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Learn how to create a minimalist capsule wardrobe and discover why it will make your life simpler, happier, and more efficient.
Back in the days before I got rid of everything, I owned 7 pairs of jeans. I’ll let you guess how many I actually wore.
Got a guess?
The answer was 1. And the other 6 pairs?
- One rubbed against my c-section scar in an uncomfortable way.
- Another had a rise that was too low and gave me a muffin top.
- One pair was distressed in a way that was trendy and cool…once.
- A fourth pair was long enough to wear with heels, which I did about twice a year.
- Another pair was skinny enough to wear with high boots, which I never did after about 2013.
- The last pair were going to fit on the magical day when I became a size 6 again.
But I kept all of these jeans I didn’t really like cluttering my closet. Although I wasn’t conscious of it, they made me feel bad.
- These jeans contributed to the volume in my closet and made it hard to find things.
- They reminded me of how much money I’d wasted on pieces I’d never wear again.
- The jeans reminded me that I was no longer going anyplace that required high heels, that I didn’t currently have anything in my closet that was trendy and cool, and that I was no longer a size 6.
I don’t know you, dear Mama, but I’m willing to guess you have some of these yucky-feeling clothes in your closet, too. And the best way to manage them? Implement a capsule wardrobe.
Never heard of a capsule wardrobe?
Coined by British fashion icon Susie Faux in the 1970s, the term “capsule wardrobe” refers to a collection of 30-40 practical and versatile pieces of clothing put together to create an entire wardrobe for a season.
Everything in this magical wardrobe coordinates. You decide on a base color, add neutral tops and bottoms and accessorize with fun colors, prints, and patterns.
And it’s AWESOME. Here’s why.
How Having a Minimalist Capsule Wardrobe Makes Your Life Better
Simply put, simplifying your wardrobe and being intentional about the pieces you choose makes you happier.
- A simpler wardrobe means less time and effort spent getting dressed. As Barry Schwartz said in his terrific book The Paradox of Choice, “With so many options to choose from, people find it difficult to choose at all.” Having tons of stuff in your closet actually makes it harder to get dressed in the morning.
- Simpler wardrobes make laundry duty easier. With fewer pieces, you might have to do small loads a little more frequently, but you won’t be faced with mammoth piles to fold and hang all at once.
- You feel better in the clothes you’re wearing. When you’ve carefully curated every item in your closet, you can dress with confidence in the morning knowing that you’ll look great.
- You’ll feel great when you look in your closet. As I said above, a bulging wardrobe is often a reminder of some things we’d rather forget. Not to mention that clutter in general is a major cause of stress.
Have I convinced you to create your own minimalist capsule wardrobe? Here’s how to get started.
How to Start Creating Your Minimalist Capsule Wardrobe
Begin with what you already have
You probably already have the beginnings of a capsule wardrobe. It’s those five pieces that you pull out first every time you want to feel great in your clothes. It’s the stuff you’d throw in your suitcase if you were going away for a week.
These favorite pieces will likely form the core of your capsule wardrobe.
Evaluate your needs
What sorts of activities are you doing during the course of your day, week, and month? Have you found yourself feeling up the creek without a paddle recently when some sort of event came up? Were you embarrassed because you felt improperly dressed for some reason?
Look ahead in your calendar, and make sure that your wardrobe will cover you for events coming up this season.
Decide what’s missing
Look at the holes you need to fill. Are you missing a great pair of pants? A stylish fall jacket? A dress you can wear anywhere?
Although sample capsule wardrobe lists are an AMAZING place to start, they can be difficult to apply to your own life sometimes. For example, lists often include a white blouse, which I will:
- Look terribly washed out in.
- Refuse to iron and thus NEVER pull out of my closet.
- Probably splash pasta sauce on the one time I do wear it.
I know this wardrobe item won’t fit in with my lifestyle. The same goes for the blazer and the little black dress. Yes, they’re classics that go on nearly every list of “must-haves”, but in my closet, they’ve been replaced with the structured cardigan and the little teal dress.
Fill your holes with items you’ll actually wear.
So now you’ve got your list of what’s already working and what you need. It’s time to fill in the holes. I recommend that, particularly if you have a shopping problem, you stay out of the stores.
It’s sooooo easy to be swayed by what the store wants you to buy. After all, it’s hanging on a pretty end cap and accessorized to the nines. Or maybe it’s 50% off. You can’t pass up a bargain like that, can you?
I recommend you choose one of three ways to grab your new duds:
- Shop online at a store like Zappos that offers free shipping and free returns. Type exactly what you need in the search box. Order everything you think you might like. The day that it arrives, try it all on, keep anything that is a ‘hell yes’ and fits in your clothing budget, and pack up everything else to return immediately.
Right after my oldest was born, I ordered $2000 worth of swimsuits. I found the one that made me feel as fabulous as a postpartum mama with a pooch and saggy boobs could feel, and I sent the other $1900 worth of stuff back. Don’t worry about going a little overboard with your order.
- Shop online at a store that’s in your area, so you can order everything you think you might like and return the rest in person. We do this with Carters for the kids’ clothes and with Nordstrom and Kohl’s for me.
- Order from Amazon. Yes, Amazon has clothes, too, and now that you can return your purchases at a Kohl’s store, you can feel free to order multiple sizes of a garment or multiple different versions of that “boyfriend cardigan” without worrying about paying for return shipping.
