This kid waded in and out of the ocean wearing underwear that may have started off as respectable briefs but had been worn through to G-string status. Actually, most of them wore only underwear in place of a swim suit. Why is this one kid even bothering to cover himself when there are plenty of kids swimming naked?

At the HOPE (Hospital Out-Patient Extension) Center church service last weekend, I sat behind a little boy wearing athletic shorts with rows of choppy, yet loving stitches. Someones loving hands had mended and repaired the garment to get every last day of life out of it.

Here in Tamatave, Madagascar, I see people all the time wearing clothes that have been mended repeatedly. This reveals a common value system and an economic necessity.

You don’t buy new clothes when you can barely afford food. You don’t buy new clothes when it’s simple to fix the ones you have. You don’t buy new clothes if they will be threadbare and thoroughly worn within a few weeks.

You don’t buy new clothes when you live on less than $2 a day.

My most casual, low-quality, ill-fitting piece of clothing is still newer than what I often see in the streets. My worst item is in better shape than what I’ve seen in town.

As 2016 rolled in I felt antsy about how to improve my self and learn new things. I had a great 2015 and I wasn’t really sure what more I could ask for.

I decided to try a challenge. I love getting dressed in the morning, and there are lots of monthly challenges out there revolving around expressions of personal style. At first, I steered clear because I don’t ever want my clothes to become more important than my values, or my things more important than people.

How can I spend more time on my daily appearance when there are men transporting me on bicycle taxis wearing shirts like swiss cheese? Will my time spent on my clothes in the morning detract from my focus of serving the poor in Madagascar? What do I tell myself when I admit I love clothes, yet I also love justice, generosity and awareness?

What if this challenge could help me be mindful while I get dressed in the morning?

The “6 Items or Less” Challenge is a few years old.

I couldn’t find any recent bloggers or writers documenting their experience with it. The website for it doesn’t appear to exist anymore. I found this description quoted from the original, now-extinct website on

Six Items or Less began as a small experiment between friends and quickly grew to become a global movement questioning the power of what we don’t wear.

The experiment is simple: each participant gets to choose six (and only six) items of clothing and pledge to wear only these six items of clothing for a month.

Logistically, there are exceptions that don’t count towards the six: Undergarments, swim wear, work-out clothes, work uniforms, outer wear (rain slicker, outdoor jacket), shoes and accessories. You can get multiples of the same item for laundry purposes, but different colors count as separate items.

Most people have asked about the reasoning behind the experiment and most also assume it’s a grand statement about consumerism. In reality, there is no dictated driving thought – it’s for you to decide its meaning and relativity in your world. It’s about putting a challenge out there and seeing what people bring to it, do with it and talk about.

I started on January 2 with 6 items of clothing.

  1. A black shirt-dress with quarter-length sleeves
  2. A navy tee-shirt dress
  3. A mustard, plain tee-shirt
  4. A black Mercy Ships shirt from Sevenly
  5. Grey/white striped maxi skirt
  6. Grey Anatomie travel pants (that I mention HERE)

It is stifling hot outside and freezing inside, so I wear a lot of sweaters indoors. I also have to really be smart about what I wear in the heat. Ten days in, on a Sunday, I was feeling limited. Even though I picked versatile clothing, I struggled while trying to get dressed for church. I’m used to wearing my best on a Sunday, and nothing was quite right.

To embrace this challenge you need to get over an aversion to re-wear something two days in a row if necessary. You need to be ok if you’re slightly under-dressed for something. You can’t worry about what others think (truthfully, few people will notice or care). People worry too much about themselves to remember your daily clothing choices.

Later that Sunday, I successfully re-sized a top that I got at the Boutique (the ship’s free thrift store). It was too big for me, but seemed perfect for my lifestyle. A white, sleeveless, loose-fitting blouse would wear well in the heat. It wasn’t brand new, neither was it in pristine condition, so I didn’t have to worry about ruining it in our laundry machines or with too much wear.

I decided I might need to add this item to my 6 items. So really, I wore 7 items. #sorrynotsorry

However, by the week of January 12, I started keeping my nursing scrubs on all day after work because I wanted to be comfy. Why bother changing? I didn’t want to wear them for just a few hours in the evening when I would probably have to wear them the next day.

At this point, I’m feeling bored with my options. I love my clothes and how they make me feel. I wrote about that HERE. I remind myself that many people in the world live with similar options and I allow myself to be thankful for how blessed I am. Once I actually get into an outfit, an amazing thing happens: I really enjoy being in it and I don’t care that I’ve been wearing the same thing all month.

That’s the result of being intentional with my choices. I found myself more grateful and living more fully with the little I chose to wear. I was comfortable and free from spending too much effort on something so materialistic.
For one full month dozens of items sat in my closet. It wasn’t so bad. I never missed most of them. Most days I felt put together, especially once I added a wrap to my hair. I was consistently reminded that I’m very blessed.

I was able to imagine (in a fraction of a sense) what life would be like if I truly only had those 7 items to wear. What happens when my nicest item is so worn but it’s all I have to make a good impression? What happens when I want to apply for a job? What happens when I have to work and play in the same clothes no matter what?

Sometimes in town you’ll have a pousse-pousse (bicycle taxi) driver wearing a shirt with many holes in it. I’ve seen shirts barely hanging on at the seams with gaping holes in between. I can now empathize a tiny bit, and yet I still recognize my privilege and wealth because this challenge was for only one month. February is here and I’m back to wearing all the clothes I normally wear.


12 comments on “How A Smaller Wardrobe Made Me More Grateful”

  1. Wow Ivanna! That is a great “experiment” the one you did. I had a similar experience last year when travelling for 2 months with only clothes that fitted in a 60L backpack (including hiking gear). But I always wonder: how do you match a LOVE and PASSION for fashion (which is my case) with having such a minimalist wardrobe? Just rising the question to know your thoughts 🙂

    • Angel, that is a really good question! I have a feeling I don’t have as much passion for fashion as you do; I just really enjoy it! I also think that 6-7 items is really quite limiting. I’ve toyed with the idea of adding a few more items and rotating through the months so I can still wear my favorite items. I did discover, however, that I didn’t actually miss as many items as I thought I did. Although I think that’s because I left a lot of my faves at home and my taste has changed a lot in the past year and I haven’t bought more of what I love. Thanks for making me think!

  2. Wow! Kudos to you! I have found that less is more. sed to be attached to many things and I’ve been pruning over the years. I feel happier now, less stressed. I have what I need and I don’t have things that I feel own me.

    • Moving across the world helped me prune down a lot, and it does feel better. Somehow though, I accumulated more stuff! I need to try again.

  3. Oh wow I have never heard of this challenge before but it sounds like a good one. It is hard to change our ways of thinking but it is an important change to make. I love your whole outfit!

  4. I think I could do this very easily but I am very into purchasing high quality clothes but wearing the heck out of them. I stopped buying clothes just because they were on sale or a good deal and I try to only buy things that I really really love and not be afraid to spend more on them.

  5. Wow, what a nice experiment. If more of us in this country would deny ourselves every once in awhile we would learn much! Over the years of mothering my husband and I have prepared and served meager meals. Just so that our children would understand on a small scale how it is to have a little. Thanks for the article!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *