Minimalist Wardrobe Expat Style

How do you know how many clothes you’ll need for a year in a different country? If you only want to move with a suitcase and a backpack which pieces are most important? These are hard questions to answer. Andreas and I wanted to bring the minimal amount that we might need with us to Germany. We had to plan for three seasons, a month in the Arctic and other travel. (The institute Andreas is doing research with provided us with cold weather gear in the Arctic. We didn’t expect that)

Off the coast of North West Greenland in a borrowed jacket and trusty sweatpants. Andreas saysI shouldn't wear these pants in public because they're too American. I wonder what gives them away? Photo by Andreas Muenchow
Off the coast of North West Greenland in a borrowed jacket and trusty sweatpants. Andreas says I shouldn’t wear these pants in public because they’re too American. I wonder what gives them away? Photo by Andreas Muenchow

Today I took a photo of everything we brought to wear and then a second photo of what we’ve actually needed from summer through winter.

Andreas, being a guy and having a job that doesn’t require a lot of dressing up, was better prepared to pack with less choices. He only owns two pairs of shoes and two pairs of pants to begin with.

Andreas' winter gear. A fleece jacket under a wind breaker with a hat. He says he's warm enough... Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Andreas’ winter gear. A fleece jacket under a wind breaker with a hat. He says he’s warm enough… Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

I on the other hand had more options to choose from. Even though I try to have only the essentials in my closet, my life required a few “costume” changes during the day. I used to begin my day as a teacher in a business casual costume, then come home and change into jeans and a t-shirt to go shopping or for a walk. If my private art students were painting or if I was going out with friends I would change again in the evening.

Layers and rainbows is how I roll. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Layers and rainbows is how I roll. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

In Germany I can work from home (sweatpants and a t-shirt) and when I leave the apartment, I trade the sweatpants for jeans. Still a costume change but an easy choice. I tried to only pack the minimal amount of clothing I would want physically and psychologically. I figured that if I really needed anything, I could go shopping. I was mostly afraid of boredom from wearing the same clothes every week. This is why I brought fourteen t-shirts and eight scarves, so I would have variety. Honestly, I’m so happy to be able to wear comfortable clothes everyday that I’m not bored at all by limited choices. My husband isn’t bored looking at me in the same clothes everyday because he’s not paying attention to those things.

All of the clothes that Andreas packed for a year abroad. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
All of the clothes that Andreas packed for a year abroad. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

So, what did we bring and what did we need? Andreas brought: shoes 2, sweaters 3, jackets 4, t-shirts 9, dress shirts 8, pants 2, shorts 4, biking rain gear 1, gloves 3, scarf 1, hats 3. What he actually needed or has worn: shoes 2, jackets 3, t-shirts 9, dress shirts 4, pants 2, biking rain gear 1, gloves 0, scarf 0 and hats 2. So, he was pretty right on. The only things he over packed were dress shirts, sweaters and jackets. He doesn’t feel the cold so much.

The clothes that Andreas has needed and worn this year minus 1 pair of pants, 1 t-shirt, a fleece jacket and a windbreaker. (Things that he wore to work today) Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
The clothes that Andreas has needed and worn this year minus 1 pair of pants, 1 t-shirt, a fleece jacket, Birkenstocks and a windbreaker. (Things that he wore to work today) Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
All of the clothes that I thought I would need for one year in Germany. Photo by Dragonfly LeathrumAll of the clothes that I thought I would need for one year in Germany. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
All of the clothes that I thought I would need for one year in Germany. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

I brought: shoes 3, jackets 4, t-shirts 14, pants 3 (1 jeans, 1 sweatpants, 1 leggings) shorts 2, skirts 4, biking rain gear 1, gloves 3, scarves 8, hats 4, bathing suit 1. What I’ve used: shoes 3, jackets 3, t-shirts 10, pants 3, shorts 1, skirts 1, biking rain gear 0, gloves 1, scarves 8, hats 2 and bathing suit 0. Pretty close, but I could have packed less and been happy. We also packed seven pairs of underwear and socks each. The socks are wearing out fast because we walk and bicycle instead of drive.

The clothes that I've actually needed and worn in eight months. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
The clothes that I’ve actually needed and worn in eight months. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

So, how much do you need and which pieces are important? I’d say enough for a week and of course, everyone has different needs. When we travel around Europe, we bring a t-shirt, underwear and socks for each day, a pair of pants and a jacket. We’ve never wished that we had brought more.

When in doubt go rainbow. Easy matchy matchy. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
When in doubt go rainbow. Easy matchy matchy. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

I wrote this blog as a reminder to us that we don’t need to pack so much and that we are just as happy with less. I hope that when we return home, we (we mostly meaning me) will continue to live with a smaller wardrobe and cut down on shopping. Also, a reminder to our traveling friends to relax about packing, and that it’s easier to travel with smaller lighter bags.