Closet Challenge : Eight Month Review / Capsule Pantry + Other Tails of Minimalism, Mindfulness

Have you ever heard of such a thing as a Capsule Pantry? This is something I’ve been doing steadily over the past few years, working on pairing down the food I consume (and store) to just the things I really need. In the process I’ve discovered things like the joy of eating in season, local produce, alternative grains, and cooking from scratch. My formerly bursting pantry that didn’t always have what I needed, but always had a lot of stuff I rarely used, is now much less full. The best is that it now typically has anything I could need to make a recipe, and building a recipe from scratch doesn’t necessarily take longer or involve more work. Going into this was rather more simple than reworking my closet :

Do I particularly like it?

Is it easy to use and store?

Does it go with a lot of different things?
Can it be prepared multiple ways?

Are there quality options (no added chemicals, hormones, pink slime, GMO, ingredients I can’t pronounce)?

What this means for my pantry is a large stock of raw ingredients like pasta, grains, canned tomatoes, beans, sugars, and spices. With this “collection” I can mix and match almost endlessly, with the additional of in-season produce. Thanks to a thoughtfully stocked pantry I don’t often need a big grocery list (in fact, our monthly budget for two people including all household essentials rarely goes about $350), or specific items, in order to eat well daily, and I can make most anything I like because there aren’t any absolutely essential single ingredients. My pared down pantry means I can usually find substitutes for ingredients not on hand or throw something together on a whim. The other side to this is not having to purchase specific ingredients just to make one recipe, one time, only to have no use for the rest. We purchase less quantity because what’s on hand can mix and match. The best part is focusing on higher quality ingredients; buying less means having more room in the budget to buy better. Our favorite place for meat is a local farm that allows the animals to graze free range, with no added hormones or pink slime, and they butcher your cuts to order on site. Amazing!

Knowing that we have enough variety of quality base items on hand means we don’t eat out as much – it’s just as easy, and so much more delicious, to throw something together at home. Added bonus : less waste. Spending more thoughtfully leads to spending less over the long term, but also wasting less. We compost the majority of our food waste, plant sprouted garlic, onions, and potatoes in the garden, and reuse leftovers to make new meals. Done, done, and done!

Things I prefer to make from scratch that aren’t too difficult, don’t require crazy ingredients I wouldn’t normally have on hand, and are so much more delicious this way :

Chocolate Chip Cookies, ok, seriously, cookies of any kind




Mac + Cheese

Pasta Sauces (tomato, cream, pesto, etc.)


Ice Cream



(images and links to sample recipes? ask Robin for a contribution + link to her blog?)

Closet Challenge : Eleven Month Review / Another Closet Change + Caring for Clothing

When thinking about caring for my clothes a few things come to mind that I’d like to share with you. Over the years I’ve figured out a what it is about clothing like in a fit – the   way the material falls, wears, and more than anything keeps over time. We’ve discussed purchasing quality pieces that will last rather than fast fashion that deteriorates quickly and requires replacement shortly after purchase. Something I look for in clothing prior to making a purchase is the quality of the make. These are a few of the things I think about when considering an item :

Do the seams appear to be well stitched?

Are there loose threads hanging off the item?

Does the fabric stretch (and if so, does it go back to/retain it’s original shape)?

Is it prewashed/preshrunk?

Will the color(s) likely bleed or fade in the wash?

What is the fabric content? Does it make sense for this sort of item?

With that in mind, and following a purchase, I’m very careful about how I handle and care for my clothes. Keeping in their best possible condition allows me the opportunity to sell them when they’re weeded out of my closet, and I’m able to recoup some of the cost of purchasing. Here’s how I keep my clothing items in tip top shape :

Store things well

Ironing isn’t something I do. Ever. If there’s a particularly wrinkly item it’ll get steamed, but even that is few and far between. I’d much rather prevent wrinkles than spend the time working them out. This means storing things well in the fist place by hanging or folding according to the material of the item. Knowing how things will stretch out, where you’d not mind having a crease fall, and giving things breathing room wherever they’re stored will ensure most everything is ready to wear.

