As human beings, we can sometimes be walking contradictions. We often say one thing and act in a completely opposite manner. This is definitely true for me in terms of minimalism and simplicity. I say I want a simpler and less complicated life, yet my past “maximalism” still hasn’t been completely exorcised from my psyche.
Another Type of Excess Besides Clothes
I’ll tie this discussion in to clothing and wardrobe shortly, but allow me to start with another personal example… I subscribe to a lot of magazines; too many, in fact. This excess happened gradually, as I regularly received low-cost subscription offers from a number of publications. I’d see the offer and think, “Only $12 for a year? Of course I’ll subscribe!” And so it went, until piles and piles of magazines were delivered to me each month.
As the magazines would pile up, I’d lament the excess and clutter around our apartment. As the stacks began to topple over, I’d either have to take the time to go through the magazines or simply toss them into the recycling bin, often unread. It took years for me to see the light, but I finally stopped accepting new magazine subscriptions. I decided the low subscription price wasn’t worth the time and energy I’d have to spend dealing with “magazine overload.” As many of my subscriptions ended, I let them lapse rather than renewing them.
A Dichotomy of Desires
Now for the contradiction… On the one hand, I was happy to finally be getting my magazine clutter under control. Yet on the flip side, I missed getting new magazines delivered to me every few days. Each time my husband would come home from our post office box, I’d eagerly ask him, “Were there any magazines?” If he answered in the affirmative, I’d be like a kid in a candy store. I’d tear open the glossy issue, anxious to devour the beauty and wisdom in the pages, even if only to skim the information while eating a meal or snack. If there were no new magazines on a given day, my heart would sink a little bit.
I understand that this doesn’t really make any sense. I want fewer magazines and less clutter, yet I also want to experience the joy of diving into new issues. What I really wanted was the experience of “new.” The same dichotomy exists for me with clothing. I love getting new clothes, but I become overwhelmed with having those same clothes. My closet has been bursting at the seams for years and I hated the feeling of overwhelm I’d experience whenever I opened my wardrobe doors. However, I wasn’t willing to give up the emotional rush I got from shopping for and buying new clothes.
We Can’t Be Happy with Such Opposing Aims
Therein lies the rub. With both clothes and magazines, I want less and more at the same time. Who can be happy with such opposing aims? If I buy less, I feel like I’m missing out on the joy of the new. But if I buy more, I feel overwhelmed and sad about the tremendous waste I’m creating. There’s no way I can read thirty plus magazines each month, just like there’s no way I can wear hundreds of clothes more than once or twice per year. I’ve always had good intentions to use what I had and not be wasteful, but the math just never worked out in my favor. There were just too many magazines and too many clothes for one woman to read or wear.
So how does one deal with the phenomenon of wanting less and more at the same time? Realizing the dichotomy of desires is an important first step in the process. We often go about our lives in such a “walking fog” that we don’t realize how our aims are working against each other. Once we’re aware of the contradicting forces within ourselves, we can take steps to turn things around.
Consciously Choosing Less over More
The next step is to make a conscious choice as to the direction in which we’d like to proceed. I’ve decided that I want to have less and to better use and appreciate what I have. I hate the guilty feeling I have every time I toss unread magazines into the recycling bin or take rarely worn clothing to the consignment store or charity shop. I want the things I jettison to have received abundant love and attention from me and I want to feel satisfied that I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of my reading material and wardrobe pieces.
After a powerful choice has been made, it needs to be quickly followed up by supportive action. Over the past few weeks, I’ve cancelled a number of magazine subscriptions. Whereas I previously just let my subscriptions lapse without renewing them, I’ve now opted to actually cancel them. Why wait until months or years from now to cut down on my information overload and paper clutter? It’s been extremely empowering to “take the bull by the horns,” so to speak, and reclaim some of my space and time.
Managing the “Less” Part of the Equation
With my wardrobe, it hasn’t been as straightforward and easy, but I continue to pare things down while bringing less and less into my closet. Just recently, I returned several unworn items that would have likely become “wardrobe benchwarmers.” I also continue to increase my standards for what deserves a place in my wardrobe. The things that don’t make the grade go into my consign/donate pile and I’m wearing the pieces that remain more regularly, even when all I’m doing is sitting in front of my home computer all day long.
So I’m dealing with the “less” part of the equation quite well. I’m de-cluttering and reducing the flow of new items into both my magazine rack and my closet. But what about the “wanting more” part of the picture? How do I quiet the ever-present “wanting machine”? That part has proved more difficult, but it helps to remind myself of why I desire less, mostly for freedom of time, monetary value, and peace of mind.
Project 333 – How it Helped and Its Aftermath
I remember when I was doing Project 333 this past April through June. Although I initially lamented the lack of available sartorial choices, I quickly realized that I felt much more peaceful and at ease with a smaller wardrobe. Getting dressed each day was infinitely easier and I liked a larger proportion of my outfits than I had previously. Since all of my “wardrobe benchwarmers” were packed away in boxes, I didn’t feel deep pangs of guilt each time I stared into my closet. Most of the 33 garments in my Project 333 wardrobe capsule were among my favorite pieces and were regularly worn during the challenge.
Following Project 333, I opened up access to my full wardrobe once again. At first, I was happy to have new choices, but my previous guilt and overwhelm quickly resurfaced, as I was again faced with a sea of clothes I neither loved nor wore. In the ensuing months, I’ve consigned and donated a significant amount of those unloved items, yet my wardrobe is still too large. Deep down, I want even less, but I still feel the urge to shop and buy new things.
Focusing Within Instead of Without
I’m happy to report, however, that my desire to shop is waning. When I find myself pining for more, usually in response to clever marketing ploys or other visual stimuli, I remind myself of the mess that I created through my overshopping. I ask myself if I really need that which I crave, and the answer more often than not is no.
Increasingly, I am working to focus within instead of without, not only on what I have but also on who I am. I ponder whether it’s really new clothes that I desire, or am I really wishing for new experiences. I think I want new clothes more out of habit than anything else. I’m not sure what else to want, as I’m still in that “in-between” place between being a raging shopaholic and a person for whom shopping is a periodic activity in response to actual lifestyle needs. I realize I need to have patience, take things one day at a time, and continue to work on myself and my life. Perhaps soon I will be happy with less and no longer pine for more.
Do You Want Less and More at the Same Time?
How about you? Can you identify with my competing desires for both less and more in terms of my wardrobe and other areas of my life? How do you deal with wanting more clothes (or whatever) while also wanting to streamline your wardrobe or other areas of your life? If you have words of wisdom for those of us who are still struggling, please share!