growing a minimalist wardrobe: step 1


The words growing and minimalist might seem like strange bedfellows, but hear me out: I like to think of a minimalist wardrobe as being akin to a garden. You've got to pull out the mess and the weeds that are strangling the showstoppers and fill it back in with bits that will form a beautiful base and make your garden shine. As far as I'm concerned, figuring out what to weed is the easy part. Figuring out what will flourish and make your garden beautiful and easy to maintain—that's the hard part. 

Over the next few weeks I'll dole out the best advice I have on how to grow a minimalist wardrobe. I'm thinking of it as a mini-series; a step-by-step approach to figuring out what to put back into your closet once you've stripped it clean. Here goes:

Step One: Choose a Color Palette
The most successful gardens start with a color palette. Maybe it's all silvery grasses and blues or rich burgundies and deep greens, but find a beautiful garden and you'll also find a color palette. For me, the same goes for growing a minimalist wardrobe.

My palette is all blues and grays and whites with a few blacks and browns thrown in for good measure. Mostly these are colors that might be described as neutrals. For me, this has been the easiest way to have less, but this is not to say it's the only route to take. Maybe your color palette is red and yellow and blue with a smattering of green. Do what you gotta do. Regardless of the specifics, if you're hoping to pare down your wardrobe, the easiest way I've found to do this is to find a collection of colors that you love and to commit to that palette.

I've found tricky territory when I scoop up a multi-colored blouse on sale and come home to find that I don't own a pair of pants to go with it. Not to mention a pair of shoes. And what if I get cold? Do I begin a hunt for the perfect canteloupe-colored cardigan to warm up with? I have friends who are geniuses at this. And if you love shopping, then this might be your route. But, it's not been, in my experience, the way to having less.

Choosing clothes in a similar palette means that I can mix and match and know that one thing that I pull out of my drawer is bound to match the next thing. I like to think of my entire wardrobe in the way that I think of packing for a trip. Into my suitcase closet go clothes that I know will get me the most possible mix-and-match traction.

This doesn't mean that you might not have a few fabulous outliers. I happen to think I look fetching in a certain shade of hard-to-find red, and if I ever find the perfect sweater in that hue, I'll be snatching it up. But the trick for me is to have a strong enough base to welcome the oddballs.
For the curious, this stack, bottom to top: A cozy cardigan (a gift, last year), many-season-ago overalls (similar here), a proper button-up (also a gift), a crisp white sleeveless, my go-to jeans (on sale), my favorite many-season-ago sweater/shirt with a hole (somewhat similar here), an old favorite dress to wear again post-nursing (similar here), two basic tank tops.

If you're still in the purging stage, head HERE.

life in a tiny apartment.


Tip #109.

Channel the nuns.

Or Fraulein Maria.

My point is: have less, don't worry about the bathroom tile.

Remember that scene in The Sound of Music when Maria skips down the poplar-lined lane, swinging her one measly carpetbag in one hand and her guitar case in the other, belting her little heart out? You know it. Maybe you've even reenacted it. No? Only me?

Eleven years ago, when my sister Cait had just graduated from college and I was 19 and still smack in the middle of it, we took off for a two-week trip to Italy. I had managed to get myself a paying internship for the summer and so she convinced me that the proper thing to do in advance of the start date was to empty my paltry bank account and book a ticket to Italy. We flew on Swiss Air. I took many blurry photographs of the Alps with my film camera and relished sips of ginger ale mid-flight.

We ate pasta every single day of our visit. A Spanish soldier fell in love with Cait on the train ride to Siena. I dirtied my feet wearing an old pair of Birkenstocks before they were trendy and then let the salty Mediterranean scrub them clean in Corniglia. We swore that one day we'd both honeymoon in Capri. We had an explosive fight on the Spanish Steps in Rome. I remained mute while Cait stumbled through her Italian in city after city, until—finally—she forced me to ask "Which way to the leaning tower?" in Pisa. In Italian. I stammered through "Dove" before someone took pity on me. We ordered drinks at outdoor tables and wolfed down the free peanuts.

