How To Start A Sustainable Wardrobe

With spring semi-officially on the way, we thought now would be as good a time as ever to talk about transitioning from a cluttered, over-compensating, full-to-the-brim closet (if you're like I was), to a minimalist, sustainably-driven one. I'm not going to say it's super easy, but I am going to say it's not that hard. Depending on how much clothing you have at the moment this could be an afternoon project or a weekend-long one.

Either way, even those with closets fit to burst can knock out the first phases of going in on a minimalist lifestyle in a matter of days with dramatic effect. 

For the sake of those who might not have been on this blog before, I'm Anna Lisa, and about seven months ago now, my husband, Porter, and I left our flat in Boston with one bag each to pursue travel photography (we specialize in sustainable hotel photography), and conscious lifestyle blogging. Since then we've been to about fifteen countries, had the chance to learn from and champion some big hitters in the ethical fashion industry, and witnessed firsthand just how uniform and far-reaching the effects of climate change already are on our planet. It's a bummer. But fortunately, more and more people every day are committing to lifestyle changes that reduce their impact on our earth, and show that there's a burning desire in a whole lot of us to challenge the idea that one person can't make a difference through their daily actions. Maybe that's why you're here. Maybe that's why you care. Maybe paring down your closet is your way of showing so.

If you don't already know this, the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world right now. It's what's known as a "resource heavy" industry, which means it takes a lot of people, a lot of land, a lot of pesticides, a lot of time, and creates (you guessed it) a lot of waste

(which usually comes served in the form of toxic runoff, CO2 emissions, excess materials, and the 50% of new clothing each year that wind up in landfills within 365 days). 

One of the ways you can limit your involvement in the "dark side" of the fashion industry is by researching the brands you buy from, purchasing only from those that are committed to limiting their impact on the planet and investing in the humanitarian needs of their workers. From there you can learn to only purchase for a purpose, switching up that "I want this, I want that" mindset to an, "am I going to want to wear this every week for the next year?" one.

Just like dieting gets you thinking differently about the food that passes through your lips, developing a minimalist mindset changes your perspective on the importance of consuming clothing.

So how did we go about the process of making the switch, and how can you? Here are our five tips to get you started:

1) Look At The Season That's Behind You.

Here in Boston, winter is not officially over yet, but in other parts of the world I like to imagine that the buds are starting to spring up and the birds are starting to chirp. Any seasonal change is an amazing opportunity to reduce your wardrobe with the clarity that a season just lived through brings. Here's why: you know what you didn't wear. Fact I just made up but is probably true: if you didn't wear something that you own this winter, chances that you'll wear it next winter just went down by about 75%.

Go get yourself a bunch of black trash bags (or reusable burlap ones!) and start making piles of anything you didn't reach for a single time.

Put it in the bag, and (this step is important) take a note from Frozen and let it go. Remind yourself that your memory is really not that good. Try to envision ten different scenes from the second grade. See what I mean? You will not be wallowing over that thinly-striped cardigan a year from now; you won't even remember it. I promise. If you want to fine tune for next winter even further, you can now organize your items into definitely keep and maybe keep, box them separately. When next winter rolls around only take out your "definitely keep" box, and as the needs arrive you can pull things from the "maybe keep" box. You'll realize just how many of those maybes you should've donated the year before.

2) Prep For The Season That's Ahead.

Now that you have some trash bags lining your hallway (or apartment floor landing - which was our case!) you can start to think about what's ahead: warmer days, outdoor activities, a minimalist spring that leads into a summer trimmed of all anxieties of "what will I wear" and replaced by days of tennis matches on the public courts in Boston Common followed by your favourite vegan cookies n' cream ice cream on Newbury Street....

For the season ahead, I want you to think a little bit differently than you did for the one that just passed. Rather than organizing by what you did or didn't wear last spring, organize everything you might wear this spring (& summer while you're at it) situationallyWhat do I mean by this? I mean tear through your closet and start making piles in your living room for different categories. Gym clothes in one corner, jeans in another. Workout stuff over here, sandals there, heels over there. Going out clothes on the couch, work clothes on the coffee table, weekend daytime clothes by that lamp. Once things are separated by situation you can't un-see where you've been exceedingly excessive. This is the technique that unveiled that my husband had five pairs of cleats for his three-times-a-month soccer games, and that I somehow had acquired eleven pairs of exercise shorts.

