growing a minimalist wardrobe: jewelry.

November 6, 2014

growing a minimalist wardrobe - jewelry Giving people advice on their jewelry makes me feel like a little bit of a kill-joy. So, I’m not going to tell you what you should all adorn yourselves with. If turquoise and silver or platinum and diamonds are your favorite things, don’t let my thin golden-colored things lead you astray.

Still, jewelry boxes, like underwear drawers, have a way of getting out of control if left to their own devices. My particular fondess lies in jewelry that’s fairly minimal in design (see some of the sponsors of this space for good ideas), but regardess of the particular pieces in your collection, here are a few tips that have gotten me wearing jewelry that I love and clearing out the clutter.
growing a minimalist wardrobe - jewelry Here’s the strategy:

1. Get rid of your jewelry box.
My jewelry box is the place where my jewelry went to die. Rather than housing a neatly curated collection of bits and baubles, my jewelry hunkered down in a stubborn tangle. The whole mess clung together like some kind of less-artful bird’s nest, lacking form and devoid of function. Unless, of course, the function was the extreme fine motor skill exercise I got anytime I actually endeavored to wear something. There was costume jewelry mixed with precious gems and tangled up with disintegrated friendship bracelets from elementary school.

Then there was the fact that the jewelry box I was using had wood inlay and a high gloss and—sorry, high school boyfriend—an insipid song that played when it opened. It had to go.

I got rid of the jewelry box and then set to work on the tangle, extracting anything that merited the physical endurance test that the task required, and tossing the rest. I was ruthless. You should be too.

2. Display your favorites.
I have a small porcelain dish on my dresser where I stash my most-worn jewelry. The dish was one of a pair (the other smashed into our bathroom sink—beware the hazard of cute porcelain dishes on cute porcelain sinks) that my mom found at an antique shop in my hometown. I’m afraid I can’t point you in their exact direction, though this treasure bowl or this small plate would make sweet alternatives.

I hang my few necklaces from my bedroom mirror. Were I to have more than a few necklaces, I’d probably move the collection to small nails on the inside of the closet, because: clutter.

3. Bag the rest.
For the special, heirloom-y kind of things that I don’t wear very often, but that I sometimes do, I have a special little zip up pouch which I also keep on my dresser. If you’re looking a special little bag to pop your “rarely-worns,” this one would be sweet.
growing a minimalist wardrobe - jewelry
A quick note on heirlooms: I could write a book on this subject alone, but here’s a quick thought or three. If there’s one thing that has a way of getting passed from one generation to the next, it’s jewelry. The simple fact is that our stuff outlasts us, and this is true of the good stuff and the not-so-good stuff.

The challenge is the tendency we mortals have to assign value to things once a loved one has passed away. This isn’t always a bad thing. I carried a dime around in my coat pocket for years after my grandfather passed away, because I’d found one in his coat pocket shortly before he died. It was worth precisely ten cents, but far more than that to 13-year-old me. But imagine for a minute what your descendants might think if they found your jewelry box—in its current state—years down the road. Likely not even you would deem every single thing in it worth keeping. And yet. I have a hunch that there are many (many) jewelry boxes lingering in closets filled half way with things that have both sentimental and actual value and half full of things that have neither. Consider it a favor to your great great grandchildren and do some of the sorting through yourself.

Here’s my philosophy: if there are pieces from your great great aunt/cousin/neighbor that you love, regardless of their monetary value, keep them. Even if you don’t wear them often. Tuck them into a small bag, designate a special spot for the them to live, and take them out once in a while and show them off. But if you’re saddled with a jewelry box full of things that you neither like, nor wear, consign them. Surely someone will want that bejeweled spider brooch.

In the back of my own underwear drawer, I have another little cloth bag with the highschool basketball pendant that belonged to my dad’s mom, and the filigree bracelet that belonged to my Aunt Ruth, and few other bits and bobs that I can’t part with. I wear these things even less than the crystals and pearls in that little zipped pouch, but I like knowing they’re there. Little talismans on hard days or good days or Thursdays.

