Owning less has been a necessity and a goal as we downsized our home with our last move. And last fall, I took up the Wool& Challenge to wear the same dress for 100 days in a row. I was intrigued (as a knitter) by the prospect of wearing wool, exhausted by the choices in my closet every morning, and challenged by the impact fashion has on the environment.
The challenge itself was fun. The dress arrived. I put it on and played with the layers and pieces I could wear with it to make it look different. And I wore it plain and unadorned for more than a third of the days. Not a single person I didn’t tell noticed. I loved the mental break of not deciding what to wear. My body loved the natural fibre and for the first time in my life, I stopped sweating all the time. I repaired a hole instead of tossing the dress. At the end of the challenge, I had the sleeves shortened, and dyed it dark blue. That dress has had more than 200 wears in the last year, and it’s still beautiful.
Since the challenge, I have reduced my wardrobe to about 30 of my favourite non-wool pieces and five wool dresses. I am not going back. I expected the closet purge that followed the challenge but was a bit surprised by the mess I discovered in my heart.
Perhaps the hardest thing for me about having less clothing is the significant decline in compliments I receive about my clothing and appearance. I did not realize how much I was looking for external affirmation of beauty or worth or style in getting dressed. It isn’t that the dresses don’t look nice or that I don’t look nice in them – both they and I are fine, even lovely. It is that I realized I have been conditioned to look for things that are new and trendy, and to value these over older basics.
When I began my career (in senior leadership) at 23, I had to dress up to be recognized as credible. While dressing appropriately for the context does matter to a certain extent, I’ve also come to a deep conviction that our society uses clothing as a status symbol to communicate about who belongs. When I worked in administration in an inner-city hospital a decade later, I found a wardrobe that I could wear to sit beside a homeless person wrestling addiction and an executive in a boardroom. Those clothes can also make dinner and go to the park with my kids. And it is a profound privilege to be able to choose good quality clothes that I like.
The challenge has also revealed how often I have relied on acquisition as a numbing technique. Feeling bored? Unattractive? Ignored? I discovered how often I buy into the idea that material things will fill immaterial longings in my heart and life. Owning less and buying less frees up my time from cleaning and sorting and handling stuff, and I am left to hold and attend to the real people and feelings and hope in my life. It’s embarrassingly uncomfortable to realize how buying and managing stuff can distract me from living my life.
Finally, the dresses have reminded me that my body is who I am, rather than something I possess. My body moves me through life, expresses who and how I love, receives care and love and beauty. Clothing is a necessity that should allow me to connect with and care for the people in my life.
I have found some online mending groups, connected with repair shops in my new community, bought less, saved the things we need to live from the landfill. Inspired by the way my knitting hobby can be an essential gift, I am working on making more of the clothing that I will need to replace the items in my closet as they wear out. I feel connected to my grandparents in the things they said and the skills they had and taught me.
As is ever my way in the world, doing a thing with intention changes the way I see the world and feel called by the Spirit to live in it. I am so grateful for the dresses and the hands that made them, for less drawing me into the mess of my heart, and for the spiritual space and freedom that is emerging from 100 days in a dress.
An amazingly timely reflection as I clean my closet for the changing seasons, and reflect on how hard it is to reduce its contents. Thank you.
Glad I’m not alone! Good luck with the closet!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts! now that I’m retired my closet isn’t even opened that often😬. I’m sure others could benefit from my stock!
Retirement really changes the needs, for sure. The dresses are good because they do work and home – a big game changer for sure.
You aced it Leah!! Thanks for sharing! You continue to inspire and enlighten us! Your journey confirms decisions some of us have already made or were pondering! You are a vessel through which His Spirit flows! Thanks for being you!
I appreciate you too, Joanne, and your encouragement!
What a wonderful approach on the way to detachment. I sense this is so freeing on your path to becoming the real you; fee to be God’s instrument closer to the heart of the SPIRIT. A big cyber hug!
Wardrobe simplification is amazing. Every few years I buy 3-4 pairs of pants and 3-4 new shirts. FI find a style that fits well and buy the exact same thing in just different colours. They all mix well and nobody has ever said anything ever. Perhaps its a guy thing, but not having to think and just know it works is very gratifying. Put on and go.
It is so good, and I think you are right that it is easier for men. But the fashion industry wants us to believe that we all need new colours every season, more clothes than we could possibly wear out, and shouldn’t worry about the people or planets being exploited in the process. The reduction in choices is so wonderful and the knowledge that I’m simply not buying is empowering.
Leah , I am 60 plus, have dealt with this struggle for years .
Spending endless wasted hours with emotional shopping .. receiving complements for how well one looks . But was I a good mother , professional, partner etc etc .?
Once again your writing is a gift , jolting me towards a pain staking inner reflection for myself .
Oh, Lynn, your style is so smashing! And your heart every bit as fabulous. Remember that the call to each of us is always and ever: “Do whatever He tells you.” The calls are not always the same. But the discomfort is always a clue for me. Follow where it leads. Love you, my friend!
100 days is uncomfortable to think about and not in a negative way but how deeply one’s mind would have to shift in order to receive something from
Well done for being so open to the adventure and the new perspective that came along with it!
When we moved to our new house I came with 5 totes packed with clothing!!! And now I live out of two small shelves strictly for maternity clothing. It hasn’t been nearly as frustrating as originally expected.
Looks like a similar Purge to come in the new year, on my end.
Thanks for sharing this experience Leah!
Mat clothes were definitely an invitation into simplicity for me too! Grateful for you!
This is so well written and expresses many of the things I also experienced in the wool& 100 day challenge. Thanks for sharing this, Leah. We humans have much to learn about what matters, and examining our impulses, needs, and dependence on materialism to prop ourselves up is a pathway to greater lessons.