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5 Excuses that Stopped me Decluttering (here’s what happened when I stopped listening to them)

My ideal wardrobe looks something like this…

…A small selection of clothes that I like, that fit me, and that I wear regularly. I can remember the last time I wore everything, and think of an occasion where I will wear each item again in the near future.

…Everything fits in the space, it does not feel crammed in or squished, and I can see at a glance everything that I own. Choosing an outfit is easy. I do not spend hours trying to piece together an outfit, or trying on and taking off multiple items before choosing the same old thing I wear every day. I have a clear idea of what goes with what, and most items I own can be paired with a number of other items.

…The clothes I own are comfortable, and I enjoy wearing them. That does not mean I will ever win prizes for fashion awareness, style, or colour coordination. It does not mean my clothes are perfect. But I am happy with the things that I own.

For three years I worked on decluttering my wardrobe. It was a slow and thankless process, and progress was slow. Very slow.

July 2014… [Everything on the rail to the left of grey trousers hanging near the suitcase, plus the two shelves immediately under the towels are mine.]

wardrobe decluttering and minimalism in progress

Jan 2015… [Everything on the rail to the left of the ties hanging on the right, plus the two shelves immediately under the towels are mine.]

Decluttered Wardrobe October 2015

October 2015…  [Everything to the right of the dress hanging in the centre and the two shelves on the left underneath the towels are mine.]

It was only when I really thought about why I was decluttering my wardrobe, and my home in general, that I began to formulate a plan, and over the next six months my wardrobe went from that…

…to this:

Wardrobe Decluttering August 2016 Treading My Own Path SML

My half is everything to the left of the long dress.

Wardrobe Decluttering Drawers Treading My Own Path August 2016 1000px

Everything that isn’t hanging on the rail fits in a single drawer.

There are 26 items hanging on the rail, plus 2 jackets. I’m wearing another pairs of jeans, a t-shirt, a jumper and a scarf. The drawer contains exercise wear (2 pairs of cycling shorts, a cycling top and cropped leggings) plus 2 pairs of shorts, another top, 2 scarves, underwear (2 bras plus the one I’m wearing, 7 pairs of socks and 8 pairs of underwear) and a pair of leggings. There is a top in the laundry basket. In total, that’s 60 items, and excluding underwear, 42 items.

Do I have a perfect wardrobe? No. It’s not as mix-and-matchable as it could be, and I’m clearly no style queen. Do I feel that it is enough? Definitely. I wear everything on the rail. And I know that as things need replacing, I will choose better.

For 3+ years I chipped away at my wardrobe. What finally pushed me to declutter to a place I was happy with?

Firstly, I drilled down to what I wanted from my life. More time, and more freedom – who doesn’t want that? But what did it mean to me? What did it look like? And how was my stuff getting in the way of that? (I wrote about this in my last blog post, so here’s the link if you missed it.) This is what I did next.

Long-time readers will know that my wardrobe has been my biggest struggle, but these tips can be applied anywhere. A laundry closet piled high with towels and bedding. A toy cupboard so full the door won’t quite close. A garage or shed stacked high with boxes, some of which you’re not entirely sure what they contain.

I took everything out of my wardrobe and into the lounge, as I had done several times before, and one by one I went through each item. I asked myself – did I wear it (and more specifically – could I remember when I last wore it, and think when I might wear it again in the near future), did I need it, and did I like it? There were only three possible answers: yes, not sure, and no.

Everything that was a resounding “yes” went straight back into my wardrobe. The “no” pile was put aside for sorting – those items for selling or donating, and any rags. What was left was the “not sure” pile.

Now I went through each piece and asked myself: what story or excuse am I telling myself about this item? What is my reason for holding onto this? Why was I “not sure”?

I found there were a few common excuses I was telling myself.

Excuse #1 :I’ll lose weight and slim back into the clothes that used to fit.

Of course this could be true. But I’d been telling myself that I was going to slim into my clothes for three years. I’d set myself a 3-month deadline, and when I failed to meet it, extend it by another three months. The truth is, I wasn’t increasing my exercise or giving up chocolate, and when it came to it, I didn’t really want to. My weight was unlikely to change. If it did, would I even want to wear those clothes that had been languishing in my wardrobe for 3+ years?

Why allow myself to be reminded of what I hadn’t achieved every single time I opened my wardrobe doors?

Excuse #2: I’ll wear it someday/it might come in useful.

The real question is: why didn’t I wear it now? I found that my reasons included: because I already owned something similar that I preferred, it wasn’t comfortable, it wasn’t appropriate for the weather, or it simply wasn’t practical. In the past I’ve been guilty of keeping items of clothing for the time when other, preferred garments wear out, and I’ve learned that well-made clothes take a surprisingly long time to wear out. When they do, will I even want to wear that garment that sat in the closet untouched and unloved for 3+ years?

