Monday, September 28, 2015

Let's Be Reasonable

During the recession, people who were looking for ways to cut their household budgets googled a new buzzword--minimalism--and stumbled upon a whole grassroots movement that, in its extreme form, is pretty wacky.

For example, an extreme minimalist's home might contain only 100 items...including dishes, furniture, books, electronics, clothing, and so forth. An extreme minimalist's wardrobe might consist of 15 articles of clothing...with a pair of socks or gloves counting as two items.

One-hundred possessions? Fifteen articles of clothing? The numbers seem rather arbitrary and controlling to me, but whatever works for people.

In our age of conspicuous consumption, minimalism has a certain counter-cultural appeal, especially during times of economic crisis. As I bumped into random references to minimalism, news articles on it, and whole blogs dedicated to it, I absorbed the message and wondered if I shouldn't dabble my toes in the shallow end of its pool.

In 2010, my dabbling began with a minimalist wardrobe that was first and foremost functional...not numerical. If you're interested in the conversation I had with my clothes during the Great Closet Purge of 2010, you can read about it HERE. A year later, I revisited the experience in THIS POST. On the whole, ever since 2011, my wardrobe philosophy has been "less is more," as in less money, less quantity, less fret, and more happiness.

And I love it.

Less Money
For over a decade now, my clothing purchases have skewed miserly. My minimalist dress-up clothes consist of a black skirt, black pants, and three dressy tops. These pieces make six different outfits to wear on Sundays three seasons of the year. In the winter, I wear sweaters with the black pants.

Ohio winters are cold.

For everyday wear, I stick to t-shirts or sweaters and jeans. Target t-shirts, purchased on sale for $5 each, for instance, last almost a season before losing all integrity as wearable garments. Sadly, though, I discovered that spending "big" money on t-shirts ($30 or more at Eddie Bauer or Lands End) doesn't yield a proportionally longer life. Comfortable jeans, regardless of price point, don't last long when you wear the same few pairs day in and day out.

Perhaps I should stop wearing t-shirts and jeans, and dress up a bit more, but honestly, I'm a stay-at-home mom, church volunteer, and blogger/crafter. Opportunities to dress up are thin on the ground in my world, and my wise sister always said, "Never sacrifice comfort for fashion."

I'm totally down with that.

Less Quantity
In the old days, my closet had eight or nine linear feet of hanging clothes crammed together so tightly that pulling out what I wanted to wear from the crush might result in a waterfall of random items unintentionally pulled off their hangars.

Now, the crush of clothes is history. You'd be hard pressed to spread my hanging clothes out enough to fill four linear feet. The beauty is that I wear every single item hanging there...regularly. Everything fits, everything coordinates to form whole outfits, and nothing useless or mismatched occupies space.

It's glorious and easy.

Less Fret
Easily coordinating outfits isn't the only advantage to keeping a minimalist closet. I only buy new clothes when the existing ones wear out or don't fit anymore, which simplifies shopping enormously. I stick to basics and don't bother perusing trendy, unusual pieces, which saves time and prevents buyer's remorse...a common affliction of my clothes-horse days.

For me, the minimalist wardrobe has been a complete success.

One area in which I didn't go minimalist at all was eating. Sadly, for the past ten years, my weight increased to the point where I simply had to buy bigger clothes. Several times. With each increase in size, I moved the still-nice, too-small clothes to the basement. In the past two months, however, I've lost ten pounds.

Who knows what happened while we were in Quebec to change my attitude toward food, but something clicked. A minimalist mindset took over. I'm not dieting, but I snack less and my portion sizes are considerably smaller (though still quite satisfying). Best of all, I no longer suffer the regular heartburn of the over-eater.

Each new pound gone means my too-tight clothes fit better. Soon, I'll need to pull out those smaller sizes stored in the basement, and the still-nice, too-big clothes will go to Salvation Army.


In our super-sized world, figuring out what's reasonable, whether for our closets or our dinner plates, can be tough. For most of us, the answer isn't in restricting our diet to 800 calories a day or 15 items in our closet. Being reasonable means listening to your body and not gorging, buying what you truly need and a perhaps a bit of what you want, and avoiding an intervention staged by reality television.

This definition of "being reasonable" aligns nicely with research on happiness. The happiest people have all of what they need to live (adequate food, clothing, shelter) and some of what they want. People who get everything they want or have so much that possessions become a burden experience less happiness. Having it all isn't a recipe for a good life.

Having what's reasonable is.

What's reasonable for one person, however, may not be reasonable at all for another. My wardrobe, so very reasonable for me, would hardly suit lawyers, professors, pastors, preschool teachers, retail workers, or talk-show hosts. On the other hand, some minimalists eschew owning books; they check books out at the library or buy an e-reader. I cannot go there. No sir. Not at all. I will always buy books...electronic or traditional. My need for lots of books is entirely reasonable for me.

What minimalism taught me is to be more balanced and intentional in acquiring stuff, and to be unrestrained in getting rid of things that don't serve a purpose or mean anything to me. My days of magpie shopping ("Oh, look! Something shiny and new!") are for the most part over, and I'm more cautious and less impulsive with purchases, not to mention more satisfied with what I have and happier overall.

Sounds reasonable to me.

What do you think about minimalist lifestyles? Have you experimented with minimalism in areas of your own life? How did the experiments go? Are you a committed minimalist? What motivates you? Please share!

1 comment:

  1. I never thought of it as minimalist. I just buy clothes that I'm comfortable wearing, which translates to jeans and polo shirts. It's my costume. One of my friends once accused me of looking like I stepped out of a Land's End catalog, and she said it like it was a bad thing.

    She and I are opposites when it comes to fashion. I buy high quality and pay a little more, and it lasts me 10-15 years. She buys what's in style this season, and when it falls apart at the end of the season, she replaces it with the new season's garb. I think in the end I spend less, and shop less. I'm allergic to shopping.

    I'm definitely downsizing in my possessions. I follow the Alton Brown philosophy of No Uni-taskers in the kitchen, and I've purged all sorts of one-purpose items. I'm getting rid of things I haven't used in years (know anyone who wants 250 vinyl albums?), and reclaiming space. I'm even selling off craft items. It's quite liberating!

    I'm buying less, because I tell myself 'it's cute, but I don't NEED it", and it works!

    So if that's minimalist, then I'm there.

    Except for books. Gotta have books. Paper, please. No e-books for me.


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