At the end of my senior year of college, I found myself sitting on my bed, staring at a giant pile of stuff. You don’t realize how much you actually own and have accumulated over the years until you take everything out of its curated position in your room and throw it into a pile in the middle of the floor.
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Not only was it impossible to fit everything in my car, my stuff also made me feel unnecessarily burdened. College had been really tumultuous for me; in a way, I was glad to be leaving.
As a sentimental person, clothing can hold both good and bad memories. I had a beautiful pink dress with flowery embroidery that I was wearing when I got my heart broken — a bad memory, of course — and a long-sleeved shirt I used to wear year-round in high school because I hated my arms.
But I also had a shirt that made me feel great when I was giving presentations, and a top that my friends and I designed together with our favorite inside joke.
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I can’t help being sentimental, but unfortunately, attaching meaning to material objects can make it difficult to let things go. It took me a while to be able to get over that.
I also had a lot of clothes that I felt obligated to keep but would never wear: gifted items (mostly from my mom); expensive things; and way too many of those free T-shirts from school events/organizations that would “make great sleep shirts” as I would say as I threw them in the spider-web-inhabited part of my closet.
So when I graduated, I decided to clear the clutter. I put the things I loved and wore a lot back into my closet and then divided what was left into three piles: to donate, to give to friends, and to re-evaluate.
I tried on the clothes I needed to re-evaluate and thought about whether I wore them more than five times, if they went with other things in my closet, and if they coordinated with my closet’s color scheme.
Things that I donated were things I never wore, didn’t like, or had holes. Things that were in great condition but I didn’t like or wear went to friends.
After going through this process — and seeing how manageable my closet had become — I realized how little attachment I had to everything I had gotten rid of, even though decluttering had seemed so daunting before.
I also realized that my wardrobe had been a reflection of my insecurities. My ever-changing style and the array of mismatched clothes that came with it were a result of my long-standing desire to fit in at school.
I had always tried to follow trends and wear what other people were wearing: In high school, I bought Nike Air Force Ones, too many sweaters that had “Abercrombie” and “Hollister” screaming from the sleeves and breast, and high-rise jeans — all because everyone else had them.
My shopping habits were impulsive and triggered by sales, dissatisfaction with myself, and bouts of depression. I was spending tons of money on trends and my savings suffered. But when I got rid of everything that had bad memories attached or I just didn’t like, what was left was everything that made me feel good inside and out.
I did less shopping because I was starting to become more conscious of what my bad habits were, and formed a new habit of buying less and carefully curating my wardrobe. When you have fewer choices, getting dressed becomes a creative process, and now getting dressed in the morning brings me a small but great joy.
Another huge benefit of clearing out my closet: I discovered my personal style. Before, I scoured social media for ideas. But when I edited my collection, I found that there were certain colors I was drawn to — neutrals, purple, green, and red — and certain silhouettes that looked good on my body type, like crew-cut shirts and mid-rise pants.
I also learned what I felt comfortable in, and what I knew would look flattering, and I didn’t have to spend so much time in the mirror asking myself, does this look okay?
There’s a certain confidence you gain when you’re wearing what feels right. When I stopped dressing my closet, my closet dressed me.
In a consumerist society where every space (online, physical, mental) can feel so overcrowded, editing what we have can create breathing room to fully experience life.
Decluttering is a physical detox that can also act as a mental detox. You don’t have to be graduating from college, or even moving, but try taking a look in your closet and asking yourself if it makes you happy.