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…
68 thoughts on “The End Game of Project 333 and Capsule Wardrobes”
Hi Debbie. My first thought was that I would know you had really moved on when you decided to close the blog because you didn’t need it anymore, but perhaps that’s a step too far, and we’ve already seen you taking your blog in a different direction.
I stopped colouring my hair after we met in San Diego last Easter time. I don’t feel any desire to go back to colouring. I have been working on weight loss and that is a journey with clothes too. I don’t think there are any easy answers like food we need to wear clothing but getting the balance between making the effort and being obsessed can be hard.
Ruthie, I don’t know that I need the blog anymore, although I do still have quite a bit of work to do on my recovery. Sometimes the blog makes it worse for me instead of better, especially with posts like my last one and some of the comments that came in. I have mostly continued for others who have told me it’s helped them, as well as because it’s become such a big part of my life. Shifting the focus in some ways has been helpful and has occurred pretty much organically over time.
That’s great that you stopped coloring your hair, too. I seem to recall that you don’t have a lot of gray (from what you wrote another time), which has probably made the process easier. For me, it’s been a real struggle, but partially because I’ve resisted it too much along the way. I don’t think there are easy answers with either food or shopping, as they are both things we can’t completely abstain from over the long-term. I’ve always thought food was harder because we all have to eat multiple times per day. I’m glad you’re doing so well and working on the balance. Yes, it’s hard to manage our wardrobes with weight changes, so I wish you the very best of luck there!
I have come to the same conclusion. The shopping and obsession with things has to stop, and it has to stop now. I joined a February no-buy group on facebook but my real intention is to continue it for a year, in order to re-set my habits and reflexes. I want that same freedom and joy you heard Courtney talk about. Obsession with things and shopping is a miserable, small way to lead your life and I feel so sick and disgusted with it I am finally committed to making this change for good. Of course as Sew Ruthie mentioned, like food you can’t totally stop like you can with other addictions, but I am asking myself each time, is this a need or a want? Only the needs are being fulfilled this year until I feel like I can get a grip on the wants. A few years ago I decided to stop debting on my credit cards so I cancelled all my accounts and took a year to pay it all off. Since then I have had no desire to run up unsecured debt. I trust that over the next 12 months I will be able to recalibrate my shopping behavior in the same way, controlling my impulses and being more conscious of what I truly want in my life.
You’re doing so well, Tara, and have made a lot of positive changes in your life since you retired. Good for you for all of it, including the no-buy commitment for February and beyond. I do think that having a “time out” can help to reset both our behavior and our perspective. I really resonated with what you wrote about it being a small way to live being obsessed with things and shopping. The focus about compulsive shopping is so often around the money and debt, but even for those of us who can afford it, it can be soul-destroying. April Benson calls it “the poverty of the soul” and I completely understand that and have felt it. For me, I think it’s been a major coping mechanism for other things that I haven’t been able to fix or solve like my health challenges and my inability to find my passion and a fulfilling career.
The need vs. want issue can be difficult to quantify and we can manipulate ourselves into considering something a need when it is definitely not. It is a good question to ask, though, and if we’re truly honest, we generally realize that we don’t need much. I believe that you will continue to make positive changes, as I know you have shifted your mindset in powerful ways. I will be cheering you on!
I was really moved by this post. However, I want you to perhaps consider that maybe you have NOT spun your wheels the last four years. Maybe you needed the last four years of compiling and writing about your wardrobe to finally let go of it all. After all, it did give you (fleeting) happiness for many years and it’s hard to let go of the things we get pleasure from. But things change, and it sounds like you’ve moved to a new plateau. I, for one, am very happy to see it.
I was thinking that a lot of this blog was not about clothes at all. In fact, if it were really about clothes, I probably wouldn’t read it, because I’m not really a shopaholic. No, what I find intriguing about this blog is your frank discussion about your unhappiness, despite chasing what you thought was the dream of a perfect wardrobe, and the inspired use of data to start to dig yourself out of the self-described mess you were in. I feel like a lot of the data you’ve collected in the last four years seems to have helped you to get a better sense of your unhappiness, and in so doing could be a valuable tool in the furtherance of your future happiness.
I have always appreciated your support and insights, Jane, and these comments are no exception. I think you’re right that it hasn’t all been spinning my wheels. I know I have learned a lot over the past four years, but my often slow progress and my ups and downs have been frustrating. I think I’ve needed to write MORE about my unhappiness and the psychological perspective, but it’s often been easier to wrote about wardrobe management and style issues, especially since people seemed to like those posts. It got harder to bare my soul as the audience got larger and the trolls came out. I know other bloggers have experienced similar challenges and many have stopped allowing comments, but I never wanted to censor communication here, as most of it is so good (despite what many might believe, I think I have only deleted maybe 10-15 comments in four years). I do think I’ve had a breakthrough as of late, but I also know I will continue to be vigilant with my recovery. It will probably look different, though, and that’s still evolving… Again, I appreciate your insights and I’m happy to have you as a longtime reader!
Have you thought about this ?
All that wheel spinning and obsessing has nothing to do with clothes!
It’s all about “fear”! Clothes and shopping are just a distraction to mask feelings of “anxiety” and “fear”!
Fear of not being hood enough etc! Fear that you’re not enough and that without something to fill the vacuum you’ll be empty!
