A Practical Guide to Owning Fewer Clothes

how-to-own-fewer-clothes

“Know, first, who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly.” – Epictetus

Consider for just a moment how your life would look different if you owned fewer clothes:

  • You would have more disposable income.
  • You would have more time to live your life.
  • Mornings would feature less stress.
  • Your closets would be well-organized and uncluttered.
  • Packing for trips/vacations would take less time.
  • Laundry days would be easier (not necessarily less, but definitely easier).

Unfortunately, instead of enjoying the benefits of owning fewer clothes, most of us buy into the lie that more is better. And because we do, we accumulate more and more clothing each season. We are convinced that new clothes will make us more joyful, more fashionable, and more popular. Unfortunately, they just end up getting in the way.

Consider going a different route with your life. Try owning fewer clothes. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy the freedom that it brings.

Whether you are hoping to minimize your wardrobe to the absolute minimum or just trying to pare down some of the excess in your closet, you will find these 10 steps practical and applicable. They are the same steps that we have used in our home:

  1. Admit that you own too much clothing. That’s all you really need to get started.
  2. Wear fewer colors. Most of us already have a few favorite colors that we wear most often anyway – usually because we like the way we look in them. Choosing to intentionally wear fewer colors means less accessories (shoes, belts, jewelry, handbags, etc.). It also makes too much sense not to try.
  3. Embrace the idea of one. When one can be enough, embrace it – one black dress, one swimsuit, one winter coat, one black belt, one pair of black shoes, one pair of sneakers, one handbag… insert your own based on your occupation, lifestyle, or climate.
  4. Donate, sell, recycle, discard. Depending on the size of one’s existing wardrobe, an initial paring down won’t take long. Make a few piles – donate, sell, or recycle. Start with the clothes that you no longer wear. You’ll be surprised how much you can remove.
  5. Donate, sell, discard some more. Removing the clothes you no longer wear is easy. Removing the clothes that you don’t really need can be a tougher choice. Turn around all the hangers in your closet. After the season, remove every article of clothing that wasn’t worn. That should help get you started on a second round of paring down.
  6. Impose an arbitrary moritorium on shopping. For many, clothes shopping is just a habit – and habit always takes over for inattention. To begin breaking the cycle of purchasing and discarding (the average American throws away 68 lbs. of textiles each year), set a self-imposed buying freeze. I recommend 90 days. If given enough time, this simple exercise in self-discipline will change your view of your clothing and the stores that produce, market, and sell them.
  7. Set a monthly spending limit. Pick a low number and stick to it.
  8. Purchase quality over quantity. Only buy clothing that you truly love – even if it costs more. If you stock your closet full of things you love, you will have less desire to add to it.
  9. Avoid the sale racks. Sales can (and should) be used to help you get a better price on something you need. Unfortunately, most sale racks are designed to convince us to purchase something we don’t.
  10. Impress with your character, not your clothes. Lee Mildon once said, “People seldom notice old clothes if you wear a big smile.”
Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. Michelle says

    An apron for cooking is a necessity! I buy really good ones from places like Chefwear and literally wear them out. I put it on anytime I am in the kitchen for more than a few minutes. It saves clothes. And there are some really fun patterns available.

    • Jazzy says

      I have an old habit from when I owned a horse, when I got home from work I would run upstairs and change into my old horse clothes – thereby saving my new ones. (I still do this today) Problem was I’d get bored with the good clothes so I’d buy more…I just continued the tradition and so for the last year I’ve been downsizing my wardrobe and I am STILL doing this…I can’t believe what a clothes addict I had become after at least 7 garbage bags full I still have a lot to get rid of but I’m doing it at a slower pace. I don’t want to regret getting rid of things and this is the best way for me….