Uncomfortable clothes rarely (or ever) become comfortable. The weather is unlikely to change much (I’ve no plans to move), and the clothes I own need to be practical for where I live and what I do now.

When I drilled down to it, this idea of “just in case” was generally linked to these next excuses.

Excuse #3: I’ll never get back what I paid for it, so getting rid of it would be a waste of money.

I have purchased items that I then haven’t worn, or have only worn a handful of times. It was never my intention not to wear them, but because they weren’t comfortable or practical, I chose not to. Some of these items were expensive to buy, and others had taken a while to track down, so they had cost me time and money. I didn’t want to feel that I’d wasted my money, and I kept them.

The truth is, I had wasted my money. I wasted it the moment I made the purchase. Whether the item sat in my wardrobe or was given away, that didn’t change. I’d made a poor choice – it happens, and we’ve all done it! But rather than forgiving myself for making a poor choice, I’d keep the item hanging there, unworn. It didn’t persuade me to wear it. It simply reminded me every time I opened my wardrobe doors that I’d wasted my money, and left me feeling guilty.

Excuse #4: If I could find the right shoes/haircut/accessories, it would suit me.

I kept items that didn’t really suit me because I loved the look of them. I loved the fabric, or the design, or the colour – but sadly it didn’t love me back. I was holding onto this idea of my “fantasy self” – the me who looked good in these clothes.

However, the reality was, they didn’t suit me and I didn’t wear them. They weren’t flattering, and didn’t suit my skin tone, body shape, or my age. I realised that loving the style (or the design, or the brand) doesn’t always translate into wearability. Just because it looked great on the model in the catalogue, or in the shop on the rail, that didn’t necessarily translate into looking great on me.

Excuse #5: I hate waste, and getting rid of stuff is a waste.

This was the excuse I struggled with most. I’d justify keeping things that I didn’t wear because “I didn’t want them to go to waste”. Yet there is no rule that says decluttered items need to go in the bin. With a bit of effort, it is possible to find new homes and uses for old clothes.

I turned my idea of waste around. If I had items that I didn’t use and didn’t wear, surely keeping them was a waste? The idea that by sitting in my home unused they were not going to waste was crazy! If I could donate them, that was a far better use of resources.

What about the really tatty stuff? At some stage clothes need to be gotten rid of. I’m happy to darn holes and wear old clothes, but there comes a point when I start to feel miserable and frumpy. For me, that’s when they have to go. I have to let them go. Keeping them and hating them is not healthy, nor is it helpful (and they don’t get worn). It’s fine to have a set of old ugly clothes for the garden (if you actually garden) but there’s no need to have a wardrobe full of them. (That doesn’t mean they need to be binned. They can be cut up into rags for cleaning, composted or recycled.)

As I went through each item one by one, I reminded myself why I was doing this. What the end goal was. Why each choice mattered. Did I want to keep unnecessary items in my home? No. What would the costs (in time, energy and money) be? I’d attempted to declutter my wardrobe over and over. It really wasn’t that much fun. Did I want to go through the same process in another six months, and then another? What would the time spent decluttering be taking away from?

This time, there were no excuses. There were no ‘if’s or ‘but’s or ‘maybe’s. There was plenty of guilt. I’m not someone who lets go of things lightly. But this time, guilt wasn’t a reason to keep things. It was a reason to let them go.

What’s next for my wardrobe? I’m looking forward to building a capsule wardrobe, with more flexibility and things-that-go-with-other-things. I’m planning to try experimenting with less. But for now, I’m enjoying the simplicity of my wardrobe exactly as it is: no more can’t-find-anything-to-wear sulking, no more guilt, definitely no excuses, and no more weekends spent decluttering…again.

[Want to see the rest of my house? Next week I’ll be sharing how we’ve decluttered and what our minimalist living space looks like, so if you’re keen to have a virtual nose around, stay tuned!]

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you struggle with wardrobe decluttering or do you find it easy? How do you feel about your wardrobe right now? Are you happy, or do you feel like you have a bit of work to do? Tell me about any wardrobe decluttering experiences… the good, the not-so-good and the downright terrible! What have been your biggest struggles? Are there any excuses that you tell yourself? What have been your best wins or greatest realizations? Do you have any tips to share? Is there anything you need help with or ideas? If you were going to add to this list, what would your advice be? Anything else you’d like to add? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts so please leave me a comment below!

5 Lessons on “Enough” Learned from Minimalism

At the very core of minimalism is the idea of embracing “enough”: figuring out what is truly important and useful, and letting go of the rest. We often think about this in terms of the things we own, but actually it’s more than that. Minimalism is not just about having enough. It’s just as much about being enough.

Being enough means finding contentment and acceptance with our lives the way they are right now, in the present moment. That’s not to say we don’t want things to be different, nor is it dismissive of the fact that change can be good and worthwhile; it’s more about letting go of expectations.

