Zero-Based Wardrobe

What if I created a new wardrobe – from scratch?

First I will tell you my idiosyncratic clothes habits. I get into my workout gear first thing in the morning, and after exercising, have a shower. After that I like to wear my bathrobe and not get dressed for work until I actually have to leave. I have a separate wardrobe of clothes that are for work only. When I get home, I immediately change out of work clothes into something more washable (for cooking supper in, and to avoid cat fur on work clothes). This would typically be sweatpants and a short- or long-sleeve T-shirt. If I go out in the evening, I scale up again, for example, I wear jeans and not yoga pants to go grocery shopping! For any non-fancy events outside home, my go-to outfit is black or blue jeans, a T-shirt and a hoodie. If slightly more formal, maybe a sweater. If I have absolutely no plans I might wear night-things all evening, like you know, those “sexy” Hello Kitty pyjamas. I wear a dress maybe once a year to a wedding, and I don’t wear skirts. Although I would consider them in the Fall with tights. Finally, I have 2 sets of rugged clothes I wear for gardening and other dirty work.

I work as a library manager which is a combination of public service work, desk work and grubby work with used books. So I wear very common-sense, washable clothes, and gear up a bit for the occasional management meeting. I generally work Monday to Friday on a regular-ish schedule.

All laundry is saved up and done once a week only so the full wardrobe has to get me through 7 days.

So here’s what I think a minimalist wardrobe would look like for me.

Work. To accommodate all seasons, I might need:

  • 5 short-sleeve T-shirts or tops for summer (used 2 months a year, 3 at best)
  • 2 light-weight cardigans or jackets to layer on top because of air-conditioning
  • 5 pull-over sweaters for cold weather (used 5 months a year)
  • 5 long-sleeve T-shirts or tops for spring and fall (used 4-5 months a year)
  • 2 heavier-weight cardigans or jackets to layer on top in spring and fall
  • 3-4 pairs of pants (trousers) in heavier, winter fabrics/colours
    • This would include a pair of dark-wash, non-faded jeans to wear to work
  • 3-4 pairs of pants (trousers) in lighter, spring/summer fabrics/colours
    • Might be able to find some all-season pants (heavy-weight cotton twill is good)
  • 3 pairs shoes (black and brown with 2″ heels, and black flats)
    • I might be phasing out brown clothes (see below)
  • Matching socks (at least 5 pairs)
  • 1 or 2 belts
  • Presentable-looking spring/fall outerwear jacket, rain jacket, and warm, water-resistant winter jacket
  • Presentable-looking winter hat, gloves and scarf
  • Non-frumpy winter boots

Home. This would cover evenings, weekends and vacations.

  • 2 pairs sweat pants or yoga pants
  • 1 pair non-athletic shorts (worn at home only)
  • 1 pair of jeans in addition to ones worn to work
  • 5 long-sleeve T-shirts
  • 5 short-sleeve T-shirts
  • 2 tank tops for layering (also wear to bed)
  • 3 hoodies for layering (2 would do but I love them so much!)
  • 1 super-heavy hoodie or pullover to help keep the thermostat down
  • 1 turtleneck for layering
  • 1 short-sleeve top for going out
  • 1 long-sleeve top for going out
  • 2 workout tops – work out at home so can wear just a sports bra 🙂
  • 2 workout shorts – can also wear yoga pants or sweat pants
  • 5 pairs workout socks
  • 5 pairs casual socks
  • 1 pair sneakers
  • 1 pair sandals
  • 1 pair tough boots e.g. hiking boots, snow-worthy
  • 1 pair waterproof outerwear pants (for snow shovelling in the cold rain, bleah!)
  • Old clothes for gardening and painting
  • 2 bathrobes – summer and winter
  • 2 winter pyjamas
  • 1 summer pyjamas
  • 1 summer night dress
  • 1 bathing suit

And I think that is it!

I have made do with a minimalist wardrobe several times, most recently two years ago when I had gained weight and refused to buy clothes in a larger size. While I was reducing, I had only 2 pair of pants that fit me, that I could wear to work, and I made do for about 4 months! However, I must say I totally did not enjoy it and I think 4-5 pair is my minimum, including jeans.

The biggest factor preventing me from minimizing my wardrobe more is colour. But I think I am ready to pare down. One reason is my hair! I used to have dark brown hair and I used to have a lot of clothes in browns. But I went natural and now my hair is grey! My brown clothes and their mates formed a whole group of “warm colours” which really don’t match my own colouring anymore. By eliminating them over time, I will be left with black and grey neutrals, combined with bright colours. That’s probably as pared-down as I will go, because wearing all-neutrals doesn’t suit me at all (I don’t mean because of my happiness, I mean because of my appearance. I look washed-out in all-neutrals.)

Now of course, if I were travelling and I had to pack one suitcase to do me for a week, I would be able to get by with much less – although I’d need one suitcase worth of clothes per season!

Now if you want to know what I actually own, it’s posted here and here.

If I really wanted to put myself to the test, I’d do a minimalist wardrobe challenge – from my existing wardrobe, I could pull out all of the above items, and wear only them for a month! But I am still working on another challenge that I set for myself in January – to wear everything I own, see how it fits and feels, and decide whether to keep it. So after a year is up and I have culled my wardrobe, based on all 4 seasons’ worth of actual wear, I’ll be much more ready to do that!

Do you have collections of clothes in different colour groups – or sizes?

# of sweaters on my minimalist wardrobe list = 9.
Actual # of sweaters owned = 32. Not including hoodies!

If you want to see clothing minimalism done right, check out this post!


  1. Went back to the “clothes board” in full when i moved back here, living in 20% of the space I had had and having lost 10 lbs. niv looked back at the clothes…..

  2. Your so organised with this! I haven’t quite reached my optimum wardrobe – I think I need another 5-6 pieces and shoes, I definitely need more shoes,but I’m getting there. About 40 items in total will be about right.
    Thanks for the shout out.

  3. SarahN

    You know I love these posts!! This is great! I’m so happy to have a uniform, cause it really does cut what I need. That being said, I understand you on the colours idea, as I was away this weekend, and I have introduced a lot of navy in my wardrobe (incidently my trip was for a school reunion, and for those 8 years I wore navy!) I feel like I can’t do navy with black, which means I have to think carefully about jumpers particularly. In the end I was thankful I have the same jumper in a grey and black, and of course took and wore both! Just the grey would have been fine, but retropsective vision is 20/20! I sort of envy you that you are ok with a largely casual wardrobe. I know I still subscribe to a lot of what my schooling instilled (I lived there for 7 of 8 years!) and so therefore, I think a hoodie may only be worn on select occasions (ie, returning or going to sport, or to a hiphop concert (I was delighted when I realised that would be acceptable to me/the imaginary ‘others’), the gym or for long haul flights where I freeze!). I subject myself to ‘formal’ jumper and cardigans largely, and jackets and coats and blazers. Sometimes, a hoodie seems so much snugger and warmer :s I’m not sure I have 32!! I should get counting… I said that last time you counted on here, I’m sure!

    • Hmm, I think my casual wardrobe is because I don’t go anywhere that requires dressing better! I wear cardigans or pull-over sweaters to work, and hoodies after work and on weekends. I presently have 13 of them! I wish I had a work uniform so I could spend 100% of my clothing budget on casual wear!

  4. Pingback: An Exacting Life is One! « An Exacting Life

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