I’ve been blogging about shopping & personal style for a long time. I didn’t go back and count, but can you guess how many times I called something “perfect?” or wore something I referred to as “the perfect __________?” A lot of times. Too many times.
Here’s the thing I had to come to terms with when I realized I had too much stuff: there is no such thing as perfect; when it comes to our wardrobes, or anything else in life, really. There’s not a perfect jacket, or perfect pair of jeans, perfect tote, perfect boots, perfect ANYTHING. No body is perfect, no thing is perfect, no experience is perfect. There is no such thing as perfect.*
There’s “better than”, sure, but is there “perfect?” How can there be? And what happens when we do find the “perfect” pair of jeans? Will we have to stop shopping for jeans? Will we have to wear THAT PARTICULAR pair of jeans for the REST OF OUR LIVES? Are we only allowed to have one “perfect” pair of jeans? Who makes the rules, anyway?
And what happens when we do find the “perfect” pair of jeans? Will we have to stop shopping for jeans? Will we have to wear THAT PARTICULAR pair of jeans for the REST OF OUR LIVES?
Oh, right, Lucky, Vogue & Refinery29, that’s who. And don’t forget about Pinterest. It’s never going to stop, though, those articles and images featuring “10 perfect pieces for fall every woman needs,” or “how to build a perfect wardrobe,” because they feed into our insecurities, into our desire to think we can actually ACHIEVE perfection. Even though it’s impossible, and entirely subjective. I think we look for ways to disguise our own (perceived) imperfections by having stuff that is perfect. I did.
I thought that by having this “perfect” wardrobe of stuff that was “perfect,” that I would somehow become “perfect” too. That I could make myself perfect inside by creating an illusion around me, instead of actually working from the inside out. It seemed easier.
But it didn’t work, and as it happens, I love to shop. So my quest for perfection in my closet only led me to acquire too much stuff. So much stuff, that I was overwhelmed, and felt stifled in the end. Because I was also buying into the minimalist’s ideal (what I perceived it to be, anyway) that you need to have only one or two of any particular item, and that it must be “classic,” and that you’ll need to wear it for at least five years, or “forever”. So, naturally, each item must be “perfect.”
Because I was also buying into the minimalist’s ideal (what I perceived it to be, anyway) that you need to have only one or two of any particular item, and that it must be “classic,” and that you’ll need to wear it for at least five years, or “forever”.
A lot of pressure, no? And I tried, believe me, I tried. I shopped and bought and tried to find the perfect pair of black pants, but somehow ended up with 3-4 pairs of black pants that I love. Which is turns out is quite nice, and “perfect” for me, because I like to have different shapes, styles & silhouettes to suit my sartorial mood for the day. I would never be happy with just one pair of slim black pants.
But still I thought I could finally find THE PERFECT JEANS, and then be done shopping for jeans. Then I could move on to the PERFECT white t-shirt, and then be done shopping for white t-shirts (ahem. 26 “perfect” white t-shirts later..). Finally I would work up to building my perfect 10-piece wardrobe so I could be done shopping forever and turn my attentions to something else.
Ha! Why would I want to be done shopping forever? What was I thinking? Oh, right…I thought I found an easy answer to “fixing” my internal dialogue that I’m not good enough. I thought I could just buy all the “perfect” things and then I would be perfect too.
But here’s the irony (popular, not literary…) of the whole situation: all I needed to do was come to terms with the fact that I am “perfect” already, RIGHT NOW, and that the things I have left in my closet are perfect too. Ultimately I discovered these two things in tandem. My desire to create a more minimal closet, the budget constraints I placed on myself, and my willingness to do the internal work all worked together and helped me recognize that my quest for perfection was what was hurting me. Over and over again in every aspect of my life – I would strive for some unachievable goal of perfection, then get overwhelmed because I couldn’t reach it.
My closet = my life, and my life was reflected in my closet.
So, I had to step back, and realize that it was okay for me to create my own minimalist journey, my own minimal closet (without rules and “ten perfect things”), and then to accept that my life as it is right now, and the things/experiences/people I have chosen to fill it with are perfect. Because they are what IS.
In practical terms, though, what I consider to be “perfect” in my closet:
The things I already own
The things I can afford
The things I love
The thing that is right for right now
And that is my new mantra. I have also learned to be more grateful for what I have, and try to appreciate all the aspects of my life (including what’s in my closet) every day. That, I think, helps me to feel more “full” and satisfied with what I have, not wanting to keep searching for something else. Now that I have let go of the pressure to be perfect, to have perfect things, I feel free to be me, and have what I truly love.
I’m already thinking about the idea “settling” and buying the best you can afford…because that’s a whole other side of “perfection” I struggle with constantly. Next week!!
How do you deal with a quest for perfection? Do you have that desire to always have the “perfect” thing? have you found your perfect things?
*what is perfect is this moment right now. The jeans you’re wearing, the sunset you’re looking at, the home you’re living it, the life you’re living; they’re all perfect because they make up little bits of your life right now.
See The Minimal Closet in the WSJ! Then read more in The Minimal Closet series (new posts every Thursday):
This is why I think something like Project 333 or any of the capsule wardrobes can work well. Find what you need for a period of time and live with it. Then, as the season or your mood changes swap out what is no longer working or necessary for what is. You can make your own rules and guidelines to fit your life and closet. But I think you have to do the work to identify what it is you need for you and your life. That’s the hard part! Incorporating is the fun part!
I think what’s hard (for me) to keep in mind is there is no finish line or end point. You’re never “done”. But that’s the good news too because we’re all ever evolving and not stagnate.
