A New Year and a Budding New Attitude Towards Stuff (Clothing, Specifically)

03 January 2013 | by Jen in Whatnot

Strawberries & Violets Blouse

Actually, the attitude is not completely new.  For the past couple of years I’ve been having this, I don’t know, almost suffocating feeling towards my stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, I like my stuff.  Although I feel nostalgic about the days when everything I owned fit into the back of a pick-up, I enjoy my comfortable home and part of that comfort comes from the stuff.  (OMG, I’ve eaten so much chocolate today, WHY?!)

(Oh, and hi by the way!  Happy New Year!  Long time no blog!)

This post is a response to a comment on the Colette Patterns blog.  A comment, that Sarai mentioned in a tweet, wondering what is a reasonable amount of clothes.  I was going to respond on her blog but then decided it was rude to leave such a long(-winded) comment, or mini-blog post if you will, and figured I should just post my thoughts here (and then some) for everyone’s reading enjoyment.*  (By the way, if you ever want to leave a relevant and super nice but super long comment on this blog, feel free.)

Okay, what am I talking about?  Oh, stuff…I mean clothing.  Last year I purged my closet twice.  The last time I did it I was pretty merciless.    Meaning, I got rid of stuff I thought I’d never get rid of.  You know, that stuff you keep out of emotional attachment, mainly guilt.  Let me tell you, telling an expensive and unflattering clothing item that you wore that one time “f— you for making me feel guilty and/or fat” and shoving it into the Goodwill bag is extremely satisfying.  With such an attitude I managed to pare down my wardrobe to mostly items that I love and feel good in, or absolutely need.  (I have to admit I still have a few things in my wardrobe that I don’t wear, primarily beautiful vintage things.)

Instead of trying to fill my closet back up, I’ve spent some time trying to figure out what I actually need (if anything at all).  I’ve realized that I’m not really outfitted for cold weather.   Since I’ve been living in L.A. for most of the last 12 years I’ve been fine overall though I continually find myself “freezing” in 50 degree weather.    As I write this post I cannot feel my toes.  (I’m in my office wearing socks AND slippers.)  I generally don’t spend a lot of time outdoors in the winter because of this which sucks because I do love the cold weather, I just don’t like being cold.   So I’ve been saving up and slowly picking out a couple of things that will keep my comfortable when it’s chilly.

But before I started buying up new clothes to fill my closet to then angrily purge later I did some research (fun research!):

  • STYLE and MATERIALISM (weird category but I’ll explain): I’ve read blog posts and articles on effortless/Frenchy/signature style, AND posts about simplifying your life.  Because although I want to have a wardrobe that really suits me and makes me feel and look good, I don’t want to have too much stuff.  And I don’t want to expend energy on my appearance that could be better spent on more important things like my relationships with people, creating, and so forth.  What I love about the idea of effortlessly chic or signature style is that at some point, I think, it really does become effortless.  Putting on variations of your “uniform” probably takes a lot less energy than trying to follow trends or figure out a whole new look each time you get dressed.  And I’m not talking about your hoodie + yoga pants.   Actually, wait.  Yes, you can wear yoga pants out and about BUT you could also throw on a trench coat and a pretty scarf, and be just as comfortable but not look like you’ve completely given up.  Just saying.
  • FIT: I’ve read info about fit and body types.  I was already aware of some things like that I’m petite (duh) but I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that some styles I love don’t suit me as well as other styles.  Sadly, ’50s dresses with lots of gathers and very full skirts = thicker waist and stumpification on me.  No thank you.

  • STYLE, GENERAL: Purely for fun I read “Tim Gunn : A Guide to Quality, Taste & Style” on my Kindle.  It’s a easy and quick read, high-level stuff that may help answer any questions about your body (fit), signature style, wardrobe staples, etc.  I don’t use it as a bible though.  Mr. Gunn would be horrified at my fave pair of patched “hobo” jeans.  And he does not like saddle shoes so you’ve got to take what he says with a grain of salt.  But still, helpful and fun.  (I was bummed out when I reached the end so there you have it.)

  • COLOR: Don’t laugh but do you remember Color Me Beautiful from the ’80′s?  I remember my mom getting her “colors done”  like all the other moms in the neighborhood.  (Okay, laugh.  It’s fine.)  I stumbled upon this concept somewhat recently and as dorky as it might sound it has helped me so much in terms of understanding why some things look good on me while others don’t: color!  This has helped me avoid purchasing clothes in colors I like but are completely wrong for me.  As it turns out many of my favorite colors are ones that are appropriate for me.   (You would think as a former art student I would understand this whole concept already but the siren song of a beautiful but entirely unflattering color is sometimes hard to resist.)

