Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Beginning of a Minimalist Life

I think my move from Philadelphia to Portland really opened my eyes to how much my stuff had been weighing me down.  In preparation of the move, I did a ruthless cull of my belongings; little did I know what it would be the start of!  The hardest part of that first purge was books.  I was very attached to my books, lugging them around with me everywhere I moved, whether or not I ever reread them.  To me, the books represented my wish to be seen as an educated, interesting person and reflected my love of reading.  In getting rid of these books though, I realized that I didn't need to prove anything to anyone.  The only people I ever invited over were friends, and they already know I'm educated, already find me interesting and are fully aware I love reading.  In other words, I don't need my things to say anything about me, I am what I am, with or without these external things.  So I kept the best loved books, the ones I returned to again and again and donated/gave away the rest.

Since moving then, I've continued to declutter and refine my belongings to only items that are in regular use and/or beautiful.  I try to be fanatic about what I bring in and beg everyone I know not to give me things.  Every time I take another bag to Goodwill I start filling another.  It's funny how much easier it is to part with things over time.  After a while, it is apparent that I really never wear that skirt, even if it's lovely and the material is so fine - it doesn't fit quite right and I don't feel great in it.  Same with the sweater that's 100% merino and feels so soft but looks so awkward on.  In the process, my house and life feel simultaneously more serene and also more focused.  I am never searching for anything because I know what I have and better yet, where it is.  

I don't want to give the impression I have NO stuff though.  Compared to someone like Miss Minimalist, I have a lot!  But I'm totally ok with that because as Miss Minimalist would be the first to say, minimalism is really all about tailoring your possessions to only what you truly use and love.  It'll mean different things for different people.  Since I have done a lot of decluttering in the clothes department, here are a few tips that have worked for me in my journey so far:
  • Do not fall for sales (especially with clothes).  It does not matter how much it's marked down, evaluate it as if you would have to pay full price for it.  There are so many clothing options out there that there is no reason to settle.  The only exception is if you lost all your clothes and you literally have nothing to wear!
  • On a similar note, be aware of price/wear.  I no longer buy anything from H&M because frankly they don't stand up well to washing in general.  I've had too many $15 shirts/dresses (so cheap!) that shrunk peculiarly after a single wear.  $15/wear is the opposite of cheap.  People say this everywhere but it's really true - stick to a small wardrobe of high quality clothes and you will save money and look put together all the time.  Chances are, you are wearing only a small portion of your wardrobe anyway, so you might as well do this consciously and deliberately.  It will enable you to get nicer things upfront.
  • Take care of your things!  Namely your sweaters.  I'm someone who is cold pretty much all the time so I'm constantly in a sweater or cardigan.  Before the great decluttering, I had too many sweaters and most of them were not worn on a regular basis.  Since all of my sweaters were kept together and they were all made of natural fibers, you can imagine the lovely moth community I was maintaining without my knowledge.  This is a great argument for keeping only what you wear - infestations like this cannot gain a foothold if your sweaters are in constant rotation.  In the summer, make sure to put them away safely and they will greet you like old friends come winter (or in my case, don't put them away at all because you will be wearing them in Portland year round!)
  • Wear all of your clothes and you won't need so many.  My exceptions are my suits, the two dresses I wear to weddings and my workout clothes.  Everything else I can wear and I do.  My regular style tends to be a little bit dressier than is average for my work place but not inappropriately so, and these outfits take me easily to any social event as well.  
  • Base your entire wardrobe on a strict color palette so everything matches.  For me it's black, gray, white, blue and darkish purple.  This seriously makes shopping and dressing 1000x easier and these colors happen to be flattering on me as well.  What you wear should make you happy not tortured, so pick colors accordingly!  The place where I make exceptions is shoes.  For instance I love red, but it looks terrible against my face so I relocate the color to my shoes.  And for me, I have found that red shoes go with every outfit I can put together so they are just as versatile as black shoes.
None of these tips is particularly novel, but the reason you encounter variations of this advice everywhere is because they're true and effective.  Simplifying my life is something that's very much on my mind these days so "Minimalism" will be a regular sort of feature from now on.

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