My 7 Experiment: Simplifying My Closet, Wardrobe and Life

posted by Jennifer McClure on November 26, 2013 13 Comments

Aby and Jay were clearly surprised when I told them during lunch that I’d limited my wardrobe to 7 items for the past week. I didn’t tell them about it until the week was over because I wanted to see if they’d notice my repeat outfits. Guess what? They didn’t. Guess what else? No one did.

The 7 ExperimentIt’s true. I didn’t turn into Stinky/Unclean/Unkempt Girl. I didn’t have people gawking at my lack of wardrobe variety. No one commented that my outfit would have worked better with some accessories. Like I said, no one noticed.

This whole 7-clothing-items thing was part of a study I’m doing with some friends called The 7 Experiment: Staging Your Own Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. The crux of the book is to spend one week drastically simplifying the areas of excess in our culture – food, clothes, spending, media, possessions, waste and stress. So much of this resonates with living a simpler, less cluttered, less stressful life. As we talked about it over lunch, Aby and Jay both asked if I’d share my experience on the blog. So, here goes!

For the “clothes” week, I followed Jen Hatmaker’s example and chose 7 items to rotate through for 7 days. When I first considered this, it seemed impossible and honestly also very scary. (I really did not want to turn into Stinky/Unclean/Unkempt Girl!) But from the first day, I have to tell you I just loved it. It was so powerful and insightful! (See below for my biggest takeaways.)

But first, are you wondering what on earth I wore? (I would be if I were you.) Choosing these items was seriously so much harder than the experiment itself! I chose a short-sleeve pink T-shirt, a ¾-length black shirt, a long-sleeve turquoise T-shirt, a pair of dark denim jeans, a gray sweater, and a brown jacket. I counted shoes as one item, but I did rotate between riding boots and tennis shoes. (I couldn’t go hiking in my riding boots, and I couldn’t show up at church and work in my tennis shoes!) Undies, PJs and workout clothes were exempt from the experiment. (Whew! Pretty sure this is how I avoided the Stinky Girl thing.)

7 clothing items for 7 days. Could you do it?

Besides my wedding ring, I did not wear jewelry or other accessories. You read that right – no scarves, no belts, no earrings. I don’t own a lot in the way of pricey stuff, but I really do love the jewelry I have. Most of it came as gifts, primarily from my sweet husband.

So, I missed the jewelry most of all. I think that’s because of my sentimental attachment to it, but also because I felt like it would’ve really differentiated my outfits. Still, like I said, I seemed to be the only person who even noticed that I was wearing the same seven items all week long! Apparently no one else is that interested in my attire. Ha! Who knew? ;-)

Anyway, I am sharing all of this with you because I came away with some really big takeaways that have made a big impact on me.

  • Less stress. Having only 7 items to choose from took a huge amount of stress out of my day. I didn’t have to consider what might match what. It was a bit like Garanimals for adults in that any combination of items was going to work. I only had to consider the weather and what was clean. Easy peasy.
  • Less laundry. I did not have a backlog of laundry. I had no choice but to stay on top of laundry, and so it never reached the point of feeling overwhelming. Wash. Dry. Wear. Repeat.
  • Less decisions. I don’t enjoy putting outfits together as much as I thought I did. In fact, on my first day off the clothing fast, I realized I was actually feeling anxious over choosing an outfit for the day. Now in addition to the weather, I also had to consider what looks good with what? Which shoes or boots work with those pants? Does that belt look OK with that necklace? It was a really nice break to have fewer decisions each day.
  • Less really is more. This has taken on new meaning for me. I’d rather have a few pairs of jeans that fit great and that I love to wear every time I put them on than to have a drawer full or jeans that aren’t quite right. I’d like to have only my favorite things hanging in the closet so that what I grab to put on is going to look and feel good, because then I can skip the stress of that, “Oh, I forgot that I seriously hate how this sweater fits and now I have to come up with another outfit” thing. This happens to you, too, right?
  • It’s only useful if I’m using it. Now, I’m not talking about off-season clothes or anything like that. But take, for example, my stack of T-shirts. Yes, they are all perfectly good and useful, but I only regularly wear a few of them. Why is there such a large stack? It’s because they are “useful” that I think I need to keep them. But after this experiment it hit me:  they aren’t useful if I’m not using them. But…someone else could and probably would find these items useful.
  • It’s time to purge. Since I organized my closet a few years ago, I’ve felt great about how I purge both seasonally and on an ongoing basis. However, now I’m aware of just how much more I can pare down. I may not ever reach the point of true minimalism, but I’m super happy to be shedding off some of the layers of excess, for sure! 

