Most of you became familiar with me through my writing on the subjects of shopping and wardrobe management on my former blog, Recovering Shopaholic. Although this blog doesn’t solely address these topics, they are still very much present in my mind, especially in recent months. While some people may think that what we wear is insignificant or frivolous, I would wholeheartedly disagree. I believe that personal style can have a large impact on how we feel about ourselves and how we interact with others. Likewise, how we feel about ourselves, our bodies, and our lives can significantly impact the way we dress and the things we buy. That is the focus of today’s post.
For a long time, I have envied those women who maintain minimalist wardrobes while also having a distinctive and resonant sense of personal style. I admire their decisiveness and clarity. They know what they like and what they feel good wearing. They generally have a commitment to simplicity and they value quality over quantity. This is how I want to be, but despite my continued exploration and work on myself and my wardrobe, I haven’t been able to make it happen. My wardrobe is still too large and I’m not always clear on what I like and the style statement I wish to express to the world.
Chaotic Mind, Chaotic Wardrobe
What I didn’t realize until recently is that the chaotic nature of my wardrobe and shopping is strongly related to the chaotic nature of my mind. That should have been self-evident to me a long time ago, but for some reason it wasn’t. I kept thinking that if I explored the topic of wardrobe management for a long enough time, I would eventually “get it” and be able to cultivate the type of workable wardrobe that I envy in others. This hasn’t happened and in fact, I have struggled so much in the past two years that I sometimes feel as if I’m almost back at square one. I know that isn’t actually the case, but it sure feels like it at times. My closet still feels too full and there is still a lot of duplication in there. It’s extremely frustrating and leads me to feel like a fraud, especially since I wrote two books offering advice to others about wardrobe management and smart shopping. I intellectually know the right things to do, but I don’t always do them!
The truth is that many of us shop and dress emotionally and our intellect has little to do with it. This is why I’m much better at shopping for other people, cleaning out their closets, and putting outfits together for them (I used to do these things as a business). But when it comes to my own wardrobe and shopping, my emotions go haywire and all bets are off! I both buy and purge emotionally and the result is far from ideal. This is why I return so many things and end up with a lot of similar pieces in my closet. And this is why I feel like I’m spinning my wheels with my wardrobe.
Anxiety and Shopping
My anxiety plays a large role in this pattern, as does my poor body image. I go through periods where I feel like nothing I put on looks good on me and my anxiety drives me to try to do whatever is in my power to turn this around. This results in frantically shopping to try to find something… anything to wear that will lead me to feel better – okay – about the way I look. And despite the fact that I only get dressed in “out and about” clothes maybe half of the time, I worry that I won’t have anything to wear and thus end up buying far more than I need. Sometimes I will realize the error of my ways and return some of the excess, but I still have far more striped shirts, black cardigans, and straight-leg jeans than one woman really needs.
I shop because I’m anxious and I’m anxious because I don’t feel good about the way I look. I could say I don’t feel good about the way I look because of menopause and my seemingly interminable gray hair transition, as those have been my most recent crises, but the truth is that I’ve never really felt good about the way I look. This fundamental insecurity led to a very long battle with eating disorders and continued bad body image that I just can’t seem to turn around. Sure, I’ve had times when it’s been easier, like when my weight was abnormally low in 2015 because of health challenges, but those times are the exception far more than the rule. My standard M.O. is that I don’t like how I look and I feel that there is something in the online or brick-and-mortar stores that will somehow change that.
Perhaps some of you can identify with what I’m saying here. Maybe you’re also shopping more for self-acceptance and relief from anxiety than you are for new tops, pants, dresses, and shoes. We don’t always realize that this is the case, but I wonder to what degree this comes into play for shopaholics (recovering or otherwise). There are many reasons why people shop too much, but poor body image and low self-esteem have always been paramount for me. The bottom line, however, is that although there are a lot of beautiful and stylish items available for purchase, they’re not going to give us self-esteem if we don’t already have it. They’re not going to make us love our reflection in the mirror. We may feel temporarily better because we’re more stylish or trendy, but the self-doubt isn’t going to go away. Plus, style and trends are ever-changing and it’s increasingly hard to keep up, especially if a big chunk of our self-worth is riding on looking good. It’s a losing battle that can be extremely exhausting.
Shopping Will Never Be the Answer…
So I guess what I’m trying to say here is that shopping will never be the answer to “I don’t feel good about my body or my appearance.” There’s an old saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Well, that’s what I’ve been doing with shopping. I’ve mistakenly believed that if I could cultivate the right wardrobe, I would experience the result of feeling good about the way I look and thus also end up feeling good about who I am. That won’t happen. I may have a nice outfit to wear, but I will still be the same insecure person inside. Others might not be able to see it, but I will still know it’s there and feeling like I look pleasant and acceptable will bring me only small comfort.
Clearly I need to do a lot of work that has nothing to do with my closet and my style, as my dissatisfaction about my appearance runs deeper than those arenas. That work is more difficult than downsizing my closet or other wardrobe management strategies. I have done a lot of internal work in the past, but I’m placing more attention there again now. I will share some of what I’m doing – or plan on doing soon – in my follow-up post about my essentials for happiness and peace. But it doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition. We can work concurrently on both our wardrobes and our psyches, and that’s what I’m doing. I hope to have a more streamlined wardrobe and a calmer and happier mind in 2019, and I will continue to write about both topics moving forward.
2019 is Almost Here!
Speaking of 2019, it’s almost here! Now is the time to be thinking about your word/theme for next year, if that’s a practice you’d like to embrace. My word for 2018, essential, has served me very well, and I’m zeroing in on my word for 2019. I will share it in the coming weeks and would love to hear about your words/themes, too. If you’re interested in choosing a word and need a bit of guidance, you may want to check out Susannah Conway’s free 5-day email course on this topic or read this great article from Mountain Modern Life (it’s from last year but it’s basically timeless).
The next time I check in here, it will be 2019, so I want to wish you a very Happy New Year! Thanks for your support during the first year of Full Life Reflections and I look forward to interacting with you more as this blog moves into its second year. I welcome any thoughts you have about the topics of this post, and if you want to share your 2019 words now, I would love to read about that, too.