I’ve written about a lot of serious topics lately, so it’s time to change things up. For a lot of people, clothing is one of the most challenging areas to downsize, and that’s understandable. Our clothing is a reflection of our personality and lends to how we are perceived in the world. It can serve as armor, costume, or beacon; it can flatter, insult, embarrass or elevate us.
But the truth is, we spend too much time and money on clothing. Statista.com reports that from September 2017 through September 2018, U.S. clothing stores had monthly sales between $11 million and nearly $24 million. Per month. It totaled almost $330 million for those 12 months.
To give you some perspective, during this time the population was around 325 million in the United States. So more dollars were spent on clothing than people living in the country. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average family spends $1800 per year on clothing.
We’re not talking about food or housing. Just clothing. I mean, an extra $1800 a year could go to so many places. Like food, or shelter. Or debt. Or a vacation.
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Here’s what’s in my minimalist closet
My entire wardrobe including shoes, socks, hats, bags watch, and undergarments is about 85 items. Not only because we live in a small space, but also because I just don’t want a lot of clothing (scroll past this for the rest of the article if you don’t want to read the detailed list).
5 pairs of shoes (including a pair of slippers that I only wear inside)
1 pair of jeans
1 pair of corduroys
3 pairs of leggings
1 pair of tights
4 pairs of shorts
4 tank tops
3 long-sleeved shirts
1 dressy top
1 swimsuit + 1 pair of board shorts
1 tunic-y top and 1 corset (bought on Amazon - part of my pirate Halloween costume for many years)
6 pairs of thick socks
8 pairs of ankle-high socks
8 pair underwear
3 pairs of gloves
4 pairs of pajamas/nightgowns
1 small purse (or “waist bag” - affiliate link)
1 backpack made of recycled materials (link to Amazon)
1 smartwatch (Amazon link)
I only have items that I actually wear and like, although there are a few that are too big on me and I may get rid of them in the future. Lately, I’ve removed items from my closet and have not replaced them.
In the next section, I’m going to explain how to make your closet more minimalist, which can save you a bunch of money and make getting dressed a breeze.
How to downsize your closet
Here are some guidelines for keeping your closet simple. Implement as many as you can for maximum effect.
Only keep clothes that you actually wear
If something doesn’t fit and you’re not willing to get it altered, it has to go
If something can’t be repaired, it has to go
The clothes must be flattering to your figure and your skin tone
Things that continuously need adjusting (straps that don’t stay in place or hemlines that ride up), are uncomfortable or cause damage to your body (e.g., shoes that cut your feet open or cause blisters) should be sent on their way
If anything still has a tag on it and is more than a month old AND not meant for an upcoming event, it’s time to let it go
Trendy items that are off-trend; things that you bought because it looked good on someone else, but now you ask yourself “What was I thinking?” each time you see it in your closet should make their exit
I also recommend keeping only clothing items that are versatile. For example, tops in styles and colors that work well with several pants/skirts that you own. Remove the one-offs from your life.
How to save money when you need to buy more clothing
The first question to ask yourself is, do I really need to buy more?
Don’t be afraid to wear items that you really love as often as you want. I have a dress that I really like. It fits me well, and I’ve worn it to several work-related events and a wedding. I don’t feel any need to buy a new dress for each occasion. I have enough confidence in myself that I’m not worried about what other people may think of my decision. And not a single person has commented about how often I wear it, either.
That being said, perhaps after you downsized your closet, you found that you weren’t left with enough clothing to get through even a week. So here’s what I do when I need to buy some clothing:
Swimsuits: I always buy high-quality swimwear. I bought the one I own now in January 2017, and I won’t have to replace it anytime soon. I spent about $70 on it, and it’s UPF 50 (built in sunscreen for clothes). The brand is called Coolibar, (Amazon link) if you want to check it out. Swimsuits are one of the few things I buy new.
Underwear/bras/socks: I go for cost-effectiveness and convenience here and try to be more forgiving in my eco-friendly tendencies. I get the bras and underwear from Target or Wal-Mart, and the socks come from a sporting goods store. I try to go for cotton wherever possible.
Shoes: I have a few pairs of shoes (sandals and a pair of flats) that I hold on to for longer because I wear them less often. My primary pair of shoes is comfortable for walking (currently waterproof hiking boots), and I buy a new pair every 3-4 months. A foot expert told me you should replace your shoes after about 500 miles of walking. I have foot problems, so I usually spend $50-150 per pair of shoes, and the day they start to hurt my feet is the day I start looking for my next set. This is my predominant clothing-related expenditure every quarter.
Clothing: for the rest of my clothes, when I need something I start at a thrift store. I’ve found amazing buys on like-new items. I look for a few things when I shop in a thrift store: quality, cotton, and price. My first choice is a well-made item in a natural fabric at a great deal. I go for cotton or cotton-blend. I examine the stitching, the hems and the body of each piece for rips, holes and fraying. I consider how much the same apparel might cost new at a regular retail store, and whether it’s a good value. During my last thrift store trip, I got 5 items, including a dress, for $22. All were in excellent condition with no visible wear.
If I can’t find an item at a thrift store, other options are clothing swaps, asking family or friends if they have clothing they no longer want, or purchasing new from eco-friendly retailers. One of my favorite brands is kind of in hibernation right now. It’s a small, American-made designer (www.seamly.co). She recently sold the brand to someone else, and I’m waiting to see what will happen. I’ve also shopped on Gaiam (affiliate link) for a few things and bought a couple Fair Indigo (Amazon link) items. I’ve had them for several years and find them well-made and timeless.
Something else I haven’t tried yet, but may in the future, is a clothing rental service. There are tons out there. I don’t know if they’re any good or not, but my friend used one for her various wedding rehearsal/bridesmaid dinner outfits, and she seemed very happy. It does look like a way you could potentially save a lot of money on garments you only plan to wear once, without having to keep them in your closet out of guilt.
If you need more guidance, my fellow minimalist Courtney does a seasonal capsule wardrobe challenge called Project 333 (affiliate link). You can follow along for free through social media and look up posts through her blog. Or if you want more guided instruction, she has a very affordable class at $19.99 (affiliate link) that will connect you with her and other aspiring wardrobe minimizers. Her teachings are what helped me downsize and simplify my own wardrobe nearly a decade ago.
A few more tips
Avoid impulse buys. Shop for (and buy) only what you need. Have a list ready and if you can’t find exactly what you want, be patient and refrain from buying something you don’t need just because you’re already at the store. Also, avoid window shopping when you’re bored, especially if you go with friends who love to shop.
Avoid social media accounts that share clothing hauls or other ways of recommending things to buy. Realize that these people are likely: 1. Spending money they don’t have just to get views and followers, or 2. Getting sponsored to post these items for money cash or in exchange for free stuff. Aspiring to be like them, or buying things just because you got caught up in the hype, is a great way to walk yourself out of lots of money.
As much as possible, use a one-in, one-out rule. Wait until a clothing item must leave your closet (see guidelines above), and only replace it when you get rid of it.
Try not replacing things right away. See if you really need them, or if you do ok without them. Months may go by, and you haven’t even missed something.
Your basic rules for what you wear should be: appropriateness for the event, it fits you well, and you are comfortable in it, it’s in good repair, and it’s clean. Everything else is extraneous and makes life more complicated.
Lastly, remember that a lot of today’s culture is extremely shallow. Retailers and materialistic people would have you believe that without loads of clothing, you are not a member of society in good standing. Just know there are genuine people out there who care only whether you are a good person, and we need more of those people.