Minimalism as Interpreted by a Closet Maximalist

The Book by StyleCircle, published May 2017 

It’s 2017. Minimalism has never been more popular. With political, cultural, and social shifts happening left, right and centre it makes sense that we want to simplify our lives and minds in any way we can. That’s something minimalism claims to offer– a simplified mind. Sounds appealing to me! In a culture that is busy, busy, busy, all the time reducing the visual clutter of material possessions can definitely reduce stress, and people who follow a minimalist lifestyle have only positive things to say about how minimalism has increased their quality of life.

In the realm of fashion, minimalism can be seen in the form of Capsule Wardrobes. These came into Vogue (literally) during the post-war 1940s, and are seeing a resurgence in popularity today alongside the minimalist lifestyle. One example of modern minimalism is Project 333. It was started by Courtney Carver in 2010 as a personal challenge to reduce the clutter in her wardrobe, and has grown into a thriving business, resource and workshop service. The gist of Project 333 is to narrow your wardrobe down to 33 items (including shoes, accessories, outerwear, and jewelry) each season, and store the rest of your garments away. Every 3 months you can trade out items to suit the coming season (33+3, get it?). It’s not a purge, and you don’t have to throw away anything you really love or would wear in a different season or for special occasions. This Project is a way to consciously minimize the clutter in your closet to make room for things that matter. Carver emphasizes kindness above all else, noting that this is “not a project in suffering.” And people absolutely sing its praises – just look in the comment section of each post Carver publishes on her site Be More With Less. I, too, can only imagine the ease of dressing in the morning with only a few carefully selected pieces to choose from!

Now, for devotees of Project 333, dressing seems to be an essential but creatively unimportant part of the day. Dressing for necessity, but not fun. For me, however, dressing is a key facet of my identity – I enjoy trying out different styles from day to day! I enjoy having choice, even if it means hanging three garments on one hanger for them to fit in my closet. I enjoy experimenting with shape and texture and accessories. I enjoy collecting vintage! Basically, I enjoy having a LOT of clothes. You could probably call me a maximalist. But minimalism appeals to me in its simplicity, and I want to incorporate some of its principles into my own life, which is why I have decided to look into why I love collecting fashion items, and how I might be able to shift my maximalist behavior to be a tad more minimal.

I’ve been collecting things since I could pick them up – I started small, with pebbles and novelty erasers, and have moved my way up to teacups, art, and old, pretty books I will probably never read. According to an article in the Psychiatric Times my compulsion to purchase every collectable spoon I set my eyes on cannot be justified by aesthetics alone, even if I think I need it just because it is pretty... There has to be something else to it. If this is so, then what is the reason for collecting and keeping fundamentally useless items?

I may have found an answer. For her PhD thesis at Rice University Carolyn Babula decided to look at the relationship between fashion, wardrobe, and memory, so interested was she in the reasons why people covet and collect vintage fashions. She narrows it down to memory – we collect clothing to create new memories, but also to hold onto the past. When you think of it that way vintage stores transform from thrifty & cheap retail outlets into dreamy three-dimensional scrapbooks, each rack like a new page with its own memories. Each garment has had a past life; each is a snapshot of a past era. I think this enhances its value in a way fast-fashion cannot replicate, and also appeals to people like me who attach additional value to material goods.  

Because of this emotional value I add to my clothes, reducing the number of items in my closet from 300 to 33 seems impossible. Acting like Marie Kondo and holding worn out sweaters in my arms to assess whether or not they bring me the correct amount of joy seems impossible – even if something makes me sad I want to keep it because there will surely come a day I’ll be glad I held onto it. Isn’t that what Lorelai said to Rory about that box of stuff that reminded her of Dean?

On the contrary, Babula also addresses the functional appeal of vintage clothing to consumers, offering craftsmanship as a reason for why people collect vintage clothing. This too holds true in my own experience, for I find that even garments made in the 90s and 00s are of a better quality than what you could get today from H&M or Zara. It is true that many people Babula interviewed cited memory and nostalgia as a reason for collection, but they were not the major points. Style, function, and cost savings were the top three explanations for why participants purchased and held onto vintage clothing. It’s a perfect example of a good investment, because the cost of vintage is low and the return in longevity is high. Why would you rid your closet of such a good deal?

Another reason why I can’t get rid of my unworn things is because I’m convinced that my future children/nieces/nephews will want to wear my soon-to-be-vintage clothes. I’ll never forget the heartbreak I felt when my mom told me she’d gotten rid of an amazing oversized jacket that I was admiring while going through her photo albums. Why hadn’t she held on to it? Didn’t she know full well that one day her daughter would be looking for the exact same coat 30 years later? Trends are cyclical, as any fashion student could tell you, so I don’t want my kin to experience the same trauma I felt every time I heard the words “I used to have something just like that…” This is why I have my favourite outfits from 2002 onwards tucked neatly away in a box at my parent’s house waiting patiently, to save me from uttering the same words my mother said before me. You’re welcome,future mini-me’s!

While that is a quirk I will never be able to fix, what I think I could utilize to minimize my closet clutter is Carver’s seasonal storage technique. Tucking away long-sleeved shirts and turtlenecks in the summertime makes so much sense I can’t believe I haven’t done it before! This exercise would also allow me to “forget” items that I think I need but don’t actually use – if I go to a box months later and don’t remember what I put in it, donating the items inside will be much easier than if I just had to reach into my closet and make a split second decision. Over time the items that stay in my closet will become the items I cherish and keep, while the things being stored away will become less important. Like remembering to take vitamins, keeping something in plain view makes it harder to forget.  

Aside from this single technique, I really don’t think I can minimize my wardrobe like I wish I could, and that’s pretty tough to admit. My research only assured me that there is reason for my madness, and that I’m not alone in attaching meaning to my clothing beyond function. I’ve learned that vintage garments, with their winning duo of nostalgic and functional qualities, will be harder to get rid of than, say, a $2 tank top from Forever21, and that’s why I think I have a harder time minimizing my wardrobe than the average shopper. There’s just so much emotion in my closet! That, and I’d also rather binge watch TV shows than pull everything out of there. Who knows, there could be a doorway to Narnia hidden behind my wall of polyester! For now I’m content with not knowing.

It’s 2017. I am a maximalist. And that is just fine with me. 

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