As you get further into the sustainable living mindset, it is hard to compartmentalize it to just your home products, your cleaning cupboard, your pantry, or your skincare routine. It has this way of slowly changing your life, and for me, I found I looked at a lot of things differently. Over time, I slowly figured out how to manage our family of four (myself, my partner, and our two sons) in a way that helped me lean into slow and sustainable fashion, without it costing me more than it would to buy fast fashion. Becoming a mom made me crave simplicity as things became very... not simple. A smaller, functional wardrobe made sense, but it took a while to get there. Things slowly have shifted into a bit of routine, and I think I can share a little bit about it now and maybe provide some value to others looking to simplify and minimize wardrobes, while also managing to shop in a way that still works budget-wise and is not too overwhelming.
A lens to see this through: it is your own path
So, I do feel I have a few caveats that I want to address prior to jumping right into things, as I didn't really feel confident in myself to talk about this on my blog for a really long time. Firstly, I am not a fashionable girl. I have my own style, that's for sure, but I would say I fell into the "Tom Boy" category growing up - the "utility" category - more than some reading this might or might not. This is not a blog to assist you find a personal style, that's for sure! While I really dislike the concept that there has to be a label for girls that aren't super feminine, I would say it gave me some major shade in thinking of myself as odd or weird and this whole process has been dismantling a lot of things I picked up as a kid. In elementary school, my mom used to 'ground me' by making me wear dresses to school for a chunk of time because that was definitely a punishment in my eyes. I spent a lot of time trying very hard as a teen and young adult in trying to "look appropriate" and "cute" with trend-based clothing, things that looked good on others, and shopping a lot to try and feel like I was acceptable. By the end of high school, I was pulling on a vintage pair of blonde cowboy boots anytime I had to wear a dress, because the imposter syndrome was so uncomfortable. I couldn't even tell you why I don't like dresses, mostly I feel restricted and way too fancy. I am definitely my dad's daughter in many ways, but for some reason it was always okay for him to wear the same jeans and have one leather jacket for every occasion, but I was lost in whatever this land of being a girl was, learning about how my shoes and bag were supposed to match and florals and pastels were appropriate for spring. My sisters and mom managed it just fine, but for me, I felt so off and odd.
Things changed as I got into minimalism and had fluctuations in my wardrobe. While I tried to minimize things before I had my first pregnancy, I couldn't really figure it out. I really, really enjoyed that during my pregnancies and postpartum periods that suddenly it was cool to have only a few basic items and the deciding factors were just that they worked for my lifestyle and that they felt good to be in. The small wardrobe meant that I had to focus on everything being able to match everything. I have carried those tenants forward in believing that all clothing should feel good on my body at the time I need it, I feel like myself in it, that it matches all the things so that I don't have to get agitated over selecting clothing (I literally just take it out of my dresser and put it on), and I can live my life exactly how I need to in whatever it is I'm wearing. The concept of a capsule wardrobe carried me through many different work situations (I just made small capsules for work if it was an office or a dance teaching scenario) and this helped me save money and stress and overthinking.
So, maybe that sounds crazy to you - I know it seems crazy to most of the ladies I work with that really love working with their personal styles. But, don't throw the whole idea of slowing things down out the window. There are a ton of approaches to sustainable fashion and I want to challenge the notion that it is always crazy expensive, that it isn't realistic for busier families, and that you have to look like you're wearing a grain sack with a rope for a belt. This is how I was able to approach it, and break it down to slow things down and get to a place where I feel like I wear my clothes and not the other way around - and I get to have the control over how I spend my money and that choosing differently might be a challenge to figure out at first, but a worthwhile endeavour for sanity, simplicity, and our family's values.
