25 August 2014

Fast Month #2: Organization & Care

August Personal Pictures: the repaired 2010 watch, apple & cinammon dessert on seldom used plate, sashimi lunch, ingredients from food stock to prepare hummus

Two months after the start of my shopping fast, I found myself paying much more attention to my collection of items, since buying new things is out of the picture. Even so soon after the start of the experiment, I already noticed some changes in how I consider and treat my possessions. Here are some ideas on how I've been working on making the most of what I own and reducing the need for new purchases.

Another Editing round

One of the first changes I noticed, a few weeks into the shopping fast, is how I started reorganizing my living space. As many minimalists would say, organizing is not decluttering, and the best way to have a more streamlined interior is to start with getting rid of the unessential, before organizing the rest.

First suprise: there was quite a bit of clutter to get rid of after all. Two years after moving into this small appartment with only a selection of necessities (my cellar in Lyon is still full of the unessential, so much for minimalism), clutter had already started to creep in: from a stock of shower gels, body creams and other beauty products in the bathroom to airport bought and read books, tea mugs, restaurant cards, holed pyjamas...

I think maintaining a simple interior is a long term affair, with a regular need to check and update things. So, in the middle of the month of August, among the empty city of Paris, here I was, decluttering again. At some point, I wondered if it didn't defeat the purpose of making the most of the "use" part of the consumerist cycle, so I ended up giving a second chance to quite a few things.

Improved Organization

That's where surprise number 2 came in. Since I was determined to own only what I use, but also use everything I own, I found myself reorganizing the space so that I could reach my items more easily when I needed them. Here are a few examples of new organization :

  • I reunited all the teas in the same two drawers, just below the kettle, near the tea pot and mugs
  • I checked my bathroom cabinet and separated daily used items, weekly used ones and stock - the daily ones all came out, visible and easy to reach (including all jewelry options for example), the weekly ones got reunited in an easy to reach box, and the stock was stored in the lowest shelf, harder to see and reach
  • I did the same for the kitchen cabinets - got rid of expired stuff, stored the extra sets i'm not using without guests on the unreachable top shelf...
  • Evening books got stored near my bed, video games near the Xbox 360, and my diary and other notebooks in a drawer of the table I actually write on

I didn't make any big changes as my small interior doesn't allow for much furniture shuffling, but I basically stored the items within reach of wherever it is I am using them. I actually saw a difference: what I can see and reach, I use.

Improved Care

Last week, I got the batteries of my 2010 watch replaced. I love that watch, a Valentine present from my fiancé at the time he was living in Tokyo. It took me five minutes and ten euros to have the battery replaced at the BHV, but I hadn't done it in over a year.

This wasn't the only example. Since the beginning of my shopping fast, I've brought no less than five items of clothing to the seamstress, cutting off sleeves, taking in too big shoulders or waist... I realized I wore much less of the items with a little annoying flaw - say, too long sleeves. In the spirit of making the most of what I own, I decided to evaluate these little flaws: can they be corrected by a seamstress for a reasonable price? If yes, I did. If not, to charity they went. I probably wouldn't have gone through the bother and just bought something new instead, if I wasn't on a shopping fast.

Finally, I found myself taking better care of my items, even though I've always been careful overall. I bought proper anti-moth products and treated my closet, followed some instructions on how to properly store winter items away, bought a leather nourishing cream and started treating my leather stuff (shoes, belts, jackets and bags) one by one, went through my plants and salvaged those I still could, found a proper box for my chargers and batteries instead of letting them lay around and be stepped on...

The Value of my Items

The consumerist society makes us focus on what to buy next, we tend to lose interest in what we have bought in the past very quickly, as if it lost its value, compared to the attraction of new things. Of course, we always have old favourites, sentimental pieces, but overall, the idea of a new item takes over making the most of our current collection of items.

And that's suprise number 3: the shopping fast quickly rekindled interest in many of my items. I think that's why I've found myself reorganizing and caring for my stuff. I have a much better rotation of jewelry, even those gifts that I wouldn't necessarily have chosen myself, the latest books I have read had been sitting, bought and unread, for weeks on my shelf. I unearthed old pieces of decoration and wear long unworn items of clothing.

It is as if the shopping fast, and cutting myself from cultivating wishlists and purchase intents, had given more place to my current items, finding more gratitude for what I have instead of wishing for what I don't. Let's see how that feeling lasts in the upcoming months.

