When It's Time to Let Go

Last week I donated two items which had both been really important to me in the past.

The first was a pair of shoes.  Not just any pair, my original "fancy" work heels.  

I purchased them on a mid-day shopping trip to Neiman Marcus with my former boss/first real mentor.  She had demanded that we take a shopping break in the midst of an all-consuming trial preparation month to "clear our minds."  We'd been working 12 hour days for weeks.  We deserve this, she insisted.

And to be fair, in 2009 I was all about shopping.  3% of my income was being directly diverted into my 401(k), almost half of each paycheck went to rent, and they rest went straight into my "entertainment fund."   Said fund was emptied each month in the form of clothing, purses, iPods (I know, I'm really dating myself), and breakfast/coffee/lunch/happy hour/dinner/drinks out.  All of which is to say she wasn't exactly twisting my arm.

She bought Manolos, I bought Cole Haans with Nike Air technology.  They were more expensive than any clothing item I'd ever owned and were purchased with my own hard-earned money from my real-adult corporate job.  

(Side note: I don't have a single photo of "Corporate Cary."  Is this because our phones didn't yet function as cameras or because I've never felt less like myself than in a pantsuit?)

Fast forward to today. 

Everything else from this time in my life is loooong gone -- all my suits, conservative silk tops, briefcases, tolerance for being yelled at by people who don't even know my name, etc. 

But the shoes...  After two years of them collecting dust at the top of my closet I knew I was never going to wear them, yet I was really struggling with the thought of letting them go.  I felt like they represented this whole period in my life, a point of pride, an old mentorship.  

These shoes symbolized to me that I was an independent, adult woman. 

The second item was a kelly green Diane Von Furstenberg dress.  I purchased this dress (using a Bloomingdale's credit card I signed up for to get 20% off -- oh how I've changed!) also in 2009 as a potential bridesmaid dress for my older sister's wedding.  

To date, I've worn it to just shy of a dozen weddings and have celebrated the nuptials of some of my favorite people in the world while wearing it.  I wore it in Montana, Tennessee, New Mexico, Chicago (twice), NorCal and SoCal.  I wore it while I danced with my best friends, when I celebrated with my family.  

So how on earth could I let these memories go?

For exactly that reason: my memories ARE NOT my stuff.

It's easy to confuse the two.  

To conflate the experience you had with what you were wearing when it occurred.  

To think that the joys of a trip are wrapped up in a souvenir.  

But those precious memories are far more resilient and powerful than that.  The things that happened in your life cannot be taken away or thrown out in the trash.  They are real.  And no matter how much or how little "stuff" you have in your life, that will always be true.   

As with the case of my precious shoes and dress, it's not that I wanted these things for their functions, they were worn out and no longer my style.  What I wanted was to preserve the memories I associated with them.  


So how do I know when it's time to let go?

1. It's either a "Hell Yes!" or it's a no.  One of my favorite pieces of advice ever comes from Derek Sivers and it's another way of creating incredibly high standards.  Essentially, when you're considering whether to keep an object or agree to a commitment, you don't want the answer to be "yeah, sure" or "ok."  For something to earn precious space in your life, it needs to be a Hell Yes!  Otherwise it's a no.  For me, whenever I cannot answer the following questions with a "Hell Yes!" then I know clearly and absolutely that it's time to go:

  • Does the item fit into my current life?
  • Does the item reflect my current style or does it suit my current needs?
  • Do I feel the ways I most want to feel when I use/wear/interact with this item?
  • Would I buy the same item again right now at the same price?

2.  Take a photo.  I kept my shoes and dress because I wanted to be sure I had the occasion to jog my memory about these times in my life.  So I took a photo of each and added them to my digital album entitled "Things I love."  Now I can see those things and access those memories whenever I want without simultaneously dealing with the clutter and the stress of having things in my life that I don't enjoy anymore.

3.  Say Thanks.  It might sound silly, but sometimes what we want most when we part with items that meant a lot is to acknowledge them (ahem, like this post).  So tell the story aloud of how you acquired it, why you loved it, why you're grateful for the experience it brought you.  Then give it a little hug, say thank you (aloud), wish it well as it serves whoever uses it next.  Then let it go.  *This is how I was able to donate my wedding dress. *

So how do you know when it's time to let go?  

Have you ever donated something that used to be incredibly important to you?

The Desire to Accessorize

Kyle, the other half of New Minimalism here to talk about something very important: personal style.

