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 moratorium 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

    • A says

      Good article. This is a small pet peeve I found disitracting; I’d like to gently point out the use of the word “less” was used twice when it should be “fewer.”

    • Dasha San says

      Hello Joshua, I really loved this article. I would really like to translate it to Spanish so I can post on my facebook group. How do you feel about it?

    • Kellen says

      You mean Tim Gunn, the fashion guy. Thom Gunn was the poet. Unless he wrote a poem about the ten fashion basics.

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  2. says

    Given that I am a dressmaker & costumer & have very ecclectic style, culling clothes is a very hard process. However at the end of each season I go through my clothes & assess what hasn’t been worn, what is worn out & needs retiring, what doesn’t fit/is too young for me now. Then I donate, throw or attempt to sell. The old season goes in the trunk & I do the same with the new season. SO everything gets assessed at least twice a year. I have a stupid number of cardigans & coats that I cannot part with.
    This spring/summer I vowed not to buy any new clothes & only make clothes from fabric & patterns I already own. And I have been very successful, no new purchases & two blouses, a summer beach set, & a pair of pants that were created from what is in my workroom.
    I’m really proud of myself.

    • Susan says

      For over 20 years I have worked in an office. I bought black slacks and added blouses, sweaters, shoes, etc that goes with black. All my accessories (purses, blelts) go with black. Jewelry is many colored. What I realized is that it is easier for me to get dressed and requires less thought and work to maintain my wardrobe. I also noticed no one even notices if I wear the same outfit two times in a week. Half the time I can’t remember what I wore and I don’t know or care what my coworkers wear — meaning — don’t sweat wearing the same outfit — no one really notices. I am trying to keep my clothes to a minimum of things I really like and wear. When clothes gets worn out or no longer fits, then I get rid of them. I will throw away clothes catalogs as soon as I get them to prevent impulsive buying. I also don’t go shopping unless I need something. I’m trying to get my whole life to a managable level. I realized a long time ago, I didn’t need more storage space or boxes, I just needed less stuff.

      • lr says

        You must not be a ‘detail’ person. I definitely notice other people’s clothes, jewelry, shoes etc…unless they are so nondescript that they don’t register. I know I’m not the only one…I have multiple pairs of eyeglasses and people frequently comment on them–so obviously some people do pay attention to style. I not only compliment others on their outfits at work, I will compliment the random person on the street.

      • jhm says

        I just retired and spent the past week getting rid of so many clothes that I needed to work in an office environment each day. Toward the end of my employment, I couldn’t care less what I wore and for that matter what someone else decided to put on their body for the day. I worked with many women and many of those women are still caught up in the exterior of the person which is why I was unable to connect with most of them. I love your approach to keeping it simple with your clothing choices each day. I am free from all that nonsense now and it sounds like you are too! Enjoy your freedom.

  3. says

    This is something I am working on right now and trying to determine what is the best way to tackle this. We have a large family, thus large amounts of clothing. I think my major issue is wanting to hold on to something in case we need it. One idea I have had is to put everything in trash bags and put them somewhere out of the way. If I don’t go looking for them in a few months, I can donate them.

    • sara says

      one black dress? one pair of black shoes ? please. what if you need dressy black shoes, and black work shoes – or a black dress with short sleeves for summer, or long sleeves for winter ? if you live in a climate that has extremes of heat and cold, this article is completely ridiculous.

      • Arg says

        Then you would keep one dressy and one casual, or one long sleeve and one sleeveless, etc. – culling 15 LBDs down to 4 would still be a huge step. The article is meant to help you get started and focus, it’s not going to hold your hand and do the work for you.

      • Annie says

        Not completely ridiculous. Just a place to start. He’s Introducing a new way to look at your wardrobe to find places to eliminate and pare down. If you need a long sleeve & short sleeve black dress, then by all means have 2 black dresses. The idea is not to have 6 when 1 or 2 will do. The point is to provoke thinking towards how we can minimize, not a mandate as to how we should.

      • Annie says

        Also, look at Project 333. They suggest 33 items in your wardrobe for 3 months, then you re-evaluate your clothing needs for the next 3 months and swap out accordingly. That would be the time to change from long sleeves to short while keeping a minimum wardrobe.

      • Stacey says

        You missed the meaning of… Minimalist. Maybe you are more inclined to the ‘capsule wardrobe’

      • Maco says

        If you want a short sleeve dress for summer, you can always pair it with a cardigan for winter. And the cardigan can be paired with anything else too. Layering is the key to keeping warm, anyway, and it adds tons of versatility.

        Personally, I’d wear the long sleeves year round. Summer just means every business has air conditioner set to refrigerator-like temperatures.

