If you've ever felt exhausted by the number of little choices you have to make every day, you're not alone. That exhaustion is a real thing called decision fatigue, and it's scientifically proven to take a toll on your ability to make good choices by the end of the day. It's one reason why a lot of important people — from Steve Jobs and Barack Obama to a whole host of fashion designers — have chosen to cut down on the number of decisions they make every day by wearing essentially the same thing over and over.
But for some fashion-lovers, uniform dressing can seem stifling. Luckily, there's another alternative that allows for a little more play: capsule wardrobes.
Caroline Rector, the blogger behind Unfancy who helped re-popularize capsules in recent years, describes capsuling as "a practice of editing your wardrobe down to your favorite clothes (clothes that fit your lifestyle and body right now), remixing them regularly, and shopping less often and more intentionally."
Usually, a capsule consists of a set number of pieces of clothing that you wear for a season before starting the next capsule. Clothing is only added to the selection at the start of each capsule, encouraging you to remix and re-wear rather than shopping for new pieces.
Operating with a capsule wardrobe reduces decision fatigue because it leaves only clothing you really love that works interchangeably in your wardrobe. It's the minimalist principle of "less is more" lived out in a tangible way. But there are a host of other benefits to switching to the capsule model, too. Capsule fans claim the method can curb an out-of-control shopping habit, help you get to know your own style better, save closet space and boost environmental and social responsibility by reducing consumption.
Ready to build your own minimalist capsule wardrobe? Here's how to start.
Take stock of your wardrobe
You're only going to be living with a set number of pieces for the next three months, so you want to make sure you pick those pieces mindfully. Doing that well requires taking a serious look at what's already in your closet.
"If you're going to give capsuling a shot, go all in. Literally empty your closet onto your bed, and only add back in the items you love," advises Seasons + Salt blogger Andrea Hartman, who first started capsuling three years ago. "It will be eye-opening."
It might seem like a lot of work, but laying everything in your wardrobe out where you can see it all at once is a good way to get a comprehensive view of what you own, connecting what works well together and noting what percentage of your possessions you actually wear regularly. You'll also want to earmark any pieces that need mending before inclusion — if you adore those camel boots but the heel has started coming off, check whether it's something that can be fixed or needs to be replaced before starting the capsule.
Pick what's going in your capsule
Your capsule should have about 35 pieces including tops, bottoms, dresses, outerwear and shoes. Items that should not be included in this number include loungewear, sleepwear, underwear, workout clothes you wear only for working out (as opposed to athleisure you might wear elsewhere) and accessories — those are all freebies.
If you're not sure whether a specific item should count among your 35 or not, remember: pieces that are necessary for one occasion (like a gown for a fancy wedding) don't count as long as you only wear them for that specific activity or event. So if you only wear your one-piece swimsuit to the beach, for example, it doesn't count, but if you're going to style it as a bodysuit with your normal clothes, it does.
As you consider what to include in your capsule, ask yourself: Can I style it multiple ways? Is it something I know I'll actually wear based on a track record of wearing it in the past? Is it appropriate for the season and temperature? Is it well-made enough that I trust it to last through the next three months with repeated wear?
Store everything else
Once you've selected your 35 or so capsule pieces, pack the rest of your clothing up and store it out of sight, if space permits. This will both make it easier for you to stick to your original capsule — no temptingly blurred lines — and will also help you figure out what pieces you might be able to purge at the end of the capsule. Did you totally forget about that tank top that you hid from sight, even though it was summer? That may be a sign that you can let go of it permanently, making for even less long-term clutter.
Try it for three months
Once you've picked your capsule and stored everything else, you're ready to live in it. Wear only the pieces in your capsule (and the free-pass items like underwear and loungewear) for three months straight.
Some parts of this step will be easy, like picking outfits you've already loved in the past. But even if it gets hard, it's worth sticking with the rules you gave yourself — not only will you learn more about what really works best for you, but you might also find yourself coming up with creative new ensembles you wouldn't have thought of otherwise. And if a little wardrobe boredom rears its head, don't assume it means that capsuling isn't for you.
"Boredom is normal in all parts of life," notes Anne Sage, a blogger and author known for her minimal aesthetic. "So when it does come, rather than lamenting it, it's good to learn to roll with it." After all, why would you expect your wardrobes to be immune to a malady that the rest of your life isn't?
Once you're near the end of your three months, take time to reflect on what worked and what didn't. Did you wish you had included more color, or discover that you wear heels less frequently than you thought? Take those discoveries into account as you plan your capsule for the next season. And if you discover any gaps that need filling, give yourself time to shop thoughtfully and intentionally for pieces that will make sense in your capsule for next season.
Above all, remember that your capsule is here to serve you, not the other way around. The rules are there to help you, so try to find some balance between being disciplined enough for them to do their job and flexible enough that you don't feel stifled.
"Treat it as play," says Rector. "There's no need to take it too seriously. Capsule wardrobes look different for everyone, and there is no magic number, despite what the internet might tell you. Revel in that freedom and make it work for your lifestyle, not someone else's."