Encore: Simple Is A Tool - une femme d'un certain âge

Encore: Simple Is A Tool

Another favorite from the archives…

Vivienne Westwood - buy less

Dame Vivienne Westwood sums it up succinctly. Original image source

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years both on the internet and off about “simplifying.” Some seem to have embraced the idea with an almost religious fervor, and appear to practice simplicity as a modern form of asceticism. Being an Epicurean in temperament if not practice myself, I’m wary of extreme self-denial for its own sake or as some sort of moral barometer, and am always seeking the middle ground. Duchesse penned another thoughtful post last week exploring what it might mean to live a “simple” life, how it differs from minimalism, and some of the traps that keep us caught up in consumption mode. Her post helped some of my own random thoughts about simplicity to gel.

I want to first back up a minute, and look at the bigger picture. To me, it seems that simplicity isn’t an end in itself, but rather a means to achieving greater balance and a higher quality of life. What that means to each of us may be very different. For example, time is my most precious commodity right now. While some might find painting the living room themselves or making their own granola to be ways of simplifying (and economizing), to me these would be stress-inducing time hogs. They wouldn’t feel like “simplifying” at all, but rather adding to a long list of To-Do’s already clamoring for my attention.

So one person’s “simple” may be another’s “are you &*#^ing  kidding me?!?” and visa versa. If you feel you should pare down your wardrobe, but even just thinking about trying to get by with some arbitrary number of pieces is making you break out in hives, or if variety is the spice of your life, then for you this may not be “simplifying,” at least not at this time. If you love and enjoy every second of your 30-minute makeup routine (and the results) then by all means don’t feel pressured into cutting back unless it’s otherwise a detriment to you life (making you late for work? tying up the only bathroom in the house?). When it’s truly “excess,” getting rid of it should generate relief. (We’ll bypass the subject of bona-fide hoarders; that’s beyond the scope of this discussion and something I’m not qualified to address.)

I’ve come to believe that the key to unlocking a better quality of life can be found in being mindful, being conscious of how we use our resources, spend out money, occupy our time. Life can clutter up all around us when we go unconscious, and this is true for activities and relationships as well as physical possessions. As another example, after I discovered the sweater hanging trick I shared last Monday, I went through and re-hung and re-organized all of my sweaters. And it became painfully obvious that I over-buy sweaters. I love my sweaters, I wear my sweaters, but I certainly don’t need more sweaters. I can now look at my nice orderly rack of knitwear, actually see what I have and be reminded that more won’t add to the quality of my wardrobe or my life.

Sweaters re-hung

Order is beautiful. Velvet hangers here.

Where I think we can all benefit is in becoming conscious of and reducing mindless consumption that may provide a temporary high but adds nothing to the quality of our lives. And save our resources (whether they be time, money or emotional energy) for the things, people and experiences that truly enrich our lives and replenish us. In coming weeks I’ll share some strategies and pitfalls I’ve encountered in my journey (and yes, it’s still in progress) to simplify my wardrobe.

How do you view simplicity? Is it a tool for you, or an end in itself? What are some things that simplify and add quality to your life?

Stay in touch.

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  1. July 3, 2014 / 4:58 am

    it has taken me so long to learn these lessons…but I think I finally have. I began to notice a couple of years ago that I really wore just a few things over and over again. I have weeded and weeded out since then and now really have a goal of quality, statement pieces…which I might find at Saks Fifth or Nordstrom or I even might find at Goodwill. I need to get my weight in a healthy place and stop going up and down…then I could weed out even more! I enjoy your encore posts alot!