For the curious, a few of my favorites:
this cuff ring.
this (similar) arrow ring.
these arrow earrings.
this range ring.
this amuletum.
this mini breast plate.
a bonbon (no longer in production).
a few good hoops.
{and something similar to my engagement ring.

Growing a Minimalist Wardrobe, STEP 1STEP 2STEP 3STEP 4, and STEP 5. Not to mention, SHOES.

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  • Reply ALo November 6, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    OK, so what do you do with the jewelry you're parting with? If it's valuable anyway.

    • Reply Erin November 6, 2014 at 2:51 pm


  • Reply Roopali November 6, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    And what do you do with stuff that is not so valuable?

    • Reply Erin November 6, 2014 at 3:19 pm

      Bring it to a thrift store and see if they'll take it! Put it out on your stoop! Decide that a disintegrating friendship bracelet might do everyone more good in the garbage! (And then think carefully about adding anything new to your collection that you don't really love!)

  • Reply Traci November 6, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    Love this! I especially like how the hanging from the mirror necklaces create their own sort of art landscape. Any suggestions for keeping jewelry that lives out in the open from tarnishing?

    • Reply Erin November 6, 2014 at 8:08 pm

      I keep a polishing cloth in my toolbox and put it to work when I notice that something needs some shining!

  • Reply Maria Gazzi November 6, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Erin, where's the necklace that looks like an upwards C? I really love it! And I love your suggestions for de-clutering! Thank you very much!

    • Reply Erin November 6, 2014 at 8:12 pm

      Tiro, tiro! Link below (it's the breast plate one!).

    • Reply Maria Gazzi November 6, 2014 at 11:01 pm

      Thank you Erin! 🙂

  • Reply evencleveland November 6, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    I think it depends a bit on the jewelry. If you have truly valuable pieces (or pieces you really want to treasure and protect), a well-made jewelry box is hard to beat in terms of preservation, and a nice one is a bit of an investment. I also only keep things I could bear to lose out; a friend was heartbroken when the favorite ring she kept in a prettily little ring dish walked off after a party.

    • Reply Erin November 6, 2014 at 8:12 pm

      Like everything, there are definitely exceptions! I have a family member who used to sew valuable jewelery into the curtain hem, so I admit that my keep-it-displayed approach is probably a bit of a reaction to the other extreme!

  • Reply Anna November 6, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    I have a jewellery box that was given to me by my godparents when I was a very small child. I love it. It's handy for keeping the things that I don't want out all the time in. I keep meaning to find a picture frame and do one of those picture frame earring displays so I can actually find my earrings. I used to just pin them on the wall on a piece of fabric, but we moved recently so they're still in a tin. I did find that I was more likely to wear my necklaces if I had them hanging on the wall so I could see them. I haven't been wearing much jewellery lately because my toddler wants to eat it, but I really should start wearing more again. I kind of miss it.

    • Reply Erin November 6, 2014 at 8:10 pm

      Ha! I have a jewelry-munching baby, too!

  • Reply Kristina November 6, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    I also display my everyday jewelry on my nightstand, in a vintage tea cup, and the rest is in a jewelry box. Your post inspires me to go through it this weekend because there are certainly things in there that I haven't worn in years!
    The ring that is similar to your engagement ring is beautiful…I hope something like it will be presented to me one day 😉

    • Reply Erin November 6, 2014 at 8:09 pm

      Thanks, Kristina! Happy sorting!

  • Reply Sarah November 6, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    Get rid of your jewelry box? Oh my…I guess you don't have cats!

    My advice for the sentimental stuff that you can't bear to part with is to see if you can find a way to just go ahead and wear it. I've got my maternal great-grandfather's and paternal great-grandmother's wedding rings on a chain around my neck right now.

    • Reply Erin November 6, 2014 at 9:10 pm

      Ha! Nope! No cats!

  • Reply jodi November 6, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    If you wear silver vs. gold, a jewelry box seems like a must to keep things from tarnishing. I have a small one that (in theory) limits the amount of jewelry I hoard!

