3 Ways to Build a Capsule Closet


Since the spring cleaning series didn’t go as planned, let’s try one about the capsule closet. Mine has been evolving for just over two years, so I thought I’d see how you’re doing. Are you enjoying your closets, or are you struggling? Here are 3 ideas to get you started, from lessons learned along the way:

Step 1: Identify Your Style.

Something I’ve learned throughout the process is how to really identify my style. Jennifer of The Daily Connoisseur suggests defining it in three words. Mine is modern minimalist chic. What does that mean? Most of my items are basic pieces with clean lines in easy-care fabrics, and my jewelry is very simple. Before I knew this, I bought a lot of clothing I liked, but wasn’t able to put together in a cohesive way. Now I’ve got a real collection.

Step 2: Choose a Color Scheme.

To help minimize the number of items I need, I choose to use a base neutral for most, if not all, of my foundation pieces (i.e. bags, shoes, belts, bottoms). For me, black was the easiest to find and stick to. With it, I pair a lot of white, and grey, with a pops of blues, greens, pinks, and purples. I don’t know that a single color scheme is a necessity, but it’s really helped me.

Step 3: Think about Your Needs.

Before you pick your ten items, it helps to figure out what you’ll need. I’ve found that identifying what you need your clothes to do, rather than what kinds of things you’d like to wear, is the most effective way to go about it. I need business casual wear for my role in a creative office, so contemporary professional pieces work best.

What about you, readers? What have you learned about building a capsule closet?

3 Rules: What Stays and What Goes?

Spring cleaningTo begin the spring cleaning series, let’s talk about downsizing. We’re going through our things right now, and as we do, we evaluate each item with the following criteria:

1. Do I need it?

You’d be surprised by how many things you think you need and how many you don’t. I ask myself, “Can I live comfortably without it? Do I have another item that will do its job?” If the answer to either of these questions is “yes,” it goes.

2. Do I love it?

Maybe a better question is “Am I done loving it?” Most things enter our homes because we enjoy them, or because they are given to us by someone we love, and we tend to hang onto them. It’s possible, though, to love the essence of a gift while letting go of the physical object. I’m all in favor of this philosophy, but husband is not entirely convinced, so we compromise. Bottom line: if we’ve fallen out of love with an item, we tend to let it go and hold on to the memory.

3. Do I use it?

If I haven’t used something in the last year, I don’t keep it. The thought here is that a). I no longer need it and b). a better version of the object will enter my life if/when that changes. Things, including ourselves, are always changing, and it’s okay to let go of the things we used to be and use.

How about you, readers? What stays and what goes when you’re spring cleaning?


Spring Has Sprung


With what we hope is the last of our snow cover melting its way into the ground comes the promise of spring and, with it, renewal. I always love starting fresh in the spring—cleaning out both my home and my heart to prepare for a new season.

Now that spring is finally upon us, I can’t help but move with its urgency and intensity. In an effort to slow down and to share what I’ve learned, I’m starting a two-month spring cleaning series here on Wear the Gold Hat, one that will help us all prepare our spaces and our selves for the lazy, carefree days of summer.

We’ll talk about cleaning, purging, and curating space; cutting down on the physical and abstract things that consume so much of our time (especially in the winter); and finding ways to open our hearts to the sun that soon will be shining upon us. I’ll share some lists, how-tos, musings, and if we’re lucky, a Q&A with my husband about compromising on clutter.

What about you, readers? Are you ready to spring clean with me? How do get ready for summer?

Decreasing to Downsize


As a minimalist, I’m always evaluating my collection of things. Among that collection are my knitting needles. I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not to give them up, but for now, the decision is to keep them. Here are four reasons why:


1. Is good for the body and soul

Knitting is known to relieve stress, depression, and anxiety; to protect the brain from aging; and to act as meditation. If I just need to play with some sticks and string to stay healthy for life, I’m willing to make space for the equipment.

2. Connects me to the past

My grandmother taught me to knit, and it’s something we still enjoy together. When the day comes that she is no longer a physical part of my life, I will find comfort in the knowledge that I’m carrying on her culture.

3. Helps me want less

Spending months (and a lot of money) on a big project tends to put me off spending and accumulating stuff. In its own way, knitting more helps me buy—and want—less.

4. Brings others joy

When I give, I like to give thoughtfully, which means making many gifts by hand. For me, there’s nothing more gratifying than watching someone’s eyes light up (especially a young someone) when s/he receive one of my wares.

How about you, readers? What do you make room for and why?

From the Inside Out


When I think about minimalism, it usually involves my space, but I’m seeing that my practice needs to go deeper than that. So I’m working from the inside out in an effort to clean up both my body and soul.


You Are What You Eat

I’ve always felt that I had a pretty healthy diet. We make almost everything we eat from scratch, and I’m blessed with good genes, so I’ve never wondered if what I was doing was the best I could be doing.

