How to Build a Budget-Friendly Minimalist Wardrobe

You’re ready to start your journey to a minimalist wardrobe, but maybe you’re not sure where to begin. Revamping your entire closet can feel daunting, especially if you have a tough time letting go of belongings and sentimental items.

The good news is that you can start today. And you can make a minimalist wardrobe work for you no matter your budget, routine or sense of style.

Best of all, choosing a minimalist wardrobe can help you feel empowered and reduce clutter and stress. It’s also an important way to help care for the planet.

The Problem With Fast Fashion

If you walk into most big-box clothing stores, you’ll find racks and racks of items ready to go out the door. Fast fashion items are made to be cheap, trendy and last only a few wears. These clothes are mass-produced at a low cost to the consumer.

Unfortunately, there’s a high cost to people and the planet. Every year, over 13 million tons of clothing ends up in landfills around the world. And fast fashion workers often receive low pay and endure poor working conditions.

There’s no easy answer to the rise of fast fashion. But one way you can make a difference is by changing the way you think about what you wear.

What Is a Minimalist Wardrobe?

A minimalist wardrobe is made up of quality clothing you love and wear often. It contains the essentials and eliminates extra clutter. And it helps you feel like your best self every time you get dressed.

Beyond paring down your wardrobe, it’s ideal to source new clothing (when necessary) in a sustainable way. This includes supporting ethical brands and buying secondhand, when possible.

A minimalist wardrobe looks different for everyone, but with the right framework you can curate a closet that reflects your goals, needs and values.

Start With Intention

Before you dive into your closet and start curating outfits, take a moment to pause and reflect on your intention. Ask yourself why you want to create a minimalist wardrobe and where you want to be on the other side of this process?

Do you want to…

  • Wake up to a beautiful, clutter-free closet?
  • Simplify your routine to lower stress?
  • Save time by doing less cleanup and laundry?
  • Reduce decision fatigue when you're deciding what to wear?
  • Save money by shopping mindfully?
  • Reduce waste to help care for the planet?
  • Find a style that expresses your identity?
  • Feel great in the clothing you wear every day?

Minimalist fashion can help you with all these goals. When you get specific about your intention, it’s easier to chart a path to get there. And you’ll have more momentum to help you keep going when challenges arise.

Work at Your Own Pace

If you’re anything like me, you want to achieve your goals now.

But you don’t have to declutter your entire wardrobe in a weekend, or even in a month. Work at a pace that’s sustainable for you so you don’t end up overwhelmed or burned out.

One tip we love is breaking up a big project into smaller tasks. Home organizer and minimalism expert Shira Gill recommends setting a timer for just 15 minutes to tackle a project (she calls it a #15minwin). You get the immediate reward and satisfaction of crossing something off your list without burning out. For example, you could start with activewear and undergarments one day and move onto work clothes the next.

Clean Out Your Closet

With your intention and your vision set, you’re ready to begin. An ideal place to start is not with addition, but subtraction. As Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist says, “When we remove the things from life we do not want [or need], we make room for the things we do.”

Sort Clothes into Four Piles

Whether you decide to do you entire wardrobe at once or break it up into smaller sections, you can start decluttering by separating your clothes into four categories:

  • Keep - Items you love and wear often (these are no brainers)
  • Donate - Items in good condition that you do not want or need
  • Recycle/Repurpose - Items with too much wear and tear to donate
  • Revisit - Items you don’t love, but aren’t ready to let go of yet

Tips for Rehoming Your Clothing

Donating clothes can help extend their useful life, but it can have far-reaching social and environmental consequences. United States consumers donate more clothing than thrift stores can sell locally, so a lot of it ends up being shipped overseas to developing countries. In excess, these donations overwhelm local textile industries. They also contribute to pollution, as worn-out items may wind up in landfills.

You can donate clothing responsibly by:

  • Only donating clothing in good condition (free from holes or heavy wear, and without broken buttons or zippers)
  • Choosing quality clothing over fast fashion buys
  • Shopping consciously so you can reduce the amount of clothing you discard (we’ll talk more about this below)

Find ways to repurpose worn clothing, like cutting it up into cleaning rags. You can also recycle it through programs like For Days, a company that accepts clothing for recycling, regardless of condition.

