Are you minimalist enough? An experiment in giving up clothes for a year.

Leaning houses San Francisco

A little over a year ago, I wrote a post on Joshua Becker's Becoming Minimalist site about giving up clothes for a year--and my experiments with minimalism, living with less, and what felt like too much pressure to whittle down my life to a certain number of items. Here's how the experiment played out: 

Minimalist enough? Giving up (new) clothes for a year.


“We live in a world of scarcity. Which means we feel like we never have enough.” – Brené Brown


Living in a world of scarcity means that we’re constantly searching for the next thing to fill us up, the next destination or achievement to make us whole. Our world is filled with messages that tell us we don’t have enough space, enough stuff, enough clothes, enough fitness. We’re never skinny enough or pretty enough or good enough or rich enough.

This scarcity model drives consumption and accumulation; it spurs us to want more, to buy things because we think it will fill the void. We press to work harder, to get fitter, to buy more clothes, to acquire more things in the name of filling the hole.

The problem with scarcity, however, is that you can’t fill it or fix it with things.

The answer to scarcity, ironically, isn’t more. It is enough.

What you have is enough. Who you are is enough. As Danielle LaPorte says in her Fire Starter Sessions: “You already have everything you need.”

What about Minimalist Enough?

This cuts both ways, however. As a person with lots of things, and an apartment with hundreds of books, I sometimes feel like my efforts to de-clutter and reduce the number of things that surround me aren’t enough. In my efforts to reduce clutter and consider minimalist--or simplicity--as a strategy, I begin to doubt my efforts in being minimalist. And the thought begins to creep in: I’m not minimalist enough. I see someone who is minimalist and only has 100 things and the internal voice begins again, “I guess I’m not minimalist… enough.”

These attitudes are pervasive and can race around in my head. I can quickly become overwhelmed with the desire to eliminate stuff, lose weight, be better, do more, achieve….more.

But the idea of minimalism isn’t about reaching a goal, or checking off a box, or reaching a certain destination. To me, minimalism is realizing that what I already have is enough, and that adding clutter to the pile won’t make it any better. And chasing a dream of more minimalism is, ironically, not what I’m after either.

To me, as I breathe out and sigh into the life that I’m living, and find gentler ways to tweak, edit, and refine; I find that recognizing what is important and what is not is the most critical exercise.

Stripping away the excess lets us get to the bones of what really matters. Get to the heart space. Get to the pieces that are important. And that level can be different for different people.

For me, minimalism is about having exactly what you need--and the things you love--without having stuff and clutter that overwhelms your life. It's filling up your time and space with love, not excess.

My Modest Minimalist Journey.

I spent 2011 conducting an experiment in which I decided to stop buying new clothes for the entire year. (There were two exceptions: shoes and underwear, but only as needed). For an entire year, I lived without buying anything new, on purpose. As a female in a clothes-and-image-centric society, I wanted to see what it was like to live without shopping for a while.

I was always dismayed by the number of female friends that were readily going into debt to maintain their image in public. When I thought about it, $400 outfits (the average price on any feature shopping magazine page) can add up to a lot of money if one were to wear a new outfit every day for a year. (Think about it: $400 a day for clothes is $150,000 a year just on clothes—who are we kidding?). You might think I’m joking—but to be perfectly honest, I know people who are $20,000 and $30,000 in credit card debt from clothes shopping alone. The image pressures on females (and males!) can be increasingly intense. As someone with immense graduate school debt to overcome setting off into my twenties, the thought of doubling that debt felt paralyzing. I wanted freedom, not debt.

Yet over the year, as I experimented in my journey of wearing and re-wearing the same outfits hundreds of times, I also found there were times when I got discouraged—especially when I looked around online and saw things like the Versalette by revolution apparel. I inadvertently compared myself to other people who were doing a better job at buying nothing than I was.

But then I realized: I don’t have to be the best or the most minimalist. I can be minimalist enough. Minimalism isn’t about winning, and it isn’t about a particular achievement. It’s about finding out what matters to you, and getting rid of the peripheral.

