Making My Minimalist Wardrobe

“When I shop, the world gets better, and the world is better, but then it’s not, and I need to do it again.”

Rebecca Bloomwood – Confessions of A Shopaholic

When I started this minimalist journey, my first stop was the wardrobe. And the drawers. And the other set of drawers. And the under-bed storage. And, to be completely honest, the floor. There were clothes everywhere. Things I hadn’t worn in years. Things I hadn’t worn at all. There were clothes that looked better on the hanger, deals that were too good to pass up and things that I was sure I was going to wear eventually. But eventually never came and they sat forlorn in my wardrobe while I wend out, swiped my card and got newer, trendier clothes that I definitely did not need. Then I would stare at my bank account balance and wonder why I was broke. Again.

It was a bad enough habit without taking my disease into account. Do you have any idea how much laundry I had to do? I still have nightmares about it *shudder*. I can’t do that much laundry. It wasn’t sustainable, it wasn’t manageable, but it was certainly stressful. My fibromyalgia is in a pretty bad place right now and the other week I was attempting to do a load of laundry and took a tiny step sideways.

Boom.

Pain exploded in my hip and down my leg. It was all I could do not to scream. Needless to say the laundry fell by the wayside. I was bedridden for the rest of the day and lost the remainder of my Sunday. All because I had so much I had to do.

Enter minimalism.

Now, the primary reason for my interest in minimalism is the widespread reports of less stress. Stress is a huge trigger for fibro and so anything I can do to drastically reduce stress could reduce the severity of my symptoms and prevent flare ups. An added benefit is: less stuff, less cleaning. Cue the hallelujah chorus because I have less laundry! Cleaning is hard. And boring. And nobody wants to do it. But when overdoing it can leave me bedridden in excruciating pain? Extra awful.

Now, back to the clothes. Before The Purge I looked around and done my research on minimalist wardrobes. Between that and my own experience there are a few key takeaways I found:

 

1. Empty it ALL out on the bed

My bed looked like a plush mountain after I dragged everything out. It was insane and it really drove home how ridiculous my clothes habit was. It reaffirmed that I was making a sound decision. Plus the mess made sure that I stuck with the task until it was finished.

2. Donate, Decide, Dump

I set up three cardboard boxes (which quickly turned into five as they filled up) for clothes to donate (or sell if you have some good quality items and are looking for extra cash), clothes I was torn over and clothes that weren’t in good enough condition to donate and had to be thrown away. After I had gone through everything, I went through the Decide box/es and narrowed things down further. In the end, most of them ended up in the Donate boxes anyway.

2.Keep items that you love and regularly wear

There’s no point keeping that cardigan I bought a few months ago that makes me itch. Forget price tags (seriously, it saves some anguish) and forget sentimentality. If it isn’t comfortable, if it doesn’t make me feel good, I am not going to want to wear it. Who wears things that make them feel like crap? Nobody.

3. Pick a neutral colour scheme

I’m not saying wear black, black and more black (unless that’s your thing, then go for it! Ryan over at The Minimalists wears a black t-shirt and jeans and that is it). But a few neutral colours set a good base for your wardrobe. They can go with one another and, more importantly, they will go with the statement pieces (more on that in a second. My scheme is black, navy, grey, white and variations on tan (beige, blush etc. You get the idea). If everything is cohesive, it saves one from struggling to get ready in the morning. It also prevents this:

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Sorry Cher, but I do not have time for that. I have better things to do. Like sleep.

4. Have a few statement pieces

This is what keeps me from looking like I’ve stepped out of a sepia photograph. Bright clothes and accessories pair well with the muted tones and keep things interesting. Keep it minimal (har har) so that you keep it cohesive.

5. There is no ‘Number’

I gave myself no limit. I didn’t want rules that inhibited what I thought would be a really difficult process. As long as your wardrobe is deliberate and full of things that make you feel good that you’ll wear, then your purge is a success. In the end, I ended up with about 60 – 70 items including shoes and accessories. It all fits nicely and cleanly in one section of the wardrobe (my partner was pleasantly surprised). I have what I consider to be a good number, but I didn’t give myself a number.

 

Honestly, the whole thing was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I began talking to my clothes, as crazy as that sounds. I managed to decide on what I would and wouldn’t wear pretty quickly. Afterwards I did the same for shoes and accessories and then for my makeup. For someone who had hundreds of clothes, I had it all done in under two hours. Afterwards I felt great. I felt lighter. And I was excited for the next time I needed to get ready, because it was going to be a breeze.

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You Look Fine

My legs are all wrong today. Flimsy and weak as if, instead of bone and muscle and sinew they are made of paperclips and rubber bands. 

They tremble under my weight so that I feel like I’m about to collapse at any moment. At the same time they feel taught, tied up too tightly. So tense it hurts. It hurts all the time. I massage them, stretch them and it only hurts more. 

“You look fine.”

It’s only one of the many symptoms, the many glitches of my body screaming sick sick SICK. 

It’s only one. But it’s the one that makes me feel the least in control of my body. 

The legs that dances and jumped and kicked and ran. Powerful legs that once won me medals reduced to crumbling foundations.

