NOTE: This post was originally published on my previous blog, Recovering Shopaholic.
Back in September, I attended the San Diego session of Courtney Carver’s “Tiny Wardrobe Tour.” As I mentioned in my post the following day, knowing that I’d be attending this talk motivated me to create a hypothetical summer Project 333 capsule wardrobe (which I later decided to dress with for the month of October). At that time, I promised to share some of the insights I gained from the Tiny Wardrobe Tour presentation, but I haven’t been able to do so until now…
A lot of thoughts came up for me during Courtney’s talk and I found myself on the verge of tears several times. I started capturing my thoughts shortly after the event, but I was unable to finish the post for some reason. I came back to it a couple of times, but ended up leaving it unfinished again. It wasn’t until this week that I was able to complete it to my satisfaction and share my musings here. Sometimes we need to sit with something for a while, and perhaps what’s happened in my life over the ensuing months has helped to crystalize the lessons in my mind.
Simplicity, Love, and Joy
The introduction for Courtney’s “Tiny Wardrobe Tour” included the following sentence:
She’ll be sharing the hows and whys of starting Project 333 to bring more simplicity, love, and joy into your life.”
The first promised “effect” is a no-brainer. It’s easy to see how having fewer clothes in our closets can lead to increased simplicity. A less packed closet means fewer choices and fewer things to take care of, which is in essence a simpler wardrobe. Since I’ve done minimalist fashion challenge Project 333 a few times (read about my first experience starting here and check out all of my Project 333 posts HERE), I know firsthand that it makes it easier to get dressed and results in more outfits that are “9”s and “10”s.
But what about love and joy? As someone who has loved shopping for over thirty years, I always thought that having more clothes, shoes, and accessories – as well as the perfect ones, would make me happier. I can’t deny that shopping was exciting and compelling and I often felt exhilarated while I was doing it. It always gave me a “high” and propelled me to an alternate state of reality in which I was outgoing, extroverted, bold, and confident. I felt a single-minded sense of purpose in the moment and was temporarily free of my self-consciousness, low self-esteem, and fear of the future and my place in the world. While shopping did all of those things for me and also gave me a sense of connection to other shoppers and salespeople, it did not bring me love or joy, which is why I kept buying more and more trying to elicit those elusive feelings.
Even as I pared down my closet and created a more cohesive and workable wardrobe, the sense of “what’s it all about?” remained. I still felt like something was missing and no amount of bright, shiny new purchases could fill that empty space. But the questions are:
- Can simplicity and a capsule wardrobe provide for me what endless shopping and wardrobe management has not?
- Is expecting such things as love and joy from dressing with 33 items for three months too much to ask?
I can’t speak for everyone, but for me the answer is yes, but only if we’re looking at the challenge at face value, which is mostly what I’ve been doing thus far. I thought the primary “end game” of Project 333 was to spend less time, energy, and money on clothes and to have a higher quality, more workable wardrobe. In truth, that is only one of the objectives of the challenge. Of course, if we follow the rules as written, we will shop less and theoretically have smaller wardrobes filled only with things we love. That is a wonderful by-product in and of itself, but there is much more to it than that.
At the end of my first Project 333 stint, I shared my top 8 lessons from the experience, almost all of which related to my wardrobe. Sure, the last two benefits I highlighted about the challenge were about my life at large, but I don’t think I really “got it” back then. I thought I was ready to pursue a fuller life and increase my connection with others, but as soon as I was able to shop again and access the rest of my wardrobe, I gradually fell back into my old ways of buying too much and over-focusing on my clothes.
Clothes are the “Booby Prize”
Back then, I didn’t fully realize that it’s not about the clothes. While I did gain some valuable insights from doing Project 333, I wasn’t ready to leave the safety of my compulsive shopping habit and my wardrobe obsession, and I haven’t been ready for the three-plus years after that time, either. I continued to buy too many items and focus too much on clothes and my wardrobe, both on the blog and in my life.
I think I’m finally ready now, especially after the time-consuming and painstaking experience of compiling and writing about my 2016 wardrobe statistics. It’s all too much! I’m tired of obsessing about my clothes and spinning my wheels. I now realize how much I’ve been spinning my wheels throughout the four years since I started this blog.
Sure, I’ve made some excellent progress with downsizing my wardrobe and improving my style – and I’m proud of those gains, but what I’ve come to understand is that clothes are the “booby prize.” While it’s great to dress nicely and have a wardrobe full of beautiful pieces, it won’t make me happy. Finding the “perfect” x, y, or z isn’t going to help me feel free or fulfilled. In truth, I don’t really know what will lead me to feel that way, but I know that I’ve been barking up the wrong tree.
A Window into Freedom and Joy
The reason I got teary-eyed during Courtney’s presentation is that I want the freedom and joy that she has been able to create in her life. I can see how letting go of my preoccupation with shopping and my wardrobe can lead to the love and joy that Courtney spoke about. I “get” how dressing with less can open the space in my life and my heart for more of the things that will truly bring me peace and happiness. I know it’s not the ultimate answer, but it can be a window into a simpler, happier, and more serene life.
So what’s next? I don’t really know, but it can’t be more of the same. I feel like I took a powerful step toward getting unstuck when I elected to stop coloring my hair. I know that embracing my authentic hair color isn’t the definitive answer to my discontent, either, but it’s a way for me to push back against the steadfast perfectionism that has been driving my life for so many years. I know that I need to shake more things up in order to shift my life in a different and better direction, yet I honestly don’t even know what some of those things are. All I know is that I can’t keep going on the way I have been, as it will only lead to more frustration, stagnation, and a “comfortably numb” feeling that is not the way I want to live my life.
I don’t need to have all of the answers now, nor do any of us. All we need to do is take the next right step in front of us and keep doing so again and again. That’s what I intend to do. Writing and publishing this post was one step in the right direction and we’ll see what comes next…