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How to Try a Capsule Wardrobe…Or Not

There’s something scintillatingly seductive about paring your wardrobe down to just the basics. It could be because North America is a buffet of choice where one can purchase virtually the same item for $5 or $500, or it could be because the turbulent social climate makes exercising control over any aspect of one’s life seem more appealing – and what better place to start than the wardrobe?

It’s been two years since The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was published and Marie Kondo-mania captured public imagination by storm. And yet, far from fading from memory, Kondo’s message remains as captivating as ever. In fact, the diminutive organizer will even be starring in a tidying TV show come 2018. But for all the hype, is downsizing really worth it? We spoke with five different women to determine whether or not a minimalist lifestyle experiment will actually change your life. As you might have guessed, results were mixed.

Photo Courtesy of Angie Johnson

Name: Angie Johnson

Age: 37

Title: Designer, Norwegian Wood

Challenge: The Uniform Project, where she wore a styled one dress for an entire month.

Year completed: 2009

What inspired you to do the challenge? I’m a designer, so I’m a big fan of styling things and buying vintage clothing and independent designers. I personally try to never buy clothing from any other source. I really liked the message and I could just be another person that shows people that you don’t need to just buy a new shirt and wear it once. I felt like if I can do it and set an example, then a lot of other people will see that they can buy sustainably-made clothing mixed with vintage clothing.

What was it like completing the wardrobe challenge? It was kind of a relief. I knew that every day I’m starting with this dress and just built off of that. Normally in the morning it’s like, “Where do I even start?” I have a lot of clothes. I never get rid of clothes, so sometimes it is actually overwhelming.

Did you ever cheat a little bit? No I didn’t! I was sharing my studio at the time with four other people and all of them were amazed. They were all like, “I totally thought you were going to cheat.”

What happened once the capsule experiment was over? Mostly I felt relieved. I didn’t want to wear the dress anymore because I don’t like wearing the same individual thing every day. But it was cool. It did make me feel more excited about getting dressed every day because I was exercising this creative muscle with my brain and I kept doing that with my other clothes.

What kinds of lessons did you learn from your wardrobe experiment? It taught me to keep looking at every piece in my closet in a fresh way. Don’t limit each item. Each item can be layered. You don’t have to wear one skirt at a time, you can wear two or three skirts at a time. No one’s going to know that’s 3 skirts, they’re just going to think it’s one amazing skirt!

chipped nails, full heart❄️

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Name: Joelle MacPhee

Age: 29

Title: Director of Marketing

Challenge: Project 333, a seasonal capsule wardrobe where you pare down your closet to only 33 items (including shoes and outerwear!) for three months.

Year Completed: 2013

What inspired you to do the challenge?

I had moved to New York for work. I’m originally from PEI, so being in New York I put a lot higher expectations on myself in terms of fashion. I brought every item of clothing I had and had to get a whole separate clothing rack to hang stuff on, but I still never felt good about what I was wearing. I thought, “This isn’t working.” It would take me a lot of time in the morning to pick out an outfit, and deep down it felt like, “Well, guys aren’t spending this much time.” I was working in a start-up and had a little bit of resentment think about how between makeup and hair and outfits, I was probably wasting an hour of my day.

What was it like completing the wardrobe challenge?

I found it really stressful in the beginning, because I used to love thrift store shopping. Then once I realized, I was at my limit and couldn’t buy anything else until something has to go, that felt painful. But it ended up a complete game changer. I could be blindfolded and pick an outfit out and love it, every morning. It cut down on the decision fatigue.

 

Did you ever cheat a little bit?

Well accessories are included, and jewellery is included. So at first I thought, “I’m not going there.” I have 33 pairs of shoes! But because I was getting so much joy out of it, I weaned down the shoes and now the 33 includes shoes, outerwear, basically everything other than pajamas.

What happened once the capsule experiment was over?

I’ve been going on with Project 333 ever since 2013. I’ve been able to convert a lot of friends to it too! It’s surprising; I’m at way less than 33 now because I’ve been actually choosing the pieces that I feel awesome in and only keeping those. Also I travel a lot for work and I can just take a backpack for a 3-day trip. It just makes life so much easier.

What kinds of lessons did you learn from your wardrobe experiment?

It’s kind of killed my craving for shopping. I used to be a very mindless shopper, like “Oh, its on sale and a colour I like, I’ll buy it.” Now I think, “How versatile is this piece? Can I do day and night? Is it too loud that people will notice if I wear it often?” I used to worry that people were going to notice I’m wearing the same clothes all the time? Nobody notices and nobody cares.

Name: Verena Polowy

Age: 29

Title: Blogger, My Green Closet

Challenge: Project 333, except for three months, an entire year.

Year Completed: 2014

What inspired you to do the challenge?

There was an element of necessity. I knew my husband and I were moving overseas and had limited space for storage and items we could take with us. I had recently finished my fashion design degree with my thesis focusing on slow fashion, and I was trying to be more sustainable and conscious with my clothing choices. I needed to “buy less, buy better” and through researching how I could have a smaller wardrobe with higher quality, sustainable/ethical pieces, I found the capsule wardrobe concept and Project 333 challenge.

 

What was it like completing the wardrobe challenge?