A few things that would really save time in getting into a smaller, simpler wardrobe:
- Consider what "rules" you think exist with clothing and what "you should be doing" and then just don't do that, or see if it's actually a fact. In our society, so much is wrapped up in how we look; our identity is supposed to be on display and we are supposed to "express ourselves" and what we wear and how we look plays into so much of how we are viewed as a person. The freedom I felt when I let go of all the dresses and skirts I had acquired because I thought maybe they might finally be the one that I felt good in, was the joy of letting myself be myself and choosing me. I gave myself permission to not wear nail polish. I don't like dangly earrings, I actually like having some key accessories and I don't want to always be switching them up. I find I take any cardigans or open sweaters off because they are just too "wingy" for me going about my day. I don't want to wear plastic fabrics on my bod anymore, even though skin tight yoga pants look more "appealing." If I had a favourite jean or tank top, I let myself have more than one of those items, because for some reason I was operating on the idea that I had to have all of this variety and that people might actually notice or care. I realized I could buy a second hand dress for an occasion or wedding. The challenge became asking "why not?" about everything and getting curious. The hooks I was on that I let myself off of were many and it felt like such a relief. Whatever feels best to you, is what you get to do.
- That leads me into the next thing - determining your personal style (or choosing to not do this) can be helpful. Jumping away from trends can leave a bit of a hole in understanding how you should get yourself dressed. It can be hard to have a small wardrobe if you don't really know what your style is; or maybe just recognizing that you don't really need to have one (because that's just another rule that just simply isn't true). What you wear doesn't need to be the most interesting thing about you, and you get to decide if you want to express yourself with clothing or in some completely separate way. For the last several years, I wore uniform style clothing because it helped me manage the pandemic with little kids and trying to work out my own business. More recently, I used Pinterest to help me narrow my style down - I just saved a bunch of things I liked and then looked over it occasionally and edited this as I go. I will always love 1970s Western vibes, like old fashioned cowboy rockstars (hah) - so I let myself be that and add that where I want - or not, and just admire it. We don't have to own everything we like. However, figuring out where you want to go or end up can help with making smart purchases instead of fumbling around trying to figure it out while also spending money.
- Colour can really help with capsule wardrobes. Some love to mix all the colours, all the time. I find that in doing my own wardrobe, I will always be a neutral, natural texture lover - I feel more myself - but I'm sure you could already guess that in my visual aesthetic for my shop. My hubs has to have a lot of darker earth tones (he just gets everything so dirty) and I went with that for my sons as well, because they are pretty active and outdoorsy. There's a climate activist, Michaela Loach, that has a completely pink capsule, so don't take my neutral-ness as being a limitation! It helps me narrow down what I'm looking for, helps everything to match everything else, and for my sons, it helps me narrow down hand me downs or thrift shopping in a sea of options. I am not sure if all the mamas reading this will see the same value as I do in the colour family plan, but as a very visual person, I love calm colours and things matching. My little boys can choose anything out of their drawers themselves and it is all going to match because it is either a brown tone, grey tone, darker green/green tone, or black. I stick with mostly tans, faded denim, whites, and creams for myself, with some black and some brown. It makes choosing key investment pieces easier for me, like a boot to wear all winter with everything, or a summer shoe, or a sweater.
- It is a good idea to understand your laundry routine. I have a solid grasp on how much we actually need in our drawers because I am consistently doing laundry on the same day. This doesn't always work for everyone, but laundry is the only thing I can manage to actually do consistently once a week, Saturday and Sunday. So, we have enough clothing for that amount of time, and generally have close to empty drawers when it is laundry day. I can easily tell if we are running out in one category or lower on laundry day (say, pants for my youngest, or t-shirts for my oldest, underwear for my hubs or socks for me) and that is what I can adjust/look at getting if it is needed. When my kids were younger and I had no idea how much they needed in trying to cut back how much we owned (and I therefore managed), I just observed on laundry day which categories were in crazy excess and slowly culled down from there. We can invest in better clothing, because we don't have a couple week's worth of it to buy. Following a "one in one out" rule also keeps it easier to not spend - if I am purchasing something new, it is because there is a hole/absence of something in the drawers or I am replacing something. If I am not doing that, or if I don't want to get rid of something to replace it with this new item I'm looking at, it helps me realize I don't need to buy it at all anyway.