This is right on. I constantly get fixated on my “perfect” whatever, which never exists. My only way to remedy that would be to design my own line, but the sewing machine and I don’t get along. I will say that the idea of creating my own aesthetic is what drew me to jewelry though! Sometimes, a little drive towards a specific aesthetic can be rewarding. 🙂
Grechen Reiter says
ha! yes, i’ve thought of that. i have always thought i needed to design my own bags, but thankfully now i have a friend who does that for me 🙂
i think we strive for perfection also when we know what we want. we have an idea in our heads of what something should look like and what it should DO, so we are constantly looking for that. sometimes we find things that are good enough, but other times, they just don’t exist.
Grechen Reiter says
i would hate to be “done”! 🙂
i had to learn that too…i thought i could reach a point where i was “finished” or had overcome some issue or whatever. but age has taught me that will never happen. and i wouldn’t want it to!!
Grechen Reiter says
thank you susan!
Wow. People who think shopping and fashion blogs are frivolous should read this post. You delved deep into what drives us, Grechen, in so many areas of life.
The four lines of what you consider to be “perfect” in your closet would serve us all so well. This post is a masterful and thoughtful piece of writing. Thank you.
love this post. been reading your blog like a maniac since the wsj article. i’ve also been trying to reconcile wanting ‘minimal’ closet (whatever that means) with my love of shopping. i tend to thrift more because i find the rush of finding a beautiful and once expensive item is really really great, and i don’t really mind buying used clothes (i know it’s not for everyone), but i also shop online. anyway, after following some ‘minimalist’ blogs, i’ve really come to appreciate your more nuanced and dare i say honest (?) approach to your closet. i love how you share your process with us, how you’re never ‘done’ and how you don’t want to be ‘done,’ but you’re still interested in keeping a handle on what you DO own. i’ve been methodically refining my wardrobe for years and using a wardrobe tracking app for a few months, but you’ve inspired me to just put that process up where others can see. i’d love it if you’d check it out: plainandideal.tumblr.com. please keep doing what you’re doing! xo Julia
Grechen Reiter says
i LOVE what you’ve done julia! (doesn’t it help so much to keep a “diary”?) – and it’s even better when you share it, because then you feel a part of something, and accountable to the people who read it…
thanks so much for your comment! and i’m glad you’re here 🙂
do you live in austin? i lived there for several years..
Hi Grechen! I’m back!!!
I had back surgery on the 15th and we just celebrated our eldest daughter’s wedding out here “in our neck of the woods” on Oct. 4th. Suffice it to say, there’s been a lot going on!
This post is SO perfect! 😉 I have struggled with the desire to be perfect, I’m convinced, since I came out of the womb. I’ve always had this idea that if only I found the ideal pants, haircut, makeup, weight, etc…that I would finally be the person I was meant to be, in other words, the “best” version of myself. I thought I was the only one that felt this way!
But I’ve come to realize that what I’m shooting for is impossible, because, as you said so well, it just doesn’t exist. And, because I’m pretty OK just the way I am.
I also recognize that technology has made it possible for shopping to occur on a daily basis, which means “Hello temptation!” Im still coming to terms with this part because I love to shop, too. If you don’t mind, I’m going to adopt your mantra, especially the “things that I own and the things that I can afford.”
Thanks for helping me keep my goals in mind.
Grechen Reiter says
i missed you! but since i follow you on facebook, i knew what was going on 🙂
i always thought i was the only one to feel this way too…it’s amazing how many people do! and i love the power of the internet to bring us together. but then, yes, it also tempts us to shop 24/7…take the bad with the good, as with anything in life!!
Jennifer Jones says
I randomly came across your blog post today and it hit so close to home for me! Just last night, I had this realization and wrote about it in my journal. I have been on a self-improvement kick for about a year now. I have drastically taken on the minimalist approach and got rid of most of my possessions, including some of my favorite Momiji doll collections (WHY??!), and basically all of my kitchen stuff besides a place setting for 4. I realized then that my drastic overnight purge of my belongings was just part of this cycle of striving for happiness. (By the way, having less stuff is NOT the key to happiness).
Last night, I had this overwhelming sense of clarity after I kissed my husband goodnight and was sitting in my chair with my journal listening to the Smashing Pumpkins live album of Adore. I was perfectly at peace with where I was right then and there. Not in the broad sense of where I am financially, or in my love life, or even in this generation. But right then I was happy with myself.
After reading your blog post, it reaffirmed my thoughts that I was having last night. Focusing on “stuff”, whether it is to have more OR less, is only going to keep me in this endless cycle of striving to find something that will finally give me peace, freedom, and happiness. When I can have all of those things just by focusing on the present.
Peace to you!
You are preaching to the choir, sister…. I know this is an old post, but I just found it today. I know ALL about searching for the “perfect” fill-in-the-blank. In fact, there are four boxes of shoes in my car right now that are on their way back to Nordstrom because I’m currently in a quest to find the “perfect” pair of black booties. Mind you, these four boxes are from my latest Nordstrom order. Let’s not discuss the orders from Amazon, The Walking Company, and Zappos – all of which have gone right back to the store. I have honestly lost count of how many different pairs of black booties I’ve ordered in the past several weeks. It’s embarrassing… And, my recycling bin is ridiculously packed full of cardboard boxes. I can’t even imagine what my neighbors think, with the constant visits from the UPS truck. This madness has got to stop….
Grechen Reiter says
don’t i know it…
i don’t know how to make it stop, unfortunately – i’ve been on a bit of a binge myself lately too. at least we’re aware that we’re doing it. that’s something.