Stripping life down to its barest essentials, so you can focus on what’s truly important. That was my premise for founding I Am Hopeful a couple of weeks ago, before my family and I stuffed several days’ worth of gear into suitcases and headed out on a cross-country RV trip. It’s time to return to the promise of that premise with my first lifestyle tip: wear a uniform.
Okay, maybe not literally.
While I’ve served alongside hundreds of utility workers, police officers and firefighters throughout my career, I’m not talking about the kind of uniform that certain jobs require wearing. I’m talking about the kind you put together on your own by choice.
Here’s mine: nearly every weekday, I wear a blue long-sleeve, straight-collar dress shirt (sometimes white) with black Dockers and black dress shoes. For rare occasions, I keep a handful of suits and a tuxedo on standby. For travel and exercise, I have a full complement of running clothes too. But the work uniform has remained pretty consistent for a couple of years now. I’ve nearly stopped wearing ties, and I’ve phased out the shirts that aren’t white or blue.
Why? Because you have a limited amount of time in your day and space in your brain. Simply put, choosing clothes in the morning (or even the night before, if you’re thinking ahead) is a big waste of time and brain space. I’m a big believer in automating as much of life as possible to make the best use of time, but also to eliminate decision fatigue. Wardrobe is a great example of how to do this.
Keeping a spare wardrobe full of clothes that are more or less the same will also help you lead a more minimalist life. You won’t buy clothes that don’t fit or don’t flatter you, and they won’t be hanging around your closets and dressers collecting dust and serving little function for anyone. Shopping will take less time and money too, because you’ll simply repeat purchases of clothing that fits and wears well.
In our house, I’m the one responsible for compiling and distributing breakfasts and lunches (and sometimes dinners when it’s a crock pot day), for walking the kid to school and getting the dog settled, all before I have to head out for the office on the early side of 8 a.m. Knowing what I’m going to put on for work simplifies the literally hundreds of independent actions I must take before getting myself out the door.
This wasn’t my brilliant, original idea either. The late, great Apple head Steve Jobs famously wore black turtlenecks, jeans and sneakers every day. President Obama uses wardrobe as a way around decision fatigue. And Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg does the same.
Okay, privilege check time. I’m a guy. I know society has different expectations for how we present ourselves in public. And I know I’ve just given three examples of well-known, successful people who adopted the uniform approach to getting dressed — three examples who are also guys. I won’t pretend to know what it’s like to wear clothes as a woman.
However, I know Courtney Carver’s Project 333 is geared toward women with similar effect. I also just read a J. Crew blog post from a writer in New York about wearing a uniform (purchased from where, I wonder?). So I know the uniform principles — simplicity, avoiding decision fatigue — can apply to women as well. Kids too, even if they don’t go to a school that requires a uniform. While our daughter probably has more clothes than the two grown-ups in the house, Lindy and I recently discovered Primary. It’s a normcore site for kids, so the items are basic and well-made without logos that confer status and demand attention.
For me, adopting a personal uniform was something I eased into instead of dumping my whole wardrobe and starting over. It probably started when Lindy noticed I tended to buy shirts that look the same. From there, I made it a practice. And I’m so glad I did!
Pulling together the day’s ensemble takes seconds, not minutes. There is no adjusting, no putting something on that doesn’t fit or doesn’t look right, only to shove it back in the closet. It works the first time, every time, and frees my mind for the rest of the day’s important business.
Whatever you wear, here’s wishing you a week of clarity and purpose. Thanks for reading.
Also published on Medium.