Three images of closets

A minimalist wardrobe is a wardrobe that gives you enough options without making you feel limited, dowdy or poorly dressed for the occasions that are part of your life.

A minimalist wardrobe is not just black pants and white shirts. If patterned shirts, dresses or skirts make you feel good, you should include them.

Woman in T-shirt and off-white jeans with camera and shoulder bag

Make an inventory of your current wardrobe

What types of situations do you need to dress for? Consider:

  • Days off
  • Exercise
  • Outdoors
  • Work
  • Casual gatherings
  • Semi-formal gatherings
  • Formal gatherings

Obviously, you do not need dozens of outfits for each type of occasion. Instead, consider what can do double duty. For example, one of the major trends in fashion today is athleisure. This means that many athletic clothes can also be worn to the grocery store and casual events.

Switch out your button-down shirt to a bright blouse to go from work to dinner with the same jacket and dress pants or skirt.

Why should you create a minimalist wardrobe?

Downsides of “fast fashion”

Woman in black sweater sitting at laptop smiling

Fast-fashion has many downsides including poor working conditions and short product life cycle. If something doesn’t sell, it’s sent to the landfill. It doesn’t even need to end up in a landfill in the country it originated in. Many African nations are struggling with the waste caused by excessive “donations.”

Save time and money

Constantly, adding to one’s wardrobe can cost hundreds or thousands each year.


Research has shown that a decluttered space has a calming effect on the brain, much like the white space on a magazine page. Decluttering helps what you do have stand out and seem more precious.

What should you keep

  • Timeless fashions
  • Items that easily transition from work to evening or weekend
  • Things that make you feel comfortable
  • Flattering items
  • Well-fitting items
  • Things that you wear frequently
  • The little black dress (famous for its versatility and the fact that you can wear it multiple times without anyone noticing)
  •  Scarves (A scarf can turn any outfit into a different look from casual to formal. There is no minimum when it comes to scarves.)
  • Shoes

Footwear depends on the weather and the occasion. If you work in an office, you’ll need flats or heels. If you live in a place with snow, you’ll need boots. Keep in mind that shoes deteriorate (seams break, holes appear, rubber disintegrates, and heels fall off). An extra pair comes in handy in a pinch. I once walked down a mountain in hiking boots in which the sole had become detached from the upper.

Consider layering

Woman wearing black sweater, holding jacket over shoulder

If you live in a place with four seasons, you respect the clothing that can be layered because, yes, there are sometimes all four seasons in one day. This is especially true if you live in the west which has an elevation issue or a chinook issue or an Arctic outflow issue or any combination thereof. We’re working through it. On the east coast, you may experience summer on Monday and zero degrees on Wednesday. If this sounds familiar, don’t throw away your:

  • Tank tops
  • T-shirts
  • Sweaters
  • Cardigans
  • Hoodies
  • Fleece
  • Joggers
  • Warm-up jacket
  • Raincoat
  • Trench coat
  • Water-proof parka
  • Wool coat
  • Socks

While some decluttering experts will tell you to wash what is left of your wardrobe every three days, think of the environment before you take on this advice. Doing full loads is better for the environment and more time efficient.

Should you keep things that belonged to a smaller version of you?

If you are actively working on weight loss and seeing results, a few pieces can keep you motivated. However, if you are thinking someday, maybe, you are better off buying new clothes when the time is right. Remember that for many of us the size we were at 20 will always be an unattainable goal given that metabolism changes as we age.

Updating your Clothes

Often we toss clothes rather than making simple repairs like:

  • Hemming
  • Darning
  • Stitching
  • Patching

You can learn these skills or hire someone to do them for you. Before the pandemic, my local library even had sewing repair sessions.

Shopping Second hand

Here are some tips for reducing your environmental and personal financial impact by buying second hand:

  • Look for respected brand names
  • Check seams
  • Look for holes and stains, check armpits
  • Examine any ends that could fray
  • Avoid fast fashion brand names as these are not designed to last long
  • If you purchase second-hand goods online, check the return policies

Best items to buy second hand

  • Winter coats
  • Jewelry
  • Jackets
  • Maternity wear
  • Special occasion jackets, shoes and suits
  • Dresses


What items in your closet should you donate?

  • Things that don’t have any holes, stains or frayed seams and edges
  • Things that you haven’t worn in over a year


What items are good candidates for making a little extra cash?

  • Gently worn items
  • Things that you haven’t worn in over a year
  • Clothes purchased for a special occasion (hello, bridesmaid dress)
  • Anything too tight, itchy, ill-fitting, etc.

Clothing swap

In a clothing swap, you can share clothing with like-minded people. This helps prevent you from getting bored without breaking the bank.

If you really can’t bear to part with an item, consider putting it in storage and revisiting it. Put those items that are most useful towards the front of your closet or drawers.

Before you shop, consider:

  • Where will I wear it?
  • What will I wear it with (from my existing wardrobe)?
  • What is the maximum number of items I can fit in my current closet or drawer?
  • Is this piece easy or difficult to care for?
  • Was it made by a brand that practices sustainability and treats workers fairly?
  • Is it within my budget?
  • How often will I wear it?


If a minimalist wardrobe seems too restricting, consider having a minimalist workday wardrobe. This will make it easier to get ready and be on your way in the morning.

Rent formal wear. Men have had this figured out for decades.

Buy and sell. Numerous apps exist today that make it easy to try gently used clothing and then let them go when the time is right. With the rise of fast fashion, styles do not change as frequently as they did in the past. If there is a jean cut that is not in style right now, alert the fashion victim pages, because this would be a newsworthy sight. Magazines like Vogue no longer set the direction for the industry as described in Meryl Streep’s famous diatribe in the Devil Wears Prada. Today fashion is what people want to buy which means what we wear has a much longer life cycle.

Devil Wears Prada Blue Sweater Scene

Minimalism just means avoiding excessive consumerism. In other words, make conscious decisions when it comes to what you want and want you need, and reuse, repair or repurpose where you can. You don’t need to create bundles of trash or start washing your three outfits once a week to embrace minimalism. Just make sure that what’s in your closet is what you love and what says something about you.

Remember that donating is not always the most ethical decision you can make. Many donations go to waste and even end up in landfills in developing nations creating a garbage crisis.

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What Is a Minimalist Wardrobe?


Shella Gardezi is a writer, editor and marketing specialist living in Vancouver BC. Off Course West is her lifestyle blog about her passions for vegetarian food, fitness and travel.

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