How to Dress Like You Give a Damn

I don’t consider myself to be a particularly good shopper when it comes to clothing.  I’m certainly not an enthusiastic one.  With infinite resources, I’d hire a guru to dress me everyday so I do not have to think about it.  Conversely, I’m also vain enough to want to look good, too.  And as much as I believe, that Happy Girls Are the Prettiest (thank you, Audrey Hepburn), I recognize that how one dresses has a role to play.

There are plenty of people in the other camp – shopaholics, whose addiction is particularly acute in the clothing category. For these people, there is plenty of freely shared advice about how to reduce one’s collection of clothing.

There is, for example, the 333 method of creating Capsule Wardrobes.  In this solution, clothes horses are instructed to reduce their wardrobe to 33 items of clothing for every 3 month time period – those 33 items become a capsule.  Capsules then get rotated by season in and out of the closet.  Thus, in a 4-season location, a person would actually be able to own up to 132 items.  It’s just that only 25% of those items would be “in play” at any time.   A helpful Facebook support group alerts members when it’s time to shift one box of clothing out of the closet and another in.

There is also Marie Kondo’s magical message that tidying up one’s home, does the same for one’s life.  She also has quite a bit to say about reducing clothing clutter.  Though she does not attach a number to it, she encourages readers to only keep those items which spark joy.

I was intrigued, then inspired.

Might the 333 system alongside Marie Kondo’s philosophy work as an equally elegant framework, not for minimizing, but for expanding and maintaining a wardrobe?

Because the problem with naturally minimalistic (in the clothing department) people like myself is that we can end up looking scruffy.   Especially in middle age.  It’s one thing when you are 20 or even 30 years old, and with a friendly smile and shrug of the shoulders, can pull off wearing just about any threadbare or pock-marked T-shirt.  But it’s different now – it’s ok to be older.  It’s not ok to have perma-pit stains on shirts, tiny breeding balls of ancient fluff stuck to your dresses and dangly strings trailing after your skirts.  Seriously.

For me, the challenge of keeping 33 items of clothing (inclusive of shoes and accessories) that are in good condition and which I love to wear was huge, and I decided to rise up and attempt to change my habit of neglecting my wardrobe.

I knew I had been holding clothing that fall into these categories in my closet:

  • items that do not fit
  • items that are damaged or have been over-worn and look it
  • items I do not like but fit and are in good condition
  • duplicate items

So, one day I just did it.

I personalized the structure and rules.  My “Thailand-modified” 333 concept meant that only 3 under-the-bed “seasonal” boxes were created.  These will ultimately need to contain 33 items each and will be rotated as needed:

  1. A cool season box of clothes.  Cool is of course relative, but after living in the tropics for 10+ years, one’s blood does I think, tend to thicken. And 80° F (26.6° C) can feel chilly.   The lightweight but long-sleeved clothing and generally darker colors are featured more in this box.  My jeans and longer skirts are here too.
  2. A hot season box.  This box contains lighter weight and lighter color clothing, the strappier and sleeveless, the shorter, lighter colored shoes.
  3. a box of clothing for European / N American / Asian cold weather climates, where I tend to travel for work and vacations regularly.  The items in this box are now permanently relegated to under-the-bed storage.  When my sweaters, heavy coats and boots are needed, I know exactly where they are, and they go directly from storage box to suitcase (and back) easily.  I have no need to see them in my closet on a daily basis.

Oddball, single purpose items:  exercise clothing for now will not be rotated, nor will beach-wear like swimsuits and cover-ups.  They don’t count toward my 33.

Over time, in anticipation of relocating to a place with a 4-season climate I will build up a 4th box .

Once I customized the framework and rules of the 333 method to suit my life situation, I spent a couple of hours doing as Marie Kondo suggests.  I took every item of clothing out of the closet and put it on the floor, bed wherever.  One by one, I picked up each item, considered how I really felt about it, and, if it did not spark that, “Hell Yeah – I love this” feel, I set it aside to be given away or tossed out, as appropriate.

I was tough on myself, ruthless even.

Once I removed the unnecessary clothes from my life though, an amazing thing happened.  I discovered a golden hue over all that remained.  I really did love everything.  The problem was that there were only about 20 possessions left for the season I was currently in.


At least I could easily see the gaps.  Work clothes I had in abundance but my closet was sadly bereft of cute shorts, shirts and dresses for the weekend.

My job was clear.  After carefully placing the hot season items and cold-weather travel clothes into their designated under-the-bed storage boxes, I hung up the 20 or so pieces of clothes that were left for the current cool season. Then I admitted, it was time to go shopping.

That was 6 months ago.

Here are the benefits from this exercise I have noticed so far:

  1.  It forced me to make decisions I had been putting off for years.  I was finally able to get real about clothes that were no longer working for me.  This was more thanks to Marie Kondo and her does this item spark joy requirement?  If not, then we need accept that the thing has served its purpose in our lives, thank it and let it go.
  2. It’s a time-saver.   Getting dressed is faster when there are fewer items in the closet.
  3. Having said that, because I now truly love everything in my closet, the act of getting dressed is itself a more joyful experience.
  4. It takes away any tiny bits of residual (Catholic? mother?) guilt about clothes shopping for myself.
  5. I reliably purchase better quality, better fitting clothing that I love when I do go shopping.  Knowing that after up to 3 months of use I will once again hold this thing in my hands and decide whether it makes the storage cut or not means that I’m less likely to make false purchases.
  6.  I always have a clean closet that I love looking at.  Really.  I love how easy this 333 method makes it to be organized so much that I switched to an open wardrobe unit from IKEA that is affixed to my wall and does not even have doors.  It’s like art.  Sometimes I just lie in bed and stare at it in wonder, smiling.
  7. I even enjoy shopping (sort of) now because it is purposeful.  I always know how a new acquisition fits into my system – the randomness of shopping has been eliminated.
  8. I get excited to pull out the next season box of clothing.  When I do not wear or even look at some beloved clothes for part of the year it feels like being reunited with old friends when I get to pull them out of their box.
  9. Inventory at my fingertips.  When I spontaneously popped into Massimo Dutti while en route to an evening work event that I had mistakenly thought was more formal than it turned out to be, I knew precisely that I had an “open” space in my work wardrobe for the new dress I was about to purchase on the fly.  With only 33 items to keep track of per season, there is never any doubt as to whether and how a new acquisition might fit in.
  10. It liberated me.  In trying to put my finger on why this is, I have to conclude Marie Kondo is on to something when she says that organizing your home also declutters your mind, leaving you the mental space to pursue more interesting endeavors.

So, for someone who does not want to spend a lot of time thinking about what to wear, but also wants to look good, I can recommend taking a few hours or even a day to focus on your wardrobe acquisition and maintenance system.   The time it takes to rid yourself of the things that have no place in your life anymore, to organize the remaining items into capsule wardrobes tailored to your unique needs, and then to commit to putting a little time into maintaining the system, has many benefits.

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