Small / Capsule Wardrobe Update: Life is a Process

Post written by Monica Gaylor.  Images by Monica Gaylor.capsule wardrobe


This is a little story about how a small wardrobe made a big change in one person’s entire messy house.

Disclaimer:  It was a long(ish) process and full of frustration – see previous post.  But, the ending is happy and successful – I am thrilled to report.

I remember laying in bed 9/10 months ago night after night, looking at my closet and thinking about why my house was always so messy and why I just couldn’t get it under control.  I’ve been a minimalist for the last 25 years (plus), so it really couldn’t be that there was too much stuff.  I would stare questioningly at my closet and knew that it needed to be seriously de-cluttered / overhauled somehow, but how and why?  All of my clothes fit into it nicely, so it wasn’t a space problem.  What was the problem, I would ask myself?  I did / didn’t (denial) know that I only wore a fraction of the clothes in it and I wondered why it was increasingly hard to put together an outfit. The real crux of the problem and the time I thought I needed to fix it eluded me.  But, eventually I found the time and began, with baby steps, trying to fix the unknown problem.  It can be difficult trying to fix an unknown problem.

Other problems plagued me as well:  Why were my dining table and coffee table never clean of the paperwork of my life?  Why could I not control the papers?  I would tell myself that I was single and this should be easy?  My entryway was beautiful, just not functionable anymore?  At one point all of these things (closet, bedroom, entryway) had functioned very well.  What had happened?

Nothing really earth shattering had occurred over the years.  Evolution happened, I suppose?  My habits, tendencies, thoughts, priorities, etc. changed and morphed over time…  Without even realizing it, I had somehow become a different person.

I had been hearing about small, capsule wardrobes for many years and was turned off by the counting your clothes (or any other of my possessions for that matter) aspect of them.  I am a right brain person – I would rather stab a pencil in my eye then use it to make a list of everything I own.  Are you people insane?  (However, I completely enjoy reading about other people doing this process.  Weird, I know – but, hey – go left-brainers.)

Right-brainers can do this too – it’s just a little harder for us.  My solutions to my problems had to come about organically and evolve over time.  But, it was the entertaining of the idea of a small capsule wardrobe that started the whole snowball effect that led me once again to a more organized, harmonious house.  And I didn’t even have to get rid of everything and make my house into a studio as I had one thought I would do.  We’ll chalk that up to panic?  See previous post.  I ended up changing a lot, but only by changing a little.  The biggest change was in letting go of some of those pesky “first world” illusions that creep in even though we don’t want them to.  Words like resale value, here’s how it is suppose to look, the Joneses are doing this, etc.

Here’s the story:

A Modicum of Success with the Small Wardrobe

We have success.  It didn’t happen overnight and it certainly isn’t perfect, but I think I have crossed a little finish line of sorts.

If you read my previous post and the frustration I had with the smaller wardrobe, this story may surprise you a little.  I was completely frustrated when I wrote that post and yet trying to be positive.  Just sayin’.  I have to admit that it took a lot less effort than I thought it would.  In the end, I only purchased 2, yes 2 – one of each, new pairs of pants / capris in a more slim style.  I buckled down and got used to wearing the other slim styled pants already in my closet.  I had not actually been wearing them for some unknown mysterious reason…

The hardest thing to change was my habit of always pulling the same thing out to wear and even though I didn’t like it, just wore it in defeat and a rush to get out the door.  Time ticks fast in the morning for a night owl, so habits play a big role in getting ready.  The new style didn’t take that long to get used to and I eventually packed up the unflattering items and sent them to Goodwill heaven.

However, even with the modicum of success with the wardrobe, happiness had still not been obtained.  It wasn’t all about the smaller wardrobe.  In hindsight I realize that it was about habits and how things in one’s house function in regards to those habits.

However, the big wardrobe cleanout and subsequent thinking about how I wanted my wardrobe, closet, and bedroom to function led to some interesting side effects and better use of less resources.  I shall explain:

Side Effects of Changed Thinking

As my success with the smaller wardrobe grew, something else slowly changed in my thinking and I know it all stems from thinking about my wardrobe in a new way.

What changed?

I think that I became more critical in thinking – in a problem-solving, paradigm-shifting sort of way – about how to make my smaller wardrobe work for me and my habits / tendencies.  When I finally really realised what the problem was – pants, and then only 2 new pair made the whole scenario feasible, I believe there was a cascade effect that led to my thinking more critically about other parts of my small, minimalist house that just weren’t working for me.  The key was to analyze myself and under what conditions I function best.

