Declutter your wardrobe: Lessons from people who've done it

Story highlights

  • Matt Souveny pared down his wardrobe to 10 items, excluding accessories
  • He applied the philosophy to the rest of his home

This story was originally published on CNN.com in 2015.

(CNN)For one year, Matt Souveny wore only the following 10 items of clothing:

One pair of pants
    One pair of shorts (that doubled as swim trunks)
    Two T-shirts
    One button-down collared shirt
    One sweatshirt
    One light jacket
    One raincoat
    One pair of running shoes
    One pair of boots
    Plus seven pair of socks, underwear, a belt, a hat, gloves, sleeping pants and slippers. There were two exceptions: Halloween, when he dressed as Batman, and the suit he wore for a wedding.
    The married Canadian air force pilot -- who was on parental leave for much of the year -- documented his #1year1outfit journey on his blog and on social media. He gave shout-outs to the maker of his apparel for their durability. Three months in, he admitted that he really missed wearing denim in fall.
    He learned about the versatility of clothing and how to live with less. He also discovered that he never again wants to live off 10 items of clothing.
    "Wearing the same thing every day started to feel pretty tiresome sometime during the second quarter of my year," he said. "I've been really looking forward to having some new clothes to wear."

    Out with the old, in with the new

    Souveny set out last year to simplify his life, starting with this wardrobe, and he's not the only one paring down. With the ubiquity of fast fashion and cheap home decor, many are finding it easy to hoard too many items. Thus the popularity of decluttering gurus like Marie Kondo and stunts such as Souveny's.
    Previously, he thought he "needed" specific clothes for different activities: nice clothes for going out, work clothes, beach clothes, hiking clothes and so on.
    "Living and traveling with only the clothes on my back, I realized that the right clothes can work in all of these situations, and if they are well-built, then spares and backups aren't required."
    Souveny spared no expense to ensure that his clothes would last. Some observers balked at the overall price tag of Souveny's capsule -- about $2,700, as one Redditor estimated, for top-of-the-line performance gear -- but he believes the exercise can be replicated on any budget as long as some attention has been paid to quality.
    Since he ended the one-year challenge in June, his wardrobe has grown to about 30 pieces, including shoes and formal wear. It's a lot less than he used to have, but it still feels "overwhelming to have this much choice," he said.
    The upshot of paring down? Now, he knows how to prioritize.
    "I'm going to continue clearing out things that I don't wear, especially if I plan to make any future purchases, maintaining a small, manageable wardrobe," he said.

    'Focus on the more, not the less'

    The desire to declutter tends to overlap with other first-world problems, like the rise of the conscious consumer and transparent fashion, or the case for never spending less than $150 on a piece of clothing. But after you've evaluated every item in your home for its ability to spark joy and folded your clothes into rectangles, how do you avoid falling back into the same messy lifestyle?
    Decluttering your life can be like going on a diet: "You get really excited and make changes, and then very quietly you go back to the clutter," said Courtney Carver, creator of Project 333, a minimalist fashion challenge to dress with 33 items or fewer for three months.
    Carver began shedding her possessions after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2006. By 2010, she had it down to a routine -- 33 items for three months, about every season -- and started writing about it.
    Much like with dieting, the key is to choose a sustainable strategy. Like Kondo, Carver recommends starting by writing a personal mission statement of what you want to change or how you wish to see yourself by paring down. When things get tough, you can return to it for motivation.
    The key is to go at your own pace, whether it's Kondo's KonMari method or 33 items at a time.
    "Simplicity is much easier to stick with when you focus on the more, not the less," Carver said. "You may have fewer items of clothing in your closet, but you have more space, more time to enjoy your morning, more opportunity to wear your favorite clothes. It's not just a change in environment; it's a change in mindset."
    It takes constant "recommitment" each time you bring something new home, she said.
    "People think, 'that's crazy; I could never do that,' " she said. "That's just fear because you never tried it before."

    Build a sustainable model

    A few months into his challenge, Souveny read Kondo's best-selling book, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," and decided to apply the concept to the rest of his home, emptying his kitchen cupboards of superfluous gadgets and getting rid of the boxes piling up in his garage.
    "It's not fun to have to go through all of that old stuff, but it feels liberating once it's gone," he said. "I'm going to try to remember that any purchase I make, whether it's clothes, house stuff, sporting goods or electronic gadgets, will at some point need to be cleared out. If I can buy less and be more considerate about what I buy, hopefully I can reduce my contribution to the landfill and the workload of getting rid of it."
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    One's wardrobe might be the most intimate place to start a decluttering mission, but whether you embark on your journey in the closet or the kitchen, Souveny says, it's worth the trip.
    "I think this concept of buying less and saving up to purchase better-quality things that you love can be applied to any budget. For myself anyways, now that I've built a wardrobe that I'm excited about, I have been saving money by not buying in bulk or impulse buying on sales."