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 for a moderately minimalistic wardrobe began six months after my fifteen-year-old son on died. It was 1999, and I was doing laundry. I walked past my son'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 his outgrown clothes. It was the only way my mother’s heart could manage the task. He was fifteen years old 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 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 years old, 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. 

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 and learn about a community of good people who embrace the concept of living with less, and to reach the good place where I am now— but that afternoon was a beginning.

Copyright © 2014 Terra Trevor. All rights reserved. 

Thank you to Courtney Carver, founder of Be More With Less for featuring a link to this essay on her website. 

Photo credit goes to Randy at Santa Fe Daily Photo.