      • nikki says

        I agree with another commenter, that he is just giving people a starting point. He is a minimalist, keep in mind….

        As far as the climates…someone could have a sleeveless or shortsleeve black dress and/or top for summer and in the winter throw on a cardigan.

        I wear long sleeve button downs in the summer…I simply roll up the sleeves to my elbow….

        I also tend to buy 3/4 tops and dresses and those can be worn 75%(at least) of the year……

      • Carolyn says

        Sara, I have one black skirt, and three black tops;one short sleeved, one long sleeved, and one tank.Depending on the shoes and jewelry, I have a lot covered with just one black skirt.!I have been to weddings, funerals, luncheons, concerts,all in that same classic skirt.When it is chilly(I live in N.H.), I wear it with a little black sweater and short boots.It is much more versatile than a little black dress…

  4. Andre says

    I agree with all of your comments except for #10.

    I believe that clothes do matter to a certain extent. That’s how people form their impressions of you because let’s face it, most people don’t have the time to get to know everyone in their life even if they wanted to. People use the clothes you wear to form that opinion of you.

    This is more so true in business.

    I work for a huge corporation and I can definitely say that the “dress for success” mantra holds true largely in the corporate environment.

    Other than that, very insightful and great post.

  5. says

    I’m not sure I like the idea of culling clothes. NGOs cannot cope with the amount donated already and as you mention, a huge amount ends up in landfill.
    I absolutely agree we should buy less, but instead of doing a purge of what we’ve got, how about hanging onto them and learning how to mend so that your wardrobe lasts longer. You could even put some away to wear or upcycle in future years.
    I’m moving towards a post-consumerist lifestyle and I’m going to see how long I can go without buying any new clothes, but I think would be a mistake by starting with clearing out my wardrobe… It just means I’ll be heading to the store sooner.

    • Lynn k says

      I completely agree. Having retired 2 years ago, I have purposely kept my clothes shopping to a minimum. Apart from updating my underwear drawer, have not bought anything new for a year or more. I am now getting rid (donate, rag bag,etc) of clothes and shoes as they wear out. This slow cull of my wardrobe is getting results both in the amount of excess I have to deal with, and emotionally. It feels good!

    • Charada says

      I still work at an office in San Francisco and I have to look professional. I also live in a small place so I can’t store all the clothes that I no longer need or want to wear. Keeping just a few pieces of well-made and high quality clothing in my closet that really fit my figure is less expensive in the long run.

    • Maria says

      Tara if you Google Project 333 (see an earlier comment above) what many people do – me included – is to rotate clothing with seasons. I’ve just put away my spring/summer wardrobe (I’m in Australia) and have swapped in Autumn/Winter clothes. I picked out what I liked this year, put away some winter things I didn’t want to wear but thought I might wear next year, and culled a few things I know I won’t wear again.

      Lots of different ways to do it, the idea is mainly to be more purposeful in what you have and use, as in all areas of minimalism.

  6. Charada says

    Clothes do matter in the corporate world, but that doesn’t mean we need to spend a lot of money on them. I own 3 pairs of black light wool skirts that I wear all year round, 5 tops, 5 dresses, and 2 good pair of black and light color shoes. This is my uniform for work and I am always well-dressed. I used to go shopping every week and purchase a piece of clothing or accessory. I noticed that the more I purchased, the more trouble I had coming up with an outfit to wear at the office or for the weekend. After reading blogs like this, The Minimalists, Zen Habits and others, I decided I needed to de-clutter my closet, my house and my life. Now, I only have clothes that I love, fit and make sense for my lifestyle. It took me a few months to purge stuff from my closet, but I am so happy I did. I am saving money by having less clothes and it is now a pleasure to dress in the morning.

  7. Seraphine says

    That is amazing and such a heart warming, blessed idea. I adore my wedding dress and it hangs on our bedroom wall as an art work and every anniverary I wear it out for our dinner together. But one day if I tire of it that is what I would do.

  8. Tony says

    There is a lot of truth in this article. Toward the end of last year I’d put a bit of weight on and had to go up a waist size. Determined to lose it so I could get back into my existing wardrobe, I went to a charity shop and bought three pairs of trousers, one for work and two for casual. Although I’ve had to do a few overnight wash/dries to cope with last minute panics, overall I’ve managed quite well.
    While I’m almost ready to drop back a waist size and will enjoy wearing all my smaller trousers, it just goes to show how few clothes I really need.

  9. Michelle says

    I have learned that dressing simply has helped me not base my self-worth on the opinions of others or the contents of my closet. I think the world would be a better place overall if we learned how to appreciate the beauty emanating from a person’s eyes and unique facial features rather than the brand and price tag of their clothing.

