How to Shop Like a Minimalist: 5 Questions

How to shop like a minimalist: being choosey, buying less, for a sustainable and happy closet.
Photo by Lucrezia Carnelos on Unsplash

Reshare Sunday: This post was originally published in May 2018.

How to Shop Guilt-Free and Sustainably This Spring

Recently on my Instagram Stories, I polled followers about a dress I’d been thinking of getting. One person sent me a direct message asking me if I ask myself any particular questions before making a purchase. I couldn’t quite read her tone – it could have been a critique or even a request for advice – but my answer was short and sweet: “Yes, of course!” One of the best ways to shop sustainably is to make the smartest choices we can. That’s what I mean by “shop like a minimalist” – reducing purchases through careful consideration.

With spring shopping on the horizon, this is a good time of year to develop new habits.

That got me thinking about the questions I ask myself. Because of course I make judgment calls before I purchase an item, but I’m not always very strategic about it. Sometimes the pull of want overwhelms the more rational side of my brain.

As much as I’d like to claim that I’m the perfect minimalist, laser focused on sustainability, I like clothes, and it’s easy to say “yes” to things without considering my current wardrobe.

So, inspired by that simple Instagram question and by Daria’s Wonder Wardrobe course, here are…

5 Questions I Ask Before Making a Purchase

1. Will it serve a useful purpose in your wardrobe?

If I can’t answer yes to this question, there’s no point asking any others. It’s very tempting to collect clothing simply because I like the look and feel of particular pieces, but if I’m not going to wear it, if it doesn’t fit my lifestyle, or if it’s just too cumbersome to take care of, it’s simply not an item I need to add to my wardrobe.

2. Is it similar to something you already own?

I have a tendency to buy three (or 4 or 5) of things I like. Case in point: Everlane tees. But then I have 5 very similar t-shirts that are all appropriate for the same exact context, which means something isn’t going to get the attention it deserves. This is the question that stopped me in my tracks when it came to that dress I mentioned on Instagram. It resembled in color, style, and seasonality a dress I already own and love. They would have competed with each other, and that’s not useful.

3. Does it coordinate with most, if not all, of your current seasonal wardrobe?

I got this idea from Daria’s Wonder Wardrobe course. She suggests that one of the most important things to prioritize for a successful capsule is coordination, namely that all tops coordinate with all bottoms for endless outfit options. I’m not quite there – there are simply some pieces I can’t part with – but I agree that thinking in terms of color scheme will reduce the perceived need for a bigger wardrobe. My current color palette is blue, green, rust, and tan with some mustard and neutral stripes mixed in. So I probably shouldn’t add a purple skirt to the mix (not that I would anyway – I can’t stand the color purple).

4. Does it meet the ethical criteria of fair labor and/or sustainable production, or is it secondhand?

In my case, I often know the ethics of a brand or item before I begin shopping, but it’s not necessary to make this the first question you ask because you might disqualify the item on questions one and two before you have to do tons of research. I prioritize fair labor, then check that the fabric isn’t made with synthetic fibers. I will occasionally make textile exceptions for secondhand goods or things that contain a bit of stretch for longevity.

5. Is the item timeless and high enough quality to last several seasons?

Fabric quality and construction matter so much! Wearing a well made piece makes you feel more satisfied in your clothes and means that you won’t feel like you have to constantly replace items in your closet. I don’t subscribe to “french wardrobe” dressing that makes you feel like you have to have a trench coat to be a responsible curator, but I do ask myself if the item suits my style in a way that feels timeless, and try to ensure that the fabric will hold up to repeated wear and tear.

It’s tempting when you’re just starting out on the ethical fashion journey to only ask yourself question 4 followed by a quick exclamation of “But it’s sooo cute!” before making a purchase. But I’ve learned and am still learning that a drive to shop ethically without a drive to slow down consumption overall does not really have the desired effect. Overconsumption is a surprisingly tough habit to break, but I’m getting there.

Once you’re ready to shop, check out my Shopping Guides.

how to shop sustainably by shopping like a minimalist: 5 questions I ask

Leah Wise

Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.

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