Living with Less and the Art of a Zen Closet

This is a guest post from 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.


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  1. Nate says:

    I know this article focuses on dress, but I really resonate with the comment on cutting out the cable. This is something I definitely need to work on as sometimes I find myself sitting down in front of the TV to zone out, which is probably not the most productive use of my time.

    I’m not sure if others have noticed this, but there will be shows I watch that I’ll end up missing a few episodes of and then that expands to even more episodes and finally I come to the realization of ‘hmm….know what, I don’t even miss this.’

    Getting back to your points on clothes and getting rid of clothes, the same can be true. We form these attachments to TV shows and the clothes we wear. We think we’ll miss them or be at a loss of what to do if we get rid of them, but what we actually find is that our attachments and need for the clothes and TV isn’t quite as strong as we think as soon as we move them out of our lives.

    • I cancelled my cable subscription about two months ago and now never watch anything, so my television itself is going, tomorrow. I thought I’d miss my favourite shows but actually I really didn’t. I watch rented DVDs on the computer and that’s it. The sense of freedom is fabulous!
      Tess Giles Marshall´s last blog post ..Growing older disgracefully

  2. Nate, It has certainly been my experience that once you live without (cable, excess clothing, other stuff) for more than 30 days, you really do forget why you loved having it in the first place.

  3. Amy says:

    This post is great, and great timing for me. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my wardrobe and my closet. I have a really tiny closet to begin with, so I don’t have a ton of stuff, but I am occasionally overcome by an avalanche of clothing.
    It’s crazy how much time you can spend worrying about what to wear and what does and doesn’t fit. I also think that cleaning out your closet so that it only includes things that you actually fit is a good way to live in the moment and be kind to yourself (as opposed to torturing yourself with the “skinny” clothes.)
    You’ve inspired me to pare down my closet today!
    Amy´s last blog post ..Does Your Body Want to Slap You

  4. Hi Courtney, thanks for sharing your tips to a zen closet 🙂 My approach to choosing what to keep and what to lose is very similar to yours, and works extremely well; the only think I’m keeping although I don’t wear it is the suit I wore of my wedding – it doesn’t fit any more, but it has sentimental value…
    My husband and I ditched TV about 3 years ago; in Ireland you have to pay a TV license just for owning a TV set, so we not only disconnected cable but also got rid of the TV set. We watch films on our computer (we have a large screen connected to our mac). Getting rid of TV is like taking a breath of fresh air!
    Cristina | Positively Beauty´s last blog post ..A cocktail of hyacinths- lisianthus- roses &amp quotes

  5. Vala says:

    Very well written! I have only one slight “objection”. Is that gorgeous photo really of you? I am trying hard to get rid of my reverse ageism, being 67 and not even close in the category of beauty as the pictures I often see heading these columns. Even when the advice is sound, those impossibly lithe, flawless bodies and faces seem to undermine the gravitas factor for me!

  6. Excellent article! Personally, I never had challenge with having less clothes. In fact I buy a new shoe, only when the old one is not in good shape OR worn out. I am sure some people think that I am frugal. That is OK. The sense of power and freedom, we get with having limited stuff is phenomenal. When My company downsized, I was not afraid of the inability to shop as and when I would like to, but HOW will I use my brain effectively, as we do when we are pre occupied at workplace. Self employment became the answer to my question.
    This article is a MUST READ for employees transitioning to Entrepreneurs. Thanks Courtney. Appreciate taking time to explain so well.

  7. Amar says:

    The article is very interesting and relate with my married life,we just started our family, our son is 6 months old.
    When i was expecting him, both me and my husband thought of changing our lifestyle so we can give quality time to our new born and give him a healthy environment.
    We sold our new flat screen TV. It was such a relief !!!
    Before we left for our parental leave we sorted our clothes and other stuff, and donated,trashed and gifted them.
    We live in a walk-out basement and its very frustrating to manage things around, now i am really glad and happy 🙂
    Your article made me happy and content.
    Thank your very much for starting and spreading this message !!!

  8. Noel says:

    Hi Courtney, I love love love your idea of minimalist and having a zen closet. Your guide is easy and brilliant too! (e.g: keeping the pile 2 for a month as a test) Thank you so much for sharing the ideas 🙂

  9. Hi Courtney,
    You certainly are an inspiration to all. I’ve learned a lot from you. The not buying stuff has influenced my life in a big way. I quit all recreational shopping. We’ve been in NYC for nearly a week and hubs said yesterday he thinks this is the cheapest vacation we ever went on…in New York no less! Gee I think it’s because I didn’t purchase stuff or clothes;)
    Tess The Bold Life´s last blog post ..Inspiration for Taking Action On Your Dreams

  10. Courtney – great article, prompted me to take a look at your blog.

    I think you and I are very much on the same wavelength – though perhaps you might be doing better in your battles with stuff than I am. I think we seem to have substituted consumerism for something else in our lives, and though all the ‘stuff’ is momentarily fulfulling, it doesn’t ultimately make us any happier.

    I wrote about my own journey simplifying my life a couple of weeks ago on my own blog, including tackling my wardrobe. I’m still working through these issues in other aspects of mine and my families life.

    I’ll certainly be following your blog from now on 🙂


  11. dawn says:

    I am new to the entire Zen idea of living. I have recently made a huge purge at home – and still in the process of doing so. There is something so energizing about having a home free of clutter. I am working at this one day at a time. My cable was first to go and about six months later so was the tv. Amazing how much more time & focus I have in life without the distraction of mindless entertainment.
    I look forward to continuing with this life style & exploring all it has to offer.

  12. […] some advice via Living with Less and the Art of a Zen Closet – Goodlife Zen on building momentum for decluttering by starting with your […]

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