Have you tried “meditation” … practising being in the moment … enjoying each day as a single separate entity? Have you tried not comparing yourself to some perfect ideal and beating yourself up for thinking you miss the mark”!
Freedom and joy … is something you can have when you find out what fears are driving your behaviour and then saying “good bye” to them!
Love your blog … give yourself permission to just be … no invisible standards to meet … no unfavourable comparisons … you are enough!
You’re very right on about the fear, Wendy. I experience a lot of anxiety and fear, as well as depression. Clothes and shopping have been coping mechanisms and distractions for me, much like food and eating disorders were for my teens and twenties. The fear of not being good enough has been a major driver of my behavior and thoughts for my entire life and it’s hard to shake. I have not tried meditation for any length of time, but I agree that it can be valuable. My husband started using a meditation app recently (Headspace) and it’s been helpful for him (and he’s already a pretty mellow person). I’m going to give it a try, too. Not comparing myself is so hard! I not only compare myself to others, I also compare myself to who I used to be, which is unfair to my current self on multiple levels.
Thank you for your comment, especially the parts about my being enough and not needing to meet invisible standards. I actually got teary-eyed typing that last part. I need to internalize it.
You have come a very long way – perhaps more than you realise. Your blog has given me reason to pause on many occasion. Please don’t be so hard on yourself. I have some of the same issues as you, and I don’t believe it is just about clothing/shopping etc. For me, ageing and all its associated issues come in to it as well as a highly deprived/violent childhood. Letting go is hard. Being kind to myself is hard too.
Thank you, EB. I really appreciate your kind words and I can tell that we are kindred spirits in some ways. Yes, aging is hard and it brings up all sorts of issues. I have always been extremely hard on myself and when others criticize me, it pales in comparison to the level to which I disparage myself. You’re right that our challenges aren’t really about clothes and shopping. That’s just how they are manifesting. I’m glad my blog has given you food for thought and I wish you the best with being kinder to yourself and letting go. Virtual hugs to you.
I too was very moved by this post. What struck me most was your references to stagnation and keeping oneself comfortably numb. That hits home with me, and I too need and want to move out of that place. For me it’s about not trusting my choices, and unhealthy methods to avoid having to make them that I think I learned as an adolescent. I think maybe it’s also about being introverted and wrapped up in my own mind rather than just living moment to moment. Thank you for being so honest, and for the hard work you’ve obviously done to think this through and write it so eloquently.
I’m so happy this post moved you, J.A. I resonated a lot with what you wrote here. I have struggled a lot with trusting my choices, even for something as simple as an item of clothing. I learned a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms as an adolescent, too, and those have carried over throughout my life. Being introverted and self-conscious hasn’t helped, either. More than anything else, I want to have peace from my noisy, chaotic, and self-conscious mind. Living moment to moment sounds like a dream, yet I know it’s possible. I wish that for you, too.
Hi Debbie. I loved this post & could identify with the sentiment expressed. I have always struggled with perfectionism which possibly stems from having a lifelong skin condition. I have strived to dress (&shop) to perfection as a way of controlling what little of my life I’m able to. The last 3 years have been tough dealing with my husbands incurable cancer diagnosis. I have found that by paring back my entire life to items that ‘spark joy’ I have become more content & happy than I could believe possible (my husband too). I have a lovely well curated wardrobe, set meal plan & a pared back home filled with beautiful,useful things. Ive donated all my unwanted treasures to a homeless charity as it occurred to me during this difficult time how grateful I was for the lovely haven I’ve created for my husband & I. Shifting the focus from my problems helps me gain a little perspective from obsessing so much with the quest for the perfect life. I still covet lovely items to distract me during the tough times but I give myself a pass for that! I think you’ve made great progress & I wouldn’t be in this position without your help & support.
Great to hear from you, Sharon. I know that we have much in common and I really feel for you about the challenges you’ve experienced in dealing with your husband’s illness and prognosis. I’m glad you have been able to pare things down to that which is most important and enjoy your time together. I resonated with what you wrote about perfectionism being a way to try to control those small aspects of our lives that we feel we can manage. I love that paring back your life to only those things that spark joy has led to more happiness and contentment. That’s really something I want to do this year, as I’m feeling a strong need for simplicity and peace. You have definitely made amazing progress and I’m very happy for you. I’m pleased that my blog has been helpful to you along the way.
I too am a compulsive shopper. Part of it is distraction and avoidance and part of it stems from long ago deprivation of acceptance.
I am currently inventorying my clothes to track wears and also to remind me of all I already have if I am tempted to look. I also think about my only functioning child having to clean out my wardrobe as I did for my grandmother, mother and aunt and that helps me keep the numbers down.
Beyond shopping as a distraction, I have found other distractions that don’t cost anything. Also, I have a several activities in my retired life that are rewarding.
You have a full life — a wonderful partner, life in my favorite city, writing talent, your photography and support from lots of people you’ve met through your blog. I think maybe part of the problem is not accepting how wonderful your life is despite the health challenges.
My problem now is procrastination. I have two large projects that I need to do that I have difficulty starting because of their size and the enormous time commitment involved. I will use the small bites approach, but I am procrastinating even about that.
