100 Items or Less
On March 15, my friend and Studiomate Chris Shiflett put out a call for his readers to write the Ideas of March as a commitment to substantive blog posts. I asked him what I should write about. I don’t usually tackle what others in our webby community would consider stimulating, educational or controversial (although if you knew what actually went on in my head, you’d agree that everything I write is actually all three for me on a personal level). He said, “You have lots of ideas. Just write one of them down.” I decided to choose a subject I’ve been avoiding for a long time and see if I could come up with any fresh ideas worth sharing. True, I had a few drinks, but I must have been inspired because I ended up envisioning what amounts to a major overhaul of important yet neglected area of my life. So without further ado, here’s my contribution to the Ideas of March, and true to my nature, I’ve posted it without a day to spare. 1 hour to imagine; 5 hours to distill and write; an estimated 50 hours of action required.
I have over 500 items of clothing in my possession. And that’s a conservative estimate that doesn’t include my three costume bins. In contrast, I live in a 547-square-foot studio. With one closet. And another human being. Who also likes to wear the occasional piece of clothing. Currently, there’s a stack (or if I’m being painfully honest, two or three stacks) of clothing siting on the floor outside the closet waiting to be shoved back in somewhere that doesn’t really exist. If we’ve met, it’s not hard to imagine how things got this way. I have an eye for colorful, quirky and whimsical clothing, and my passion in life is finding it second-hand. If I come across an amazing piece and it’s under $20, it’s as if I’m on a Mission from God to bring it home, style it up and wear the hell out of it.
As much as I love being able to dress to suit any possible mood, and goodness knows I’ve got many, I don’t love the effect it has on my living space. Meanwhile, everything else in my life is sort of on a roll. I’m working hard to simplify, sort out, consolidate and shed. I’m traveling. I’m designing. I’m writing. I feel closer to becoming the best person I can be, my true self, with each passing day. But my closet remains a bloated mess, and for someone who loves expressing herself through what she wears, that seems like a huge contradiction.
In an attempt to find a solution, I decided to take a page from Sarah Kay and list THREE THINGS I know to be true…
1. I’m not going to stop bringing things home.
After considerable thought, I’ve decided second-hand shopping simply brings me too much joy to quit. And frankly, I think I’m pretty great at it. I’m not exactly sure what it means to be great at something so odd and specific, but I’m starting to find the value in it. I’m committing to it as a form of self expression, photographing my outfits and talking about my experiences. This exploration has only begun, but it’s already taken me to some interesting places internally and externally, so I’ve decided to keep it up for now.
2. It’s no fun to come home to a mess.
I love my husband and we both love our tiny home. It may be small, but it’s got phenomenal views, great amenities, and it’s quite conveniently located only four blocks from the world’s most amazing workspace. But only having one room and a lot of stuff means you’re living ON your stuff. It’s hard to feel like you’re living the dream when you’re surrounded by disorganization. Tackling the mess might be the final frontier in what is otherwise a beautiful life and marriage. I owe it to us to get my act together.
3. I thrive on challenge.
At the beginning of this month, I traveled to California with nothing in my suitcase but a week’s worth of undies. I had one day in which to find a week’s wardrobe, and I had the time of my life. In art school, I learned to conquer the decision paralysis of the blank page by imposing arbitrary constraints on my work. What could I do with only these two colors or this one simple image? My designs became more focused and ultimately more successful. Once I commit to operate within a set of rules, I usually excel.
Taking into account these three things, the obvious solution seems like a dramatic reduction to my closet. But how should I go about it? How can I make it stick? I’ve often been encouraged to adopt a one-in-one-out policy, but when you’re emotionally attached to EVERYTHING in your closet, a spur-of-the-moment purchase can spiral into a draining assessment of each of the more than 500 items to determine what should, or even possibly could, go. It’s too much, and I’ve never had any luck with it. I need a more customized, stricter yet simpler process. And it needs to take into account the first item on the above: I’m NOT gonna stop bringing things home. So I’ve decided to begin with a dramatic purging. This way I won’t have to make decisions about what stays and what goes. It’s all gotta go. I’ll then start over in a very specific way: I’ll only ever have in my possession at any given moment 100 items of clothing or less. And so for the first time anywhere ever…
Guidelines for The 100 Items Or Less Experiment
- There will be no more than 100 items in my wardrobe at any given time.
- Items will be considered less in my possession and more on temporary loan. After all, since every item is second-hand, it had a home before me, and it will now all be assured of having a home after me.
- Items will be assessed on first-of-the-month basis, and only extremely practical or more expensive items (such as a winter coat) might be allowed to stay more than 3 months.
- The 100 items will be divided up into 10 categories of 10 like items. For example, there will be 10 tops, 10 bottoms, 10 pairs of shoes.
- Each group of 10 will be assigned a color. (Hello, Rainbow!)
- Each group will be given space in either the closet or a drawer. These spaces will be designated by labels in the assigned colors with either hangers or drawer dividers, also in the assigned colors.
- I should be able to see at a glance where to put things away. No crowding and pre-determination of item location should keep things neat and tidy.
- I should be able to tell at a glance from which group and item should be removed when a new item is brought home, and I’ll have at most 10 other items against which to assess the one-in-one-out policy. For example: Bring home a skirt? Something from the “bottoms” section, which happens to be blue, needs to move on.
- When it’s time for items to move on, I’ll iron a tiny label with my name and url somewhere inside. This way, it makes it a fun game if anyone else every comes across one of my items and cares to look the item up. They can perhaps read about it and send me an email.
- I’ll be firm but forgiving with myself. This is a new idea and it will certainly morph as I test it out.
I’m truly hoping combining the idea of less attachment to items with the idea of less items overall will do the trick. What will be the actual outcome? Will Creighton and I be able to come home to the apartment we’ve always dreamed of? Will I feel liberated or stifled? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to actually put the Ideas of March into action. Pretty perfectly, my birthday happens to be in April! What better time to take action? What better time for rebirth? What better time for a party? I’ve decided to host an event where I’ll offer all my clothes for sale with proceeds benefiting a great cause. April 16 will be epic. I’ll go home to an empty closet for the first time. And April 17 will mark the first day of 100 Items or Less. If you’d like to do something similar, please join me!
Now I’m not advocating this exact solution for anyone else. I chose what feels right for both me and the size of my closet, but 100 Items or Less might not be right for you. But here’s what I am advocating: give your wardrobe and its organization a long hard think. Is it everything you want it to be? Does it say what you want it to say? And if not, why not? It’s one area of your life where you should feel happy and in control. And as an extension, what are the areas of your life where you don’t feel you’re doing your best? Maybe give those a long hard think as well. Then write it down and get to work. Doing just that has helped me turn a deep, dark messy hole of a thing in my life into something I’m now truly excited to take on. I can’t wait to get started. Thanks for the encouragement, Chris.
And now friend, if you’ve read this entire post, I owe you a cookie. I’m honestly flattered that you were either a.) interested in what I have to say or b.) care that much about me as a person!