We live in a post-Kondo world, where cleaning out your closet is the hip new after-brunch weekend activity of choice for many. Although I'm a sucker for both organizing my belongings and trendy things like brunch, figuring out how to downsize my wardrobe has, for a long time, remained low on my list of priorities.
The KonMari method fails me because I can usually convince myself that every item I pick up sparks at least a bit of joy in my soul. However, the biggest deterrent to curating a smaller wardrobe has been fear, specifically fear of losing my personality, since what I wear is an important part of who I am. I'd rather squirrel things away, just in case. As a result, my wardrobe is sprawling, filling up milk crates and drawers and a whole armoire in my tiny New York City bedroom.
But necessity is the mother of invention, or at least organization. In July, I decided to leave my Brooklyn loft for an undetermined amount of time and live that digital nomad life. On a very practical level, that meant everything I would need for the next several months would have to fit into two suitcases. I needed to whittle down my wardrobe while still bringing along enough clothing to take me from summer in Europe to winter in east Asia and possibly beyond.
What's perhaps most absurd about all of this is that I've actually done it. My wardrobe, which was once comprised of dozens, if not hundreds, of items, is now just down to 35 pieces and 6 pairs of shoes, and it all fits comfortably into two Patagonia suitcases.
Though keeping such a small wardrobe might sound limiting, it's been one of the most freeing decisions I've made (in addition to the whole traveling the world thing, of course), and I don't think I'm going to expand my wardrobe once I'm in a more stable spot. Here's a look at the 35 pieces and 6 pairs of shoes in my wardrobe, how I got to this point, and why I'm never looking back.
I have three jackets, which might seem like overkill, but there's a logic. The vintage Gap denim jacket is the perfect transitional piece to layer over a T-shirt when it gets a little chilly, and it's lightweight enough to throw into a backpack if I don't need it. I always pack a raincoat, like this green vintage Kelty one, because there's nothing worse than being stuck in the rain with nothing to keep you dry. The third jacket is a thick vintage motorcycle one I bought in London. It was entirely too heavy for mid-August weather and has been a bit of a pain to drag along for the last few weeks, but I know I'll wear it constantly once October comes.
I was going to bring a black Brooklyn Nets crewneck sweatshirt, but I stupidly forgot it at home in my rush to get to the airport. Instead, I picked up this dark gray wool sweater with leather patches from a store in Reykjavik, and though it's quite a bit heavier than a sweatshirt, the concept is the same. It's another item to layer on when it gets colder (and a perfect makeshift blanket on plane rides, too).
Four Plain T-Shirts
These are the only items I brought duplicates of because you can never really go wrong with a solid color T-shirt, especially in either black or white. They're perfect for layering but also look great on their own. Here I have one black shirt from Gap, one black and one white shirt from J.Crew, and one white shirt from Joe Fresh.
Three Logo T-Shirts
When I left New York, I had a whole milk crate full of T-shirts, and it took a lot of soul-searching to get the pile down to my three favorites. But here we are: One Basquiat-inspired shirt from Uniqlo, one thrifted T-shirt, and a Brooklyn Nets T-shirt from Target. I love these tops because they show a bit of my personality and where I'm from. Since all three are black T-shirts with white text, they all look similar and are therefore fairly interchangeable.
If you have lots of tops with pattens or T-shirts logos, keeping ones in the same color palette will make it easier to mix and match in an otherwise limited wardrobe, and if you're a chronic T-shirt hoarder like me, let me assure you that you need fewer of them than you think.
Two Striped T-Shirts
I feel similarly about horizontal stripes as I do about leopard print: They function as a neutral, especially when paired with a solid color. The white and black striped shirt is from some stall in South Korea while the navy and white striped tee is J.Crew. Though I realize that bringing nine different T-shirts seems like a lot when you only have 41 items, when you're only doing laundry once every few weeks, you need enough shirts to last you between trips to the laundromat.
Two Other Shirts
I wasn't sure how to categorize these shirts besides "other" because they're still simple and fairly classic but they're neither T-shirts nor full-fledged blouses. The denim T-shirt is from Joe Fresh, and the boat neck striped long-sleeve shirt is from Uniqlo. I throw them on when I want to look a bit more dressed up without any additional effort.
Three Button-Up Shirts
A classic button-up is another easy way to dress up a pair of jeans, quickly taking an outfit into the realm of business casual, perfect for nicer dinners or any meetings I might have. (I do plan on working over the next few months, after all.) The white Oxford is from Joe Fresh, while both the silk blouse and the denim button-up are Uniqlo.
