Wardrobe diet: How I trimmed the fat out of what I wear

As of last May, I’ve drastically thinned out my wardrobe.

Over the past month, I’ve only rotated through a week’s worth of underwear and socks, seven undershirts, six button-down shirts, one long sleeved shirt, three pairs of pants, one pair of shorts, one pair of shoes, my belt, a zip-up hoodie, a leather jacket, two pairs of gloves, a knit hat, and my scarf. That’s a total of 39 items.

To put that into perspective, today alone I wore 13 items. In other words, I wear about a third of my wardrobe rotation each day.

Granted, I own a whopping 66 items altogether, so I still feel like I have some room to pare down. Still, I’d like to share how I transitioned into this. The overall transition didn’t happen by accident. Two factors, though, played a big role in how I accomplished it:

  1. I started with a fairly small wardrobe.
  2. I moved to Korea, so I had to pare down.

Instead of assuming these gave me a huge head start that’s not available to others, I think it’s more useful to dissect how these factors contributing to my transition and how others might duplicate them for similar results. That’s what I’ll do here, taking each one at a time.

First, I started with a fairly small wardrobe. I had my vices – for example, I once owned about 20 jackets, not including a collection of cardigans – but overall I didn’t live a super extravagant, fashion lifestyle.

I might have owned a dozen or so pairs of shoes, a few drawers full of T-shirts, an assortment of long-sleeved shirts and jeans and slacks that spanned maybe a yard of a closet rod.

Depending on where you’re from and how you live, this might seem like anything but a “fairly small wardrobe.” To me, though, in Louisville, Kentucky, smack in the middle of the United States, I felt fairly normal or even slightly on the low end of ownership. Part of that feeling might have also been because my wardrobe was the result of about a decade of accumulation, not an ever-revolving wardrobe of fashion.

Whatever your feelings on my initial setup, that’s how I started.

What matters more, though, is that I only wore a small fraction of my entire wardrobe. I rotated through a few different pairs of pants, a few different shirts, and a handful of jackets (I loved my jackets). That’s about it. Everything else just hung there most of the time.

So when it came time to cut the clutter, it wasn’t a matter of actually cutting down my active wardrobe so much. Instead, it was more a matter of parting with the sentemental value I’d attached to my clothes.

Oh, but I like wearing that sweater with this certain shirt. Oh, but I never know when I might need that color belt. Whatever.

Getting to whatever is a huge head start.

Second, I moved to Korea, so I had to pare down. This really helped cut through all the sentimentality. I had two bags, three if I wanted to pay the extra luggage fee for the flight. All my clothes plus everything else I wanted to bring to Korea, like my rice cooker, needed to fit in those few bags.

So I cut things down. It wasn’t a matter of “Will I need this someday?” It was a matter of “Will I need this within the next few months?” Otherwise, I figured I could just buy whatever I needed in Korea.

So, beyond just my intrinsic motivation to pare down, these were the two biggest factors that played into how I downsized: I started small and went smaller, and I made a clean, partially forced break from my past.

If you’re trying to copy what I did, if you’re trying to pare down your wardrobe a bit, I’d suggest trying to incorporate these two factors into the equation as much as possible.

Instead of trying to get rid of everything at once, try to work your way slowly to less and less. Then when you really go crazy and start hacking stuff, like that shirt you love and wear every week, it won’t be such a drastic change.

Also, try to change your environment so it pushes you toward minimizing your stuff. You might not be able to move to a smaller place much less a new country, but you could resolve to live off one closet rod instead of two or live out of one drawer instead of many. Or you could count all your items and decide to cut them in half.

Whatever the strategy, I know the result has made a big difference for me. I feel lighter and more flexible. I also feel less dependent on stuff, which I think is good. Plus, just going through the elimination process taught me to live life less fearful.

You can’t really know what I mean by that, less fearful, until you try living with your wardrobe fat-free.