What's Next?

The period I'm the most worried about, failure-wise, is the arrival of Autumn collections in the shops, both clothing and decoration. I like this new season so much, I've been keen on buying a couple of new things in earthy colours on that period.

This year though, there is nothing new floating in my mind yet. Instead, I'm so eager to dig out my Totoro in autumn leaves piece of decoration, my cashmere knits, plum skinny jeans, heavy scarves, gloves and low boots. I have orange candles in my stock and tons of Autumn outfits in my head. This time, instead of being "dreamed outfits" made of wished items, they are very much possible outfits from everything I already own.

Is it the beginning of a change of mindset, a stronger focus on the value of what I own? Only time will tell, as we go through my favourite season full of temptations. What about you? Are you eager to dig out your next seasonal pieces or still lingering in the current season?


  1. Getting excited about buying new things and forgetting the things I own? Check. I am currently slowly incorporating minimalist ideas into my life, but I still can't help the excitement at the prospect of having something new. Actually, it's not the full story - I can fairly easily tell myself not to get new stuff when I'm in my hometown, but it's quite a different story when I'm travelling... My current problem - in two days I will go on a short holiday, and the place I'm visiting has many shops that are not available in my city. I know I can't get anything I want because of money, but I do allow myself some small purchases and am very much looking forward to visiting Muji! I guess it is the same mental process that tell us to buy stuff when there is a discount, regardless if we need it or not. Here: I am going to be in a shop that I very rarely get a chance to visit, so I should take advantage of it and buy something. How silly that sounds! I wonder if you ever get that feeling and how do you fight it? I guess I could always just tell myself I shouldn't go into these shops and not let myself be tempted - but at the same time I would like to think that I am able to control purchases on the basis of something more than just avoiding certain areas! Or consulting the contents of my wallet... Any advice? :)

    1. Oh I understand this problem very well - travel shopping is also one of my weaknesses, exactly for the same reasons: there is an idea that it is a unique opportunity that I might let slip and not come back whenever I want. Muji was one of my main "offenders" before I lived in Paris, actually :)

      My advice in that case would be to approach the subject with moderation: if you stop yourself from entering shops altogether, you may feel "deprived", or frustrated and it may leave you a bit unhappy (in due proportions of course, I'm sure you're in for a great holiday in any case). But if you let yourself enter all the shops and buy things just because you can't get them at home, you may end up spending too much money for things you may not really need and feel guilty in the end, which would leave you unhappy too.

      So the moderate approach would be to set a budget, maybe make a list of things you'd need and are likely to find at Muji or other shops there, and go visit the shop but with this budget/list in mind. Browsing the shop, without buying anything, can already be a little joy, so if you don't really fancy anything there is no reason to "force" yourself to bring something back. But if you find something awesome that you want to gift to yourself for your holidays, maybe you can then stop entering the other shops for the rest of the holidays. See what I mean? Having a balance can help enjoying travel shopping without feeling guilty :)

  2. Care is something I could improve on myself. It seems like there is a never ending list of things that need repairing, drawers that need decluttering, etc…

    1. There is a long list of "things to do" isn't it? That's also why my first reaction is to declutter, less items means less time to take care of them. I also noticed it takes less time overall to care regularly, rather than letting things get really messy. For example it's easier to treat leather against rain than to repair a leather item damaged by water.

  3. I have been following your fast with interest and it's inspired me to really slow down (not quite stop,) but to really assess new purchases. I'm actually in a strange phase where I have bags of clothes from seasons past (and sizes and weights past) that I've been going through slowly--shopping my previous closets, I suppose. It's been eye-opening. I've bought so many sweaters that I fit into again that I can't justify buying a whole new round of knits this fall. The rest of the pile are clothes too big, so I'll have to donate them soon (in fact, saying it aloud here makes me want to go drop them off in a day or two.)

    In a few days August will end and I think I'll have made it through with only buying fragrance (yay!) but you're right, fall season will be tough. It sounds like you have a plan and some outfit ideas brewing already, so I'm looking forward to hearing about that :)

    1. I see what you mean with bags of old clothes. I remember having this issue in 2011 when I started changing styles. I had bags of clothes from previous sizes (although I always varied between only 2 sizes and never had major weight change), but also previous styles (eg bootcut pants) that I didn't like anymore but couldn't get rid of out of guilt, because they still fitted and were in proper condition. Sometimes, a proper cut is the best way to start over: all the "ill styled" items were finally donated and I never felt as light than after dropping those bags to charity.

