5 Steps Toward a More Minimal Wardrobe [Updated]

As we were getting ready for Angie’s annual trip to Texas this weekend, I couldn’t help but notice that by the time we finished packing her bag, nearly 1/3 of the contents of our closet were gone! No, she didn’t over-pack (even though she will be gone two weeks). We just don’t have that many clothes. Which is kind of awesome if you’re into the whole minimalism thing 🙂

I recently read that the typical American owns more than 300 articles of clothing and purchases, on average, one new item each week (at a cost of about $1,800 per household per year). We also toss about 70 pounds of clothing (per person) into the landfill each year.

Fortunately, Angie and I are not big clothes shoppers (or clothes tossers). At last count, our whole wardrobe looked like this:

Me Angie
Short Sleeve Shirts 22 16
Long Sleeve Shirts/Sweaters 17 12
Hoodies or Sweatshirts 6 4
Jackets or Coats 3 3
Lounge Pants/Shirts 3/2 3/2
Shorts 10 8
Jeans/Pants 5 7
Swimsuits 2 1
Hats 8 4
Shoes 5 4
Total Clothing 83 64

Here are a few of the ways we keep closet clutter to a minimum:

Pick a system that fits your lifestyle.

As I was researching minimalist wardrobes, I came across a number of different suggestions: The 40 Hanger Closet, Project 333, capsule wardrobes, and even a very inspiring 10 item wardrobe. Whether you follow one of these or design one for yourself, having a plan for your wardrobe will help keep you on track. We currently have 70 hangers and 4 drawers/cubbies of tees and shorts. If a new item comes in, an old item goes out.

Refuse to buy more hangers.

Limiting the number of hangers that you own is probably the single best way control clutter. Think of your closet as an apartment building and your hangers as apartments. If every apartment (hanger) is full, there’s no room for new tenants. Just like an actual building, you can’t add on new apartments on a whim. To bring in new items, old ones must move out.

Take stock of your closet every few months.

I know it may seem obsessive to declutter the closet quarterly but gifts from well-meaning grandmas and those too-good-to-pass-up sale items have a way of sneaking in and stealing your hangers. At the very least, take a walk around your wardrobe at least once every 6 months and remove anything you haven’t worn during that time.

Love it or leave it (to someone who will).

When it comes to clothing, love is all that really matters. I have a few nice shirts that other folks say look great on me but I can’t stand them. I hate the way they feel or the way they hang off my shoulders. As cute as they may be, I’ll never wear them so they just hang out in the closet. If you don’t love an article of clothing, pass it on to someone who will.

Stay out of the store or close your eyes when you walk past the sale racks!

Unless we absolutely need to purchase an article of clothing, we don’t go into clothing stores…not even to browse or kill time. In stores like Walmart and Target that sell clothing alongside necessities, I try not to even peek at the racks. Sure, it’s tempting when I see tee shirts for $3 but as Angie likes to say bargains aren’t really bargains if you don’t need them in the first place.

How large or small is your current wardrobe? What strategies do you use to keep clutter at bay?

Rethinking our Dining Room

Our dining room is the default staging area for nearly all activities that take place in our home. When we pick up our CSA basket each week, it goes on the table to be sorted. When we’re canning or freezing, the table becomes an extra work space. Going camping? The table and floor get filled with supplies to be loaded into the car. Taking out recycling? Yes, the dining room is our sorting facility.

Our apartment is 758 square feet, obviously designed by someone who never actually lived in one of these units. It’s arranged in a very awkward way, with no open floor space in the galley kitchen whatsoever and an abundance of extra space in the dining room. In other words, while our 1-bedroom apartment will only sleep 2 (maybe 3) people, the dining room could easily accommodate a table for 8. Because the space is so large and happens to be the first place you come to when opening the front door, it becomes the catch-all area. Sometimes I look around this room and think we’re not really minimalists at all. So much clutter in one room, how on Earth can we call ourselves such??

That’s when I have to remind myself that evidence of an active life is not the same as clutter. If our closets were so full that the camping gear had to stay in the dining room permanently or if we never sorted the mail or other miscellaneous items that enter our home on a daily basis, then I might relinquish our claim to minimalism. But that’s not the case. Our dining room just happens to be the “production hub” for this business we call life.

Behold the production hub:

The camping gear bag sits by the freezer waiting for the tent to dry outside and the sleeping bags to get washed. Our new modem (inside the giant box from Comcast) awaits installation.
Tomatoes in various stages of ripening sit on the table along with a fan and utensils that go back in the camping gear bag.
Our empty CSA baskets, a box for recycling, a flower pot that needs to go back to my mom, and 2 new oil funnels that need to go out to the lawnmower shed…all patiently awaiting their time to leave.

I once read a blog post (though I forget where) about alternative uses for the rooms in your home. Using your living room for a bedroom because it has a cozier feel or setting up an office in the laundry room were some of the examples given. At the time, I remember thinking about our dining room and how I might be able to use it as my office. But this is pretty much what my office consists of:

And it fits perfectly in the bedroom, near the window so I at least have a view.

My sister once used her dining room as an extra bedroom when her mother-in-law moved in. I’m not willing to go there (as I know of several folks who’d immediately take up residence in the new room) but there has to be a way we can maximize usage of this space without it always being in such disarray.

A few of the ideas for this room that have crossed my mind include:

  • Adding a shelf or another set of coat hooks above the freezer to store our CSA baskets between pickups.
  • Putting an empty laundry basket in the hall closet to serve as a temporary home for things that need to be put away but are “in waiting” (for example, the bivy sack that’s sitting on the table waiting for the sleeping bag to come out of the dryer).
  • Creating a permanent recycling station along the wall near the door. This would have the added benefit of freeing up space in the laundry room for storing CSA baskets.

The one thing I don’t want to do is create more clutter catchers. Every improvement needs to be just that…an improvement. And we do have meals in this space (when we’re not able to eat outside on the patio) so it still needs to function as a dining area. Do you have any suggestions? What are some of the creative ways you use space in your home?