Battling My Closet and The Capsule Wardrobe

Have you heard about the Edmonton woman who wore the same dress for a year? How about the B.C. Mayor who wore the same suit for 15 months? She did it as an exercise in simplification. He did it to prove a point about “the sexist scrutiny women face in the workplace.” Both of these stories captivated me, but why? I think as I embarked on my own year long challenge, I came to realize the year challenge idea is a thing. People are challenging themselves to do all kinds of things, like this  Alberta family who are eating like pioneers for a year.

As part of our buy nothing year, clothing has repeatedly come up. We have lots of clothes, but holey socks and having no pants that fit can be very real problems and so we have had to evaluate needs, wants, and what constitutes too much.

Battling my closet

Don’t we all want a closet that contains only the items we really love to wear? If your closet is anything like mine than you have things you are waiting to fit into again, things you feel bad to get rid of because you know you spent good money on them, and clothes you need to keep just in case. But in reality, I bet you are wearing the same five shirts, 3 pairs of pants and 2 dresses all the time. I see my kids do the same.

I did a big closet purge back in January when I did the clothing swap with friends. I had done another purge back in October when I gave a lot of too small office wear to my sister. And yet I still have a closet that is just a little too full and I feel burdened by items I don’t love or I just don’t wear. What is the lifehack for winning over your wardrobe? This is something that has vexed me for a while.

Does it spark joy?

Marie Kondo the famed Japanese decluttering guru says “Does it spark joy?” is the best question you can ask when deciding to purge or to keep items. I haven’t quite been able to purge to this level because I need my dirty painting shorts, my dress I only wear to weddings, and the pants I wore to the hospital when all three of my kids were born. I do think that Kondo is on to something though. I think to get really minimalist we need to focus on the really good stuff. The things that make up our favourites are likely favourites for more reasons than just aesthetic appeal. My favourites are good quality, fit me right, and earn me complements.

Are Capsule Wardrobes the answer?

Wikepedia page for Capsule Wardrobe says:

Capsule wardrobe is a term coined by Susie Faux, the owner of a Londonboutique called “Wardrobe” in the 1970s. According to Faux, a capsule wardrobe is a collection of a few essential items of clothing that don’t go out of fashion, such as skirts, trousers, and coats, which can then be augmented with seasonal pieces.[1] This idea was popularised by American designerDonna Karan, who, in 1985, released an influential capsule collection of seven interchangeable work-wear pieces.[2]

The term is widely used in the British and American fashion media, and has been the subject of several popular television series. The term has come to refer to a collection of clothing that is composed of interchangeable items only, to maximise the number of outfits that can be created. The aim is to have an outfit suitable for any occasion without owning excessive items of clothing. This is usually achieved by buying what are considered to be “key” or “staple” items in coordinating colours.[3]

If you do a google image search for capsule wardrobe you will get lots of images where the wardrobe is laid out like this:

I am honestly not fashionable enough to have seasonal capsule wardrobes, but I can totally fathom doing them annually or every two years. I took a little time today to lay out my current favourites in my wardrobe. These are the things I would be happiest with if I had to throw everything else out. It’s definitely a statement in function over fashion, as I pretty much always like to be dressed for a run, whether I am running or not.

Kristy's Capsule Wardrobe

My final word on this and another important reason to consider building your wardrobe with intention is to combat the current trend towards fast fashion. When we chose fewer items of quality that we really love, we are doing good for our closets, our wallets and the planet.

Embracing Thrift Part I

In my first year of college I lived with a family as a nanny and I got free rent. I worked two days a week in a bakery and got to eat lots of delicious free or nearly free food.  I bought my clothes second hand and frequented used book stores. I remember being devastated when I had to spend $500 for a new alternator for my car, which was so much money to me at the time. I was great at being cheap without even really thinking that that is what I was doing.