Two Going Out Tops
It's not a proper Eurotrip unless you go clubbing, and I wanted to be ready for at least one night out on the town. Hence the black crop top from H&M on the left and the thrifted strappy black tank from Zara on the right. These are the only two pieces I brought that aren't totally appropriate for everyday wear, but they're proof that it is possible to have statement pieces in a limited wardrobe, even if they remain in the vast minority.
I wanted one skimpy dress for summertime heat, but otherwise, I wanted dresses that I could pair with tights once the weather started to cool down. The black silk shift from Uniqlo is the perfect summer dress, and also packs down to nothing. The denim dress, also Uniqlo, and the boxier black shift dress with leather detailing can be worn in the fall and winter, as well as in the summer.
Both of these jumpsuits are from Forever21 and they're another example how how statement pieces can be worked into a small wardrobe. Remember, if you're thinking of keeping bolder pieces like these, know exactly when you'll wear them. I wanted to wear the jumpsuit with the halter top out to a club in Barcelona, and the gray linen jumpsuit is a summertime travel favorite because it has pockets. If you don't have a specific use in mind for statement pieces, especially if they're one-pieces, you don't need them.
Four Pairs Of Pants
It's counterproductive to have redundant items, like two pairs of skinny black jeans, even if you swear they're different. (This is a packing mistake I've made plenty of times before.) This time, I brought four pairs of pants that are all different but in a similar silhouette that I know I feel comfortable wearing: One pair of black and one pair of blue skinny jeans from Cheap Monday, a pair of olive cargo pants from Uniqlo, and a pair of black overalls from H&M. From my experience, you can wear jeans about twice as many times as shirts or blouses before they become too dirty, which is why I have about half the number of pants as I do T-shirts.
One Pair Of Shorts
These Levi's are thrifted, cut by yours truly, and they're the only pair of shorts I brought because I figured I would only really need them for a couple of weeks, and if it was really too hot, I could wear a dress instead.
My PJs are pretty self-explanatory. One long-sleeve, comfy T-shirt from James Pearse, one pair of sweatpants from J.Crew for colder nights and long plane rides when putting on jeans seems too bothersome, and one pair of silk shorts from H&M for hotter nights. If it's really too hot for long sleeves, I can always wear a short-sleeve T-shirt from one of the nine that I packed.
I figured I would need two purses on this trip: One for going out and one for everyday use. The vintage Coach bag is my going out bag while the black satchel from Zara is my everyday bag (and my personal item on planes). I have not felt like I needed more purses than this, which is liberating to realize as a compulsive handbag collector.
Three Everyday Shoes
My go-to shoes have been my Adidas Stan Smiths, and I've been alternating them with the Nikes so neither pair of sneakers gets too sweaty. The Birkenstocks have been in the rotation for the past few weeks, but will be retired by the fall. However, they're thin enough that bringing them along won't be a problem, and if I find myself in another warm climate, I'll be glad I have them.
Three Going Out Shoes
These shoes are on the fancier side of the spectrum without being too impractical. I picked up the black Oxfords from a Zara in Spain, and they're my go-to when sneakers are too casual. The Swedish Hasbeens were what I wore to nice dinners while on my Eurotrip, while the high heeled boots from Target were my primary clubbing shoes.
Why It Works
Let me be the first to admit the limitations to my current wardrobe. Though I don't need more on a day-to-day basis, I realistically can't lead the rest of my life with these 37 items alone. Once the first snowfall comes, I'm going to need a winter coat, and probably my trusty L.L.Bean boots. I also have to go to my cousin's wedding in October, which will call for a nicer dress than anything I currently have.
But there are so many advantages to keeping my wardrobe to a minimum that it seems silly to focus on what I don't own. Getting dressed in the morning is a breeze, and keeping everything in a relatively neutral color makes matching, and laundry, simple. I've also been so pleased to learn I can express myself as an individual without owning crates full of vintage T-shirts and dozens of dresses.
Downsizing your wardrobe is a hugely personal process that requires you to take a long hard look at your life, your commitments, and your goals. There's no one spell you can chant that will do all the sorting for you, but once you find that balance between basics, essentials, and fun pieces, it does kind of feel magical. It's liberating to know everything I own fits into one suitcase, and that I'm ready for everything with only the things I can carry. I want to maintain that feeling of freedom, as well as the ease of getting ready everyday, which is why I'm going to be able to keep this up even when I'm no longer living out of my suitcase.
Images: Maxine Builder