If there’s ever a reason to have an aggressively curated wardrobe, it’s that you're a person who moves a lot. It doesn’t matter if you find yourself upgrading to a better apartment down the block, or you're heading across the country for a new job: The act of packing up tons of clothes and shoes and coats and bags is horrifying enough that going through it just once can inspire you to overhaul your entire philosophy toward having stuff. I’ve moved five times since graduating from college in 2009, and it made me obsessed with becoming a minimalist — until I finally accepted the fact that it just isn’t who I am. While I was doing all that packing and unpacking and reflecting on what all of my stuff actually means, I was quickly learning the same things as every other twentysomething: How to feed myself and manage my budget; how to find some meaning in soul-crushing jobs; and how to not look like a 12-year-old. Having a perfectly sorted-out closet seemed like it would be the ultimate sign I had my shit together. Of course, I’m not the only one who has obsessed over having a carefully curated rack filled only with endlessly versatile pieces that I love. There are entire books and blogs devoted to teaching people how to attain this. Like a Scandinavian living room or a deserted beach on a winter day, an edited clothing collection is appealing because of everything that isn’t there. No drawers stuffed with random tank tops you haven’t worn since high school. No morning chaos spent rifling through piles of wrinkled whatever in an effort to find something that isn’t awful. No money wasted on impulse buys that you try (and fail) to sell at Buffalo Exchange three months later. And of course, no effort expended. Because you adore everything you own; every item can be mixed and matched seamlessly, and it all fits like a glove.
But after trying and failing at this whole thing over and over, I realized it was a fantasy. For years, I fixated on artfully designed capsule wardrobe pins, authoritative lists on the X number of items every woman should own, and cool blogs dedicated to minimalist style. And I tried to copy them. At the start of each season, I’d start planning out my ideal closet, making inspiration boards and scribbling lists of must-have pieces. If I came across a pair of too-expensive boots, I’d tell myself that it was actually a great idea to buy them because they were an investment. They’d go with everything, and I’d have them forever. This, to me, was how smart and thoughtful and sophisticated women bought new things. At the same time, I’d start rummaging through my closet, looking for pieces I could get rid of. Not just to make more physical space in my closet, but to “edit” my collection. I’d decide I didn’t need two plaid shirts, so I’d give last year’s version to a friend, or that skinny jeans were no longer my thing, so every pair I owned should be donated and replaced with wide-leg ones. But inevitably, it would turn out that the investment boots looked weird with anything but one dress. Or I’d get sick of wearing that one plaid shirt all the time. Or I’d suddenly see a picture of some enigmatic girl wearing skinny jeans and immediately feel the need to go put mine on — only to remember that I’d dumped them at Goodwill two months earlier. It felt like the only solution available was to simply buy another pair of boots, or another plaid shirt, or a new pair of skinny jeans. This cycle of buy-purge-repeat went on and on and on. Because even though it never seemed to work out for me, each time I was convinced that it would be the moment I’d get things exactly right. Especially since, with each failed attempt, I was a little bit older, I knew my style better, and I had more money to buy higher-quality pieces.
Until this year. Last winter, when it was too cold to even contemplate leaving my apartment, I read the book that everyone was obsessing over — The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Predictably, it was appealing to me because it promised this effortless, clutter-free existence filled only with wonderful, beautiful things that I had dreamed of. I could KonMari my sartorial life and solve my apparel problem once and for all. I was excited and intrigued when I first opened the book. But less than halfway through, everything Kondo was saying seemed a little…stupid, not to mention completely impractical. Not everything I own inspires joy and is of use to me all of the time. But I wouldn’t throw out my okay-but-not-amazing vacuum just because my current apartment has wood floors instead of carpeting, though that's what Kondo would suggest. Nor would I get rid of my high-speed blender just because I haven’t felt like making a smoothie in the last few weeks. Suddenly, I couldn’t see why my clothes should be any different. To Kondo and her followers, tossing the unused appliances or wearing the same white dress (which Kondo says is "part of [her] brand") every single day is joyful because it eliminates the stress of having too much stuff (and, according to her, any piece that doesn't bring joy should be discarded immediately). But for me, that type of wardrobe would be boring, And getting rid of every piece of clothing that isn’t perfect or that doesn’t serve me at this particular moment in my life would make me worry that I won’t have the pieces I need when I feel like switching things up. After years of trying to figure out my style, I realized that one of the most defining things about it — one of the things that makes me me — is that I change my mind a lot. I find inspiration in novelty. And even though I love the romantic simplicity of wearing the same black jeans every single day for a year, it doesn’t actually work for me in practice. So, if I’m constantly purging my closet in pursuit of perfection, my wardrobe is always going to fall short. And I’ll always feel the need to buy more stuff.
This past year, I started doing things differently. Instead of trying to mastermind an entire season’s worth of ensembles, I didn’t make a plan. In fact, I didn’t do anything at all. When I found a piece that I really wanted, I’d get it. Not always, of course, and not with total abandon. Usually, I’d wait a few days to make sure the item in question wasn’t an impulse buy, and that it could work with at least three or four other things in my wardrobe. I tried to avoid buying anything that was too similar to anything I already owned, unless the new one seemed like a significant upgrade. And instead of doing massive purges that I ended up regretting, I started moving stuff that I was tired of looking at into the spare closet. At least half the time, I’d end up pulling it out and wearing it again a few months later. My closet still doesn’t look like those cool, sparse ones on Pinterest that quietly brag, this is all I need to look amazing. It’s far from it, actually, because it’s pretty full and usually a mess. But not putting pressure on myself to make every buy the ideal one for my collection has freed up a lot of space in my brain, making shopping more fun, and less stressful. And since I’m not getting rid of things all the time, I can try more combinations and run into fewer situations where I feel like I don’t have anything to wear. In other words, my very imperfect wardrobe did what the minimalist, edited one was supposed to do. So in my own weird, disorganized way, I do have my shit together. And it’s really satisfying. At least, until the next time I have to pack up for a move. Then, all bets are off.