9 Things I’ve Learned Dressing with a 36 Item Capsule Wardrobe

9 Things I've Learned Dressing with a 36 Item Capsule Wardrobe

I’ve been dressing from a capsule wardrobe since February. It is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made with my clothes. If you are on the fence about making your own capsule wardrobe, I highly recommend trying it!

Although I was hesitant about trying it at first, I now know that it makes life easier in so many ways. Today I want to share some of the important lessons I’ve learned from dressing with a capsule wardrobe. And share the positive impact creating a capsule wardrobe has had on my life.

9 Things I've learned dressing with a 36 item capsule wardrobe
Photo by Frank Park on Unsplash

1. 40 items are more than enough

When I planned my first capsule wardrobe, I decided to aim for a flexible limit of 40 items, including only tops and bottoms. At the time, I thought 40 items seemed like so few things. I ended up with 36 pieces in my first capsule wardrobe. But after living with it, I realized even with a smaller wardrobe, I still rarely wore some of the pieces.

When I made my second capsule wardrobe, I knew I could easily include fewer items. I stuck with the flexible 40 item limit, but this time included tops, bottoms, shoes and outer wear in that limit. Even including these extra items, I ended up only choosing 36 pieces again.

Even with fewer items, I still have plenty of options to wear. Although 36 items may not seem like a lot of clothes, I am realizing it is easy to create a complete wardrobe with a small, carefully curated selection of clothes. We really don’t need as many clothes as we think we do, which brings me to my next point.

2. You probably are already dressing from a capsule wardrobe

Most people are already dressing from a capsule wardrobe of sorts, but just don’t realize it. I have heard, and definitely agree this applied to me, most people wear 20% of their clothes 80% of the time. This means you wear the same small selection of the clothes you own for the vast majority of the time.

We tend to have our favourites and our “go to” items that we wear often, and the rest of our clothes are worn less frequently, or sometimes rarely ever.

Essentially most people are already dressing from a capsule wardrobe, it’s simply hidden amongst clothes they really don’t love or wear.

This idea really hit me when I made my first capsule. When I sorted all my clothes initially, I put all my favourite items in a pile to make my capsule wardrobe. I wasn’t thinking about it too hard or planning carefully. I just quickly sorted and gathered the clothes I love and wear often. After I was done sorting, I counted the pile and was shocked to find I only had 42 items in the pile.

Knowing I was already dressing from a small number of items the majority of the time eased my fears about creating a capsule wardrobe. I didn’t actually need the extra clothes in my closet. They were just a mental security blanket that made me feel like I had options, but I wasn’t wearing them anyways. So why allow them to take up my space and my time?

3. Fewer clothes makes getting dressed easier

One of the first things I noticed about dressing from a capsule wardrobe is how much easier deciding what to wear is. Because I only keep things in my wardrobe that I love to wear, and look and feel good in, deciding what to wear each day is so much quicker and simpler.

You may have heard the term “decision fatigue”. Basically, it means that our decision-making ability deteriorates throughout the day as we become mentally exhausted from all the decisions, large and small, we make during the day.

When you can start your day without stressing, or even giving much thought at all, about what you’re going to wear, you start your day without wasting your decision-making ability on what you’ll wear. Less time and energy spent deciding what to wear leads to less decision fatigue. You can save your decision-making ability for the more important decisions you need to make throughout your day.

4. A capsule wardrobe saves time and money

When you are making an intentional choice to live with a small, carefully chosen selection of clothing, you shop for clothes less frequently. You are more selective about any clothes you buy, only buying items you absolutely love and actually need in your wardrobe.

Often once you create your capsule, you have little need to shop at all while you’re dressing from it, because you are committed to dressing with fewer items and content with doing so.

You save time and money by shopping less and being more intentional about what you buy.

A capsule wardrobe also saves time because deciding what to wear is so much easier. You don’t have to weed through clothes you don’t love or don’t fit to find something to wear. You don’t waste time in the mornings trying on multiple outfits trying to find something that looks and feels great.

5. My closet has breathing room

One of the more unexpected benefits of a capsule wardrobe is how great my closet looks and feels! It is so organized and peaceful, and super easy to keep that way. Nothing is crammed or stuffed in. I can see exactly what I have and nothing gets lost in the back or forgotten about.

Looking at my clothes now gives me such a positive feeling. Each item is something I love that I look and feel good in. There aren’t clothes that make me feel guilty for not wearing and wasting money on. Or clothes that don’t fit and make me feel bad. My closet makes me feel good because I love everything in it.