But I’ve been struggling with my health all year, and I’m not willing to live with it anymore. I’ve criticized others who subscribe to fad diets and diagnose themselves as dairy/gluten-intolerant, but after feeling how I’ve felt and seeing as many docs as I have lately, I can understand the appeal.

So I’m eating a cleaner diet these days. It’s a process (I’ll admit I ate a cookie with my kale and quinoa this morning) but I’m trying, and I feel good. I feel energized. And for the first time in months, I feel hopeful.


Bend and Be Happy

I’m also returning to what has long been a pretty haphazard yoga practice. Inspired by my strong and supple sister, I’m working to join my body, mind, and spirit twice a day. Again, it’s early in the process, but I see a light at the end of the tunnel, and I feel a little lighter, a little stronger, and a little saner each day.

How about you readers, what do you do to treat your body with intention?

Letting Go of the Words

Downtown DenverI’ve thought and written a lot about minimalism, but I only just started to think about how minimalism could impact my writing. I’ve always been fond of words, which I never considered a liability—at least not until now.

As a student I prided myself on exceeding assigned page counts, in spite of gentle discouragement from my professors. When I landed my job as a writer, I acknowledged the fact that writing good web copy meant sacrificing some words, but I never embraced the idea.

It’s taken almost two years, but I’m starting to understand that good writing counts for nothing if it can’t satisfy its audience. As I was reading Letting Go of the Words and preparing for Academic Impressions’ “Writing Right for the Web” workshop in Denver last month, I started to see things clearly. Maybe it was being inundated with web-writing theories or spending time with non-writers who got it, but I accepted that beauty for its own sake gains you nothing in writing.

It doesn’t matter if you populate a site with an eloquent assemblage of words if no one reads it. It doesn’t matter if your copy is Pulitzer-worthy if it isn’t actionable. What makes writing good, on the web and arguably elsewhere, is its ability to engage audiences and allow them to accomplish something, be it a desired goal or a new insight into the human experience. In writing, form can’t succeed without function. The two must exist in harmony.

So I have a new mission: to find art in economy. To put the readers’ needs ahead of my ego. To learn to use the right words, not the prettiest, and to use as few as possible. Only then will I be a good writer.

What’s a Minimalist to Do?

As you all know, I’m on a journey towards becoming a more devout minimalist. The area in which I struggle the most has to do with possessions; Pete and I have a lot of stuff. I think our fear is that if we don’t surround ourselves with things, we’ll have nothing to do. I was listing minimalist hobbies the other day, though, and I was surprised by how many I could name—most of which require no “stuff” at all. Here’s a list of my favorite minimalist hobbies.

My Minimalist Hobbies

1. Writing—Even though I write for a living, it seems I’ve always got room in my head for a few more words…

Ray Library

2. Reading—We’ve got an extensive collection of books, and we live next door to a library, so we’re never short on reading material.

3. Walking/Running—I love walking around town or out by the river. Even in a small community, I still see things that surprise me on a daily basis.

Winter wonderland

4. Practicing yoga—There’s nothing better for clearing your head…

5. Going to the movies—I love going to see movies in our little hometown theater. Its art-deco aesthetic makes me feel like I’m part of a larger tradition, like I’m doing something really special every time I walk through the doors.

Pete and I loved this theater when we lived in Saint Paul.

Pete and I loved this theater when we lived in Saint Paul.

While this list is just the beginning, I know there are a lot more minimalist hobbies I can look forward to enjoying in the future. What are some of yours?

Lessons Learned in Preschool

"Flower" by BF, age 2

“Flower” by BF, age 2

It’s been six months since I walked away from an eight-year career in the field of early childhood education. For a number of reasons, it was time for me to make this change, yet I will always look back on that time with much fondness; my former students certainly do and will continue to occupy a very real place in my heart. In my short career I learned an incredible amount about people (both young and old) as well as myself, and those lessons will remain with me for years to come.

In honor of my eight years as an early childhood educator, here are eight things I learned while teaching preschool: lessons we can all take to heart, no matter what we do.

1. When in doubt, dance it out—An afternoon dance party never fails to relieve tension or put a smile on your face. Children are allowed to drop everything in the middle of the day to shake their booties; why can’t grown-ups?

2. Use your manners always and everywhere—I practiced better manners when I was surrounded by toddlers than I do now working with adults. It’s a perplexing digression.

3. Societies may come and go, cities may crumble, nations may fall, but humans will always gather to make and break bread—Bread is universal, and sharing it with others brings us in touch with something larger than ourselves. Bake and share it often.

4. Everyone operates most sensibly when sufficiently rested—A break in the middle of the day allows children to reset themselves and approach their afternoon with a new sense of intensity and intention. Do you feel that way when you work through lunch?

5. A place for everything, and everything in its place—Contrary to popular belief, the early childhood classroom is never cluttered, at least not for long. Everything in it has a place, and when those things are restored to their respective homes, everyone enjoys a sense of security. Temporary chaos allows for creation and exploration; when this chaos has an overarching structure, we feel safe and at ease in our world. Do all of your things have a home? How do you feel when your space is in disarray?

