What I Learned From A Closet Purge

Linking up with Emily Freeman to share What We Learned.

It was late on a Saturday evening. I was scheduled to sing in our church's morning service and decided to pick out my outfit the night before. As I pushed hangers aside and looked at what was hanging in my closet, I had the familiar overwhelming feeling - "Why do I have so many clothes I don't like???"

I have always had a complicated relationship with clothes. Growing up, my family had several rules about what I could and couldn't wear: no sleeveless tops, nothing above the knee, nothing too tight, and - for a spell in elementary school - dresses on Fridays. Worst rule ever for a tomboy.

When you're a young teenager, it's hard enough trying to fit in. But I was tall and skinny and had no curves - all angles - and I had a hard time figuring out how to dress myself. Maybe that's a pretty common theme for teenagers. But I didn't feel great about my body, and I decided to act like I didn't care about clothes at all.

My twenties looked a little better. I let myself wear sleeveless tops and found a great local resale boutique that always had cute stuff. But I rarely allowed myself to buy anything that wasn't used or on sale. I slipped into the habit of trawling the thrift store racks and buying things if they fit sorta ok and I sorta liked them because, hey, it's only $2 for a Banana Republic sweater!

And then Cambodia happened - three years of sweating constantly, line-drying clothes in the bleaching sun, and not wanting to buy anything nice for fear it'd be ruined in the vicious washing machine. I experimented a bit with putting together cute outfits, but that lasted only til the next heat wave. I resigned myself to stretched out t-shirts and quick-dry pants.

Fast forward to my clothing crisis a few weeks ago. I didn't understand how I could have a closet full of recently purchased clothes that I didn't love wearing. I spent a few days mulling over the reasons. I even scheduled a Stitch Fix for the first time because I was obviously so bad at picking out clothes for myself, I needed professional help. (It's supposed to arrive today. I'm trying to be patient.) 

I finally realized a few helpful things about myself and clothing:

I care about what I look like, but I don't like to spend a lot of time thinking about it.

For a long time, I thought, "I don't care what I look like! I'm free of the pressure of society's expectations to look a certain way, and I don't have to spend time thinking about it at all!"

But it's not true. I do want to feel good in what I wear; I want it to be an expression of who I am. Yet I don't want to spend a lot of time on my appearance. This is why I have very short hair - I can blow dry and style it in about 5 minutes. And it's why having too many clothes, for me, creates more stress, not less. More options means more time spent on making a decision - exactly the opposite of what I want to happen when I look in my closet.

 Behold the evidence of my poor purchasing choices...

Behold the evidence of my poor purchasing choices...

Buying clothes that don't fit me well, even if they're cheap, wastes more money than buying expensive clothes that do fit well.

For so long, I secretly judged people who shopped at department stores and designer boutiques. How can you spend so much money on pieces of fabric stitched together? 

But then I went through my closet, KonMarie-style, and tried on everything. And I found 50+ items that I didn't need anymore, fit into, or love wearing. And that is a huge waste of money.

I still think thrift stores are a fantastic place to find bargains. But I fell into the habit of buying clothes that weren't a perfect fit because they were cheap and I could use another sweater. It wasted a lot of money and time that could have been saved up to buy fewer items that were a better fit for my body and lifestyle.

I should only have clothes that are useful or make me feel beautiful.

This is my own paraphrase of a popular quote from Willam Morris that easily adapts to my new philosophy. "Useful" means they fit my lifestyle or my job requirements (both as a nurse and a mom). And "beautiful" means I'm not worrying about how tight my pants are or how much my shirt rides up my back when I bend over.

Great clothes actually mean I'm not thinking about them while I'm wearing them. They allow me to enjoy whatever I'm doing - to enjoy life - without taking up any more brain space than necessary.

I have to trick myself into being more selective.

This is a new experiment I'm doing with Stitch Fix. I buy the wrong clothes because they're cheap. But if I only allow myself to choose among items that are more expensive (for me: more than $25 an item), I'll make 100% sure that I really do love them and they fit well. I'll have fewer choices in my closet (good for minimizing decision fatigue), and they will all be options I absolutely love wearing.

Like I mentioned, my Stitch Fix box is scheduled to arrive today. So stay tuned for a review and if it really works.

Clothing can seem like a trivial topic, but we can't get away from wearing them. Hopefully the choices we make about the clothes we wear enable us to pursue the life we really want instead of dragging us down.

I'd love to hear your own experiences with clothes, closet purging, and shopping in the comments below. Any tips for me on having a minimal closet I love?

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