The following is a guest post from Terra Trevor, who is sharing her journey as part of my new “Stories of Recovery” series. Terra is an essayist, memoirist and nonfiction writer of a widely published diverse body of work. She is also a good bean cook, soup maker, dreamer, and reformed shopper. Visit her weblog where she writes about simple life, the sea, the beach and the joy in becoming more with less, probing life’s complexities.
If you would like to be profiled in the “Stories of Recovery” series (you can be anonymous if desired), or if you have an idea for another type of guest post on “Recovering Shopaholic,” please connect with me to share your thoughts.
Three years ago I joined a community of women and men committed to reducing the amount of clothes we buy and wear. My busyness stopped. The fragments of my life because still. I began to connect to the part of me that craves simplicity.
I’m moderately minimalistic in most aspects of my life. We grow a garden, and I like to cook. The car I drive is an older economy model. I don’t buy a lot of gadgets. My home is decorated in an economical simple style, it’s comfortable and inviting, without a lot of stuff, and it is clutter free. I think of myself as a down to earth, sensible person. But there was a time when my closet told another story.
My Closet of Yesteryear…
In addition to my work as a writer, for a number of years I also worked in a fashionable corporate environment. I also traveled to lead workshops and speak at conferences, and I had fallen into the trap of thinking that in order to be well dressed, I needed a variety of outfits. So at first gaining a collection of clothes, shoes and purses that filled my average-sized closet was fun. Then it became taxing because I had too many choices. Most of all, I found getting dressed each morning stressful. My closet overwhelmed me. I had far more clothing than I needed. And like most people, I had my favorites and everything else just hung on its hanger waiting for a turn to be taken out and worn.
Packing for trips had become torture. I prefer to pack light with a small carry-on bag, and I agonized over what to pack because I had a multitude of options.
Always Searching for Something Perfect
Although I had begun to edit monthly, giving away things I was not wearing, I still had too much, and I kept buying. Always searching for the perfect something, on sale. Since my husband, friends and co-workers shopped, too, and we often congratulated each other on scoring the perfect find, I allowed myself to believe that shopping was an acceptable hobby, as long as I didn’t over-spend, didn’t have credit card debt, and kept within my budget. Looking back, I’m embarrassed that I let my thinking go haywire.
Enter Project 333…
I had begun to edit my closet monthly, giving away things I was not wearing. But cleaning out my wardrobe was an emotional challenge. Then I discovered Project 333.
Project 333 helped me re-evaluate the contents of my closet and gave me the confidence to purge unnecessary items. I began to regain control, re-evaluate my shopping habits, my wardrobe needs, my clothing mood swings, my preferred clothing style, and my consumptive nature.
Although Project 333 allows for flexibility, still, paring down was painstaking.
I had a lot of good clothes that fit me well and were of quality, but I had too much and I spent days trying things on, forcing myself to make decisions.
Many of My Favorite Pieces were Seldom Worn
My previous habit of saving some outfits for special occasions meant that many of my favorite pieces were seldom worn. In an odd turnaround, my closet had begun to feel like a clothing museum. Each morning I studied the contents, weighing my workday (or other occasion) options, deciding if the day and event was special enough to wear my best.
Finally, I decided to let go of two extra large bags of clothes, shoes and purses. It was hard because everything fit me, some of it was new, and of good quality. But I didn’t need that many clothes and having excess was no longer fun and exciting. Instead it had begun to drag me down.
It took a lot of doing, but I forgave myself for making the mistake of using poor judgment in the past. I reminded myself that since I now know better, I will do better in the future. And I’ve reached that success.
Finding My Rhythm with Project 333
Today I have a simple, small collection of clothes I enjoy wearing regularly. But it was a rocky road reaching the good place where I am now. Truth to tell, I participated in Project 333 twice before I finally found my rhythm. The concept of selecting 33 items and boxing everything else up was daunting. I kept wondering if I’d made the right choices, always second-guessing myself. Thinking that perhaps there was a better choice boxed up and I could swap it out.
So when the second round of Project 333 began, I decided not to box up or store any of my clothes, other than the things that are seasonal. In order to make decisions on what to keep, I used suggestions from Style Expert, Bridgette Raes, asking myself,
- “Where am I going in this?”
- “Am I splitting my wears?”
- “Do I have something else similar that I would rather wear instead?”
After I made my selections,I gave everything else to thrift stores. When purging initially, I took some of my quality clothes to a consignment store to sell. But the small amount of money I received for excellent quality, lightly worn, clothing and handbags, helped me understand that I’d rather give my things away or donate to a charity that gives the clothing to women in need.
