an American was simply to by less stuff (another post on some companies with good ethics is in the works).


What I ended up doing was pitching the majority of my clothes, and with the exception of a few items, I didn’t buy  more. I now dress better (at least I think so, you’d have to ask my friends if they agree), have more fun and feel more creative. I’m no stylist, if you are you should probably just move on. But if you are an average everyday person like me then some of these tips might be helpful.


Steps Towards Dressing Better with Less:


  1. Start paying attention.  Notice your friends and strangers, pay attention to what they are wearing and what you like about it. Don’t just stop at saying, “they look so cute,” but think or even jot it down, “I like how the polka dotted top goes with that skirt.”  Just like as a cook, when I taste a cake I don’t just enjoy it but I stop and think, what is in this, maybe I could make this at home?  After a while you will start noticing patterns of the things you like.


2.  Make a plan.

Once you have a clearer idea of what you like and what you don’t, you are ready to start making some modifications in your wardrobe.


A good place to start is emptying out your closet and only putting back in the items that you wear, that fit well, and that you feel comfortable in. Get rid of the items that you haven’t worn in years no matter how cute they look on the hanger.


Now you may need to purchase a few new items (I know this is supposed to be about having less clothes, not buying more). While the goal is owning and buying less you may need to add in a few key items to get your wardrobe to work well.


Here is an example.


I mostly wear Birkenstock sandals in the summer (by the way I got them for by birthday last year after wanting them since about 8th grade). But I started noticing that sometimes they looked a little too scruffy when I wanted to feel more put together. I started paying attention and noticed a lot of my friends wore little ballet flats. They seemed comfortable enough (I don’t do shoes that pinch) and the more I observed the more I thought they would be a good fit for my needs. So I bought these (this was like a year long deliberation process, no joke).


thoughts on stuff, how to have fewer clothes, liturgy of life.
These are handmade in Guatemala with a Fair Trade Company called The Root Collective. Not only are the shoes great but I have had amazing customer service and am now utterly devoted to this company. And this isn’t even an affiliate link, though if you are thinking about buying let me know and maybe I’ll get one.


And sure enough they were just the trick. I still mainly wear my sandals but when I want to feel more pulled together I put these on and ta da, they look and feel great. Sure I’m tempted to buy other cute shoes if I see them but the reality is I know I can make everything in my closet work with the two pairs that I have so I don’t buy more (I do have other shoes, for hiking and flip flops and a pair of heels but they don’t come out much).


2. Go for balance. We all have our go to patterns. I love walking around like a flower child, Birkenstocks, peasant top and hippy skirt. Your thing might be animal prints, or wearing black, whatever. While having a personal style is great, when planning a wardrobe it is worth putting some effort into finding balance.


So if you love florals and feminine make sure you add a few edgier pieces or you will end up looking like you belong on Little House in The Prairie. If you live in leather try adding a few softer items.  Most of us have more clothes than we wear. Often it is because we find a style that we like and we buy multiple items that are essentially the same thing. If you love hippy skirts, that’s great, but just wear the one you have, you don’t need multiples, your look will be the same even if the flower pattern changes a little bit from skirt to skirt.


2. Stop shopping sales. Okay so that isn’t exactly what I mean. I mean stop buying just because something is on sale.  Shopping sales ended me up with 12 peasant tops. Each time I saw a top on sale I loved it, it was just my style and so I bought it, but every one after the first one did nothing for my wardrobe.


Shopping sales is  fine but keep a list of a handful of items that you would  like to add to your wardrobe, items that will fill in gaps and make the rest of your clothes work better.  If a sale pops up look for those items, if you don’t find them walk away.


3. Stop following trends. The fashion industry is spending millions to convince us that we need to shop and buy regularly.  It just isn’t true. You can dress comfortably and confidently, in a way that expresses who you are and feels creative without following trends or buying a new wardrobe every year.