It was the first time that I'd left the comfort of my stuff to find the wider world on my own. Of course being with your big sister is nothing like being alone, but the point is that we were free, with only our backpacks to weigh us down.

We made our way from city to city, staying in grimy hostels and pristine convents. Yes, convents. There were curfews and starchy bed linens on twin mattresses. The only decoration was a cross on the wall and a bad painting of one or another saint.

I'm not suggesting that the only key to happiness is giving up all of your worldly possessions and strapping on a backpack. Though it certainly seemed to work for Elizabeth Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed and all those saints.

I am suggesting that when I think back to times in my life when I have felt truly happy, they've been moments like these. Where I had a bag full of clothes to wear, a roof over my head, food in my belly, but not so much at all in terms of stuff.

Here's the crutch: I genuinely like stuff. I appreciate good design. I enjoy keeping a beautiful home filled with beautiful things. Not lots of things. Nice things. You understand.

But there are also actual moments when it can feel as if my windowless, yellow bathroom with the missing floor tile and the peeling tub is the thing between me and happiness. That if only my bathroom was white tiled with a claw-foot tub, and a spotless shower curtain that everything in the world would be right.

And that, my friends, is bonkers.

I needed to say that. To myself. And to all of you.

Here's a pact to swing our metaphorical leather valises with gusto. To shirk some of the burden of the homes we live in as being tied to our happiness. We are more than the sum of our possessions; more than white-tiled walls.

Tiny apartment survival tips #1 - 108, right HERE.

make your own: deodorant.


deodorantIn the summer that I turned 19, I spent a month in the Vermont woods not showering.

There was some trail clearing and bridge building in there too, but the not showering bit is probably more impressive than any physical labor I attempted. And you thought that three-day hair was something to write home about.

I returned to civilization with the best-defined arms of my life, an incredibly itchy scalp, and a stench that has surely made my dad a candidate for sainthood since he was the one who drove the entire 6-hour trip home with me without complaint only complaining once.

Since then I've rarely gone more than a day or two without showering and my personal aroma is something that I've devoted a fair amount of time and energy to. You probably already know this. The subject of my stench is, afterall, not a new one for these tea leaves.

But, in my ever-fascinating quest to spend less money on things that I need (basic hygiene and food being necessities) and more money on things I don't need (wine, and fancy underwear, and donuts being luxuries), I decided to finally take the advice of so many of you and make my own deodorant.

Because I am more lazy than not about these kind of things, I opted for the simplest recipe I could find.
Here's what I used:

Aluminum-Free Baking Soda
Arrowroot Powder
Coconut Oil
Tea Tree Essential Oil, 10 drops
Lavender Essential Oil, 10 drops
A drop of olive oil
A small glass jar with lid*

I mixed together equal parts baking soda, arrowroot powder (~three tablespoons of each was about the right amount for the jar I had). I blended in enough coconut oil to make a thick paste and added 10 drops each of tea tree and lavender essential oils. These both have the advantage of smelling fresh and boasting anti-bacterial properties to help with the stink. The olive oil trick was stolen from a reader who made claims that a drop or two would help the coconut oil from firming up too much in cooler temps.
Arrowroot powder and baking soda, mixed.
Combined with coconut oil.
Sweetened up with tea tree and lavender oils.

Here's the thing. This was incredibly easy to whip together. And it worked.

This is to say that when I use it, I do not stink. Not really at all. I smell faintly of coconut oil, which is already the case since it's what I use to slather on my infant child's bare bottom.

But. The consistency is not as lovely as the Soapwalla Deodorant Cream I've been using for over a year. It goes on smooth enough, but then it kind of crumbles. It's not a terrible kind of crumble, but suffice to say that wearing a sleeveless black number and this concoction presents problems.

Would it make all the difference if I took the time to melt a bit of shea butter into the mix? What are your homemade deodorant secrets, O Internet? I know you have them.

*In an effort to help you guys with your shopping, I've added links to these products, but all them are things you can likely find quite easily in your local grocery or natural food store.

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