My Minimalist Closet Journey

I love clothes and fashion. I love the way we can express ourselves with our fashion choices. I love the atmosphere of my favorite stores and how it feels to find something you think defines you. Shopping used to be one of my favorite things. So when I first began thinking about adopting a minimalist wardrobe over a year ago, I was terrified. In my heart I knew it was the right thing to do, but it went against so much of what I had been taught and had come to believe.

But I had been minimalizing around the house a lot. So I was kind of used to the internal struggle that came along with it at that point. I decided to have a huge purge with a weekend yard sale. I got rid of so many things that weekend, and 90% of it was clothing (MY clothing). I had two overflowing clothing racks, and so many piles of folded clothes. I finally stopped folding and got out two huge boxes , marked one 25 cents and another 50 cents, and started throwing things in. I filled up both of those too. The night before the yard sale I stood staring at these piles and piles of things that filled up my living room. It shocked me that we could be so young and have so much stuff to get rid of. And still have absolutely everything we need (and then some) left over at the end! And the thing is – we’re not rich people. We live paycheck to paycheck. So where did all of this stuff come from?

This was years and years of buying clearance and sale items a little bit at a time. Years of thinking, “I know I don’t have that much money, but I can afford a $5 shirt.” Or walking away from a closet full of clothes to go buy a cheap dress to wear one night – because you think, “It’s just $7. I’m not hurting anything.” But over the years that money adds up. As do the number of things you own. When I think back on those hundreds of clothing items and accessories I got rid of that day…. that was easily over $2,000 worth of stuff. And that’s only if the average cost of each item was $5 or less, which I know it all was not. Two thousand dollars I didn’t need to spend. Because without those items I still had a dresser and closet full of clothes!

It was a little frightening to let go of so much. Kind of frustrating that there was so much of it we could get rid of. But once it was out of my house and out on my lawn it was liberating. I made $100 that day and had tons of things leftover to donate. (I think I only ended up with one small box of things to throw away – which made me feel great! Less for the landfill!)

Every once in a while I’ll remember stuff that I lost that day and miss it. I’ll feel a small twinge of wondering if I made a mistake. But then I remember – they’re just clothes. Sometimes they may make us feel a little extra special…. but the ultimate goal should be to feel that way because of something besides our outfit, right? The special feeling we get from a new outfit may be less of a treat or self-esteem booster, and more so something that has been sold to us by big corporations.

In the documentary The True Cost (which I highly recommend watching), they explain that we have reached a point in society where we can no longer afford the things we really need like health insurance, housing, and good education. So we have settled for this consolation prize of being able to afford a lot of what we don’t need. Even if I hadn’t bought all of those clothes, I still couldn’t have afforded to pay off my student loans. Or covered the cost of health insurance for more than a year (not to mention the co-pays and deductibles). But it sure did make me feel wealthy in a way to be able to go shopping and buy those things – even if I didn’t need them. It’s a pacifier. A little something to lull us into complicity over all the things that are wrong and unfair.

When we’re too poor to afford food or utilities or rent – we panic of course. Those are our basic necessities. But when we can afford those things and a little extra, like a new dress and pair of shoes, we feel like we’re not doing so bad. And we worry less about the student loan payments, and the high-cost of healthcare and paying off our debt. Because we can’t be doing too bad if we can afford all of these nice clothes, right?

But in reality they’re not nice clothes. One of my favorite places to shop was Forever 21. I loved the style of their clothes and how much variety they had in their store. I could always find something I liked and it was always under $20. But their clothes are designed to be bought in high quantities on a regular basis. They don’t last. I do have some items that have lasted over a year, but most of it starts falling a part after a few months. Not to mention the strange pair of pants that smelled like burnt rubber for the first three months I wore them, no matter how many times I washed them. They’re simply not well made. On top of that, they have one of the lowest scores on the 2017 Ethical Fashion Report. So, ethically – they’re not a company I want to support either. I am essentially giving my money to someone I don’t like just because they’re pretty, and in return I’m getting things I don’t need that don’t last.

What I learned most from that initial purge is that shopping for me had nothing to do with loving what I was choosing to buy. It had more to do with the feeling of buying something…. anything. It felt good. Rewiring ourselves to get joy in new and different ways is hard. I’m not going to pretend like it isn’t. I still want to engage in some retail therapy. The same way I want to eat a McDonald’s cheeseburger and smoke a cigarette. But by letting go of those old habits, I am making room in my life for new and better things. Instead of going to the store, I can play a game with my kids or cook some new foods to try or go for a walk or paint something. The possibilities are endless. And they’re all better than giving my money to corporations I don’t like for things I don’t need.

Letting go of things in your closet you don’t need or love not only makes room for new (and hopefully more ethically-sourced) products that you very thoughtfully and intentionally purchased, it gives you time. Less time doing laundry, less time worrying over what to wear, less time shopping for things you already have but can’t find, less time thinking about something that should be quick and simple and effortless. Those hours spent standing in front of our closets digging through piles of clothes will not be cherished or missed. Having an extra five minutes or more to do some yoga, or make a healthier breakfast, or just enjoy a moment of peace and quiet admiring the morning sun – these are things that give us a higher quality of life. And that’s what we should be investing our time and money into – the things that actually give back to us. Investing in corporations like Forever 21 isn’t giving me anything but a guilty conscience, cheap clothes that will fall a part in a couple of months, and more clutter in my life that I simply don’t need. By choosing to spend our money elsewhere, we are sending those companies a message that our standards are higher now.

I have so much more I want to share about my journey to an ethical, minimalist closet! You can expect regular posts from me about this. But for now- if I have already peaked your interests, I do want to leave you with two resources….

I first began minimalizing my closet with the help of the FREE Minimalist Wardrobe Workbook from Encircled, which has become one of my favorite minimalist, ethical, eco-friendly brands. Just visit their website and sign up for their mailing list to receive your copy.

Keep in mind that we have become spoiled buying low-quality products from companies that don’t pay their workers fair wages or provide them with safe working conditions. So there is quite a price-difference between what most of us are used to buying and what companies like Encircled offer. But think of it this way – you’re not buying what you don’t need for fun, so you don’t need to buy as much as often. You’re only buying what you know you need, and you’re making it last for huge chunks of your life (and it will if you take care of it, because it’s quality). So in those terms, it’s not as expensive as it seems at first. Think quality over quantity. It’s also not the only option for having a more ethical closet! And whether you shop from Encircled or not, their workbook provides you with a super helpful, practical approach to minimizing for the first time or even repeatedly! I recently went through the process again and it was just as helpful as it was the first time.

Don’t feel like you can’t have an ethical closet if you’re on a small budget. (I still have not actually bought anything from Encircled, as much as I love them. I will have to save up for those purchases.) This is a wonderful guide for building a more ethical closet regardless of your budget. Print this graphic out and hang it in on your closet door as a reminder.

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As I said, this is definitely not the last you’ll hear from me about ethical and minimalist fashion. But for now – I hope I’ve planted some good seeds of thought! Soon I’ll tell you more about how my relationship with fashion and shopping changed after the big purge, and how my closet has evolved since then!

I encourage you to get your free copy of the Encircled workbook and do a closet clean-out this weekend!

~Mai

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