Purge, Purge, Purging and the Real Realities of a Capsule Wardrobe

capsule wardrobe

I have been in a purging mood lately.  You live with things for so long, and one day you wake up and hate everything.  Maybe it is because most of the stuff I dislike is well past it’s use-by date.  Or, possibly, I am having a midlife crisis.

Things in life collide sometimes.  I have started doing really big art (paintings, think wall / mural size) lately and I need more space for this activity.  I started looking for a warehouse or church, but there are none in my price range / location.  So naturally, I went on to look at larger houses.  There are many in my price range, but when I really started considering moving, the idea and hassles of moving and having a mortgage just stressed me out too much.  I really like not having a house payment and essentially being free to make life choices as I see fit because of where I live now.  See post…

I also recently had the epiphany that it is not in my nature to organize things.  It is a great relief to admit to myself that this is not a skill that I have and I have since let go of the “being organized” dream.  I have decided that purging is the answer.  As a minimalist I have long known that if I don’t have (own) it, I don’t have to organize, clean, move, or insure it, etc.

I was greatly inspired by the reviews of Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.  I did not read the book (full disclosure), but read several very extensive reviews.  She bases a lot of decisions on whether or not an item ‘sparks joy’ – if it doesn’t, get rid of it.  And, in regards to paperwork, it never sparks joy – get rid of it.  Thank you.  I will!

I wanted to read the book, but the library wait list was very long.  I will be done purging before I get it.  I toyed with the idea of buying it, but I have been a minimalist for a long time and I rarely buy things.  Which is probably why most of my stuff is past it’s use-by date.

When the ideas of needing more studio space, purging in lieu of organizing, and owning a lot of stuff that is past it’s use-by date and not really liked anymore collided – I had another epiphany.  As I imagined getting rid of all the things that no longer sparked joy, and what I would replace them with – I realized that I didn’t want to replace them and if I did want to replace them, I wanted a really scaled down, easy to move version of said item.  My mind entertained the idea of moving into a really teeny-tiny place for a while because if I got rid of all the stuff that I no longer wanted I could probably live in half the space (400 sq ft), but that didn’t take care of the studio problem.  Finally, my brain decided to think outside of the box.  Why not live in half of the space?  The other half of the space could be my studio!!!

Right now my studio is in a little 8 x 10 room that sits off of the living room.  But soon, my studio will inhabit all of my living room as well as the original studio area.  Thus about half of my house.  I will update as that happens.

I started the purging process in November / December with my closet, thinking about, then doing, respectively.  My closet sort of got the whole ball rolling and now it has turned into the proverbial snowball going downhill.  I was increasingly finding it more and more difficult to put an outfit together and this perplexed me because my wardrobe was vast – especially for a minimalist.  My personal minimalist rules are easy; everything I own must fit easily (with room to spare) in the house without anything in storage.

Many years ago I had built a beautiful, his and hers open-plan closet space – of which my clothes took up the entire space – comfortably.  I was a shopper at one point in time, but I have been coasting with what I have for many, many years; buying only what I needed and as little as possible.  However, since everything fit neatly into the space, I neglected to purge – plus it looked better filled.

I was perplexed by the fact that there were so many pieces of clothing that I wasn’t wearing.  Why?  Most of them needed to be repaired, ironed, etc.  These jobs seemed so massive that I kept putting it off.  But, my morning routine kept getting me down.  Why was it so hard to put an outfit together?  I am very artistic, this should not be a problem – I would think to myself.

Coincidentally, I kept running into articles on the internet about personal uniforms and capsule wardrobes.  I was inspired by several sources around the internet:  Want to Simplify Your Life? Try a Uniform, Alice Gregory on Finding a Uniform (this is on the J. Crew blog – don’t get sucked into buying something), Project 333, and  The 10 Item Wardrobe, just to name a few.

It took a while for me to get around to purging the closet, as I had been taking a class and thought I would need more time than I had to spare.  But, finally, Christmas break rolled around and the class was over and after the inevitable time with family (I love you and thanks for having me up) was over, I immediately dove into the project.

I was not concerned with creating a uniform, counting my pieces, or even worrying about seasonal wardrobes* at this point, and frankly, none of that really interests me.  I was just wanting to see, by the process of elimination, what the problem was with my current wardrobe.  I had thought that it was decision fatigue, as many articles had suggested, and once I had purged myself of unusable items it would be a glorious experience to get dressed in the morning.  People touting the great experiences of downsizing to a capsule wardrobe wrote of benefits such as:  loving to get dressed in the morning, ease of picking out the days outfit, it was a joy to keep up with laundry, etc.  And I believed the hype.

Here’s what really happened:  Silly me – it took way less time to purge the closet than I thought and it was really easy.  All the articles said give yourself an entire weekend or more?  My goal was to try on every item, hold it in my hands to see if it ‘sparked joy’ – as Marie Kondo had suggested, and make my decision as to whether or not to keep it.  I thought that the decision making part would be really difficult and take a long time.  But that was not the case.  It probably helped that I was really motivated, as I had been thinking about the smaller wardrobe for a long time before I could actually get to downsizing it.

My plan was to get rid of anything that didn’t fit and was past it’s prime.  Everything else would be held in my hands to see if it sparked joy.  I thought that would waylay me for a while.  I did try almost everything on, just to be sure.  This eliminated a lot of decision-making.  I’m guessing, about 70% of my closet either didn’t fit right (comfortably or flatteringly), was out of style, or icky / beyond repair.  There were only 3 or 4 items that fit, that I actually had to decide on and hands down I didn’t like them and thus hadn’t been wearing them for a long time.  Into the discard pile they went.  What I was left with were the clothes that I had been wearing day in and day out and, not surprisingly, were the more recent purchases.  I couldn’t see them for all the other clothes in the closet.  I immediately took the whole discard-mess to Goodwill.  I couldn’t be rid of the mess fast enough.  Ahhh, such a relief it was.