Only wash when necessary

Almost everything in my closet, with the exception of undergarments, is worn more than once before being washed. If an item could definitely benefit from a wash, it’ll go in the washer with cold water and then hang to dry. The majority of items are spot cleaned after wears to keep them both looking in good shape, and out of the washer. Lastly, I’ll steam items to give them a quick refresh, release any odors, and remove wrinkles. It’s so much less damaging than a wash/dry/iron and makes things look and feel wonderful.

Another thought worth considering is switching to gentle detergent. Statistics on this subject point out that we probably use too much detergent in the first place meaning that switching to something gentler and using less of it will do far less damage per wash, and extend the life of those items. Likewise, keeping as much as possible out of the dryer can prevent fading, shrinking, and stretching.

Invest in a sweater shaver

Yes, it’s so ’80’s, and yes it’s a miracle gadget. This thing is the most awesome item you’ll ever spend seven dollars on. It works on all sorts of materials beyond just sweaters, removes pilling, and smoothes out the material. Makes things look brand new, not even kidding.

Save the extra buttons

Literally. Tuck those babies away for a rainy day, or just for when you lose a button. In fact, before you lose a button, maybe even right after you purchase that buttoned item swipe a little clear nail polish over the threads on the front of the button to help things from unraveling in the first place. You’re welcome.

(include link/image to the steamer? sweater shaver? gentle detergent?)

Closet Challenge : Nine Month Review / Accepting Reality

This isn’t anywhere near so terrible as it sounds. Promise. A big something I’ve learned in this process is that the things we purchase tend to create a facade of who and what we’re trying to be, and don’t necessarily represent who and what we are. In beginning this challenge I thought I wanted to narrow things down to what’s really “me” and remove the things that aren’t. What I’ve discovered along the way is that my search is for authenticity. I want the things I own, purchase, and pursue to be things that accurately represent me. Aspirational purchases (those jeans I *might* fit into if I lost a few pounds) and impulse purchases are not for me. Neither are the expensive brand of yoga pants, or hanging on to a gift that just isn’t my style. I’ve given up fast food and haven’t looked back. So long cardigans! I’m building a wardrobe and a life that feels most authentic.

Looking back I wonder what took me so long to make the leap to a minimalist mindset. Deciding to downsize was a liberating moment and came with a realization – I was keeping all these things and clinging to the idea of them out of fear. What if I pulled away this facade? What would be left? What was my personal brand? When I pulled the facade away I found relief and a sense of freedom. All those things that aren’t in line with my personal brand were weighing me down, dragging behind me like an anchor, and taking up so much space. It was liberating to say goodbye to all those things represented a lifestyle I didn’t want to live.

Admittedly, it was a challenge in the beginning and I had to overcome some crazy thoughts. What it all comes down to is recognizing that it’s ok to not want what someone else wants. There’s no need to hang on to something just because it’s trendy, or someone famous has one like it, or it costs a lot of money. What works for you is all that matters here. That being said, it’s ok to change your mind about what you want. Minimizing a wardrobe doesn’t mean being stuck with the same, fewer, options forever. Over time weeding items out and adding new things in keeps the contents fresh. Also, it’s important to remember that these things are what define us, and as such they shouldn’t be aspirational. The items we own should complement who and what we are, add value to our lives, and be purposeful. Lastly, removing those things that aren’t a great fit isn’t a time for regret. It’s not a waste that these items were purchased in the first place or kept for a period of time. It’s happened, we’re making a change, if nothing else they’ve allowed us an opportunity to inch closer toward authenticity.

Closet Challenge : Seven Month Review / Thinking about Minimalism and Mindfulness

In my goal of having fewer things you could maybe read between the lines and see something like : spending less on things, not spending/shopping at all, reducing clutter. All of those things might come out of this challenge, but those aren’t the reasons I entered into this, and maybe we’re getting a little off track with that kind of mindset. Something I’d like to focus on in the the coming months is being mindful about my minimalism approach. Looking for ways to make smarter purchases, purchasing for quality over quantity, keeping the things I need and/or use, letting the rest go – this what the challenge should be about. With that in mind I’ve come up with some guidelines to keep myself on track. These are the things I’m comfortable with splurging on :

Good, real food – I like to eat, a lot, and I particularly like unprocessed food made with ingredients I can pronounce, that don’t come with all sorts of added chemicals, pink slime, or unidentifiable stuff.