Purge what you no longer need
This part is so hard. Your closet is likely full of triumphs and failures. Of memories and possibilities. You’ve got those size 6 jeans that you might wear again and that fierce dress that you’ll wear sometime when you and your husband can actually go on a date again.
To get rid of it can feel like giving up–like admitting that we’ll never get the past back and admitting that we’re not sure what will happen in the future. Cleaning out our closets can force us to confront all sorts of purchasing decisions that we regret, money we’ve wasted, and things we’d like to change about ourselves and our bodies.
And that’s why this is so essential. Not just because it makes it easier for you to get dressed in the morning or pack for a trip. (It does.) But because looking in your closet every morning shouldn’t make you feel bad. Remind yourself as you purge that the money invested here is already spent. You won’t make the purchase “worth it” by holding onto it forever. You can make better buying decisions in the future.
Make room in your life for MORE.
My FREE Declutter Jump Start helps you build a 10-minutes-at-a-time decluttering habit while you play Bingo.
More Secrets of Rocking Your Minimalist Capsule Wardrobe
Choose the Right Colors
Many capsule wardrobe mavens recommend choosing black or navy as your base color, adding a second main neutral, and then an accent color. The bulk of my wardrobe is navy or grey, but because I love color, I include bright splashes of coral and teal.
It goes without saying that the colors you choose should make you look and feel FABULOUS.
Layer your clothes
A sleeveless shift dress can be worn with sandals in the summer or with tights and a sweater in the fall. Most of us who have capsule wardrobes layer up so that a “summer t-shirt” is worn year-round.
Choose classic pieces (although you can definitely update with trendier styles)
If you’re going to be relying on the same pieces again and again, from season to season, make sure the majority of your pieces are in simple, timeless styles. You can bring in the trends by adding inexpensive accessories.
Follow the laundering instructions and air dry
Obviously, if you have fewer clothes, you’ll be laundering the things that you do have more often. Make sure that you are taking impeccable care of your things, treating stains right away and laundering with care.
I hang all of my clothes when they come out of the washer. It doesn’t really add much time to my laundry process, and I don’t need to worry about shrinking or pilling that occurs in the dryer.
If you’re concerned about the slight crunchiness that comes from air-dried clothes, you can spin them in the drier for 5 minutes or so to soften the fibers. Americans, most of the rest of the world lives without a drier. You can do it!
Make sure every piece is a winner
This is a biggie. When your wardrobe is tiny, there is no room for any of the pieces to hide. If one pair of pants doesn’t quite fit or one shirt makes your face look a little washed out, you won’t want to wear them, and you’ll be left with a serious hole in your clothing choices.
As you’re evaluating clothes to keep in your closet or searching for pieces to add to your collection, be sure that they are things that you love.
Remember, if it’s not a ‘hell yes’, it’s a ‘no’.
Consider convertible pieces
For years I have owned a lovely convertible cardigan, which can be worn five different ways–casual or dressy. (It’s not for sale anymore, or I’d share the link!) Search Google for convertible clothing, though, and you’ll find all sorts of pieces that can be multi-functional.
My go-to dress for any dressy occasion, for instance, is this one from Henkaa. It’s stretchy and drapey, so it looks pretty good on this mom bod. It’s available in loads of colors, and because it’s convertible, people don’t necessarily notice that I wear it to every family wedding.
Consider capsule wardrobe help
Lots of smart people who know about fashion have taken the guesswork out of creating a capsule wardrobe for you either by creating specific lists of what to buy or by assembling the clothes together in ready-to-purchase capsules.
I adore the website Get Your Pretty On and the Outfit Formulas that Alison Lumbatis creates. Every season, she releases a mix of basics and on-trend pieces thoughtfully curated with moms in mind.
She not only gives specific instructions for purchasing the clothing items and putting the outfits together every morning, but she maintains a Facebook group for her devotees, who share their own interpretations of her outfit ideas.
Several companies have entered the market to try to create a ready-made capsule wardrobe. I LOVE that concept for the ease of use, but I think you’re probably better off choosing your own perfect t-shirt and pair of jeans.
If it’s important to you, create a system to log your outfits and avoid repetition
I love the app Stylebook. When I buy a new piece, I snap a photo of it and make a few notes: what store the item was from, what size it is, and how much I spent on it.
I then add the item to its clothing category: shirts, pants, accessories, etc.
When I get dressed in the morning, I log my outfit on a calendar by dragging in pieces from my virtual closet. My wardrobe may be small, but I can avoid wearing the exact thing to my homeschool meetup two weeks in a row, for instance, by checking out my outfit calendar.
Of course, an even better solution would probably be choosing not to care if people saw me in the same outfit every week…
Mama, I’m always crowing about making life simpler, more efficient, and more joyful. Creating a capsule wardrobe is one way to do all three at once.
So how many pairs of jeans do you need to purge?
Ready to create your own minimalist capsule wardrobe? Do this now:
- Spend a few minutes in your closet. Evaluate which pieces are your favorite and which you never wear. Consider donating, or at least boxing up the excess–especially any clothes that don’t currently fit. (My free Declutter Jump Start will teach you how to declutter in fun, 10-minute bursts if this process sounds overwhelming).
- Evaluate what’s left. Do you already see a color scheme forming? Are you missing any essential pieces? Remember that you are shopping with intention now to fill specific holes. Make a list of what you actually need.
- Get help if you need it. If this whole process seems like too much, check out Get Your Pretty On and the Outfit Formulas that Alison Lumbatis creates. She updates the formulas every season with easy-to-wear clothes and takes all the guesswork out of getting dressed and looking fabulous.