Three years ago our family moved to Germany. We packed our bags and some more bags, ready to spend a year with a fraction of our possessions. Nearly every aspect of this experience, from the preparation to the actual living in a foreign country, launched me on a powerful trajectory toward thinking more intentionally about our needs and the things with which we surround ourselves. Most of the things we carefully stuffed into our bags were necessary, but I found that still, with 4 suitcases and an assortment of carry-on luggage, there were some ways in which we overpacked. Part of this is pardonable; we didn’t really know exactly what we would need and what we wouldn’t need, and we wanted to be as frugal as possible (this was before we discovered the delicacies that are Kartoffel brot and Rumtopf). Still, the mere fact that we were extremely limited in what we could bring with us when we moved, brought a significant amount of clarity to our lives, and not simply in regards to our possessions. Profound things happen when you strip your dwelling, your relationships, and your activities of the excess and comfort so common to our privileged western lives.
I remember unpacking my meager assortment of clothing, wondering if this was really going to work. I’ve never had much in the way of quantity when it comes to clothing, so leaving things behind wasn’t as difficult as one might assume. I was able to fit most of the clothes I actually wore and loved. The details about numbers are a little lost on me now, but I do remember that I brought too many shoes. Actually, it wasn’t so much that I brought too many shoes as much as it was that I brought some that I didn’t love just because I thought I would need them. As it turns out, even with a minimal wardrobe, I still didn’t reach for the items I didn’t love. For the amount of luggage space, and the amount of time we were to be gone, there were things I simply could have lived with out. A pair of jeans that I wore only twice, a sweater that went unused, and again, a few pair of shoes that I barely touched. I reached for my Minnetonka moccasins more than I would have dreamed, and reluctantly left them behind when we made our journey back to the states due to holes in the soles. For the first time I had become acquainted with the overwhelming beauty of loving and becoming a part of an object that serves you well. What a beautiful thing to use something so thoroughly until it has served its purpose well and truly. I experienced the same reluctance when it came time to part with the jeans I wore nearly every day during our year in Germany. I want to always have the experience of deep appreciation for our possessions. Yes, at the end of the day, they are mere things, but I would much rather care deeply for those things that help us live our lives, rather than look at them all as disposable things to be tossed on a whim. Because when we can toss things easily, without even a twinge of remorse, it allows us to consume things easily, even recklessly.
The realization that my small, highly curated wardrobe, was a source of joy, was an important one for me. As it turns out, limitless items do not necessarily equal limitless options. My wardrobe was far from perfect, mind you. But still, I realized with no small amount of wonder that those mornings when I would wake up, try on everything in my closet (with lots of groans of disgust and dismay) and finally give up, throw something—anything—on, and leave my room a mess and my heart ungrateful, were just not happening any more.
Stepping out of our normal environment helped me to see things with greater clarity. Suddenly this long-neglected angsty are of my life was getting some much needed healthy attention. My clothes were working for me, serving the purpose well, and assisting me from point A to point B without getting in the way. Getting dressed with ease helped me start the day with confidence, run errands, and climb the steep and winding thigh-burn inducing Schlangeweg home with 2 babies in a stroller. Things were falling into place, and even though we’ve been back in the states for 2 years, my progress with my closet has only continued, and taken better shape.
If you’re looking to make peace with your wardrobe, here are a few places you may consider starting:
One: Strip away anything that you do not love wearing. You don’t have to get rid of it right now, but put it somewhere out of sight. Don’t worry about if it’s something you need yet. Just allow yourself to see only the items you enjoy wearing.
Two: Now that you’re looking at only the items you love (or like, if you’re taking a less extreme approach), take note of any common threads. Is there a color that you like wearing more than others? Is there a certain silhouette that you find most flattering? These are your clues to knowing what kinds of items you should look to eventually add to your wardrobe when you are able.
Three: Now that you know what you love to wear, examine whether these things on their own are sufficient. Perhaps you didn’t leave a single dress in your collection because you discovered that you don’t really love any of the ones you currently own. I don’t recommend flying out the door and making impulse dress purchases armed with the new-found power of this discovery. Instead, if your lifestyle demands that you wear a dress on occasion, go back to the clothes you culled and decide what dress or few dresses you could put back into your closet and live with for a while longer. Essentially, this step is all about re-filling the holes that may have appeared in the wake of step one.
Four: Sit with your newly curated closet for a little while. Chances are, you weren’t really using all of those items you didn’t like, anyway. And chances are, you can still live with the few pieces you need, but don’t necessarily love.
If this list feels incomplete, that’s because it is. There are more steps, more things that you can do, ways to add new clothes to your closet, and ways to better identify what things you love, but this process is not about instant gratification. It’s about being a little uncomfortable, wrestling with your purchasing habits, and making-do for a few months, maybe even a year. After all, you have better things to do. One of my purchases before we left Germany was a pair of Birkenstocks. I absolutely love them, even after two years of wearing them with nearly everything (and we have a long sandal season in Texas!). I have a backup pair of sandals that I keep, not because I love them, but because replacing things costs money. I have needed that extra pair of sandals just a few times, and to be frank, it has been frustrating quite a few times not having another pair of sandals that could fill in the gaps. After two years of struggle in this area, grappling with the hole in my closet, there is a new pair of shoes headed my way. I already feel grateful for that new pair of shoes, and the wait certainly didn’t kill me. There is great value in becoming a little uncomfortable for a while, and I hope you’ll give it a little time and see what abundance the empty spaces in your closet reveal.