Earlier this month, our family went on a week-long beach vacation. I expected my limited closet would make packing especially easy, and I beamed with pride at my great planning and organization. I made a list in advance, picked things that layered well and could be combined into several outfits, and then laid everything out to admire my work. I mean, look at that spread: efficient accessories, options for temperature swings . . . I felt really pleased with myself.
And then I started filling the suitcase, which was a standard, rolling carry on. My packed suitcase was thoroughly packed, and I suspected I had packed too much. I pulled a stack of items off the top, removed a pair of shoes, and zipped my luggage easily.
None of the items pictured above were among the things removed from the suitcase and left at home. Rather, I had taken out pajamas and lounge clothes. For a week-long beach trip with my family, I had brought about a dozen outfits’ worth of clothes and only one set of pajamas. We also had in-unit laundry, which I used while there but completely ignored while packing.
I forgot that reality is reality. I spent half my time in lounge clothes or swim wear, relaxing with my family. A pile of lounge wear doesn’t make a Pinterest-worthy picture, but fewer outfits and more pajamas would have been a better fit.
Obviously overpacking for a car trip a few hours away is a mistake of little consequence. Still, I’m trying to cut down on these fashion mistakes and the time, money, and stress that they cost me.
My unedited closet contained plenty of mistakes: the mint green tank that was on sale but isn’t the right color for me; the designer skirt that was a great deal but is a size too small and only fits while I’m standing and wearing super-constrictive shapewear; the silk top in the perfect color that must be dry cleaned after every wear. Those three items collectively cost me less than $60, but those are only three mistakes of many.
Meanwhile, this is my basic black tank top:
Yes, that’s a large hole. It extends beyond the seam into a long run, and it gapes right around my left hip whenever I wear it. That $60 spent on mistakes could replace my basic tank along with my favorite tights that have a run and can only be worn with boots. I think I would even have enough left over to re-sole a beloved pair of heels and possibly alter my charcoal skirt that’s a bit too big.
Not one of those investments has the appeal of buying a new top, even a top in the wrong color. Similarly, packing pajamas sounds far less exciting than packing outfits I will not have an opportunity to wear. I am swept up in the thrill of the new and the idealized, and I end up missing what I actually need.
I’m hoping that with greater intention and objectivity, I will make fewer fashion mistakes. I have grace for myself in this learning process, and I know I’m growing in the art of packing and living lightly. And next time I go shopping, will someone please remind me to replace that hole-y black tank top?
I have now spent a month living in my limited wardrobe. Whether these present constraints remain a short-term experiment or become a permanent lifestyle choice, I’ve discovered that I do prefer having fewer things in my closet. I like knowing what I have and having what I like (as opposed to what I think I should like). In order to maintain some of this newly carved out space in my closet and my life, I have laid out some goals for building and maintaining my wardrobe:
I want to enjoy wearing my clothes as much as I enjoy buying them.
- This is the primary thing I want to consider when shopping.
- Most of my favorite clothes were not impulse purchases. Either I pondered the item for days or weeks before finally buying, or I looked for a specific type of item (i.e., a striped dress) for months before finally finding a deal and purchasing one.
I want to curate, not accumulate.
- My wardrobe is an ongoing design project that requires regular editing. I want my additions to be thoughtfully and intentionally made with regard to my style, shape, lifestyle, and budget, and I will keep the total number of items limited with a “one in, one out” policy.
- If a new item isn’t worthy of replacing something already in my closet, it probably doesn’t belong in my wardrobe.
I want my purchases to be long-term commitments rather than flings.
- I want to buy the best quality I can afford and wear things for many years.
- I will try things on, try them out at home with things I already own, return things that don’t work, and have things altered in a timely manner if necessary.
- I would like to build a savings reserve so I’ll be able to replace or repair something when it wears out.
- If I want to experiment with a trend, I can “rent it” (i.e., buy it secondhand for not much money and donate it back after a season).
I can’t buy off unpleasant emotions.
- I recognize that feelings of sadness, grief, insecurity, powerlessness, or anger do not disappear when I throw money around. I am only buying myself a temporary distraction.
- I want to choose other ways of dealing with my feelings, preferably ones that don’t leave me with souvenirs. Do I really want a closet full of clothing that commemorates my bad days?
Fear has no place in my wardrobe.
I don’t have to buy something because I’m afraid . . .
- that I’ll miss a great deal
- that I need it to look stylish
- that I’m missing out on a trend or that my look is dated
I don’t have to keep something because I’m afraid . . .
- that I wasted money
- that I’ll need or want it after it’s gone
- that I’ll hurt someone’s feelings (this one is especially difficult for me)
What about you? Do you have rules for what comes into your closet or your home? Or do you find the idea of “rules” restrictive (as I do)? In that case, what sort of guidelines direct your shopping?
I can comfortably admit that I’m not a minimalist, but I am enjoying living with fewer things in my closet. As I’ve been exploring my relationship with my clothes and belongings, with shopping and consumption, I’ve had some realizations.
Reality is reality, and my wardrobe needs to reflect that.
