Kid wearing tie and dress shirt, looking slick

The Satisficing Sartorialist

I spend less than two minutes choosing what to wear every morning. And I spend less on clothes in a year than most people in my income bracket do in a quarter. And I do it all by satisficing.

To start, I wear basically the same thing every day. Levi’s 514 33/34 jeans in a dark wash, a Nordstrom Trim Fit 15 34/35 shirt in a neutral color and pattern, a pair of 11.5 D cowboy boots (black or brown) and matching leather belt, and a John Varvatos 40R blazer (or, if it is warm enough, a vest). It works for most any weather, is formal enough that you can go onstage and give a talk but informal enough that you don’t have to worry about dry cleaning. A night on a hanger followed by the shower trick will unwrinkle everything enough to look decent (though that may be because my standards are lax).

But standardization is about more than just not having to pick what to wear every morning. The list above also helps me shop: I have automated searches on eBay that mail me each morning with things that are the right size and the right price. If a John Varvatos 40R blazer sold for less than $40 on eBay in the last year, chance are I bought it. This actually has a variety of benefits. One, its cheap. Two, it makes me less attached to the things I own. Rip a shirt while travelling? Leave it behind – it only cost $10. Third, I’m big on the “reuse” portion of the “reuse-reduce-recycle” triangle, so that’s a bonus. And obviously, it saves me a ton of money.

But the real advantage is in the cognitive savings. The one true limited resource in life is our mental energy: time and money are essentially just proxies for what we are required to spend our cognitive resources on. And for some, clothes may actually be something they want to spend resources on. It may be an important part of their identity or bring them genuine happiness. But for me, skipping out on the mental energy of clothing means I get to spend more mind on things I actually do care about.

And that’s the bit that people most often miss out on. We have a tendency to let social standards tell us what things are worth spending our mental energy on. Wearing the same thing is “boring” and it means that we are boring. But in reality, there is very little more interesting than spending time on your interests. If your interest is fashion, then apply this to whatever part of your life isn’t: food is another area ripe for satisficing (my trick: ask if the other person is deciding between two things, tell them you’ll order whichever they don’t pick so they can get a bit of both). So are electronics: just ask the expert in your life and then take their recommendation. I don’t know about speakers, I don’t want to know about speakers, so I call Sound Man Dave and he says “get those” and I do it. Which frees me to go think about choosing very specific computer parts, a topic I am passionate about and do enjoy maximizing on.

So if you see me at a conference someday, wearing the exact outfit described above, don’t be surprised. I might be a bit frumpy, slightly wrinkled and ill-fitted, but that just means that I spent my mind somewhere else. Feel free to ask me about what I did instead; it might be interesting.