Getting dressed in the morning can be overwhelming for Highly Sensitive People. You walk into a full closet, yet you feel like you have nothing to wear. Perhaps all your favorite outfits are in the wash. Maybe your comfortable clothes aren’t professional enough for work. It could be you just don’t feel like wearing black (again) today. Not to mention the itchy sweaters, annoying tags, and ill-placed seams that can bother you throughout the day.
As a Highly Sensitive Person, it’s important to identify areas of your life where you can minimize overwhelm or overstimulation. This may include choosing to drive during less busy times of day, visiting your favorite shop on off hours, or cooking in bulk to make your weeks less stressful.
Most likely, you’ve accepted your morning routine of choosing an outfit as something that is just part of life. However, did you know that something as simple as streamlining your closet could lead to more joy and less overwhelm?
One way to do this is embracing a capsule wardrobe or your own variation of this. For some, a capsule wardrobe is a closet full of clothes that you love, fit well, and can be mixed and matched to create a variety of different outfits. For others, a capsule wardrobe means having a few items that are multifunctional, worn frequently and rotated out with seasonal changes.
There are tons of books and articles out there talking about how to create a capsule wardrobe. I won’t deprive you of the joy of going down that Google abyss. What I will to describe is why these capsule wardrobes are such an excellent option for Highly Sensitive People to minimize overwhelm.
6 Reasons You Need A Capsule Wardrobe
1) Less decision fatigue
HSPs can’t help but contemplate the outcome of every decision – including what you’re going to wear in the morning. However, when you have a limited number of options in the morning, getting dressed feels easier and even automatic. Less choices and less distress in the morning will start your day with less overwhelm.
2) More emotional freedom
Highly Sensitive People feel emotions deeply and throughly. They notice the subtleties of the emotions when simply touching an item. Thus, your clothes aren’t just clothes to you – they hold memories, hopes, and regrets within the seams. You might start your morning feeling a ting of inexplicable sadness, not realizing that it’s from your brain noticing an article of clothing that reminds you of a difficult time in your life.
When you remove clothes that aren’t your favorites, you also can process the memories and emotions associated with them once and for all. When you embrace your favorite clothing that fits you well, is your style, and is functional for your life, it allows for more emotional freedom.
3) You learn to want less things
Highly Sensitive People already have a lot going on in their heads as we contemplate issues both big and small. Additionally, societal conditioning that tells us that we need to want more, buy more, consume more, and crave more. Embracing a capsule wardrobe gives your wanting mind a rest and helps you realize that what you have is enough.
When HSPs decide to use a capsule wardrobe, they can allow their wardrobe to be ‘complete’. When you wardrobe feels complete, you can stop thinking about it. A complete wardrobe means you can stop looking for something to add to it. This can free up some important brain space for an already super busy brain.
4) Less shopping in stores or online
Highly Sensitive People have to be strategic about how much stimulation they get during the day. Shopping centers and department stores are the perfect storm of overwhelm – music, people, bright lights, oh my! If you think online shopping is less overwhelming, this is only partly true. Since people take in 80% of stimuli through their eyes, even though you may be sitting in a dark apartment perusing clearance sales, you’re still giving your brain plenty of visual information to process.
With a strategically planned wardrobe – you aren’t mindlessly shopping or scrolling, you’re buying clothes to either complete an essential outfit or replace a well-loved item. Additionally, if you have a “formula outfit” (i.e. jeans, t-shirt, cardigan) for each season, your shopping trips can be even more efficient.
Shop with a purpose, not as a hobby. Less clothes and streamlined outfits means less shopping, less screen time, and less stimuli. Sounds like a win-win situation to me!
5) Less laundry
Well, not entirely. With a capsule wardrobe, you’ll probably be wearing your main items every week, so you’ll probably need to do laundry every week or so. However, laundry day will be easier and less overwhelming as you’ll have less clothes to sort, wash, and fold.
6) More empowerment and authenticity in your life
Highly Sensitive People are often bombarded with messages from society, strangers, or even loved ones that they are ‘too much’ or ‘too sensitive’. So much of the healing journey for Sensitives is about learning to fully embrace who you are – the deeply feeling, constantly observing, sometimes over-thinking amazingness that is uniquely you.
The first way capsule wardrobes promote authenticity is asking us to keep our favorite items. Our favorite clothing tends to be our most comfortable items and the most in alignment with how we want to express ourselves outwardly. You know that feeling when you’re wearing something that just feels so…you? You’re not adjusting your shirt or worrying what others think, you’re just in the moment with what you’re doing.
I can’t tell you how many years I spent wearing and buying clothes that were uncomfortable, poor-fitting, or just not “me”. In retrospect, much of this was due to the toxic combination of the beauty industry and gender role conditioning. Society told me how I was suppose to dress as a “woman”. I would buy clothes in order to attempt achieve this ideal, all the while feeling like I was losing who I was. I kept these clothes because I wanted to fit it to this club of performing a gender role without actually knowing if this was the type of woman I wanted to be.
You may say “Arianna, seriously, it’s just clothing.” And it is. For some folks, clothing is purely a practical means to cover our body so we can leave the house without being cold, sunburned, or arrested for nudity. For others, though, clothing can be so much more. On the positive side, clothing, style, and expression can be an avenue for empowerment and healing. For others (i.e. trans and non-binary folx, trauma survivors, people in recovery from disordered eating, etc) the experience of what is put on the body is loaded, complex, or distressing.
Be curious about what kind of unconscious beliefs are held in what you choose to wear. Allow clothing to be complex. Allow yourself to process the memories, dreams, fantasies, and ideals that have been acted out in your clothing choices. If you feel like you ‘have’ to wear something, that’s worth exploring. Most of us have to dress a certain way for work or school in order to stay employed. But let’s also pay attention to what role we are performing. Let’s pay attention to ways we unintentionally conform to harmful ideals that don’t bring you joy.
Important steps in exploring a capsule wardrobe (and beyond)
- Explore why you wear what you wear. Name any familial, cultural, or societal messages that might keep you from choosing to dress how you really want to. Journaling or conversation with a close friend or therapist might be helpful.
- Research capsule wardrobes and enjoy learning about all the different ways to streamline your wardrobe.
- Identify the type of outfit you feel most comfortable in and have that be your ‘uniform’ or ‘formula outfit’. If you can’t think of this, ask loved ones if they notice any pattern in your attire and your mood.
- Cull your clothes. Keep the items that you truly love to wear. Process the emotions that arise with the clothes that you remove.
- Get comfortable with wearing the same items over and over and/or getting adventurous in your clothing combinations.
- Realize that shopping (as a hobby) was actually invented. Identify the need that hobby-shopping fills for you and explore other ways you can meet that need.
- Know that no one cares if you wear the same thing. If you feel comfortable and confident, that is what people will notice. If you don’t believe me, try it out for a week or so and see what happens.
If your clothing and wardrobe feels connected to pain, trauma, or confusion…
- If childhood abuse has made it feel impossible to feel comfortable in your body, no matter what you wear…
- If your sexuality or gender identity has made you feel afraid to truly expressing yourself…
- If being Highly Sensitive in a chaotic world had made it feel near impossible to fully embrace who you are…
I might be able to help. We can unpack the messages, conditioning, and memories that have lead to difficulty in expressing who you are. We will work on skills to process and manage the fear, worry, and anger. EMDR might be helpful in resolving painful memories once and for all.
Group therapy might also be a helpful place to process and explore your emotions. (Click here to see current groups that are running).
You have an important place in this world.
Arianna Smith, MA, LPC, EMDR