Have you ever walked into Target, shopping list in-hand (or phone), determined to get in and out of there in under 30 minutes…only to be completely derailed within the first 10 seconds walking through those sliding doors? Suddenly you’re scanning the dollar(-ish) section for cheap and trendy home décor, which then leads you straight into that gorgeous home goods section, which is conveniently right next to the clothing department, which is right across from the beauty and haircare aisle. Next thing you know you’ve gone back to switch out your little red basket for an entire cart; and have somehow managed to pick up about a dozen unplanned items – perhaps not even managing to get the things that were actually on your shopping list. You walk out of the store, far from unscathed by all too tempting prices and aesthetically arranged shelves.
I hope I’m not alone when I say that this “Target effect” has impacted my consumption not only with the clothing I’d spontaneously purchased; but even in the impulse snacks I chose to buy, the home goods I decorated my apartment with, and the “wellness” products I just needed to give a shot.
A couple years ago I started to confront my consumption habits in a seemingly unrelated attempt to better my mental health and wellness. I’d recently begun therapy, and in doing so had realized that my life was unnecessarily cluttered — not just with things, but also with negative self-talk, numerous self-imposed obligations, and even a handful of unhealthy relationships. It was clear that my entire life was in need of “Kondo-ing,” and clearing out unnecessary material possessions was the least intimidating place to start.
This process turned out to be far from easy. As I made an honest assessment of each personal possession, an increasing awareness of dissatisfaction with much of what I owned surfaced. I had too many pieces of clothing, but ironically “never had anything to wear.” I had dozens of clean beauty and makeup products, but none of which actually worked with my acne-prone skin. And I had a myriad of once-stylish, dollar section-procured wall decorations, but felt uneasy and overwhelmed by my own living space.
The temptation to throw it all out at once was curbed only by the fact that my donation-dependent ministry income would simply not support the replacement of these less-than-satisfactory items. And even if I were to cycle it all out…would I not just end up in the same place of dissatisfaction when trends shifted, my mood changed, or the low quality of my cheaply-bought items finally gave out?
Thus began my journey into a simpler, slower lifestyle. I unsubscribed to my ad notifications, and took a break from my regular, boredom-inspired Target runs. Having now acknowledged that the accumulation of more “stuff” would only further fuel my anxiety, I replaced the time once spent browsing for things with activities that encouraged self-reflection, self-compassion, and self-love. Afternoons went from strolling around the local mall, to deepening my yoga practice and starting a blog. Mornings shifted from scrolling through Instagram ads, to enjoying my morning coffee while reading an article to learn something new. In doing so, I developed a clearer understanding of who I am, what I enjoy, and what I need. As my self-perception deepened, I grew a desire to externally express who I am through my living space and personal style.
From this place, my consumption habits shifted. As the cheaply-made items I’d once purchased during past Black Friday sales began to wear out, I started to invest in timeless, well-made pieces that actually reflected my unique style and personality. Slowly but surely I’ve been curating a capsule closet with long-lasting, ethically-made and sustainably sourced pieces that I’m proud to wear. When my husband and I got married and moved in together, we were more intentional about what we chose to put in our shared living space. Our purchases were no longer about what was cheap or convenient, but were instead informed by what was purposeful, and reflective of our values.
Today’s capitalist-fueled marketing encourages us to buy more and buy quickly. But if we’re to truly make the shift away from consuming in meaningless quantities to instead investing in intentional quality, it’s going to take time. The instant gratification that comes from an impulsive fast-fashion buy fades quickly when the new, updated and “exclusive” version of an item suddenly makes what you already own feel irrelevant. Trust me when I say it’s worth it to invest in that which might take longer to procure but will bring you joy for years to come. And perhaps what you’re “investing” isn’t monetary. Creating a capsule closet or intentional living space doesn’t have to be expensive. Putting in effort and time to find quality secondhand pieces is just as valuable of an investment as purchasing a brand-new, ethically and sustainably made article of clothing. And if we’re talking about sustainability, it’s certainly the zero-waste way to invest, since it gives these lovely items a second (or maybe even tenth!) life.
And hopefully, some of what you already own is already reflective of your unique style and personal values. There may be quite a few items that were impulsively purchased just to stay up-to-date with the ever-changing trends…but there will likely be other pieces that you have simply because you love them, and because they fit your frame in just the way you feel your best self in. What I came to find as I began my journey of capsule closet building, was that quite a few of the fast-fashion items I already had were actually in alignment with the styles I’d felt empowered in much of my life. Though the quality of the items couldn’t stand the test of time, there was no need to throw them out before letting them live out their full clothing lives – even if it’s short.
As a person with a smaller-than-average frame, I’ve always loved items that were once considered “too boxy.” I like the way they encourage me to take up more space – both physically, and emotionally. Though wide-legged pants have been all-the-rage in recent fast fashion circles, I’ll personally be keeping this style in my wardrobe long after the trend has passed, because it embodies a form of self-awareness and self-love that I want to be expressed in the clothing I wear for years and years to come. I’ve also come to find that there are particular colors and fabrics that I’m drawn to. Olive green has been a tone that I’ve loved for years and will continue to love due to its versatility. As of lately, I’ve come to appreciate the way it highlights the olive and brown tones in my skin – a part of me I didn’t openly acknowledge nor love until recently. Fabrics like linen and tencel have also become personal favorites, as many ethical fashion brands have been utilizing these materials to create sustainably-made, long-lasting pieces. Not only are these high quality fabrics timeless, but they seem to fall on my body in such a way that is both comfortable, and flattering. They remind me to balance all the effort that goes into a busy day, with a mindset of ease.
So perhaps as you consider your own relationship with clothing, and with “things” in general, it may be helpful to first come back to yourself. To remind yourself of who you are, what you value, and what brings you a sense of life and joy. As you grow in self-awareness, self-compassion, and self-love; pay attention to the ways that this deepened sense of self may want to manifest in your external life – both in the clothes you wear, and in the messages that are communicated to yourself, and the world around you through those simple, yet powerful pieces. Learning to choose quality over quantity may take time, but is a worthy investment for your closet, as well as yourself. There’s an undeniable sense of personal power that grows as you intentionally choose in to your own unique form of self-expression. Finding that, my friends, is of much greater value than any Black Friday sale deal you’ll ever get your hands on.