It’s like a breath of fresh air. Sometimes I go into my closet just to gaze lovingly at all the empty space! It’s hard to describe what a difference it makes in my life.

I didn’t realize that a full closet was making me feel overwhelmed or stressed until it wasn’t that way anymore. It feels so freeing and peaceful to have room to breath in my closet.

I even did a mini makeover on my closet to accentuate and enjoy all the empty space I have now. Who would’ve thought I’d ever have the space or inclination to decorate my closet! I’ll share my mini makeover soon!

9 Things I've learned dressing with a 36 item capsule wardrobe
Photo by Kasia Serbin on Tookapic

6. I’ve learned more about my personal style and preferences

Keeping fewer items in your wardrobe forces you to clarify your personal style. When you have a small wardrobe, everything in it must be something you love to wear and feel great in. You don’t have room in your wardrobe to keep things you only wear occasionally or don’t really love.

Your style and clothing preferences become clear very quickly. It’s easy to see what items aren’t worn often and which items you always reach for. Ideally, your capsule wardrobe should only include items you absolutely love and would be happy to wear every day. However, it does take some time to get there. But having a smaller wardrobe makes it a lot easier to see these patterns.

Figuring out your personal style and preferences takes some time. And it can change and evolve during different stages of your life. Be realistic about your lifestyle right now and what types of clothes you like and/or need to wear the majority of the time. Then build your capsule around your current lifestyle.

Here are some examples of what I’ve learned dressing with fewer clothes:

  • In my first capsule wardrobe, I initially included mostly nicer, casual clothes (think knit cardigans and sweaters) and only one hoodie. It quickly became clear that I needed more than one hoodie because I like to wear cozy and warm sweaters a lot during the winter, especially while I’m at home hanging out with the kids. I made some tweaks to my wardrobe to include one or two more comfortable sweaters to fill the gap.
  • I’ve learned I’m a creature of habit. I own several of the same styles of tops in different colors. I realized finding something I like is more important to me than variety. This might not work for everyone, but it works for me. Figure out your own personal preferences and work with them, not against them.
  • I realized I don’t like mixing and matching my clothes in new combinations. It actually stresses me out. I like to figure out the combinations that work, then stick with those. Boring? Maybe. But it takes the stress out of deciding what to wear for me and that’s one of the big reasons to make a capsule wardrobe in the first place.

Having a small, carefully selected wardrobe allows me to clarify and develop my personal style that works for my lifestyle. I feel confident in my clothes because my wardrobe is made up of my favourite things that I look and feel good in.

7. Nobody else pays much attention to what you’re wearing

I’ve realized nobody really notices or cares what you wear or how many clothes you have. People really don’t pay that close of attention to what other people are wearing. Let this go. Most people couldn’t even recall what someone else wore yesterday, let alone keep tabs on what they wear regularly.

I like to remind myself of this quote:

“What other people think about me is none of my business.” – Wayne Dyer

This applies to life in general, but also if you’re worried about what people think of your wardrobe.

Besides, even if someone does notice what you’re wearing, does it matter? Do your clothes have anything to do with the kind of person you are? No! Your actions and words show the world what kind of person you are. Your clothes have nothing to do with it!

8. Letting go of clothes you don’t love becomes easier

I find it easier to identify and let go of clothes I don’t really love after I’ve put them away for a little while. I stored anything, not in my current capsule in our spare bedroom closet. When I revisited these clothes to put together my spring capsule wardrobe, I realized some time and space away from my clothes makes it easier to decide what I truly love and what is just ok.

A good test to see if I actually love something is when I decide if I want it in my capsule or not. I know anything I include in my capsule will need to be something I want to wear frequently. I ask myself if I would be excited to wear an item at least once a week. Even though I don’t actually end up wearing most things that frequently, that’s the test I use. If I wouldn’t want to wear it that frequently, it doesn’t belong in my capsule and probably doesn’t belong in my wardrobe at all.

Ultimately, I only want to own clothes I love and feel excited to wear often. Letting go of clothes that don’t meet this standard is easier with a capsule wardrobe. Either I notice I’m not loving or wearing something in my capsule because there are fewer clothes for it to get lost in. Or I have higher standards about what to include in my capsule in the first place.

9. A capsule wardrobe makes life better!

A capsule wardrobe isn’t about sacrifice, suffering or deprivation. It’s about making your life easier, less stressful and better overall! It lets you spend less time and energy thinking about and caring for your clothes. Giving you more time and energy for more important things in your life!

I don’t choose to live with fewer clothes to make life harder. I choose to live with less to make my life better!

