Minimalism is a difficult topic for me. On the one hand, it’s aspired to as an ideal. People quote William Morris “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” We read books on decluttering, like Marie Kondo’s “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” I loved it when I read it and yet I remember feeling a distinctly odd combination of pride and guilt while reading it.
I didn’t have words for it until I saw an opinion piece in the New York Times which put my internal conflict into sharp light:
(M)inimalism is a virtue only when it’s a choice, and it’s telling that its fan base is clustered in the well-off middle class.
No one wants to admit they’re anything other than middle class. There are articles on the phenomenon of believing you’re middle class when you’re not (whether you’re poor or rich), but it basically seems to come down to being Middle Class is as much a virtue to aspire to in the United States as the vision of the founding fathers that all men are created equal, the ideal of the self made man, or the aspirational rugged individualism of the Old West.
If we’re all middle class, we’re all equal, and yet admitting that I might need to declutter and downsize is admitting that despite my perceptions of my bills and financial obligations that I’m in a different category than I care to admit. I have clawed my way into not just the middle class, but the well-off middle class.
I don’t feel that way, though.
I still feel like the little girl getting teased at school for not having name brand tennis shoes, designer jeans, and Alligator shirts. I feel like the girl who took my lunch in a bag so I didn’t have to go through the lunch line with the highly identifiable Free School Lunch Ticket – grateful that we still had enough money to afford me that little bit of dignity.
I feel like the girl who was told to be careful in my school clothes, because my sisters were going to have to wear them when I out grew them – the girl who wore clothes some family friend stole from out of a Salvation Army collection bin – things that weren’t actually nice enough to donate in the first place, poorly made (even for the 80s), out of style, and stained, but better than clothes that didn’t fit at all. Clothes that I wore and called “punk style” because it made it feel less embarrassing to wear them when I called them that than to admit the truth of the matter: We couldn’t afford anything better.
I felt ashamed for even wanting something more. I taught myself not to really care about what I looked like.
Fast forward to today, I don’t really know what I like or how to dress myself like an adult. I have a plethora of things from the fat girl fashion ghetto (read: black), and in theory have lots of things to wear – enough that I feel like I need to minimalise. I feel like I have almost nothing I really like.
I know what I’m supposed to want: Classic items that never go out of style in neutral colors. Preferably black, to hide my fatness.
It’s safe and boring. My closet is full of safe and boring. No wonder I’m struggling with it. Of all the things that I’ve ever aspired to, I have never aspired to be safe and boring.
Comfortable and happy? That’s a different story. But is that a style?
I know what I like on other people. I want to dress in comfortable, casual things. I want colors that I look good in, like periwinkle blue and pale amethyst, tomato red and pumpkin orange, jade green and teal blue. I want a jacket that looks at home in the office or by the fireplace. A type of Casual Chic that runs something slightly more to the casual and less to the chic than to the feminine and cozy, with just enough quirky thrown in to keep it from looking like I stepped right out of the pages of the Eddie Bauer or J Jill.
I want to dress like me. I just need to figure out what that is and maybe I need to get rid of some things in my closet to do that.