What This Single Wardrobe Item Taught Me About Minimalism
I recently took a trip to the charity shop to find myself a black, long-sleeved top. My previous one had life-expired at the end of last winter, and I needed one to wear underneath a big thick woolly jumper dress (we are in the depths of winter here in Perth, and Australia gets colder than you might expect).
The shopping trip was uneventful – after visiting a few stores, I found a suitable black top (made from 100% cotton – I’m trying to reduce the amount of plastic fibres in my wardrobe) and took it home.
What I bought wasn’t interesting. What was interesting was the realisation that came afterwards.
I was trying to remember what the last item of clothing was that I bought. I thought back over the last couple of months, but I couldn’t think of anything.
I thought back a little further, but still nothing.
I remembered that at the start of the year I went on holiday. I definitely didn’t buy anything whilst I was away, and I didn’t buy anything new for the trip. I thought back to last year. I remembered I purchased a new bra (actually, two). That would have been last September. I didn’t buy any new clothes for 9 months.
What was most interesting to me was not that I hadn’t purchased any clothes for 9 months, but that I hadn’t even noticed. I hadn’t wanted or needed to buy anything, and so I hadn’t.
What I owned already was enough. There had been no struggle, no doubt, no frustration and no resentment that I hadn’t purchased anything. That’s what it is meant to feel like, I realised. Minimalism, decluttering and finding our “enough” has nothing to do with going without, or holding back.
It is about finding our “enough”.
Being content with what we have. No chasing more or pursuing better.
How things change! Of course, it didn’t used to feel like that. It didn’t feel like that at all! There was a time when I bought new clothes to cheer myself up, to feel better, to “prepare” for a holiday or new job, for a special occasion or event,… oh, and if I just happened to be walking past a shop window and saw something I liked.
I was never a prolific spender, but I had way too many clothes. The idea of not buying anything new even for a couple of months would have sparked fear, resentment, and probably a rebellious why-shouldn’t-I-buy-it shopping trip. (In fact, I remember an specific occasion where that did happen!)
So what changed?
I realized that I owned too many clothes.
That was probably my first realisation. That my wardrobe was full, yet I didn’t wear many of the things that I owned.
I realized that if I couldn’t bear the idea of throwing any away, I had to stop buying more.
In the beginning, I found wardrobe decluttering really hard. I couldn’t bear to part with anything! I didn’t want to get rid of the tatty old worn out stuff (I care too much about waste) but I didn’t want to get rid of the shiny new stuff either. (I would enjoy wearing it once the old stuff wore out, surely?)
My logic was, that if I couldn’t bear to get rid of anything, then I had to stop buying more.
The logic made sense at the time, but it didn’t seem fair. I resented it. Have you ever felt like that? My tattiest clothes made me feel grumpy when I wore them. Every now and then I’d buy something new – because I wanted to cheer myself up, because I was sick of the same old tatty things, or because I needed something to wear.
Despite having a full wardrobe, I just didn’t seem to have anything to wear.
I realized that my relationship with clothes was all wrong.
I started really asking myself why I had a wardrobe full of clothes, but nothing to wear.
I asked myself why I purchased things, and then never wore them.
I asked myself why I used clothes shopping as a way to cheer myself up.
I found some answers.
I realized that I had a tendency to buy clothes that were a little on the tight side (rather than the next size up) because I really wanted to be slightly slimmer than I was. This slimmed-down version of myself never happened, so I was left with a lot of items that were a little too clingy, tight and uncomfortable.
I realised that many items I owned and liked simply didn’t match with other things that I owned. They weren’t complete outfits.
I realised that when I did buy new clothes, it was a reaction to feeling miserable wearing tatty things. I care about waste, but if wearing tatty clothes makes me want to go shopping, that doesn’t work, does it? I realised that I was a little too swayed by adverts and shop windows.
I realised that other things brought more meaning to my life than clothes shopping, made me happier and were far more fulfilling.
I realized that I needed a wardrobe full of things that I actually liked to wear, and that fitted.
This seems so obvious, but the theory did not match the reality when it came to my wardrobe. There were plenty of “used to fit, and maybe will fit again” items, even though I knew it had been years since I last wore them.
There were plenty of items I liked the look of, but didn’t find them comfortable, or practical. There were plenty of items that didn’t match anything else.
What I needed were clothes that did fit, were versatile and practical, that I liked and wore often. Anything else was wasted space (and resources).
I realized, each time I decluttered, that I could manage with far less than I thought.
Most of us have full wardrobes, and wear the same five or so outfits every day. Back in 2014, I thought reducing my wardrobe down to 100 items would be a milestone achievement. At the time I owned 169 items, and that was after 2 years of decluttering!
Yet when I got to 100 items, I realised that it was still far more than I needed. I wasn’t wearing everything I owned. As I reduced further, I still knew there were items I didn’t wear often enough. I went from feeling like I “needed” things to being very clear that I didn’t. I had enough.
Minimalism is not about going without. Minimalism is about finding our “enough”. In those 9 months, I never felt like I was going without. Not buying anything new was easy.
It hasn’t always been easy, but slowly, something has changed. I stopped pursuing more. I stopped seeking solace through shopping. I let go of the idea of “needing” more and embraced the idea of “enough”.
Owning less has been eye-opening, satisfying, and ultimately, very rewarding. But wanting less is even better.
Now it’s your turn – I’d love to hear your thoughts! Are you working towards pursuing a life with less? What lessons have you learned along the way? What a-ha moments came to you? Have you struggled with letting go, and what are your reasons? What obstacles have you faced? Have you ever felt guilt, or resentment, or frustration in the pursuit of less? (Surely it’s not just me?!) How have you been able to turn that round? Or is it something that you still struggle with? Are you new to the journey, and if so, what are your biggest challenges? I’d love to hear about your experiences so please share them with me and leave a comment below!