By Nessa Pullman
Once I have this, then I’ll be happy. I had repeated these words to myself for as long as I could remember. I’d spent hours on shopping websites, blogs and Instagram, looking at all the trendy clothing on size-two women, convincing myself all I needed to do was buy those exact clothes to look exactly like them. Telling myself I wasn’t acceptable the way I was, that I needed to have this or that in order to feel beautiful — in order to feel like “enough.”
Seemed like a simple fix, didn’t it? Buy clothes, wear them, look stunning, then be happy. That had been the narrative inside my head since the first day I had access to money: buying clothes and other items in the hope of achieving an ideal image of myself — a happy woman who had everything figured out.
By the time the big self-care movement hit North America in 2018, I was quick to jump on that train. I began taking things slower, eating healthier, and being kinder to myself. I also began asking: What is serving me? What is not? These questions naturally led me to the place where I spent most of my time, and which represented the biggest reflection of myself — my home.
By this time, the whole Marie Kondo trend had begun to boom, fueled by her bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and the success of her hit Netflix show Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. And how could Marie Kondo not succeed when there were so many people like me looking for ways to simplify their lives and become happier?
Kondo wasn’t the only one tapping into the “simplify” movement. If you’re an avid goop follower like me, you’ve no doubt heard of Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin, the declutter queens raiding the closets of Mandy Moore, Reese Witherspoon and Gwyneth Paltrow. In their book The Home Edit, Clea and Joanna have pinned down the recipe for decluttering your home, creating a beautiful space and keeping it that way — the magical synergy that happens when function meets esthetics.
I had the chance to ask these two about a sure-fire plan to declutter my home, so I could finally break the cycle of overconsumption and achieve a functional, organized living space.
“Our job is to get to the root of why a space is frustrating you — and then give you the tools to bring peace and order to your home,” they told me. “Having an organized space is crucial for peace of mind.”
Clea and Joanna’s book The Home Edit is broken into three major steps: edit, assembly and upkeep. While I knew my entire apartment could benefit from this plan of attack, I decided to begin with the area that was controlling my life the most — my closet.
Every morning I’d stare at my closet with weary eyes, scanning the familiar textiles of clothes once loved and promises not met. That sweater I just had to buy, still with its sales tag. That pair of high-waisted jeans I’d wear when I finally lost those 10 pounds. The hangers holding multiple shirts and the boxes stuffed with mismatched socks. Yet amidst all of that clothing, there was not one single item I wanted to put on my body, and I found myself thinking again, If only I had that white blouse I saw on Instagram the other day … And so the cycle continued.
I knew my overconsumption of clothes stemmed from deeper issues of self-worth and self-acceptance, and I knew it needed to end. I made a decision to throw out my tired, dysfunctional process of buy-wear-be happy and replace it with edit-assemble-upkeep.
step one: The Edit
“Always start with a proper edit by removing all of the items, group them into categories and pare them down,” Clea and Joanna advised. “This process allows you to fully access the space and the right items it needs to accommodate — meanwhile eliminating what’s taking up precious space.”
This meant removing every shirt from every hanger and pulling out all the pants I had shoved into the corner of my closet shelf. Once I had everything pulled out on the floor, I realized just how much I had. It was no longer hidden behind my closet doors.
After I recovered from that truth, I moved to the second part of the edit: putting everything into groupings. Shirts in one pile, jeans in another, workout clothes and undergarments in a third pile. And as I was putting everything into the categories, I had a revelation: Whether I liked the items or not, I really wasn’t in need of anything.
“Seeing things in natural groupings will give you a more holistic context for what you own,” Clea and Joanna urged me. “It will help you see where you have unnecessary duplicates (i.e., 13 white T-shirts) and decide which items are worthy of keeping.”
Now it was time to pare down and create a donation pile. That meant trying on clothes I literally hadn’t worn in years on my current body, and I can tell you it was immensely unpleasant. Item by item, narrative by narrative I went, learning to break apart the idea of myself I’d worked for years to create, surrendering to the notion I would never get to be her.
According to Clea and Joanna, this is the toughest part of the process. “You must ask yourself: Are all these things worth my energy? That’s really what this all comes down to — deciding which items are worth your attention, time and effort when it comes to creating a space that makes you happy every single day.”
I needed to honour the place I was in, so I started by eliminating all items that no longer fit — if it didn’t fit me now, it wasn’t going to fit some ideal future-self either. Then I tackled items I no longer liked. Ironically, most of these were ones I had bought from my Instagram-stalking days. If a piece of clothing represented a person I wanted to be versus the person I was right now, then it needed to go. Yes, with price tags on and all.
As I was reducing clutter, I was slowly building the confidence I needed to tackle the part I dreaded most: dealing with items that held me tight in the grip of emotional attachment, like the blue dress I’d worn on the first date with my now ex-boyfriend and the Led Zeppelin T-shirt I’d practically lived in during college. I knew romanticizing the past was just as bad — if not worse — than romanticizing a non-existent future. So anything that sparked even a second of emotional defeat, in any sense, had to go.
By the end of it, I had eliminated 40 per cent of my clothing, nearly half of what I owned.
Step Two: The Assembly
Now for the fun part: assembling everything back into my closet.
Clea and Joanna’s advice? “Decide on a functional organization system that fits your space and lifestyle. Creating these systems specific to you will increase your chances of success. Having an efficient, user-friendly, and esthetically pleasing space all at once sprinkles an extra layer of pixie dust that inspires you to maintain your organized spaces.”
I decided to adopt their pro-tip of ROYGBIV color coordination. ROYGBIV is an acronym for the sequence of colours that make up a rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Applying this system to a closet makes it simple to find items and put them back where they belong. And that brings me to the crucial final step: the upkeep.
Step three: The Upkeep
Removing so much of my wardrobe allowed me to easily see everything I owned, so even though I now had less clothes, I could see more wardrobe options. And that meant less stress.
The key to upkeep, according to Clea and Joanna, is the one in, one out rule.
“Even though you can make [something fit into a] room, it doesn’t feel good,” they said. “It also compromises the integrity of the organizational system. That’s why we recommend making sure that if you’re bringing things in, you’re also taking things out.”
By improving visual access to the items I owned, I felt better prepared to stay accountable, and the colour coordination system made my closet pleasant to look at, which motivated me to put things back in their right place.
“It’s like any other kind of maintenance,” according to The Home Edit authors. “Whether it’s your home, your car or your health — it takes some vigilance, some part of your brain to track what needs to be regularly checked in order to keep things in good working order.”
Room to Grow
Though I’ve only done an edit on one area of my home so far, the effects of this exercise caused a cosmic shift in all areas of my life. Removing the attachments, the emotional baggage and the false idealism associated with my closet cleared away what no longer served me — or perhaps never did — and brought me to the understanding that no amount of clothes, shoes or makeup can fill the cracks inside of any of us. In fact, in my case, over-consuming just made me even more stressed and unhappy.
This negative tendency can manifest into all areas of our home. It’s a vicious cycle. But when we do the work of simplifying, decluttering and truly appreciating the items we do have, we open up more room to figure out areas inside of us that need healing.
To simplify is the deepest form of self-care, because the more you declutter from your home or your wardrobe, the more you recover of who you truly are.