Let’s Talk Shoes: Minimalist Shoes, Barefoot Shoes, and Decluttering Footwear

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Growing up, my go-to footwear was always a comfortably padded pair of athletic sneakers. I wore them despite not being athletic at the time. I wore my first pair of heels when I went to my high school prom, and I was hooked on the way I felt while wearing them – confident, sexy, and feminine. Prom was the beginning of my 180 degree transformation from t-shirt and jeans teenager to frilly dresses and high heels young woman in college. I still had a few pairs of Skechers Mary Janes for daily wear, but I obsessed over high heels and purchased an unthinkable number of them from Aldo and Nine West. I didn’t even necessarily wear them – I had them all lined up in my closet and just looking at the shiny, polished leather made me feel happy. I would sometimes strut around my dorm room in them and practice walking in heels while looking in the mirror, trying to look poised and confident.

I flipped a 180 again after graduating college and I began obsessing over flats. It wasn’t until I purchased my first pair of Tieks in 2012 that my obsession came to fruition (thanks, Facebook ad). Tieks marked the end of my search for a comfortable ballet flat, and I still wear Tieks today, but I have largely pared down my collection. After beginning to wear Tieks on a daily basis, I inadvertently discovered that my feet did not need “arch support.” I have high arches, but because I had been wearing Tieks for so long, the muscles in my feet gradually developed to support my body. Think about it – decades ago, children ran and played outside in the dirt barefoot, only wearing shoes for formal events like Sunday church. Now that modern society grows up wearing “supportive” shoes, we’ve adapted to our feet needing a sort of “brace” to feel comfortable walking, and we are no longer used to developing foot muscle. Shoe companies come up with all sorts of ways to sell us the concept that our feet are unable to support our bodies, especially when we are active, so they come up with thousands of models of shoes to convince us that we need a certain type of shoe for every activity we perform.

While high impact activity like running on pavement and HIIT training still give supportive shoes with padded soles a place in our closets, I find that we still have more to gain by wearing barefoot shoes or minimalist shoes on a daily basis. Not only do they allow your feet a chance to develop muscle, they are also usually more lightweight and flexible, giving them the added bonus of being travel friendly. With the strength of your own feet, your shoes are enablers rather than crutches – they protect your feet, but your feet support themselves.

My closet contained about 40 pairs of shoes when I first began decluttering my shoe collection. For transparency, today, my shoe collection consists of the following (will be updated as needed):

1 pair of running shoes for pavement running or stair running (Nike Flyknit Lunar 3)
1 pair of cycling shoes (Giro Riela II)
1 pair of cross fit shoes for HIIT-style workouts involving heavy lateral work (Inov-8 F-Lite 240)
1 pair of trail running shoes (Salomon Speedcross 3)
1 pair of minimalist trail running shoes (Merrell Vapor Glove 2) <– these are my lightest pair, at 4 oz per shoe
1 pair of classic pumps (Ann Taylor Perfect Pumps in patent black) <– discontinued
4 pairs of foldable flats (Tieks – neutral pink, copper, yellow, and blue)
2 pairs of flip flops (the <$5 variety) for showering in public places like gyms or going to the beach
1 pair of minimalist boots (Vivobarefoot Gobi Hi-tops)
1 pair of rain boots (Hunter Classic tall) for clamming and muddy hikes

Total: 14 pairs of shoes

One could argue that my collection is not really “minimalist” judging by the sheer number of shoes and the fact that I have 4 pairs of Tieks. However, I am not trying to only own the “essential” for keeping myself comfortably alive – all my footwear serves a purpose that facilitates an active lifestyle. There is some truth in the claim that having the right gear will motivate you to #optoutside. But I can justify why I have each pair and I know when I would use each and every one of them.

Perhaps I will pare down my 4 Tieks to 2 pairs, and then 12 will be my magic number. Perhaps I don’t really need rain boots because I use them about once or twice a year (I keep them in wet ‘n’ rainy Seattle). The bottom line is – I am fully aware of what I own and after owning too many shoes, I have become very careful about what I add to my collection. I’m sure my collection will morph over time, but one thing is certain – I will not let any of my shoes go unused and unloved.