Here’s a bit of my reality:
– My lifestyle: I spend most of my time parenting a toddler, and the high number of “dry clean only” pieces in my wardrobe does not reflect that. I need pieces that don’t wrinkle like crazy when I get on the floor to play with my daughter, pieces that wash easily if they get peanut butter or marker on them. When I do make clothing purchases, I need to pay extra attention to the care instructions.
– My body: I am average height, I have extraordinarily flat feet, I am a fair-skinned redhead, etc., etc., etc. I want to dress and appreciate the body I have, and I am beginning to accept that some styles and colors (like capri pants, ankle strap shoes, or lemon yellow) aren’t particularly flattering on me. No matter; there are plenty of things that suit me just fine! I can stop eyeing trends that don’t work for me and focus on what does (like bateau necklines, jewel tones, sleeveless tops).
– My budget: If I want to focus on acquiring fewer, higher quality clothes (which I do), I will have to start saving. My years old Target boots are finally falling apart, and I would like to invest in a new pair for Fall/Winter. But I’m not going to be able to do that with a $25 impulse purchase. I want to develop the discipline of saving money so I’ll have a reserve when I want to upgrade or need to replace something.
Clothes won’t fix a fashion crisis.
Before I began this experiment, I regularly found myself going through a pile of clothes in attempt to put together an outfit that I liked and felt good wearing. I refer to this “nothing to wear” moment as a fashion crisis. I used to feel that I didn’t have enough clothes (or good enough clothes) to put together great outfits. Then I started to feel like perhaps I had too many clothes (but still not the right type or fit). Oddly, or perhaps obviously, neither buying more clothes nor limiting my options has solved the problem of the fashion crisis. Even with thirty-three carefully selected, generally well-fitting and favorite items, I have still had instances of running through options and feeling I had nothing good to wear.
I’ve finally realized that the fashion crisis is not an issue of clothing but of self-image. When I find myself surrounded by the pile of rejected clothing, I need to look deeper. Am I lacking confidence, feeling insecure, fearing judgement? I know who I am is not determined by what I wear, and I want to make confident fashion decisions. Even if I have some misses, I am likely the only one who notices.
Having less in my closet gives me space to think.
I love to shop. Even with a tight budget, I get an intoxicating rush when I discover a perfectly fitting dress on the sale rack or find a secondhand shirt for a fraction of its original retail price. I am swept up in the thrill of the bargain, and if the deal is “too good to miss”, I will overlook a multitude of issues (the fit is slightly off, it’s not really my style, I already have something similar, I have no occasion to wear it in the foreseeable future…). I will reason that I am making a good investment, that I am actually saving money by spending so little, and I will leave with a shopper’s high and a happiness that will never be matched when I actually wear the item.
And I may not even wear it. I may try it on briefly before abandoning it for an outfit I like better, and my “super amazing steal of a deal” will languish in my closet.
You know the game where you try ten things on while getting dressed and nothing quite works? And then you end up wearing your favorite jeans and sweater for the third time that week. And then you are fifteen minutes late to wherever you are supposed to be because the simple, daily act of getting dressed took way too long. Tell me I’m not the only one who plays this game.
I love to shop, and yet a nagging discontentment has crept in as I’ve added more and more to my tiny closet. My closet is crowded, but I struggle to find something to wear. My heart feels crowded, too.
I am ready to try something different, something radical.
For Lent this year, I am giving up (at least temporarily) the vast majority of my wardrobe, and I’ll wear just thirty-three things from now until Easter.
I’ll be doing a modified version of Courtney Carver’s Project 333, which challenges participants to dress from a 33-item wardrobe for three months. Official P333 rules include shoes, accessories, and outerwear in the count; I’ll be counting these separately. Pajamas, loungewear, gym clothes, and underwear (including tights, socks, etc.) aren’t included in the count. Though I’m bending the rules a bit, I do plan to work from a limited selection of all of these items. One of my favorite quotes from the website is this: “This is not a project in suffering. If you need to create a version of Project 333 that works better for you, do it.” I’m going with that.
I’ve made lists, sorted piles of clothes, selected, swapped, and worked my way down to 33 things (plus three coats) which are now back in the closet. I moved everything else to the guest room closet, which is now overflowing. Please don’t open that door if you are at my house . . .
I am looking forward to the challenge, and I’m also fighting some trepidation. I wonder if I will get bored of my limited choices. I’m bridging two seasons, so I’m concerned I may not have all I need to bridge dramatic temperature swings. I worry about what other people will think. Will anyone even notice or care if I’m wearing the same thing more often? Were these the items I was wearing all the time anyway? I wonder if I’ll feel guilty for forsaking all those other clothes, as if inanimate objects somehow know they are being neglected. I am considering what it would mean to fail and put everything back next week . . . or to succeed and end up giving most of it away.
Lent is a time of remembering and practicing sacrifice, of reexamining priorities and values, a time of not only giving up the bad, but of giving up the good in favor of the better. All that extra space in my closet makes me anxious, but it also makes me excited. There is space, breathing room, and that feels like the start of something better.