What I Learned From My Year-Long Minimalist Wardrobe Challenge

I was looking to follow up the 100 day challenge with another minimalist clothing experiment and wanted to try something that encompassed the full wardrobe. And something that was a bit more realistic for others to attempt.

The year long minimalist challenge started with the selection of 26 core items that I would wear for the entire year. (I had some event specific items such as basketball gear, cycling bib/jersey, snowboard pants, and a wedding suit that I did not count in the core item total.) And unlike the 100 day challenge, washing my clothing was allowed.

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If you are looking at this and thinking, either this guy is lying or has a completely different lifestyle than most people, let me explain. I don't have the typical office job. I work from home, but I'm generally not lounging around in sweats and a t-shirt. I have in-person meetings throughout the week that require a professional look, so I normally dress for the entire day depending on my schedule. I like to do at least one active thing each day which normally involves playing basketball, biking, or jogging. Aside from not seeing the same people each day in the office, I imagine my lifestyle isn't too dissimilar from many of you. 

Here are the things I learned over the year:

    • This is obvious, but spend some time thinking about what you want to wear for a year.
      • A month in to the experiment, I wanted to take back some of my choices. I was stuck with two unattractive items:sweats and rain jacket.
    • Three pairs of socks for a year is limiting, but I had no trouble with three pairs of underwear
    • Jeans will become your go-to pant if they aren’t already
      • Prior to starting the minimalist challenge, my favorite pants were stretch khaki chinos. They look good paired with a t-shirt or a button down and they are light and comfortable. However, as winter rolled around (and the Portland rain, sigh), I found myself reaching for the denim seven times out of ten. Compared to the chinos, the jeans held their shape better, hid dirt better, and generally looked more presentable after multiple wears. If my jeans had stretch, they’d probably be more comfortable, but they would have required washing to tighten them back up after the elastic stretched out.
      • If you can’t wear jeans, look for a heavier weight chinos with mechanical stretch.
    • Some things in the closet just need to be given a chance
      • We all have a shirt or a pair of pants in our closet that we don’t wear for one reason or another. The denim that I referenced above is a perfect example. I was accustomed to a stretch denim but for some reason, I selected my selvage jeans (that I rarely wore) to be one of three pants for the following year. My rational at the time was, I only wear chinos, so I’ll rarely wear these jeans, but they could be nice to have. As noted above, they became my go-to pant. 
    • Mending/Fixing garments is easy
      • Why don’t more people do this? Sewing on a loose button or patching a hole is an easy at home DIY project. And if you can't figure it out, take the garment to a tailor for $15.
    • Wash on cold / hang dry (or even better, hand-wash) makes your clothing last longer
      • Most of the wear and tear on a garment is from cleaning. If you can reduce the heat and friction during cleaning that’s a start. If you can reduce the number of times you have to clean something, that’s even better.
    • Air out your garments before deciding to throw in hamper
      • Easiest thing to do is just toss a worn garment in the hamper after each wear. (Something that is even easier for guys who don’t do their own laundry.) But realistically, most garments can be worn multiple times. Washing garments after each wear is more of a habit instead of a need. Should we wash our bed sheets every day? (not exactly the same as clothing, but you get the point)
    • Sleep naked
      • You can get multiple days out of a pair of underwear a lot easier this way
    • Find shoes that don’t smell 
      • I’m still on the hunt, but I try to wear leather or wool over synthetics shoes
    • People won’t notice that you wear the same thing each week
      • If you rotate between three button-down shirts, people don’t notice or care.
      • And if they do notice, who cares! Chances are that they will ask for tips on cutting back on their wardrobe.
    • Choosing what to wear takes less than 15 seconds.
      • Even with a wide variety of events and activities, your options are just limited. It’s quite refreshing.
    • During the last few months, the novelty of the year-long minimalist wardrobe challenge wore off a bit. I missed the creative freedom of fashion. Going into the year-long challenge, I expected unforeseen functional shortcomings with my selected wardrobe, but the creative displeasure with limited wardrobe options surprised me.

    Well, if you’ve made it this far, I'm guessing you're interested in simplifying your wardrobe. Here are some recommendations:

    • Start with what you currently have in your closet. Don’t go run out there and buy all the “minimalist clothing” you can find.
    • Prioritize three things: versatility, durability, and natural fibers (yes, I'm biased when it comes to natural fibers and wool...but mother nature has the best odor resistance.)
    • Check out our private community. You'll get the support and accountability needed as you start your own minimalist challenge journey. 
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    The 6 Reasons People Hate Minimalists

    Minimalists get the asshole/pretentious/rich white guy/condescending label pretty frequently. So, before you start telling everyone that you're a minimalist, you'll want to read this list:

    1. Minimalism is a privilege of the wealthy and something that many families can't fully participate in because it's financially unsafe to declutter.
      http://vruba.tumblr.com/post/45256059128/wealth-risk-and-stuff
    2. Minimalism actually encourages more consumption. "This new minimalist lifestyle always seems to end in enabling new modes of consumption, a veritable excess of less. It’s not really minimal at all."
      https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/31/magazine/the-oppressive-gospel-of-minimalism.html

    3. The "best minimalists", if there is such a thing, are probably the guys not talking about minimalism. Minimalists like to quantify how minimalist they are and then brag about it. 100 possessions, 26 pieces of apparel (oops), specific purchasing criteria, etc. (Quick tip: Instead of identifying yourself as a minimalist, an alternative would be to say that you're interested in minimalism or working on decluttering your life, physically and mentally.)