Thank you for sharing, Hope. I agree that overshopping can often be about distraction, avoidance, and acceptance. I don’t know if you’ve seen my post about shopping for acceptance from 2013, so I’m posting the link here for you and others who have this issue:
That continues to be an issue for me, not just acceptance from others but also from myself. I appreciate your reminding me of what I do have in terms of a full life. I do have more than I often realize, as I tend to focus on what’s missing like good health, a successful career, and a wide in-person circle of friends. But we will always be unhappy if we zero in on what’s NOT there instead of what is.
I have major issues with procrastination, too. I find that the small bites approach helps, at least until I get over the “hump” at which I want to keep moving forward. Even 15 minutes at a time can move things forward. I wish you the best of luck with your large projects, as well as with your clothing inventory. Yes, I wouldn’t want a loved one to have to deal with a preponderance of my stuff, either. Thankfully, I have pared down quite a bit, but if I stop buying so much, I know my wardrobe will naturally downsize more. We DO have more than we think we do, both in terms of our wardrobes and our lives. It’s all about focus and perspective…
Hello, Debbie! I am a longtime reader, and used to be a frequent commenter, but have been staying out of the fray for some time. I can see how powerfully Courtney’s talk must have affected you; you needed the time to process your thoughts and feelings! The past four years have not been a waste; you have been learning, and testing in a way that worked for you, laying down roots. This past year was a time of intense growth for you, now you have really sprouted and are blossoming. Firm roots make for a strong plant! You grow, girl! (Sorry for the bad pun… not able to resist those!)
Thank you so much for your encouragement, Liz. I really appreciate it and I don’t mind the pun 🙂 Yes, Courtney’s talk really affected me and she has been inspiring to me for a number of years in multiple ways. When I first read about Project 333, I thought it was nuts, but I was intrigued. I’m glad I took on her challenge to do it back in 2013. I think a lot of people focus too much on the 33 items, but the challenge is really a means to an end that has nothing to do with numbers. I agree that the past four years hasn’t been a waste, although at times it feels that way. I think I’m finally ready for the next level, though, and I’m happy for that. I hope I will continue to blossom like you said. Thanks again for your comment.
I’m so happy for you, Debbie, that you have been working on this insight and have begun a beautiful journey away from fear and anxiety. This was one of the wisest posts you or anyone else could write and it’s so deeply generous of you to share these poignant thoughts.
I can relate to so much of what you described. Just the other day I found myself writing something about how my clothing and other possessions is one of the only things I could control in life! And yet, somehow several small financial snags that I failed to be able to set right in other years, suddenly righted themselves, without any struggle or even input by me.
In the last month or so, I seem to have been able to acquire a good number of items on a permanent wish list – did I keep something so formal. And I found it didn’t really matter or change anything.
I joined a free short course on style and when the opportunity came to join the for-fee version I really didn’t think I needed to and most important, I don’t want to commit to thinking of clothing so long and so hard in the future. Not that I haven’t done the comfortingly numb rumination about clothing up til now but I’m getting sick of it, as you have. I’ve also deleted a number of style blogs I’ve read. I’m getting awfully tired of “keeping up.” I went on a winter’s hiatus from shopping after I had the windfall of finding those items I thought I wanted and needed so much. Not that they’re not useful and not being used but I managed to get up every morning all the years I didn’t have them. I had thought I had nothing left to shop for other than the couple green items I can never turn up. And now I question what real difference does even filling that wardrobe “hole” make.
I always appreciate your comments, Vildy, and it seems that we are on much the same page now. I have also stopped following all style blogs. I bookmarked my favorites, but I only visit them when I feel like it, which isn’t that often anymore. It is freeing now to be thinking about clothes and shopping less often these days. I love what you wrote about how finding your elusive wardrobe items didn’t really matter or change anything in your life. What an “aha moment”! Sometimes our wardrobe holes are imagined, but even if they’re really, most are not earth-shattering. I know I still have a ways to go before I’m a “recovered” shopaholic, if that is even something that is an absolute, but I’m happy to be realizing that having a “perfect wardrobe” won’t make me happy and isn’t where I should be focusing my energies. I’m happy for you, too!
I am a long time lurker who felt compelled to comment on this post because it resonates with me. I’m not a compulsive clothes shopper, but noticed that I am compelled to shop when feeling stressed. It’s usually for small things that’s easy to acquire online, but those small things add up. (And, I’m trying to crawl out of debt on a small income). The stress is deeply rooted in an unfulfilled creative life that is stunted by perfectionism, probably from feelings of inadequacy and constant ruminations of what I should have done. I am, also, someone who lives in my head. In my 50s now and am trying to move forward after having to switch careers and go back to school, something I should have done sooner (again with the “should have”). I Sometimes I feel as though I am treading on a hamster wheel. Your thoughtful insights have made me pay more attention to my intentions and motivations, the parts the subconscious is reluctant to reveal without serious reflection.
Your comment literally brought me to tears, SJ. I really appreciate your open sharing here and I resonate deeply with what you wrote. I also feel stunted by perfectionism and have deeply rooted feelings of inadequacies and a mind that is virtually never silent. It’s exhausting and I know it has contributed to my health challenges. I want to get off the hamster wheel and out of the tar pit in which I seem to be perpetually stuck. I wonder how many are out there like us? I think a lot of people use shopping as a means of stress relief and not all are classic shopaholics per se. What matters is how we feel about our behavior, not the label we ascribe to it. I wish I had the answers for you, for myself, and those who similarly struggle. I do plan to continue to explore these issues, but I’m not exactly sure how that will manifest just yet. I wish you all the best with getting off the wheel.
