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How to Embrace a Minimalist Wardrobe

I’m a pretty low-maintenance guy, obviously. This translates to my approach across a lot of stuff—living space, cooking and my clothes.

I’m casual in general—and living in a small space doesn’t offer room for a walk-in closet or a giant sneaker collection. In fact, about a year ago I realized I’d inadvertently started wearing a basic “uniform” of sorts: white undershirt, charcoal grey t-shirt, shorts, underwear, socks, sneakers. I was tired of having to think about what to wear. I was looking for something I could throw on and go. For most occasions, this fit the bill.

It turns out a lot of people have embraced a minimalist philosophy when it comes to getting dressed. With so many decisions to make and so much noise going on around us, having a basic, minimalist wardrobe just works. It’s one less piece of the puzzle to worry about. No more stress in the morning when you get dressed. You don’t even have to think!

Now, maybe you don’t live in a rural tiny house, but an apartment in the city (just try to find a spacious closet in DC, New York or Chicago—you won’t). Even if you work a 9-to-5 office job, you can still make a minimalist wardrobe work. For guys, it’s as simple as changing out your ties and dress shirts. Even women can get by with a minimalist wardrobe. No matter what your job or lifestyle, there’s a way to embrace fewer clothes while still looking good.

So, how do you apply a minimalist philosophy to your own wardrobe? Should you throw out your clothes and start from scratch? Swear off shopping forever? Or should you buy every piece on a capsule wardrobe list?

A Minimalist Wardrobe Starts in Your Shrinking Closet

When someone mentions minimalist style, visions of stark white outfits come to mind or maybe rows of black turtlenecks. In truth, there’s no style rule to embracing a minimalist wardrobe, but it does begin with paring down your closet.

hanging clothes in a closetIf you went through your closet right now, how many pieces have you worn in the last week? Month? Six months? Most of us would come up with around 20 pieces of clothing, maybe fewer. According to a study from clothing credit company (Alliance Data), the average American estimates their closet is worth around $2,500 with 25-49 tops and over 25 pair of shoes.

That’s a lot of clothes.

Most people’s closets benefit from refinement and simplification. When I realized that without even thinking about it I’d come up with my default wardrobe, it was actually a relief. Cross that one off the list—I went the way of Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg and others who’ve embraced a uniform approach to dressing. I realize this approach isn’t for everyone—you may want a little more variety. There are still plenty of options for a minimalist wardrobe without sticking to the same outfit every day.

But many people have closets full of clothes they never wear. In fact, most people only wear about 20% of their clothes. But, they hold on to clothes they don’t love, items that don’t flatter and outfits with sentimental attachment rather than function. If you’ve got a closet full of clothes, but still feel like you’ve got nothing to wear first step is to do a hard inventory.

Remove all the clothes from your closet and review each piece. Ask yourself the following:

  1. Favor: Do I really like this?
  2. Fit: Does it fit me right now, today?
  3. Function: Is this piece functional?
  4. Flatter: Do I feel great when I wear this?
  5. Form: Is this item in good shape and condition?

Ask yourself if each item in your closet meets these criteria. Once you’ve refined your wardrobe, consign or donate any items that don’t fit the bill. It feels tough to part with items you’re holding onto for sentimental reasons but remind yourself—you can still hold onto to memories and let go of stuff that’s no longer useful. There’s no reason to weigh yourself down.

When you’ve cleaned out your closet to the basics, here the steps to take as you move forward.

Choose a Color Scheme That Speaks to You

For me, charcoal grey looks presentable enough for most occasions. Black gets dirty too easily and white obviously is a no-go. Khaki or denim shorts and pants are tough enough to withstand almost any task. Yet they still look nice enough to grab dinner with friends. Women, you may find a different combination works for you—like jeans or black pants with knit tops. The point is to keep it simple and go with a color scheme you like.

clothes on hanger simple colors

You may find there’s a color that really speaks to you or forms the foundation of most of your outfits. If this is the case, make it your default color. This doesn’t mean rows of black or sticking to neutral colors. If you love shades of blue, green or red, embrace it!

The idea with a color scheme is most of your pieces become interchangeable. Choosing pieces that look great with brown and earth tones, or going for high-contrast colors that look great against black, is a method to ensure plenty of wearability.  If patterns are your jam, go for it! You can have patterned ties or shirts that will still fit with the overall color scheme you’ve selected. You aren’t limited to solids, unless they fit your personal style.