It’s about finding happiness in the present, rather than pinning it on the future (I’ll be happier when x). It all comes down to enjoying the journey rather than focusing solely on the outcome – which may or may not happen as we’d like it to.

That’s not to say it’s easy! We’re hardwired to dream and scheme and plan, wish things were different, imagine what the end result will look like before we’ve actually done the work, and compare ourselves to others.

Unlearning those habits is a big task. Being aware is a much easier first step.

Here are 5 lessons that minimalism has taught me about “enough”.

1. “I have enough. I do enough. I am enough.”

There is so much that needs changing in the world, and of course I want to do as much as I can to help make it happen… but I can only do so much. I used to lament about how I should be doing more, but I’ve realised that this made me stressed and ultimately more unproductive – I was almost frozen with fear and doubt.

I can’t do everything, but I can do something… and that is a whole lot better than nothing. That is a great place to start.

Whatever I do, I am content that at this moment, it is enough. When I was worked up about not being able to do everything, even one extra thing seemed like a huge burden. I’ve noticed that when I feel more relaxed that what I do is enough, I start to notice these things as opportunities to do just a little bit more.

2. Comparisonitis is a waste of energy.

I love using social media as a way of spreading my message, and sharing the messages of others. But I’m also aware that it can be a slippery slope towards getting comparisonitis… which is where we start to think we aren’t enough. We start to feel bad, and think about what we can do or buy to make ourselves better, rather than accepting that we are the way we are.

Remember, the images and stories we share on social media are (usually) a curated snapshot of the best or most interesting things in our lives. When all these images are put together, the feeds we see can be overwhelming. Being exposed to a constant stream of how much fun everyone else is having (which isn’t so much the reality as the perception) can negatively impact our feeling of self-worth.

I try to follow only people I find inspiring, who keep things (mostly) positive and have a practical focus. I keep the aspirational lifestyle stuff to a minimum. I also avoid checking social media when I’m feeling grumpy or stressed. It helps keep comparisonitis to a minimum.

3. You don’t need likes, follows or shares to be complete.

It’s great when other people like and comment on our feeds – it’s confirmation that we’ve touched someone else with our thoughts or images. Who doesn’t enjoy those shared connections? But chasing approval shouldn’t be the focus or the why. There’s enjoyment and satisfaction to be found, regardless of the approval of others, in the process of writing, creating and sharing.

Personal satisfaction keeps us going when the things we share maybe don’t have the responses we’d like. Worrying about winning the approval of people you don’t even know is a distraction.

Appreciate the likes and comments and shared connections that you do have, and be thankful for them, because behind the likes and emojis are real people who genuinely care about what you say.

4. Do what feels right.

This is as much about gut instinct and intuition as it is about figuring things out on a completely practical level. Just because someone else does things a different way, that doesn’t mean that’s what is best for you. For example, I’ve read articles that have told me that the ideal blog post is 500 – 700 words. I don’t think I’ve ever managed to squeeze what I want to say in so few words! And guess what – people still read what I write!

For me, that was less than enough. I am comfortable with a little more. Another example: I cannot fit my entire possessions in a suitcase, and I have more than 100 things. But I don’t feel that I am tripping over things I don’t need, so I am not chasing less. I am happy knowing that for me, this is enough. It is not a competition.

5. Don’t let feelings of less than enough hold you back.

Our own journeys and our own stories are just as important as anybody else’s. When I first started contemplating blogging in 2012, I nearly didn’t start because I saw Beth Terry’s blog and thought: well, she’s already covered everything so well, what more do I have to offer?

Later (once I’d started blogging, but still in the early days) I began embracing minimalism, and I wasn’t sure whether I should write about that because people like Joshua Becker already do an amazing job.

But then I wondered: maybe there’s a place for me, too?

Maybe I don’t know everything about living plastic-free, and maybe I have too much stuff to be a minimalist, but I still have something to add to the conversation. It’s not about being the best.

If I’d worried about not being the best, I’d never have started, and I’d have missed out on so many great experiences, lessons and connections.

Minimalism is about far more than simply getting rid of a bunch of stuff: it’s a whole new way of thinking. I’m not perfect at any of these, and I still slip up, but being more aware of finding “enough” within myself has made me more positive, boosted my productivity and increased my happiness.

I never realized when I first decided that I had too many possessions that the journey I was about to embark on would be so rewarding, and have such an impact on my life. But it has, and I’m grateful.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your thoughts on the idea of being “enough”? Do you associate minimalism with the idea of being enough, or do you focus on the idea of having enough? Do you focus on another idea entirely? Where do you sit on the positivity-and-acceptance-of-yourself scale? Do you focus on the successes you’ve had, and the satisfaction that you get from just doing? Do you get bogged down with comparing yourself to others, or wishing things were different? How do you deal with the knowledge that there’s always more to be done? Have you any experience of using mindfulness techniques, and have they helped in your journey? I really want to hear your thoughts so please leave me a comment below!