The “5 Outfit” Rule That Finally Solved My Nothing to Wear Problem (And Saved Me So Much Money)
Getting dressed shouldn’t be a burden. Yet, as someone with a penchant for impulse thrifting and little to no regard for how new clothes will pair with old clothes, it always is. The joy of self-expression is lost somewhere in my semi-permanent pile of outfit attempts. Because when the clock runs out and the time for experimenting is over, I reluctantly turn back to the roughly 20% of my wardrobe I actually wear.
I know this is no way to live! I deserve to not only wear but enjoy wearing every single item I own. But I don’t want to start from scratch or succumb to more basic (and, thus, more compatible) pieces. I want to turn my jumbled, one-hit-wonder of a closet into a cohesive, sustainable workhorse that I can easily mix and match.
And thanks to the “five outfit” rule, a revolutionary method from stylist and author Aja Barber, I’m finally doing just that.
What Is the Five Outfit Rule?
Per Barber, the five outfit rule goes like this: If you’re going to buy something, it has to go with five things you already own. If it doesn’t, you need to leave it behind.
Overconsumption is a global issue that can impact your mental health more than you realize. The weight of decision fatigue, the pressure to keep up with increasingly short-lived trends, and the overwhelm of unused items cluttering your physical space are all stressors. But they’re ones you can eliminate.
“Our possessions can definitely feel burdensome,” says Barber, who confronts the emotional void people attempt to fill with purchases in her book Consumed: The Need for Collective Change. “The problem with the cycle that always pushes us to want more, to buy more, to have more, is that we don’t actually get to enjoy the things we do have.”
Implementing the five outfit rule while shopping prevents a future closet filled with clutter you never really wear. Plus, you can just as easily enforce it on your current wardrobe to unveil the full potential of your clothes and identify any dead weight.
Once a year, Barber reviews all the pieces she hasn’t worn in a while and puts them through the five outfit filter. Anything that doesn’t make the cut, she gives to friends or donates. For the items that do, she photographs and archives them in the Notes App on her iPhone so she doesn’t forget the killer fits hanging patiently in her closet.
“On average, some items of clothing are worn as little as seven times,” she says. “I want to get 100 wears out of every item I own, and I think that’s actually quite low because our grandparents used to keep their clothing for decades. A lot of stuff today isn’t made to last as long, but I’m going to try and get as much wear out of my clothing as possible.”
Why I Love Using the Five Outfit Rule
Curating a master list of outfit options takes time. But since overhauling my wardrobe using the five outfit rule, I can confidently say it’s worth every second of set-up. Here are just a few of the benefits I’ve reaped since adopting it.
It curbed my impulse spending.
No more cool yet arguably unwearable thrifted clothing collecting dust in my dresser. Now, if I can’t mentally conjure up at least five things I’d pair with whatever vintage vest or embroidered blouse I’m eyeing, I gracefully exit the situation. My wallet has never been happier.
It reduced my decision fatigue.
The biggest perk: My mental health has thanked me. I used the five outfit filter to go through my clothes and transformed my closet from a chaotic wasteland to a neatly organized oasis that has made getting ready a breeze. Fewer options apparently equals more outfits. Who knew?
It gave my old clothes new life.
I had so many pieces that I loved but never wore because I couldn’t figure out how to style them. Now that I’ve identified five cohesive pairings for each one, those previously forgotten-about items are on heavy rotation. It’s like getting a whole new wardrobe without spending any money.
It helped me find my signature style.
Before the five outfit rule, I’d describe my style as a funky smorgasbord at best. Now that I’m more selective with my purchases and intentional about what I keep in my closet, I’ve noticed patterns, colors, and silhouettes that I consistently return to. It turns out I have a signature style, after all.
It made me think more thoughtfully about fast fashion.
The fast fashion industry thrives on consumers’ insatiable desire for more clothes. But the constant churn of trends is terrible for the environment. Limiting my purchases and getting more wear out of what I already own is a small but impactful way to reduce waste and rethink my role in the systems that perpetuate it.