I own too much stuff… In particular, I owned too much clothing and I lived in absolute denial about this. For many years my bedroom had a very small closet, and I naively believed that as long as I could fit all that clothing into my tiny closet, I had my clothing problem under control. (My ability to expertly organize and maximize my tiny closet space allowed me to live in my state of denial for years.) I came face-to-face with the fact that I was totally and utterly misguided in the summer of 2015 when I was preparing to move to China. While I did donate a few bags of clothes before moving abroad, I mostly just continued to put off dealing with my denial, using a combination of overpacking for my move (thank you giant ziplock bags) and putting the rest of my clothing in storage (along with my massive book collection, random knick knacks, and approximately 10 years worth of Vogue magazine).
My denial continued while living abroad—I took advantage of affordable shopping to indulge in my obsession with Korean fashion and after a year of this (on top of already bringing way more than I needed to China to begin with), the task of packing for my return resulted in purchasing an entire extra suitcase and paying way more money than I’d like to admit to bring (almost) everything I wanted back state-side. Home again, surrounded by a mountain of boxes and four suitcases bursting with clothing, the overwhelming task of unpacking it all became the wake up call I so desperately needed (about one year too late if you ask my brother who was nice enough, begrudgingly so, to haul all my stuff into storage and back out again). This is what I refer to as “the first big purge.” I donated about 3/4th of my book collection (keeping only about 70 books, not counting cook books), recycled about 11 years of Vogue magazine (if you’ve ever tried to move that large of a collection of magazines, you’ll know exactly why I had to let it go), and donated a little more than half my clothes (some items had traveled all around Asia and back again without a single wear…oops).
One year (and two mini purges) later, my inspiration for what I’ll call “the second big purge” had little to do with amassing a large amount of stuff (though I still owned too much). This time, I attempted to tackle a much larger dilemma: Figuring out who I am. At 30 years old, I still fit into much of my clothes from high school and college, I still have an inexplicable draw towards Korean fashion, and I still love the bright, flowing boho clothing from my music festival days. Nevertheless, something about my style (clothing and decor) just felt… off? Somewhere between my adventures into adulting – or simply growing up – my personal style shifted, giving me the feeling of a mini identity crisis almost every morning while getting dressed. While all my clothes fit me physically, hardly anything felt like me anymore. The time had come to make some tough decision. Do away with my past self to make room for my new self.
Easier said than done it turns out. Who the hell was I anyway? To figure it out, I pulled out everything I owned for evaluation and tried on every. single. last. item. (And, of course, looked at hundreds of style pins and capsule closet inspirations on Pinterest). What did I figure out about myself? Nothing I didn’t already know, but previously ignored. After sorting into “keep” and “donate” piles, away went my cutesy Korean clothes (including my cat-ear hoodie with “hakuna matata” on the back), away went my boho Coachella wardrobe, and away went anything I’d worn as a teenager or anything that made me feel like I was dressing like I’m still 22. Inspired, I decided to try to pair down my closet to just 100 items in the colors I like to wear most (black, white, grey, navy, and occasionally army green). I imagined an easier life, with clothing I could easily mix and match for any occasion. I only got down to 165 items for now (including sport and outer wear), but I did learn something important in the process:
Something could have served me well in the past and I could still objectively like it, but that doesn’t mean I need to keep it or that it fits into my future. That’s okay.
After tackling my closet, I tackled my beauty products, office supples, and kick knacks—slowly pairing down, identifying my style, and swapping out quantity for quality. I started to feel like my style better reflected who I was on the inside. Before I knew it, my days were going smoother. I started saving a lot more time. I felt more comfortable in my clothes and managed to simplified many of my everyday decisions. (I even started applying the “Does this bring me joy?” theory from Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tiding Up).
I still have a lot further to go, but going minimalist with my possessions has helped me more clearly identify the person I’m becoming in this chapter of my life. As Sarah Knight so eliquently worded it, “Life is significantly better now that we can see all of our socks.”
GRETCHEN IS A WRITER-BASED IN PORTLAND, ORE. SHE GOT HER START AS A JOURNALIST WORKING ON THE SUSTAINABLE FASHION AND RESTAURANT BEAT BEFORE MOVING INTO COPYWRITING AND ADVERTISING WORK. SHE CURRENTLY BLOGS AND WORKS AS A FREELANCE WRITER.