How Making My Wardrobe 37 Pieces Totally Changed My Life

Written by Ashlee Piper

While some people love their homes crammed with stuff and dream of a closet overflowing with hundreds of pairs of designer shoes, I’ve always found stress in a space and existence that’s cringing under the weight of too many things.

So, when I heard of Carolyn Joy Rector’s (the blogger behind Capsule Wardrobe challenge to pare down my wardrobe to a precious 37 pieces (you can choose whichever number feels right for you, but I went with Rector’s sum), I jumped at the chance. I’d been pretty ruthless in closet culling before, but this was a whole new level of simplicity.

What I learned from the experience and about myself was surprising, refreshing and, I believe, would benefit anyone — packrats and ardent minimalist alike.

1. Planning creates peace and allows you to appreciate what you have.

The first step of creating a Capsule Wardrobe is taking stock of what you have. I tackled this process by removing every single item from my closet. Starting with a blank canvas, I sifted through my wardrobe selecting items based on a three-pronged rubric I created:

  1. Do I love it/do I feel confident in this/do I wear it often?
  2. Do I look like a million bucks?
  3. Do I need it?

When I’d completed this process with surgical precision, I found there were only a handful of pieces that truly fit the bill. I even used the experiment as a chance to bust out my sewing machine and repair some tears and holes in well-loved items.

2. Paring down provides more opportunity to connect and give back.

Since my closet was now a serene, almost sacred space, there were quite a few items that didn’t make the cut and had to go somewhere. Not wanting anything to go to waste, I bagged up items for donation, took some pieces to the consignment store and even held a clothing swap with friends. The entire process felt freeing.

Watching items I no longer needed benefit someone else was liberating. I even got crafty with some of the fabric scraps and made toys for the pups at my local shelter. At every point in this process of streamlining, I connected with people, gave back or reconnected with an activity I loved.

3. Less shopping means more money, time and happiness.

The next step was to take stock of what I needed to complete my 37-piece closet. The objective of the challenge is to shop only once for an entire season, meaning four shopping trips per year, total. So I made a list of what I might need to complete some looks, hunted online for good deals and eventually bought seven items total. Why was this awesome? Because as much fun as the movies like to make it seem, shopping is far from therapeutic.

When I was working a job I disliked, I was rich in funds but poor in spirit. I'd shop to fill voids or salve frustrations that had nothing to do with clothing (and were never sated by shopping).

With my newly pared-down wardrobe, shopping once with a list and not again for three months was a revelation. Less time spent shopping meant more time actually doing the things I needed to be happy, more time to meaningfully connect with others, more productivity and more money in my wallet.

4. Fewer pieces allow you to prioritize your values.

Since I’m an ethical vegan, I already don’t wear animal products like leather or silk. But what other values could I embody or things could I support by shopping more sensibly? I decided I only wanted to buy either recycled items or, if I had to buy new, only purchase ethically-made or USA-produced items with an environmentally-friendly bend.

This gave me a fun opportunity to explore new companies and patronize the ones I already love. In the end, I procured three items from a consignment store and four new items. The ethical edit was money well-spent and my completed 37-piece wardrobe was something I could be proud of, bursting both monetary and intrinsic value.

5. Limited selection creates more serenity, less stress.

We live in a culture of busy. If you’re not running from one thing to the next, hemming and hawing about how dang busy you are all the time, you’re very likely living in fear of missing out. But the truth is, we’re all busy in our own ways. And let me tell you, having a limited wardrobe makes getting ready, going out and primping for almost anything a breeze.

Getting dressed was still fun, it just wasn’t a never-ending parade of options. Instead, it was as simple as grabbing one of my feel-good pieces and hitting the road. I never had that stuck feeling I used to get when I was wading through a closet of too big, too small, too much. And that created a lot of space in my life to just enjoy experiences and feel comfortable in my own skin.

6. Personal style has nothing to do with quantity.

Style has nothing to do with money or volume. Despite what magazines tell us, authentic, striking style has everything to do with what you make of what you have, and nothing to do with how much money you spend.

Having limited pieces allowed me to mix and match in creative ways that helped me learn more about myself, what I liked and what boundaries I was willing to push. I found quiet confidence in my newfound simplified style, and I carried that with me into the world in ways that extended far beyond the superficial confines of my closet.

I’d recommend this challenge to anyone, and I’d suggest extending it to everything from your home to your grooming routine. Living la vida simplified is inspiring, and this exercise ushered in one of the most productive, successful and joyful seasons of my life. I’d love to hear your strategies for living a more mindful, minimalist life in the comments. And if you’ve done this challenge, too, I’d love to hear about your experience.

Graphic by MBG Creative

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