6. Delight in simple pleasures—Trust me when I tell you that no achievement is too small to celebrate. Some of my proudest moments have resulted from the smallest of successes.

7. We all have our days—We cannot always be at our best, and some days we just cannot get it together. Fortunately, you will have another chance tomorrow. Try your best today, and know that you can always try again.

8. Love exists all around us—If ever you lost faith in our kind, if ever you fear what this country will become, if ever you are certain that things can be no worse, look no further than the face of someone small. There is good all around us.


To the teachers, children, parents, and other friends I made along the way, you’ll always be in my heart.

Evolution of the Capsule Closet

It’s been about nine months since I began my capsule closet experiment, which made me think an update might be in order.

This was the first iteration of my capsule closet in April 2012.

This was the first iteration of my capsule closet in April 2012.

I started the project in April with 22 items. I did a thorough purge of my closet, leaving only my best pieces. I selected a base color, i.e. brown, that I thought was well-suited to my taste and coloring and filled in any missing pieces with consignment store finds. All in all, it was an admirable start.

I got a little more serious about my capsule closet in September. I purged more items, purchased some new pieces for my new job, and started to think about whether or not I could really make this work. I also inadvertently began adding a few black items to my closet, breaking the base-neutral rule…

Dresses from the second iteration of my capsule closet.

Dresses from the second iteration of my capsule closet.

It’s February now, which means we just made it through a very cold snap in Minnesota. Although I managed to stay decently warm, I think I should plan to add a few heavier items to my winter closet next year. Although I had originally planned to have two all-encompassing wardrobes (spring/summer and fall/winter), I think I may fare better with three (winter, spring/fall, and summer). For now, I’ll be investing in a few more pieces and adjusting as necessary.

I made a number of other discoveries that might also inspire significant changes in my wardrobe plans. As I looked for new pieces in shades of brown, I realized that finding everything I wanted was more difficult than I anticipated. I also learned that quality pieces really do work better, since less well-made clothing really can’t hold up to the wear necessitated by this lifestyle choice. C’est la vie…

The most interesting thing I learned while trying to live with a capsule closet was that even with far fewer pieces in my closet, I still ended up wearing the same 5-7 outfits. I’m hoping to put together ensembles with a little more variety in the coming months.

Indie is always eager to help with laundry.

Indie is always eager to help with closet-purging.

It’s been a worthwhile adventure, though, and I’ve learned a lot by doing it. Even after only nine months, I can’t imagine going back to a closet filled with clothes. Although it’s still a work in progress, I know I’m on my way to having the closet of my dreams—one that will allow my to live more simply and elegantly.

Celebrating Buy Nothing Christmas

Deck the HallsFor the seventh consecutive year, I made an effort to again observe Buy Nothing Christmas. This Canadian initiative aims to de-commercialize Christmas and re-design a Christian lifestyle that is richer in meaning, smaller in impact upon the earth, and greater in giving to people less-privileged. The effort is run by volunteers and is intended to help participants find meaningful ways of marking the holiday.

Now, I love almost everything I have come to associate with the holiday season: long car rides across the prairie, quiet time with family and friends, glowing lights at Christmas mass, and—yes—exchanging gifts. The only thing I don’t like about the holidays is feeling socially obligated to buy expensive things in order to give the season a sense of meaning. Buy Nothing Christmas is a call to action for people like me. Those who choose to take part are still encouraged to give, and even buy, gifts; they are simply asked to buy fewer of them, or to make them, or to consider giving gifts of time and charity. It’s not a rejection of Christmas traditions, but an attempt to embrace them.

Autumn leaf hatI began celebrating Buy Nothing Christmas out of economic necessity as a college freshman. This was the year in which I first learned to knit, which means that a lot of my family members received garter stitch scarves and stocking caps as well as slapdash scrapbooks (I’m really not being modest; it’s not my forte) and hemp bracelets. I still make quite a few gifts in addition to scouring holiday art and library book sales. And yes, I admit, that I re-purpose unused items from my home. Although I have a little more money now than I did when I started this experiment, my desire to buy more things hasn’t increased much. I’ve found a way to lend more meaning to my holiday gift giving while feeling useful and socially responsible. It may not be for everyone, but it sure works for me.

Santa's HelperThis year I was even able to get my husband involved. In years past, he worked at a big box book store and had a hard time turning down his employee discount during the month of December. He was able to get excited about a homemade gift-giving experiment this time around, though, and he’s pretty pleased with the results. Peter made infused vodka for the first time last month, and I think it’s safe to say it’s a tradition he’ll continue.

I suppose that’s what it’s all about in the end: traditions. As a young married couple, we’re still trying to figure out how we will choose to celebrate the holidays. We’re still deciding when we want to open gifts and whether or not we’ll put up a tree, but we are sure about a few things. For us, the holidays mean celebrating with the people we love and being thankful for the things we have. We even enjoy putting presents under the tree—we are just proud of the fact that most of them were made by hand.

Holiday Spirits