Wondering what to wear today? Stillwater’s Zach Carlsen isn’t

Zach Carlsen of Stillwater had a “crazy idea” last year, he acknowledges. He’d wear the same outfit every day for a year as part of a personal mission to minimize the number of small decisions he makes every day and focus his energy on bigger things.

It’s part performance art, he says on his Facebook page.

Wanting to give a photo update on how The Uniform Project is going—where I am wearing the same outfit for an entire…

Posted by Zach Carlsen on Friday, November 2, 2018

He has five pair of pants — all the same — four sweaters — all the same — 18 boxer shorts — all the same — 12 socks — all the same. The only thing different are four pairs of shoes and two belt buckles.

Today is Day 60.

He tells the Stillwater Gazette that he got the idea from a creative manager at Sony Music, who has been wearing the same outfit for five years.

The goal is to reduce “decision fatigue,” he tells the paper.

He explains decision fatigue with the “20 spoons” metaphor.

Say you start each day with 20 spoons to make decisions with. Before you leave the house, you’ve likely decided what to wear, what to eat, how much coffee to drink and whether you’ll do the dishes now or later. You give a spoon away with each decision, Carlsen said, and by the time you return from work, there’s little energy for other things.

Carlsen had already experimented with decreasing the amount of decisions he makes each week, he said. About two years ago, he started meal prepping on Sunday nights, which freed up a lot of time during the week.

“Most of us understandably just do it all and it’s an auto-pilot thing,” Carlsen said. “But I got tired of doing it all.”

After researching the idea for nine months, he gave away 10 bags of clothes from his closet, which forced Carlsen, a life coach, to rethink his relationship with “stuff.”

“I was holding onto all this stuff because I felt guilty … To me, that’s an anchor,” Carlsen told reporter Kim Schneider. “It has truly been one of the most emotional processes of letting go.”

He said letting go of the physical, allowed him to let go of things he held onto internally.

  • Gary F

    Jeff Goldblum in the movie The Fly. Same tan pants, white shirt and tweed sport coat one for each day. He didn’t want to waste brain power wondering what to wear.

    • Rob

      I think that’s what prompted his character to want to be a fly; no clothing choices involved. : )

  • MrE85
    • John

      And a few other folks – I can think of Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Obama as quick examples of folks who followed the same pattern.

    • Jerry

      Plus Seekins-spotting is a fun game.

  • Veronica

    Anyone who was a teenager in the 90s already saw Daria do it.

  • jon

    A shirt is a shirt is a shirt, they all serve the same function of covering your chest… if you need to expend energy deciding which one to wear you’ve made a value judgement that a shirt is more than a way to cover your chest.

    To that end replacing all your clothing with identical outfits seems like you are making it clear that you can’t trust yourself to truly believe that a shirt is a way to cover your chest and need instead to dispose of all alternatives to adhere to your own supposed point of view….

    That is to say just grab something out of the closet and move on.

    In my case I have two sides to my closet… work days get a shirt from one side, and non-work days get a shirt from the other side. (and pants for work/non-work as well, can’t forget to wear pants…)

    • Laurie K.

      If you were dealing with anxiety you may have a different perspective. I do not suffer from it myself, but both my children do and I can tell you, even something as simple as chosing an outfit can be an angst filled decision. Trust me, it is not as simple as grabing something and moving on.

  • AL287

    All work and no play (colorful clothing) makes Jack a dull boy.

    I like having color in my closet. It lifts my mood.

    Variety is the spice of life.

    • Al

      You do you. He does him. Everybody’s happy.

  • Jeffrey

    What “bigger things” has he been focusing on? How much energy does it take to decide what to wear everyday? I really wonder if he is saving as much time and energy as he thinks.

    • jon

      //What “bigger things” has he been focusing on?

      How to market getting dressed in the morning as performance art… and how to turn a profit on it.

    • Go read his instagram page and I think you’ll be impressed, particularly about dealing with anxiety etc.

  • king harvest

    What about the weather? Does he have only one coat?
    The freedom that comes from downsizing is amazing. I did find making those decisions to be difficult.

    • John

      I don’t know what he has, but I have one coat for each temperature range, so it’s not really a decision point so much as a look at the thermometer and grab accordingly.

      • king harvest

        I work outside so it’s important, for me, to take a moment and consider what to wear. That being said, it’s all just variations on a theme of layers.

        • John

          I don’t work outside, at least not during the week, and that’s pretty much my deal too.

          I’d say that the decision you’re making isn’t in the same category as the one he’s making – he eliminated style choices. Committing to “one outfit” in your case could have real survival implications.

          • king harvest

            Oh yeah. I’m also out at job sites overnight a lot.
            A simpler life can be rewarding, so if it works for him…..to each their own.

  • Al

    I do this! About a year ago, I adopted a “uniform” of a plain (colored) T-shirt and five-pocket pants. Cleaned out the closet, donated it all, haven’t regretted it once. I figured if Zuckerberg and Obama did it, it was worth investigating. My casual workplace makes this pretty easy, but as a woman, I sometimes feel a leeeettle judged for being so bare-bones. But I save money, I save time on prep and laundry, I save time wondering existentially about what my clothes say about me that day. I have enough to worry about trying to keep tiny humans alive; clothes are not going to be something that takes up mental space for me.

    • Jack

      I have few choices in my closet as well. Miss the location where I could wear Jean’s to work every day.

  • Rob

    I’d be interested in seeing Carlsen’s garage; if it’s full of stuff, such that he can’t park his car in it, then his relationship with stuff has a ways to go.

  • The Resistance

    This reminds me of Karl Stefanovic, the Australian TV anchor who wore the same blue suit on air for a year. No one noticed, no one cared. But his female colleagues got judged on their sartorial choices constantly.

    I wonder if Zach’s experiment would have different results if he were a woman.


    • Al

      I think it depends on whether you’re consistently in the public eye, though one could (easily) make the case that women are perceived to be open for public consumption/criticism at all times…

  • 212944

    Dave: “What’s Hal wearing tonight?”

    Hal: “Well, Dave, tonight I have on a blue shirt, tan chinos, and
    brown loafers…”

  • Sonny T

    What’s so special? Everyone in my neighborhood does this. It’s called Carhartt

  • Guest

    As a man with 3 daughters, I say it is HARDER to be a gal than a guy.

  • Greg W

    Jeez, the cynicism meter is off the charts for this innocuous idea. The guy’s taking a serious shot at reducing some of the noise and anxiety in his life. Plus, it’s made me think that maybe this would be beneficial to me. Kudos Zach.

  • This sort of reminds me of some advice from a business executive who claimed he greatly simplified his life by never touching a piece of paper more than once. While that meant making instant decisions instead of putting them off, it also struck me as a luxury that only a guy with “people” could ever make work. After all, some pieces of paper require follow-up actions and may have built-in response loops and involve multiple participants. You can’t just “decide” some things on the spot.

    Similarly, limiting one’s wardrobe can theoretically put some decisions on autopilot – with the caveat that weather and daily activities will still inevitably force the issue to some extent no matter what. And if you’re married, your spouse will weigh in on your choices.

    Props to Mr. Carlsen for making this work for him. It’s great – as long as what he’s wearing is appropriate to the weather and function. I’m afraid most of us will still have a somewhat more expansive wardrobe and also be stuck with a stack of paper to shuffle.