If you still want to show personality with your style, it’s easy with shoes, a cool belt or watch. Pick something you love as your “signature piece.” I’ve found having a go-to favorite pair of sneakers feels like “me.” For you, maybe it’s a watch or another functional-yet-fashionable item.  Don’t shy away from buying a select few high-quality accessories that you love.

When you work within a color scheme everything goes. Remember:

  • Pick a color you like
  • Build your wardrobe around it
  • Shop within your color scheme for new items to add
  • Mix and match for variety

Basics Provide the Foundation of a Minimalist Wardrobe

simple clothing to wearAt the foundation of a minimalist wardrobe are basic pieces. For that reason, a capsule wardrobe goes hand-and-hand with minimalism. Still, you aren’t limited to following an exact capsule wardrobe list. After all, suits, blazers and trench coats are great for city-dwelling professionals, but I can’t imagine sweeping the snow off my solar panels while wearing a suit. For me, a suit would be ridiculous and impractical. At the same time, showing up for a banking job wearing a t-shirt might get you fired.

There’s no one-size-fits-all for your wardrobe. A fitness instructor may need yoga and gym gear. A construction worker may need Carhart overalls and quality t-shirts. If you work in a casual, creative office, a black t-shirt and jeans might be fine. Keep in mind, for formal occasions you can always rent a tux or for you ladies they have several dress rental options. (This works well for me personally, so I recommend giving it a try.)

Create a list of what you consider “basics.” For most of us that’s something on the bottom and something on the top. Imagine what you’d need for a two-week period (the maximum time most of us go between laundry cycles), assuming you wear bottoms and outer-layers, multiple times. Plan for the occasions your regularly face (work, school, the gym). This forms the base of your wardrobe.

Truly, there’s no hard-and-fast rule to tell you exactly what clothing you will need. Depending on your location, the weather may also play a huge factor in your choices too. In Minnesota, you may need extra winter layers. In California, light easy t-shirts could be enough. Plan for clothes that fit your lifestyle.

  • Consider all the activities you need to dress for: work, home, hanging out
  • Write up your basic list: tops and bottoms needed for two weeks
  • Remember seasonal items like jackets, long underwear, sweaters or tanks
  • Include items for work or other activities

Functional Footwear

Shoes take up a lot of space—space you might not have. The best way to get around the shoe issue is to buy the most functional shoes possible. For you, this could mean a pair of basic black sneakers to go from the office to the gym to weekends. Others might prefer boots. If you live in a rainy area, you might need GORE-TEX or waterproof footwear.

looking down at shoes

Having a pair of sandals in the summer won’t take up too much space or derail your wardrobe choices, but keep in mind—sandals aren’t always the best choice for doing work outside. If you’re hauling brush, working on repairs or even on a hike, you’ll need a pair of shoes that’s a bit sturdier. So, if space is a premium, skip the sandals.

For me, a couple pairs of shoes are all I need. When you consider your list of activities, you might also want to consider what sort of footwear you’re going to need in each occasion—work, gym, weekends and more.

Choose shoes in dark colors (unless you love white sneakers). They’re easier to keep clean and will go with more outfits and fit more occasions. When it comes to shoes if you’re only going to own a pair or two, go ahead and invest in something descent that will last.

  • Look for functional footwear
  • Choose only the number of pairs you really need
  • Don’t choose sandals if you don’t have space—pick a more functional shoe
  • Invest in quality

Buy Less and Buy Quality

Going forward, commit to buying fewer clothes and shopping for quality first. When you need a piece of clothing, shop for items that are well-made, functional and fashionable. Quality natural fabrics such as wool, cotton, hemp, bamboo and linen, often outlast man-made fabrics like polyester, rayon, acrylic and nylon.

quality over quantity

Look for craftsmanship and detail when it comes to clothing. There’s a reason vintage coats from the 50s are still found in thrift stores—they were built to last. Often, they had features like linings, hand-stitching and other details you can’t find in mass-production.

Even if you’re buying t-shirts and jeans, it’s wise to look for quality and durability. I like pieces that will stand up to quite a bit of activity and many washings. A great aspect of a minimalist wardrobe is it often consists of one or two colors. This makes laundry much simpler than sorting each piece. Laundry is especially a challenge in small spaces, so look for clothes you can wear multiple times and line-dry.

When you’re shopping for clothes look for care-needed, quality of materials and guarantees. Yes, quality clothing is often pricier, but the number of wears will soon mean the piece pays for itself.

