Wardrobe 25

Well, I didn’t expect to talk about this today, but here it is and here I am. For the past few months, I’ve been wearing the same clothes – 25 of them – over and over and over. It’s not earth-shattering, the idea of minimalism, and I’d even argue that it’s trendy to be a minimalist, which makes me like the concept eight thousand times less, but sometimes trends are here because they’re good, and easy, and smart. (How’s that for a run-on sentence? Apologies to my fifth grade teacher.)

Reducing the options in my closet has been all of those things for me, mostly because decisions have always been an anxiety trigger in my life. I remember when I was pregnant with Bee and had to choose a car seat, and how does one go about choosing a car seat exactly? Form vs. function vs. safety vs. price, it was enough to make me throw in the towel, which is code for ask Ken to do it, which is code for precisely what he’d prefer anyway. The man is a born researcher and decision maker, and I knew when I said yes to his proposal that it would be the last decision I’d really have to make if I wanted to, forever and ever, Amen.

The past few years have been a whirlwind of simplification – of fewer and deeper with fewer and deeper – and the great closet clean-out of 2014 was the final nail in the coffin of Minimalist Me. When we visited Singapore for nearly a month last May, I packed just 25 items and knew instinctively that this was my number, my cut-off. I didn’t need any more there, so why would I need any more here? And when we returned in June, I rid my closet of everything not in my suitcase.

This winter, I did the same – whittling down to a Wardrobe 25 – and it wasn’t until I started receiving questions about the process that I felt compelled to write about it. And so, here it is. Everything you wanted to know, and probably more than you wanted to know, but you’ll get that from me six days of the week.

Q: What did you decide to keep?
A: Here’s the list! Please note: I had to source similar items rather than exact replicas because the bulk of my wardrobe isn’t current, but this is the idea: 001 / 002 / 003 / 004 / 005 / 006 / 007 / 008 / 009 / 010 / 011 / 012 / 013 / 014 / 015 / 016 / 017 / 018 / 019 / 020 / 021 / 022 / 023 / 024 / 025

Q: How did you decide what to keep?
A: You know those favorite pieces you have that you wear over and over and over? Keep those. That’s it. Easy enough, right?

Q: Is this really all you wear?
A: For the most part, yes. I didn’t include my snow boots, or my coat, or accessories (hats, scarves, jewelry), the latter of which I heavily rely on to keep my favorite outfits interesting. I also have a sweatshirt, a robe and a few yoga tanks/tees that I sometimes wear underneath my sweaters and tops when I head to my local studio for a good workout. Other than that, what you see is what you get.

Q: Don’t you feel wasteful?
A: Oh, the opposite! It felt wasteful for my clothing to sit unused in my closet for most of the month, so I donated the pieces to a few womens’ shelters in the U.S., and offered a few to some gals here in town.

Q: What about special occasions?
A: I included one black pencil skirt for conferences and rare work travel, and I have a few classic pieces (blazer, shift dress, pumps, etc) in storage. I’ll pull them out when I need them, but for my lifestyle, I can get away with pretty little.

Q: Don’t you get bored?
A: Not even a bit. When I’m bored with my pieces, I’ll pair together something I generally don’t rely on, or add in an accessory I love. I’ve also relied a bit on my husband’s closet when laundry day is looming, a nice bonus for sure.

Q: Do people notice you’re wearing the same thing all the time?
A: I don’t know, I’ve never asked. But I’ve come to realize people generally aren’t really paying that much attention to the things you think they’re paying attention to, you know? They’re thinking of the same things you are – thawing out the chicken for dinner, sending that email, reminding themselves to get gas on the way home – and are likely too distracted to notice you have on the same pants you wore yesterday.

We say we dress for ourselves, but I think what we’re really doing is dressing for the way we want ourselves to be perceived. There’s a difference, and learning the difference (and letting go of that expectation) is a freeing concept.

Q: What about laundry?
A: You know, I’ve found that it’s just as easy to throw your clothing in the laundry machine as it is the hamper. And I spend far less time doing laundry because I don’t let it pile up for days, and everything I wear is machine washable. I don’t wash my sweaters and shirts daily, so between washes I often use this.

Q: What about the rest of your family?
A: Bee and Ken have a naturally slim wardrobe, so we’re all pretty much in the same boat over here. (And for those of you with kids interested in this challenge, I will say this: in high school, I wore the same five tops and five bottoms weekly and am convinced it was the key to teaching me how to dress creatively while experimenting with accessories. Restrictions and boundaries always offer creativity, so it was a beautiful lesson for me!)