Debbie, this post touches me deeply. You have grown in leaps and bounds. With a smaller wardrobe and less shopping first comes “simplicity” and then when we begin to understand that it is not necessary to have everything figured out “Love and Joy” begins to take hold. And once we stop unnecessary wardrobe management, shop less and when we do shop buy only for our “day to day lives” clothing that we will wear on any ordinary day and for how we spend the majority of our time, our mindset will begin to change.
At first can be a bit depressing to let go of the fantasy life we so long for and the clothing that is required in order to live that fantasy life where we feel more valued, more loved, admired and approved of and the clothes and life that would follow (when we use our magical thinking) believing we’d wear more often if only we felt healthy and strong and the life we could build “if only” we were “this or that” instead of accepting ourselves right now, as we are, in this moment. I’ve been there and I understand. All of this happened to me when I experienced a life style change a few years ago. It was a change that I did not want but was placed upon me.
But once I allowed myself to just be where I am. Let go of the idea that I need a full life, a better life filled with all of the things that I longed for and believed would make me happier… Once I let go little by little I began to feel joy, and love for myself and for others began to grow strong. It took me a few years of much less shopping, a much smaller wardrobe and lots of steps forward then some back sliding, yet what Courtney is teaching does bring more simplicity, more love, and more joy into our lives. But we also must do the other inner and outer work that goes along with it. Because as you have discovered, it’s not about the clothes.
Beautifully stated, Terra.
Debbie, whatever happens with your blog, I would like to thank you for creating it and letting us walk through your struggles with you. You have helped us more than you know.
Thank you Lori. Along with you I also thank Debbie for creating this blog and allowing us to walking beside her.
Thank you so much, Lori and Terra. I’m so happy to have been able to help others through sharing my journey. I feel blessed to have been able to connect with so many wonderful women!
I’m grateful for you response post. One other thing I got out of it, as regards life, though I don’t know if you meant it that way, was that it addressed finding your “purpose” in life, all that goal-setting, instead of living your life where and how you are. I remember reading once that if you “know” what will make you happy and define it as over there – somewhere you haven’t got to yet, and you are over here, then you have defined your happiness as always somewhere separate from you and located where you are not.
Yes, that’s what I meant by viewing happiness as somewhere we haven’t arrived at, and we are over here, and what we want is over there, and the only route to find love, joy and happiness is to begin right where we are, in this moment.
I’m grateful for your post and follow up comment. Do you participate in the FB group Debbie established? If not I hope you might consider taking part. I always learn a great deal from your comments and insight.
Yes, Vildy, we would love to have you as part of the “End Closet Chaos” group (if you’re not already there under another name, which is fine). We don’t just talk about clothes there. In fact, I appreciate the non-clothes threads the best and always wish for more of those. Everyone is on a different path and some people are in and out of the group (including me), but we do help and support each other along the way.
Yes, Terra and Debbie, I’m part of the group under another name. Have been for a long time but had stopped reading it because I wanted to get away from the clothes photos and descriptions for awhile. I definitely had planned to check back into it, though. I know it to be a terrific group. One thing I noticed recently with my purging of clothes by their characteristics, why did I want or want to keep hold of these particular items? Because I’d read descriptions of why they were desirable or coming into fashion and that triggered a variety of the FOMO syndrome! I am getting so fed up with the second-hand vicarious desires generated by noticing other’s (usually fashion editor’s ) opinions. And, yes, of course, I realize I did this to myself! The old expression letting them live rent free in my mind. 😀
I understand what you mean about the group and focusing too much on clothes. I have to moderate my own time there for that reason or just focus on the more psychological threads instead. You’re welcome to pop in and out as you desire – that’s part of the beauty of it. I can relate to the second part of your comment about FOMO. I have that in many areas, not just clothes! I think it’s always good to examine our motivations, as then we are more at choice with your behavior. I like the expression about letting others live rent-free in our minds. I’m trying to evict everyone else from my mind, as they don’t belong there! Easier said than done, but it’s a worthy pursuit.
I always appreciate your comments, Terra, and I love this entire thread that you started. I’m so happy that my blog has connected us and I have always been inspired by you and your journey. Since you have always been a few steps (or more…) ahead of me, you’ve showed me what’s possible for me, although I wasn’t sure how to get there. I think I haven’t wanted to accept what is because I didn’t want to believe that maybe I can never get well and that my best days are behind me. But always believing that happiness was somewhere else other than where I am has increased my sense of despair and has taken away from the joy and peace I could have experienced in my life despite my limitations.
There have been times when I’ve been “in the zone” like in nature and with photography, but lately it’s been increasingly difficult to quiet my mind and thus peace is more elusive than it’s been in a long time. I don’t want to engage in magical thinking anymore, buy clothes for a fantasy life, or try to portray an image different from what is true for me. I have a simple life but yet I try to make it bigger than it is and my wardrobe has played a part in that subterfuge. It’s not what I want to do anymore. If the clothes I buy moving forward are boring but functional, so be it. I find that I wear the hell out of those and they really aren’t boring to me, just to the style mavens who I don’t need to impress.
