I know, it doesn’t sound like something a simplifying, meditating, yoga-posing woman should say. But bear with me here. I think there’s a real gem in this sentiment, something that is actually helping me to simplify and pare down and “shop as entertainment” less often.
Many moons ago I was talking to my friend Barb, a lovely woman and talented healer, about the things she had moved from her old home to her new one. At the time I was in one of my ruthless purging phases, which meant becoming so detached from my stuff that I could envision it all going up in flames and walking away liberated. So I was surprised when Barb said, “But maybe we should care more about the things we own. Maybe we should develop relationships with them. If we love and cherish what we have, we’re more likely to take good care of it, and less likely to just toss it in the landfill when it gets a scratch or a stain.”
A light bulb the size of Chicago went off for me. I realized that for all my purging I really didn’t have a whole lot less stuff; eventually I would end up buying new things to fill the gaps of a frantic purge, and two years later (or even less), overwhelmed once again by my possessions, I would purge again. Why?
I was in the habit of buying without deep intention. If I popped into Target to get a pair of sunglasses, I would browse the clothing sale rack “just in case”. If I found a deal, I would buy it because it was a deal – when would I get a cute shirt for $8 again? (The answer, by the way, is any day of the week.) Inevitably, the shirt wouldn’t fit me right because it was cheaply made, or I would discover that a canary yellow shirt, even at $8, should never be on my body, ever. Did I really need another green pleather purse?
A few months ago I did another big purge of my closet, after noticing that in my entire wardrobe, only about 30% were clothes that I feel good in and really love to wear. I was wearing those things about 80% of the time, and the rest just cluttered my bedroom. But this time I decided to purge differently. I set an intention that I would only keep clothes that I had a relationship with – and by that I mean clothes that I love and wear regularly. Everything else of decent quality went out to Goodwill; ratty things either became cleaning rags, went into my sewing fabric bin to be upcycled, or got tossed out. (I wonder now if I could have composted those things? Anyone know?)
The purge done, I set an intention that is really changing habits in me: not bringing in anything new unless it meets two criteria:
One: It coordinates with the rest of my clothing so that it can easily be cycled into daily outfits. In my latest purge I noticed a color palette developing: the clothes I really love and wear regularly all tend to be pink/coral, light blue/aqua, and purple (or neutrals). I also had some orange and green, and a couple of pieces stayed only if I really loved them and could think of five ways I could wear them with the rest of my wardrobe.
Two: It is both exactly what I need, and exactly what I want.
Have you ever had a really big craving for chocolate? Only you think you shouldn’t have chocolate because of your waistline, or your pocketbook, or whatever. So you try to answer your chocolate craving with, say, a bit of low-fat ice cream. Nope, that didn’t do it. How about a piece of fruit? Hm. Still want chocolate. Finally you allow yourself to have the chocolate that you really wanted, and it does the trick! But in the meantime you also consumed five things that you didn’t really want. Now tell me again how that chocolate would have affected your waistline or pocketbook?
The same goes with possessions. I once bought a coffee table because it was on sale for $50 less than the one I really wanted. And you know what? Three years later, I still wished I had bought the one I really wanted. Did I learn my lesson? Nope. Not when I bought the desk on Craigslist for a steal, or the bookcase that seemed like a deal until I realized that my books didn’t fit right. Eric and I finally said goodbye to our ill-fitting coffee table recently, and instead of scouring Craigslist or running to Ikea to fill the space, we are using a couple of baskets for now. We don’t love them either, but I am not buying any more coffee tables just to fill the gap – we’ll wait until we find the one we really want. And if it’s more expensive than we anticipated, we will use those baskets for a few more months and – wait for it – save the money.
Buying just the right thing is one of my best practices for simplifying my life. (Cutting up the credit cards and living cash-only is another one, but that’s another topic for another post.) I no longer see a clearance item as a bargain – unless I really need it, and it is just the right thing.
This habit has allowed me to have really beautiful clothes that I absolutely love – like the Anthropologie cardigan I am wearing now and wear at least three times a week. It was more expensive than that one at Target, but also better made, and considering how often I wear it, a real bargain. I take really good care of it. I have developed a relationship with it. This will sound really weird but I think we are kind of in love with each other. I wonder how this sweater would feel about me if it were alive, and I think it would feel loved and cherished. That is what I mean by becoming attached to your stuff. Develop a relationship with it. Treat your things as precious, and they will become precious to you. And if they don’t, ask yourself why not? Maybe it’s just not the right match, and both of you would be better off with other partners.
Even better, think about the kind of relationship you can create with something that you make yourself. The pretty grey beret and souvenir notebook I made for my Korea excursions are far more precious to me than any that I could have bought in a store.
Tell me what you think about this. Have you developed a special relationship with your yoga pants? What’s your “chocolate”?