My Wardrobe Today…
Now that I have a smaller collection of clothes, I’ve discovered that having less really does mean more. My closet and my clothes no longer overwhelm me. It is easy to get dressed each day. Most of the time, I find that I have the right outfit for every occasion. And on those rare occasions when I feel as if I don’t, I do not dwell on it. I’ve learned that it is probably just a “moody” day for me, and it has nothing to do with my clothes. Instead of focusing on clothing lack, I journal write to discover what is lurking in my mind and deal with that.
Although I now have less variety in my wardrobe, I’m happier because it includes an outfit or two (or three) to cover all of my basic needs. I’ve learned to limit my colors and now my clothes mix and coordinate well since I stick with a few basic color combinations (black, gray, charcoal, navy, denim, with three accent colors) and I find that everything works well with other pieces to create a variety of options.
It makes packing for trips easy; I’ve become a minimalist traveler. I have less laundry, which is easier for me, and better for mother earth. I have better educated myself about the horrors garment industry workers face, and my responsibility to the planet.
Having Too Many Choices is Stressful
Our human brain is not wired for a multitude of options. Having lots of choices sounds delightful, but being faced with too many choices is stressful.
Now, when it occurs to me that an item of clothing no longer fits me, or if I’m simply not comfortable wearing it, I’ve learned to give it away as soon as possible so that someone else can use it. When I begin to feel like I might need something new, I wait a while to see if I’m still feeling the need in two or three weeks. But oftentimes it turns out to be a spur of the moment want and the urge passes. Yet if a key item I wear often wears out and begins to look shabby, I will shop for a replacement.
Sometimes, but not often, I browse through a store or online, but I seldom buy, at least not right away. These days I take my time before making a purchase. Frequently, I remind myself that what I want most of all is to maintain a small wardrobe.
Currently I’m working in a relaxed office, which provides me with the freedom to wear casual skirts and nice jeans. But if I ever return to working in an environment that requires professional wear, I plan to maintain a 7-piece core wardrobe for work, because I no longer want, or feel the need to have excess.
The Small Wardrobe Lifestyle
I’ve had a small wardrobe for a few years now. It has become a lifestyle for me. Although I’m a believer in Project 333, sometimes I wear more than 33 items within a three-month period, and other times I wear less than 33. I pay little attention to the exact number of items. For me, it’s all about maintaining a small wardrobe of clothing that covers all of my basic needs.
Having less helped me break my habit of saving favorite items of clothing for special occasions, because now I have more opportunity to wear the things I love, and I’ve learned to view every day of my life as a special occasion.
Getting dressed is easier for me with less. I no longer spend a lot of time thinking, wondering and worrying about what to wear. I also no longer shop unnecessarily. Most days I’m happy, happier than I have been in years. I still feel that I probably have too much, and will need to cull again each season, and edit out the things I’m not using. But my load is growing lighter, and my thoughts are lighter.
Project 333 Was Just the First Step
Project 333 was an excellent way to help me release the unnecessary items in my closet. But it was only a first step. I also needed to peel back the layers to understand some of the reasons that caused me to seek an over-abundance of clothes, so that I can make lasting changes.
My desire to connect with others who are also committed to reducing the amount of clothes we buy and wear, led me to Debbie Roes and “Recovering Shopaholic.” Debbie’s honesty and willingness to share her story about her shopping habits and desire for change, along with the wealth of reader comments, provided me with a community of women and men who were candidly talking about clothing issues I identify with.
Now that I have reached my goal of cultivating a small wardrobe filled only with items I love and wear regularly, I must constantly keep myself in check, and not allow excess to creep into my closet.
Ethical Clothing and Powerful Questions
I have also begun to pay careful attention to a company’s ethical stance before buying a garment, and I am willing to pay more for ethics, especially now that I want to live with a smaller amount of clothing.
Minimizing and simplifying my clothing has also allowed me to see excess consumption in other parts of my life as well, and to make changes. Before I buy anything or bring a new item into my home, it’s important for me to ask myself:
- “How much do I actually need it, in comparison to what it has taken from the planet and from workers, and from others in order to produce it?”
- “How long will it last?”
- “When and how will I dispose of it?”
The changes I’ve made offer me more freedom, less stress and more happiness. But it’s a gift that requires some assembly. With each new sunrise, and sunset, I must remind myself that what I want most of all is to remain committed to my goal of owning less.
A big thank you to Terra for sharing this wonderful story! Learn more about Terra Trevor and explore her diverse body of work over at her blog.