Q: Will you be sharing your outfits on the blog?
A: I don’t know; it’s a bit of work to photograph it all. But if you’d like, I will. Just let me know!

If you feel compelled to clean out your closet as well, I’ve made a list of non-profits and other organizations by state that I imagine would be incredibly blessed by your donation (please offer your very best!):

Alabama / King’s Home
Alaska / Anchorage Rescue Mission
Arizona / St. Vincent De Paul
Arkansas / Northwest Arkansas Women’s Shelter
California / Love the City Thrift Store
Colorado / USAgain
Connecticut / ABC Women’s Center
Delaware / Friendship House
Florida / Chapman Partnership Inc.
Georgia / Covenant House
Hawaii / IHS
Idaho / The Haven Shelter
Illinois / Zealous Good
Indiana / Wheeler Mission
Iowa / Shelter House
Kansas / Hope House
Kentucky / The Hope Center
Louisiana / New Orleans Women’s Shelter
Maine / Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter
Maryland / Interfaith Works
Massachusetts /Rosie’s Place
Michigan / WISE
Minnesota / Safe Haven
Mississippi / Gateway Mission
Missouri / City Union Mission
Montana / Good Samaritan Thrift Store
Nebraska / People’s City Mission
Nevada / Las Vegas Rescue Mission
New Hampshire / Outfitters
New Jersey / New Visions Homeless Day Shelter
New Mexico / Joy Junction
New York / The Bowery Mission
North Carolina / InterAct
North Dakota / New Life Center
Ohio / Haven of Rest
Oklahoma / John 3:16 Mission
Oregon / Portland Rescue Mission
Pennsylvania / Bethlehem Haven
Rhode Island / The Clothing Collective
South Carolina / Zion Home of Restoration
South Dakota / Western South Dakota Community Action
Tennessee / Memphis Union Mission
Texas / Genesis Shelter
Utah / The Road Home
Vermont / Upper Valley Haven
Virginia / HomeAid
Washington / Tacoma Rescue Mission
West Virginia / Valley Mission
Wisconsin / Harbor House
Wyoming / Comea House

  • i am so glad to hear this can be done and it works well. I am working towards eliminating things I don’t like.

  • Your capsule wardrobe looks pretty similar to mine, as far as palette and style go. I gravitate towards gray and navy, so my basic uniform is jeans (in either dark blue or gray), a sweater (in some shade of gray/blue), and boots.

    I realized once I had my daughter that nobody pays attention to what mom wears, once there’s an adorable kid on the scene :) One Sunday about 6 months after I had her, I was walking through the lobby at church and got several compliments on my outfit. Since it was one of my regular outfits, I was confused why everyone was noticing it, until I realized that it was the first time that my daughter was with my husband, not with me. Since she’s usually glued to my hip, all adoration goes straight to her (as it should). So, needless to say, I don’t feel conspicuous wearing the same clothes often.

  • I want your closet! I don’t shop much, partially for lack of funds, but I find that even when I have more, I stick with about this many favorite pieces in rotation anyways. It just involves a higher percentage of comfy, ratty t-shirts ;)

  • I’ve been doing this recently too. For me I found myself constantly shopping (ahhhhh!) and it was just a giant time suck. I didn’t even go crazy buying stuff I was just always thinking about buying stuff and it was awful. Caroline Rector’s blog un-fancy was a big inspiration for me initially. I feel like I have been able to focus on other and more important areas in my life so much better now.
    Also, I like your capsule :)

    • Oh, I LOVE that Caroline Rector – she does suuuch a great job inspiring minimalism! Thank you for sharing; I’ve felt the same way in many months and am happy to have broken free from the cycle, for now. ;)

  • Thanks for sharing this, Erin! I’m loving the trend lately to reduce our wardrobes to only what’s used and loved. I’ve just started doing capsule wardrobes (not sticking to a formula or strict number, just putting out-of-season things away and donating clothes that no longer fit or feel like “me”) and it’s super liberating. I’m excited to go into my closet because I know it’s all AWESOME.

    Have you heard of an app called Stylebook? You input each of your wardrobe items and use it to create and track outfits. It’s a super dorky love of mine.

