#FashionFriday: Lessons in Minimalism, Why Buying Less Can Add More to Your Closet

Photo by Elissa Merola August 29, 2009

Photo by Elissa Merola August 29, 2009

“Ain’t no stoppin us now, we’re on the move!” — these are the lyrics I’ve been joyfully singing to myself all week as Anita and I prep to vacate our Columbia Heights apartment and migrate to our swanky new U street digs. We’re so excited about our new spot, but my mom is the one who’s particularly thrilled; having described our CoHeights apartment as, “comparable to a shitty college dorm.” Harsh words, but truer words were never spoken.

Now, we’re moving to the palatial pad of our dreams, but before we get to live out our fairytale roommate ending, we have to go through the tortuous process of hauling all of our stuff from point A to point B. I don’t like the process of packing for a weekend trip, let alone a lifetime. Needless to say, Saturday’s move sounds about as fun as a prison shower.

It’s not until you’re forced to evaluate everything you own that you realize just how much shit you’ve accumulated, even in a short period of time. Anita and I discovered gadgets and gizmos brought over in our move more than a year ago that were never even used once. A fourth coffee maker, when did I even buy that? A second iron still in the box, where was that sneaky devil hiding this entire time? The anthology from that 20th century American poetry class junior year, why did I take this class let alone keep the damn book? These questions (plus far more embarrassing ones that I’ll keep to myself forever) seriously occupy the mind as you pack up your belongings..

Americans love “stuff.” From an early age, we’re almost indoctrinated into believing that the more we have the happier we’ll be, because the accumulation of material goods is a measure of success. Maybe the culture of celebrity is partially to blame for that. The people the tabloids obsess over are the very people constantly peddling us more stuff and if they aren’t peddling it, they’re aggressively flaunting it. The more wealth you amass the more stuff you can buy; thus, stuff = wealth. I’ve never liked that idea, and once I started packing up all my “stuff” getting ready for this move, my love for a minimalist approach to life only grew stronger.

Growing up, I spent every summer at my grandmother’s house in a tiny French town called Aix-les-Bains. There wasn’t much to do there and I knew nobody my age, so my brother and I wound up spending most of our time with family. Even though she was in her 80s, my grandmother got up every morning and put on a knee-length skirt, perfectly pressed blouse, and a pair of loafers. Her closet wasn’t filled with elaborate quantities of clothes, but she looked splendidly put together and so chic, without ever looking tired or boring, every day. It’s because the few items she owned were exquisite. She and I didn’t necessarily get along, but my minimalist philosophy was definitely born watching her, day in and day out, each summer.

Wrapping your head around maintaining a minimal closet can be really difficult, especially if you abide by the “I like having a lot of options” philosophy. But I propose that fewer options isn’t necessarily a bad thing. How often do items just sit endlessly in your closet? Hardly ever worn when you bring them home from the store. When you buy less, you end up buying pieces you truly love; pieces you WANT to wear over and over again. I don’t know where the phobia of being seen in the same outfit multiple times originated, but it’s just silly and everyone really needs to get over it. A standout piece will always be a standout piece, even if you’ve worn it before. The wow factor and fabulousness of an item does not dissipate over the course of times worn.

The best part about downsizing your closet is that once you start to buy less stuff, you can start to pay more for what you do purchase. Instead of going to Zara and spending $400 on four cute (but fairly standard) sundresses, you can spend $400 on two really well-made dresses by up-and-coming mid-range price designers or just one amazing dress by a higher-end brand. It may sound like a drag, but that’s how you build a collection that you’ll want to keep for years and years as opposed to accumulating clothes for a season and then never wearing them again. Minimalism is for the long haul.

Once you start focusing on acquiring a few key pieces at a time, you can also turn your attention to what ought to be the most important aspect of everyone’s purchasing decisions: fit. I don’t understand why this goes overlooked so often, because it’s more important than brand, seasonality, style, and pretty much everything in between. You could buy a $1,000 dollar dress, but if it doesn’t fit correctly it’ll look cheap. The reverse is also true, you could find a $50 dress that fits so perfectly it looks expensive. I’m a fit freak. If I put something on and it doesn’t make me say “wow” when I catch that first glimpse in the mirror, it’s not coming home with me. I always think back to my grandmother’s skirts, sitting perfectly on her waist. Fit is the best way to start whittling the unnecessary things you buy just for the sake of swiping your credit card.

None of this means that you have to reduce your closet to a museum-like state of empty space. Unless that’s your thing, in that case by all means, reduce to the bare minimum! But there’s something wonderfully harmonious about having less “stuff” around you. Clutter has been scientifically proven to increase levels of stress — and that includes an overstuffed closet. It overloads your senses and impairs your ability to think creatively. Once you give it a try, you may find that the “less is more” philosophy is the key to calm you’ve been ignoring for way too long.

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