The Minimalist Closet

"Mrs. W.E. Kuhn looking through her closet." (1938). Photo from the Cushing Memorial Library & Archives, Texas A&M University. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

Unless you live in a nudist colony, clothes are an essential part of your everyday life. Most people have a closet jam packed with clothes, shoes and accessories and find themselves wishing for more closet space. Most people are also drowning in a sea of laundry and dreading the task of washing, folding and hanging all those worn clothes yet again. The act of getting dressed can feel like a monumental chore some days and if we are honest with ourselves, it is! Aside from going au naturale, what can you do about it?

Some people have been experimenting with minimalist closets–limiting their clothing choices to just a few pieces or even a single standard uniform. There is less anxiety over what to wear and less to wash. Clothing minimalists also claim to experience a freeing of mental energy. Taking away the burden of worrying what you look like each day allows you to invest that energy into other projects.

We have all heard the story about Albert Einstein’s closet consisting of multiple copies of the same outfit. (According to this site, it turns out that might not be exactly true.) In college, however, I encountered several professors in the sciences who seemed to adopt this approach to clothing. One professor wore khaki pants and a white shirt every single day. Another wore the same brightly patterned sweater every single class. They were brilliant men and we never knew if the clothing choices were due to the fact that they were so immersed in their work they didn’t notice what they were wearing or whether the university was not paying them sufficiently to allow them to go shopping!

You also see clothing minimalism in the art world. Alex Martin is one example. For one whole year (July 7, 2005 through July 7, 2006), she wore the same little brown dress and documented her experience in an online journal. She called the project “a one-woman show against fashion.” Below is a video from the Seattle Channel describing her experience.

After the little brown dress project, Alex Martin went on the following year to wear only clothing from her closet, sewing and refashioning the pieces as she went along.  She called it a “fashion detox” or a “slow fashion movement.”

I hear you thinking, “Well, this is all very interesting but these people do not live in the “real” world I live in where I have to wear different clothes every day or I will be shunned by my social circle.” Would clothing minimalism work for “real” people?

The New York Times reported that recently a group of people from around the world decided to try exactly that experiment. The project was called “Six Items or Less: A Global Experiment Examining the Power of What We Don’t Wear” and the participants agreed to choose only six items to wear for one month. Below is a video from the New York Times showing the results for one participant and here you can read reflections upon completing the project from one of the Six Items or Less founders.

As a mental exercise for getting ready to purge my own closet I am currently performing my own experiment on clothing minimalism that I will report to you on later. However, I throw down to you another Ruly Challenge.

The Challenge: Adopt some form of clothing minimalism this month. Decide for yourself what form it will take and how long it will last. You could go on a “shopping diet” and not purchase any new clothes, wear one “uniform” outfit for a period of time, restrict yourself to a few items of clothing or find new ways to wear clothes you have owned for a long period of time.

What do you think of clothing minimalism? Will you accept the Ruly Challenge? Please share in the comments.