I thought that turning 50 would shake my life up and maybe it has, just 6 months later. Maybe I had to get SO tired of the status quo in order to be ready to change. I don’t know, but I do feel different, yet tenuous, like a foal just learning to walk. I fear that I will topple over and that might happen, but I’m also excited for a new phase in the journey and for the freedom that I feel may be just through the haze in front of me…
Bravo Debbie! You are further ahead than you realize. You have arrived. I do know what you mean about health. I have a number of medical conditions that will likely never go away. Miracles can happen of course. Meanwhile each can be managed somewhat with medication, a healthy lifestyle and a good attitude. Yet in some magical thinking portion of my mind there is this idea that I can be totally healthy again, and free of everything, youth restored, if only. If only I eat the right diet, or if I do this, or if I don’t do that. But the form of good health I want for myself will likely not happen, and it definitely won’t happen unless I accept myself and live my best life right now exactly as I am.
Thank you for sharing this, Terra. I really resonated with these sentiments. I have been living in “someday,” the time when I would finally be free of these awful ailments and able to really live. But like you, I have to accept that the form of good health I want likely won’t happen and focus more on what I DO have instead of what is lacking. I need to accept what is even if I don’t like it. I think that will help me, at least emotionally, and we all know that our emotions have a lot of influence on our bodies.
I was moved by this post, Debbie. I used to comment much more frequently but I am I guess a serial-interest shopper. When I was trying to recover from my clothes shopping, I just moved on, to skincare and then makeup. So it was frustrating to me on one level when I would come back to read the blog that although you were progressing, there was still SO much shopping going on. A part of my mind thought I had “fixed” my clothes shopping issues and I guess on one level I was feeling smug. [Although I’ve been doing this repeating pattern with different categories of shopping for 15+ years.] But really, all I was trying to do with any of it was fill a void. I’ve done a lot more thinking over the past year to address ALL my issues and I feel that finally the makeup obsession has come to an end without something new to take its place. I’m trying to focus more on healthy hobbies, like hiking, yoga, reading and meditating. I’m seeing a life coach and making strides there. I am hoping that I will finally get to the joy and simplicity from focusing on things that I enjoy, without the consumerism (although shopping for hiking gear could easily be an issue so I am being wary). Anyway, all of this rambling is to say… YES!!! It’s not about the clothes (or whatever) at all. I think you’ve had a very profound revelation, and thanks for putting it into words for all of us. And thank you for your continued bravery in sharing your thoughts with us.
I appreciate your coming back to comment, Sarah. I remember that you used to comment here regularly. I have moved through different types of shopping as well as other forms of compulsive behavior, so I understand the repeating pattern you wrote about. Clothes shopping has been pretty constant since my teens, but the other issues would weave their way through as well and would sometimes mitigate the clothes shopping temporarily. But it’s the deeper issues that truly need our focus and learning to feed our souls in alternate ways. Good for you for the positive changes you’ve made and finding new activities that are more in line with joy and simplicity (and good for being mindful about the potential for buying too much hiking gear). It’s wonderful that you are working with a life coach, too! I actually WAS a life coach for a time back when no one knew what it was… It’s not off the table for me to do that again, but I probably need some coaching myself to figure things out. I wish you the very best and I appreciate your kind words here.
I do hope that your ‘next’ will include this blog! I have been following since 2014 and you inspired me to track my wears and purchases. I look forward to your accountability posts each month as a way to keep myself honest about why and what I’m bringing into my closet. Thank you for that! I still struggle with buying for an ‘imagined’ life and neglecting areas I should focus on, but this blog has helped me realize that this is a marathon and not a sprint. There is not always a finish line for achieving your perfect personal style because it is constantly changing. As much as I would love a ‘Pinterest’ perfect closet or style, I know now it is not realistic or smart to compare myself to others.
I notice that your wardrobe looks much more cohesive. When I look at the thumbnails you post each month, it is clear what your style and favorite colors are. They compliment your body, skin and hair nicely and I think you should give yourself some much needed credit for that! I hope you will continue to show your photography and other thoughts if you need a break from the clothing posts.
I appreciate your comment, Michelle, and I’m happy that my blog has helped you with your own wardrobe, shopping, and style journey. Yes, it’s definitely more of a marathon than a sprint for most of us and there are hills and valleys along the way. I often feel like I’ve progressed at a snail’s pace and even moved backwards sometimes, but it hasn’t all been for naught. What I’ve showed here is a real recovery past, definitely not anything Pinterest-worthy! Comparison is the thief of joy, the saying goes, and it’s been true for me. We are all on our own path and I wish you all the best with yours. I’m not totally sure about the future of this blog at this point, but I do know that I will continue to write in some way or another, as I enjoy sharing my insights and feel blessed that they have inspired others and have made an impact.
A very honest & moving post. This video may help inspire you to find what your purpose is, for the next stage in your life:
I’m glad you liked this post, Sal. Thank you so much for sharing the video. I really enjoyed watching it and feel it’s something I will need to view a few times in order to more fully absorb the message. I did really like that he said we were never meant to just one thing, as that has certainly been my path. I also liked that he focused on the FEELINGS we want to have and the fact that any number of pursuits can lead to the same feelings. Excellent and very inspiring!
Debbie, I am so happy to see you taking this next step in your life!
