Journey in Minimalism: Living Within Your Means
Nearly two years ago, I began my journey in minimalism. I didn't know too much about it at that point, besides the fact that I needed it. I desperately needed something to combat my ever-present need to consume. I was a serial buyer: purchasing cheap, bargain, discount clothes and other such nonsense simply because I found it cute in the moment and thought it a good steal. The item would inevitably be moved to the back of my closet, never to be worn again, or thrown out the next season. Then the cycle would begin again.
I denied being materialistic, even to myself, and the truth hurt when I finally was strong enough to admit it. I was obsessed with things--having them, and having them all at the same time. I was impatient, selfish, and always looking for the next best thing. I don't doubt that I am still materialistic (as I believe most of us, conscious of it or not, are [and a trait I don't think we can ever fully escape in modern society]), but the way in which I consume has drastically changed over the course of two years.
The summer of 2013, I purged my entire wardrobe, donating nearly half my closet to Goodwill and scaling down my dresser to only two drawers. I was ready. Luckily for me, just as I began forming minimalistic habits, Everlane was gaining popularity. I can't remember now how I discovered the brand, but I do remember being instantly infatuated. The concept of well-made, ethically produced basics was tantalizing to my new mindset. I decided I wanted a capsule wardrobe, a uniform, only the essentials (this proved to be harder than it sounded). So I ordered two t-shirts and two silk shirts and picked up a pair of pointy black flats and I was set. Or so I thought.
Those pieces soon were not enough. My hunger for curating a minimalist wardrobe was insatiable. See, the problem with my newfound desire for minimalism was that I didn't actually achieve minimalism. Instead, I swapped out one obsession with another: an obsession for finding the most perfect wardrobe pieces, and purchasing them regardless of price. An obsession with a concept, an ideal. I gave myself no limit, no monthly budget, no maximum price point for any certain piece. I reconciled this dilemma by telling myself I was probably spending less, or at least the same amount as before, but it was worth because I was buying quality instead of quantity.
This meant spending outside of my means. And this was a mistake. A mighty big one. My first year out of college, I worked full-time retail and was just starting a business, yet I spent like a married 40 year old career woman with a huge savings account. I splurged because I thought it was worth it. I thought throwing my money into an expensive shirt would curb my desire for another one. I told myself I wouldn't tire of said shirt because it was worth so much, made so well, and embodied a minimalist style.
I couldn't have been more wrong. Instead of the perfect wardrobe, I was left with overpriced clothes that were too über minimalist and not easy to maintain, so much so that I didn't often feel comfortable wearing many of them. I worried about spilling things on them; I worried about my image in public; I worried I looked too this or too that, I worried I'd bought the wrong piece and had missed out on the actual perfect one I needed.
There was no way I could go on like this. Somehow, somewhere along the journey, I'd lost my way. I was hyper-aware of everything I bought, yet failed to tally up the costs. I agonized over every piece in my closet, wondering if it was right, yet my standards were based off an unattainable ideal. I was stumbling, fast, so I decided to change my ways. Again.
At the heart of minimalism is the concept of living simply and mindfully. It's the idea that we don't need as much as we think we do, that our lives will be more productive and healthy if we reduce our consumerist habits. It's the less is more theory. And it's a good one--a solid one built around the desire for greater meaning in life, a doing away with the superficiality of modern culture. But it's certainly a fine line that must be tread with caution.
Despite all of my shortcomings the past two years, I did learn some valuable lessons. I learned that a leaner closet brings me less stress. For the first time, I actually like what I see. Most of my clothes feel like a reflection of me, rather than a trend of the moment. I learned that buying more basic pieces actually gives me greater variety in my closet. It's easier to choose an outfit every day, because not only do I like my clothes, but everything works well together. My conscious choices mean I know what I like now, and what I don't like.
To be sure, I have still purchased a few "what I don't like" pieces over the past two years that I have since sold or donated. No attempt is perfect; sometimes I won't realize a piece of clothing isn't me until I've worn it a few times, noticed the way it moves or looks or feels. This comes with the territory, though I'm trying more ardently to avoid it these days if I can.
I've also learned buying expensive clothing doesn't guarantee its quality, nor its wearability. I've purchased many clothes that lose buttons, fray at the seams, pill, wear or wash horribly that had a hefty price tag. There's no fool-proof way to know beforehand, it's really all trial and error. I've learned that, for the most part, I can't buy items that require dry cleaning; I just won't take them, which results in my wearing them only limitedly. Despite my distaste for dry-clean only clothing, I must admit that I have quite the affinity for wool sweaters--thankfully, I don't sweat as much in the winter. But oh, darn you, beautiful wool.