I moved from one system(s), based in part on fantasy and for a life that I didn’t lead or really even want to lead, to a more minimal, yet equally attractive system that is functionally thought out for a (unique) consumer of one (form following function, instead of following the masses).  All of the changes I have made this summer have to do with making my habits (tendencies) work within a new system that enables success – my success – and ignores mass marketing, unsustainable, and/or unattainable lifestyles.

Side-Effect Projects:

New Closet Set-Up

The old fantasy (fueled by McMansions, a society of consumerism, and mass quantities of pictures on the internet of perfectly organized massive closets) of the big “his and her” closet came to an end and has been replaced with a small clothes rod (with bottom for laundry sorting) and two chest of drawers.  Only 1 and 2/5ths of the chest of drawers are used for clothes, the rest is bedding, laundry supplies, and bathroom storage.  The drawers are repurposed from another room.  New items include the clothes bar and the Command Hook wall.

The thing that made the most difference in my attitude toward a capsule wardrobe was in redesigning the clothing space to fit my new reality.  Before that there was a war going on in my mind between illusion and reality.

The old closet came with the pressure to keep it full so it would look better and I hung on to unwanted items in order to keep the space looking like the fantasy it was built to represent.  In having reduced my clothing storage area, I can more easily see which items are really being utilized and which aren’t.  Already I have been weeding out and weeding in more appropriate items for a small, highly functional wardrobe.  And it seems easier than ever to quickly assess my gaps and needs.  It is not that the size of my wardrobe has really changed (it actually shrunk), it is just that I got rid of all the stuff that no longer suited my needs.  I am still wearing most of the same stuff that I wore before, it’s just that all the stuff that I wasn’t wearing isn’t there anymore and I have tweaked the whole “kit and kaboodle” to function better.

I feel very positive now about the new closet arrangement / space and the smaller wardrobe.  It is much more functional for this “unique” consumer of one and her needs.  Clutter creep should be easy to control as there is no where for it to accumulate.  Space is very limited.capsule wardrobe

Command Hook Wall

There comes a time in every girl’s life when she loses her illusions.  Some illusions are lost very early on, like Prince Charming…  Others persist for a really long time, like the illusion of folded put away clothes.

Let me explain:  I have a really good habit of when I actually do laundry, I put it all away immediately – hung or folded depending on its requirement.  However, the same cannot be said of “semi-clothes” (those that are not dirty, but not clean).  I have a bad habit of not putting those away.  The problem in my mind is that you can’t put a slightly worn item back on the hanger or in the drawer as if it were clean!  It’s Anarchy!!!!… I tell you.  It will infect the other clothes around it, of course.

So what does one do with the item?  Well, at one point – a long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away), I had a chair in my bedroom which always had the “semi-clothes” draped on it.  In an optimistic moment (feng shui attack) I got rid of the chair hoping to create a new habit of putting the “semi-clothes” away, but I had not solved the anarchy problem, so they all ended up draped on the drying rack…
When I was rethinking the new closet set-up, I had a list of several things that weren’t working.  “Semi-clothes” anarchy was at the top of that list.  I mused about several solutions, none of which really excited me (storage bench, back to the chair, etc.)  I had to be truthful with myself.  I was not going to ever mix the two types of clothes.  I had to work within my tendency (a.k.a. broken little mind).  So, I came up with the brilliant (I am very proud of myself) idea of a hook wall for all the “semi-clothes”.  Command Hooks are wonderful and one of my new favorite things.  They should be paying me, but aren’t (full disclosure).  I think this was my best idea all summer and it is working fabulously well.  All “semi-clothes” are hung up immediately (because it is so easy) and the drying rack is always empty, thus leading to the doing of laundry in a more timely manner.  Who would have imagined?command hook wall

New Entryway Set-Up

In the “his and her” closet that I had tediously planned and designed before I built it, I had a wonderfully incorporated shoe storage area.  It was well thought out, it functioned well, and it looked really good.  But, at some point between then and now I adopted the Japanese custom of removing my shoes in the entryway to avoid tracking dirt and germs all over my house.

This problem falls into the “habits change over time” category.  I was going to keep my new habit of taking my shoes off as I entered the house – it was fully formed.  My old entryway, although beautiful, did not facilitate this endeavor.  There were two problems with my new habit that were inhibiting it a bit.  There was nowhere to sit for the putting on and taking off of shoes and there was no where to put the shoes once they were off.  Carrying them all the way into the bedroom was an unreasonable option and led to a messy grouping of shoes at the door.  The entryway became a feng shui nightmare rather quickly.

