After simplifying and decluttering my home, I was asked by a few friends if I was going to create a capsule wardrobe. It’s become a very popular choice, particularly among women. But there are some things I don’t like about capsule wardrobes, so today I’ll talk about a simple alternative to a capsule wardrobe.

We’ll look at what capsule wardrobes are, the pros and cons, and the simple alternative to a capsule wardrobe that I do instead.

What is a Capsule Wardrobe?

The term ‘capsule wardrobe‘ was created by Susie Faux, who owned a London boutique named “Wardrobe” in the 1970s. She defined a capsule wardrobe as a collection of a few essential items of clothing that don’t go out of style that can be enhanced with seasonal pieces.

The concept became popular in American culture in the mid 1980’s thanks to Donna Karan who created an influential capsule collection of interchangeable pieces.

A capsule wardrobe has come to mean a collection of clothes that can be worn interchangeably to maximize the number of outfits that can made from them.

The idea is to have an appropriate outfit for just about anything without having excess. This is done by having staple pieces and coordinating colors.

Benefits of a capsule wardrobe

There are benefits to creating a capsule wardrobe. Some of them include:

1. Saving time getting ready

Do you have a closet packed full of clothes, but nothing to wear? Many women can relate to that feeling at one time or another.

The sheer amount of clothes can be overwhelming and cause decision fatigue. Creating a capsule wardrobe gives you fewer options to choose from which makes it easier to make decisions and saves you time getting ready.

2. Having quality pieces

Capsule wardrobes tend to focus on having fewer pieces, but also higher quality ones. While you may spend a bit more on individual items, you shouldn’t be continually buying lots of new things.

3. Creating versatility

Creating a capsule wardrobe gives you fewer clothes and most are interchangeable and will work well together. This means that you end up with more space in your closet and that you hopefully feel like you have more things you can wear.

alternative capsule wardrobe

What I don’t like about capsule wardrobes

Now that we’ve covered the good, I want to talk about the things I don’t like about capsule wardrobes. These are why I do a simple alternative to a capsule wardrobe.

1. Too proscribed

When I first started looking at capsule wardrobes a few years ago, I found all the worksheets and suggestions for which staple pieces should be included.

While of course you can tailor it to suit your needs and lifestyle, the exact number of what to have in each category was too confining for my taste.

I have rebel tendencies, which is part of why I focus on simplicity and not minimalism, and I don’t like feeling boxed in. Capsule wardrobes felt too formulaic to me.

2. Don’t want to buy more things

Many of the things I read about capsule wardrobes suggested that certain staple items were necessary so if you don’t have them, make that shopping list.

The fact was that, for me, I already had an excess of clothes before I decluttered my closet. I really did not need more of anything and I didn’t like the idea that I should purchase more to have all the ‘right’ pieces.

3. It felt wasteful

Not only did I not want to buy more things, but I didn’t want to get rid of 90% of my clothes in an effort to reach a very low number of items. While I love the concept of project 333, getting down to just 33 items for 3 months wasn’t going to be a fit for me.

While I believe that Pareto’s principle that you use 20% of what you have 80% of the time, is true particularly in our closets, I wasn’t up to getting rid of that much.

Here’s why. I am all about decluttering, but I am also frugal, so I am practical in how I approach decluttering. I’ll talk more in a bit about how I decluttered my closet, but it includes keeping what fits and that I feel good in. I did not want to get rid of them just to achieve a very low number of items in my wardrobe.

alternative capsule wardrobe

4. The laundry is the same

This is something I have always found interesting. Often in promoting getting rid of most of your clothes, the idea is presented that it gives you less laundry to do.

If you tend to go weeks without doing laundry, having less will force you to do it sooner, so it won’t be able to pile up. However, in the end, most people are wearing an outfit per day so the overall amount of laundry doesn’t change.

I really wish there was some solution to not having to do laundry or dishes anymore, but having less doesn’t automatically solve those problems. It just makes you deal with them sooner.

5. It didn’t fit my style

The idea of a capsule wardrobe, in theory, sounded great. However, in practice, most of the ones I have seen feel boring to me. Often they center around neutral colors, which is part of how they are versatile.