    Another idea I'd love to share is that if you have heirloom pieces that you know you will never wear, why not take them to a jeweler and have them melted down and recreated into something you love?

    • Reply Erin November 6, 2014 at 9:08 pm

      Agreed that box can, in theory, acutally help place some limits! But as far as tarnishing goes, I've never met a box (for silverware or silver jewelry) that actually prevents tarnishing entirely! And small pouches can do the same work as a box to stave it off a bit. The only sure way to keep silver from tarnishing that I've found is…never take it off!

    • Reply Erin November 6, 2014 at 9:10 pm

      PS: Yes to having heirloom jewelry remade! The crystal and pearl necklace above was made from a broken vintage necklace and a selection of single pearls into something that I can actually wear!

  • Reply claudia November 6, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    Like somebody wrote already, you don't have an evil cat…or a curious toddler (yet) 😉
    A small jewelry box is a must for me!

  • Reply bridget November 7, 2014 at 12:17 am

    I love the mini breast plate necklace and would love to order one! Do you have the indigo or the black cord? I would love to get the indigo if it is subdued like your picture.

    • Reply Erin November 7, 2014 at 12:32 am

      Mine's the indigo! A really lovely color in person (I've had mine for a few years so it's possible it's faded a touch).

  • Reply Kai Klaarika November 7, 2014 at 7:44 am

    I own three pairs of small golden earrings and a wedding band. Two extra pairs of earrings live in a really small wooden jewellery box, that my husband made. I do plan on getting some more earrings, maybe in like every 5 years or so.. Earrings are my "thing", kindoff.

    I'm new here. I really like your blog. Beautiful, positive, humble, peaceful place.
    Some few similarities with my own life also, I feel 🙂 our home is quite small (400 square feet) and I have a 10 month old son.

  • Reply balconydresser November 7, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    For me, growing a minimalist (and sustainable) wardrobe is also about making the items survive as long as possible. Having been born and raised in Europe, I know how to adjust European washing machines to this aim. When I am in the US, however, I find my clothes ruined after two wash cycles. And that, although I do not tumble dry them. What is the secret, I wonder? Do I choose the wrong program or the wrong detergent?

    • Reply Kiki April 18, 2016 at 11:58 pm

      Did you ever figure this out? I have the same problem. Maybe its my washer.

  • Reply Ruth November 9, 2014 at 10:11 pm

    I'm really enjoying this minimalist series (and I've been eyeing Marie Kondo's book). One silly question I have: what do you do with 1) athletic wear and 2) "sentimental" t-shirts? Maybe neither of these is a vice for you! But I still have college and earlier t-shirts I can't part with, which, when combined with gym clothes, take up considerable space. Thoughts?

  • Reply Mary Kate January 17, 2016 at 10:53 pm

    Just found this post doing a quick search for “engagement rings” on your site. I’m currently trying to decide what kind of ring I want and having so much trouble–I thought maybe you could help since I love your taste! I want something simple but also kind of classic but also with something unique about it if that makes sense. I’m also leaning toward gold or rose gold … but I’m just not sure! I’d love to hear about how you picked yours, or if it was all your husband. (I’d also love to see a photo but totally understand not everyone likes to share something so personal/expensive online.) Anywho, if you see this and are so inclined, please let me know 🙂

    • Reply Erin Boyle January 18, 2016 at 8:46 am

      Hmm, I do have a photo or two of my ring on here somewhere, but I’d have to do a little digging to find it. James and I went looking at engagement rings together. I had had my heart set on a certain kind of ring, but once I tried it on, I realized it wasn’t actually right for me. There are all kinds of takes on the subject, but I’m a fan of looking for something that you love!

  • Reply Sarah Begashaw August 11, 2016 at 10:43 am

    Erin, can you update some of the links to your favorite jewelry? I’m having trouble opening them.

    • Reply Erin Boyle August 11, 2016 at 12:44 pm

      Have updated what I could!

  • Reply amy smith July 27, 2021 at 4:40 am

    just lovely, thanks.

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