I admit to being rather proud of myself.  I was brutal and cutthroat about the whole process.  I even got rid of all my purses, and I haven’t even regretted it.  I spent the better part of an afternoon and evening repairing a few items, laundering, and ironing just to start out on the right foot.  But, all was not well in the land of the condensed capsule wardrobe.  The first day I had to go back to work, I stood in front of the closet and couldn’t decide what to wear.  Nobody likes to go back to work after a long break, so I figured that was it.  But, the weeks wore on with no satisfaction.  I didn’t really like picking out outfits, keeping up with laundry, nor did I find myself satisfied with my tiny wardrobe.

Three months in, I am still dissatisfied with my wardrobe and find it difficult to put an outfit I like together.  And sadly, I’m good at this sort of thing.  I haven’t run out excitedly to try to get clothes that I like more, as individually, I don’t dislike any of the clothes that are left.  And, I really don’t like shopping anymore!!!!!!

Having lived with it now for 3 torturous months, I think I have finally figured out the problem.  My first thought was that like a mermaid that is attracted to bright shiny objects, as an artist I was attracted to tops with bright colorful patterns and they didn’t go with the bottoms (all of which are solid colors)?  So, I attempted a few unenthusiastic trips to the store to look for tops in solid colors.  Part of the hype was that shopping for a capsule wardrobe was so much easier.  Grrrr, not the case.  I found a few brightly patterned tops that I wanted to buy, but they weren’t on the list, they were the problem.  After several trips, I found one solid colored top that I liked and fit.  A few weeks later, it still needs to be ironed. ??

So, having no luck shopping for tops, I just lived with what I had and still have today, all the while my mind churns the problem about.  But, I think that I have stumbled on the real problem with my current wardrobe.  It is not the brightly patterned tops, it is that the top styles are not meant to be worn with the bottom styles that I have.  Blouse-y tops and blouse-y bottoms don’t go together.  Since I really like all the tops, I think I have only to buy a few more colors of fitted pants and capris to round out the wardrobe.  Thank goodness I didn’t waste money on more shirts.

I am not all that excited to go pants shopping, but I am glad that I lived with the experience long enough to figure out the real problem (I think).  I have a couple of slimmer pants that are new (old actually, but got lost and forgot about in the mess of the old closet).  I have only worn them once or twice, so I will try them with the blouse-y tops to see if that is the problem solver.  It is spring break and I have a few weeks of not working to try out the new style pants and see if it is to my liking before purchasing more colors in the similar style.  If this is not the solution, I will have to pull out my hair and then go back to the drawing board…

Moving forward from the experience thus far, my takeaway thoughts are these:

  1. Because I had so many clothes, when I needed new clothes I didn’t know what was truly needed, so I just ended up buying things that appealed to me and / or fit, thinking that would solve the problem.
  2. Plan, plan, plan.  Just like with everything else in life (i.e. groceries are a good example) when you know exactly what you have, exactly what you need, and plan a little, you will most likely spend less and waste less.
  3. Purge, purge, purge and often.  Now that I am down to a more controllable level, I think it would be wise to keep it that way.  My plan is to sell the ‘his and her’ closet on Craigslist and with that money create a tinier closet space.  That way, when things start getting crowded, I will remember to purge – much like groceries that go bad within a short time period and are naturally purged often as a result.  My best bet is to make the space available fit the life choices I want to make.  People have a tendency to fill up their space, so I will make it small.
  4. I will try to have a more positive attitude when shopping for clothes (Growling noise here.  And eye-rolling.) because I have realized that maintaining a smaller wardrobe will take constant vigilance just like weekly grocery shopping and meal planning – although hopefully not weekly.
  5. Accept where I am in life.  Fashion just doesn’t excite me anymore – yes I want to look nice and presentable in classic styles, but I am never going to be thrilled about getting ready for work (accept on the days when I get to wear jeans).  I want to remember that what I am really aiming for is ease and simplicity.
  6. I realize that my base habits are not going to change because of a smaller wardrobe – don’t believe the hype.  I will still go a long time between doing laundry because I hate to.  So be it.  There are other habits / goals / experiences I would rather tackle first.
  7. I have a long way to go in attaining a really good capsule wardrobe and even minimalists have to spend a certain amount of time shopping and thinking about such things.  There are many more edits and additions (trials and errors) that will have to be made I imagine.  To think that purging would be a fast fix was unrealistic.
  8. The initial purging of my closet was such a success and felt so good that I immediately went and did my bathroom in the same weekend.  I am happy to report that there have been zero problems with the bathroom purge.
  9. Starting is the hardest part, but once you get going the momentum builds!

Closing thoughts:  It’s spring.  Purge, purge, purge.

Follow up post to this one:  Small / Capsule Wardrobe Update: Life is a Process discusses the rest of the process and the following successes and habit changes. 🙂  It’s a happy ending.

*In Tucson, Arizona we don’t really have seasons.  It’s more like scorching, not as scorching, really hot, mildly hot, a few nice days, and the occasional very cold day.  And once in a very great while, hell freezes over and it snows.  I can actually count these times on one hand.

Post written by Moe.  Image credit unknown.