Another thing that has helped with wardrobe-filling decisions is being able to recognize my needs versus manufactured (aka B.S.) needs.  I think one of the reasons why people fill up their closets and homes with crap is because, at the time, they thought they needed said crappy item.  Or super clever marketing made them “love” said item.  I have been guilty of this but I’ve gotten a LOT better and as a result have wasted less money on stuff I don’t need or truly love.  The first step is awareness, really.   And awareness is empowering.

How do you feel about stuff?  Or your stuff, specifically?  Are you trying to be more conscientious about buying things while still cultivating personal style?

*In case you were wondering, my original comment was not going to be this long.

(Top photo is of a blouse I made from vintage strawberry fabric that I had been hoarding.  I love it.)

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Comments! What are your thoughts, dears? | 20 Comments



  • At 2013.01.04 09:16, lsaspacey said:

    Woo hoo! Welcome back and happy new year!

    I agree with everything you just said. I’m having a hard time, but I am trying to cull my clothes. In terms of summer/spring, most of my stuff is wearable, flattering, and me-made. Like you, winter/fall is another matter, mostly because of the lack of well-fitting pants and eyecatching inside-wear jackets/cardigans in my wardrobe. I’ll wear the same pair of comfy ponte pants if I have some interesting to wear on top. So that is the bulk of my sewing projects for 2013; warm clothing and items that can be worn alone and layered for warmth.

    • At 2013.01.08 00:16, Jen said:

      Yea, I wear the same things to work over and over again (partially because I would not be comfortable in jeans all day!). I really need to figure out what I need to make and not merely what I like making. Sarai had a good post about that on her Colette blog, about making clothes that you need and will wear. I also read some post online talking about decluttering and your wardrobe. How we might buy clothes for the lifestyle we wish we had, versus for the one that we do have. I’m totally guilty of buying clothes for my fantasy life. Truth be told, I’m more of a practical shoulder bag kind of girl than a vintage handbag one!

      Looking forward to seeing what you come up with!

    • At 2013.01.04 10:12, janeray1940 said:

      Just have to say how much I love this post. I’ve been on a major anti-stuff crusade, as I live in a tiny place (250 square feet) with just a single closet – and while I’ve been offloading “stuff” in general, I’m guessing 80% of what got sent to Goodwill last week was clothing. And you nailed it when you said “one of the reasons why people fill up their closets and homes with crap is because, at the time, they thought they needed said crappy item” – so my goal is to change the kind of thinking that leads to this bad decision. Which I suppose starts with defining what, exactly, is “need” – something I hope to address soon!

      • At 2013.01.08 00:21, Jen said:

        Thank you! I think another reason people acquire so much stuff if because of all the big houses people live in nowadays. So a tiny place like yours is actually a good thing for a variety of reasons. Similarly when I moved a lot I was forced to keep things manageable.

        I was a Target recently and man do they really want you to buy their cute seasonal stuff! I’ve trained myself to avert my eyes from those sections when I go there and now I can mostly get away with just the essentials. :)

        Good luck with your crusade!

      • At 2013.01.06 11:15, kara said:

        For reals. I am in a bad way with work pants… I have a bunch that I keep on hand, but dislike for some reason or another- strange fit, no pockets, etc. My favorite pants I would wear every day if I could, but they are now disintegrating, and I’m in a panic about that. But I do feel more motivated now to toss the ugly pants! I hate wearing them, why am I letting them take up space!?

        I am ALL about the “colors”! I hsve a coral/orange dress, and every time I wear it, one of my coworkers brings up the “colors” thing. I’m trying to embrace bright, cool colors. (Either Winter or Spring. I’m going to investigate!)

        Thanks for the inspiration!!

        • At 2013.01.08 00:26, Jen said:

          Ooo, let me know your season!! :D

          Pants are so tricky. I own 2 pairs of non-jeans/non-leggings and really only 1 fits well (though not perfectly, ack!). Anything decent seems to be expensive.

          I tend to hang onto favorite, falling apart things too. I started remaking a wrap dress that I got from the Gap b/c I love the fit and convenience of it so much. Would it be worth having a seamstress make pants based on your favorite pair?

        • At 2013.01.06 12:34, Siga said:

          Love the post and I feel about “stuff” pretty much like you. I get into these stages at least once a year where I give away things that I do not wear/ use anymore. Let me tell you, this makes some of my friends VERY happy as so many of my knits have found new homes through the years.
          Happy New Year!

