Hard Learned Lessons: Clothing & Accessories

When I took the first step to removing my clutter in order to make room for the important things in my life, the most overwhelming question confronted me right from the get go as I looked around my seemingly never-ending, hopeless collection of things. Where do I start? As I have since learned that many new to the process of decluttering do, I began with my clothes and accessories.

I’ll try to draw up an image of my clothing and accessory collection prior to starting this journey. This is going to be a bit cringe-worthy for me, but it is important to lay it all out for this post, so here we go!

In our Williamsburg apartment, my husband and I shared a closet. The closet had a small organization system of racks and shelves built into it, though organized was far from how I would describe it. Mike had one neatly organized bar for his work clothes and I had two… and the shelves… for my closet collection. The weight capacity of each of my hangers was tested, some to the breaking point, almost each one holding two items (or more-yikes!).

My Hemnes dresser from Ikea (not a plug- just want to convey how large of a dresser it is) was packed, each drawer brimming over the top such that I had to squish down the contents to close the drawers. Countless shirts, sweaters, skirts, pants, jeans, leggings, scarves, hats, gloves, swimsuits, sweatshirts- some items folded, but most haplessly crumpled due to my having tried on multiple outfits in the morning to find something acceptable to put on my body.

Draped on the chair by my sewing table were usually the clean parts of my outfits from the previous few days along with other pieces from “tired frenzy – the morning collection” that didn’t make the cut.

In the corner of the room lurked my large storage bin filled with seasonal items and clothes that didn’t fit or that I did not enjoy wearing but had paid good money for and so needed to be kept (but kept hidden and unused), right? On top of the bin, as mentioned in my first post, Finding Minimalism, lived my extensive collection of handbags, totes, backpacks, and soft-sided luggage, an addiction born from working in the NYC Midtown sales world of handbags for nearly two years. Just now I tried to think of all the bags I used to own and came up with the list below and I know this is likely not even all of them…

5 totes: 1x leather, 3x faux leather, 1xcanvas/leather

6 backpacks: 2x nylon, 2x canvas, 1x faux leather, 1x cotton twill

8 crossbodies: 2x leather, 2x nylon, 3x faux leather, 1x suede

3 evening bags: blue, black, gray

5 wallets: 4x faux leather, 1x leather

That’s 27 handbags / wallets. Twenty-seven. Ugh. I did not even include grocery totes and canvas tote bags or the main bags that I use today which I purchased in my early days of minimalism, a black canvas and leather crossbody, and my black “ebags” travel backpack.

I’m a monster.

Okay, moving on.

In front of the bin were at least two white kitchen trash bags stretching at the seams with clothes I was silly enough to think I could sell at Buffalo Exchange, a trendy consignment store in my neighborhood. After my first humiliating attempt to sell my items at Buffalo Exchange, I learned that they only take really nice or really unique stuff and you stand there as the in-store buyer sorts through your prized junk that you paid good money for. It was lucky if they took one thing for a pittance of a price but usually they just pushed most of the hoard back across the counter for me to awkwardly stuff back into the trash bags in front of the line of hopeful fashionistas waiting behind me to sell their last-season designer items.

After lugging my un-sellable stuff to and from Buffalo Exchange and Beacon’s Closet (another consignment shop in Williamsburg) countless times, I always felt drained and a little embarrassed. After donating to Salvation Army and Goodwill or dropping off my textile recyclables in H&M’s recycling bins, I always felt lighter- a weight off my shoulders- the cycle complete.

This lesson was one that, oddly enough, took a couple of years for me to learn and one that led to me donating many of my clothes and recycling the worse for wear ones instead of trying to sell them because it made me feel happier to do it that way. My clothes no longer had the same value to me as the price I paid for them, but I wanted to send them off in a way that was positive for my own mental health.

The hard lesson was learning that getting rid of my clothing items did not mean that those items never provided me value. The value of those items was in the distraction from stress or impulsive joy of the shopping experience, even if those items hung in my closet for years with the tags on. Their value lay in teaching me what does not work with my body shape or the type of fabrics and cuts that make me self-conscious, itchy, or feel just generally uncomfortable in. You don’t need those uncomfortable reminders in your closet staring you in the face everyday as you go to choose an outfit. You are enough whether that skirt makes you look a little chubsy or whether that dress caused someone to offer you their seat on the subway (cough- just chubby-not pregnant- oh the shame).

I wish I had written down how I initially approached deciding what to part with from my clothing hoard as I am having trouble remembering. I definitely did not know at that time about the KonMari method of putting all of your clothing items on the bed and holding each item one by one to see if it sparked joy (though experimented with this sometime later). I know that however I did it, it was little by little, two plastic grocery bags at a time, and I know that if you want to and put your brave face on, you can do it too.

Daughter of the Wilderness

Recently, I have been reading about camping and outdoorsy vacations fueled by a desire to feel closer to nature. Camping in the sense of carrying everything on your back as you trek through the woods, mountains, or along pilgrimage trails that cross borders of towns, states, or countries is probably one of the most minimalist activities a person can do. To carry strictly the bare essentials and sleep under the stars lulled to sleep by the repetitious buzzing and singing lullaby of cicadas and crickets evokes images of simplicity, ultimate self-sufficiency, and calm. I should be clear, this is not the kind of camping for which I have sought out information.

