My Journey Toward Less

Driving home from the department store I thought about my problem. I wanted to own less clothing. To have only what I loved and needed. My desire to cultivate a moderately minimalistic wardrobe began six months after my son died. It was 1999 and I was doing laundry. I walked past Jay’s bedroom, a room that was immortalized with everything in place exactly as it had been when he was alive. I felt a tiny wave of strength surface, a glimmer of faith bringing me to understand I was ready to begin the process of letting go of his things. But I needed to do it in baby steps.

I cleared out a stack of Jay’s outgrown clothes. It was the only way my mother’s mind could manage the task. He was fifteen when he left this earth, and I let go first of what no longer would have fit him. Slowly, over a period of time, I gave away all of my son’s clothes, keeping only his sweatshirt for me to breath in the scent of him, to bury my face in long nights of remembering.

Next I began tossing things from my own well-stocked closet, giving away good quality expensive items, clothes that I seldom wore—clothing that no longer fit the newly evolving me. Each month I eyeballed my closet and convinced myself to part with more and more. At the time it didn’t occur to me that I was beginning to walk toward a stress-free lifestyle of owning less. Back then I wondered if maybe my grief and sorrow had taken a dangerous turn. My family also worried about me.

I was forty-six, and the gentle, generous part of me that cheers for myself wanted me to have a plentiful wardrobe. But I wanted it to be small, no excess, and only what I loved and needed. At the end of each season I edited my closet, took stock of what needed to be replaced. I removed any neglected items to give to thrift stores or to friends. I was getting to know myself with a new identity. I was a mother without her son, and I craved simplicity, to own less, to be surrounded with beauty and find my rhythm without a lot of clutter.

In addition to my work as a freelance writer, I also worked in a corporate office environment and the majority of my wardrobe centered on work clothes. There was a strict dress code requiring a tailored look with structured jackets. In following the guidelines somewhere along the way I lost my sense of personal style. I had no idea what would be in my ideal wardrobe, so even if I could have tossed everything out and begin anew I didn’t know what I wanted other than for my wardrobe to be smaller and more workable, with everything worn often and loved. But other than that I hadn’t a clue. With frequent editing, although my closet was not bare, it had a forlorn look. My family members encouraged me to shop for new clothes, and I did.

To map out a new me I gathered purples, reds, earth tones, and hues of tan and green. I searched for travel friendly clothes that hinted of a well-used passport and would not wrinkle, versatile clothes that could be accessorized for work, yet casual enough to wear on the weekend. Most of all I wanted clothing I’d feel happy wearing. With my husband and daughter urging me, I began the process of updating my wardrobe. But I always stayed within a careful budget, and never had credit card debit. 

At home I dumped the contents of my shopping bag on my bed—a steel gray sweater to glide over a jersey skirt or to pair with jeans. I cut the tags off, and a few minutes later I tied them back on with a piece of clear plastic thread.

Jenny-dog curled by the door, gave a low growl and the red-brown fur on her neck stood up. Outside I could hear weeds rustling and I grabbed onto the dog’s collar so that she wouldn't move. And that’s when I saw the coyote, young and lean sprint off down towards the creek bed. I scratched my dog’s neck and raked my fingers through her fur and found a flea, and then another. Usually I never forgot to give the dog her medication, but this time I had procrastinated. Without a doubt I knew I must get back in the car and go to the vet’s office and buy what we needed to rid the dog of fleas. And while I was out I could return the sweater.

That afternoon was a marker moment. I didn’t know what, but I could feel something take root within me—an awakening. I was moving further and further away from what I wanted most—to own less. And this led me to develop another problem. Often I would drive back to the store the next day and return my purchase.

From a rocker by the open window I spent the rest of the day watching Scrub Jays dart from branch to branch, until the afternoon shadows melted into liquid dusk, and the wind turned wild. Then I removed the tag and pulled on the new gray sweater, feeling its silky texture against my skin, and I said a vow to keep the sweater, to wear it on any ordinary day, instead of saving it for good, because my life is now.

I sat while the stars, one by one, began to light the sky, and let the chill air of mother earth embrace me. It would take me a few more years to break the habit of saving clothes for good, and to find Project 333 which embraces the concept of living for three months with 33 items of clothing, and to reach the good place where I am now— but that afternoon was a beginning.

Project 333 and Moderately Minimal Archives

Photo credit Santa Fe Daily Photo
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