    • Sandy says

      Have a set amount of clothes hangers and when you have run out……you need to cull clothes
      Don’t be tempted to buy more hangers.
      I am expert at it
      S

  2. Missy Kamps says

    A mom of 4 little ones and discovering what it means to be minimal, I appreciate the challenge of letting go. Clothing being a big leap into a seeming abyss. A year into this journey. Many car loads for Goodwill. Thank you

  3. Rebecca Foxworth says

    Don’t forget the flexibility of clothing rental. Sites such as gwynniebee dot com (misses and women’s 10-32) and letote dot com (juniors and misses 0-12) allow my 13 year old to maintain a minimal wardrobe (currently consisting of 2 pairs jeans, 1 pair capris, 2 pairs shorts, 2 dresses, and five fitted tees) and then rent/collaboratively consume the rest of her clothing via mail order (like with the Netflix DVD program). She wears the styles, sends them back, and gets new. They launder. “Sharing” the clothing with others makes it easier to maintain a smaller wardrobe, yet still wear the trendy styles she desires.

  4. Krista says

    I never thought of spending more on clothes I truly love. I always look on sale racks for things I need. I end up buying things that will do, but they are often ill fitting and a color I can live with. You’re right, it just leads me to finding something else because I’m not satisfied. I’m actually looking forward to cleaning out my closet! Thanks you :)

  5. says

    Having just spent the long weekend washing every single item in my wardrobe due to the discovery of mould in there, I am totally on board with this idea. I did 10 loads (at least) back to back. I don’t buy new things…I realised that was a waste a long time ago…but I’m having trouble getting rid of the old. I’m realising that waiting 3 years for everything to wear out is probably not feasible. I like the colours tip, I hadn’t thought of that. But getting rid of things I like is going to be hard.

  6. Ash says

    Like this and would read more blogs on mnmlst clohing…i struggle to give jings up if they ost a lot or if i might get fat/skinny again and need this item. But i am getting over these fears. I used to get lost in my linens. Now i own two flat sheets and four pillowcases, and one quilt. It is also hard when relatives buy you clothes a lot as gifts those trendy sox, hats, or sweaters, etc. i say thank you, give them away, and feel fine. Theyll never know. It is the thought that counts.

  7. Heather says

    This is the ONLY place in my life that I am not minimalist. I love clothes. I have a pretty diversified life- corporate for my job, workout clothes, Mom, wife and just being me clothes and I also do a lot with charity functions, so I need some pretty dresses. I am ok with all of this. Minimalism lends itself to bending with your personal needs. That is the beauty.

  8. says

    I have been seriously downsizing my wardrobe in a lot of the ways you suggest. I had not thought of ‘Wear fewer colors though. I would never have thought of that myself, although it is simple. I have to marinate on it before I can commit, but I like it!

  9. says

    This idea of owning fewer clothes gimme some motivation to apply this method. It useless to have many or buy plenty of clothes especially to impress others.

  10. Helen R-B says

    Great post, buying fewer items but ones of better quality really struck a chord with me. Also, mending is a really important skill. When an item of clothing/handbag/pair of shoes I really love starts to look a bit past it I almost go into mourning (I know, ridiculous) about having to potentially get rid of it. If you can mend or repair whatever it is you get the item back and feel virtuous about not buying more stuff at the same time :-)

    • says

      The other thing is, when you buy clothing that is of better quality, and likely a higher price point to begin with, it makes MORE sense to mend it…that in turn helps keep local alteration/seamstress businesses afloat. Higher quality clothing means the $10 fix or patch is worth paying for (Because the item was over $40 to begin with) whereas buying sale-only items that were only $5-$15 initially doesn’t justify spending a $10 fix…that lends itself to a ‘throwaway’ culture where hundreds of pounds of textiles go to waste from each person every year, and for what? A lost button? A small rip in a seam? Spending more initially should ensure a better quality garment, and one that (if/when it needs a repair) is worth mending.

  11. says

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    I would be extremely grateful if I could ask you some questions through email so I can learn a bit more before getting started.
    When you have some free time, please contact me at: patriciaburk@t-online.de.
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  12. Achoo says

    YES. I’ve been doing this for the past year and I LOVE it. I went from spending $7,000 a year on clothing (you don’t realize it until you actually add up all those little purchases) to $1000 (scaled wayyy back this year in anticipation of big life changes). I’ve done several “purges” and it feels so good… and I don’t miss a single thing I’ve gotten rid of. I’ve gotten my fiance in on it too and he loves the feeling of having a minimalist closet. We recently went to Europe with thoughtfully packed, lightweight bags. We were sitting pretty while our travel companions lugged huge suitcases up and down stairs! I would also add the following rules of thumb:

    One in One Out: Buying another pair of black boots is fine, but only to replace your old ones. Donate the old item, or you can’t buy its replacement.