Over the course of the year, I thinned out my closet and pared down to a few favorite items. I made over twenty trips to charity with bags of clothes and gently worn shoes that I no longer needed. At one point, I had socks and underwear with holes in them, and I got out my sewing machine and fixed them up. Making old things new again was surprisingly satisfying. Getting rid of all of my extra socks—and just having a few pairs to use each day—actually made my life simpler. The process of getting rid of things reminded me of what I liked and what mattered.

Over time, I started to become acutely aware of everything that crossed the physical threshold of my front door. The amount of stuff that piled up around me on a daily basis crept into my consciousness, and I’m still surprised by the amount of clutter we let into our lives each day. Every time I brought something new in—mail, letters, books, ideas, shopping bags—I tried to make a conscious effort that the stuff I was bringing with me was valuable, and that I was also taking enough stuff out of the apartment each day to keep my space maintainable.

Untethering from the need to consume was surprisingly easy. It was the attitude change that made the most difference: looking through my things and realizing I already had enough—that I didn’t have to rush out and buy something new to fill a hole or a need—let me breathe again. It was relaxing and reassuring to know what I had was okay. What you are is already good enough.

I learned, slowly, that having excess stuff was giving me a headache, wasting my time and energy, and wasting a lot of money I wanted to focus on eliminating debt.

Even though the experiment is over, I still carry several of the themes into my current shopping habits: I buy new things that are disgusting to buy used (exercise clothes, underwear, socks, and shoes are typically new purchases); and I buy things new that are very difficult to find used (long-enough pants and long-enough jackets are two of my indulgences); but my favorite place to shop is at a thrift store with a bag of donations in hand--I'll exchange three old things for a few new things. The smaller my closet, ironically, the happier I have been.

Over time, I will continue to whittle away at the things I don’t need in order to make space for the things I love. It turns out, all those unnecessary clothes were crowding out the space of the things I loved. I got rid of several boxes and cleared off a space for all of my books—one of my loves. Clearing out, to me, is about reducing the unnecessary clutter in your life to make space for what matters, and finding a balance that lets your soul breathe. It’s about stripping away the things you don’t need so you can focus on what’s important.

Sometimes a subtle attitude shift or a small sacrifice can make a big difference. Like taking the time to appreciate that what you already have is enough. And your effort? It’s enough.

Because stuff isn’t what matters.

What you have is enough. YOU are enough. 

To read more about minimalism and check out one of my favorite blogs, see Joshua Becker's site, Becoming Minimalist.


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6 Responses to Are you minimalist enough? An experiment in giving up clothes for a year.

  1. Ricardo says:

    Lovely way of putting minimalism in perspective. I too have whittled down to pretty basic stuff in the closet and “prized” possessions (watches, sunglasses, ties). But the constant thought of not being enough of an example, of not extracting enough from the things I still own, is anxiety producing. Rest assured I’ll try the philosophy in this post starting ahora…

  2. I hear you! Minimalism is not a contest. It should work for each persons lifestyle.

  3. This is a great experiment to embark on. Clothes shopping has never been high on my list – I buy things only when my size changes or clothes literally run out – which probably makes me quite the fashion nerd, but it also keeps a LOT of money in my pocket so that I can do the things that matter most to me, like pursue meaningful work (i.e., take lower-paying positions or freelance to find work that best fits my values) and travel. It is all about priorities and, as you say, minimalism is a state of mind relative to our typical behaviors.

  4. To me, minimalism is about how content you are, with your state of the world.

    It won’t be the same as another minimalist, in fact, it probably won’t be the same as anyone else… but your minimalism = your contentment.

    If you aren’t content, you’ll make a change, if you are, you’ll realize things are fine just as they are… and you’ll relax. :)

  5. Traci says:

    I like this a lot. I have grown to mostly despise the act of shopping as I’ve gotten older, so that (along with lack of funds!) has helped me figure out what I really need and want. It’s true–when you’re not acquiring in excess, you can better figure out what your style preferences really are, which is much more fun anyway.

  6. […] Bonus#3:  This one is for the hard core. Take the seriously minimalistic route and don’t buy clothes for a whole year! […]

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