Now you can trim the fat. If you're looking to go semi-minimalist, allow yourself 4-6 options in each category. If you're going all in, make it 3-4. When it comes to shoes, try hard to be a one to two options per category person (one pair of sneakers, two pairs of sandals, two pairs of heels, etc.). If you have more than seven pairs of shoes at the end, keep going through until you don't.

Laundry is also important to keep in mind here because with a smaller wardrobe you can't avoid doing laundry to the extent you might have in the past. Consider this your load to carry (did you pick up on the pun there?). Having a smaller amount of clothes just means you'll do a little bit of laundry a little more frequently (and if you're looking for a sustainable detergent to use to offset the impact of upping your time at the laundromat check out Parchute Home).

3) Look for Gaps & Do The Mix-and-Match Test.

A lot of how-to-start-a-sustainable-wardrobe websites overlook this part, so I made a note not to! Now that you've figured out what you think you can get by with, make sure you haven't left any gaps. For some reason, when I initially pared down my wardrobe to travel, I realized quickly that I didn't have a sweater to take to dinners when the temperatures dropped and usually found myself with one of Porter's over my shoulders most nights. It's okay to realize you need to purchase something because "going minimalist" has revealed a wardrobe gap you used to be able to compensate for with all that "extra stuff." If you do legitimately need something, maybe the one pair of sandals you want to hold onto have seen better days and are actually falling apart, or all of your socks have holes in them (cough, Porter), start researching some ethical brands that can fulfill that need and enjoy the feeling of knowing you can purchase something you actually needed and that that need will go on to benefit the lives of good people and the preservation of our planet. If you don't know of a whole lot of ethical brands you can check out our Instagram for inspiration.

Now, one more quick thing, glance over your stuff and try to make sure items can be applied to different categories through mixing and matching (this will make that oh-no-I-have-no-stuff-anymore feelings disappear). Maybe a work dress can be dressed down or a workout top would actually look great with black jeans and heels (I find this is often the case). Whatever it is, just stopping to visualize different ways your things can work together to make different "looks" will reduce any anxiety you're harboring over getting rid of the excess.

4) Out of Sight Out of Mind.

Remember how I said with your winter things there should be "definitely keep" and "maybe keep" boxes? For the coming season you should have "definitely donate" and "hold off for now" bags. Maybe you're amazing at minimizing your life and are on some kind of minimization high ready to drop off all that extra stuff at Good Will, but the permanence of this phase is hard for some people and the anxiety of that final "give away" step can make them toss in the towel on this whole minimalism thing altogether. If you're feeling unsure about getting rid of something you've already recognized you probably won't need, don't be afraid to put it in a box with others of its kind and store it out of sight. In a couple of months, pull that box down and you just might realize having any sort of emotional attachment to those things was ridiculous (or you might find a certain shirt you now realize you don't want to live without). Either way, it numbs the anxiety this process can induce and keeps you from wanting to quit.

5) Donate Wisely and Take An Oath. 

Once you know what you're willing to donate, research the best drop off areas for clothing donations. Try to donate to category-specific organizations to avoid your clothing sitting in a heap for the rest of its days rather than actually being worn. So much clothing that's sent into Good Will actually winds up in landfills in Haiti, never to be worn again. Find causes looking to repurpose jeans or schools in need of gym shorts or socks. The mental benefits of knowing you didn't just drop off a bag but fulfilled a real need will make you all the more committed to this new way of life.

And now, for the final step: take an oath.

Once you've recognized the gaps in your wardrobe (if there are any) vow not to shop (even from conscious brands) for at least two months.

In my experience, this is about the amount of time it takes to go from resisting shopping, to choosing not to think about it, to actively not feeling like consuming. You're mindset will change, your wallet will likely fatten, your anxiety will decrease, and you'll find yourself realizing you spent time thinking about and buying things embarrassingly often.  Most importantly, you'll suddenly have a chunk of time on your hands you didn't have before to serve whatever your passions are, and what time better than Spring to pick up a new hobby or fitness routine or just spend time chilling at the park with friends.

We hope this was helpful and wish you guys luck on getting started on your sustainable wardrobes! We promise the mental benefits will be equally cleansing, and honestly just can't put into words how grateful we are for the reduction of stress and quantity of time to spend together and enjoy life these simple changes made on our lives. We hope they do the same for you!


Anna Lisa & Porter

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