Note: This is a guest post by Becca Ehrlich of Christian Minimalism.
At the beginning of this year, I wore the same dress for 100 days in a row. Yes, the same dress—every day. For 100 days.
I saw the 100 Day Dress Challenge as a way to break myself of bad spending habits and limiting beliefs around what was actually enough. As a recovering online shopping addict (mostly buying clothes I didn’t really need), I wanted to rid myself of thoughts and behaviors that held me back from simplifying my life and focusing on what’s most important.
It was a challenging experiment in living with less—and I learned a whole lot. Here are 7 key things I learned:
1. We Need Less Than We Think We Do
Before starting the 100 Day Dress Challenge, I had already pared my wardrobe down to 1/3 of its original size. I definitely saw the benefits of having fewer clothes, but I had the sneaking suspicion that I wasn’t at my “enough” amount just yet.
I was right. Wearing the same dress every day showed me how little I truly need. Most days during the challenge, I only wore the dress with a pair of leggings underneath (it was cold weather where I live for much of the experiment!). The wardrobe pieces I used went down to less than 10 a week, excluding undergarments.
I don’t think I’d personally want to wear less than 10 clothing pieces a week all the time (and if you do want to, power to you!), but this experiment illustrated just how little we actually need. Our closets tend to be full of clothes that we almost never wear—what if we just had our favorite pieces, and that was it? My “enough” amount of clothing is even less than what I thought it would be, and since finishing the challenge I’ve pared down my wardrobe even more. We need so much less than we think we do.
2. People Don’t Pay Much Attention
Starting the 100-day experiment of wearing the same dress, I was worried that people would notice and say something. But (except for those who knew about the experiment!) no one noticed. No one. During the whole 100 days.
I even had several job interviews with one potential employer (with many of the same interviewers) over multiple days, and no one noticed or cared that I wore the same dress each day. It was about the interviews and what we talked about—not about the repeat outfit! (In case you’re wondering, I did end up getting the job, proving that wearing the same thing for multiple interviews with one employer can be totally appropriate and doable.)
Turns out, we think people notice us way more than they actually do– it’s called the spotlight effect. Oftentimes we own more clothes and other possessions because we think people will notice repeat clothing and objects. But the reality is that people don’t really notice. We can own less and not worry about other peoples’ reactions about reusing things. And on the off-chance they do notice, it gives us an opportunity to talk about living more minimally!
3. Experiments Are Powerful
One of the best parts about the 100 Day Dress Challenge is that it was a short-term experiment. It gave me an opportunity to try living with a lot less for a designated amount of time, to see what minimalism looks like for me, personally, in my own context.
Experiments are exactly what they sound like—it’s about playing around with less for short amounts of time to see what makes the most sense for you for the future. We are much more likely to try something for a short amount of time, rather than trying something and saying “OK, this is how my life will be FOREVER.” Experiments are bite-sized ways to try different simplifications in your life, in the short-term.
Through this 100-day dress experiment, I learned so much about myself and living more simply. Find ways to experiment with simplicity—you may be surprised what you discover!
4. Quality Matters
It’s no secret that fast fashion clothes have a huge impact on our environment and fall apart quickly (so that you buy more). But these clothing pieces are cheap and convenient and make a quick buck, so the fast fashion industry continues.
Doing this experiment with a merino wool dress that was sustainable, well-made, and temperature regulating meant that I could wear the dress every day and not worry that it would fall apart on my body while I was wearing it or get super disgusting. I also got to do a lot less laundry (merino wool doesn’t hold on to odors like other materials do), which meant more time, energy, and less environmental impact during the challenge. And after I wore the dress for 100 days, the dress still looked almost new!
Clothes that are well-made and of good quality serve us much better in the long-term. Quality clothes are much pricier and less convenient—but when you’re living more minimally and spending less money, you’re better able to both buy quality pieces that will last, and own less clothing pieces altogether.
5. Decision Fatigue is Real
When I started the 100 days, I worried that I would get bored wearing the same thing every day. What I discovered instead is that I loved not having to think about what to wear every morning—I could just grab the dress and go. It saved me time and brainpower that I could use elsewhere in my day.
It sounds a bit funny that not having to choose something to wear each day could make such a huge difference, but decision fatigue is a real thing. We make hundreds of decisions daily, and having one less thing to decide and think about can simplify your morning routine and save that decision-making energy for more important things.
There’s a reason that many high-powered people have chosen to wear the same thing every day. Having a chosen uniform means that you have more decision-making energy when it really matters. Wearing the same dress everyday truly made a difference for me—I felt like I was able to make much better decisions when I had one less decision to make each day.
6. It’s What’s Inside That Counts
There are many clothing phrases that are often used as advice: “Clothes make the [person],” “Dress for success,” etc. Most of these phrases assume that people judge us based on our outer appearance, and we should dress accordingly. They also imply that we are what we wear. I had internalized these advice phrases and wondered if wearing the same thing every day would be a mistake.
But as we’ve already seen through the spotlight effect, people notice what we wear and what we look like a lot less than we expect. Sure, there are some work and social situations where we have to wear something specific. But those particular situations aside, we have the freedom to own and wear a lot less because no one notices or cares. Wearing the same dress every day helped me realized that it’s not about what I put on my body—it’s what’s inside that matters.
Our clothing and our possessions (along with our salary, job title, and net worth) do not define us. We are not what we wear. Our identity is not based on our stuff or our “success.” We are who we are because of our gifts, our skill sets, our personalities. Don’t let things outside of you define who you are.
7. Simplicity Makes Space for What Matters Most
My biggest takeaway from wearing the same dress for 100 days, hands down, has been the basic fact that simplifying your life– even just one aspect of your life– can make more space for what’s most important. Because I wasn’t focusing on what I was putting on my body as much, I had more time, energy, and resources to focus on my family, my writing, and my faith.
Wearing the same thing every day was a simple change to my routine, but it drastically changed how I functioned the rest of the day. I was able to shorten my morning routine and have a less hurried start to my day—which meant that I was typically much calmer and less stressed. I spent less time and brain space on outward appearances and used that time and brain space for learning and creative activities. And overall, I found myself better able to focus on the most important things just from one simple change.
Imagine if we all simplified one, or even multiple aspects of our lives—what amazing change we would see in how we live and interact with one another! I was shocked that just one basic change could do so much.
Find some ways to experiment with less. It doesn’t have to be 100 days of wearing the same thing; create an experiment that will both work well in your context and also challenge you to simplify. I promise: experimenting and challenging yourself to live with less short-term will help you make space for what’s most important and change your life!
Becca Ehrlich is a pastor, wife, and writer who holds three masters degrees and a doctorate in theology. She blogs at Christian Minimalism and is the author of Christian Minimalism: Simple Steps for Abundant Living. You can also follow her on Facebook.