What The Magic 'Rule Of 5' Means For Your Wardrobe, Mental Health, And The Planet

How and why you should limit yourself to buying just five clothing items a year.

Woman holding a globe in front of a small rack of clothes arthouse studio | Pexels, Amanda vick | Unsplash, woyzzeck | Canva

Do you think you could limit yourself to buying just five pieces of clothing this year? That's the "Rule of 5" challenge. In a world awash with fast fashion and swiftly changing trends, it might seem unthinkable, but there are multiple benefits to taking on the challenge.

Why just five items? The non-profit think tank Hot or Cool Institute confirmed that one of the ways the ordinary person can help keep the planet from heating by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius is to buy no more than five new clothing items per year. Why 1.5 degrees? That's the internationally agreed-upon target for limiting warming that would help combat some of the worst impacts of climate change — think wildfires, floods, and droughts — no thanks!


It's one way that your personal decisions can help the greater good, but it can take quite a mindset shift. Karolina Zmarlak is the fashion designer and co-founder of the slow fashion label KZ_K Studio where she designs clothes to last not just years, but a lifetime. She has advice on the why and how of the “Rule of 5.” It comes down to finding and appreciating long-lasting pieces for your wardrobe. Plus, you'll be helping your mental health and the planet.



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"The fashion world is a constant stream of trend and hype and I think it’s gotten exponentially more so with digital and social media," Zmarlak explained. Skipping keeping up with the latest fashion trends and looking for new clothes will free up your time. You'll bypass mindless spending, and take time to understand what you feel good wearing and what best showcases you as a person. Doing that in one area of your life can and will spill over into other areas.

But it doesn't just help you. "On average, men and women wear a piece of clothing just seven times," Zmarlak noted. Old clothing often ends up in landfills, and making new clothing requires the use of fossil fuels, water, and other potentially non-renewable or non-recyclable materials. While Zmarlak confirmed there's currently no 100% sustainable clothing on the market, since there's always something somewhere in the supply chain that needs work, increasing the number of times you can wear a garment is a tangible step that you can take to help sustainability.

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How to change your mindset and thereby boost your creativity:

"Switch the thinking of fashion as a frivolous value, and instead look at pieces as product design that work for you," Zmarlak proposed. "Think about timeless furniture — impeccable design and make and quality. It goes beyond generations." If you can't realistically see yourself wearing the item multiple times over the next months and even years, permit yourself to leave it on the rack.


As you start to rethink how, and how often, you add to your wardrobe, you'll end up finding more options of what to wear and how to wear it, allowing you to more uniquely express yourself. Zmarlak has experienced it firsthand. "For me, I do truly believe that when you have a limit, it tends us as human beings to become more creative," she explained. "That can happen with your wardrobe. Instead of being overwhelmed with too much, you can narrow down and be more creative about creating curated looks with a less, but more fantastic wardrobe."

What The Rule Of 5 Means For Your Wardrobe, Mental Health, And The PlanetPhoto: Kokulina / Shutterstock

Where to start:

Consider getting a high-quality piece of outerwear as your starting point for your "Rule of 5" journey. “If these pieces are of quality, they can be with you for a lifetime of use,” Zmarlak said. "Not one season, not many years, but decades."


Look for multi-functional things. Before you buy something, Zmarlak says to ask yourself, "Is that piece going to be able to work for me in multiple ways — many different looks, many different occasions?" If the answer is no, you can skip it. 

Other good questions include: "What is the item's level of precision and craftsmanship? What is the material? Where is the material coming from? How is the piece sewn?" Since you're limited to just five items in a year, you have the time to do that level of research. 

RELATED: 8 Ways To Use Old Clothes To Make New Outfits Without Spending A Dime

You may have to spend money upfront to save money in the long run.


"Think about what you take out of your closet day in and day out," said Zmarlak. “Those are your core valuables. It's probably something like your favorite jacket or a go-to pair of jeans. While you can get all those things for relatively cheap at a fast fashion retailer, think of the long-term quality. After a few washes, the item might be coming apart at the seams or it can't hold its shape, and you don't feel good in it anymore. So you buy a new one, and the cycle continues.

Instead, "Invest in that tremendously valuable piece that fits you perfectly that you can wear every single day or many days a week," Zmarlak recommended. "The mindset is that you're going to say to yourself, 'I'm buying less because I want to invest in a higher value and invest more in each of those five pieces.'"

So help the planet, help yourself, make this year the year you start your "Rule of 5" challenge. It may just change your life.


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Kristin Conard has been a freelancer for 10 years, and she's passionate about wellness for both people and the planet. She's written for a variety of publications including 7x7, BBC Travel, Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Paste, Departures, and more.