Confession time: My body and I have a long, sordid love-hate relationship. I've dealt with chronic illness and body image issues for as long as I can remember—I was always somehow too sick or too big or too small in my mind, and I was never forgiving or kind enough to myself when I needed it most. And over the years, my struggles with my body became very much personified in my wardrobe.
It took me a long time to realize it, but my clothes—and how they looked on me and made me feel—started to play a huge role in how I valued myself. Most of the time I seemed fine, but there were also times that I actually cancelled plans because I felt so bad in my own wardrobe. Everything in my closet had an affect on me, and a lot of it wasn't in a good way. And despite knowing I needed to do something about it, for a long time I couldn't bring myself to part with anything.
Fast forward to this past spring, when my lease was quickly coming to an end and I knew I'd be moving soon. Cleaning out my clothes closet was a challenge I'd never been up to before, but I used the move—and the transition into a smaller Brooklyn apartment—as the catalyst I needed to finally make a change.
I went through every single item of clothing, every pair of shoes, every handbag, every scarf and coat and accessory I owned, trying stuff on and thinking a lot about what they meant to me. Here's what I wound up donating:
- Two large trash bags full of clothes
- One large pillowcase (I ran out of trash bags) full of shoes and accessories
- Eight fall and winter jackets and coats
I'd say about half of it was just stuff that wasn't really my style anymore, but the other half were items that had seen me through my most dramatic body changes and my lowest mental health points. At more than one point during the clean-out, I cried. It was an emotionally exhausting process because I had formed strong attachments with a lot of my things, both good and bad. When you look at a sweater in a store, you can see it objectively for what it is—it's just a sweater, and you either like it, or you don't. It's a weird feeling to touch the wool of what someone else would say is "just a sweater" and instantly remember how you felt the last time you wore it. Experiencing that over and over again? Totally draining.
My clothes sat in piles for a few days while I packed up the rest of my things, and I did my best not to rethink anything. On the day of my move, one of my friends dropped everything off at a Goodwill donation center for me while I went to help my movers bring in the rest of my stuff to my new apartment. And when I put away the clothes I had left—a significantly smaller amount—I felt relief. Everything had a place. Nothing was overflowing. Nothing I touched made me feel sad. I finally had a (sort of) clean slate.
All-in-all, the process was emotional and difficult, but I learned some important takeaways that have helped me get on a better track—both for the sake of my closet, and for my own mental health:
I think more carefully before I buy new clothes.
Starting with a clean slate has been hugely helpful for me, because now when I want new clothes, I go through a list in my head before I decide to buy. I was definitely an impulse purchaser before, and if I thought something was cute or I liked how it looked on me and it was within my price range, I'd buy it without thinking it through too much. That led to a lot of clothes that I either never wore, or wore once or twice without feeling confident about it. I didn't spend enough time asking myself questions like "what will I wear this with?" "when can I wear this?" or "how much use will I get out of it?" In getting rid of my clothes, I learned how to make smarter shopping decisions.
My personal style has improved.
Since I'm more thoughtful about what new additions I make to my wardrobe, I'm able to spend more time cultivating the personal style I want to present. I make fewer impulse purchases, and instead try to spend my money on pieces I really want and know I'll wear frequently. I've started investing more in jewelry and statement pieces that aren't necessarily as trendy, but instead mean something to me and that I know I'll love even a few years down the road.
I'm more organized.
I have never been good at keeping my clothes under control—I always seemed to run out of room in my closet and have too much to fit in my dresser, and I could never keep up with my dirty laundry. I still have a lot of clothes, but going through and getting rid of so much of my stuff not only freed up space, but helped me see what I was left to work with so I could come up with a better organizational system. I had accumulated so much clothing by not wanting to let go of anything that I never had anywhere to put it, but now there's space for everything (and I even have empty hangers left over for any new purchases).
And most importantly...
I don't spend as much time judging my body.
I still have good days and bad days and I know I always will, but the most important thing I've noticed is that I'm a little less hard on my body now than I used to be. I used to spend a lot of time trying on things that were no longer my size, and it was almost always upsetting—it didn't matter if they were too big or too small, it only mattered that at one point they meant something to me and represented a change in my body that was difficult to deal with. Without clothes that didn't fit sitting in the back of my closet to compare myself to, I'm not as hyperaware of the little changes my body goes through and instead able to focus more on feeling healthy, strong and confident.