Change is hard and it takes a lot of effort and time to get there. So please don’t feel bad about taking so long and spinning your wheels. You were thoughtful and methodical over the last 4 years and that is what YOU needed to get to this point. You explored your inner workings and spent time to understand your motivations. Real change is built on understanding, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise or make you feel bad about the process you went through.
Wishing you all the best!
Thank you so much, Izeve! I agree that I haven’t just been spinning my wheels, although it can feel that way sometimes… The lesson that Courtney has been teaching has been there all along, but I wasn’t ready to receive it. I know I’m not alone in that, though, and I shouldn’t beat myself up about it because I’ve been learning all along. I also think that what I’ve been sharing is what some people needed to hear, too, for the place they were in. It’s all part of the bigger picture. I’m excited – and also scared – about what’s to come. I appreciate your good wishes!
I read the bog and comments and often think “I must write” because I identity with you and some others here. Like you I got sick of wasting time and money involved with addiction to perfection. I too no longer check all fasion blogs and websites and avoid checking shops for what’s new.
Major step was to buy a small rack, put it in a corner of my boudoir and selected a few items to style and wear for a couple of weeks. I was surprised how much less stress I suffered every morning getting ready for the day.
Your honesty helped me to be more honest and using 12 steps, finally took the first step, my life became unmanageable. Your blog and books helped me to get here and I thank you for it. When you make it to Australia let me be your guide in Sydney and when I come back to SD again I would love to meet you.
I’m glad you decided to comment on this post, Helen. I like your suggestion regarding selecting a few items to style and wear over the near term. That can help us to see how little we truly need, plus it can help us to get more wear out of certain pieces. I’m happy that my blogs and books have helped you to get to a better place. It always warms my heart to receive such comments. I hope to take you up on being my guide in Sydney, as I SO want to visit your beautiful country and please let me know if/when you return to San Diego. I’ve gotten to meet a small number of readers and I’ve always enjoyed the experience.
Ouch, there is a mistake in my post. I meant the first step was admitting that my life became unmanageable. Whilst financially I was not suffering, emotionally and mentally I was not managing very well at all.
Thank you for clarifying, Helen. I think I was able to construe what you meant. I was in much the same place myself. I think there is often too much focus on debt and financial problems resulting from compulsive shopping when there are a lot of other adverse effects that are frequently glossed over. Dr. April Benson calls it “the poverty of the soul” and I definitely had it. I feel like I’m getting myself back now and it sounds like you are, too. I’m happy to have played any role at all in your getting to a better place!
Dear Debbie, as a long-time follower of your blog I have tears in my eyes reading this. I think this is the most beautiful and insightful post that you have ever written. I wish you all the best as you embark on this new and scary adventure.
I used to over shop, over think, and over plan my wardrobe. And it was getting worse. About 4 years ago I decided to let it all go and embrace minimalism. Sure I still over think some purchases but shopping isn’t a hobby for me now. As you say in this post, it’s not about the clothes, and you really can’t know how much letting them go will give you until you do it.
Don’t worry if you stuff up. We all do. Expect that will happen and just get back on as soon as you can. Please know that so many people are cheering on the sidelines for you.
I also wanted to add a recommendation for a book I found to be hugely helpful in dealing with dissatisfaction in my life. It’s called the Happiness Trap and it’s by Doctor Russ Harris. I understand that the method ACT used in the book has very good evidence behind it https://thehappinesstrap.com.
Reading the comments reminded me of this book because at my lowest point I remember feeling like I’d failed at life (my life was actually quite good but I was in my mid thirties and wanted a partner and to have a baby and was obsessing about what I didn’t have – now incidentally I have both so I obsess over other things:). What the book showed me was that my negative inner dialogue wasn’t unusual, in fact it was totally normal and everyone has it to some extent. This was a revelation for me! The book also showed me how to process my unhelpful thoughts and to find and focus on what’s meaningful to me. I need to read it again!
I really appreciate your comment, Melody, as well as the book recommendation. The book sounds like it could be helpful for me, as I have a lot of issues around obsessive thoughts. Like you, they tend to shift from one thing to another but never leave me. I know they are normal, but I would like to better manage them. I used to think I would never want a minimalist wardrobe, but I’m starting to change my tune. I can see how freeing it could be. Not that I’m going to jettison everything now, as that would be wasteful. I think that if I just buy less and only wear what I love, I will end up with a lot less over time and will feel better for it. I feel blessed to have so many people cheering for me and I know they far outweigh my critics.
Wow! This was an amazing post. I’m not really a shopaholic, but I do have too many clothes. I can’t seem to figure out my “look.” But then why does it even matter? No one really notices what others wear, do they? Why do I feel the need to look just-so? For me, it even spills into my decor. I cannot afford to redecorate and buy new furniture, but I obsess over how my house looks. I feel discontent with my home and it seems to matter too much to me. I love to read about people who do the Project 333 and capsule wardrobes and people who downsize and become minimalists. I’m just not there yet…
I’m glad you liked this post, Barbara. You’re right that most people don’t pay too much attention to what we’re wearing. I can often remember what I wore when I last saw someone, for example, but I don’t usually remember what THEY were wearing! I obsess over a lot of things, too. When I first did Project 333, it took me DAYS to select my 33 items (just clothes that time – I didn’t include shoes and accessories in the mix) and I was super stressed out about it. I’m glad I took the plunge to try the challenge, but I totally understand your trepidation. One fun exercise is to just select the items you WOULD choose but don’t actually push yourself to do the challenge. That way, you will learn some useful things about yourself and your wardrobe but it won’t include all of the anxiety of actually having to dress with a capsule wardrobe. Best wishes to you.