Most importantly, I've learned that material items are not worth spending a small fortune on. And while it's imperative to buy domestic, ethical and handmade, it's not always practical or viable. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the sake of your budget. Sometimes you have to compromise in order to pay your bills or afford that organic food. There is no perfect choice; rather, there's a scale of them, ranging from bad to good to best, and ultimately, you've just got to keep striving for the better option.
I don't claim to have it all figured out--I'm still learning my way through this journey, as I always will. What works for me may not work for others. We're all in different seasons and stages of life. We all have different styles, different priorities, different responsibilities and lives and desires.
That said, here are some style tips that I've found work for me:
1. Don't wear drop shoulders. It's not a great look on me (or anyone for that matter), because it rounds out my shoulders, hides my figure too much and makes my frame appear wider--I end up looking frumpy instead of classic. It's also harder to wear jackets and cardigans in this case. Drop shoulders are usually associated with lower armpit seams and wider armholes.
2. Avoid cropped shirts. I'm nearly five foot eight with a very long torso--cropped lengths instantly make me look like I borrowed a child's shirt, or shrunk mine in the wash. In general, I don't feel comfortable wearing them anyway, as I don't like showing my tummy nor do I enjoy the cold air sneaking its way onto my skin.
3. Opt for straight cut hems. Anything high-low is instantly nixed; as my mother says, "it looks like they ran out of fabric in the front!" I see what she means, especially on shirts or dresses that have slits on the side hems. Shirts with even hems, or hems with a very gradual incline end up looking more classic and are easier to wear.
4. Steer clear of boxy oversized dresses. Oh, I tried so hard, I really did. It's just not for me. I end up feeling as if I bought my clothes too big or threw a sack on. I love the concept of a loose fitting dress, but somehow I just feel frumpy, like I'm swimming (aka drowning) in fabric. Thankfully, this rule doesn't apply to shift dresses; they're more structured by nature and I wear them frequently.
5. Never purchase skin-toned clothing. Which in my case rules out both the light pinks and light tans. Typically, I stick with neutrals as a rule (everything I own is either black, white, gray or navy). I have a pretty fair complexion, and skin-toned clothing instantly washes me out. I try to pick bright whites or darker hues to combat this. I once put on a mauve lace dress and literally couldn't see myself in the mirror--I looked like a floating head!
6. Stay away from super stretchy jeans. I think this one is pretty self-explanatory, right? Let's just say I really, really hate hiking my pants up all the time. And bunchy knees. Urgh.
7. Skip the baggy pants. Trust me, I've tried and tried and tried again. I'm such a fan of Fog Linen clothing, but there's just no way it works for my body type. The loose silhouettes swallow me up and make me look like a child playing dress up with mommy's clothes.
8. Choose breathable, washable fabrics. I've learned this the hard way. If you're prone to stink like me, run for the hills if you see polyester or rayon in the composition. These synthetic fabrics do nothing good for your body and it's really difficult to get smells out of them. Not worth it, not one bit. Pick cotton and linen if you can (even silk can do damage).
9. Invest in a few quality staples. Maybe it's an expensive trench coat or pair of real leather loafers; there's nothing wrong with splurging on a few well made essentials if you know they'll last you, both in style and make. You don't have to break the bank and overspend down to the undies you're wearing. Throwing one quality item into your outfit can make it look and feel so much better.
10. Find a few consistent, well-priced brands. While it's great to mostly purchase handmade clothing or from ethical companies, sometimes it's not a viable option. I probably won't ever buy clothes from H&M (infamous for their poor ethical standards) or Forever 21 (known for their cheap quality) again, but occasionally I'll purchase something from stores like Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, or J.Jill. Sometimes I'll luck out at the Gap, which is an awesome day. And although I love their chic designs, I try to stay away from Madewell and J.Crew if I can, because I've found their quality is not up to par with the price tag (think Gap quality, but double the price). I'm choosy about what I'll purchase from Everlane. When possible, I'll also purchase thrifted/vintage. Planning to do a more in-depth outline of brands in the next few days, so stay tuned!
So, what do you think?
I think in the end, minimalism is just about being a smarter, more conscious being. It's about lessening our footprint on the world by striving to live a simple, more balanced life. It's about recognizing that the true value, the real meaning of life comes from things other than the material: there is greater sustenance and happiness to be found in our relationships, our passions, our service to others.
Minimalism is simply a means to help get us there. It's not about creating an image of perfection, following a fashion checklist, or reaching some sort of lifestyle standard. We will never reach it. All we can offer in our journey is our best, by recognizing and accepting our reality, really living in our financial lane, embracing what we have and seeking out authenticity through avenues of love and purpose.