It’s been a year since I decimated my wardrobe. Last January I went through every clothing item I owned with the goal of purging without mercy. Hoping to eliminate everything but 42 wardrobe items (including shoes and underwear), I had to be hard-hearted about sentimental clothes (my first prolife t-shirt!…that I never wear anymore because it’s practically see-through now); clothes I “should” wear but don’t (“it was such a good deal!”); and clothes that were a bad call (“why did I think I would *ever* wear this?”). But that still wasn’t enough. I had to cut clothes that were fine but not necessary. I had to figure out: what do I really need? What can I do without, even if I like it?
This sounds a little crazy. Why put yourself through such torment?
Less Stuff, Less Stress
A year later, I can tell you why, and the reasons aren’t necessarily what I would have predicted.
I knew that owning fewer clothes would save me time. There would be less laundry and less decision-making. There would be less time spent shopping, too, if I could become satisfied with what was in my closet. That would in turn save money. In addition, the environmental impact of a minimal wardrobe appealed to me. If you haven’t heard, we have a real textile problem in this country.
Fewer clothing decisions, I had read, equals less stress. Sure, I wasn’t slumped over in my closet begging for a glass of wine every time I had to decide what to wear, but most every woman understands the low-level stressor it is to stand in your bath towel sliding one hanger after another: No, those sleeves bug me… Shoot, that needs a button sewn on… That doesn’t fit anymore… Never really liked that… That doesn’t match anything… Why does Mom still buy me sweaters? Etc.
So the money and time savings, the environmental impact, and the stress reduction are all positive effects of having a minimal wardrobe (and you can see them all attested to all over the internet), but there’s more. Living with a minimal wardrobe has helped me grow in humility, freedom, and simplicity, particularly as those virtues oppose the vice of vanity.
Most of us are used to having a wide variety of clothing, something to choose from for nearly every occasion. I admit that over the last year, there have been times when I have vaguely wished I owned something I did not. Something that would be “just right” for the occasion at hand. Instead of running to the store, since I had committed to a minimalist wardrobe, I chose from my closet whatever seemed best. And went to the occasion. The “humbling” effect of this quickly gave way to something else: freedom.
Dressing with what I have on hand, even when it doesn’t seem perfect for a particular event, has always turned out to be absolutely fine. I would even say that doing so helped me discover that the sensation that we need a very specific clothing item for various occasions is a modern, consumerist construct that as Christians we really have a responsibility to shun. I am not advocating under-dressing here, and I never ended up under-dressed for an event because of my minimalist wardrobe. A minimalist wardrobe should be adequate for the needs of your life for the season you’re in. But if you estimate you’ll need a dress for six events in the coming year, does that mean you need six dresses? No. It means you need one or two dresses with some level of flexibility.
This brings us back to the humility idea. It’s true that people might notice you’ve worn that same dress to several events. But then you realize no one really cares. No one’s whispering to her friend, “There’s Suzan in the blue polka dots again.” You are not Melania Trump. Your wardrobe is not being tracked by Vanity Fair. And thus we return to the idea of Freedom.
What Really Matters?
What a relief to realize how little clothing actually matters. If you are dressed appropriately, what earthly difference does it make if you’re wearing what you wore two days ago? According to the clothing industry, it is not only fun and rewarding but utterly essential to dress in the latest trends and constantly acquire clothes to replace ones in perfectly good condition. It’s a given in the US. Until, for me, it wasn’t. And everything about the industry started to look and feel frenzied, frivolous, and just plain ridiculous. Then, when I realized how simple clothing really is and how inconsequential, I started seeing other things in the same light.
Take “home improvement.” Do you have a laminate countertop? WHEN are you changing to granite? Are your kitchen cabinets from the 90’s? WHEN will you be replacing them? Still have cream colored walls? Darling, grey is what you need. When will you catch up? The pressure to “improve” your home is just another consumerist temptation. Of course, we must take care of our homes and sometimes replace things, just like I have to replace jeans that have worn out or socks with holes in them. But it’s a relief, it’s a simplification of life, it’s freedom to realize how ridiculous all the pressure to keep up with the Joneses really is.
Understanding how little wardrobe means in the scheme of things—and then living out that truth, while admittedly not on a par with the discovery of penicillin or chocolate or anything, has still made a remarkable impact on me and inspired me to extend my minimalism to other aspects of my life. If the idea of minimalism overwhelms you, I’d suggest you just take a baby step—try some mini-minimalism. Start with your wardrobe, or your kitchen, or your garage. Lighten your load. You’ll start to see everything in a different light, and you’ll feel more free.