Clothing is one of the ways we express our personal style. For me, it has always been about style — color, quality, silhouette, utility, etc. If you don’t know your personal style and which colors enhance your personal beauty, all the clothing in the world will not make you happy. Once you know what kind of clothes look best on your body type and with your coloring (hair, skin, eyes), the rest is fairly easy. I spend about $250-$300 per year on clothes and mostly buy items to update or replace items already in my closet. I have a pretty small wardrobe (about 125 garments including outerwear and footwear) for a 4-season climate. I love everything in my closet and when a beloved garment or pair of shoes bites the dust, I “mourn” the loss. I don’t have to keep track of how many times I wear items because I wear (seasonably adjusted) everything all the time. Some of my clothing is decades old but still in excellent condition because of the high level of quality of fabric, design, manufacturing, etc., and because I take good care of my clothes. As I have mentioned before, I don’t spend much time shopping (and I work in retail) because I know exactly what I want. I can narrow my search to a specific color and style. The difficulty is finding the quality I want — so annoying. I don’t follow “fashion” all that much. I am currently sitting out the pastel “fashion” that seems so prevalent for clothes this spring because I don’t wear pastel colors, period. I use accessories to jazz up my “classically feminine” clothing style and look for items that have the dressmaker details I like best.
I might mention that this sense of style extends to my house. I’ve lived in 9 different houses/condos/apartments in the last 4 decades and my furniture has worked in each one. Over the years, some pieces have been edited out or upgraded with better quality, but I have quite a number of pieces that have been with me for 44 years. I will do without rather than compromise with something I don’t really love. I can’t afford to give house room to stuff that I don’t love and enjoy every day.
This is all sound advice, Dottie, just like you gave in the guest posts you wrote for this blog (which still receive quite a bit of traffic, by the way). It’s helpful to take the time to get to know one’s own sense of style and to cultivate a workable wardrobe filled with high quality items. It may not be super exciting or compelling to do these things, but it serves us much better than the type of mindless shopping that I used to do all the time. Yes, quality has taken a real nosedive, so you’re lucky to have those tried and true pieces from yesteryear. I have some of those, too, and I take very good care of them because they’re so much harder to find these days.
I might mention that with age does come a modicum of wisdom. It’s easier to accept what is and let go of what isn’t and will never be. I try to avoid the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” trap and live in the now and look forward to the future. I celebrate each day and am grateful for good health, friends and family, and a roof over my head and food on the table. Having an adequate, well-curated wardrobe is the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.
Yes, age can bring wisdom, Dottie. It’s doing that for me in a lot of ways. The whole “woulda, coulda, shoulda” game is a trap and just leads to unhappiness. It’s far better to live in the present and focus on what’s right instead of what’s wrong. It’s not easy to do that, but it’s definitely rewarding.
You are clearly tired of your obsession with clothes and shopping with trying to control your compulsive feelings. I wonder whether you should consider cognitive behavioral therapy to help as the problem is fundamentally with your obsession and compulsion rather than your wardrobe or current spending. Meanwhile I wonder whether some substitute activities may help to reduce the amount of time and energy spent on clothes, and help to break the patterns. Instead of number crunching your wardrobe try Sudoku or crosswords, substitute photographic trips, museum visits, and other types of activities for shopping trips. Collect pebbles, leaves etc on your trips, or go out to buy a special ingredient for a meal rather than something to wear. Getting involved in a community project or voluntary work may help, in fact any activity or project that refocuses your attention and forces your brain to think differently about things. You should also acknowledge, though, how well you have done in reducing your spending, improving you wardrobe, and helping people through your blog, and appreciate how you have turned compulsion and obsession into a positive change and improvement. If you can channel the positive side of your obsessive compulsive perfectionist tendencies into a worthwhile project you will probably achieve a real sense of achievement and happiness.
Yes, I’m definitely tired of the obsession and I feel that it’s lessening lately, which is great. Cognitive behavioral therapy would probably be helpful for me. I’m starting with using a meditation app on my phone and I think it will be a good step in the right direction. I do need to engage in new hobbies and do more with photography again (it has fallen somewhat to the wayside as a result of poor health, colder weather, and getting dark early). I think that focusing on other things always helps us to obsess less on the things that don’t serve us. I do acknowledge that I have made good progress with my spending and my wardrobe and I’m proud that my blog has helped other people, too. I just don’t love writing about some of the topics anymore, so I need to focus on what I DO love. Still figuring out my next steps…
Debbie, I know it has been a good while since I commented and I wasn’t a particularly active voice at that, but I just wanted to take a minute to express my appreciation for you, your writing and this blog. Reading it (and the comment section) has always felt like having a conversation with a group of kind and thoughtful aunts. I don’t do Facebook so I won’t be joining you there, but I couldn’t part without a most sincere thank you for all of the work that has gone into this blog and for the insights you’ve shared. Wishing you all of the best with whatever comes next, whether or not it includes this space.
