For the past four years, I've had "nothing to wear" despite having too many clothes and too little shelf space and, up until recently, I could never put my finger on why. A couple of months ago, I was introduced to Un-Fancy, a minimalist fashion blog that encourages you to build out a collection of 37 pieces. This inspired me so much that I thought, "I can do this! I too can create a capsule wardrobe with really nice things and really nice outfits. I can spend less and buy less. Simple!"
It turns out that creating a capsule wardrobe is not so simple when your closet is hiding a hell of a lot more than just those old gold spandex leggings you're not sure why you bought in the first place.
I started by sorting clothes into three piles:
2. Reserve for another season.
3. Sell or donate.
Any cash made selling my clothes would help purchase my capsule collection. Great plan, right? Well, it didn't happen. What did happen was a catastrophic explosion of hangers, clothes, and an outburst of tears that had me veering off the rails into a sea of despair.
Trust me, I'm aware that this sounds dramatic, but I'm one of those people who gets emotionally attached to things For example, I find it really difficult to throw birthday cards in the bin, even if they just say, Happy Birthday! Have a great day! I feel guilty chucking something that's personally written to me and, as a result, I have cards that are decades old taking up space in my home. It's the same for me with clothes, only much more extreme.
When I started my closet cleanse, I could only part with one measly T-shirt. I was genuinely confused. Why was I hanging on? Why couldn't I get rid of anything?
That's when I saw one of my favourite dresses: sheer black, long-sleeved, and sporadically covered with embroidered butterflies. I bought it two years ago for no reason other than I wanted it, and it made me feel special. I wore it, and wore it, and then something terrible happened. I needed a black dress for my friend's funeral. He'd taken his life and it didn't feel right just wearing black. I wanted to feel hopeful. I thought the butterflies would help.
Just a couple of months after his funeral, my world crumbled into a thousand (more) pieces when my mum passed away. For her funeral, I wore the same dress.
Since my mum's funeral, my black dress has remained in my closet: a daily reminder of how I felt the last time I slipped it on, struggling with the zipper as my fingers trembled.
Next to the dress was another painful reminder — one I haven't worn in over four years — hung folded over a hanger. I'd bought the unremarkable pair of jeans the last time I was in my dad's town. He died from a catastrophic cerebral hemorrhage not too long after that. I kept them simply because, in my grief-warped mind, they kept me closer to him.
It was a heavy couple of years.
Looking at these clothes, remembering these tragedies, I realised that most of the items in my wardrobe were bought or kept as a direct result of a supremely shitty experience. I could pinpoint a negative association behind nearly everything hanging in front of me. No wonder getting dressed morning was an internal ordeal.
I'd bought the pink pom-pom shoes when I found out the guy I was dating had a girlfriend, my attempt to take a new step forward. I'd worn them once. After another guy who, six weeks into our relationship, generalised all women as liars and cheats (his words, not mine), I bought a fabulous green velvet dress that showed off everything that makes me a woman. I bought it just to spite him, wore it once, and left it hanging in my wardrobe. Then there was the fluffy blue jumper I couldn't throw away because I loved how it fit. Never mind that I hadn't worn in over two years, since I'd been violently robbed wearing it. Every time I looked at it, I saw the guys who kicked me to the ground, and stole my bag.
Why were they all still there?
Most of my clothes no longer reflected me as a person, and they certainly didn't make me feel good. I was wearing my heart quite literally on my sleeve. How could I expect to show a sophisticated, strong sense of style? It didn't take me long to accept that change was not only needed, it was necessary for me to move on. I deserved a wardrobe that reflected my evolved style and who I am today — a stronger version of myself that rose up even after I thought there was no possible way.
My wardrobe needed to rise up too.
That's when a conversation with my current boyfriend encouraged me to find a new approach to my entire closet.
I told him about the butterfly dress, and how even though I loved it, I couldn't face wearing it. He asked, "Why don't you make new memories in it?"
I thought it was a really sweet idea, albeit a little naïve, but it did set off a lightbulb. Here's the theory that our conversation, matched with a life-sized dose of pain, led to: You can build a capsule wardrobe to help let go of a painful past.
Start by separating your clothes into three piles:
1. Memories to love
Keep all the clothes that make you feel like a million bucks, or ones with distinct happy memories. They will make up the majority of your capsule wardrobe. Also, include clothes you've worn and distinctly remember having an amazing time in; just make sure you get all the stains out first!
2. Memories to make
Special items you can't bear to throw away, even if you try multiple times. You can only keep these if you're willing to commit to making new memories in them now. It's difficult, but the best way to do this is pick an occasion to work toward. You have to be brave. I've since worn my butterfly dress, once. I wore it walking down the streets of Barcelona, holding my boyfriend's hand and thinking how happy I was right then in that moment. Now, I look at that dress differently, or at least I'm starting to. Any new clothes you buy will also fit into this pile. These are the ones that you will hopefully go on to make awesome memories in!
3. Memories to shake
All the clothes you can attribute negative or unfulfilling experiences to should go, whether you're selling or gifting. You have to be ruthless here, and it's probably going to be hard. While you can't forget the things that have happened — there will always be reminders, whether it's a black dress or a particular pair of highly impractical shoes — I'm a firm believer that you must surround yourself with good people and good things during the road to recovery. Your clothes can play a huge part of this. They are the armor you wear all day, every day. They should make you feel strong.
Since I've started this process, I've found it much easier to part with clothes to make room for a more considered, wearable wardrobe. I'm not saying that a closet (and mental) cleanse will work for everyone, but, for the first time in years, it finally feels like I have something to wear.