          • At 2013.01.08 00:27, Jen said:

            Thanks! Now that is one of the great things of purging your closet, making your friends (or strangers) happy! Whenever I’ve given away something great but just not for me I think, “Someone at Goodwill is going to be very happy!”

            Hurray for getting rid of stuff!

          • At 2013.01.07 12:26, fifihippie said:

            I feel the same thing I sew without looking if it’s ok with my other clothes…
            I hope you are going to put your news creations on the blog because I like very much :)
            sorry for my english… i’m french… :)
            Happy new year and creation!

            • At 2013.01.08 00:30, Jen said:

              Merci beaucoup! Je ne parle/ecrit pas francais bien. Your English is just fine! :)

              I do plan to post some more sewing projects on the blog once things settle down a bit. I cut out a dress to sew over the holiday and I have a DIY jeans project I want to do. Just need the time (and the will) to finish them!

            • At 2013.01.08 09:53, Sarai said:

              You’ve expressed a lot of my feelings too.

              On your last point about marketing, for me one thing that is helpful is to simply recognize whether something is trendy or classic. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to like something that is trendy, but often it’s a strong hint that the “need” is a manufactured one and will pass. At least, that’s how it seems to work for me.

              • At 2013.01.08 12:45, Jen said:

                Hi Sarai,

                Yes, I’ve noticed that works for me as well. Most of the clothes left in my wardrobe are classics even if some pieces happen to be trendy right now (i.e. polka dots). It’s liberating and empowering to feel like I can ignore trends, or that I’m better able to recognize marketing for what it is.

              • At 2013.01.08 15:51, Nancy said:

                Happy New Year Jen-
                I really like this post. I like the idea of purging but, I find some items hard to part with because I wonder if someday my daughter will want them. I know I wish my Mom kept some of her clothes when I got to be a teenager. That said, I still need help. I do buy items sometimes for my fantasy life um, I just bought a white sequin dress)
                The blouse is really pretty.

                • At 2013.01.14 16:06, Jen said:

                  Happy New Year, Nancy!

                  I see how that can be a conundrum. I wonder if there’s a way to set aside pieces you don’t wear but want to save for your daughter so at least they are not taking up space in your own closet.

                • At 2013.01.30 18:21, Lily said:

                  Whoa – reading this was so interesting because I literally have just gone through the same thing! For me, purging all my clothes (and other stuff, knick knacks, etc.) was all about taking control. After moving a few times and bringing so much stuff with me, I realized that the packing, worrying, moving isn’t worth it. And I only wear a small number of garments any way. Anyway, it was strange to realize that I’m actually very materialistic…but not in the way that I want more stuff, in the way that I really care about only having things that I treasure and feel are adding to my life. So…selective but also a lover of making and having beautiful things. It seems we may be similar in that regard?

                  • At 2013.02.04 20:42, Jen said:

                    Hi Lily,

                    Yes, me too, I’m learning to be more selective with my stuff. I think this type of materialism is ok! :) I’ve moved stuff for years and like you finally decided some things just weren’t worth moving anymore (especially stuff that hardly gets used anyway!) It’s quite liberating to take control over stuff instead of being controlled BY it!

                  • At 2013.04.11 12:20, Marjorie said:

                    This is lovely! Just popping by to see what sorts of creative-magic you’ve been up to! Wishing you a splendid Spring!! : )

                    • At 2013.06.23 13:32, Bethany said:

                      I can relate to this whole post (even reading a Tim Gunn book but I don’t think it’s the same one!). A couple years ago my sister found an old Color Me Beautiful book, cut out the color swatches, lamenated it for me and I keep it in my purse! They should do an updated version because its still very relevant! Actually the reason I decided to comment is because you mentioned cold hands and feet (which lots of people complain about!)… I just recently found out that it could be a sign of a slow metabolism (I just posted all about this)… do you drink a lot during the day or eat more salads/vegetables/fruit? Hyponatremia (a low density of salt or sugars in your blood) can cause the cold feeling… this happens the older we get. Just thought you might be interested… either read my post or google matt stone to find out more!

                      • At 2013.12.03 13:26, Christine said:

                        I love your blog. I just found it. And I love this post. I am holding on to way too much and need to take the time to get rid of a lot of it. I studied my colors (my step-mother had the book) as a kid but still don’t know if I am a summer or winter but do try to stay away from certain colors for sure (black). I am looking forward to checking out your blog more.

                        • At 2014.03.31 19:48, Lisa said:

                          I like this post, having a good look at all my stuff and trying to simplify – the items I made but aren’t right are always the hardest to part with but I can relate to feeling suffocated by too many possessions so slowly trying to simplify my wardrobe as a start. Must look at Tim Gunns book.

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