- Slowing things down is really, really hard if you are a shopper, so be prepared to be softer with yourself if you're just getting into making changes. Shopping was a "self care" thing in my teens that my family did together. Online shopping can be highly addictive and a coping mechanism for some. There are so many elements to why we shop and it is important to do some of the internal work that actually can break the cycles of consumption that we have. By and far (and the thing I think I've mentioned like 38956 times) my favourite tool is a wait period. If I identify a need, that means I have to start shopping. And that can open up the gate to other stuff that might suddenly seem needed (hello, Marketplace finds, website ads and suddenly a full cart of additional things I think I need). So, whatever it is that I put together, I wait on it. You can choose the amount of time, but I leave it a few days. I would say that 90% of the time, I leave it. I don't spend the money, I don't have to declutter it later, I keep my simplicity, and I can stick to my values. But, this took a long time to get to and can be messy as heck. Give yourself grace; there is no magic switch to just turn off the consumer culture we live in, unfortunately! I had several occasions when I pulled the trigger without a wait and then ended up returning a full fast fashion order without even opening the bag. We exist in a system that isn't going to support you getting out of it, so give yourself some grace and try again. Try some new coping mechanisms if you notice yourself shopping during a certain trigger or mood; turn your phone off if you know you are mindlessly shopping; reflect on what's going on with you and your own patterns. Doing this kind of work will speed this process to sustainable fashion more than anything else can.
The Seasonal Edit
So, to get into the routine of it all! I generally go through this process twice a year, around end of February-March (for spring/summer) and then maybe August-September (for fall/winter). Once it is done I don't have to think about anything other than doing my laundry and just general taking care of our things.
Step One: Reflect
At the end of the winter (or summer), I reflect on the past season. There's almost always a couple of things in my drawers that I didn't use or love when I did put it on. I pull those items and reflect on why - if it is because I'm ready to let them go, I put them in the pile to let go (more on this later). If it's simply because it was Covid and I didn't go anywhere, or this year I didn't manage to use my snowboard mittens, but I wouldn't want to let them go, I keep them. I don't let go of anything that feels wrong to do so (more on this later). Sometimes things might just need repairing, or I may notice that I really relied on some key pieces (specific t-shirts for example) that might be worth having another one of next year. I think about how the past season worked and what might work for a future investment piece. Generally, I invest in one big thing a season - two years ago, it was my parka, this past year was waterproof Chelsea boots that I wear everyday, and next year it will be better snow pants. For spring, this looked like investing in my brown felt cowboy hat a couple years ago, solid rubber boots another year, and this year it was a jacket for spring/fall. I am at a point where I am happy to wait for the right thing to come to me, but taking a long time to plan investment pieces helps me make sure I'm avoiding trends, picking the right colour/option for my lifestyle and me, and sorting out the best place to source it from.
Step Two: Pull the next Season out Early
I take an afternoon (oh hi, snowy day!) and pull out the spring/summer bins or items. For my sons, I get them to try everything on and anything that doesn't fit gets set into the pile to let go. I see what we have, and see if it is enough. Generally, our kids only need a couple sets of bathing suits, seven pairs of shorts, a handful of tanks, and seasonal outerwear. We invest in one pair of Native shoes for them (they are basically the only summer shoe we need), so we check those out from last year. We have a general idea of the upcoming sports we will be a part of (soccer, Tball) and then try that stuff on. I generally keep a few bins of hand me downs, so I fill in with some of those and let go of anything that doesn't fit or if we have more than what I realize we need (with the exception of keeping two extra sets for grandparent's homes/school back up, as that's the age my boys are at, the just-in-case stage, hah).
I also pull out my things. I try them on. I would have gone through the 'letting go' process at the end of last summer because my size is a little more stagnant than my boys' sizes are, but sometimes there's one or two things I save because I'm not sure. I usually have something I want to invest in or an idea of what I loved last year and see if I realistically need that. I think about how I will be spending my days and if my wardrobe reflects that, I think about what I really loved last year and remember what I got rid of so that I don't just bring that right back.
