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Living with Less and the Art of a Zen Closet

By Courtney Carver of Be More With Less

When I started living with less, I had no idea that my closet would be such a big part of my transformation.

There used to be a time when I thought an overflowing closet and a mountain of debt was normal. Student loans, car debt and credit cards were just part of life and shopping was a recreational activity. Everyone around me wanted more, so I wanted more too. After reading books like Your Money or Your Life, and blogs like Rowdy Kittens and mnmlist, I learned that the answer to happiness is not more. It is less.

How I started living with less

  • Paid off debt. I knew the #1 way that I could simplify my life was to pay off my debt. Last summer, my husband and I paid our last debt. We said no to extravagant vacations and other luxuries and focused all of our financial efforts on eradicating our debt. The freedom that comes with no monthly payments is powerful.
  • Stopped buying “stuff”. I used to shop when I was bored, or feeling down. I shopped to celebrate, and I shopped just because. Often times I would go out for two or three grocery items, and come home with new dish towels or a movie, or something that I never intended to buy. That unintentional behavior used to be normal for me, and now it’s offensive.
  • Sold and donated things that I didn’t need. Getting rid of stuff that I didn’t use or love opened up the time and space for me to figure out what was really important.
  • Canceled cable TV. I never fully grasped the amount of time I spent watch mindless TV until I didn’t have it anymore. We kept our TV to watch movies occasionally, but channel surfing and zoning out in front of the tube is history.
  • Started a blog and connected with like minded people. Living with less dramatically improved my health and outlook on life, and I decided to share that message by starting a blog, Be More with Less. It has been great to connect with people around the world who want to live with less too.
  • Started a fashion project. I decided that if I was going to live with less, I’d need to dress with less too. I put a challenge out on my blog to readers to wear only 33 items, including clothing, shoes, jewelry and accessories for 3 months. The response was overwhelming.

My closet has always been overflowing and yet, I never had anything to wear. Have you ever experienced that? If I found a shirt that I liked, I’d buy two more in different colors. My shoes were taking over my closet. As I began to empty my closet. I asked questions like, Why do I need so many clothes? Why don’t all my clothes fit me? Why do I only wear 20% of what I own?

The Benefits of Dressing with Less

Zen. I have 24 pieces of clothing hanging in my closet. There is more space than clothing in my closet and that projects a very calm, Zen feeling. Instead of opening closet doors to chaos and rushing around trying to decide what to wear, getting dressed is a breeze. It sets the mood for my day.

Style. Now that I carefully select 33 items for 3 months, they all fit me well and most can be worn interchangeably. I’ve developed a simple, personal style.

Freedom. Since, I don’t spend time and money shopping for clothes, and my mornings aren’t consumed with which scarf to wear, or shoes to slip on, I can turn my time and attention to the things that really matter.

If you want to start living with less…

Start with your closet and build momentum for decluttering the rest of your home. Here is the process I recommend:

Start making piles of clothes and be ruthless.

  • Pile One: I love these items. They fit me well and I wear them frequently: keep
  • Pile Two: I want to keep this but I don’t know why: set aside
  • Pile Three: These items don’t fit me or my style: donate
  • Pile Four: These items aren’t in good condition: trash


  • Take Pile Four to the trash.
  • Box up Pile Three and put in your car before you have time to re-think.
  • Put the items from Pile One back in your closet.
  • Box up all items from Pile Two and put the box in the back of your closet for 30 days.
  • If you didn’t miss the box after 30 days, DO NOT OPEN IT, donate it.

If you love the feeling of empty space in your closet, join thousands in minimalist fashion Project 333.

Read more about getting started and building a capsule wardrobe and see if dressing with less is right for you. This is not an extreme way of life, or a project in suffering. Many participants keep going after the initial 3 months, with a goal of developing a small wardrobe for each season.

Life is not about the acquisition of stuff or the size of your bank account. If you want a life of great clarity and purpose, and calmer mornings, consider living with less and dressing with less. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the what your new found time and space will reveal about what really matters to you.

Courtney writes about simplifying and living life on purpose at Be More with Less and is the author of Simple Ways to Be More with Less. You can also follow her on Twitter.

About cosmicdarling

One with all that is


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May 2011
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