Some statement pieces may be included, but I tend to see ones that are muted and a bit, well, boring.

Taking capsule wardrobes one step further is the uniform concept, which Joshua Becker talks about in The Minimalist Home. While I understand the benefits of not having to think about what you wear, the outcome just isn’t my style.

I like pops of color and prints. I don’t need all my clothes to be able to go together a million different ways. Frankly, that gives me even more options than the shirt that only goes with a couple of other pieces.

While I don’t advocate for having tons of clothes, I found too many limitations with a capsule wardrobe. They are a great option for some people, but they just aren’t the right fit for me.

alternative capsule wardrobe

A simple alternative to a capsule wardrobe

Alright, so now that I’ve talked about what a capsule wardrobe is, the benefits to them, and why they weren’t a fit for me, I want to talk about what I do instead.

I needed a simple alternative to a capsule wardrobe. One without too many rules, but that still left with the benefits of a simplified closet.

The reality is that most people have way too many clothes in their closet and they don’t wear a great deal of them. If you walk into your closet and immediately feel overwhelmed and defeated, then it’s time to make a change.

Declutter

Start by decluttering your clothes. If you have all day to work on it, you can take out everything and organize it by categories (jeans with jeans, tank tops with other tank tops, etc).

If you don’t have as much time to focus on it, start with one type of clothing at a time. Today you could just do t-shirts and another day do dresses. The pace it up to you.

To decide what stays and what goes, I focus on condition, comfort, and confidence. The end goal is creating a wardrobe that you love and feel great in.

The goal for me was never to get the absolute fewest pieces I could. Instead, I kept what I loved and felt good in. If that meant I still had 7 pairs of jeans, then so be it.

I don’t see any point in getting rid of clothes that you like and feel good in. The reality is that clothes wear out, so it’s nice to have backups. You’ve already spent the money on what you have.

Be realistic

As you declutter your clothes, be realistic about what you will wear again. Seasons in life change and the things you wore before having kids may never fit the same way again.

That’s ok. Part of the process of decluttering your closet is about letting go of the past. Those reminders in your closet about the size you used to be is not doing you any favors.

Imagine looking in your closet and seeing only clothes that fit and you feel good in. Pretty great, right?

To do that, be realistic with yourself. Let go of the past. If you’re on a weight loss journey or are still having kids, it’s fine to keep some of the clothes that don’t fit right now.

Changing sizes

But, do not keep them in your closet. Box them up. Label them and give yourself an end date on them. If those clothes don’t fit within a year then let them go.

With this simple alternative to a capsule wardrobe, the intent is to have only clothes you love and wear in your closet. It requires being realistic as you make those decisions.

Having a decluttered closet will make getting ready easier and more enjoyable.

You won’t be pushing the clothes that you wished fit or that you regret purchasing to the side in the search of what to wear.

Shop differently

With this simple alternative to a capsule wardrobe, the goal is to maintain a simplified wardrobe. Having less is better. You just don’t have to be drastic with it if that’s not a fit for you.

Decluttering often results in realizations about your shopping habits. I came across many pieces of clothing I had settled for because they were ‘close enough’.

The reality was though, I didn’t like wearing the ‘close enough’ items. They didn’t fit quite right or were too fussy. I’ve grown very picky about the fabrics I like wearing too.

Saving money

These realizations have helped me shop differently. I am more intentional with shopping. That means shopping less often and not just buying things for fun.

It also means not settling for ‘close enough’. This simple alternative to a capsule wardrobe has helped me save money. It didn’t require me to buy anything new and also made me much more careful with buying anything in the future.

If buying clothes has been a problem for you, try a clothing spending freeze. See how long you can go with what you have. You don’t need to buy the latest trends every season.

Some people are good at finding clothes for cheap or even free. The same concepts still apply though. Know your style and what you feel great in.

Don’t let your closet get cluttered up by other people’s cast-offs or great deals. It’s fine to acquire things this way as long as you’re being intentional about what you’re bringing into your home and closet.

If you don’t love it and wear it, it becomes clutter.