    1 year rule: If you haven’t worn it in the past 12 months, donate it.

    10-item Capsule Wardrobe: This European-inspired method says that you have 10 items in your closet per season. It’s a fun challenge and you have a surprising amount of options to mix and match. It makes you pick your favorite, most-wearable items, and also makes you realize what you don’t need (like alllllll those sweaters).

    Go shopping twice a year: Carefully plan in advance exactly what you are going to buy, and invest (aka drop some dough) in great pieces for the upcoming season. What used to get me was casual shopping every weekend, a little here, a little there. But, if you save up you can buy some really high quality pieces that you will keep for a long time, and you can actually spend less over the course of a year. Quality pieces also magically keep you from wanting to stuff your closet with the briefly-satisfying cheap clothes.

    X- out your online shopping windows. Only buy things that you try on in person. It’s too easy to forget to send back an ill-fitting internet purchase.

    Ban certain stores. For me, I will never step foot in an Old Navy, Gap, Payless, H&M, Target (clothing section) again, because 1) the clothes I purged (b/c i never wore them) were invariably from these stores, and 2) to this day I still can’t walk into these stores without buying something I don’t need.

    Get used to the idea of wearing an item twice or more in a week. It’s liberating, and no one notices (you are not the center of the universe, and no one is keeping tabs on your wardrobe). It also makes you focus on neutral, classic pieces.

    Good luck everyone!

    • Sherri says

      Excellent post! I’ve been practicing the “one in, one out” philosophy for several years now. It’s very satisfying.

      Also, when you invest in a quality item, it looks better, wears better, and is often worth repairing instead of replacing.

    • says

      “Ban certain stores. For me, I will never step foot in an Old Navy, Gap, Payless, H&M, Target (clothing section) again, because 1) the clothes I purged (b/c i never wore them) were invariably from these stores, and 2) to this day I still can’t walk into these stores without buying something I don’t need.”

      THIS IS A GREAT CONCEPT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Thank you for introducing me to a new idea. It would be amazing for everyone to consider where all the clothes they DON’T wear came from ;)

  13. Can Not Have Enough of Somethings says

    Minimalism is a good policy to embrace for many reasons. For one, it does wonders to the wallet and the security it brings along. Second, a decluttered life is a liberated life. Many other dividends have been pointed out by others above. However, I wanted to add a few observations which make minimalism a bit difficult.

    First. You cannot have enough of undergarments. I keep as many undergarment T-shirts of various colors on hand as possible. I wear such shirts under collared shirts and even under regular T-shirts of certain styles. I use a fresh one every day. But, because I abhor chores, like doing laundry weekly, I keep enough to last me a month. The same goes for socks and underwear, modified only by seasonal temperature changes. It does not cause me problems to use socks and underwear twice, specially during colder seasons.

    Second, I live in the part of the country where layering is the only sensible way to dress up. 3/4th of the months of the year I layer up to four. (Undergarment T-shirt, collared shirt, light or heavy hoodie, and a jacket, a windbreaker, or an overcoat, as necessary. It is not always easy to balance colors and fabric weight. I step out to misty, or foggy and chilly morning and as the day progresses and the fog burns up, I delayer. Often I have to deal with windy days, and I dislike wind the most. This makes it difficult to commit to minimalism. It is easier to live in a climate that requires stocking up only on T-shirts and shorts.

    By all means buy quality even if it costs a bit more. For me that basically means cotton and other natural fibers and leather. I wear nothing but cotton and wool fabrics. Linen and silk are harder to take care of. Synthetic fibers are always for outer layer, such as windbreakers. I detest synthetic fibers on my skin. Have you noticed how difficult it is these days to get 100% cotton socks? Lucky if you get a compromise at 80% cotton. Ditch a certain shoe store, which should remain unnamed. The materials they use to make the shoes stink the feet.