4. Go for Classic. By classic I don’t mean boring. Here are some things to consider.


  • Color: White, black and neutrals are always in style. After that stick with deeper jewel tones which look, well, classic, and can be mixed and matched easily. Pastels and neons are more likely to look out of date next season. Same is true of patterns, stripes and polka dots usually work well if you stick to more classic colors.


  • Fit: All of our bodies are different and that is something to celebrate. And style isn’t about looking the thinnest or tallest. But if we pay attention we can find flattering styles and are comfortable and look good. For most a V neck looks more stylish than a crew neck. A belted, banded or gathered waist looks more put together than a straight waist. An A line skirt is flattering on just about any body type.  Once you figure out what styles you like don’t buy anything else no matter how good it looks on your sister or in the magazine, it is destined to be disposed of the following season.


  • Fabric: Higher end brands tend to have higher end materials, though it isn’t always the case. Pay attention when you go to add a new item to your wardrobe. It isn’t as obvious when clothes are new and hanging on the store shelves but if you pay attention you will notice the difference between quality fabrics and those that  won’t hold up well.  Notice the fabric, does it have an elastic waist that is going to stretch out? Does it look like it will fade or get misshapen easily? If so don’t buy it no matter how cute it looks on the rack it is not going to be good item long term.


5. Think of clothing as an investment. The fashion industry has trained us to think that we can buy a whole new outfit for $50.  Sometimes we really do need something inexpensive that will work for just a little while. But before the clothing industry exploded in the 80’s women shopped much less, when they did buy it was something they planned and saved for, and they expected that item to be with them for a long time.  Returning to this mentality will help us build a wardrobe of higher quality, stylish clothes and will save us from hauling bags to the Good Will every few months.


6. Look at your whole wardrobe.  Like I said, I once had 12 peasant tops where really one would suffice. Think about your lifestyle and what you wear. Then make a plan just like you plan for a road trip or for meals for the week.


Then start creating a closet that works for you.


I ended up with about 35 items, this is the break down:


thoughts on stuff, how to have fewer clothes, liturgy of life.

  • 5 dresses, three are more casual and two dressier
  • 2 pair of jeans one skinny and one boyfriend
  • 2 pairs of shoes, you know the flats and the Birkenstocks
  • 1 jacket
  • 3 long sleeve shirts
  • 4 skirts, each of a different style
  • 18 short sleeve or sleeveless tops


Now I do have other things. In my closet I have a bin for undies and such, one for leggings and yoga pants and one of tee shirts and a hanger of tank tops. I have a jewelry box and a collection of scarves.


Then under the bed are another 35 fall/winter items (which might never make it out this year since it is still in the 100’s down here, but if it does I’ll trade them out for some of my summer things).  I also have a bin of bags, hats and accessories that I use less often.


thoughts on stuff, how to have fewer clothes, liturgy of life.
Accessory station, including the jewelry box I’ve had since childhood and another one I inherited from my great grandmother.


thoughts on stuff, how to have fewer clothes, liturgy of life.
The pink shoes on the top right are Zenie’s in case you were wondering.


Try to keep items that work well together and consider what you have before you buy something new. Just like cooking, if I have spaghetti sauce and Parmesan cheese and meat balls, I probably should get some pasta.  Figure out what your pasta is. What are the handful of items you could add that will make everything else work together? And don’t ever buy anything that doesn’t go with at least 3 items in your closet already.


So I know you might be thinking that this sounds like a lot of thinking and planning. And on one hand it is. The industries that promote consumerism in fashion are putting a lot of time and energy into making us think that we need ever more. They don’t want us to stop and think that we can be perfectly happy and stylish in our 35 item wardrobe.

(Obviously the number 35 is arbitrary, it is just what worked for me, you might be content with half, or you might need twice that, the key is paying attention, and buying what we will really use.)


This is a great blog for more info about decluttering your wardrobe.

And I have started following one stylist on Instagram, here is her website.


Thanks for reading, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to comment or check out our facebook group for more in-depth discussion.


You may also be interested in:


Thoughts on Fashion and Why Your Choices Matter

Clothes Swap: Free Fashion you can Feel Good About



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