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  1. I have been wanting to do this…clean my closet and become more minmalistic…I really don’t need over 100 dresses, etc. Thank you for this post!

    1. I’m glad you found it helpful Lauren! It’s amazing how easy it is to collect way more clothes than we need. But dressing from a smaller wardrobe makes life so much simpler. Thanks for reading 🙂

    1. Thanks Katie, I’m glad you found it helpful. I’m so glad it’s inspired you to think about trying a capsule wardrobe. I put it off for a long time because I was intimidated by the whole process. But now that I have a capsule wardrobe, I wish I would’ve done it a long time ago. It isn’t scary at all and makes life so much simpler! If you try making a capsule wardrobe let me know, I’d love to hear how it goes! Thanks for reading 🙂

  2. Oh I so need to try and do this. I love picking up bits from the charity shops so have ended up with so many clothes, a lot of which I don’t wear.

  3. I love this! I am currently on a weight loss journey (55 pounds down, 35 to go) and my closet is a mess of stuff that I don’t care for but people gave me to use while I was losing weight (which I am SUPER thankful for). I need to find some basics that I like and feel confident in so I can simplify!

    1. Wow, amazing work on your weight loss journey Caitlin. That’s incredible! Good for you 🙂

      When your weight is changing, it can make it difficult to keep your closet functional and simplified for sure. The great thing about a capsule wardrobe though is that you realize how you don’t need a whole bunch of clothes to have a complete, stylish and functional wardrobe. I think you definitely have the right idea. Find a few basic pieces that you feel great in and maybe add some fun accessories to add some variety to your wardrobe. A small selection of clothes can actually be all you need if you look and feel great in them, and can mix and match them to make a variety of outfits. Good luck with the rest of your journey and thanks so much for reading and sharing!

  4. Great post! just the inspiration I needed after I looked in despair at my excessive wardrobe….
    Also have shared it with friends and on our Women’s career platform!

  5. This is so interesting and sounds so freeing to clear out clothes and embrace your own style. I also love the part about not worrying about what others thinks and realizing people don’t really notice clothing all that much anyway.

  6. I love this! I set up a capsule wardrobe about 6 months ago after losing some the baby weight from my twins. I loved how it was perfect for a “body in transition” and it’s SO budget friendly! Thanks for the tips!

    1. Thanks Amanda, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Yes! A capsule wardrobe is perfect for those in between stages after having babies. When you don’t want to invest in a bunch of new clothes, but still want to look and feel great. Thanks for reading and for sharing your experience! 🙂

  7. Yes! I have been doing thins since my 2nd baby was born (it was easy to get rid of most of my clothes while still in maternity wear). It has freed me up so much in life to have simplicity in my wardrobe. I also supplement with a rental/stylist service where I also get to borrow a few pieces each month for variety. Thanks for your clear and helpful breakdown.

    1. Thanks Flesche, I’m glad you found it helpful! I completely agree, it’s amazing what an impact simplifying your wardrobe has on your life. That’s a great idea to use a rental/stylist service to supplement your wardrobe and add some variety, without cluttering up your closet! Thanks so much for reading and sharing your experience, I love hearing from other capsule wardrobe converts! 🙂

  8. Thanks for sharing your experience with starting a capsule wardrobe! Love the blog and your practical, inspiring posts about minimalism!
    Having a small house and sharing a tiny closet with my husband has helped me to pare down my clothing a lot. I can’t seem to make the leap to a capsule wardrobe though. I have been toying with the idea for a while and I know I would love all the benefits, but honestly I am nervous about trying it. Two fears are holding me back… I am worried that I will wear out all my favorites, and I think that I need the back-up options. And of course, that doesn’t make sense because my favorite outfits are what I am reaching for every day anyway!

    1. Thanks Rebecca. You sound a lot like me. I was nervous about making a capsule wardrobe and waited and thought about it for months before I actually made the leap. What helped me was when I took everything out of my closet and did the initial sort. I made a pile for things I wanted in my capsule wardrobe and I decided I wouldn’t even worry about numbers or what I was choosing at that point. I just put all the things I love wearing in a pile. When I was done I only had 42 items in the pile. That’s when it hit me that I basically already was living with a capsule wardrobe, it was just surrounded by clothes I rarely or never wore! After realizing that, it made it much easier to trust the process. It also helped that I kept anything not in my current capsule in our spare bedroom closet. It took the pressure off because I could test drive a capsule wardrobe without getting rid of everything else permanently.

      Good luck if you decide to try it. I’d love to hear what you think of a capsule if you try it. Thanks for reading and sharing your insights!