Things changed as I grew up, made more money, and was granted credit. Somewhere along the way my tastes got more expensive, my needs got more complicated (as in needs for a family of five), and  I bought into a story that I deserved more. The story I am referring to is the one where I should be able to drive a newer car because other people do; I should have fancy haircuts and new clothes because those are work related expenses; I should be able to travel and dine out because I work hard. Unfortunately those shoulds don’t mean much; somewhere along the way I stopped being thrifty because of the shoulds and I am realizing now the shoulds haven’t done me any favours.

Part of what this buy nothing year has been about has been about exploring the shoulds, taking a look at what we really need, and reevaluating, everything. Today is the 1st of May and so we have officially marked the 1/3 point of this little experiment and what I am realizing is how little buying nothing new has actually affected us. I think due to the fact that our consumption has been so hearty in the past, we have the reserves to see our way through for a while. There are always more socks at the back of the drawer, unopened birthday gifts from last year to play with, and books bought years ago to read. The feeling of true need has been minimal. We did recently have to go to the second hand store for 2 pairs of pants for the big C as she literally did not have a pair left without holes in them.


Shopping for new pants at the thrift store

In actuality I have continued to purge and declutter our house and garage over the last months and the effect is noticeable and very pleasant. I have also been seeking ways to enjoy little luxuries at a fraction of the cost; I recently went to the local hair school for a cut and style that cost me $13.50.


Something that has occurred to me in this return to thrift, though I had never really considered it that at the outset, is that it has been a sort of reprogramming of sorts. I don’t know exactly how to explain it, except to say that I feel like I might be creating long term shifts in my behaviour. Again this really was not my intention, but it is what I feel happening. I said to my husband last night that I could imagine doing this for another year. Thinking about this got me thinking about a Ted Talk I had seen a number of years ago about doing something for 30 days to build new habits. The talk was given by Matt Cutts, Google’s head of web spam. I am not sure 30 days would have been enough for me in this challenge but at 120 days in I feel something happening.

Anyone Else Wondering What to Make for Dinner?

I really admire folks who do the whole meal planning thing. It seems so smart, practical, efficient and likely fiscally responsible. I have never truly been able to get into it. I often do a quick assessment of what is going on any given week and establish a strategy in my head once I am already at the store. It is pretty rare that I have an actual meal plan and the shopping list to go with it. Honestly it is more my style just to keep the freezer, cupboards, and fridge well stocked and then decide each day what I am in the mood for and how much energy I have. So it’s also not unusual for me to have a day at least once a month where I get to 5 o’clock and I still have no idea what is for dinner.


And those are the days I can be found doing a Google search like this one.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 4.36.02 PM

Because Google doesn’t usually know any better than I do what I want to cook and eat, it is very likely my search for inspiration will lead on over to Pinterest. For me Pinterest is often the fix to this problem. I think that fact that I really like to process information visually is a bit part of it. Punch in a few key words like “one pot pasta”, and then just look at all the pictures until I can find the one that looks, delicious, easy, and that has ingredients I have available.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 4.38.43 PM

On the day I started this blog post, this is where I landed on dinner. I had seen these one pot pasta ideas on Pinterest before, but I had my doubts as to how well pasta would cook like this. All I can say is “YUM”. So easy too. I will be doing this again. Are you a meal planner? What is your secret? Or are you like me and you specialize in tricks for the last minute?

I Am Hardly Original

I Am Hardly Original

My idea that our family do a buy nothing year was certainly not an original one. I realize it is something that has been brewing over many years of reading news stories and blogs and consuming online videos and tweets. I have been inspired by a lot of people doing similar buy nothing challenges. I have seen the buy nothing movement take many shapes and forms. A few years ago I heard these two roommates speak about their Buy Nothing Year on CBC radio.  When I was preparing for our year I did some research and discovered a family who eschewed consumerism but put no limits on experiences. I found people who gave up everything including transportation apart from the their bicycles. And I discovered people committed to more than just a year long challenge but living frugally for the long haul.

