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The Ultimate Guide to a Minimalist Wardrobe

In this post: learn how to save time, money, and energy by creating a minimalist wardrobe you love.

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What is minimalism?

Minimalism is about finding the essential in our lives and removing anything that doesn’t support that purpose.  Put another way, it’s about living a life in alignment with your priorities and purpose.  So what does that have to do with your closet? A lot.

How to adopt a minimalist wardrobe

A minimalist wardrobe focuses on creating a simplified, minimal collection of high quality clothing choices that you enjoy wearing and feel great in.  It’s not about getting rid of everything in your closet, but about being intentional with what you keep and what you purchase moving forward.

What is a minimalist capsule wardrobe?

A minimalist wardrobe is often confused with a capsule wardrobe, but there are some distinctions.  

A capsule wardrobe is a type of minimalist wardrobe (the ole all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares).  It has a set of rules to follow to adapt your wardrobe to.  Pieces follow certain guiding “rules” that ensure components coordinate and can be interchanged with each other.  Capsule wardrobes are built on extremely versatile pieces that can be incorporated in your wardrobe in multiple ways.

Conversely, a minimalist wardrobe focuses on ensuring you use and love everything you have in your closet.  While it’s encouraged to have neutral, interchangeable base items for building a timeless minimalist wardrobe, there’s more flexibility in color choice and patterns.  The goal of a minimalist wardrobe is simply to use and love everything in your wardrobe.

Why have a Minimalist Wardrobe 

There are numerous benefits to curating your closet to create a more minimal wardrobe.

Cleaner closet

A minimalist wardrobe, by definition, is minimal.  That means there’s less clothing to hang, fold, and maintain.  Your closet is no longer stuffed like a Chipotle burrito.  Instead, there’s space between hangers and it’s easy to see everything you own.

Easy to get ready

It’s thought that we only wear about 20% of what we own, yet we seem to never have anything to wear.  A minimal wardrobe consists of pieces you love and that look great on you.  And when you love everything you put on, getting dressed in the morning is a lot less stressful (and you end up with a lot less clothing on your floor).

Less to think about

According to research, the average adult makes over 35,000 decisions a day. Cutting down on the amount of time you need to dedicate to those decisions is one of the best reasons to create a minimalist wardrobe. 

In her book, The Lazy Genius Way, Kendra Adachi talks about the guiding principle of choosing once.  By automating some decisions, and choosing once and then never again, we give our brains a break and make room for what matters. 

Choosing once to create a minimal wardrobe, or mom uniform, frees you up from constantly having to make decisions on what to wear.

Saves time, money, energy

A minimalist wardrobe saves you countless hours of shopping.  It saves you money because you’re not buying things you’ll never actually wear.  It saves you energy because you have less clothing to care for.

Better for the environment

Clothing that is cheaply made to suffice current trends is referred to as fast fashion.  Fast fashion is a leading cause of pollution and waste. It is also a leading cause of low wage work and dangerous employment conditions.

A minimalist wardrobe favors higher quality, well-made garments.  As a result, you’ll be purchasing less clothing and supporting higher quality brands. For folks that are working toward a zero-waste lifestyle, creating a minimalist wardrobe is a great place to start.

piles of clothing on an ironing board

How to curate a minimalist wardrobe

If you’re ready to experience the benefits of a minimalist wardrobe, follow along as I show you how easy it can be.Think about who you are presently- not who you used to be or who you hope to be

Release the Ideal You

Think about who you are presently- not who you used to be or who you hope to be

  • Don’t hold onto the past (clothes that don’t fit, you never wear) because of guilt, regret, or attachment to the good ole days
  • Think about who you are and the body you have right now.  Not the person you want to be when you’re 30 pounds lighter, or the person you want to be when you’re more active, adventurous, etc.  
  • Don’t keep a bunch of fancy clothes if your ideal Friday night is pizza and a movie in sweats on the couch. Instead, realistically think about your lifestyle and what needs your clothing serves presently.

Determine Your Style & Color Palette

  • What clothes do you feel great in?
  • What colors and patterns suit your skin tone? (not sure, take this test)
  • What materials make you feel comfortable?
  • Do you enjoy dressing in layers?
  • Do you have casual needs, or do you need to keep a professional wardrobe as well?