      However, when I feel like buying something new now, I remember these bags of good items I donated at the time, which sometimes still feels like a waste, and I think "never again". It makes me think twice when considering a new purchase: "will this new purchase be clutter in one year, two years?"

      Maybe you could offer yourself a clean slate as well? Reading your blog it feels you have refined a lot of things in your style lately, it might be safe to assume that you can donate some of your old clothes without regret, and use it as a reminder to keep your new purchases in check?

      As far as fall is concerned, I think I have a sort of plan but I'm also anticipating much temptation and difficulty, as this is really my favourite season, in terms of colours and fabrics. It will be a good experiment though. i'll probably post about it around October, after the heat of the back to school season, mailings, lookbooks etc. is passed. Currently my plan involves seeing my current items with the eyes I had when they were still wishes (that's where blog archives are useful), creating my own 'lookbook' with outfits from my wardrobe, maybe buying surrogates to the season temptation (for example making more seasonal dishes, decorating my home with squashes, maybe buy a few scented candles as they are consumables so technically are allowed in my fast...) Anyway, I'll test and report back, I hope readers will be indulgent if I end up buying something.

    2. I definitely ought to get rid of the bags of clothes, but culling my current closet is harder. In 8 months I've lost a lot of weight to where my 2013 workwear no longer fits well. Pants falling off and shirts loose and ill-fitting. I feel bad because I still really like my clothes but it's just not the right size, and replacing them (less than one year owned!) is cost-prohibitive not to mention it feels wasteful. I've talked to a friend of mine who shares my taste and I want her to go through it, as well as the other women in my family, but it will leave me with no replacements.

      I may write about this. Let me chew on this some more.

  4. Hey Kali, I'm not on a shopping ban but a few years ago when I first discovered minimalism and started to incorporate it more into my life, I stopped shopping and buying stuff in general. And I found the exact same thing happened to me - I rediscovered and fell back in love with so many things I already had! Like you, I altered so many of my clothes. I found hemming a shirt just an inch made such a difference. Suddenly, I was wearing it all the time. The other interesting thing I found was I cut several dresses/tunics into shirts and long pants into shorts. As dresses/tunics/pants, I never wore them but as shirts and shorts I wore them all the time. I think this was because a) They filled a wardrobe gap (I had more than enough of the former but not of the latter) and b) I had spent a decent amount of money on those items, which made me realise I was willing to spend good money on dresses/pants, but not on shirts/shorts. As shirts and shorts, I was wearing them so much because they were nicer than all the cheap shirts and shorts I bought normally! It was an interesting revelation about my own shopping habits.

    It sounds like you're doing pretty well on your shopping fast now. I found that I stopped shopping after spending so much time decluttering. After spending all that time, the last thing I wanted to do was bring more stuff back in! When I looked at something in a store, I no longer saw a pretty item, instead I saw the potential time it might take me in the future to declutter it. And that would stress me out, so then I just stopped going into shops, and now I don't shop at all. I also keep a strict "one in one out" rule with my closet, so now if I'm thinking of buying something new, I also think about what I would have to get rid of at home to make room for it. And that effectively forces me to ask, "Do I like this more then something I already have at home? Am I willing to sacrifice something else in my closet for it?" And because I spent so much time getting my wardrobe to just things I love, usually the answer is no. This also means I usually only buy things when I need to replace something that is worn out.

    Sorry my comment was so long! I just really related to this post. I hope some of what I wrote helps you on your shopping ban. And I really like your idea about storing things in reach of when you're using them - I need to incorporate that into my home more!

    1. Wow, your experience us so interesting, thanks for sharing. I definitely want to start implementing the "one in one out" rule

    2. That's a very interesting story indeed, thanks for detailing! I felt the same about a lot of items after I went back from Japan (the hassle of moving everything back to France), then after my first decluttering - starting to see new items as a potential bother (to take care of, to organize, to move, to declutter...) and bought much less items overall (for example I haven't bought a single CD or DVD in over 2 years even though they were my weak spot of most of my 20s). That's really interesting to see other people also change their mindset in that way after simplifying their life.

      The wardrobe aspect is interesting as well - how you learned things about your shopping habits. Are you buying more expensive shorts and shirts now that you have realized that, when you need a new one? i'm also wearing much more of the items I've had altered, or simply after finding a new type of outfit to integrate them in. As if the shopping fast made me see the potential of my items instead of compensating with a new purchase.

