The Best Advice for Creating a Beautifully Minimal Closet?

I’ve been trying to find a phrase or an idea that will help me narrow down my wardrobe. It’s not that my collection of clothes is too big, per se…I just have this curiosity about winnowing it down to a handful(ish) of things I love and wear all the time instead of always scanning the thrift store/online secondhand scene for items in another of “my” colors just to have more to play with.

I think this curiosity stems from times when I’ve had a very, very small wardrobe – maternity wear, for example, or travel wardrobes – and actually enjoyed the simplicity of repeating favorite outfits and the satisfaction of putting together each outfit just so, like a puzzle with interlocking parts slotting into place.

I’m part of a minimalism group on Facebook that frequently talks about downsizing your closet, and you better believe that that group has a million and one strategies for helping you weed out less-than-stellar wardrobe pieces:

  • Calculate the number of days you need to wear a certain category of clothing (casual, fancy, workout, work, etc.), then pick the number of items in each category you need for those days and donate the rest
  • Empty your closet/armoire and only return your favorites; donate the rest. If that feels hard or you get a bad case of the “what ifs” (what if I need it for X occasion? what if I miss it?), quarantine everything in a box; if you really do want something in the box, you’ll get it out. Donate everything you haven’t retrieved after 3 or 6 months without opening the box.
  • Determine the number of shirts/pants/etc. you can comfortably fit in a given drawer/closet rack/shelf; donate the rest (this is the “container” idea from Dana White’s book Decluttering at the Speed of Life)
  • Turn all your hangers one way, then as you wear items, turn the hanger the other way; at the end of the month/season/year, donate whatever hasn’t been turned
  • Figure out a clear personal style and color palette; chuck everything that falls outside those parameters
  • Donate anything you bought for your “fantasy self” and never wear – even if you love the item
  • If there’s one thing you don’t love about it – fit, color, weird flappy sleeve things that constantly get in your way – donate it, even if you love everything else about it
  • This one is more maintenance but still helpful to many – the one in, one out rule: if you bring in something new to you, donate something old
  • And finally, Marie Kondo’s infamous “Does it spark joy?”

I’ve tried many of these and, as noted above, they have resulted in a very reasonable wardrobe – one with a clear personal style, clear color palette, no fantasy pieces, and where everything fits in the spaces I have to store clothes. Yet I have definite favorites I wear all the time, and runners-up that I like to play with but could probably live without. And so I’m still curious – would I love my closet even more if it were just the favorites, no runners up? Would it also focus my thrifting so I’d only be buying “perfect” (for me) items to fill an occasional hole rather than adding more runners up just for the sake of variety?

I wanted a neat little phrase to help me get in this mindset, but everything I thought of – favorites vs. runners up, A+ vs. B-, Life’s too short to wear clothes you don’t love – felt clunky or trite. Then I read Olga of Intellectual Minimalist‘s thoughts on this:

Olga is a decidedly neutrals-loving minimalist, very classic/Scandi-cool, with great shots of the details that make a simple outfit special and great advice for creating a minimal wardrobe. The first tip she shared here ^^ jumped out at me:

Only ideal items, no compromises.

There it was – my wardrobe-culling mantra. For whatever reason, realizing some of my clothes felt like “compromises” allowed me to let them go without a second thought: bye sailor pants whose wide leg silhouette I love but that keeps slipping down with no way to belt it. Bye Zara men’s trousers whose slubby chambray texture and actually accommodating pockets I adore but that are too long and chafe my hip bones. Bye gold pleated top I used to wear for special occasions but the armpits of which are no longer metallic. Et cetera.

I’m excited to apply this mantra to thrifting new-to-me pieces, too. I’m sure I’ll still occasionally thrift things that are wacky and fun or that feel fresh – I don’t mind paying $6 for something that will spice up my wardrobe for a month or two or help me experiment with a new style. But hopefully this mantra will allow me to let go of those temporary pieces of clothing candy when the time comes and to bypass imperfect pieces when I’m trying to fill a main course closet gap. (Candy vs. main course – have a I mixed enough metaphors now?)

Stay tuned for an eventual post on my (even more) curated wardrobe of ideals, no compromises.


What wardrobe mantra do you use to keep your closet at a reasonable volume of stuff you love?

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