  • Buy quality built-to-last clothing
  • Look for natural clothes in cotton, hemp, etc.
  • Find clothes in one color scheme to make laundry simple

Repair, Alter and Care

One way to preserve your investment is to learn to do minor repairs, alterations, proper storage and care. If you take the time to iron a hem or polish a shoe it has a huge impact on your look. Clean, pressed and well-kept clothing will help you feel put-together, even if it’s an outfit on heavy rotation.

fix clothes with a patchNow, admittedly, I don’t iron. I hate folding and sorting laundry, so using a laundry service is well-worth the investment for me. For most situations, I don’t need to show up in starched and pressed shirts and ties—but perhaps you do, so plan accordingly.

Take a lesson from previous generations who knew the value of careful handwashing, line-drying and separating laundry. When you have fewer clothes to care for, the laundry and clothing care because less stressful. Check over items before you hang them—look for loose buttons, hems and threads. Take the time to properly store your clothes and patch or sew up if needed—you can find basic tutorials on YouTube.

If you find a great, well-made item of clothing that doesn’t quite fit, invest in tailoring. This is even worth it for items like bib overalls, if they’re too long. Having pants hemmed so they don’t drag or taking them in at the waistline is worth it. They’ll be more comfortable and last much longer. Often minor alterations are all it takes to help an item fit like a glove and look like a million bucks. These small touches will greatly extend the life of your investments.

  • Learn to do basic repairs and touch up your clothes
  • Look over clothes for issues before you hang
  • For nicer clothes like jackets, tailoring is worthwhile

Clean Your Closet Frequently

Remember the five “Fs” of closet sorting: favor, fit, function, flatter and form. Apply them to your wardrobe frequently—at least a couple of times a year. When something isn’t needed anymore, don’t feel bad about saying goodbye.

closet cleaning for clothes

Clothes often build up over time. At one point everything fit in your closet perfectly and then one day you realize you’re holding on to more socks than fit in your drawer. Adopt a “one-in, one-out” mentality when it comes to buying clothing. If you need a new pair of running shoes, it’s time to let go of your old broken-down pair and start fresh.

Let go of stuff you don’t need rather than letting it weigh you down. Sometimes getting rid of clothes can help you clear your mental roadblocks as well. Consider the person who holds on to a pair of “skinny jeans” or the outfit from high school they still wish they fit into. Just let it go.

Instead, free yourself from the excess and complications of too many clothes. You’ll never again stress about what to wear.

  • Remember the five F’s of closet sorting and clean regularly
  • Adopt a one-in, one-out policy
  • Let go of clothes you’re hanging onto for emotional reasons

Simplicity and freedom is yours, today. It’s right inside your closet!

Your Turn!

  • How many pieces are in your closet right now?
  • Are you holding on to clothes you should let go?


What’s Your Wisk?

Today we have a new video about changing the little things in life that bother you.  This quick little hack has made my life so much better and it’s as simple as asking…. What’s Your Wisk?


how to live a better life

2 Second Lean – Eliminating Waste And Making Life Easier

I recently came across this book (which is free) and was blown away.  Lean is a philosophy of eliminating waste in our daily lives, at work or at home, to improve how we get things done.  There was a lot of overlap with a lot of what we hold dear as tiny housers.  It’s primarily oriented to manufacturing, but has a lot of practical applications in any workplace and even in our homes.

get rid of waste in life

What struck me was that 2 second lean was approachable. I’ve read a lot on Six Sigma, Agile, Scrum, and other systems, but this just clicked better.  The method had a lot of very simple lessons and application was super easy.  A lot of the techniques employed are things that we already do as tiny housers, but some new ones as well.  There some practices that really stuck out for me.

Here are a few key terms before we get into it all, most are from the Japanese who developed a lot of this stuff:

Kaizen: is a Japanese term continuous improvement.  Though slow and steady improvements we attain a better way of life.  Example: when we notice something bothers us constantly, we fix it.

Poka Yoke: this term is designing things so we can’t make mistakes or minimize them drastically.  It also is design that when a mistake is made, it jumps out at us so we can identify it.  Example: a front load washer will not start until the door is fully closed, preventing spills.

Kanban: is a technique we provide cues to remind us to refill something, buy another of an item etc so we don’t run out.  Example: I take a bright colored piece of paper, cut it to the size of a toilet paper roll and place it on top of my last one.  When I use the TP, I suddenly see the bright paper, I know I need to order more.

Visual Controls: This is employing marking and other visual cues to help people understand what’s going on at a glance.  The ideal situation is to be so clear a person could walk in and find anything or understand the flow without external direction.  Example: label bins so people know what is in them without having to look inside.

