Seth Barham Design
Minimal and effective design, inspired by culture.

Spartan Wanderer

Ramblings from the road, gear reviews, design trends, and whatever else happens to be on my mind.

My Minimalist Closet

Decluttering your life can be can be freeing, uplifting and sometimes a little emotional. Some things are easy to get rid of while others seem to cling onto you even if it is past their expiration date. Sentimental objects are probably the hardest things to consider letting go of, but I would rank clothes at a close second. We tend to hang on to more than we need because “what if”? What if I do need a sky blue tuxedo at some point? And if the what ifs don’t get us, it’s that creeping attachment to things we use(d) often, even if they are no longer useful. 

The problem of sentimentalism

Clothing can be very sentimental to us. Each article contains memories of good times, adventures and people you experienced while wearing them. I wrote about sparking joy last week, and this is one of the few murky areas for me when it comes to Kondo’s metric for parting with an item. I had some good feelings when I held my tattered jeans that had been with me all the way back since the Swedish chapter of my life, but they were dead. Impossible to repair. It just didn’t make sense to keep them.

So I got rid of them without a second thought like the cold, heartless bastard I am. Don’t think I won’t leave you behind too if you slow me down! At least, that’s what I tell my clothes when I’m getting rid of something. I like to think it scares them into being at least 1% more functional. Anyway. Sentimentalism is subjective. It’s fine to hold onto something if it has a similar effect on you as the pensieve from Harry Potter. Just make sure you reevaluate that object often and don’t let sentimentality become a convenient excuse that prevents you from making real progress on your minimalist journey. 

My closet criteria

So what’s in a minimalist’s closet? It’s a question I get quite a lot, especially as I’ve been trying to get closer and closer to getting all of my stuff in one bag. Well, it’s not a lot, but probably more than you would expect and I can do a lot with what I have. Two of the following three criteria have allowed me to piece together a wardrobe that can take a beating while not making me look like a 24/7 alpinist. The other one just helps me get an extra 10 minutes of sleep at night. 

1. Quality and durability

This is the first thing I think about when buying clothes. I’d love to say it’s number three down there, but when you’re frequently traveling you need to have stuff that stands up to the tests of this lifestyle. Therefore, most of what I own is made from wool because its natural properties make it very strong. Anything that isn’t wool is typically high-grade nylon. As you can probably guess, this stuff is not cheap. Just one of my Wool & Prince button-downs was $128. But, like most of the wool items I’ve had before, I expect it to last years. I prefer something that looks great, lasts forever and is made sustainably over constantly replacing cheap, ill-fitting clothing that was probably churned out in a sweatshop and will have its first holes after a few months. 

2. Versatility and personal style

I would say this is almost as important as my first criteria for anyone who doesn’t want their minimalism to result in them being perceived as an emo hipster. I do prefer neutral colors and really dislike graphics and logos (I realize this is strange coming from a graphic designer) when it comes to clothes shopping, but that doesn’t mean you have to go full goth or dress like a cartoon character everyday. Honestly, you just need a few of everything. A couple of nice shirts, a few tees, some jeans, some nicer trousers, a couple pairs of shorts, socks and underwear and some solid shoes, preferably leather. My goal is easy - make sure everything I wear up top matches everything on the bottom. I think about this any time I buy something new. Do that, make sure everything fits well and people won’t even be able to tell you’re a minimalist just by looking. 

3. Ethics and sustainability

I think capitalism is mostly good, but it has created some very bad cycles that are powered by unscrupulous, indiscriminate consumption. Consumer desire for affordable clothing, working in tandem with corporations’ profit-driven obligations to investors does not yield best practices. However, there are some great companies out there that make great products with an ethical supply chain and without turning the planet into an unlivable hellhole. Patagonia immediately springs to mind. They are completely transparent with their supply chain and encourage you to send items in for repairs (quite often free) rather than buying something new. Wool companies like Icebreaker and Smartwool are also very open about their supply chains and environmental impact. In general, look for transparency on product websites and you can't go wrong. 


The benefits of eliminating choice

One of the obvious goals of paring down your wardrobe is to eliminate clutter. However, there’s another benefit that is seldom acknowledged, although it’s easy to see once you take a step back. When your wardrobe is cut in half and every article of clothing is compatible with each other, you spend pretty much no time at all deciding what to wear each morning. Several highly driven individuals have taken this same approach, notably Steve Jobs with his turtlenecks, Zuckerberg with his hoodies and also Albert Einstein was known to wear the same grey suit every day. Not trying to, ahem, compare myself to anyone here, but that extra 5 minutes everyday adds up. Don’t be surprised if I’m posting about the mysteries of dark matter a year or so down the road. 

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