the final frontier

If you had one room to live in, what would it look like?

I don't claim to know what mine would be yet, but it's a useful thought experiment to keep in mind as I continue along my decluttering journey.  There are many benefits to living with less stuff.  Today I want to talk about one in particular, one very near and dear to my heart as a person in possession of two X chromosomes: clothing.

Some of my favorite memories are from traveling.  When I go somewhere, whether it's for a weekend or a month, I'm pretty stubborn about taking as little stuff as possible.  Of course, when I was younger, that was not at all the case.  I recall going to see my extended family over the holidays for about three weeks by myself when I was six or seven (complete with excessively friendly flight attendants and an enormous orange tag around my neck that said who I belonged to) and bringing one of those enormous bags that would probably be over the airlines' weight limit these days. 

What on earth did a six-year-old need with fifty pounds of clothes? 

Granted, at that age I certainly wasn't the one who had to schlep all that around.  That's what grown-ups were for.

This behavior continued for many years thereafter.  In order to go anywhere I seemed to think that I needed absolutely everything that might possibly be useful in any contingency.  Then, of course, if I wanted a particular thing I would have to dive through the huge pile of stuff for several minutes in order to find it.  It was really only a few years ago that I realized the foolishness of this.  It finally dawned on me that if you carry less stuff you become much more mobile, experience less travel frustration, and can even find your stuff when you look for it!  And as yet another bonus, the airlines never get a chance to misplace your things (an unfortunate situation that I've thankfully never had to go through, but I've seen it seriously mess up trips) if you only need a carry-on. 

Now I do things like travel in Europe for two weeks with only an undersize carry-on and a large purse.  I obsessively read packing tips, think for weeks about which outfits to bring to maximize versatility, and drool over nifty travel gadgets.  On our Europe trip last year, Mr. Geek had to put up with me stringing an elastic clothesline across the bathrooms of various bed and breakfasts and washing out clothes in the evenings.  Of course, that was the least of our adventures, but those stories are for another time.

With less stuff it was easy to hop on and off of trains, wander the streets of London (except when his bag's wheel broke... that was a bad day), and fit easily into the sometimes tiny bedrooms at our assorted stopping places.  I also felt like much less conspicuously American, which is a plus when overseas.  I didn't really have to worry about my stuff; aside from the nightly sink laundry, everything pretty much took care of itself.   I didn't even really have to think about what to wear each day, because there just weren't that many options.  Going hiking?  Then it'll be my comfy navy zip-off slacks and my breathable purple top, maybe with the navy cardigan on top in case it gets chilly.  Going out to eat?  Guess I'm wearing my little black dress.  Everything goes with everything else, everything fits perfectly, and everything is the best of its category due to having been so selective in the packing process.

I love clothing, especially in unexpected styles.  I like having a variety of 'looks,' and being able to dress appropriately for any eventuality.  However, there is something about the simplicity of knowing that every single thing available to put on is my favorite, and never having to hunt for anything.  It's interesting that I generally gravitate toward the same items when packing for a trip, but it's not too surprising.  What go with me are things that I love wearing, are in great condition, fit perfectly, and can fit in a myriad of situations.  Starting with the go-to travel pieces would be a terrific way to begin building a well-curated wardrobe in general.  A knee-length black synthetic A-line skirt, for instance, may be the single most versatile piece of clothing I own (unfortunately my best one was recently ruined by a hotel washing machine, so I'm currently scouting for a new one).  It can be dressed up with a sparkly top, thrown over hiking pants to add a layer and a bit of respectability, paired with a button-up for business casual, or worn as a super-comfy bottom when lounging around reading.  Hence, one of those will always have a place in my travel bag.

That says something.  While I'm certainly not going to get rid of all but one of my skirts, it might be a good idea to go through and assign them all a number that quantifies their versatility.  Can it be worn both formally and casually?  Would it work in a business setting?  Is it comfy?  Does it go with the shoes I wear most often?  Do I have multiple tops that pair nicely with it?  It gets one point for each context it works in.   Penalties apply if I haven't worn the thing at least twice in the past year. 

I would propose that about half of my skirts would only score a 1 or a 2 on this scale.  If I got rid of those, I would have more space on my skirt shelf and be able to see the ones I *do* want to wear more easily. 

I've deteriorated into talking about specifics, like skirts.  Let's back up a little.

Why would one want fewer things?  More stuff is the American Dream, after all!

As a culture, we seem to have a bad habit of extrapolating things inappropriately.  If one pill is good for me, surely taking two of them will be better.  This cookie says 'low-fat' on the package, so I'll be healthier if I eat the whole package.  People need stuff to survive, so more stuff will make me happier.

Studies have shown that material wealth and possessions do, in fact, increase happiness.  That is, if you happen to be desperately poor and lacking in the basic necessities of life.  After a threshold, which turns out to be shockingly low, more possessions have absolutely no effect on happiness.  A third car, a slightly bigger flatscreen TV, or a seventh designer handbag will not make you happy or content.  What does correlate with happiness after that threshold is people.  Relationships.  Social circles.  Having close friends and getting to really connect with them.  Not stuff.

The United States is way up there in term of per-capita affluence, but we're also leading the parade when it comes to depression.  I suspect that the logical fallacy of more stuff == happiness is a big part of the widespread discontent in this country.

Enough.  I want to get off that particular train, stop being a good little consumer, and figure out what actually works for me.  I want to create space in my life to do what I really want to do and to connect with people I love.  I want to be able to pick up and move across the country if an amazingly stellar opportunity crops up, without feeling terrified at the prospect of moving all my crap.   I want the things I own to stop owning me

Whether that means having one skirt or ten is yet to be determined.

This turned up on my RSS feed this afternoon.  Beautiful stuff.

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