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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.

What one black top made me realise about minimalist living...

What one black top made me realise about minimalist living…

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!

Suitcase Minimalism and 5 Things I’ve Learned

We gave notice on the flat we rented at the end of November, hoping to be able to move into our new flat but knowing that if we couldn’t, it would be an interesting lesson in minimalism. In the end, the new place wasn’t ready. Obviously we needed those lessons! On Christmas Eve we moved out of the old place and with nowhere to call our own, began relying on the kindness of friends and family. We stored some of our stuff in a friend’s garage and have dragged the rest back and forth across town as we sleep in various spare rooms made available to us.

We’ve been couchsurfing across the city for a month. It’s been novel. It’s been exasperating. It’s been fun. It’s been draining. It’s been challenging. And of course, I have had some interesting insights into my relationship with stuff.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Minimalism for minimalism’s sake misses the point.

We have put stuff in storage. A few bits of furniture, kitchen stuff, a couple of boxes of things. Most of the things in storage are not things we couldn’t bear to part with, but items that were convenient to keep. We are only moving a few suburbs away and we are not paying for storage, so why give items away only to have to buy them again later?

We could have got rid of everything, but what would that have achieved? What point would it have proven? I want to move into our new place and get straight into planting the garden, not spend the first few weekends re-accumulating all the stuff we gave away. Minimalism is about finding out what is enough and getting rid of the unnecessary, not getting rid of everything.

2. Minimalism is not about counting your stuff.

There are minimalists who have less than 100 items, or who can fit their entire personal possessions into a single bag. This is not me. I have no idea how many items I own, although I’m sure it’s more likely to run into the high hundreds or even thousands. And actually, I’m not interested in counting them.

There are plenty of minimalism counting challenges out there based on numbers: Mins game (where you get rid of 1 thing on the first day, 2 on the second, 3 on the third and so on all the way up to 30 – which means 465 things in total) or Project 333, where your wardrobe is 33 items of clothing for 3 months, or the 40 bags in 40 days challenge (actually, this would probably wipe out everything I own – I have nowhere near that amount of stuff in total, let alone that I want to get rid of!) are just a few I’ve come across. Counting the stuff you’re getting rid of, however, is different to counting what remains.

When we left our stuff in the garage, we didn’t count it. We felt everything in there was useful and we needed. What does it matter what that number of things is? What would we use the number for? To compare ourselves to others? Minimalism isn’t a competition.

Minimalism is a personal journey: finding out what is enough for you. Enough isn’t a number.

3. The less you have, the more you can focus.

It has been a revelation to me how much easier it is to get stuff done when you remove most of the distractions: and by distractions I mean stuff. With most of our stuff packed in boxes we are operating out of a few bags filled only with the basics, and it’s been surprising how productive I’ve been.

Jobs that I’ve been putting off that come under the “need to do but really can’t be bothered because they are boring” category, like finally tackling my ridiculously non-minimalist inbox, laptop saved files and hard drive and filing / organizing / deleting thousands (yes, thousands) of unnecessary emails and files. Tedious but oh, it feels so good to be onto it!

Also the jobs that come under “procrastination central”. The things I’ve been saving for when the time is right… which of course, it never is. When you completely run out of distractions the only thing for it is to stop procrastinating and start getting stuff done!

4. Too little stuff can stifle your creativity.

It’s been great paring down to the absolute basics. On the plus side, I’m getting lots of stuff done. On the downside, I can feel my frustration rising because of the limitations I have.

By limitations, I don’t mean distractions. I mean the things I love to do that I can no longer do. Like baking and cooking. I can cook still cook dinner, sure, but without utensils and ingredients and storage space, we’ve had to stick to the basics. We ate the same vegetable lentil ragu for dinner 4 days in a row. I miss my kitchen.

Getting stuff done is fantastic, of course. But I’m not a robot. I can’t just work at 100% capacity all the time. I need rewards and down time – and that is what cooking is for me. It nurtures my creative side. It gives me happiness.

Finding “enough” is finding your sweet spot, when you don’t feel frustration because you are constantly looking for / maintaining / cleaning your stuff, but you also don’t feel frustration because you don’t have what you need. Living out of a couple of suitcases has made me realise that a couple of suitcases is less than my “enough”.

5. However many clothes you have, it’s (probably) still too many.

Okay, so I don’t know how many clothes you have. But I know how many I have…and it is still far too many! I’ve written about my wardrobe decluttering struggle many times, but after posting most recently back in October I had a major epiphany and decluttered a whole lot more. I didn’t think I was done, but I thought I was getting close. Now we’ve moved I’ve observed I still have too many clothes. It seems you really don’t need to own that many outfits at all!

The main reason I’ve found this out is that there is very little wardrobe space where I’m staying currently, so most of my clothes are still in my suitcase. Being lazy, it’s far easier to wear the things on the top, wash and repeat. Which means I’ve probably been rotating the same 5 outfits over the last 2 weeks. Which means I could probably manage with 5 outfits most (all?) of the time. Not that I intend to cut it back that far (yet) but I’ve noticed that I haven’t felt restricted, or lacking in choice. In fact, it’s been super easy to get dressed every morning!

Post writing that October article, I thought I’d made great progress. Now I know I could get rid of more. I’m rather looking forward to unpacking when we finally move and seeing what else can go. Maybe Project 333 (which I’ve always considered completely impossible) may be within my grasp after all!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever tried to find your “enough” sweet spot? What did you learn about yourself? What was “more than enough” and what was “less than enough” for you? What would your one thing that’s you’d never want to let go be? Have you ever tried living out of a suitcase? Tell us about it! What did you love and what did you struggle with? Any other insights you’d like to tell us? Please write a comment in the space below!