Lean is all about seeing and eliminating waste.  In our own lives we want to remove waste to make our lives easier, to give us more time to do things we’d rather do, to improve the work we do, and enjoy things more when we are relaxing.

There are 7 types of waste

At Work
At Home

  • Defects: we make a mistakes
  • Overproduction: we do extra work to fix know problems over and over again
  • Waiting: When we sit around waiting for someone to do something
  • Missed Potential: We don’t use the best person for the job
  • Excess Inventory: We have to much stuff, which leads to clutter and stress
  • Wasted Motion: we don’t have what we need close by or at hand
  • Defects: Time consuming mistakes
  • Overproduction: We don’t fix something that bothers us
  • Waiting: Wasting time on things
  • Missed potential: We don’t empower others to help
  • Excess inventory: We have clutter
  • Wasted Motion: We are constantly walking to get something

Kaizen at home:

how to declutter

When you are decluttering an areas have three boxes handy: one for trash, one box for things you want to keep, and a third box for things to donate.  When you declutter an area pull everything out.  While you’re in your downsizing process, consider having a set of general boxes so when you find something that needs to be dealt with it has a place to go right away.

Poka Yoke at home:

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/Go3ZMxxJY28″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

Think about how you can make sure things get back to where they’re supposed to be, to make sure people have the tools at hand to do the job and error proof things as much as you can.

Kanban at home:

kanban boxes in life and at home

These are bins that are mostly blue, but one end is red, an adjustable divider lets you set your threshold.  Let’s say you have 6 cans of soup, you’d put four in the blue half and then two in the red half.  Start with the blue side out, but when you run out of soup in the blue half, you’ll be forced to flip the bin to the red side.  You’ll have two more soups to go, but your bin now signals that you need to get more soup because you look for the red.

Visual controls at home:

Organizing things with visual controls will let you know exactly what goes where and identify quickly what is missing or out of place.

Taping spots for things will show people where things go.

Kanban Board in real life:

kanban board to do list

So for those of you who want to check the book out, it’s called 2 Second Lean and it’s free in a pdf and audio.  You can check it out here:  read 2 second lean here


Your Turn!

  • How do you eliminate waste in your life?
  • How do you make small improvements in your life?

Evaluating Your Time, The Trick To A Happier Life

They say that when people start to track what they eat they generally start eating less, just because they’re being conscious of what they are eating.  The same rings true when you look at how you’re spending your life, what time you dedicate to different things.  Over the past month or so I’ve been taking a look at how am I spending my life, where is my time going and how do I feel about it all.

I wanted to map what my life is actually like and compare it to what I want it to be.  The difference between what it is and what I want it to be signals where I need to make changes.  To do this, I’ve found a few tools that I’ve really liked and thought I’d share some of them here.

Track your life with Life Cycle

This is a pretty neat app that automates the tracking of your entire day and it does it pretty well.  It uses your GPS to figure out what you do where and then tracks how long you’re doing it.  You tell it where you work, it tracks time spent at work.  You tell it where you work out, grocery shop, get dinner, do errands and it tracks it all.  At the end of the day you get a snapshot of what your day was.

So here you can see I spent 7 hours and 23 minutes sleeping, 6 hours 28 minutes working, and so on.  The app interfaces with the iPhone’s health app, tracking your steps and it also connect to their other app, Sleep Cycle (more on that in a minute).

Track your sleep with Sleep Cycle

This is from the makers of the Life Cycle app and interfaces with it, its basically required to use.  Basically it analyzes how you sleep by detecting movement on your bed and breathing patterns.  It operates on the premise that when you are in deep REM sleep (the kind that really gets you rested up) your body actually prevents itself from moving so we don’t act out our dreams and many other reasons.  This means when we are in deep sleep, we don’t really move.  The app tracks this and measures your sleep patterns.

Understand better how you work with Rescue Time

If you’re like me, when it comes to work, it’s almost all done on a computer.  Rescue time puts a little program on your computer to track exactly what you’re doing and for how long.  It can spit out reports to show you exactly what you’ve been up to, it can categorize those into “productive” or “non productive” activities.

rescue time tracking

This is really good for those who get distracted easily on the web or on their computers.  We know that just because you’re on your computer, doesn’t mean you’re actually working.  Since using this app (over two years for me now) I’ve found that I get on my computer, do only work, then shut down and move on with life.  In short, I don’t waste time, get my work done quickly and get on with more important things.