Enjoy your simplified closet with this simple alternative to a capsule wardrobe.

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22 Comments

  1. You captured my feelings about capsule wardrobes perfectly. Refreshing to see/hear this perspective. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I completely agree with this article and it is my approach as well! Friends have asked me about my “minimal” wardrobe and for advice on an approach to their closet. There are 4 things to do. 1. Get rid of everything that you don’t wear because it doesn’t fit, flatter, feel right (you know…that piece you put on and ALWAYS take off again before you leave the house), or is too worn out. You don’t have to discard every item, I fluctuate between sizes. I keep my really nice items one size down and one size up. But they do not live in my closet or drawers that I use to get dressed every day. They live in my “off season/off size” dresser drawer. That drawer is only opened when I’m changing my seasonal clothes or if size dictates. If it’s a size issue, one size is removed and the other size is stored. I only keep clothes that fit me in my closet and regularly used drawers. And I don’t have a lot of clothes in the off size drawer. Today, I have 2 pairs of trousers, 1 skirt, and 2 dresses. They are 1 size too small. Last year I planned to sell my 1 size too big clothes. I’m glad I didn’t because when I swapped my seasonal items, it was those that fit me. This may not be true for everyone…and I’m not suggesting people hold on to clothes “too big” with the “expectation” of gaining weight. I don’t advocate holding on to an entire wardrobe. But if you have a similar body type and the clothes are really nice, it *might* be a good idea. Plus, I already paid for those clothes. They match everything else. I’m not desperate for trousers if I find my size has changed…I just go to my drawer. This keeps me from shopping out of desperation or settling because “nothing fits.” Eventually those wear out too. When shopping, buy your current size! Do not buy extra “just in case.” If 5 lbs up or down changes your size (like it does for me) this will naturally happen without having to buy extra or plan for it. 2. Only keep seasonal items in sight. Get your out of season clothes out of your closet and into a drawer. It’s visual clutter. You can’t wear it right now anyways. 3. Done. If it looks like you don’t have any clothes, remember…you have the exact same number of wearable items as before. You couldn’t wear stuff that didn’t fit, you didn’t wear that item you don’t like…you always took it off before leaving the house, you couldn’t wear stuff out of season. It’s the exact same number. You can live with that for a while without *having* to buy anything else because you didn’t remove a single item you were actually wearing. Now…pay attention to why you like your favorites…color, cut, fabric, length, collar, fit. Just as important…notice what you don’t like. Why did you keep taking that item off? I don’t like cropped pants or cropped jackets. I don’t even try them on anymore. I don’t care if it’s “in.” I don’t care if everyone thinks it looks amazing on me. I don’t like it because “cropped” makes me feel like my clothes don’t fit…like they are too small. Decide what you might like to add to enjoy your current wardrobe more. Be deliberate. Be picky. Stop chasing sales and stop buying duplicates. If you have 8 pairs of black trousers you love…keep them all until they wear out. But don’t buy any more black trousers. That will not help you get dressed if you don’t have enough tops. 4. Wear your “good” clothes. All the time. Okay maybe not if you’re painting, but you know…on regular days. If you have to get dressed for the day, that’s occasion enough. Do not save them for “special” occasions. That silk blouse will wear out on the hanger or the fit will become less flattering (because our bodies change as we age, this is independent of weight and happens to really fit people too), it will go out of style, or your tastes will change. Wear your good clothes. Enjoy them…it’s such a sad waste when people “save” their good clothes for occasions that never come. That also leads to “guilt” when purging the closet…spending $ but not wearing it.

    1. I love your approach, Milissa! Wear your good clothes every day and don’t wait for a special occasion. All your other advise are also good, but that one was especially good.

    2. Milissa, I loved reading your comments because you truly spoke from my heart – especially the last bit was a great reminder. Indeed: treat every day as though it’s a special day and put the “good stuff” on. 🙂 thanks for this.