  9. LOVE this! I am headed into my room right now to start sorting through my clothes. I like that this concept is practical for people living in multi-season places, since you’re not getting RID of all but 36 items, but potentially just packing them away. ( I feel like most of what I see in this theme comes from women living in California or Florida!)

    Also, so excited to see you’re a fellow Canadian (I’m out on Van Isle, but from Sask :). I am pumped to follow you everywhere (online, I mean…) and continue being inspired!

    1. Hi Shannon! I’m glad you found it inspiring, that’s awesome! I agree that living in a place with varying seasons has to be accounted for when making a capsule wardrobe. We have such extreme seasonal weather differences here it wouldn’t be practical for me to only have 36 items total. I love hearing from another Canadian who can relate to and appreciate that! (I love Vancouver Island by the way, you’re so lucky to live there!). I’m excited to have you follow me. Keep me posted on your progress in your closet and if you have any questions let me know, I’d be happy to help if I can! Thanks for your great comment, it made my day to hear from you!

  10. This is such a great list- it captures what I’ve felt and what I’d like to feel as I continue to create my capsule wardrobe.

    I did a “25-before-25” challenge (25 things you want to accomplish before your 25th birthday, typically done in 1 year) and this was on my list!

    I love these tips and will be pinning to reference again.

    1. Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I love the idea of a “25-before-25” challenge. What an awesome idea. I’d love to try something like this (except it would be more like 35-by-35 for me now lol!) Thanks for reading and sharing your awesome challenge idea!

  11. Did you ever do a post about your closet makeover? If so, please share a link to it with me. I’d love to see how it turned out 🙂

  12. As I read this I too noticed that I already have capsulated my wardrobe by the regularly used clothes I love and wear. I have a small closet and when it gets cluttered I get cluttered. I, also, just found out I am HSP, something I knew my whole life but others put a name to it ” you’re so sensitive”.

    1. I think a lot of us dress from a capsule wardrobe and don’t even realize it, just like you said. I find having a neat and uncluttered closet makes me feel so much lighter. I can’t believe the difference actually. Who knew the number of clothing items we own could have such an impact on how we feel! I think a lot of us HSP are drawn towards minimalism and clutter-free spaces. Thanks for reading and sharing your insights!

  13. I would like to remark on #7 especially. I am a Stylist and I dress pretty dramatically and creatively. I have 2 module wardrobes, one for work and one for casual life, each with about 40 items. A first impression is important and people will notice an extreme one way or the other. Being in the middle ground for personal style is where most capsule wardrobes sit. Also, capsule wardrobes do narrow down and solidify a personal style, which people will see as a consistent in your life, meaning you have your life together and are a professional person. To say that people don’t notice what you wear is also a part of lifestyle. As a stylist, people constantly notice my wardrobe in that circle. Friends on the other hand could not care less, but that does not mean that it goes unnoticed. I love your blog. It is a really great breakdown of what you have discovered for yourself! I love capsule wardrobes! I never have the feeling of having nothing to wear! And since I;’ writing this on New Years Eve, Happy New Year!

    1. Thanks Erin, and thanks for sharing your experience and insights. It’s very interesting to hear your thoughts as a stylist. I agree that people probably do tend to notice overall how someone dresses, as in their overall style or “look”. But the key for me was realizing that people don’t notice if I have fewer clothes that I’m dressing from. I worried that people would notice and care that I wore the same top more than once when seeing them. But I have realized that because my wardrobe is fairly neutral, and I can wear the same items in different outfits for different looks, no one really does seem to notice or care what I’m wearing. And another big take away for me after dressing from a capsule wardrobe was letting go of worrying if other people noticed what I’m wearing. Knowing everything in my wardrobe makes me look and feel good has been a great confidence boost so I let go of worrying about what other people think of my clothes. Thanks for reading, for your kind words and again for sharing your insights. I really enjoyed hearing your perspective!

  14. Thank you for this thoughtful, insightful information. I absolutely LOVE the information that you give us that we can start by putting most of our maybe clothes in our spare closet “just in case”. It does make me a bit nervous but I so want to do this. I was just very scared before. Knowing I can fall back if I have to makes this not as scary. I can’t wait to start! Thank you!

    1. Yes! I agree that it can be scary when you’re first getting started. I love putting things out of sight but not permanently gone to experiment living with less. Once I take away the fear of regretting a decluttering decision, I find I feel much braver and bolder with my decluttering decisions. I’m so happy this little shift has you excited to get decluttering, that’s awesome! Thanks for reading and happy decluttering 🙂

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