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Minnesota man seeks to simplify, wears outfit for one year

Zach Carlsen will wear the same outfit every day. Special to Forum News Service

STILLWATER, Minn. - For the next 10 months, Stillwater native Zach Carlsen will wear the same outfit every day.

Carlsen said he hopes the project, appropriately dubbed “the uniform,” will decrease the number of tiring daily decisions he makes, conserving more energy for other areas of his life.

After nine months of research and preparation, Carlsen is nearly two months into his uniform experiment. To clarify, Carlsen is not wearing the same clothes every day, but the same outfit.

His uniform consists of five pants, nine t-shirts, four sweaters, 18 boxers and 12 socks as well as four different pairs of shoes and two different belt buckles.

“If it’s like I’m going to meet the queen, I have one suit,” he added. “And it’s like break the glass for emergency use only.”

Carlsen learned about the idea of a daily uniform from Matilda Kahl’s Instagram account, a creative manager at Sony Music, according to her page. Kahl has worn the same outfit to work for more than five years.

Kahl isn’t the first person to experiment with wearing the same outfit every day. In fact, some of the nation’s most successful people wear a uniform.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wears a gray t-shirt every day. In 2012, President Barack Obama told Vanity Fair he wore a blue or gray suit every day in order to reduce the number of little decisions he makes daily so he can use that energy to run the country.

Carlsen said he hoped applying the idea to his own life would help solve his decision fatigue — a psychology term that refers to the exhaustion that comes from making too many decisions.

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.”

He prepared for the project by researching clothes and the process. Given that he is a personal development coach, founder of Strengths Life Consulting, teacher, athlete and author, he needed an outfit that wasn’t too expensive and would work for all occasions, he said.

The uniform pants are made of breathable microfiber and the uniform has multiple layers to allow for Minnesota’s flexible seasons.

“As a coach, I like to be a guinea pig of my own tools,” Carlsen said. “Every step of the way, I’m pushing against these bigger ideas that have been challenging and uncomfortable.”

Physically letting go of his clothes gave him a “blueprint” for letting go of things he held onto internally, he said. Carlsen was an anxious child, he said, and he had Obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms that followed him into adulthood. Little rituals like turning a shirt over three times before he put it on offered him a feeling of safety and security.

Within the first week of wearing the uniform, he said all of those rituals faded away.

“I just stopped doing it all at once,” Carlsen said.

As a personal development coach, Carlsen said he needs become “unstuck” himself before he can help others get out of a rut. He hopes the uniform project will help him create tools for mindfulness, minimalism and letting go that he can bring to his life coaching business, he said.

“It was about me getting out of my own way,” Carlsen said. “I feel like I’m more available to the world to be of service to other people.”

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