Not sure about your style? 

Create a mood board of favorite looks that speak to you and then look for trends or patterns in what you love.  You can check out my current mood board here.  You can also search Pinterest for minimalist style, or capsule wardrobe to gather more ideas.

neutral flat lay of minimalist wardrobe

Declutter your closet

Once you’ve reflected on your present needs and know your personal style, it’s time to work on getting rid of anything that doesn’t align with those two guiding principles.

If you need help simplifying your wardrobe, be sure to check out these posts for tips and a step-by-step guide:

How to Plan a Minimalist Wardrobe

Now that you have eliminated all the clutter from your closet, it’s time to mindfully fill the gaps in your minimalist wardrobe.  Remember, you just spent a lot of time and energy eliminating clutter, so be mindful about what you bring into your space.  Here are some great tips to help you make wise future purchases for your minimalist wardrobe.

Create rules around purchases:

Determine the rules you will adhere to before making future purchases.  

  • WIll you only buy something if it’s on your essentials list, or will you okay purchases for things that you immediately fall for?
  • What colors will you stick to, if any?
  • Will you stick to certain fabrics or cuts?
  • Do you have a number of items you want to keep your closet under?

Questions to ask while shopping:

  • Is this on my list of essentials?
  • Does this fit with the color palette of the other elements in my wardrobe?
  • Am I committed to the upkeep this garment it will require (dry clean only, hang dry, ironing, etc)
  • Can I think of three scenarios in which I’ll wear this item?
  • Does this item align with my values on purchasing?  Is it high quality, or is it fast fashion?  WIll I need to replace it quickly?
  • Does this item flatter my figure?
  • Is this the best fit for the essential item I’m looking for (right cut, length, color, material, etc).
clothing on hangers during a street sale

Overcoming Financial Barriers

Because a minimalist wardrobe focuses on fewer, higher quality pieces, you’ll no doubt notice a difference in the price of these pieces compared to low quality, fast fashion items.  To overcome some of these barriers consider these options:


Shop second hand

Grab a latte and peruse a local upscale consignment shop. Or, search out online thrift stores or marketplaces like PoshMark or ThreadUp.

Choose a rental

Consider renting versus buying for special occasions. There are numerous sites popping up on the internet that cater to special occasion rentals and high end designer fashion, such as Rent the Runway or Nuuly

Instead of investing a large chunk of cash for a dress you might only wear once a year, consider renting something for a fraction of the price.  It’s a great way to enjoy something trendy or designer without breaking the bank.

Shop ethical

Watch for deals at ethical shops. Check out sales or clearance events at stores that source clothing ethically. One of my favorite places to shop Better Way Designs.

pink sweatshirt and white knit hat with gold accessories

What does a minimalist wardrobe look like?

There are no hard or fast rules when it comes to what must be in a minimal wardrobe.  It really depends on each person’s unique lifestyle and clothing needs.  As a stay-at-home mama, I need a lot less clothing than I did when I was headed to my classroom every day.  If you’re working from home, that will look different than going to the office every day.  

That being said, some people still really want guidelines.  So, if that’s you, here are some general guidelines you can use to create a minimal wardrobe for everyone in the family.  Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list, nor is it capped at a certain number of items.  If you hate skirts, don’t own them!  Love sweaters?  Have more than two!  Remember, the goal of a minimalist wardrobe is to love and use everything you own, so add, subtract, and personalize this list!