Paring down the wardrobe to 7 essentials. How many days could you make that work?

If you’ve ever tried anything like this, I’d love to hear your insights in the comments. What were your big takeaways? Also, be sure to let me know if you’ve read the book or done this experiment! And if you haven’t tried this…do you think you could do it? Are you up for the challenge?

Happy Organizing!

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  • November 26, 2013 at 8:17 am

    I think this is such a liberating idea. I was never exactly a clothes horse, but over the last couple of years I’ve really pared down (although not to your extent during your experiment). It’s so much easier not to have to deal with a lot of clothes and all the attendant care and decisions. And having fewer things makes laundry easier–your stuff is in rotation, so it can’t pile up the way it might if you have tons of clothes. (I also make laundry easier by repeatedly wearing things unless they are visibly dirty or no longer pass the sniff test. :-) ) The key is to have plenty of underwear and socks! Very interesting post–thanks!

    December 6, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Nancy, I have to agree about clean undies and socks! ;-) Good for you!

    • November 26, 2013 at 12:05 pm

      I love this!!! Since leaving the corporate grind, I find that my wardrobe is paired down quite a bit yet I have a lot of stuff that is never worn. I think I’ll give this a try. I wonder if I’ll be as successful as you.

      I wonder, though, why you chose not to wear your jewelry?

      December 6, 2013 at 4:07 pm

      Thanks, Emily! Come back and post if you try. I’d love to hear how it goes for you! The short answer is that I was following the author’s lead on jewelry. And I’m glad I did it that way because it was very insightful to me.

      • November 26, 2013 at 6:30 pm

        Wow! What a great project! I work as a freelance voice teacher at different places every day so I figured out quite a while ago that no one would notice if I wear the same combo of shirt/cardigan/jeans all week long. As long as everything is clean this saves so much time. I also agree about the “few jeans you feel great in vs. lots of jeans” thing :)


        December 6, 2013 at 4:08 pm

        Jessica, good for you for figuring this out. It is so much easier, isn’t it? Thanks for your comment!

        • November 26, 2013 at 8:49 pm

          Interesting! And as I have just finished a backlog of ironing that has been many months in the making, I certainly realize that I have far more clothes than necessary! And now that they are all in the closet, I have too small a closet as well! I can definitely pare down and will be thinking critically as I choose clothes for the next couple of weeks. Anything I put on and immediately take off again is going in the donation bag.

          This post reminded me of The Uniform Project. It’s over now, but Sheena Matheiken pledged to wear the same little black dress for an entire year (in actuality 7 identical dresses) and not wear it the same way twice. Accessories were vintage, handmade, upcycled, recycled, donated, etc. She gave $1 every day to the Akanksha Foundation, which provides schooling to underprivileged kids in India and encouraged her followers to do the same. I really enjoyed checking in every day to see what she wore.

          December 6, 2013 at 4:13 pm

          I love that, Beth! Thanks so much for sharing.

          • November 26, 2013 at 10:40 pm

            What a cool experiment! I hate deciding what to wear each day! This would make my life so much easier. Will you be applying this principle to other areas in your life? I hope to hear more!

            December 6, 2013 at 4:15 pm

            Hi, Monique. Thank you! Yes, I have also spent a week focused on food and am currently focused on possessions. It’s been amazing.

            • December 12, 2013 at 9:40 pm

              I have tried organizing my closet in different ways before. I tried by colors, by function and etc. After reading your post, I started hanging my clothes by season section. I paired down my winter clothes to 10 matching outfits. I love it! It feels so easy to get ready every morning.

              Thank you for the great post, hope you can write about the other 6 areas in your future post.

              • December 13, 2013 at 11:36 am

                I have been pretty good about this, but this is a good reminder to take a fresh look at it.

                • December 13, 2013 at 8:02 pm

                  What an interesting post! And the comments make it clear that others find it thought-provoking, too.

                  To me this is a first-world problem. Back in the 60s when I was young, I had a half-dozen school dresses (they didn’t let girls wear pants or jeans to school then) and a couple of tops and slacks for play clothes. I also had school shoes, dress shoes and play shoes, plus a pair of gym shoes I had to keep at school. That was all my family could afford for me, and as the eldest I got far more new clothes than my sisters, who got my hand-me-downs. So I guess we were close to doing Jen’s method back in the day :)