I have a LOT of clothing. Way too much. So much, in fact, that I’ve cleaned out my closet three times in the past year, and each time I got rid of at least two garbage bags worth of clothing. And still, my closet is overflowing, and my dresser drawers barely close. It’s ridiculous.
I don’t even like shopping all that much. When I do buy clothes, they’re almost always from thrift stores or they’re t-shirts from 5ks. I also collect a lot of hand-me-downs from family friends. To top it off, my two sisters and I (and sometimes my mom) share clothing, so my wardrobe goes beyond what is in my bedroom.
Still, I have days where there’s “nothing to wear.” It always seems like I could use a new top or sundress.
After learning a bit about fast fashion this past spring, I was able to gain some perspective on this situation.
The clothing industry accounts for more pollution than any other but oil. Between the release of toxic dyes into water, consumption of fossil fuels for production and transport, and use of non-biodegradable materials, the clothes we wear are taking a massive toll on the planet. The fast fashion industry, which churns out new designs almost weekly (think H&M, Forever 21, Rue 21) has become one of the biggest perpetrators. They’re able to keep their prices so low by using cheap labor, poor production methods, and synthetic materials. So while a new dress might only cost you $15 dollars, after you wear it only once and the seams rip, it will sit in a landfill forever because the plastic fibers aren’t biodegradable.
But the marketing we see on a daily basis is tailor-made (pun intended) to convince us that we need new clothes constantly. We’re encouraged to keep up with fashion trends so that we keep spending money.
Not only do I not want to be a pawn in that game, having a ton of clothing can be a huge pain. I can’t tell you how often a mound of clean laundry sits on my bedroom floor for weeks because I don’t want to fight the jungle of my closet to put them away. Meanwhile, seldom-worn or new clothes occupy my struggling closet shelves.
Plus, there’s getting dressed in the morning. It takes ages because I can’t find something or I can’t decide or nothing looks right on me. It’s a waste of time. I’ve always sided with school uniforms, but no luck.
Enter the concept of capsule wardrobes.
Capsule wardrobes are often part of a minimalist lifestyle, but can stand alone as a functional aspect of anyone’s life. The idea is to have minimum amount of clothing to serve your needs, but to invest in making those high quality, properly fitted, coordinating items that be versatile and durable enough to serve you for years.
Some consider capsule wardrobes to be only about 25-30 items, some are less extreme and allow for more.
I love this idea. This concept means fewer decisions, leaving brain power for more important things. It means less time spent washing, drying, folding, and searching for clothes, leaving more time for important things. It means easier travel, leaving more opportunity to enjoy the world around us. These, in my opinion, are the goals of minimalism: simplifying certain peripheral aspects of life to leave more time, energy, and space for the really great things.
Still, I was scared. I’m not great at getting rid of things. I’m sentimental and often over-prepared. I often think “But what if I need this for a Halloween costume one day?” when deciding whether to throw out an ugly skirt that barely fits. I can justify keeping a lot.
But through many cycles of cleaning out my closet, I’ve pared down my wardrobe a lot. It’s nowhere near minimal, but it’s a heck of a lot closer.
Going to college, however, seemed to me like the perfect opportunity to try out a more minimal approach. Nobody knew how I usually dress, so they wouldn’t be surprised when I wore certain things all the time. Dorm rooms have limited storage and I hate clutter, so I’d be motivated keep to the essentials. I’d be forced to do my laundry regularly because if I didn’t, I’d have nothing to wear. With less room taken up by clothes, I’d have more room for stuff like art supplies. And the best part (at least in my *ahem* “collector” brain):
If I found that I really couldn’t live with less, I could have my parents bring up more clothes when they come for parents’ weekend in mid-October.
Here’s my sorta-minimal (keep in mind that I’m new to this college thing and I still want to be prepared) college wardrobe.
I came across lots of different formulas and templates for capsule wardrobes. The one that seemed most practical to me basically has you asses your wardrobe needs for a week and plan accordingly.
Class: I have dance or acting classes almost every day, and when I don’t I have set building, so I brought a lot of comfortable clothes.
3 pair black leggings (1 capri, 2 full length)
3 comfortable (loose fitting) tops
1 pair jeans
3 pair shorts (for the first month or so of school)
1 pair black pants
1 pair green cargo pants
1 black t shirt
1 black long sleeve
1 white t shirt
2 pair sweatpants
2 t shirts
1 t-shirt dress
1 formal black dress
Workout: (I usually workout 5-6 days a week.)
1 pair running leggings
1 long sleeve t
5 pair shorts
6 t shirts
PJ’s: Half the time I fall asleep in clothes anyway.
4 big t shirts
2 pair pajama pants
1 pair basketball shorts
Outerwear (I’m going to college on Long Island, New York, for reference):
1 lightweight coat
1 heavy winter coat
1 pair gloves
1 baseball hat
Black Flip Flops
This is still a lot, but it’s so much less than I would have brought if I weren’t so intentionally trying to downsize.
I actually ended up going home over Columbus Day weekend, and brought back three items: A pair of dressy pants, and two sweaters, as the weather was beginning to change. When I went home for Thanksgiving and came back, I brought my heavy winter coat. I did have to buy one thing- a gown for my voice recital. Other than that, my wardrobe didn’t change.
Overall, I was pretty happy with my choices. I definitely wore a few things constantly, and some not at all, so I’ll be switching out those items for next semester. I found that I went to my dorm between classes much more than I had anticipated I was wearing more “real clothes” (jeans, sweaters, dresses) than I’d predicted. Still, I had plenty.
On the few occasions where I found myself lacking something specific, I was able to borrow from generous friends without difficulty. This was perfect for putting together costumes for my dance recital, or for traveling into the city in 30 degree weather before I had my own coat.
One thing I found quite interesting was that even though I was in a new place, surrounded by all new people, I didn’t feel like I needed to have something else to be on their level. I admired people’s great outfits, but didn’t feel the need to emulate them. FOMO really wasn’t an issue with my clothing.
I think now I have a better idea of what my go-to’s are, and with that I’ll be tweaking my wardrobe for the spring semester.
This experience has also made me consider once again my horrendous closet. I would really like to move to a full time capsule wardrobe, but something specific has been holding me back: As I work through eating disorder recovery, my size changes regularly. Some things fit, some things don’t, some, I am too afraid to try on. Getting dressed in the morning has been a huge source of anxiety for me over the past few years. This past summer, I finally got up the courage to buy some new clothes, in a new size. I only bought a few items, but it made an incredible difference in how I felt about myself. I was wearing things that fit and that looked good, so I felt good. I cannot emphasize this enough to anyone in a similar situation: Buying bigger clothing is not “giving up,” it is respecting yourself. And it really helps.
Because I still didn’t know where my weight would stabilize, I stuck mostly to thrift stores, not yet ready to invest in expensive, high quality clothing but not wanting to play into fast fashion. And I hesitate to get rid of clothing because I don’t want to buy a whole new wardrobe if my body changes again. Still, I am in a better place now, and willing, I think, to at least start tackling this. I know there are things in my closet that will never fit my body in a healthy state. I know there are things that I just don’t feel good wearing, even if they do fit me. I am a big proponent for having a wardrobe of only favorites-things that you love to wear. So little by little, I will pare down my clothing again, using my list of environmentally-friendly options for getting rid of clothes.
Stay tuned to hear about the spring semester, and whether or not I am able to simplify further 🙂