I used to write a fashion blog. I read through it the other day (before deleting it) and noticed myself repeating one word over and over again: Why?
I’ve never denied that I have an addiction to stuff. Buying stuff, getting stuff, selling stuff, giving stuff away. I could go into a psychological analysis about my family and my childhood, try to explain why stuff can be love and comfort. I could talk about marketing, and discuss how new stuff=a new beginning, a “new you.” But I won’t. That’s all been done, it isn’t exactly new or interesting, and it’s not even particularly important to me right now.
I have a current goal to clear out at least two-thirds of my possessions. This will still leave me with too many things, but it’s a start. Deciding which things must go and refraining from buying new things are equally difficult. Some decisions seem easy (Do I really need enough dishes to serve 8? Not a chance), but become impossible (but my dad gave me those). Some seem tedious (how do I choose 50 dresses to sell or give away?) but are surprisingly easy (I never wear this, this just doesn’t look right, this fabric is itchy, this is UGLY and I have no idea why I bought it). Sometimes I toss things into a “donate” or “sell on eBay” box, and days later pull it back out, thinking, “In the future, I will regret getting rid of this.”
And why not? I have an old joke about how if I were an artist, my self-portrait would consist of a painting of me, standing at one end of a fiery bridge, wearing a mixed expression and holding a gas can and a box of matches. It seems that I can walk away from situations and jobs and people, using the same rationalization that I use when buying more new stuff that I really don’t need: It’s a new start. I am a new person. This all belongs to someone I no longer am. But to quote an old friend….”LIES!”
The problem with this idea of “starting over” is that it ignores (or worse, denies) the fact that we are who we are as a result of a culmination of experiences. Everything we see, experience, do, and live through shapes who we are. The idea of getting rid of your past in an attempt to become someone else operates on a kind of fallacy: that you can become a blank slate. You can’t. And besides not working the way you want it to, this desire to completely start over has two common side effects: a sudden need to buy ALL THE NEW STUFF to start your “new life,” and/or a serious case of regret.
I’m not advocating becoming a hoarder. Simplification is a good thing (I would even say a necessary thing). I am still on a quest to reduce. I even asked some friends for advice, noting that I have many regrets about things I gave away in the past. (Why did I give away that dress? It would have been perfect for this event.) Someone mentioned that once something was out of her life, she didn’t think about it. I thought, “I wish. I have a list of regrets.”
Last night, though, I visited my mom, and found a box of old things in her basement. Things I thought I had donated to charity; things I regretted giving away. I immediately grabbed three shirts from the mid- and late 90s (possibly my favorite time, clothing- and music-wise, ever) and ran home to see how I could re-incorporate them into my wardrobe.
As I tried them on, I realized some things. This isn’t how I remember…too big. Too itchy. Too…something. I thought back to the energy and time I wasted being upset that I didn’t still own that one particular thing and just laughed. Really? I’m using minutes of my life to be sad about how I don’t still have a t-shirt with Felix the cat in space on it, the one I wore to a club called Fallout when I was 15? I spent the next five minutes remembering why it was all such a big deal–remembering sitting on my friend’s roof at 5am, tossing pebbles into the dumpster, laughing until we couldn’t breathe because she said “beaver shot” (which is incredibly funny at 5am, trust me). I didn’t miss my outfit at all. I missed laughing like that. I missed living in such a way that my biggest worry was how to get a ride to the next free concert. I missed having a friend like that.
I’m trying to remember that logic every day as I work on this daunting project. It still won’t be easy, but the fears of guilt and regret have faded to almost nothing.