  2. July 3, 2014 / 5:12 am

    Haha, I don’t own a single sweater 😉
    I never thought about ‘simplifying’ as a goal but I am very organised. Yes I do have all coat hangers of the same velvet type and I hang up my blouses by colour from black on the left to white on the right. Same with my dresses and trousers in the other wardrobe. I know exactly what I have and what I am missing. I sort out and I donate or sell on a regular basis. That is my simplifying tool 🙂

    Annette | Lady of Style

  3. Ellen
    July 3, 2014 / 5:27 am

    It sometimes seems that I have spent most of my adult life tring to simplify, although I have often thought of it as “trying to achieve tranquility”. This is an unreachable goal, given my family, but its become a sort of unifying principle in my life. However, I have found that when I pare to far, I get bored; its important not to leave out the spice, and having a rich full life (or wardrobe), seems to depend upon not paring too far.

    Refusing to buy what doesn’t work for me(my shape, my life style, my personal quality standards) keeps my wardrobe small, probably smaller than it should be actually. My goal is to really like, and feel good about each thing that I wear; sometimes the stores don’t cooperate on that one, and I am often left feeling I could have spent more on clothes had I been able to find what I wanted. Now in my late 60’s, with actually more money to spend on clothing than I did when I was young, I find that there is less and less to choose from. Who knew?

  4. Cathy
    July 3, 2014 / 5:56 am

    I am looking forward to this as I am trying to simplify my wardrobe too. First step is being more mindful about what I buy; buy only things I really like and look good in and have an occasion to wear.

  5. Rita
    July 3, 2014 / 8:00 am

    I agree completely, with your article and these comments! I think by the time time we’re reached a certain age, we’ve accumulated a lot. Now, I try to pare down, and get rid of 1 or 2 items for every 1 item I add to my wardrobe. If I like something, and it still looks good, I keep it as long as it’s still in good condition. As long as I feel I will use it at some point. But I also make a point to sort through my wardrobe with a critical eye, every couple months. If I find halfway through a season that something isn’t being worn, then maybe it’s time is up. But, as you say, everyone has their own idea of paring down.

  6. July 3, 2014 / 9:02 am

    It is so much easier these days keeping my wardrobe lean. Reading blogs like yours has really helped me to refine and pare down my garments. Rarely do I go shopping and buy on impulse as it is not necessary when you already have the basics hanging in the closet.
    Hope you are enjoying your blog break and thank you again for all your wonderful posts.

  7. July 3, 2014 / 9:03 am

    Thanks for sharing this post again. It was one of my favorites.

    Wardrobe simplicity is part of my normal approach to clothes. To me, that equals a standard “uniform” for each season. Winter is a dark pant or skirt and dark tights and a long-sleeved tee, with or without a jacket or sweater. Summer is khaki or black shorts or skirt with a tank or short-sleeved tee. I work at home, so I don’t need separate clothes for work. Going out means a slightly nicer top and shoes. As for the rest of life, I try not to keep to the William Morris advice, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Those words keep me in check most of the time when I am at any of the endless stores in the Chicago area. The other thing that simplifies my life is shopping less, and doing as much online as possible. I’d just rather be doing something like drawing or writing. Sadly, this doesn’t mean I spend less money, it just frees up time.

    • Leslie in Portland, Oregon
      July 4, 2014 / 11:03 pm

      Thank you for the William Morris quotation, Penny Marcus. It states perfectly my goal in lightening the load imposed on me by all of the “things” I have in my house (which includes my office).

    • July 7, 2014 / 8:55 am

      Well, that obviously should have been “I try to keep to the William Morris advice!”

  8. Duchesse
    July 3, 2014 / 10:27 am

    Penny, the “uniform” approach has been the #1 tool in simplifying my wardrobe; it developed by observing what I reached for again and again. I used to buy things that I liked but ended up wearing rarely.

  9. Marilyn Leslie
    July 3, 2014 / 11:07 am

    This post resonates with my life. I’m continually weeding out my closet and my cupboards. If only my family would follow suit! I’ve offered to help, but they turn me down. I can be enthusiastic when getting rid of other peoples stuff, it is much harder to pare down my own.

  10. nell
    July 3, 2014 / 4:35 pm

    Just a side comment on that great Vivienne Westwood photo you posted. Wow– she looks sensational, lines and all. Of course, she appears to have started out with interesting bone structure, but still. I like the expression in her eyes too, and the suggestion of humor.

