I don’t have a lot of stuff.
On the day I moved in with my husband, I had booked the U-Haul truck for the entire day.
It took us less than an hour to move.
Then my husband and I were left just sitting there on the stoop, twiddling our thumbs.
While I don’t have much to declutter to begin with, now that I’m updating our apartment, I started looking at my “stuff” with a fresh eye.
Because the first step in improving your home isn’t buying new and better stuff. It’s cleaning and decluttering. It can make a world of difference how everything looks and feels when there’s simply less stuff to look at.
After going through all my belongings, here’s what I’ve decided to give away. And I’ll tell a little story about each item–the pitfalls I fell into, and why some of them are so hard to let go.
Buying for the type of person I want to be.
I was influenced to buy stationery after getting holiday cards from friends. Every year, no fail, the cards arrive in the mail. I wanted to be a “proper” adult too, so when I saw a cute holiday card pack on clearance at TJ Maxx, it was an easy impulse buy.
I sent the cards out that one year, then never again. And the holiday cards I received from friends were thrown away after just a few weeks.
I realized that you can be a proper adult in many other ways, and as an intensely private person, sending out cards to update people on my life was never really “me”. Heck, I don’t even update my personal social media anymore.
The Happy Birthday stickers I bought five years ago to wrap a present for my husband. I haven’t bought people gifts in ages, so here they are, collecting dust. And while wrapping gifts nicely is more for me than for the recipient, I’ve been able to do that in the past few years by reusing supplies I already have.
I’ve learned that buying any type of stationery–notebooks, stickers, cards– is usually a bad move, and I’ve been good about being honest with myself to resist the temptations.
2. Helmut Lang Jeans
Styles you outgrow.
I have a fond memory of buying these Helmut Lang jeans that’s still clear as day. My friend and I were hanging around Greenwich Village almost a decade ago, when we wandered into the Helmut Lang store. It was a Friday night, and no one was in there except for us. So the charismatic sales associate doted on us. I must have tried on at least a dozen jeans. But none of them fit me like a glove like these. They were full price, $275 plus tax. A price point I’d never paid before, but in a haze, I bought them.
I always remember how I felt when I wore them. How I relied on them when I couldn’t decide what to wear. My go-to strategy back then was to put on the most expensive clothes I had, which always worked. I even wore them to my business casual job. They are now well-worn, with tiny rips behind the knees (all my jeans rip at the very same spots). I’ve only ever drycleaned them, and they’ve taken on a lovely patina sheen.
But they’re fitted from the hip down to the ankles, and that’s not a silhouette I wear anymore. So now they just hang in my closet like a museum piece. For the past seven years. I’ve moved them from place to place, holding onto the memory of a fun Friday night in Greenwich Village.
When you think about packing up and moving items that you never use, it sounds absurd. The jeans were taking up precious space in my closet. Space I could use for other items I’d wear over and over again. So I had to let go of the nostalgia and put the jeans in the decluttering box.
3. Steven Alan Button-Down Shirts
Quality alone isn’t enough of a reason to buy something.
The quality on these Steven Alan shirts is impeccable. The green shirt I’ve had for nine or 10 years, and it still looks almost new. They’re also made in the USA–an elusive quality these days. And at $178 a pop, the price point I paid made them especially hard to let go.
I mostly wore these when I worked in a business casual environment, but now that I don’t have a dress code at work, I almost always choose other button downs to wear over these.
That’s a telling detail: when you have similar items, which ones do you always reach for? The button-downs I always reach for are looser, and I can tuck them in. The fit of these shirts is a little more tailored, and the hems are on the short side, which makes them difficult to style. And that’s why I never wear them anymore. They look good in only one way.
While quality is important, if you never wear the quality items, or you don’t feel good in them, are they really worth buying?
4. Theyskens’ Theory Denim Shorts
Unflattering silhouettes have gots to go.
It’s taken me a long while to figure out what flatters my body type. These shorts were purchased before that 🙂 I got them on sale for $100 (still expensive), but I loved the design and the quality of the denim was so thick and basically indestructible. They’re faded now, because they were a summer staple.
What wasn’t fantastic about them was the waist size and fit. Not only were they low-waisted (not flattering for the shorter legs I have), but the waist was always a little too big. I was always pulling them up, even with a belt on. Constantly having to adjust what you’re wearing is never ideal.
I have enough shorts now, but if I’m ever in the market for a new pair, I’m definitely going to look for ones with at least a mid-rise waist or higher.
5. Zara “Going Out” Romper
Keeping clothes for a lifestyle I no longer live.
I’m married and in my 30s. I don’t go out anymore. So then why is it I’ve kept this $50 Zara romper for “going out purposes”? I’ve probably worn it twice in the past five years.
The reality is, if I need to go out these days, I wear the same exact clothes from the daytime, but switch out the shoes. I’ve found that there’s rarely an event where I need to wear something flashy and out there, so if something does come up, renting an outfit is probably a better route for me. Except for the Balenciaga evening gown–I just really love it.
6. Custom Work Pencil Skirt
Grappling with, “What if I’ll need it one day?”
By far, the hardest pieces for me to get rid of are work clothes. I’m embarrassed to say that a third of my closet is dedicated to workwear that I bought for past jobs. Never mind that I’ve worked in a casual environment for five years. That doesn’t stop me from thinking, BUT WHAT IF???
I still haven’t successfully decluttered all my work clothes, but I did make progress on a few items, including this pencil skirt I had custom made on a trip to Vietnam. I have another black skirt that I absolutely love to wear. But this one is a duplicate that I never felt that great in. So, it was time to go.
How I Decluttered
Since all my items were well-worn or unknown brands, I didn’t see the reselling route as a productive option. I’m lucky I live in a city and don’t have to decide exactly how to declutter. If you live in a neighborhood with lots of foot traffic, all you do is put a box of your items out on the street and someone will walk by and take them. My husband and his son joined me in the decluttering. We like looking out the window to see who’s checking out the box of stuff, and noting what’s taken and what’s left. I gotta say, I felt proud that all my stuff was swooped up right away. Hope the new owners appreciate the clothes much more.
The Hard Part of Decluttering
Decluttering is not as easy as tossing out that snow globe you got on a work trip. For most of us, there are nostalgia, idealized lives, sunk costs, and scarcity mindsets at play.
For me, getting rid of the Steven Alan shirts was the hardest. It felt foolish to get rid of beautifully-made shirts that were still in good condition. I placed them in the box. Then rescued them. Then discarded them again. But successfully letting them go made me feel like I could work up to achieving something even harder: getting rid of almost ALL my work clothes. I guess it reminds me that we’re all a work in progress.
What have you decluttered lately? What was the hardest part about it for you? And has the process altered your future purchasing decisions?
Feature Image: Unsplash