  10. says

    Perhaps we are all just hoarders? There was a TV show call Spendaholics which dealt with this issue and owning too many items of clothing was a contributory factor with people getting into serious debt.

  11. Elaine says

    I love this blog. I am newly retired and and am downsizing. Clothes are hardest. I don’t want to just live in sweats nor do I want to dress like your granny. I am working on a few classic pieces and some artistic accessories a basically neutral color scheme with one bright piece. I hate wearing black. I never buy dry clean items.

  12. Karen says

    More is less. We have been lead to believe we have to have it all, but in doing so, it has been overwhelming both emotionally and physically. I have an anxiety attack every time I walk into my huge walk in closet. I use to move a lot and owned very little. It didn’t impact my life at all (I never remember wishing I had more clothes from which to choose). Now I have to make decisions on which items fit, are comfortable and hunt for those in my closet. I will be trying on things this month and making those piles: sell, donate, trash. Thanks for the additional motivation.

  13. morisys says

    In clearing out the closet, it is rational to get rid of clothes that are too small as the odds that one will lose weight for any length of time are very low. However, it’s irrational to ditch the ones that are too big, as 95% of those who lose weight regain it, usually quite rapidly. Most of us like to believe that we are part of the 5%, but obviously, only 5% of us actually are.

    • Kellen says

      Switch to a plant based whole foods vegan diet. You’ll have trouble keeping weight on. I worked overseas off and on during my career in remote and poverty stricken areas of the world and got used to eating very little. I don’t gain, and I’m a normally active woman in my 50s. I swim, do some Pilates, walk for transportation (live in a metro area), but nothing hard core like marathons or whatever, and yet I don’t gain. BMI hovers around 18.3. I eat a lot of vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, a few nuts and flax. That’s all you need. No animals, no oils, both of which cause heart disease (and weight gain!).

  14. X says

    I like the idea, but when you say to only hear what we really love, that’s hard- I love sundresses, but I can’t wear them in winter. Any ideas?

    • LC says

      Here’s what I did while preparing to live tiny: Keep only my FAVORITES in each category. Let’s say you have 10 sundresses. Do you LOVE them all equally? Chances are no, since most of us only wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. So keep your favorite 2 or 3 sundresses. Then look at your winter dresses with the same critical eye. I love the feeling of not feeling obligated to wear an item just because it hasn’t been worn for awhile. I don’t miss the mediocrity.

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  16. kris says

    I do like the idea of not buying too many clothes. I question the getting rid of usable clothing. Just wear what you have until it wears out. I, like many women require two different sized wardrobes. I also get tired of wearing the same things, two weeks in a hotel and I look forward to going home to change out my clothes. But I love the idea of basic pieces in similar colors dressed up with jewelry. I think I’ll try that.

    • Kellen says

      I’m okay with tossing clothing – meaning donate, in my case. (I don’t sell things.) Clothes not resold in stores by Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc., are sold to make rags, I don’t believe they are dumping clothes in landfills..

      I didn’t wear everything in my closet so I had no problem getting rid of that stuff. I also just didn’t want my closet stuffed to the gills anymore, so weeding it out felt better.

      I’m doing basics now too, using scarves to brighten if I feel like it. I love the classic colors! Black, white, gray, khaki, blue denim. :) I’m down to that.

  17. Kim says

    I have been working on getting rid of excess for about six months. Clothing has been a little difficult. For about 8 years I did not have a washer or dryer and had to use a laundry mat. I hated it! Many times is was easier to buy more clothes. Therefore, I ended up with 4 closets and 2 dressers stuffed with clothing. I also had boxes in my garage. I finally got a new washer and dryer. I did one big clean out and got rid of a lot. Now I am down to 2 closets and one dresser. I am now going to try and remove at least 7 items per week. I want to get down to one closet. I live in Southern California so I don’t have a winter wardrobe to worry about.

  18. Karen says

    My clothing closet is only 36″ wide so there isn’t much chance of collecting too many clothes BUT I do have to change out the clothes as the seasons change. Even though I have very little storage space, I did accumulate too many summer tops last year so I am having a clothes swapping party with girlfriends.
    This summer I haven’t bought any news close, a first for me! My downfall – scarves – can’t have enough!

  19. Kellen says

    I’ve pared my clothes down to black, white, gray, blue denim, and khaki. A few brightly colored scarves. Classic has always worked for me, but PM (pre-minimalist) I was always buying bright colored basics and finally realized I always went back to .. black, white, gray, blue denim, and khaki. :) Now I just have the scarves to boost to bright if I want to.

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