  14. Brenda says

    You have the best site, and the most informative. I love your practical, and honest viewpoints. Keep up the great work.

  15. says

    I’ve been getting rid of clothes for the past year – but I still have an opportunity to reduce more. This post has given me a different way to look at things. This is my project for the weekend.

    • says

      Change takes a commitment; behavioural, psychological, and emotional. You can do it if the reward is greater than the difficult journey.

      Judging by the overwhelming response to this article, the reward is DEFINITELY worth changing for. Freedom, less stress, less worry, more money for things that really do make a difference to a family (family photos, a day trip somewhere fun, savings for education funds…whatever you find to be truly important to yours and your childrens wellbeing)

  16. SusanFL says

    I am leaning toward travelers clothes for my every day wear. They don’t wrinkle and they are lightweight and comfortable. And of course they are designed to take up less space. Eddie Bauer (Travex line), ExOfficio, Chicos (Travelers line), Coolibar (sun protective) all have those kind of clothes. Since I started dressing that way, I really wear all the clothes.

  17. SusanFL says

    it might be different for men, but where I work people will think it odd if you only have ten items of clothing. They will make comments like, She’s wearing that…AGAIN? Don’t think I could do that. If you are into fashion you don’t want others to think you have an inadequate wardrobe. But it doesn’t mean my closet is stuffed either. I think it is a matter of balance. Mix and match helps or, if you wear a uniform at work, I guess that cuts the wardrobe down to size as well.

  18. Emma says

    “Purchase quality over quantity. Only buy clothing that you truly love – even if it costs more. If you stock your closet full of things you love, you will have less desire to add to it.”
    Really rings true for me. I have come to turn up my nose at a lot of things going shopping because I know I have something better in my closet. There is no such thing as retail therapy! Some girls hoarde beauty products… again, quality over qyantity. Those chemical loaded low quality products will wreck their skin later. I think if you invest in an electric toothbrush, floss, quality skincare products, nutritious foods, vitamins, and a positive attitude, your vitality will make you way more charming.

    Food too. Be happy with the food in your fridge and pantry, eat less junk outside. Feel better!

  19. Pauline Tan says

    I just stumbled over your website and am so glad I did. I needed big encouragement in the area of living a minimalist’s life and here it is! Keep up the good job.

  20. Roxie Defant says

    I love this article! Just this morning I added 6 items to my give away clothing pile. As some have already mentioned I also keep clothing out of fear that I’ll gain or loose weight; however, I have never gained or lost so much that I needed to buy a new wardrobe. If they get tight I can simply minimize my groceries & save money on both food & new clothing; & if I loose weight I can simply add a few extra calories a day to fill my clothes out :) My end goal is to get all of my clothing down to where i can fit it all in my 40 L backpack, I’m almost there!!

  21. Jessi says

    Because I have two young boys, having the time to declutter and minimize is my biggest challenge, but I have begun the process. I am intrigued by the concept of buying fewer but higher quality clothing but am hesitant. It seems like a big commitment to spend $70 on an item if there’s no guarantee I will always love it, it will always fit (due to an occasional laundry mishap), my kids won’t ruin it, etc. Another issue is that I’ve almost lost the weight I need to get back to my “real” size, so haven’t wanted to invest a lot before that happens. I suppose once I take the time (when I can find it!) to shop for quality clothing, I will learn what styles, brands, etc. to invest in. But until then it seems like an expensive experiment!

  22. Adelle says

    For the girls (and guys… why not?) who wants to be on style in a minimalist way there is a wonderful website for us: Into mind (into-mind.com)

  23. M-story says

    I remember someone who just had four to five shirts and beyond that he would end up donating and gifting people. I would always wonder if I could do that… We always want more, new dress, new shoes …it does take a change of perspective to bring a change in our lifestyle :)

Sites That Link to this Post

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  4. Less Clothes | Songs of Remorse | December 7, 2013
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