Learning new things – Last year I signed up for a Metalworking class at a local museum despite having no idea about anything having to do with metalsmithing. What a wonderful experience! The year before I did a certificate on Business Foundations that covered things like financial accounting (yikes!) and stretched the limits of my brain beyond where I thought they could stretch. It was a definite struggle, I hate it at times, and in the end I learned nearly as much about myself as I did about accounting. Under this heading I’d file things like travel, professional development, conferences, networking groups, and philanthropic endeavors.

Services that make my life better – Of course I could probably super glue some shoes back together or stitch up a seam myself but taking these things to a professional serves two purposes for me, getting a job (really) well done and giving myself a break. I like both those things.

Quality, Purposeful “Stuff” – Whether the trusty (cheap) one cup coffee maker I use every day and still runs like a charm, the boots I wear almost daily all winter long, my last car that I drove for more than ten years before it finally bit the dust, it just feels plain good to use something up completely. Fast fashion, wasting food, and planned obsolescence just aren’t for me. I get such satisfaction from knowing my cost per use is a fraction of a penny, and that I’m purchasing things that are made of good quality and served their purpose well.

Giving (Back) – This one can come in many, varied forms. My giving back of choice is by joining philanthropic groups in our area, in particular, Young Friends groups that support local organizations. These groups typically involve planning and executing events that raise capital for the organization, awareness of a cause, and involvement with the community. Under this heading I also lump in gifting to others for any occasion. I enjoy taking the time to select a perfect, thoughtful, quality, and purposeful gift for each recipient. There’s something delightful about finding that exact match.

Finding Joy / Unique Experiences – This one sort of sums up the others; finding joy in the opportunities presented to me and recognizing the uniqueness of a moment. This is easiest to find when traveling somewhere new but can also be present in daily experiences. More than anything it’s mindfulness, being aware of the moments as they happen, and delighting in them when they do.

Great resources :

(image of tall trees / idea of freedom from things + freedom to do instead)

Closet Challenge : Six Month Review / Halfway There!

Well, can you believe I’ve survived the challenge this far? Now that we’re at the halfway point I’d like to review my rules :

The Closet Challenge : Halfway There

1. Purchase Limit :  Have I met, exceeded, or come in under this requirement?

2. Budget :  Was it reasonable?

3. Exceptions to Rules 1 + 2 : Did I struggle with exceptions? Did they throw off my budget? Was it not as important as I thought?

4. Exchanges + Returns : Did I limit the number of impulse purchases or have a lot/little buyer’s remorse?

5. Gifts : Did I receive any losers? Was this a big deal?

6. Add, Remove :  How successful was this? A challenge? A relief?

7. Documentation :  Were these cathartic? Did it help?

8. The Reality : How many times did I fall off the wagon? Was it hard? Was it worth it?

9. Remove : Any success with selling items? Did I keep after it?

10. Goal : Did I stick to my new motto (Buy less, choose well, quality first) and am I on track for the rest of the year?

Thinking forward : I’d like to continue on the path I’ve been going for the last six months and make certain changes moving forward to better zero in on those things I’ve struggled with.

Closet Challenge : Five Month Review / Falling In and Out of Love

It’s solidly autumn here, the temps are dropping in the evenings, and cozy layers are coming back in style. With these changes I’ve had an opportunity to think about (or rethink) my approach to achieving a seasonless wardrobe. There are definitely items that I love having for fall, especially warm colors like ochre, rust, ox blood, and tall boots. Oh, wait. Tall boots. I love them but they’re really a three season item and I tend to keep them out of storage from late autumn through early spring. Who cares!? The big issue here is how many pairs of tall boots I own. Remember that embarrassingly honest audit I did a while back? I have 10 boots to my name, only 1 of which are ankle height, and this doesn’t include the pair of waterproof dog walking boots or the pair of snow boots. The shame! This month’s task is to tackle the tall boots situation. Here are my thoughts :

Would they be comfortable to walk in for an entire day around a foreign city playing tourist?

Do they show excessive wear?

When was the last time I wore them?

Is there enough variety of items in the closet that they “work” with?

Could they be considered repeats?