  3. Perfect timing for me! I went through my closet today. Three piles: love it (automatic keep), maybe (like but only keep if needed), and donate (don’t wear, doesn’t fit, etc). Seriously only took about an hour. I was ruthless! After finishing, I loaded up roughly half what had been in my closet (hangers and all) and took it to the donation center. There’s still too much in my closet but I feel better after reading your article. I like having jeans in different colors and lots of scarves and cardigans. When I put the keepers back in the closet, I turned the hangers around backward. When I wear something, I’ll turn the hanger the right way. In 6 months or sooner, I’ll donate anything still turned backward. Thanks for posting!

  4. I am a clotheshorse, and I am moving! I have been getting a lot of comments about my wardrobe and paring it down. I was made to feel shame for having so many clothes. I am very creative and like having lots of options, and like you mention, I like patterns and pops of colour too. I am plus size and I find it hard to find trendy clothes that fit right. In my decluttering phase with my wardrobe, I got rid of any items that didn’t quite fit me right, or I didn’t like the fabric or was just plain too old. I kept everything I liked, that fit, that made me feel good. I still have a lot of clothes. But after reading this article, I don’t feel shame about it. I know I’ll get a lot of wear out of these clothes and I will feel good as I wear them. I can’t tell you enough about how timely this article is for me and how good I felt as I read it. I too have seen lots of capsule wardrobes and I never did like the idea of them because I felt the idea was too constricted. Thank you again for such a great article and for presenting new ideas to old problems.

  5. To make sure I wear all my clothes, I create outfits and rotate from front to back. When shopping I buy all season pieces and get rid of pieces that don’t fit or don’t love. Shirts are organized by sleeve length so I can make an outfit for the rotation. If I buy pants/skirt I make sure I have at least 3 tops to wear so I don’t add to my closet.

  6. I love this article. I never liked the idea of a capsule wardrobe, but need to declutter my closet. Over the last 3 years, I have lost 30 pounds, regained 20, then lost those plus an additional 7-8, for a net loss of almost 40 pounds. I have a few more to go and also want to get in better shape, so my body will be changing even more.
    I have started decluttering my closet, having removed clothes I just didn’t like, were colors that didn’t go with anything else and those that were never going to fit, no matter how small I got. For example, shirts that are too narrow across the shoulders.
    Because of the potential to again need to take meds that make me gain weight, I am boxing up some of my favorite larger clothes to store. That way, I won’t need to buy bigger clothes for a short-term situation.
    My closet is looking better, but, in addition to removing items, I am unpacking pieces that have been too small but fit me now, and need space in my closet. It is a work in progress…

  7. I totally agree with this post. I can’t afford to, don’t need to, and don’t even want to buy new clothes. I don’t like bland colors either so I looked at my closet and close 3-4 favorite colors and didn’t keep more than 2 tops of the same color. I dropped everything that made me feel weird uncomfortable or slobby and I kept the things that look and feel great to wear. I still have more clothes than a capsule but I love what I have and I use it!

  8. This is so refreshing… and makes so much more sense! We are moving into a motorhome to travel full time so I naturally have been trying to fit into the capsule wardrobe constraints. Your minimalist plan takes into account my colorful embroidered shirts that I love.
    I’ll keep paring down but I am feeling much more free and joyful about it. Thank you!!’

  9. I was scrolling through my feed on Pinterest and was able to not waste time figuring out a better solution. My DH knows I literally swap my outfits 5 times before I’m out the door. It’s tearing me apart that I don’t just decide on my outfit and move on. I have grown up in California so much of my outfits are influenced by a lot of things that I enjoy and I like to reflect my outfit based off my expectations for well put together outfit. So far this is such a great alternative way to create a much simpler closet. I was absolutely inspired by this information and truly want to thank you for putting your thoughts and ideas on getting rid of clutter. It’s been so tough downsizing my closet but now I know what direction I’m going towards. My biggest issue is having too many options and then end up not able to choose what to wear. So my goal is to have clothing that I can feel 100% confident wearing them, instead of feeling uncertain with my outfit on the daily.

  10. This is a great post. A capsule wardrobe would make me bored and unhappy. I’m all for getting rid of things that don’t fit or are not loved and curtailing shopping and purchasing duplicates (in my case, tees). Thanks for this alternative for simplifying a wardrobe.

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