Retail therapy

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Paring down my wardrobe to the point at which I only use 100 hangers is a dream of mine. This goal, of course, does not encompass the clothes in my dresser, but those are mostly pajamas and workout clothes. Right now, I use 147 hangers. And underneath the bed in a storage bin, I have probably close to 100 hangers not in use. I’ve been keeping these as a reminder of what I’ve given up (don’t worry, I’m not going to hold onto them forever). I have already pared down my wardrobe that much! But I still have a long way to go.

I wanted to share my wardrobe journey and give a snapshot of where I am now in terms of shopping. Clothes have always been very important to me. When I’m wearing a great outfit that I love, that feels comfortable and makes me feel like I look good–even better, when I feel like it’s me–I feel awesome. I think anyone can relate to that feeling.

To begin with, I remember in 4th grade when we, who had formerly all been friends, started dividing into the cool kids and the not cool kids. This process was beyond me; I didn’t realize what was happening, only that it did. And I did not end up with the cool kids. But instead of leaning into my own passions and talents and friendships, I started seeing clothing as a way to acceptance and approval. If I could just wear the right brands, the right cut of jeans, the right coat, maybe I wouldn’t be uncool anymore. This outlook led to some poor choices (so much Abercrombie in middle school).

Shopping in middle school and high school was a painful process. I loved the exhilaration of bringing new pieces home–I would model them in my living room for my parents. But it never felt like I was choosing clothes for myself. They were for other people. I was always imagining how other people would react to my new clothes the next day at school. And thus, after a couple months of wear, they lost their allure and got shoved to the back of the closet.

In college and my early twenties, when I gained more control of my own budget and didn’t have parents telling me what I could and couldn’t spend my money on, my shopping habit got out of control. It was an anesthetic. I shopped to feel better about myself. I shopped to fill a void. The rush of making a purchase and knowing the clothes were mine to keep, the rush of wearing something for the first time…it gave me a boost every time I needed one. I just told myself that shopping was my hobby, and I cared about fashion, and this was okay and normal.

Jennifer’s great list of shopping triggers is spot-on. She lists boredom, low self-esteem, fashion magazines and blogs, and entitlement, and I couldn’t agree more. In college, I would just drive to the Target down the road when I needed a pick-me-up. But once online shopping exploded, I really spiraled. Basically, whenever I felt like I had some time to spare and I started clicking around on the Internet, I’d end up on my favorite retail sites. I’d subscribe to their email lists, and whenever I got a coupon, I’d go see what I could get with the coupon. If I had a bad day, I’d hop online to ease the pain. If a new season came around and I saw that nothing in my closet was up to date anymore, I’d take a trip to the mall. I took this trip every season! And when I achieved something–finishing a paper or enduring a difficult task–I’d reward myself with a spree.

It got really bad when I lived in Georgetown because I basically had to walk down M Street or up Wisconsin Avenue in between campus and home, so passing stores without going in was difficult. It was almost impossible to walk around without seeing a clothing store.

This led to an over-stuffed closet, full of items I wore once and forgot, items that had nothing to do with my personal style or with each other, and cheap, fast-fashion clothing to boot. You know the feeling of opening up your closet and thinking, “I have nothing to wear,” even though you have tons of clothes? Yeah.

My first purge happened when I was living in DC with my best friend who is highly fashion conscious. She was basically like, “girl, you have a problem.” And I agreed. She stood in my bedroom with me while we took every single item out of my closet and debated whether to keep it or give it away. I’m pretty sure we got rid of half my wardrobe that day. The items were a mix of totally out-of-date, worn-looking, or just not me. After that, when I moved to NC, I was inspired to get rid of more items (nothing like moving costs and heavy boxes to force you to consider what’s really worth keeping!).

At this point, about a year ago, the minimalism movement became intoxicating for me. Marie Kondo was my goddess. It was a challenge for me to see how much I could push myself to get rid of. I instituted a rule that whenever I bought something new, I had to get rid of something old. This maintained number in my closet, but it did not curb my shopping habit (I still recommend doing it though). I just assumed that shopping was a part of my identity. “I am a person who cares about fashion, and so I shop.” “Shopping is one of my hobbies.” “Shopping relaxes me.” These were my narratives. But if I really wanted to embrace minimalism, I had to dig deeper.

Last year, I began embracing quality as a criterion for buying clothing. I would only shop at higher end retailers, ensuring that the clothes I bought lasted longer and thus I could shop less. Then, I started thinking about my own personal style. (Can you believe I made it to 30 without having thought about what constitutes my personal style?) I decided I would only buy items that adhered to that style, or that filled a void in that style in my wardrobe. My style only encompasses classic items that can be easily matched with other classic items. I don’t like ruffles or bright colors, and it was time to stop buying pieces because I thought I might grow into them some day (I will never be bohemian no matter how much I want to be and I will never wear bright colors and that’s okay). It was time to embrace what I knew I really loved without worrying about trends or what other people were wearing. I started trying to envision my perfect wardrobe and made a list, checking off each item when I found the perfect version of it. I used the items in my wardrobe I wore and loved on a regular basis to craft this list, plus Pinterest to envision ways of filling it out.

By this point, I was still shopping regularly, but I was much more mindful of my purchases. I’d stay in the dressing room forever, trying to decide. I only shopped online for specific items–no more browsing. But I didn’t even want to be standing in dressing rooms contemplating! I wanted to know myself so well that dressing rooms only existed to make sure the size was right.

And that’s when I got in touch with my values. I became profoundly aware of the way shopping itself was my therapy. Yes, I like to wear comfortable, pretty clothes. But I can love the ones I have, repurpose them in creative ways, and intentionally shop for a new piece if I decide there is something I would like to add. Now, when a new season comes around, I like to take all the clothes for that season out of my closet, try them on, and think about new ways of wearing them and loving them. All of a sudden, I don’t need to shop anymore! If I want to get serious about my budget, if I can find happiness in a million ways inside myself, and if I really don’t define myself by my possessions anymore, shopping is no longer fun. I don’t even crave it or miss it.

To wrap up, I’ve defined my personal style, found happiness within myself, embraced minimalism, and created a budget that doesn’t include big shopping sprees. These four things have broken my shopping habit, and I feel great. I wear clothes that I love every day because I only own clothes that I love. And they all combine beautifully. No more retail therapy for me.

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