And if you have items you’re on the fence about, try placing them into a storage box for a month. At the end of the month, reevaluate. Did you pull any items out to use? Do you still want to keep what’s in the box?

Once you’ve finished decluttering, you’re ready to assemble your new wardrobe.

Plan Out Your Minimalist Wardrobe

Looking for inspiration can be a great way to get your ideas flowing. But your wardrobe doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. You’re not limited to neutral colors or a strict number of items — your clothes can be a reflection of what’s unique about you.

Evaluate Your Needs and Daily Activities

First, make a list of the activities you do on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Then decide what clothing you need to fit your lifestyle.

For example, your regular activities might include work, exercise, eating out with friends and relaxing at home.

A sample wardrobe plan for these activities could look like:

  • Shirts for work
  • Slacks or skirts for work, if needed
  • T-shirts
  • Jeans or casual pants
  • A dress for formal occasions
  • Exercise clothing
  • Loungewear for relaxation

Building your minimalist wardrobe around your normal routine will help you find clothing you’ll be able to enjoy and wear often.

Pick Your Color Palette

Next, choose your base colors. You can help narrow down what colors you like by looking at what you wear most often. Your base colors could be anything from navy and white to burgundy and yellow.

Choosing a general color palette makes shopping easier and helps you coordinate items for the most versatility.

Use accent colors and prints to add variety to your outfits. Pairing complementary colors can help you create a cohesive look.

Choose Your Favorite Fits & Styles

Another important point to consider is how you'd like your clothes to fit. Do you prefer a closer fit or a loose, flowing style? Or maybe you often combine the two, such as wearing a loose skirt with a fitted top.

Coordinating fit and style is another way to mix and match outfits with fewer items. Pay attention to the fit of your favorite clothes to get an idea of what you feel best in. Then you’ll know what to look for when you go shopping!

Coordinate Your Outfits

Now that you’ve set your groundwork, you’re ready to plan your minimalist fashion routine. With your closet freshly decluttered, you can start creating outfits you love.

Some simple ways to keep track of outfits are writing combinations on paper or snapping pictures you can reference later.

Add New Items Sustainably

When you’re adding something new to your wardrobe, consider how well it coordinates with what you already have, whether you’ll wear it long-term and if you can use it for multiple activities. You can also look for clothing made from sustainable materials like organic cotton or recycled textiles.

Another key point to consider is quality. Choosing high-quality clothing helps your financial investment go further and reduces waste long-term. Some ways to gauge the quality of clothing are:

  • Checking for neat, sturdy seams
  • Looking for defects or loose threads
  • Testing the feel and strength of fabric
  • Researching the brand’s reputation online

A few of my favorite earth-friendly clothing brands are Kotn, Cotopaxi, and wool &. Kotn creates buttery-soft cotton basics. Cotopaxi uses reclaimed materials to design unique, colorful outdoor gear. And wool&’s ultra-comfy merino wool dresses are designed to give you more use between washes. They even invite customers to wear the same dress for 100 days to help them rethink minimalist fashion!

You can build a collection you adore within your budget by:

  • Taking your time and adding pieces gradually
  • Thrifting at secondhand shops or online
  • Organizing a clothing swap with friends or neighbors
  • Saving up for high-quality items you know you’ll love

Before you know it, you’ll have a wardrobe you feel amazing about.

Care for Your Clothes

Finally, an important part of maintaining a minimalist wardrobe is caring for what you have. Wash clothing according to manufacturer recommendations and use a high-quality eco-friendly detergent. You can also learn to mend clothing instead of discarding it, or arrange a skill-swap with a friend who’s good with a needle.

Be Uniquely You

With a minimalist wardrobe, you can express your true self. And you can do it while leaving behind clutter, stress and waste. Minimalism helps you discover the joy of living life with intention.

One of the biggest benefits I’ve enjoyed since minimizing my wardrobe is the feeling of freedom. I’m not bogged down by clothing choices I don’t like and I don’t feel pressure to keep up with trends. And since I prioritize quality items and keep them longer, I know I’m reducing my impact on the environment too.

Where are you in your journey to minimalist fashion? We’d love to hear about your experiences, questions and thoughts in the comments!

Photo credit: Aubrie Pick for Simply Sustainable