Looking for Simplicity? Start With Your Work Wardrobe

Updated on October 26, 2017
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Tiny houses, compact cars, vegan diets: They're all examples of simplification.

While you might not want to go too simple — not many people can stomach living off the grid, foraging for food, and eschewing society, for example — a minimalist mindset can lead to more headspace for problem-solving.

Why not start with what you don each morning? I’m speaking of workwear specifically. Society has a way of influencing our clothes buying habits, making us feel the necessity to continuously refresh our wardrobes. Enter an apparel store today, and you won’t recognize it a week from now; that’s how fast trends turn over. Suits become outdated faster than yesterday’s hashtag du jour.

It’s a nightmarish cycle of spending copious amounts of cash on unwanted items. We act like teens, assuming a spotlight is on us at all times. In reality, no one cares what we wear if we’re doing our work well and on time. Who would have guessed that what we have in our closets could become the keys to our freedom?

Clean out your drawers

Minimalism allows you to refocus and block out unimportant subjects or objects. Steve Jobs knew that: It’s why he always wore what became an iconic black turtleneck and jeans. He was busy; he had no time to care about what the fashion industry dictated.

Silicon Valley leaders like Jobs and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg set the standard for casual workplace ensembles. No longer was the suit and tie the uniform of the day; leaders like Mark Zuckerberg could wear hoodies as long as they were getting the job done.

Steadily, this West Coast dress standard has migrated eastward. As Robert Half Finance & Accounting noted from their research, 61 percent of employees have adopted laid-back wear, while only 4 percent wore the suit-and-tie combo.

While working, I've worn everything from flannel pajama pants — at my home office, of course — to my favorite Nike T-shirt. I focus on tasks, not trends, which keeps me from the noise that could distract me from reaching my goals.

This isn’t to suggest that I opt to look like a bum. I dress up for nights out with my wife on occasion, but I've freed myself from worrying about heading to the dry cleaner for my work attire. And when I want to wear a pair of cargo shorts and polo shirt from Old Navy? I do it in a heartbeat. No alterations. No fuss.

From my vantage point, the suit-and-tie dress code should be reserved for certain professionals such as accountants and lawyers. But for most workers, I believe worrying about clothing only adds a layer of stuffiness that belies trust.

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Keep it real by staying humble

I once showed up to a business meeting in a nice Brooks Brothers outfit. It looked outstanding. Yet I was so uncomfortable that I felt little confidence during the conversation. Ironically, had I worn some slacks and a golf polo, I would have been more at ease and sounded more genuine.

And I'm not alone in this belief: Author Chris Bailey found that when he wore clothing that made him feel more confident or comfortable, he was more productive.

Isn’t it more important to be real than to dress up all the time, as if your appearance matters more than your substance or talent? And do you want to work with people who pay attention only to the labels on your outerwear rather than your ability to contribute to their goals?

Too much money has been focused on the wrong things in business, which is why businesses have shifted away from unnecessary tasks and stressors. If one of my workers lamented being late to work because he had to wait in line at his tailor to drop off or pick up clothing, I would blame myself for allowing that type of symbolic distraction to become an option.

Let’s face facts: At the end of the day, a lack of productivity can affect a business more negatively than a pair of jeans ever could.

Spread simplicity to other realms

Simplicity isn’t just about clothing, of course. It has applications in other areas of life.

A minimalist attitude allows you to pivot when you have a day beyond your control. It allows you to give people the opportunity to work from wherever they can to get the job done. We need fewer hard-nosed, ax-grinding bosses and more supervisors with an understanding that rules and expectations needn’t be inflexible. A Ten2Two member study noted that 83 percent of businesses surveyed had achieved more flexible work environments, and the majority felt that shift was beneficial.

Another application in favor of simplicity is that you can plan for the unexpected. We can’t all be organizational gurus, but it’s easier to plan for a busy workweek if you’re not worried about something like wearing the right socks and shoes. It takes a lot of planning to keep up a consistent, normal routine that offers gaps for those times when you need to take a day off because life happens.

Finally, a great tool to keep things simple is the cloud, a vital part of today’s multi-device society. For most of us, our phones can make or break us. Not having access to things we need can turn the best of us from calm and collected to frustrated and frazzled. Being able to access your projects on any device at any time is a huge simplifier. Have an internet signal? You have a survival rope!

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Quotes to inspire a simple switch

Need a few words of encouragement as you work on embracing simplicity? Try these on for size:

1. "Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it." — Charles R. Swindoll

Problems are just easier to deal with when you’re leading a simplified life. When you plan for hurdles, you have time to deal with the unexpected. Being prepared allows you to dictate how you react no matter what.

2. "Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated." — Confucius

We make life complicated, but it can really be basic. When my wife and I lived in a 600-square-foot one-bedroom apartment, we had fewer worries than we do now. To be honest, the idea seems very attractive. We all have a tendency to let life get messy as we age, but we don’t need to. We can let go of extra worries and distractions.

3. "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition." — Steve Jobs

Money buys lots of cool toys, but those toys come with headaches. They break down, need repairs, or require replacement. More importantly, they take up precious time, which is the one resource we cannot renew or replace. We never know how much time we have in life — we shouldn’t take moments for granted because we're focusing on objects over people or experiences.

Striving for simplicity? Start by tossing out all the clothes you hate to wear, then move on to other aspects of your life. I guarantee you’ll discover time you didn’t know you had and creativity you had no idea was lurking in your neural cells. Best of all, you won't be tethered to society's demands.

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