    I do love to see photos of people over 50, 60, 70 and beyond, who exhibit such panache…

  11. suzannecarillo
    July 3, 2014 / 8:15 pm

    I like the “idea” of simplifying but deep within myself I’m a collector. I love unique pieces. I like choices. Even though I don’t own lots of “classic” pieces I know that when I open my closet I can find just the right piece for any occasion. Does it simply my life? No. Does it make my life interesting? Yes. As you wrote and understood, some people enjoy that aspect of their lives.

    As I age maybe I will begin to find it overwhelming. For now I’m just enjoying the pleasure it gives me.


    • texasaggiemom
      July 7, 2014 / 7:48 pm

      I tend to play it safe in my wardrobe, to the point of boredom. I like the idea of adding fewer pieces, but having them be interesting and unique, but am baffled as to where one finds these items. I have a somewhat traditional, classic wardrobe – lots of blazers and black turtlenecks. Any suggestions as to where I could find interesting pieces to add would be appreciated, whether on-line sites or brick and mortar. I live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and feel like I must be missing out on some sort of shopping secret,

  12. July 4, 2014 / 2:26 am

    I can relate to your idea that simplyfying means different things to different people, and there is no one-formula- fits-all. I’m on a constant quest to simplify my life (2 homes, 2 countries, several employers, the infrequnt income of a freelancer…), and have come to the conclusion that maybe there is no comprehensive solution that fixes everything, but we can work on specific areas of our lives, with the goal of not adding to the to do list… So, thank you for pointing out that for those of us who are time-poor, outsourcing some time-consuming / frustrating tasks might amount to a simpler, more relaxed life. I don’t have to feel quilty for paying to a cleaner even when I’m on holiday, but can take the time to rest and recharge by doing things I actually enjoy but have no time for when working…

  13. rosie
    July 4, 2014 / 11:08 am

    I have perused some minimalist blogs. Some are interesting – some are unrealistic (to me at least). I grew up in a minimalist household. We had a lovely but spare home. Everthing had to be pared down. Having a small wardrobe meant always going to the cleaners, or handwashing or ironing. You can wear clothes only so many times before they need to be cleaned or pressed.

    I know what designers and styles work for me & stick with what works. I do have a uniform look that is easy. My wardrobe is hardly small; but, I do go through it often and don’t hang on to what I haven’t worn.

  14. Kat
    July 4, 2014 / 1:26 pm

    I’ve finally accepted that like Suzanne, I’m a collector. I need interesting pieces and I need choice. I aim not for a small amount of clothes and other possessions, but rather for a well-curated wardrobe. In the process, I have got rid of many things that I don’t enjoy, and things have naturally become a bit smaller.

    When I go for too much simplicity — and definitely when I’ve tried for minimalism — I’ve found myself become more fixated on material possessions, not less, because everything single thing has to be **perfectly perfect** for my fantasy of a streamlined, simple life. That is, each thing becomes fetishized in its simplicity and (attempt at) perfection. It makes me, frankly, shop more! I find I’m much more balanced in my collector’s place.

  15. July 4, 2014 / 7:41 pm

    I think simplicity is great if it brings a better quality to life. I agree some of the minimalist blogs can get way too legalistic. I will always have more books, shoes, and teacups than I “need” but I enjoy them. What I simplify most is activities and time commitments — because I value having extra time! thanks for the post.

  16. Anne
    July 5, 2014 / 3:06 pm

    I love your site. I was a massive shopper. As I reached fifty, I realised that I probably have spent the price of a studio flat or more on clothes I never wore. I realised that I needed to think things through and use equivalents: one dress = a great week end with easy jet to VENISE ( great memories), a mani-pedi every week for a year = more than a month and half full salary of a low paid worker, etc… I now prefer spending on ‘ epxeriences ‘ with loved ones when I can. I find having less is less confusing too.

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