If I can barely walk, what else will this take from me?

Your hands, my body replies.

Hands once splattered with paint and ink, sticky with fresh cookie dough. Eclipsed with pain and plagued by constant trembling.

I am full of words, frothing at the mouth with language eager to run out of me. I can hardly hold my pen. The letters I try and form look foreign to me now.

“You look fine,” they say. The surface of my skin unmarred and masking the chaos of nerves and pain and sickness. 

“You look fine.” I carefully monitor what I eat. No sugar. No heavy oils. No gluten. No soy. No coffee. Jesus Christ no coffee. No coffee despite needing at least nine hours of sleep and still waking up exhausted. Eat clean. Reduce inflammation. Don’t fuel the fire.

“You look fine.” I count out the sevdn tablets I take every morning. Hormones. Stomach. Antidepressants. Anti-inflammatories. Vitamins vitamin vitamins. I eat so well but my body burns it up, my blood churns it out. Cries for more.

“You look fine.” I’m in the bathroom, aware it’s the second time in less than an hour I’ve had to step away from my desk. Did they notice? Are they counting? 

“You look fine.” Another painkiller that I know won’t work. Muscles. Headaches. Cramps. Abdominal pain. More pain than pills. A body in revolt.
“You look fine.”

How I Got Here. AKA from Healthy to Hell

We – meaning myself and my doctor – can trace the beginning of this hell to April 2014. I was studying a Bachelor of Arts at a university in Sydney when I woke up one day and could barely walk. My body twitched and trembled. I remembered watching my hands, feeling as if they were suddenly alien to me.

I skipped my next class and went to the nearest GP. I tried to move quickly but it was as if I were wading through water. Luckily, it wasn’t far. I can still picture the blue-gray colour scheme of the waiting room. The wailing of sickly kids.

The doctor had no answers. They took some blood, gave me a certificate for missing class and sent me home to rest.

Then, at about 7pm that evening, the doctor I saw called me from his mobile. I could tell by the distorted audio that he was talking hands-free while he drove. He tells me to go to the emergency room. My white cell count was at 23,000. Which, apparently, was very bad.

Medical students take turns trying to put a drip in my veins. Blood is drawn. Pee in this. Lie down there. Does this hurt? How do you feel? You look a bit pale.

I joke that it’s just how my face looks. I’m scared. I was a healthy person. I wasn’t too into exercise but I ate well. Didn’t have more than the occasional cold. I had never broken a bone or needed stitches. Hospitals were for people who were sicker than me. Surely I couldn’t be that sick?

Four days in hospital with antibiotics through a drip and then the doctor shrugs his shoulders, writes down ‘viral infection’ and has me discharged. They thought it might have been leukaemia, but there was no sign of cancer.

Two months later, I’m in agony with three slipped discs and muscles that spasm with the slightest pressure. I go to physiotherapy for three months and I breathe a sigh of relief. That was it. It was over.

I would have another several bouts of being unable to walk, of strong pain in my legs, over the next two years. I would be tested for lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and a host of other diseases. Everything came back clean and the doctors sent me away.

Then, in August of last year, I started having the worst digestive problems. I was sleeping more than nine hours a night and waking up tired – I didn’t see how this was a problem, I was always tired. It was just what I knew. I was put on a gluten free diet for seven months. It eases the digestive problems, but does not make it go away. The pain in my legs returned, and as the months passed, it spread. My legs, my back, my hips, my wrists and hands. Headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue. Pain, pain, pain.

The wrist pain is the worst. I live with my hands. I’m a writer, an artist, a cook. I derive joy from these things, and the pain took it away from me. My wonderful partner, Patrick, and my mum were supportive and helped me when I couldn’t help myself. But I hated being so dependent.

My doctor finally gave my hell a name – Fibromyalgia. A chronic disease with over a hundred symptoms. Every ill could be attributed to this disease. And there was no cure, only treatment. I was struggling to work a full day at my full-time admin job. I’d run out of sick leave. I felt trapped. I knew that at some point, I had to get out of full time work, but financially that wasn’t feasible. How could I afford to live if I couldn’t work?

On one of my many bedridden days, I watched a documentary on Netflix called Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. It followed a few people, but centred on two young men called The Minimalists as they went on a book tour and talked about their journey into minimalism. They were happy. They had financial freedom. They had less stuff.

I will be the first to admit that I’m a shopaholic. Clothes, books, games, stationery, whatever. I hoarded. I was constantly buying things that I really didn’t need. I could feel the weight of maintaining an overflowing wardrobe when I could barely manage laundry. Maybe the key was to get rid of it.

I watched Minimalism again and again. I bought books, listened to podcasts, looked at half a dozen blogs about this thing called minimalism. I wanted to try this. I wanted to see if living simply, living deliberately, could help give me the space – physically and mentally – to cope with my disease.

That’s where this blog comes in. There are millions of people struggling with chronic disease and mental illness. I don’t know how much this journey will help me, but I want to put it out there. Maybe it will help someone else.

My name is Alexis, and this is my minimalist journey.