letting go – some questions

It’s April 1st. A new round of Project 333 begins today. I’m aiming to post an update about what I chose for this season by the end of the week.

Lately I’ve been spending some time over at recoveringshopaholic.com (even though I am not a recovering shopaholic. Debbie has some great posts about wardrobe planning) and I found an article there about paring down your closet after you have gotten rid of all the obviously ugly, out of style, too tight, things.

How do you continue to declutter if you have a lot, but they’re things you really like?

Most people would probably ask, why bother? Why not just leave things the way they are and forget about it? Which is a perfectly valid answer. But not for me. Because I am trying to challenge myself to create a smaller wardrobe of things that I love, I need to go deeper, and Debbie had some great questions to ponder.

One of the questions that came up, that I’ve heard before, was

“Would I buy this again?”

And a variation of that question:

“Would I buy this again in its current condition?”

It’s that second one that really resonated with me. Because I am a thrift shopper, I have a tolerance for worn clothing. In fact, I prefer some things because they are worn – they have a softness that comes from regular washing, they already have imperfections so I don’t have to worry that I’m going to ruin them, they’ve held up well already so I know they’re sturdy. But it also means that my “new” things are already closer to that point where they are shabby, faded, and just plain worn out. And I become a little blind to the way things look after a while, until all of a sudden I see that they are worn out.

So I was thinking of a couple of items I was on the fence about, and I asked myself “would you buy this item right now for $2.99 if you found it at the thrift store?” and suddenly realized it was time to part with those things, because the answer was no. They’re shabbier than I would ever buy used, so why am I still wearing them? The fact that they’re not even worth $3 to me is a signal that they’re not worth keeping.

I also realized I was hiding some things I value amongst some things I used to value. I have some things that were absolutely wonderful a few years ago, things that I wore every day, that I felt defined my style. But they are living in the glow of that love I had for them years ago which, in all honesty, has gone. There are a couple of pieces I will keep because I truly do love them (even if I don’t wear them often – although maybe when they are separated from the rest, I will). But their imitators, their cousins, the extra items can go now. Sometimes it’s so hard to see that just because you love the blue skirt doesn’t mean you also love the same skirt in pink.

One of the other questions came from a woman who has needed to evacuate her home several times. She has enough time to pack up the really important things (pets, photo albums, and so on) and to pack a bag of clothes that she can use until the danger has passed. If you imagine yourself in that situation, “Would you take this if you were evacuating?” shows what we love and what we actually wear. If you had time to think about it, you would want to take the things that you actually wear day to day, that make you feel good, that fit you right now and are appropriate to your needs and the current weather. The ball gown you’ve been saving just in case you get a black tie invite, assuming that you could lose 10 pounds and find an appropriate wrap to pair it with, isn’t going to make the cut.

I saw someone else online go through her things and compare them in pairs. (Is that called A-B testing, or is that something else?) I don’t remember where I saw this, or exactly how it worked. But basically, she put 2 tanks together and asked herself which one she would choose, and then another 2, and another 2, comparing things with their peers. She ended up with a pile of favorites, and then pitted different combinations against each other to end up with a pile of things that she loved, and a pile of things she would never choose if she had any other choice. Those are the ones that we think we like but we never wear because, except on laundry day, there is always another choice. Or we wear them because we think we should, but we would rather not, so we feel less than our best.

There are some pieces that we don’t even realize don’t work until we try them on. We have to keep changing combinations until we eventually give up because nothing works. I’m trying to put the problem item in the donate bin, not back in the closet! Or we wear something that has us pulling and tugging and fussing all day. I’m trying to throw those kinds of things in the wash when I get home and then put them straight into the donate bin/bag before I forget that they just don’t work for me.

I have a few pieces that I really like, but I’m coming to see that they just don’t work for me and they can have a better life with someone else. I don’t need to keep things just because they’re amazing and awesome finds – not unless they are things I really love wearing. I foresee some difficult partings ahead. Some things you might be surprised to see me let go of.


late spring 2011

I practiced some of these same decluttering skills in the garden today too. Last summer I transplanted a lime green barberry, a plant that I bought in the very earliest days of building my front garden. It didn’t like being moved and the whole thing shriveled up and appeared to be dead. At first I was bummed, but then I realized I was actually kind of happy about that. But I didn’t have the energy to dig it up again – it has thorns! So I left it, thinking that if it regenerated in the spring, it could stay. (Survival of the fittest is my general gardening rule.) Lo and behold, it started sprouting tiny little lime green leaves on some of its branches last week. My heart sank. But I had a moment of hesitation, thinking maybe I would just leave it… it was out of the way now… and it looks so pretty with the bright color in the spring… not that you can see it from the street…

And then I asked myself “would I buy another lime green barberry at the nursery to replace this if it had died?” and the answer was “hell, NO!” because I am over plants with thorns, and there are so many other plants I would rather buy. So I chopped the barberry into little pieces and fed it to the compost bin. When I was done I felt better about my garden. I moved my early blooming pale yellow rhododendron over into its place, where it will have plenty of room to grow.

In that same part of the garden the bluebells (which grow like weeds) were choking everything, so I decided to stop trying to fight them and moved most of the small perennials elsewhere – when the bluebells are done I will look at planting annuals there, or I will try to live with bare mulched ground.  I’m trying to pick my battles.

I pulled some more grass. Pulled some more weeds. Mowed the lawn.

Pull weeds while the sun shines.


(btw, no those are not current photos of my garden. They were taken in June 2011)

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4 Responses to letting go – some questions

  1. Debbie says:

    Ok that question is just genius, “would I buy it in its current condition?”. I went thru a few shirts this morning and wanted to eliminate 3, but put them back. After reading this post, I went to the closet and looked at the 3 shirts, two didn’t make the cut. Thank you so much for that way of looking at eliminating clothes. And yes it will also work in different areas of my life too.

  2. Emily says:

    I am SO BAD at letting things go…. especially having little kids and no clear brain space to concentrate, I keep telling myself, “Someday. Someday I’ll go through my closet…” but then I always just pack things in boxes for that day that will never come, like you say, the day I lose weight, or find something good to pair with it.. I need to start thinking, “Someday I’ll get smart and just throw out all my clothes!” lol

    • Making decisions is hard when you’re busy, stressed, tired, or overwhelmed. And when you have kids to look after, there’s always something more important to do! But the good thing about P333 is that you create a closet that works for you, and then you know you can get rid of the rest because you have what you need. (Which is not to say you actually DO get rid of the rest! clothes are hard!)

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