The reasons people are taking on this type of challenge are varied but their are some commonalties that seem to resonate with all. The Buy Nothing Challenge is undertaken for reasons of finances, the environment, the spirit. Folks are doing it to teach their children, to revaluate what they really need, pay off their mortgage, retire at thirty, to pay off debt, or to see how creatively they can meet their needs.

And it’s not just individuals who are talking about buying nothing, there is the whole Anti-Black Friday movement that was spawned by Patagonia’s Buy Nothing Day. The image below was originally a full page ad Patagonia took out in the New York Times on Black Friday 2011. This is pretty heady stuff for a consumer brand, albeit a socially and environmentally conscious one. Dont-Buy-This-Jacket

Last year I saw the #stayintheblackfriday hashtag in use by other groups promoting fiscal priorities over consumerism.

And this video from The Story of Stuff really makes me shake my head and think about the really ugly side of our affluence and consumerism.

So there you have it. I know we are not alone in this. I am encouraged and inspired by all the others I see who have spearheaded these challenges, projects and movements.

More Links:

The Year Without a Purchase: One Family’s Quest To Stop Shopping and Start Connecting

Calgary-based roommates One-Year Buy Nothing Adventure

Cait Flanders Shopping Ban

Michelle and Frank The London Minimalists

The Buy Nothing Project

 Frugalwoods Financial Independence and Simple Living

Don’t Buy This Jacket, Black Friday and the New York Times

Moonlight Run 2016

I realize I am not going to win any awards for this video but I had fun making and editing it so I am sharing it here. As part of the Buy Nothing Year I said I was not going to sign up for run events in 2016, because well, I can run for free. I have blogged before about how running has kind of become my church and it brings me a great deal of peace. So you might guess that where I am going with this is that I am questioning whether taking running of the table was really a good idea.

On Saturday night I ran in my first organized event of the year and it was awesome. It was fun, friends, family, sweat, laughs, music and just an overall great appreciation for life and movement. The fact that I am about to change my mind about this is all my sister’s fault. She knew I wasn’t signing up for runs, so she paid my entry and signed me up. And now, she is talking me into the next one, the 10km at the Calgary Marathon. I think I just said yes.

Thank Goodness for Friends and Family

As we near the  end of month two of our Buy Nothing experiment, I have some new reflections on getting by and the lessons in this for the kids. We went to the mall yesterday and we came home with stuff. Did we cheat? I don’t think so. You be the judge.

At the outset of the buy nothing year one of the rules was that the kids would continue to get an allowance and that they could choose to do what they wanted with that. We were not going to force them to buy nothing with their money. We give each of the girls a dollar for every year old they are, which means $9 for the Big C and $6 for Little K each month. The Big C also had some gift cards that she has been holding on to from her birthday and Christmas that she was free and clear to use as she wanted.

A question people have asked me is what we are going to do about clothes this year. Robb and I have plenty and we can find ways to make due where we find little needs. Robb has already complained to me about socks with holes in them and I told him to put new socks on the list for January 2017. The kids however are always growing and wearing things out. That said the two littlest are lucky to benefit from the hand me downs of friends and family, so making due for them will not be a real hardship.

The Big C however grows fast, wears things hard, and is very rarely the recipient of a hand me downs. So yesterday she took her Christmas gift from her aunt to the mall to pick a few clothes. She had a number of things in the approved pile that she wanted to get, and I explained that the gift card had a finite amount on it that we would be able to use. We organized her pile prioritizing most important articles at the top. At the till the total was adjusted for sale pricing and an additional coupon we had and we found we didn’t have enough for the last 3 items in her stack. Whining and even a few tears ensued as I explained that’s just the way things go sometimes. Even grownups cannot have everything they want. I think that is an important lesson for kids to have. Heck it is an important lesson for me to have. Good budgeting means knowing your limit and staying within it.

All in all I don’t think the kids will suffer much this year. They have a lot. And we are lucky to have family and friends who care and share and make it that much it that much more comfortable for us to buy nothing this year.

Here is the Big C this week, shopping for snow pants with Grandma, showing off what she got with her birthday gift card, and using her Christmas gift card for new summer clothes.