As I saw it, my old entryway had four major problems:  the shoe problem, the purse problem, the coat problem, and the mail / receipt problem.  The armoire I had in the entry was nice, but I hated opening it to put coats away.  Shoes were always in the way of the doors and there was no where to set my purse while trying to shimmy out of coats and shoes…

One bad habit I had was leaving mail and receipts on my dining and coffee tables, both of which are close to my front door.  I did not have a place to drop the mail as I brought it into the house, so it got dropped on the most convenient flat surfmail drop offace.  Same with receipts when I would clean out my purse.

To solve the solution, I moved the armoire to another part of the living room.  It still holds the heavier / nicer coats that only get used a few times a year (in Arizona).  And then, I re-designed the entryway for all of the functions I wanted it to perform.  There are hooks for hanging things from keys to purses to winter items (I say that loosely).  There is a storage stool that holds all socks and facilitates the taking on and off of shoes.  There is a cabinet for the storage of all shoes and on top there is a large African bowl for the depositing of mail and receipts and plenty of room to sit my bags, etc.  Everything in the entryway seems to be working very well thus far, especially the mail / receipt bowl – that thing has made all the difference in the world in regards to creating a new positive habit for myself.  It is just so easy to drop all that “stuff” in the bowl.entryway makeover


In Conclusion – Significant Habit Changes and Money / Costs

The goal of a smaller wardrobe led to these significant changes for me:

A redesigned, smaller, yet more highly functional closet set up – which led to:

  • A hook wall – a place for everything and everything in its place for “semi-clothes”, no more bedroom clutter / mess (a significant habit change – SHC)- which led to:
  • An unencumbered drying rack (I leave it out and ready to go, I don’t care what the Joneses do)- which led to:
  • The doing of laundry in a more timely manner (SHC).

And a redesigned, smaller, yet more highly functional closet set up – which led to:

  • The moving of the socks and shoes location for a redesigned, smaller, yet more highly functional entryway set up – which led to:
  • A place for shoes, socks, coats, purse, mail and receipts – which led to:
  • A clean, unencumbered entryway and no more cluttered / messy dining and coffee tables (several SHC’s).

Many other things got cleaned, moved, purged (a lot of other stuff got purged!!!!), organized, rearranged, etc.  It was summer for me and that usually happens, but at the end of this summer – school started last week for us – I have a lot more optimism than usual that some significant habits have changed for the better and for good (will stick). Time will tell.

Way back when I planned the projects I had hoped to spend no money (sell stuff and reuse said money) and/or repurpose existing items, but in the end limited time, momentum, and lack of interest in the workings of Craigslist proved to be stronger factors than money and repurposing.

I hired two high school boys to do the ripping out and carrying down of the closet to the street.  Money well spent, as a chiropractor is more.  They said someone was waiting for them to bring all the pieces of the “his and her” closet down.  I’m glad I made somebody’s day!

Someone also got a nice Ikea cabinet that I tried to repurpose but it just didn’t work in the entryway.  It wasn’t big enough and had pull out basket drawers that inhibited the seeing and getting / putting away of shoes.  In the process I learned that it is easier in the end to have the thing that works the best.  So, I bit the bullet and bought a new cabinet.  It must have been destiny (or I am very strong with the force) – it was on sale and already the right color.

Estimated cost of side-effect projects:

Closet Set Up:

  • Target clothes rack $26
  • One new laundry box thing $13
  • 2 chest of drawers – repurposed
  • Movers $45 (that includes other unrelated heavy chores)

Hook Wall:

  • Command Hooks $10


  • Target cabinet $115 (price after: on sale + 5% discount + coupon — go me!)
  • Stool – repurposed and painted with leftover living room wall color
  • African bowl – repurposed
  • Command Hooks $30
  • Lights – repurposed

Total Cost:  $240ish


Better living environment, new habits, less stress, happiness, successful outcome after struggling for so long, etc.

Money, time, and experience well spent.

Live long and prosper. (Tear for Mr. Spock).  Monica 🙂

Helpful Small / Capsule Wardrobe Links:

Want to Simplify Your Life?  Try a Uniform

Alice Gregory on Finding a Uniform

Project 333

The 10-Item Wardrobe

Simple Wardrobe: More Happiness, Less Stress

8 Reasons Successful People Are Choosing to Wear the Same Thing Every Day

There are many, many more – google away.