The Minimalist Project: An Update

It may have gotten a bit waylaid by all the wedding preps, but I still think I made significant progress over the past year, not just in the amount of things I owned, but also in the way I go about my purchases.

For 2017, I’m moving away from the shopping fasts and mass decluttering; instead it will be all about editing - looking at what I have right now, figuring out what needs to go, and what I might have to add. It’s a long work in progress, and I’ll be posting some updates soon.

In the meantime, here are a couple of “lessons learned” over the course of my minimalist (mis)adventures.

Don’t discard for the sake of discarding.

As tempting as it is to just throw away everything and start fresh, it is neither practical nor realistic. One of my biggest mistakes when downsizing was assuming I could build an entirely new wardrobe over a single weekend. I was convinced that I could find the perfect shirt and the perfect pair of trousers and I’d just buy five of each and call it a day.

It was, of course, largely unsuccessful, and I’m still building up my wardrobe to this day. But I am glad that I didn’t actually get around to throwing away all my clothes in my haste to become a full-fledged minimalist (whatever that means), because that would leave me with literally nothing to wear to work. I realized that, while not perfect, my current clothes were still useful, and deserved a spot in my wardrobe.

As intentional as we are with what we add into our lives, so should we be with what we remove from it. The guiding principle is to “have nothing that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. Sometimes in our haste to curate a perfect-looking life, we forget all about the useful items that, while not pretty, or perfect, deserve to stay.

There is no such thing as a “must-have”.

Back when I shared a flat with my dear friend Anj and had access to her immense library, I stumbled across a book by Nina Garcia that listed a hundred (a hundred!) pieces “every stylish woman must own”. Quite predictably, I immediately sprang into action, trying to acquire every single item on that list. Never mind that I live in Singapore, where there is absolutely no need for a cable-knit sweater, or a camel coat, or cowboy boots (and that’s just the C’s!) - I was convinced this was what it took to be stylish and who doesn’t want that?

It sounds all so silly in retrospect, but just a cursory look around the internet would reveal no shortage of such lists - wardrobe essentials, must-have items for spring, ten things every woman should own by age 30. There’s even a list of “must-haves for minimalists” which is so laughably oxymoronic. It’s like we are so out of touch with our needs that someone has to write them all out for us. And just the general silliness of it all - of buying things off a list and trying to make it work out for me instead of the reverse! But it’s a trap I find myself falling into so often. 

Like for example, I have been trying to find the perfect red lipstick for years now, because "no makeup collection is complete without one". But here’s the thing - I don’t like red lips on me. I never did. It’s just not my style. And yet there I was, splurging on Chanel Rouge Coco, in the hopes that it just might work out this time because Chanel. It just does not compute. The same can be said for every other thing I deemed aspirational by virtue of its inclusion in some list - blazers, leopard print (it’s a family inside joke that will take pages to explain, but I just can’t wear animal print un-ironically), highlighters (the makeup kind, not the pen), you get the gist. Does it really make me less of a woman if I don't own a leather jacket (in 30 degree weather, may I add)? Will my summer be incomplete without a pair of platform espadrilles that I will probably wear only twice (at most)? Will I be incapable of conquering my thirties if I don't own a wrap dress?

There is no such thing as a Holy Grail.

An HG, for the uninitiated, is the ultimate makeup item - perfect in every way. For years, my makeup consumption was largely driven by the search for an HG for every single category. It’s seemingly harmless on the surface, but it’s a very problematic mindset - every single purchase is evaluated against an oftentimes impossible ideal, and when it falls short, it generates a disproportionate amount of dissatisfaction. The slightest perceived flaw was enough for me to abandon the product and move on to something else. It's a shame because instead of enjoying what I have, I'm just trying to find excuses to buy more. At the end of the day, all I really need is something that is good, and something that works. If it's HG material, then great, I'll repurchase when I run out. Otherwise, I'm sure I can still enjoy it and make it work. It doesn’t have to be perfect, all the time.

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