Should they pay a visit to the “shoe guy” for a quick tune up or repair?

The Closet Challenge : Falling In + Out of Love

After answering these difficult questions (I do so love shoes), and making my four piles, I’m proud to announce I now only own 7 pairs of boots. The toss pile went right in the trash, the donate pile has been carted out to Goodwill, and the repair pile has be taken to Caesar. I did decide to tuck away in storage 2 pairs for the future only because they’re in great shape, are repeats of pairs that are more worn, and could save me the cost and trouble of finding a replacement when the current pair dies. I’m deciding to look at this as an investment, and not hoarding. We’ll revisit this situation next purge and see if it was worth keeping them.

Closet Challenge : Four Month Review / Another Closet Change

I’ve survived my first season of the challenge and am now embarking on another seasonal closet change. Here are the numbers :

Started with a total of 409 items

Number of bins stowed away in June : 3

Number of bins stowed away this time : 2

Additions : 7

The Closet Challenge : Another Closet Change

Whew! So much better already, but there’s still lots to do since I’ve not yet reached my goal of 100 total pieces. Last month we went over how to approach purchasing additional items to fill holes in the wardrobe, but not the nitty gritty of such an experience. My first step when buying clothing is to look in my own closet. A lot of times I’ve already got something that fits the bill, and if I don’t there’s a chance a little soul searching will show I don’t really need it after all. If it really is something splurge-worthy I’ll give consignment shops a look and see if I can’t find what I’m itching for at a much lower price.

Oftentimes I can totally score a name brand, perfect condition, sometimes with tags still on it item that suits my needs. Occasionally, however, it’s something that can only come from one of a handful of places. This is where those annoying retail emails come in handy – signing up for all my go-to retailers’ emails, stashing them away for a day such as this, and combing through them when I’m looking for something in particular. Is there a super awesome coupon? A big sale coming up soon? Can I wait to purchase this until it goes on sale or clearance?

Closet Challenge : Three Month Review / Successes, Learnings, Fails

Welp, I’ve survived three months of this nonsense, I mean challenge, and have learned a few things along the way. I suspected I wouldn’t much miss things that were out of sight in the trial separation closet, which is precisely what happened, making it easier to pare things down even more. Also, I had some success with selling items online and via consignment; there were a few items I felt worthy of refreshing and had great success with repairs. Lastly, I realized there are a few holes in my closet. For instance, I love wearing blazers vs. cardigans so tossing all those jackets that didn’t fit the bill and weeding out a number of button front sweaters I never wore freed up space for another blazer or two. Same thing with dresses and skirts; I love to wear a variety of dress silhouettes but am so very picky about style and fit of skirts. Weeding out those skirts I didn’t love and the few dresses I hadn’t been thrilled with allowed more space and opportunity to wear the ones I do like.

That brings me to my next hurdle in this challenge – purchasing additional items that are wants, not really needs, more like could haves. There are big, slightly terrifying questions that come to mind when I think about adding to my closet :

How much to spend on this item?

Quality, fabric, material, color?

What will it be paired with (and should work well together with)?

How do I want it to fit (or how do I want to feel when I wear it)?

Will I know when to stop?


With all of that in mind, I sat down and thought about what advice I’d give myself if I were talking to someone else. Maybe thinking about all those questions above, and going into this shopping endeavor with answers to those questions in mind, might leave me feeling prepared. A few things I’ve found helped in the past are :

Only purchase items that look good on you, not on someone else, including the mannequin at the store and the models in the ads. Buy for your shape! Not the shape you hope to have, not for the weight you wish you were..

You should never have to talk yourself into a purchase. No matter what.

There should be preexisting options already in your closet to pair with this item. There aren’t? Then what’re you buying this for?! Put that thing back right now, girlfriend!

Give yourself twenty-four hours to think things over (especially with big ticket items)

Don’t buy anything that doesn’t fit comfortably, or make you feel like “you” when wearing it.

If there’s a mark or stain and you try to remove it post purchase but it won’t come out return the item. That spot is permanent. Even better : don’t buy it in the first place.

We really only love things in the store, if you aren’t absolutely in love with it in the store you’ll not love it any more at home. Don’t buy something you’re not tickled pink about.