      The one in, one out rule is a very useful one indeed, and I have used it to "stabilize" my purchases in 2013, but I found it made me get rid of items in a good condition to satisfy a want for new things, even served as a justification for buying something new (compensating with getting rid of something in return) - so it can have the perverse effect to increase the buy > use > throw consumerist cycle instead of slowing it down. I guess it depends on each person's preferences, weaknesses, and also how far along they are in the simplification process. I used this rule at the very beginning of my wardrobe editing, I might not envision it the same way now...

    3. I had a very similar experience - I lived in the UK for a year and upon moving back to Canada I also realised what a hassle it was to move so much stuff... I also realised if I could go a year in the UK without the rest of my stuff at home, then I didn't really need it. The weak spot for me was always books and now I buy a lot less and try to use my library more.

      I haven't been buying more expensive shorts and shirts as I now have enough of both, thanks to the alterations. I'm also quite lucky in that the dance studio I belong to has clothing swaps a couple times a year and I fulfil any need for new clothes there. The only items of clothing I have bought this year were necessities: socks and underwear and a new pair of running shoes since my old ones were falling apart.

      That's interesting to see the one in, one out rule works differently for other people. It works so well for me but I guess that's also because I hate spending money in the first place - I'm a bit of a scrooge with my money! I guess I'm always thinking of all the other things I could be using it for (travel, concerts, etc).

  5. Beautiful post - keep up the great work! Oh - and I love the watch, it's so great that you got the battery replaced so you can wear it again. I look forward to reading about the temptations of Autumn collections :-)

    1. Thanks! I'm so happy to rediscover this watch too :) I'll definitely write an update on the Autumn collections and how I handled the period, back to school is so full of temptation, and I've always had a great pleasure in celebrating new seasons with a couple of purchases, so we'll see what happens this time...

  6. Very thoughtful and well written post, as usual. I actually am not ready to let go of summer yet, but I am at the same time excited and scared to go back to work at the beginning of fall. I'll have an occasion to get dressed, at least... I am not really longing for new stuff, though, since last year I wasn't able to wear most of my fall/winter stuff because of my pregnancy. So, it's like it's all new!

    1. It's difficult indeed, to "mourn" at the end of a season. Especially this year in my part of the world, where summer has been quite short and cool. But I always prefer to look forward to the nice things about the season ahead rather than being sad about the end of the current one. As you say, putting things away is a good way to rediscover them - I can imagine it is even stronger if you haven't worn them last year while you were pregnant. Enjoy your own fall closet then :)

  7. Indeed an interesting and well composed post. I'm nowhere near a shopping hiatus but I have noticed that transitioning from mindless buying to working with capsule wardrobes has rekindled my enthusiasm for 'shopping my closet'. My wardrobe is getting more mix-and-matchable, and that in turn gives me pleasure actually mixing and matching and trying out new combinations of old pieces!
    At the moment my mind is very busy with fall fashion as I am using Into Mind's workbook to create a capsule and buy some new additions to my wardrobe. But for everyday outfits I'm still in summer mode - I have a hard time letting go especially because summer has been so short here in Belgium! It's been rainy and under 20°C all through August here :(. I'm really sad that my summer dresses should be directed to the back of the closet again so soon (and they're not the type that transition well into fall). The upside being that I'll probably be really enthusiastic when I get to wear them again next year...

    1. Ah I love this idea of creating a capsule wardrobe for the upcoming season :) Maybe it can be a way to buy fewer items: thinking about some mix and match and dreaming about upcoming fall outfits based on our current closet? That's definitely something I'm going to try this year to rekindle excitement about my fall pieces instead of wishing for new items...

      I can see how it's difficult to let go of the summer wardrobe too, here in Paris the weather hasn't been much better than in Belgium, I have almost never worn my summer dresses, shorts and tops this year, and I feel like I haven't gotten enough value of my summer items this year. i'm hoping for an "Indian summer" though, as we say in French --> hot September! Let's see what happens, although I'm not sure how probable that is.

    2. The past years there have been lots of Indian summers, so I would count on it as well - except that I'll be on holiday throughout September :). Which is of course an awesome prospect in itself, but sartorially less interesting (we do nature, so durable shorts and basic cotton tops it will be).