Wearing a uniform is not about doing with less — it’s doing with more . . . more time, more money, more willpower, more peace of mind.
“A [person] is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
Months ago, I adopted a uniform – a specific dress code or set of clothes that I wear each day. Of course, I’m not the first person to do this. One of the most famous uniform wearers is the late Steve Jobs, who was always seen in a black turtle neck, jeans and sneakers. (As a matter of fact, one of my friends began joking about my “Steve Jobs look”.) And there are a number of other people, famous and not so well-known, who have chosen their own personal uniform — Mark Zuckerburg, Albert Einstein, Johnny Cash to name a few.
The idea has been endorsed by the minimalist movement which is one reason I decided to try it. It helped reduce the number of items in my closet immediately. Another reason is that it reduces the number of decisions I have to make each day, which has an impact on willpower.
Using a Uniform
I haven’t seen this documented anywhere, but based on the 80:20 rule which applies to many areas, it’s a safe bet that you & I wear roughly 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. Doing a quick calculation, I find that I wear about 57% of my clothes nearly 99% of the time — which is more than double the 20% average but tells me I could probably weed out some more items. (This doesn’t include work out clothes and socks & underwear.) If you are looking to simplify and declutter, a promising place to start could be in your closet.
Choosing a uniform has other benefits. You can save time. You can reduce the amount of time you spend shopping for new clothes – time which you can use for other pursuits or for spending with your family. Someone once pointed out to me that the more things you own, the more time and energy it takes to maintain them — to clean and to repair and to store and to look for and to move around. Reducing the amount of clothes you have can help reduce the amount of your life energy you must expend to care for them.
You can save money. In 2016, the average family spent over $1800 for clothing. If the 80:20 rule holds, that means we are spending over $1400 each year for clothes we seldom wear.
You can reduce stress. How many times have you stared into your closet and thought “I don’t have anything to wear”? Or you chose an outfit and worried all day that it wasn’t appropriate. Or it just didn’t fit right and you were uncomfortable all day. When you wear a well-chosen uniform, you know it fits most of your situations and it fits you.
You don’t necessarily have to go the Steve Jobs route of wearing the same items every day. You can choose to select a few items in your best colors and mix & match them to create several outfits. This allows you to pare down accessories as well. If one is enough, go with that. How many pairs of black shoes do you really need? How many bathing suits? How many winter coats? There are many ways you can eliminate extra clothing without resorting to wearing a black shirt, jeans, and sneakers every day.
Years ago, my wife, Rebecca, and I had a house built. When you build a house, there are many, many decisions that you have to make. There are the big ones — where will we build? What house plan will we choose? Who will we use as a contractor? But after the big decisions, there are myriad others to be made: lighting fixtures, colors for carpet, colors for paint, flooring, cabinets, appliances, counter tops, doors, windows, shingles . . . the list goes on and on. One morning, Rebecca called me. She was at a brick yard, selecting the bricks to use for the foundation and chimney of the house. “I can’t do this,” she said. “I can’t decide on anything else.” Rebecca was suffering from decision fatigue.
Yes there is such a thing as decision fatigue. And while selecting what to wear each day is not likely to paralyze your decision-making ability, over the course of the day, these tiny decisions add up. And as Roy Baumeister has shown us, each decision — no matter how small — uses up a bit of willpower. [Baumeister]
Deciding To Decide
Baumeister, a leading researcher in the psychology of willpower, has shown that willpower is like a muscle. As you use it during the day, your willpower “muscle” weakens and becomes depleted. There are many things you do during the course of the day that weaken the willpower “muscle”. Making decisions is one of them. Every time you make a choice, some of your willpower stores are used up. [Achor]
Doesn’t it seem reasonable, then, that if you limit the number of decisions you have to make in a day, you can curb one of the drains on your willpower? This is ostensibly one of the reasons why Steve Jobs wore the same uniform each day and why Barack Obama wore only black or navy suits. They had to make major decisions nearly every day – choosing what to wear was not one they wanted to make each day. They decided to decide one time instead of daily, thereby conserving willpower and saving their decision making ability for the important things.
There are other things you can decide to decide. For example, I eat basically the same meals each day. I know what I like that is healthful and I mostly stick to that. It simplifies cooking and grocery shopping too. I create and stick to routines as much as I can. This allows me to create habits that automate much of my daily decisions. Think about some daily habits you already have – brushing your teeth, taking a shower, getting ready for bed or getting dressed for work each day. You likely have routines for these activities. The routines help you create the habit such that you perform the actions without having to think about them too much. No decision needed. Where could you develop routines to help automate other behaviors?
1. Consider using a uniform. It doesn’t have to be the black turtleneck and jeans that Steve Jobs selected or the gray t-shirt and hoodie of Mark Zuckerburg. Matilda Kahl, an art director in New York, chose a work uniform of a silk white shirt and black trousers. Movie director Christopher Nolan wears a dark jacket over a blue dress shirt with black trousers. Select clothing that helps you put your best foot forward, that you are comfortable wearing, and that fits your activities.
2. If a uniform doesn’t fit your tastes, experiment with choosing a few basic items in your favorite colors. While this doesn’t have all the benefits of wearing a uniform, you can still minimize the clutter in your closet and reduce the number of decisions you’ll make.
3. Look at other areas of your life where you can pare down and / or limit the need for decisions. This could be your choice of foods, your exercise program or other areas you could create routines and habits around.
Simplify For Intentional Living
“You probably need less than you think. We all do. As you’re deciding what to keep in your life, ask, ‘Could I live without this?’ If so, you know it’s more of a want than a need. Needs have to stay. You get to choose about the wants.” ~ Melissa Camara Wilkins
One of the first steps to a simpler life is simply to become aware of what we require to be at our best and what is unnecessary and perhaps even detrimental to creating our best life. Designing a simpler life isn’t just throwing things out, or wearing a specific set of clothes, or adopting a minimalist lifestyle. Designing a simpler life is about creating the life that is right for you, a life that fits you perfectly. In fact, it’s a step toward living the Excelerated Life!
Excelerated simplicity — freeing yourself from unnecessary complexity — is one step in creating your Excelerated life, a life of well-being, meaning, and purpose.
Achor, Shawn. The Happiness Advantage. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2010
Baumeister, Roy F. and John Tierney. Willpower – Rediscovering The Greatest Human Strength. New York: The Penguin Press, 2011
“A simple life is not seeing how little we can get by with—that’s poverty—but how efficiently we can put first things first. . . . When you’re clear about your purpose and your priorities, you can painlessly discard whatever does not support these, whether it’s clutter in your cabinets or commitments on your calendar.” ~ Victoria Moran