Step Three: The List
I then make a list for each of us, for things we might need. My list this year was a pair of black shorts (I sold a pair last year that were not fitting well) and a pair of Mohinders (or something similar, I have outworn a pair of leather woven mules I really loved for a few years) and a couple of other items - an everyday jacket that isn't denim (as I wore way too much Denim Dan last year with my spring/fall jacket - totally okay, but something I had reflected on last year and wanted to switch this year). My boys need tank tops, one rash guard and new ball caps.
Making the list early can help in looking at the wardrobe as a little system in itself. I put things out on the floor and can see the holes and get a sense of what colour makes sense to fill that hole. I might need another top (I set aside a bunch of worn out tanks for this coming season) and then I can see all of the bottoms visually that it will need to match. Making the list early also helps you to come back a week or so later and even narrow it down further if you want. Thinking about how you spend your days also really helps to see the holes and truly what is needed - maybe you have a ton of fancier outfits, but in the summer you garden and beach more than wine trip and have only one or a few items for actually living in. Make the list with the thought in mind that you can adjust it over the next couple weeks and that's okay - slowing fashion down and making intentional choices feels like you get to have the control back in the crazy machine that is consumption these days. When I write something onto my list, I know why I put it there, and the things I'm generally not fully sure of why, inevitably get crossed out later.
Step Four: Dealing with the Pile of Discards
So, the pile of discards. This is a very key part of sustainable living - it is not dumping this pile on anyone else to manage it for you. This is the point where we have to take responsibility for our waste and potentially face some harder truths that will help us stop making some of the same mistakes. There is no wholesale dumping of a black garbage bag of still useful things in this list of options; we have to figure out how to stop doing that.
For items that are worn out: don't dump them at a thrift shop if they are unusable. Use them for rags, for stuffing inside a dog bed (or maybe another DIY project), donate them to textile recycling (there is a bin at the Lappan's Lane Recycling Centre), or potentially find a program locally that can take them. Knickey takes socks, underwear and worn out bras from any brand in their textile recycling program, and different shops in Kingston take things like socks or textiles for up cycling. I find looking at what I'm discarding that is plastic-based helps me find some motivation to make better choices next round. When I was first trying to conquer my consumer habits, I tried to think about why I had those things that clearly didn't fit and what needed to change (usually it was sale shopping, impulse buys, thinking something should be bought because it was a good deal, even if it really was wasted money). Now that our family is mostly wearing natural fabrics, I'm setting aside clothing pieces to upcycle into a quilt someday (when I, ahem, learn how to do so, lol - big plans!).
For items that were investments or are harder to let go of because they were more expensive, try consignment shops or listing them on Marketplace or Poshmark. Recently, I brought a bunch of our sons' shorts to Go Green Baby and will bring some of my items to Closett Candyy. I will post things online. This part takes a bit longer, but it is part of shifting to a model of investing in items with the goal to sell it (rather then toss it) and that's a good thing. It means we are shifting our consumption to investing in things that will last longer and can be used by many people in contrast to a throw-away model, and then we can take that money out and reinvest it in buying better this round as well.
For items that could be hand-me-downs/passed along, consider a good source for them. Finding actual people in your life is best, as many thrift shops get way too much clothing and have to send cheaper fast-fashion items that don't sell (and likely won't, because they likely haven't held up well or are no longer trendy) to landfill. Finding people in your circle and community can also foster the sense of sustainability that we all need; things don't always need to be new and making things last and choosing better is all part of it. Sharing within our community is essential for finding solutions that make sense on the micro-level.
For things you're not sure of: keep them, but with parameters. I know this is not what decluttering sources normally tell you to do, but I don't think we need to toss immediately if there is a voice inside telling us that we aren't sure, especially for more expensive things you'd hate to just need to rebuy. If I am not sure, I put it in a bag in our basement. I set a timeline. If I do not need that item and had no occasion or thought to go grab it in six months (or however long), it's cool to go be with someone else and make them happy. I do this with more than just clothing, and learning to listen to our intuition is important. However, if your intuition is telling you to keep every single thing and you don't really need to be doing that, maybe checking out a professional in this area (a closet or home organizer) can make a huge difference.
Step Five: The Re-invest
So, hopefully you enter this stage with some cash from selling what you didn't need, and have a lighter wardrobe to start with of things you love, fit your lifestyle, and fit you well. Finding the pieces that fit into the gaps is the next step.