  • I would love to see how you put outfits together with accessories! As a new mom with a postpartum body my wardrobe has shrunk dramatically for the time being. I need inspiration!

  • Love this!!! Thanks very much for sharing your experience Erin, I’ve been looking forward to this blog since following you recently on instagram. I feel so released to let go of items and encouraged to not be doing ‘other peoples thinking’ for them{as in how i look and am being perceived} I also find decision making an anxious process but I’m definitely growing in that area by recognizing ways now of keeping everyday life way more simple.{ less clutter/fuss around the house. Less clothe, less time with the mobile phone} By doing so i actually feel I’ve gained rather than lost out on anything. Going to tackle the wardrobe again using your 25 staple items idea. Thank you for being such an inspiration and encouragement. its amazing the spiritual growth that comes through these physical acts,God Bless You

  • Do you think this is possible for someone that works outside the home in a business casual setting?

    • Oh, absolutely! It’s switch out the denim for some work trousers and add in a blazer; you’ll be good to go!

  • Oh, this is exactly the inspiration I need right now! I actually love coming up with creative combinations for my outfits, and try to clean things out annually, but I think an entire overhaul is sincerely necessary. However my color palette is all over the board– I love mixing unconventional pieces and differing styles. I don’t think I’ll be able to get THIS minimal, but it’s surely a start.

    And now, thanks to the comments here, I’ll also be following Un-Fancy for further inspiration.

    You’re the best, Erin. Thanks! <3

  • I love this Erin! I’m pregnant right now so my wardrobe is already kind of limited, but I’m really inspired to pare down my toddler’s clothes! Most of her clothes are handed down to us and I think because of that I feel inclined to keep them all- which is crazy when her dresser drawers barely close!
    P.S. I follow you on Pinterest and I would add to the list of questions- how do you keep a small collection of clothes while constantly pinning cool new styles?!

    • Ha, I hear you with the toddler clothing explosion! :) I’ve been there. ;)

      And that’s a great question! I don’t buy what I pin, but instead I pin things I’m drawn to for their simplicity or texture or color story. It’s more of a creative experiment in discovering what I like so that if I do ever need to replace any items, I’ll have a good idea of what might work. :) Hope that makes sense!!!

  • What an inspiration, thank you! I love your style. This post inspired me to finally clean out my closet and get my capsule wardrobe in order. And I LOVE it! I’m curious, what did you use to collage your wardrobe pieces so you could post them? I want to do the same on my blog!

  • So trying to define my wardrobe while still clinging to the same unworn tops I’ve been looking at for 2 years now, thinking “but I really loved that.” I think “loved” is the defining word here…

    • Ha, I can totally get that. I have some “loved” items in storage I don’t want to part with, mostly because I’d like to pass them down to Bee. My grandmother’s fur coat, for one! But I think I have the benefit of being fairly unattached to things. That certainly helps. ;)

  • Oh my gosh! This sounds so amazing… I don’t know if I could commit though. Although I do keep a fairly small “daily wardrobe” Maybe 30 or so pieces. Then I add in date night and other functional (workout, snow travel) pieces as needed.

    Is there a limit on scarves? That’s probably where I need to cut back a bit. :) Thanks for sharing


  • I have done this, too, just as of late, and it’s so amazing and freeing! I would love to see how you put some of your outfits together!

  • I’m so glad you included Wheeler Mission on your list of sites to donate to! I used to volunteer there a bit, and I have a poignant memory from about 10 years ago of helping a woman sift through potential outfits for a job interview. She was pragmatic & hopeful, and I always wondered if she got the job?
    I just purged our closet, but I think I can do more. I’d love to see some outfit inspiration too!

  • I’ve recently decided that I want to move more in this direction, and create a more minimal wardrobe for myself. I actually just wrote a post today about why I want to do this. Posts like this inspire me even more! I’m still deciding how to approach it, but I love your insights.

  • I have been wanting to pare down my wardrobe for a while, but just didn’t know how to start. Your blog so inspired me that I went into my closet and did the same. I didn’t know how freeing it could be to get rid of so much stuff (two big garbage bags of clothes, and one with shoes) Thank you, Erin, for your ideas and inspiration!

  • Erin, just found your blog an hour ago and have been reading archives. Couldn’t leave a comment on “The Bells Ring” so will do now. It was such a beautiful post and I’ve added the phrase to my daily remembrance along with ‘Trust in the goodness of the Lord’. Blessings to you and yours.