I really appreciate your taking the time to write this comment, Sara. I definitely remember you and I’m glad my blog has been helpful to you. I have my own issues with Facebook (it causes me a lot of anxiety, so I have to limit my time there), so I understand your not doing it at all. It’s a hard thing to balance and I have considered not doing it anym0re, too (but I would miss the group and the wonderful people there). Thank you for your good wishes! This post wasn’t a goodbye, but I am pondering my next steps regarding the blog and other things. I will always be around in some capacity, though, I think.
Hi Debbie, You are not alone. I am recovering (not recovered) too. I just finished “Everything That Remains: A Memoir by the Minimalists.” Joshua’s describes his lightbulb moment on p. 39.40 It’s funny – I thought he had said he had a “twitch” in reference to shopping but what he really wrote was, “I feel a twinge; I don’t want THIS life. I want something different, a deliberate life, not some nightmare that has been sold as the American Dream.” (this was in italics so I put it in bold)
Maybe you could shift the focus of your blog?
Last week, I did buy one sweater and scarf (both used) since my shopping ban/break since Dec 15. I didn’t feel a “thrill” when I bought them since I had pored over the two items for a few weeks and both will easily work into my current wardrobe. I am just tired of wearing the same things for the last few months. I did dig into my more artsy/fashionable items from my other closet and I have to admit that I definitely felt more creative. I layered a green velvet Chicos jacket, which is cut like a jean jacket, over a long tan cashmere cardigan was was layered over a thin tunic and gray jeans. I had my brown suede booties and a camo scarf from JCrew over it all, and I felt great! (I have had all the pieces for a year or two except I just thought to layer the jacket over the cardigan after seeing some pics.) I love shopping my closet when I want to break out of the mold.
My goal is not to want anything that I don’t have today, and I work toward peace not necessarily happiness.
As for the future, I am for whatever brings you peace and happiness!
I really resonate with the line from the book that you posted, Maggie. I feel EXACTLY that! I don’t want this life anymore. I want something very different for myself, but I can’t really articulate WHAT yet. Shifting the focus of the blog is a possibility, as is taking a break or doing something completely different. Once I know, I will of course share.
Thank for sharing more about your experience with shopping and your wardrobe. Your recent outfits sound very nice and I love your goals of not wanting anything other than what you have and working toward peace. I have the same goals and I hope we both achieve them!
Hi Debbie. As I recently commented I stopped reading your blog for a few months late last year. Nothing to do with your blog but I got sick of being preoccupied with clothing when around me there are so many (refugees) living with so little. As you replied it seems so “first world” to be so obsessed about wardrobe woes. I got involved in the local community donating clothing to those without instead of buying for myself.
I still work on my wardrobe and like you I love clothes and fashion and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I’m in my mid-fifties and I like to look great and that means keeping trim and in shape, keeping myself well groomed and wearing nice clothes. I have no intention of being a dowdy old lady. It makes me happy to be dressed and groomed. I guess the issue is that clothes are just clothes and they should not be the source of happiness.
You are so right on, Carolyn. There IS nothing wrong with loving clothes and fashion, as long as we don’t expect too much from inanimate objects. I think I used to believe a “perfect wardrobe” would make me happy, but now I realize that is impossible. I need to cultivate happiness and contentment from within, not without. I have no intention of being a dowdy old lady, either, but I also don’t want to be like some of the women I know and know of that are so anxious and fearful of aging that it occupies most of their thoughts and experience. It’s really all about balance, as so many things in life are.
I’ve been reading your blog for a long time but have never commented until now. Your last post about Courtney’s talk was so passionate and moving I felt impelled to say how much I have appreciated your posts and how far you’ve come in four years – there’s no question of spinning your wheels, you’ve experimented courageously with public accountability and different ways of addressing what shopping means to you and the result is all the incredible insight we have benefited from as readers. You are a very talented and compassionate writer (your books are so well written and helpful) and I have particularly enjoyed your photography posts and the posts where you explore the idea of a full life, something that really resonates with me as, as an introvert, it’s always been a struggle. As you explore your new creative life beyond clothes, I can really recommend The Artist’s Way – it’s really helpful for muffling one’s inner perfectionist 🙂 I hope you do continue to write about the next part of your journey but I just wanted to say, bravo, well done and thank you. Your insights have helped me more than you know.
This comment means a lot to me, Sarah, and I really appreciate your taking the time to write it. Thank you for the recommendation for The Artist’s Way. I have done some of the exercises in the book, but I never did the whole program. If it will help to muffle my inner perfectionist, I’m all for it, as that force is so strong! If I think deeply about it, I realize I haven’t been spinning my wheels for four years. I do get frustrated for my slow progress in certain areas, but I know that real change doesn’t usually happen overnight. In any event, I can’t change the past and have to look forward not back. I’m grateful that this blog has given me a platform and that I’ve been able to reach so many people and make a difference in ways I didn’t even imagine I would.
One thing that jumped out at me was “I’m tired of obsessing about my clothes and spinning my wheels.” I know this feeling very well as I’ve been tracking and working then reworking my wardrobe for many years. I’ve finally hit a point where I’m mostly satisfied with what I own as well as how much I own.
That’s great that you’re mostly satisfied with what you wear and what you own, Lisa. Me, too, for the most part. Striving for the “perfect wardrobe” can be dangerous, as it’s always a moving target, so it’s better to be satisfied with “good enough.” There will always be something to improve or change, but sometimes we just need to sit back and focus on being content with what we have. Best wishes to you always. I’ve always enjoyed reading your insights.
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