    4. Minimalism is trendy, and trendy movements and their leaders can be annoying. The Minimalists were in town on their Less is Now tour and I was lucky enough to get a seat at their sold out show. Overall, The Minimalist's message of living simply is good for the world, but the deafening self-promotion (check out our NETFLIX documentary, listen to our podcasts, buy our books) dilutes their message. Eventually the Minimalists and other bloggers in the space run out of content and digress into the blackhole of self-help. 
      https://www.reddit.com/r/minimalism/comments/6g10y1/i_hate_the_minimalists/

    5. Minimalists are condescending. "There are a million variations – fitting all your belongings into a single box, small-house or van living, radical de-cluttering, extreme purges of technology or social activity, etc – but they all hold the same vague, usually unspoken level of superiority." (Warning: this journalist got pretty creative with her anti-minimalist arguments. Comment section is pretty entertaining though.)
      https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/mar/04/minimalism-conspicuous-consumption-class
    6. Whether you know it our not, the era and environment shape your perspective on owning things. "Kondo says that we can appreciate the objects we used to love deeply just by saying goodbye to them. But for families that have experienced giving their dearest possessions up unwillingly, “putting things in order” is never going to be as simple as throwing things away. Everything they manage to hold onto matters deeply. Everything is confirmation they survived."
      https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/03/marie-kondo-and-the-privilege-of-clutter/475266/

    My 100 Day Challenge Revisited

    Back in 2012, I set out to prove the odor-resistant and wrinkle-resistant properties of wool with the 100 Day Challenge, which entailed me wearing a wool shirt for 100 days in a row with no cleaning. Prior to starting the 100 Day Challenge, I started wearing some vintage wool shirts —even though they weren’t entirely work appropriate—to the office and was amazed with the performance relative to the Brooks Brothers non-iron cotton shirts I had been wearing previously. With the wool shirts in the lineup, I stopped doing two things I hated: dry cleaning and ironing. So why don’t more people wear wool button-downs? Two thing I noticed: not a lot of options and a lack of awareness. That’s where the 100 day challenge came in. The story went viral with coverage from Jay Leno, David Letterman, the Today Show, CNN, Fast Company, and others as I launched Wool&Prince.

    This is what happens when your kickstarter goes viral and then you cut it off

    This is what happens when your kickstarter goes viral and then you cut it off

    The article that set our kickstarter on a viral trajectory

    The article that set our kickstarter on a viral trajectory

    100 days with the same shirt and pictures to prove it

    100 days with the same shirt and pictures to prove it

    Possibly my favorite image from the media frenzy thanks to fuji-tv out of Japan

    Possibly my favorite image from the media frenzy thanks to fuji-tv out of Japan

    Consumers started doing their own versions of the 100 day challenge. A fellow named Andrew Lombardi (pictured below) raised money from his coworkers to buy one of our wool button-downs and in exchange he wore the shirt for a month straight while sending out weekly progress reports to his colleagues (a sample provided below). We've heard similar stories with guys tallying up the number of wears prior to washing and having office competitions to see how many days they can wear the shirts.

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    Regardless of whether these guys were consciously simplifying their wardrobe or not, we started to see a lot of value in their minimalist experiments. Aside from having fun, the common themes of a successful experiment were friendly peer pressure, accountability, and support from office colleagues, family, or friends.

    With a consecutive day challenge, you'll find yourself:

    • spending less time and money doing laundry and dry cleaning
    • thinking critically about what you need and don't need in your wardrobe
    • learning how to get more wears out of a garment (ie you'll spill less because the stakes are higher, but when you do spill, you'll immediately take action to prevent damage)
    • having a unique conversation starter (Why do we have so many shirts in our closet? Good question!)

    If you want to talk with other guys who are taking similar challenges, or you just need some support and built in accountability on your minimalist journey, apply to the Only What Matters community.

    What Does Minimalism Mean?

    Minimalism takes different forms depending on what you're looking to achieve, but at the most basic level, minimalism is about reducing excess and living simply. "Excess" isn't limited to physical things, it can be responsibilities, thoughts, items on the todo list, etc.

    The part I love about minimalism is that there isn't one method or end goal. It's unique to each individual. Some people are going to take minimalism to the extreme, like living with only 50 items, others will apply it in broad strokes to specific areas of their life. 

    Minimalism is like staying in shape, it takes time, commitment, and discipline. If you take a break, getting back to pre-break levels isn't easy.

    Running around, telling folks that you're a minimalist isn't advisable. Our recommendation is to just say that you're living simply and being more mindful with possessions and purchases. Saying that you're a minimalist can illicit responses such as "you're still wearing clothes and driving a car though" or "you're rich and thus have the luxury of being a minimalist". We put together 6 Reasons Why People Hate Minimalists to help you see why some people might not be so excited when you tell them you are a minimalist.

    How do you apply minimalism to your life? Please comment below.