The rage washed over me swiftly. Thumbing through Instagram at work, I paused on a serene photo of the most neatly minimal closet I’d ever seen.
“50 items!” It taunted. “That’s all I own!”
The poster went on to enumerate how few shoes, coats, and even loungewear she possesses – without a single box or bin hiding out of the frame for another season.
Face reddening with every word, I furiously began to tap out a reply, which I eventually abandoned because the neanderthal side of my brain calmed down.
The offense I felt at her post was difficult to articulate. It wasn’t jealousy towards a woman who winnowed her wardrobe to the point that you could see inches of drywall between her perfectly spaced shirts. As someone with a small closet who’s trying to cull her own fluff, to me, that photo really was #closetgoals.
Nope. It was the counting. The counting!
Y’all, we have to stop counting our clothes.
As minimalists, or aspiring minimalists or kinda-like-the-idea-of-it minimalists, let’s come together on one thing: Counting our clothes has zero to do with minimalism – and it has everything to do with comparison, and, frankly, obsession.
1. There’s More to the Story
Whether you own 20, 50, 100, or 1,000 items – it means little without context.
I’ll give you an example.
Sarah owns 200 items. She lives in a city with seasons and keeps an active calendar. Sarah can identify a purpose for each item she owns, and she wears them all in fairly regular rotation. She shops carefully, takes care of her things, and keeps her clothes for a long time.
Jane owns 60 items. She really only wears half of them, though, because she works from home. The other half turns in a cycle of shopping and purging, because Jane buys clothes on a whim and then realizes she doesn’t actually like them or need them.
Who’s more of a minimalist in this scenario? If numbers matter, then it’s Jane. But Jane’s closet is pretty bloated for her lifestyle, and she’s spinning her wheels in consumption.
Jane’s number might be lower, but her habits tell a different story.
2. Counting Alone Won’t Get You a Better Closet
I don’t mean to say counting doesn’t have a purpose. If you’re a “wardrobe scientist” who obsesses over your item and wear counts in many a spreadsheet, I get it! It’s geekily fun and interesting to analyze your personal wardrobe data.
In this way, item counts can be used counts to answer questions like: “Is there an ideal number of shoes for me to own based on the number of days that I work per week?” “How many times did I wear that coat last month compared to the months prior, and does it mean I need another one, or should I donate it?”
If you’re analyzing your wardrobe in this way, you can, and should, count your items – because you’re using item count as one piece of quantitative data, among many others.
But most of us are qualitative minimalists. We evaluate our closets based on non-countable, intuitive factors, like: “Does that make me feel fabulous?” “Do I think it’s going to hold up in the winter?”
The underlying problem is that our answers to these questions change over time – sometimes even from one moment to the next. So if you spend time obsessing over what you think is your ideal number, you’re trying to achieve a goal that’s probably no longer relevant to you.
A Number Ain’t Nothing But a Number
Minimalism is often a confusing, frustrating journey, and it never really ends. I’m writing this post because I hate the idea of anyone – especially new converts – getting distracted by a numbers game they’ll never win.
If you’re sincerely interested in #fewerbetter, #lessismore, etc., then my recommendation go through your belongings and focus on each one for a moment, à la Marie Kondo. Ask yourself:
1) Do I really love it?
2) In what scenario will I wear it?
3) What are some other items I’ll wear it with?
4) Will I want to wear it next year?
5) Will the quality carry it at least a few years into my life? And if not, am I willing to repair it?
If you can answer affirmatively for each item in your closet, then congratulations, you’re at your ideal item count for this exact moment.
Just, please – do yourself a favor and don’t actually count it.