How to Start a Minimalist Wardrobe

Woman decluttering her home
Prostock-studio /

Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.

Brent moved in recently, and can I just say … the boy has a lot of stuff.

Holy cow. In fact, I think he has more clothes than I do. And that’s fine, because I really don’t have very many clothes. I teased him a little about it, and he got rid of a few more shirts, but the fact of the matter is, I have a minimalist wardrobe, and I didn’t even realize.

Do you also want to start a minimalist wardrobe? Awesome. Read on for my tips.

Step 1: Take everything out of your closet (and dresser)

Woman in her closet
Elena Elisseeva /

Shoes, coats, rain jackets, umbrellas, slippers, socks, pajamas, unmentionables, everything. Take it all out, and put it on your bed. If your bed won’t fit all of your things, that’s okay. Do this in stages. It might take a while, but I swear, this is worthwhile.

Step 1.5: Make sure all your hangers match

Woman decluttering
Kostikova Natalia /

This sounds absurd, and silly, and it might be both. But seriously. Get some matching hangers and throw out the rest. However many hangers you buy = the number of items of clothing you’re allowed.

Step 2: Take care of the low-hanging fruit

View Apart /

You’ll see right away that there are items you can get rid of. Anything that has dust on the shoulders means it hasn’t been worn in quite some time. Put these clothes in bags or boxes and get them out of your bedroom.

If you want to sell your clothes at a consignment shop, more power to you. Seriously. But get them out of the bedroom. If you put “clothes to sell or give away” in a corner of the room, it’s very likely that they’ll stay there, continuing to gather dust and get in the way of your zen.

Step 3: Stop being sentimental

Woman shopping for clothes
Pond Saksit /

You know what I’m talking about. That dress brings back 100 happy memories. I know it does. But get rid of it. Keep your prom pictures or your wedding pictures, but get rid of the clothes. You’ll never wear these special pieces. In fact, I bet you only wore them once in your life.

It’s time to get them out of your house. Give your wedding dress to a worthy cause. There are nonprofits that will take it. Look it up. Same goes for your “I climbed to the top of Pike’s Peak” T-shirt. You don’t need it.

Step 4: Now, the beautiful pieces

Frustrated woman in clothes closet
Kaspars Grinvalds /

I had this coat that was very Audrey Hepburn. It was one of the most beautiful pieces of clothing I ever owned. The problem? It was a long coat, and it didn’t flatter me. Not even a little. I kept it in my closet because I just loved looking at it. “Oh look!” I’d think, “I am a person with beautiful things. Now, where are my jeans?”

I got rid of it, someone else liked it and got a lot of use out of it, and that was that. I’m still here, and I’m still OK.

Step 5: Does it fit, or is it a goal item?

Art_Photo /

I’m guilty of this. I have two pairs of jeans in my closet that simply don’t fit. They’re awesome, and they’ll look so good once I’m a wee bit less squidgy, and I’m keeping them. Until September. If I’m still too squidgy in September, someone is going to be very happy with my donation.

My point is, don’t keep all the stuff that doesn’t fit you. It’s bad for morale. I’ll allow one (OK, two) pieces that are goal-worthy, but no more than that.

Step 6: Have you worn it recently?

Woman looking at clothes in her closet
Tirachard Kumtanom /

If it’s sweater season, go through your sweaters first. Ditch the ones you haven’t worn this season. Even that one your aunt bought for you that makes you feel connected to her. Call her instead and tell her about your life. Saving space in the closet AND connecting with family? Win-win.

Step 7: Put everything back in your closet and dressers

A woman picks clothes out of her closet
New Africa /

See how much more space you have? Aren’t you 10,000 times happier? I feel lighter than air when I go through my closet. I’m always surprised by how much I can get rid of, and I’m very rarely wishing I had something I donated. Plus, it gives me street cred to tell Brent that he must be “such a fashionista” because he has more sweaters than I.

Step 8: Repeat the whole process in three months

Don't forget sticky post-it notes /

Stuff accumulates even when we’re paying attention. And even more so when we’re not paying attention. Host a clothing swap quarterly. Arrange for a nonprofit to pick up the stuff that doesn’t get swapped. Reap the tax benefits.

You start a minimalist wardrobe by a simple process of elimination. Keep the things you like, and get rid of the rest. Sounds easy, but it isn’t.

I see empty spaces in my home as peaceful, like the white space publishers use in text to make reading easier. Brent calls it a disease. I say he still has too much stuff. Every weekend, I want to go through bookshelves and closets.

The 20 Essential Items in a Minimalist Closet

Woman cleaning out her closet
tartanparty /

I’ve pared down my closet to the essentials.

  1. Long-sleeved shirts. Three or four.
  2. Sweaters. Keep the sweaters you can wear with tank tops. Don’t have more than four sweaters.
  3. Two or three casual skirts/dresses. This is for women, and the dude on my street who wears a kilt and rides a unicycle.
  4. One business-appropriate outfit. Maybe two. Use blazers as jackets to dress up a casual outfit.
  5. A little black dress.
  6. Two pairs of exercise capris.
  7. Two pairs of running shorts.
  8. One pair of running shoes.
  9. One pair of heels you can walk in.
  10. Two pairs of flats.
  11. Two pairs of sandals.
  12. Three or four scarves of varying weights.
  13. Three good bras (oh, lordy, I wrote “bra” on a website).
  14. A week’s worth of other unmentionables.
  15. A bathrobe.
  16. One set of loungy clothes/pajamas.
  17. Two swimsuits. Because nobody should have to ever put on a wet swimsuit.
  18. Two or three pairs of jeans. Only keep the ones that make you look and feel good.
  19. Three or four tank tops. For layering, and when the weather gets nicer, for wearing alone.
  20. Short-sleeved shirts. Start with five, then work your way down from there.

I’ve been doing laundry more often since paring things down, but then again, I should be doing laundry more often anyway.

What am I missing? Could you pare your closet down this much?

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.