It’s a really amazing learning experience- you learn so much about your shopping habits, style, the role clothing plays in your life, and the freedom of being able to easily put together outfits and not spend ages deciding what to wear or shopping is wonderful.

Did you ever cheat a little bit?

A few times I wore an item from my husband’s closet, or wore exercise/lounge clothes out to run errands or something. But I wouldn’t consider it cheating!

What happened once the capsule experiment was over?

I had initially decided to try it for a year but it’s now been over 3 years and I still have a capsule wardrobe, but I’ve personalized the rules to suit myself better. For example, I found I was wishing for a few extra items to layer with in fall/winter so I found something in range of 35-38 items worked better for those seasons. I also recently decided I would no longer be including shoes in my capsule. Shoes were the area I was still having some issues with so I created a “shoe capsule” with the number of shoes and styles that work for all my outfits.

What kinds of lessons did you learn from your wardrobe experiment?

It might sound crazy but the process of creating a capsule wardrobe is about so much more than the clothes. You have to do a lot of personal reflection and face fears. Will I feel very restricted? Will people judge me because I wear the same clothes? It forces you to think about what you want from your wardrobe and also develop your style, because a capsule wardrobe should be filled with the clothes you love wearing! It also forces you to break and rebuild shopping habits, which is easy for some and very difficult for others, like me, who shop for fun, as a social activity, or to treat yourself.

Name: Andrea Hartman

Age: 34

Title: Writer and Content Creator, Seasons + Salt

Challenge: 10 x 10 Challenge, which involves picking out 10 items of clothing – including shoes but not accessories – and remixing them for 10 days.

Year Completed: 2016

What inspired you to do the challenge?

I got the idea from Lee [Vosburgh, of Style Bee] and I love the idea of doing more with less. It’s so tempting to want to buy new stuff any time I’m feeling tired with what I have, but doing the 10 x 10 challenge makes me realize just how far some items can go.

What was it like completing the wardrobe challenge?

I definitely sometimes get bored with it. I’m always very ready to have the rest of my closet back! It really gives you appreciation of all your items when you don’t have them for 10 days. I think the hardest part is picking the 10 items. It’s pretty enjoyable though. When you’re actually doing it, getting dressed is so easy, because you’re not looking at 20 shirts, you’re looking at three.

Did you ever cheat a little bit?

Oh yeah, definitely. There were times I needed a different pair of shoes because I was going somewhere dressier. For the most part, I try to stick to it as best I can, but if its cold for the 6th day in a row and I need another layer, then I’ll grab another sweater. I’m not going to freeze. As long as youre going for the heart of the challenge, it’s best not to go too hard on the semantics.

What happened capsule wardrobe once the experiment was over?

Generally I’m always happy to have the rest of my clothes back and I feel thankful for the rest of my clothes. But my favourite part is each time I’ve done one [Hartman has done the 10 x 10 challenge three times], I feel like I’ve identified more elements of my own personal style. I’m honing and sharpening what I like and what I don’t like, which I think is cool.

What kinds of lessons did you learn from your wardrobe experiment?

I realized that I would rather have fewer items but have them all be really good. I would rather spend $200 on a pair of great pants or drop some cash on a really great top than have 5 of those things. They don’t even have to be the most neutral or versatile pieces, they can just have great style and be really well made and you can wear them over and over again. I love high quality items, so fewer is better has been a big takeaway for me. It’s encouraging to know that you can be stylish and shop your closet and not always run out to get the latest fast fashions.

Name: Abby Lawson

Age: 33

Title: Blogger, Just a Girl and Her Blog

Challenge: Marie Kondo Method, where, as everybody ought to know by now, you physically pick up and hold every single thing you own and throw out everything that does not spark joy.

Year Completed: 2015

What inspired you to do the challenge?: I’ve always been interested in organization, but it was this huge thing that became incredible popular and I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. So I read it for myself and thought she had some good ideas and decided to try them out in my own home.

What was it like completing the challenge? It was time-consuming but it was also really freeing. It took us 3-4 months to complete the challenge because we would do one category (e.g. clothes) and then do the next category (e.g. books) a couple weeks later when we had time. I don’t feel that attached to my clothes, so it was easy to get rid of those. It was much harder to get rid of books and mementos – even if that stuff doesn’t get practically used in the home it’s hard to get rid of.

Did you ever cheat a little bit? Well, I don’t talk to my items or thank them for doing a good job! I don’t fold my kids’ socks and underwear in the way she said to fold them, just because they’re little and they’re going to mess them up anyways. We probably kept more of the memento stuff than Marie Kondo would have advised us to keep. But it’s different for everybody.

What happened once the experiment was over? For me, it’s just such a freeing feeling because I’m getting rid of stuff that doesn’t just clutter up my physical space, it also clutters up my brain space.

What kinds of lessons did you learn from your experiment? I’m a lot more careful about what I bring into our home, because I don’t want to get back to a place where it feels all cluttered and we have all this extra junk lying around. One of the things that really stuck with me was when she talked about making it easy to put all your items away so everything has a spot and it goes back in that spot. Little nuggets like that made me take a second look at how I was doing things. I was a generally organized person before but it just made me take a second look and say, “Hey, is this the best system for you and for your kids and for what you’re trying to do in your family?”

 

Interviews have been edited and condensed.