On The Profound Pleasure (And Elegance) Of Keeping Things Simple

When I was a teenager, I was really messy. I kept very little respect for my surroundings: piles of clothes, empty bottles and wrappers everywhere, and a bed that was only made when the sheets were new.  I would complain about never having a clean shirt, never being able to find my homework, and always feeling distracted and anxious in my surroundings. I never felt at ease, but refused to consider the source of it all. A simple cleaning and re-organization would have done me a world of good, but I never thought to try it.

As I got older, and started having my own apartments to fill and clean and take care of (even if they were humble little studios), I was more and more inclined to keep them nice. I loved the feeling of moving around my belongings, of giving them order and sense and aesthetic appeal. Every day it became more important to keep a (relatively) well-organized space, so that my work would be easy (I worked at home) and it would always feel refreshing to walk through the door. As I took pride in my home, I recognized that it was key to one’s mental health to have surroundings that were beautiful and well-maintained.

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Over the past few months, I’ve become — and I mean this in a positive way — a bit of a clean freak. It started with wanting to bring my (our) apartment to the level that I would long to be home, with fresh-cut flowers and clean linens and perfectly-organized cabinets. I wanted every day to feel like an open book, and given that Marc is only home three days I week, I wanted him to feel as serene and taken care of in it as possible. It became a priority above all else to make my bed daily, clean whatever dishes were lying in the sink, and clean my surfaces of all clutter. Having a pleasant home (and always being ready for whatever guests may drop by) now feels like a wonderful norm.

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But recently, I’ve found myself wanting to go even farther in cleanliness, because I find that the more cluttered and disorganized my life is — aside from being harder to work and concentrate in — the more money I spend. In an effort to do things cheaply and quickly, I end up having to do them a thousand times. It became clear that being clean is not enough: one has to be simple. There has to be a level of deliberate purity in one’s choices, where every item brought into the home, left on a table, or put on a body is made with thought and precision. If one’s home has become organized and simple, everything else should follow.

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I took one look at my wardrobe and realized that it was anything but simple. Over the years — like most girls my age, I think — I had managed to accrue a staggering amount of Unnecessary Shit, especially when it came to clothes. I would buy things on impulse, find myself in low-quality clothing stores on a whim and purchase a few ill-fitting, poorly-made things just because it was there. There was never a rhythm or a method to the construction of my wardrobe, there was only “things I found pretty in the moment.” And while I have a few pieces of true quality and beauty that I have acquired over the years — and hope to hold onto for many more to come — the majority of my closet consisted of things I almost never wore, or things I (to be perfectly honest) shouldn’t be wearing. And despite the low price point of so many of these items, it ended up costing a fortune: in frequent replacement of items, in constant acquisition of things I didn’t need, and of expensive purchases based more in “I like this” than “this looks good on me.”

So, to that end, I decided to purify my wardrobe. I rid myself of everything that I knew was not right for me, for one reason or another (about half of my wardrobe), and tried to make a few deliberate replacements. I thought of the people whose looks I love — whose style I always admire and appreciate — and found that they fit into a certain type. Despite my love of vintage dresses and flowery prints, there is a certain practicality and refinement that I am attracted to on other people, yet have never tried myself. It’s about neutral palettes, high-quality materials, elegant cuts, and staple pieces that go with nearly anything. (Of course, one can always mix the occasional vintage dress into the rotation, but a baseline of flowy beige tops, white jeans, jewel-tone sweaters, brown leather, black skirts, and neutral heels allows you to be chic and simple at every occasion, with little thought.)

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Of course, this is only a start. I have many things left that I want to acquire slowly, over time, when I find the right piece. I have yet to find the perfect trench, the perfect dark jean, the perfect navy cashmere sweater, and many other things. But I know where I’m headed and, like the cleanliness of my home, I want my wardrobe to reflect only a calm, well-balanced spirit. Because ultimately, our surroundings and our dress are our way of physically manifesting — and even telling the world — who we are inside. Perhaps all we want to say is “I don’t particularly care about aesthetics,” but if you’re someone who does, it’s important to tell the story right. If you have a certain wardrobe in your head, or a certain apartment, or a certain level of organization, you must deliberately create it. You must make a few up-front investments to never frivolously spend on unnecessary extras.

Once you find a few key sources of inspiration, taking the time to clean and organize and refine becomes a great pleasure. Just as much as I look forward to making my space perfect and tended to, I now look forward to slowly but surely finding my way into the wardrobe of my dreams (and the version of me that exists in my head). Eventually I will move onto my diet, and my physical activity, and my hobbies (besides just dancing). I will address and purify each bit of my life one by one, and make it whole and simple. But for now, I have to be honest, it feels very good just to start with my closet.