  • Thank you so much for this post, I have been putting off purging my closet for months now and it’s time. Your picks are awesome and exactly how I dress now, I was a paralegal for 15 years and have a lot of law office type clothes that I need to stay good bye to!!

  • In honor of the new year, I’m going to do the same! Exciting to clean out and pare down. I actually end up wearing many of the same pieces over again anyway. Thanks and Happy 2015!

  • i love this. I had been toying the capsule idea ever since i found unfancy – and subsequently your blog through her :) i went for it and will never turn back! there’s something so satisfying about seeing a neat and minimal closet.

    thank you for putting your lovely thoughts out into the world for us to enjoy.you blog has quickly become one of my favorite reads.

  • We’ve moved toward minimizing and simplifying in the past few years. This past year I really started paying attention to my wardrobe and severely started limiting it, but it felt so good! Now I know exactly what I have and what to wear for each occasion! I think Americans, as we are infamous for “fast fashion,” could all use a dose of wardrobe minimizing!

  • This is so wonderful; thank you for sharing!! Just an FYI, the nonprofit you have listed in Washington is actually in D.C., and not Washington State. :)
    Thanks again for your insight!

  • Recycling is great, and Americans need to do even more of it. But at the risk of seeming less than positive, I’d like to let you know that at least one of the used clothing collectors in your list ― USAgain, for Colorado ― is not a nonprofit, but a for-profit company. One can’t “donate” to a for-profit like USAgain.

    This matters because USAgain ― along with other out-of-town collectors ― are reportedly causing donations of decent duds to dwindle at local charities. This raises the concern that there isn’t enough wearable clothing being given away to support all the groups collecting it, despite USAgain’s assurances to the contrary.

    It may surprise some that not all “donation” bins represent a charity. Some bins belong to for-profit companies like USAgain that sell “donated” items for a profit. While some companies do admit their for-profit status in the fine-print on their bins, others try to make themselves look like a charity in order to get more donations.

    To further confuse matters, some companies pay a charity for the use of its name. Called “rent-a-charity” by critics, the practice entails the company putting the charity’s name on its bins and paying the charity a fee per bin or per pound collected. But reports say the charity usually gets little compared to what the company earns.

    Charities are also not created equal. Although there are donation bins that are owned by a registered nonprofit, some organizations can be deceptive in their claims about how much of the proceeds actually go to a charitable cause and what goes to “overhead.”

    USAgain, which is a national company not just in Colorado, has drawn a storm of criticism for disturbing reasons. For starters, reports going back a decade suggest that the for-profit company, to quote Seattle’s KIRO News, “… routinely pretended to be a charity so business owners wouldn’t ask for rent on the bin space.”

    Worse, Danish prosecutors link USAgain to an alleged cult called the Tvind Teachers Group. Five leaders of this group are Interpol fugitives wanted in their native Denmark in connection with a multimillion-dollar tax-fraud and embezzlement scheme.

    It’s likely that the only Tvind Teachers Group members at USAgain are its officers, none of whom are wanted by Interpol. And the company’s laborers and local managers are probably just regular folks trying to hold down a job. But the following report quotes a former USAgain branch manager who says she had been pressured to join the Teachers Group, reportedly the controlling body of the broader Tvind organization.

    Google search these reports:

    Millions In Clothing Donations Diverted From Charity kirotv

    Local Mayor Wants Red Bins Out Usagain in Seattle YouTube

    [When the above reports aired in 2009, USAgain’s bins were of a red and white design, not their current green and white appearance. The description box in the ‘Local Mayor’ video, above, has documentation in support of my opinions. Click ‘Show more’ while on that page.]

    Thanks for the chance to express my opinions. Please research before you donate.

    • Thank you for sharing this information! I completely agree in that we must research the organizations we give to, both nonprofit and not. Thank you for the insight!

  • Your wardrobe is perfect. I love it. I’ve been trying to minimize my wardrobe as well because my closet overwhelms me all the time and I wear the same couple of things most days. Great post.

  • Absolutely love your 25! It would be great to see your creativity and style each day. Please post your daily outfits for inspiration!

  • This is brilliant. You get your point across so clearly and strip out all the fuss that often comes with capsule wardrobe advice.
    You’ve reminded me of why I started trying to downsize and made me want to get back on the horse after a slump of feeling sentimental about things.
    Thank you!

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