I Got Fed up With Maintaining My Wardrobe: Here’s How I Plan to Break the Cycle of Shopping and Decluttering

Kicking off my journey to building a long-lasting wardrobe of primarily favourite pieces

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m pushing a stuffed plastic bag down with my right knee to force the air out while pulling the bag’s handles into a tighter knot. It feels like a déjà vu. Once again, I’m shipping a batch of clothing to the green containers of the local clothing recycling company, UFF. Haven’t I learned anything?

Photo by Becca McHaffie on Unsplash

In 2015, I read Marie Kondo’s famous book on decluttering for good. I know many people found the book a little esoteric. Testing whether an item “sparks joy” to determine if it should be kept is not the most rational form of decision making. The anthropomorphized tales of socks not getting their rest when balled up inside the drawer was probably not for everyone either.

But I loved the book. When I tried out the method I realized that most times I did in fact have an intuitive sense of what I wanted to keep and what I wanted to let go of. I went through my entire wardrobe and the rest of my apartment and believed that there was no going back. Unfortunately, the learnings didn’t quite stick. At least not for clothing.

Whenever I feel the urge to freshen up my wardrobe, don’t have anything to wear for an upcoming party or am just having some kind of identity crisis, I pop into a second hand store.

My apartment has remained fairly neat and I still fold my clothes the konmari way but, over the years, shopping has become somewhat of a habit. It hasn’t gotten completely out of hand, but whenever I feel the urge to freshen up my wardrobe, don’t have anything to wear for an upcoming party or am just having some kind of identity crisis, I pop into a second hand store. So far, I’ve been able to justify this behavior to myself: I primarily shop in thrift stores, which is fairly sustainable and doesn’t create a big dent in my wallet. But lately, my mind has started to shift.

All these negative emotions have made it increasingly difficult to justify the time and effort that goes into trying to look trendy.

I have begun to associate an array of negative feelings with maintaining an up-to-date wardrobe. I feel a sense of guilt when I’m yet again donating or selling my old clothes, because I know that people in Western countries like Finland are consuming more than their fair share of goods and resources. I feel frustrated rummaging through my wardrobe trying to find those key pieces amongst all the clothes that don’t spark joy. I also find it stressful to constantly be concerned about whether or not I look stylish enough. Deleting Instagram has helped tremendously, but when I observe the ever-evolving trends on the streets of Helsinki, I feel the desire to look like the coolest people around me. However, the idea of spending hours following trends online and browsing through shopping malls and thrift stores gives me anxiety. All these negative emotions have made it increasingly difficult to justify the time and effort that goes into trying to look trendy.

And although bad purchase decisions often happen by accident, solving this problem certainly will not.

To escape the never-ending cycle of shopping, decluttering and donating, I have decided to become better at buying. No matter how talented I am at going through my wardrobe, I will have to keep doing it regularly if I don’t address the root of the problem. It’s the bad purchase decisions that — quite literally — create this whole mess. And although bad purchase decisions often happen by accident, solving this problem certainly will not. It calls for a more strategic approach. But what exactly needs to change for me to successfully build a long-lasting wardrobe of primarily favourite pieces? This is the question I hope to tackle in my future blog posts.

Initially, I was planning to only write one blog post. It was going to be about making better and longer lasting purchase decisions with the help of a so-called decision making aid. I would define the criteria against which each purchase decision could be weighed. The idea is based on the finding that an expert working together with an algorithm created by an expert tends to perform better than the expert alone (see e.g., Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman).

I had been waiting for a blog post idea that lets me cover concepts from behavioral science and psychology, so I was excited that the muse had finally whispered one into my ear. But after writing down my thoughts and talking with my friends, I realized that I was constantly bumping into questions that needed to be answered before being able to successfully use such a decision-making aid:

  • Why do we often make such bad purchase decisions in the first place?
  • How can we avoid falling back into our undesirable behavior patterns after a well-intentioned start?
  • How do you rate how well a specific piece of clothing fits with your style without first defining your personal style?

Ultimately, I realized that if I was to actually help people (and mostly myself, to be honest), merely creating a decision-making aid would not suffice.

Based on the questions above, I outlined four steps I believe to be the key to building a long-lasting wardrobe of primarily favourite pieces*:

  1. Understand the drivers behind bad purchase decisions
  2. Create a sustainable buying philosophy
  3. Define your style
  4. Create a decision-making aid for new purchases

In the following four blog posts, I plan to cover each step by mixing personal reflection with insights from behavioral science and psychology. (Did I just publicly commit to four blog posts?) To make the task slightly less daunting for myself, the texts will by no means be comprehensive accounts of the psychology of consumption. Instead, I plan to mostly write in a self-helpy kind of style spiced up with a little bit of science here and there.

The purpose of sitting down for hours to write about the topic is to turn a few random epiphanies into a more seamless narrative of better buying. I’m curious to dig deeper into what it actually means to change the way we make purchase decisions. And, to be completely honest, I’m using this as an opportunity to practice writing. Along the way, I hope to inspire at least one other person to join me in building a wardrobe that not only brings joy, but also lasts for a long time.

*I declare the right to make changes to the topics to be covered. ;-)

Fascinated by all things design and human behavior. Especially curious about how and why we make the decisions we do.