Guidelines for the Family

Complete Wardrobe

Women

  • 3 jeans
  • 3 shorts
  • 2 skirts
  • 2 dressed
  • 3 jackets
  • 5 shoes
  • 3 tanks
  • 7 short sleeve
  • 7 long sleeve
  • 3 sweaters
  • 2 cardigans

Total: 45 items

Complete Wardrobe

Men

  • 3 jeans
  • 5 pants
  • 3 shorts
  • 5 jackets
  • 5 dress shirts
  • 7 short sleeve shirts
  • 7 long sleeve shirts
  • 3 sweaters
  • 5 shoes

Total: 43 items

Complete Wardrobe

Kids

  • 4 jeans
  • 4 pants
  • 5 shorts
  • 3 jackets or coats
  • Substitute dresses or skirts for pants or shirts

  • 7 short sleeve shirts
  • 7 long sleeve shirts
  • 5 sweaters or pullovers
  • 3 shoes

Total: 38 items

How to maintain a minimalist wardrobe

The great thing about a minimalist wardrobe is that it is built upon classic, well-made items in a color palette that suits you.  Because you’re avoiding garbage clothes and fast fashion, you’ll find your wardrobe stays looking timeless and relevant despite changes in the fashion industry.

However, there will be times you fall in love with a current fashion trend that isn’t supported by your minimalist wardrobe. 

So what do you do? Create dessert.

Your minimalist wardrobe as a cookie

You can think about your minimalist wardrobe like a cookie. Most cookies start with a neutral base dough.  There’s nothing overly dramatic or eye-popping about the dough, but it’s timeless and essential.  

There are all sorts of things that can be added to the cookie dough to give it some pizazz- chocolate chips, sprinkles, salted caramel, dried fruit, icing.  The cookies can even be cut into fancy shapes.

When it comes to your minimalist wardrobe, the bulk of your wardrobe should be timeless like a great cookie dough.  It should provide a solid base for the accents and trends (the sprinkles if you will) you’d like to add in.  

Your minimalist wardrobe cookie dough

Purchase timeless pieces that will not easily go out of style and are high quality for:

  • Coats
  • Occasional dresses
  • Suits/professional clothing
  • Jeans or slacks

These pieces will serve as the cornerstone of your wardrobe that you will build everything on. 

For example, my hubby has a few semi-tailored suits that he wears for special occasions such as weddings, business events, and funerals.  I have a little black dress that I adore and generally wear to any wedding or formal event.  

Your minimalist wardrobe sprinkles 

Now that you know what pieces make up the bulk of your minimalist wardrobe, it’s time to sprinkle in the trendy.  Add seasonal or trendy pieces that have limited lifetime use as the icing on top of your minimal wardrobe. 

In the previous example, we might purchase a new tie for my hubby’s suit when he’s looking for an update, but the style and cut of the suit will make it a solid choice for years to come.  My black dress might get worn regularly, but I punch it up with different jewelry, scarves, or shoe combos to add visual interest or test out a new trend.

Your unique minimalist recipe

Each person is unique in their fashion needs and expression, even in the minimalist world.  Decide for yourself what your needs are, and then purchase accordingly.  

In our home, we invest in quality pieces that are the staple of our wardrobe, and then we add in trendy items that are inexpensive, like accessories.  We don’t prioritize spending a lot of money on seasonal items because we know, before long, that look won’t be in style, and it will be a waste of money. 

Sometimes I fall for a new trend and I don’t feel guilty about buying something to wear that I enjoy.  I just don’t go overboard.  If the item fits my style and my personal buying guidelines, it gets the green light. It is this balance that enables us to keep a minimalist wardrobe without sacrificing style.

In order to keep your minimalist wardrobe in check, determine ahead of time how much space you will dedicate to items that are not cornerstone (cookie dough) pieces.  Then, find the trendy pieces that make you feel fabulous and sprinkle them into your minimalist wardrobe (okay, I promise, last cookie pun).

flat lay minimalist wardrobe

What if you live for trends?

If you’re the kind of person that lives for fashion, you might be afraid that a minimalist wardrobe will be stifling.  I would argue that it is just the opposite- it gives you an opportunity to get creative and challenges you to use pieces in more unique ways and combinations. 

Enjoy the process

Creating and maintaining a minimalist wardrobe is a process.  It’s not an overnight change.  Rather, it’s an awareness of trying new things, seeking out new ways of thinking, and experimenting with less. 

Remind yourself that you are learning and growing, and give yourself grace along the way.  Don’t beat yourself up for being unable to declutter sentimental items from your closet, or for purchasing an impulse buy at Target.  Instead, focus on the big picture and know that you’re cultivating an awareness for simplifying something important, and it’s a process that is permitted to take time.

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