The other week I found myself at the mall. 

I was there for a quick stop to get my phone upgrade.  Somehow, before I knew, it I was checking out at the register of Aldo with a handful of impulse accessory purchases! 

Did I black-out for a moment?  I run a business called New Minimalism!  How could this have happened?! 

Let’s take a step back to dissect:

I had an upcoming international trip that I was eagerly anticipating.  This trip included attending a music festival, and I was excited to express myself through my clothing in a hot climate for once, OMG. 

Finding myself at the mall, I was susceptible.  Suddenly my existing wardrobe seemed dull and unexciting in comparison to all the shiny, of-the-moment merchandise at the mall.  The window displays worked their magic on me and I was lured into Aldo.  I ended up purchasing a pair of sandals, a necklace, a pair of sunglasses and earrings, all made of so-so quality.

Evidence of the impulse-buy on Instagram.  All minus the fanny pack, which has been a faithful companion for years now.

Evidence of the impulse-buy on Instagram.  All minus the fanny pack, which has been a faithful companion for years now.

There is an innate human desire to express oneself through personal style and adornment. 

The earliest examples of jewelry adornment in human history date back 7,000 years!  While jewelry was a form of currency or financial investment, it was worn primarily to convey “social status, wealth, and power.” 

And today, while clothing and accessories surely still relate to a desire to convey social status and wealth, I assume that most people, like me, simply enjoy expressing themselves creatively through their clothing.  This is not wrong.  Hey, we have to wear clothes so we might as well make the best of it, right? 

But with a personal pursuit towards minimalism and more simplified lifestyle, where do I draw the line?

The answer relates to our 11 Principles

#7 Move past the myth of choice. Excessive choices can leave us paralyzed or dissatisfied. You understand that creativity flourishes within constraint.


Can you have a capsule wardrobe that still expresses your personal style?  Of course!  Like any life-simplification effort, you have to first ask yourself some tough questions:

  • What do you value the most
  • Which items earn the high esteem of making it into your wardrobe
  • What clothing do you feel the best in? 


6 Steps for a quick, 1-hour wardrobe decluttering. 

1. Select your top 3 outfits: 

  1. your top outfit for work

  2. your top outfit for play.   

  3. your top outfit for maxin’ and relaxin’ at home

2. Pull out these 3 outfits, and arrange them on the bed/floor. 

3. Complete them with underwear, shoes, accessories and all.  Arrange little flat versions of yourself.  Heck, go crazy and use grapes for eyes and then let them hang out until your partner comes home and becomes sufficiently freaked out.  (Ok, sorry, I took it too far.)  

4. Back to the 3 outfits: consider these your “guiding light”, the epitome of your style.  In contrast, assess each individual item in your closet.  Does it stand up the “guiding light outfits”?  If there is any hesitation with the garment in question, the answer is DONATE!  Be firm with yourself, act like your own personal trainer. 

5. Keep a short list of any wardrobe “holes” you create and need to fill.  Like if, for example, you finally donate that black sweater that you’ve worn to death and everyone in your life is secretly hoping you get rid of anyway.  Write "black sweater" on your shopping list to keep you focused while you shop and keep your favorite outfits working for you.

6. At the end of your decluttering sweep, be sure to put all donations in a bag by the door so that you actually take them with you on your next trip out.  Schedule the donation drop in your calendar to really hold yourself accountable.

Before (left):  too many choices, earring pairs separated, chaos. After (right): individual accessories have room to shine and displayed with pride.

So, back to the mall. 

What was the result of my impulse purchases?  The necklace and sunglasses served their purpose on the vacay and have since been donated to the Goodwill, the earrings I kept, and the sandals, the bulkiest of all my belongings on my trip, followed me all throughout Croatia and Copenhagen, and returned to the States unworn!  Turns out that chunky, platform metallic sandals (yes), were somewhat impractical for stomping all around Europe.  I never even tried to wear them.  They were an inconvenient daily reminder that impulse buys are not worth the trouble Thankfully, Aldo accepted them as returns. 

The moral of the story:  know that there is an entire industry dedicated to making you feel like you need more things. 

Marketing teams are paid buckets-o-money to do just that.  So you must enter the consumer world with your armor on, shielding you from the power of savvy marketers (and avoid it all together whenever possible).  And like most things in life, there is a middle path.  You can be a stylish minimalist, just as long as you clarify and prioritize what your version of style is.