One of the key reasons I end up doing this in advance of the season is so that I can firstly take time to make sure I really want the things (the wait periods, the considering of the list slowly) but also so that I can find it second hand if I can. Finding things second hand is absolutely the best case scenario, environmentally. I'm at the point where we just value natural fibres a lot more, so I still thrift with that in mind - avoiding fast fashion, plastic-based fibres, and choosing better quality. For sure this takes much longer than pulling up Zara on my phone, but if I can honour my values, life really feels more authentic to my purpose and that feels way better than any pretty piece of clothing I may find there!
I generally start with adding my list to my phone so that I can stay focused when shopping second hand, it can be tough to not get distracted. I check out Facebook Marketplace, Poshmark, and Instagram sellers I like. I have a few favourite spots, like Montreal Street Collective, to visit. More and more, I am enjoying consulting and supporting people I've started to meet and love through my shop and love the feeling of knowing the people that have made the things I'm wearing. If I can't find something second hand or repurposed, I try to sort it out from a sustainable fashion option. This means I'll pay more money, so a wait period helps me sort it out and choose where I will invest and how much I can actually invest. Sometimes I find the solution in the wait period - I had a wait period on a cart of those black shorts I mentioned and a pair of jeans from Everlane, and in the wait period I found both at a thrift shop (some very faded, orange tab Levis that fit well and a pair of black cotton Levis jeans that I then cut into shorts myself, as that way they won't be too short). Slowing all of this down from the fast clicks and sale excitement that I used to take part in has definitely been a process, but the more times I end up with what actually fits where I'd like my life to be, the more trust I have in slowing down and choosing intentionally.
Step Six: Putting things to Rest
The last bit of this is finishing up the current season properly. I'm still wearing my winter clothing, but there are some pieces that I will take extra care of. I will soak and sunshine dry my wool sweaters later this month, and pack them away. I will wash all of our winter jackets and outerwear and pack it away as needed, repairing things like holes or tears so that I don't have to do that in the fall. As things like skating wrap up, I post items that won't fit next year for sale. I work through my discard pile and slowly collect the things we need. But mostly, I spend a bit of time loving on the things that I loved this winter season and put them away to keep things simple in our drawers. This is the part where slow living feels good, the taking care, the mending and honouring what we are lucky to have. This is the part of the shift that I enjoy the most, it reminds me what and why I'm doing this.
Finding your Way
So, maybe that seems like a bit much. It is. It is all a bit much. I really wish that as consumers, we didn't have to find our own ways to be in control (when marketing is designed for us to not be in control) and sort through what is real and what is not, and dealing with the morality of it all, because it's not the status quo to be able to expect good values behind every business anymore. The amount of time, and energy, and effort, needed to shop better is ridiculous - think of how 150 years ago, this was something that hardly anyone thought of or considered. We are waging battles all of the time to try to do things differently, when it really should be easier.
If this all sounds like too much, try just one thing. If you need to buy new, start by looking at the fabric in new garments and choosing something you'll know can degrade - any plain cottons or linens or fabrics that don't have polyester and nylon throughout or a plastic sticker for a logo on the front. Or, try just tackling a good look at why you have so much excess - is it something you need to look at for yourself with shopping while upset or sad, or are you struggling with saying no to all of the hand-me-downs (try just keeping things that fit a few key colours or even try the plastic-free fabrics route), or do you need to chat with your mom or mother in law about buying gifts for the family and ask them to slow it down? Can you take 15 minutes and plan out some key outfits to wear with what you already own, or swap some things with a friend so that you're buying just a bit less this summer? Maybe try asking the friend that you constantly shop with to go for a walk or coffee instead?
The key is to not lose heart. Everyone starts somewhere. Try making one change and see where that leads you. Step by step, it builds a wave and the wave can ripple out to the others around you; actions and proving to yourself that it can be different always matter the most. And if you need a little inspiration or support from time to time, check out some of our other blog posts of simplicity, minimalism for the family, or reflections on our personal consumer habits and let me know what you think!