The Secret to Loving What You Own

(TL;DR: Sew personalized labels into your clothes.)

Over the years I have collected a goodly number of garments. My affection for an item does not depend on its price. It need not be actually new, although I have always loved a trip to the sales rack. I have knit plenty of beautiful things, as well, with some exquisite yarns.

As long as the item is new to me, I’m happy. I have never said no when offered a visit to the thrift store (until this year, that is.) I am always up for a wardrobe swap or to simply let a friend or relative declutter their closet on me.

It has always been hit-or-miss and I have always been okay with this. I have a knack for finding good homes for the items I don’t love, with someone who will love them.

The Sacrifice the Island Demanded

The problem is that all too often, I would get an aching, gnawing, sometimes raging need for something I didn’t have before. As if something new would fill some deep dissatisfied longing in my soul. It was like my soul was a volcano and these new things the virgins were being sacrificed to appease it.

Wearing clothes and the necessity of acquiring them comes with living in society. However, my reason for doing it was very very messed up.

Sparking Joy is not the Same as Sparking Feelings

When I began the Inventory of all the clothes in my closet, it was after several attempts at the KonMari method. Even after, I still had more stuff than could fit in my closet and my own one dresser (my indulgent husband had always been willing to share a couple drawers of his. He is nothing if not indulgent.) The arrival of the scalawags and all of their stuff meant that if I wanted to continue living in the apartment we live in, something would have to give.

What I discovered along the way was that I had misunderstood sparking joy (the first principle of The KonMari Method) with sparking feelings.

Enter the Pantheon of Legends

At this point, in some kind of OCD need to get control over something in my life, I start jotting down each item I wore and everything I could remember about its acquisition. This took only a minute or two each day. Then, as an item would get worn again, I would tabulate the wears. In this way, I began to better understand my closet and what was in it, which I came to affectionately call the Pantheon of Legends.

The Pantheon of Legends in DAYONE

One theme among the items I wore regularly was simply that they fit (an exploit after having two babies in seventeen months.) Another was that they just “worked” (a denim button down or a good pair of jeans, for example). Another was that the items carried sentimental value for me.

I discovered that there were three criteria for whether or not something in my closet ever got worn: fit, purpose and story.

So I started an attempt to figure out why I never wore some of the others. Part was because of the item didn’t fit: wonky fit, too big or too small. Part was because they just didn’t “work” the way I hoped (wrong color, wrong texture, wrong weight.) Lastly, it was a negative emotional connection to the item. They didn’t spark joy, they just managed to dislodge some feelings.

I discovered that there were three criteria for whether or not something in my closet ever got worn: fit, purpose and story.

If it isn’t joy, then you’ve got to deal with it

I went through, as well as I could, and began culling items which sparked feelings other than joy. Socks I wore at the hospital, a scarf I wore when I got some really bad news. What I was wearing the day I got in a big ugly disagreement with my boss at work. A sweater that reminded me of someone I shouldn’t have ever loved.

There was nothing wrong with these items, some were in mint condition. But I just never could bring myself to wear them. They carried the stench of something. It was up to me to figure out the stench of what, and to be proactive about letting go of that situation: grieving what I had lost, forgiving the boss with whom I was still angry after three years. I knew that as long as these items were around, no matter how beautiful or expensive they had been, they would dredge up the past in a way that would never spark joy.

I then let those items go.

Space Odyssey

Then, wow…I had a lot more space. I found that I could look at my drawers and my closet and feel a kind of unmitigated joy. Sure, there was some work to be done. But if I could just stop adding more clothes to my closet, then surely everything would be fine.

But I couldn’t stop. I kept shopping. Kept buying things that I didn’t even really love. This had to stop. Thus the Buy No Clothes in 2021 Challenge.

Is it Label Worthy?

It has only been since I culled everything that dredged up the past and stopped acquiring new items that I have started to find satisfaction in what I own.

But here is the last weird little detail, the aforementioned secret: in May of last year, I ordered little personalized woven labels with my first and last name on them. I got mine on Amazon, but they can be ordered from any number of suppliers.

In the heat of lockdown last year, I unstitched the labels on every single item in the Pantheon and replaced it with a label that had my first and last name on it. Yes, it took some time. Yes, it is silly. But it made me feel connected to everything in my closet.

Now, when I shopped, I would have to decide if an item was label worthy (oh yes, I watched Seinfeld, too!) I would have to think about what it would look like to see my name attached to the back of that garment. I would have to decide if it was worth the time investment to unstitch the label and sew a new one in.

If you made it this far, I salute you. You now have a secret to loving what is in your closet! Make it truly your own. It makes all the difference.

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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