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How to become a clothing minimalist in 3 easy steps

Today's post is from Adina J of Blue Collar Red Lipstick fame.

Being a minimalist is sexy. Ok, maybe I exaggerated a bit … but it is frugal, good for the environment, and efficient – all good things, I think you will agree.

Twiggy, making minimalism (and a few pounds of false lashes) super cute

If you are anything like me, being a minimalist doesn’t come easy. To be honest, I used to think that it didn’t come easy to anyone … until I met my husband. He has this curious condition of, well, just not being into stuff. I mean, he has hobbies, yes; but the accumulation of stuff is not one of them. While I am a long way away from being able to implement this philosophy into all areas of my life, de-stuff-ing my closet has been a great start, and has definitely improved my quality of life in small, but measurable, ways. Now, I love all the clothes I have and get a lot of more use out of them, while spending less time than ever thinking about what I’m going to wear on any given day – hello, easy-peasy morning routine! I also have a closet full of mostly designer labels (not that this matters) of great quality (this definitely does), which didn’t plunge my budget in the red (this matters most of all).

If I have managed to convince you of the benefits of a minimalist wardrobe, the next question you will likely have is: how do I get one? Luckily, I have an answer for you. Not the answer, perhaps, but one I have found works very well for people (like me) with certain shopaholic tendencies. Let’s call it the Minimalist Cleanse. It consists of three steps or phases, which sounds simple and, in fact , is simple; they key is not to skip any steps or give in to the temptation to cheat … even just a little bit.

Phase 1: Stop Shopping

Yes, I said stop. Entirely. I know this can be hard, but believe me, it’s not impossible. [After all, I didn’t ask you to stop, say, eating.] If necessary, stop going to the malls or any other places temptation is likely to strike. Having an intense and time-consuming hobby helps; perhaps start writing a novel, learning Mandarin, or reproducing the Bayeux tapestry by hand – anything, really, to distract you from the idea of retail. I have heard it said that new behaviours take about 21 days to become habit. If frequent shopping is already a habit, it may take longer to flush out of your system, but I can tell you from personal experience that the shopping itch does eventually go away. Three months in, you should be ready to embark on the next phase of the minimalist cleanse.

In the meantime, use the time in Phase 1 to start going through your existing wardrobe. Take out anything you haven’t worn in the last year, and anything that is more than 5 lbs away from fitting properly, and put it in a “purge” pile. Be absolutely ruthless. If you have a particularly strong emotional attachment to a piece of clothing to be purged, ask yourself what its true object is – the person who gave it to you, the memory of a particular event or period of time when you wore it, etc. – and whether there is a better way to memorialize it. Divide the “purge” pile into things you can sell, thus recapturing some value, and things you can donate, thus acquiring some good karma. While you are going through this process, you can also start keeping track of things that are missing from your closet, and things that will soon need to be replaced. This will come in handy during the next phase.

In cases of extreme shopping withdrawal, organize a clothes swap with your friends; this will help you deal with your “purge” pile, and hopefully get you some new “free clothes” in the bargain. But do not attempt to go shopping at all, save in case of dire “snagged-the-last-pair-of-pantyhose” emergency.

Phase 2: Conscious shopping.
If you have made it through the first 3 month, now you can shop again. Hurray! But, not so fast. Now is not the time for indiscriminate shopping – on the contrary. Remember that list of things missing or needing to be replaced in your wardrobe? You can only buy things from that list. And only as many, every month, as your budget will allow. If you have debt, be honest with yourself as to what the budget ought to look like. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the notion that, if in debt, you cannot spend any money on discretionary consumer goods, but I do believe that debt repayment should come first.

Once you’ve figured out how much you have to spend, and what to spend it on, go out and try to find the best possible quality for your money. This may involve a ton more window-shopping than before, and a lot less actual buying. To get the most bang for your buck, don’t forget to check out consignment and thrift stores; 9 times out of 10, they will beat out even the best sale prices at regular retail stores.

A further word on replacing items in your wardrobe. When you have determined that an item is on its last legs, so to speak, ponder its necessity first, before adding it to your shopping list. Is it a classic, timeless piece that flatters your body type and suits your style (and lifestyle) perfectly? Is it a basic piece that works as a foundation or complement to a ton of outfits in your closet? Is it a one-of-a-kind, or the fifteenth piece of a similar kind in your wardrobe? Let these questions guide you in deciding whether the item really needs to be replaced, or whether your closet is better off without it. Remember, the ultimate goal of this process is to end up with less, not more clothes. And better quality ones, no less.

Phase 3: Maintenance
Congratulations! You’ve reached the phase where your wardrobe is well on its way to being a new, sleeker, better version of its former self. Now you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour … but don’t fall victim to a sneak attack of shopaholism! Don’t be seduced by a trendy, cheap (quality- and money-wise) item that your wardrobe doesn’t need and likely can’t accommodate. Trendy pieces rarely integrate seamlessly into a closet of timeless, quality pieces. They tend to look cheap in comparison, and require the purchase of additional items or accessories to make them work. Falling for them, therefore, is like taking a huge step backwards; take too many of them, and you will need to go through the whole Minimalist Cleanse again in no time. Remember the “no shopping” phase? Yeah, you probably don’t want to do that again. In the long run, it’s best to adopt a “one in, one out” policy to ensure that your minimalist closet doesn’t slowly but surely start to balloon out of control again.

Moreover, every year you will want to repeat the closet purge process. If you’ve been a good minimalist, the purge pile is likely to keep getting smaller each time. But don’t rest on those laurels; even the best quality items will eventually need to be replaced and, as your style evolves or your lifestyle changes, certain things will work less well than before – or not at all. Let go of any deadweight and replenish as needed – and no more.

Adina J. is the blogger and freelance writer behind Blue Collar Red Lipstick, and a contributor to Timeless Finance. She is a 30-something wife and mother of one very rambunctious toddler, who loves designer bags, collecting books, and balancing her budget. In this post, she shares her tips for achieving that epitome of frugality and efficiency: the minimalist closet.

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