I confess I am guilty of typing, “Outdoorsy vacations for people who don’t like camping,” into my search engine. Perhaps I am more in search of “glamping” or maybe even just being a spectator into the activity. I crave the coziness of camping, which may, perhaps for me, live entirely in “the idea” of camping.

I imagine the warmth of the campfire cradling my cheeks, the air perfumed with the sweet, dry scent of wood ash and fresh coffee as embers glow like ruby fireflies floating towards the ground. Looking around my imaginary campfire, I see friendly faces of those I love most and those whose company I value, also enjoying the dream camping experience. They sip on hot coffee out of thermos cups, balancing plates heaped with camp stove sausages and potatoes. They are wrapped in sweaters, fleece, and jackets of all different colors and textures, their hands bundled in colorful, knit mittens and gloves to combat the crisp yet dewy chill of the morning air.

What a dream, huh?

While the idea of setting up and sleeping in a tent in the velvet dark of some forest campground is something I find somewhat terrifying (I’m a firm believer and active user of a night light and am not ashamed to say so), it is something I really enjoy reading about or emulating in experience by way of long walks in the woods. The peace that is born from the cacophonous quiet of the woods helps to clear my mind and put the worries away for a moment to make room for clarity and creativity. I really ought to bring a notebook with me on walks to document all the ideas that come to me, though perhaps that would detract from the immersive nature experience.

I can smell the damp green if I concentrate hard enough, can breathe in the minty pine and clean watery essence of ferns. I can feel the springy cushion of well-traveled dirt trails beneath my feet and can imagine the momentum of carrying myself through the trees, ears alert for the echo of owls, anxious tocking of woodpeckers, and tissue box-guitar strums of flirtatious frogs.

So maybe I’m not the “daughter of the wilderness” that I hold up on a self-sufficient, nature-goddess pedestal. That’s okay. I’m very happy being the daughter of my parents and to take in the joys of the camping experience via abbreviated treks through the wilderness or from the comfort and shelter of the roof over my head and the walls around me, which I feel so lucky to have.

Finding Minimalism

Before delving into posts on cozy minimalism, I thought it might be good to start with an introduction to how I began my own cozy minimalist journey. For the past three years, I have been captivated and influenced by the concept and practice of Minimalism. Originally introduced to the movement via the film “Minimalism: a documentary about the important things”, I have slowly been paring down my belongings and simplifying ever since.

I used to be a frequent shopper who had anxiety over parting with things I had paid “good money” for (or gotten for free or super cheap at estate sales or flea markets). I was also a “serial returner”, happy to spend loads of under-valued time waiting in winding cashier lines at TJMaxx and Marshalls or walking to the UPS store with my arms full of Amazon boxes to get my “good money” back from impulse purchases I had made as a stress coping or celebratory mechanism.

I remember a time when a corner of the bedroom in my and my husband’s 700 square foot Williamsburg, Brooklyn apartment was cluttered with storage bins piled with hand bags packed full of other handbags and barricaded with trash bags full of clothes to donate or sell “someday”. That “someday” never seemed to come and the visual clutter that surrounded me daily seeped into my peace of mind, wearing me down slowly. My clutter would give me nightmares about unannounced visits and creepy crawlies and leave me waking up feeling tired and grimy with the unrelenting task looming overhead to vigorously clean, a chore that always left me exhausted and irritable at the end of the day because it involved rearranging so much stuff throughout the process and also piling all the stuff back where it started before the vigorous cleaning.

Minimalism presented a lifestyle without clutter, one of reduced stress, more clarity, and more space. It presented room for possibility, self-growth, and creativity. I was so attracted to the idea of a living space free of so much stuff and of distractions that continuously drained me of energy. I was tired of moving piles of stuff around whenever I needed to get to something. I was fed up with frequently misplacing my belongings that seemed to somehow get swallowed and digested by all of the existing clutter. I was done with wasting my time, my life, and my money with my shopping addiction. It had to go. I needed to change to find the things that are truly important. And change I did – slowly.

My journey into the world of Minimalism helped me to reconnect with former versions of myself, ones that cared less about how people perceive me on the outside, and helped drive me to reflect more introspectively. I learned that the things I enjoy most are not for sale at TJMaxx, Marshalls, H&M, Target, Zara, or any store for that matter. The things I enjoy most do not email me advertisements for “our biggest sale of the season!” and they certainly do not enter my life with just a few clicks of the mouse and entering my credit card info.

No, the things I enjoy most are not consumer things at all, but rather are people, practices, and activities that make me a more mindful, loving, thankful, and present human being.

With that, I thank you for joining me on this new adventure on which I am embarking. It is exciting, thrilling, and a little bit scary and will prove to be a little (or a lot) soul bearing, but I am glad to have company along for the ride.