Dig into emails with Gmail Meter

One of the lessons I learned from using Rescue Time (above) was that I spend a lot of time in email.  Email is often a terrible use of time.  The saying goes: “an email inbox is a convenient way to organize other people’s priorities.”  I use an add-on to Gmail called Gmail Meter which analyzes your email.  I’ve taken some drastic steps to help reduce the number of emails I receive.  For example I used to receive around 400 emails a day, now 170 email per day.  I still have a very long way to go.

It also shows your top people who email you.  This helps me identify people who I need to break it off with if they are endless emailers or validate that the emails I do get and send are productive.

So What Does This All Mean?

After sitting with this data, I break out my life into three main categories:  Recreational, Sleeping and Business Activities. Having objective data is a very important step because we can get down to specifics and reality, not guesses and gut feelings.

I then can ask myself, what do I want my life to be like?  What do I want a day to look like?  Then after that I can delve into things more specifically: what do I want my free time (recreational) to look like?  When I run my business, what should that look and feel like?  How much sleep do I want to make sure I have?

The important part here is defining what will make you happy and then comparing it to reality.  The gap is where I need to focus and make intentional changes.

For me, email is a huge issue.  I also spend more time driving that I like.  My average sleep time is around 8 hours, which is good, but I need to work out more.

You can use fancy tools like I have here or simply jot down in a notebook.  The point is, how often do you take inventory on your goals and your life?  Most people don’t.  Most people do nothing or at best, work of guesses.

Your Turn!

  • How do you track your time spent?
  • How do you keep on track to your goals?

7 Ways To Build Your Own Personal Freedom

The world is a crazy place sometimes and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what my response should be to it all. It got me thinking about how much I can control and how to build my own personal freedom.  I’ve been doing a lot of planning for 2017 and with it, thinking of how I can make this a year of forward momentum in the right direction.

personal freedom and how to find it

Define What Freedom Means To You

Before setting out on this journey, we need to know where we are going.  The truth is, if you don’t define what’s right for you, there are companies who are willing to guide you down a path optimized for their profits.  Don’t go into this blindly, seize your future and control it.  Carefully examine the ‘why’ behind each thing, because as humans we often think we want one thing, but it’s not really what we are seeking.

Define your values

values of your life to live by

In this world, there are times that you face a situation where you need to make a decision with weight.  What if a friend loses their job and can’t pay rent?  What if you see someone being heckled on the street for the color of their skin, the religion they follow or their gender?  What do you value? What are your convictions?  We don’t often define these, but I’ve found them useful to just spend 30 minutes reflecting and writing them down; it brings clarity and gravity.

Build An Emergency Fund

Money isn’t everything in this life, but it certainly helps when you have a nest egg set aside when things go awry.  Having an emergency fund can give you something to lean on so a setback doesn’t totally derail your progress forward.  This is certainly a case for ‘an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.’

Regain Control of Your Food

grow your own food

When you get down to it, we need very little in life, but there are a few things that we simply can’t do without.  One such thing is food.  Taking control of your food means you can eat healthier, fresher and know what is going into your body.  There are many things that we can get by without, but the truth is we always need to eat.  So connect with local farmers, join a CSA or even better, start a garden.  Gardening is good exercise, is very economical and a fantastic stress reliever.

Become More Valuable

Every human has value, but what could you do to increase value to others, particularly in ways that lead to a paycheck?  Every time I’ve ever been in a tough spot financially, I am always thankful for having certain skills that others find valuable.  For me it’s strategy, business building, and marketing: essentially helping other people make money.  In a pinch, I can leverage those skills and talents to bring in a little more income.

Get Handy

We all can’t be a master craftsman or a pro mechanic, but we can do things to offset some costs and become more self-reliant.  It is scary when I meet someone who drives every day but doesn’t know how to change a tire.  Do you know how to shut off the water to your house if a pipe breaks?  Could you build something out of scrap wood in a pinch?  When  I was building my tiny house, I learned a lot of different skills.  These things translated to me having more confidence, more money and when I did decide to hire someone, if I could talk the talk, the price was often lower.

Root Out Your Weak Points

We all have weak points. We all have points of failure that could lead to disaster.  While there are some things we can’t prepare for, consider what things could happen that would lead to a major break down for you.   What if you lost your job?  What if the power went out?  What if there was a gas shortage for a week?  All three of those things have happened to me and I work to have plans for each of them.  Take some time to identify your weak points, rank them by highest chance of occurrence then develop plans for them.

Your Turn!

  • What other things are you doing to build your personal freedoms?


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