Living with a Packrat: How I Make it Work

We just moved from a 2 bedroom/2 bathroom apartment to a 400 square foot studio on a college campus. Nonetheless, for an aspiring minimalist who wishes to live simply, without the burden of stuff (or rent), this is an absolute dream come true. That’s not to say it’s not without its challenges. My adorable little puppy is now on a year (or two-year) long vacation in North Carolina.

Chalk it up to my recent fascination with tiny houses, but I was so excited for this experience. However, at some point during the packing process, I realized that I (and my husband especially) had too much stuff for that tiny space. Even if we sold all of our furniture, I had visions of the new space overflowing with crap. I didn’t realize this at the time, but part of the reason we have so much extra stuff is because we both are working on side gigs. This aside, days before the actual move, my mind set into panic mode. This is not the minimalist life I envisioned. I thought, “He’s not getting rid of enough stuff.” Still, I stayed fairly silent as my mother-in-law packed the rest of his stuff. I’m thankful that she was there to help, because I probably wouldn’t be able to handle packing items that hadn’t seen the light of day in the last two years.

That afternoon, after the 14ft Uhaul was loaded and unloaded, I stared at a room that looked like the most recent episode of Hoarders. Boxes, bags, suitcases and stuff were stacked atop dorm furniture, six and a half feet up the wall. There was a narrow walkway leading to the bed and the  kitchen area. I was drowning in my worst nightmare.

Flash forward a week later, and I was calling myself the “box murderer.” I emptied and struck boxes dead, one at a time. And after putting away what could be up away, I pondered how I was going to get my husband to get rid of the stuff he doesn’t use. I already separated the things I was going to sell or donate, even items I would use in this tiny space if there was enough room.

It must have been the day I started unpacking the kitchen when I had my epiphany. We have a full kitchen worth of cooking supplies that we use!! And this awesome new deep fryer and Kitchen Aid on the way. (Okay, we probably have too many appliances, but we like them, and we use them.) So I just had to make do. I had to make it work. I spent a good portion of the day organizing and reorganizing that tiny space until I got most of our dishes and appliances to fit behind six cabinet doors and four drawers. At this point, none of our dry goods or spices had been put away. I kept telling myself: “I just have to make do with what I have.”  I felt to proud of being able to even find a place for some of those items too.

Originally I had only seen two options in this situation: suffer in the clutter, or force my husband, packrat, grad student, and Grad Assistant (coach) to declutter. After having no choice in dealing with the itty bitty kitchen, my brain was primed for finding a creative solution to my problem. A third option appeared before me: Find a way to make it work. Find a place for his stuff, organize it. Make it work.

So my advice to someone living with a packrat, is to just accept the situation for what it is. If you love them, and want them in your life, you have to start with acceptance.  Once you get into the “making it work” state of mind, things change. That’s what the slow-paced lifestyle is all about.

Happy Herbivore had an idea that worked for me as well. The idea is that you have a clutter free areas. And the other person has their “do whatever” space. I can keep my workstation and wardrobe area however and he keeps his his way. If you have a bigger house, you may be able to have a whole minimalist room to yourself.

What I’m going to end up doing is using an ikea kallax shelf (old expedit) with the 16 square-shaped shelves, and storage bins and baskets to get everything in order. I can store the remaining kitchen items, electronics, books, and my husband’s fifty-thousand shoes (ok I’m exaggerating, but I never counted), and other miscellaneous homeless items on that organizer. In the place of acceptance, I was able to find a vision that would make it all work.  For me, as long as everything has a proper place, and can be put away, I’m comfortable. No, it’s not an ultra-modern tiny house, and it’s not ultra-minimalist, but it works for me.

Fashion for Minimalists: 10 Rules

I’ve always been intrigued by fashion, and how some people manage to look so put together, all the time.  I don’t want to say that I was ever too poor to have a cute outfit, but as an adult, I feel like I’m just figuring out how to dress myself.

The more I’m inundated with impeccably dressed people, in their pencil skirts and tight blouses, outfits coordinated with matching shoes and handbag, I feel insecure.  I feel sloppy, messy and uncoordinated. It’s not that I have bad taste…or maybe I do. I went through this phase where I liked ugly stuff just because it was different. I adopted this ugly-as-cute attitude. And now, I just can’t look put together.

Coming up through college I had people tell me I need to dress a certain way. I bought the different colored New Balances because some guy said I should. When I arrived at college I had these giant hoops that I was content to wear every day until he told me I should wear different ones.  Thus I succumbed to peer pressure because I wanted to be liked and look more glamorous.  I wasted my money on these cheap but costume-y earrings from the vendor who frequented our campus. My style then became an amalgamation of what other people thought I should look like.

Walking around this ritzy private college, with their 40 thousand dollar palm trees (it was a running joke that they spent as much on those trees as we did on tuition, room and board) I admired the style of the trendsetters on campus.  Miami, and the university by proxy had indoctrinated me, further, with the importance of fashion, and looking amazing, put together and fabulous all the time. I thought wearing designer clothing was the only way to appear fashionable even though I never believed that a label on a piece of clothing made it worth it the hundreds of dollars required to wear the exclusive brand. I was just unfashionable.

Every time I see a “news article” commenting on how Michelle Obama or Kate Middleton have repeated an outfit, I want to slap the writer who conceived of the article and punch the editor who let it go to press. Seriously, what is wrong with wearing clothes more than once?  I guess these articles are congratulatory in nature, making “celebrities” seem just like us. Yet, it inadvertently suggests that being seen in the same  dress more than once is odd, or unusual. Why do we buy clothes? To wear only once? That notion has pervaded my shopping decisions on an unconscious level ever since I was old enough to spend my own money.

For the longest, I have bought clothes, shoes, or purses because they were cute. Even if it matched only one other article of clothing that I owned, it wouldn’t stop me. I had to have it.  There was no consideration for repeated wear.  This attitude speaks volumes for the shallowness of our society. Yet for a long time, I was obsessed with this idea. I still don’t want to re-wear an unusual shirt or skirt that I just wore the week before.  I need people to forget the outfit the complimented me on. Thus, I bought clothing that simply wasn’t practical for my style.  I had green and white striped wedges, and uncomfortably high, strappy sandal stilettos. My entire wardrobe was formed with an eclectic collection of “cute” shirts, pants, dresses and shoes.  The object was to have as many articles of clothing as possible. There weren’t any outfits in there.  I never saw the big picture.

By now, you probably think I’m a fashion hater, that I’m bitter.  I promise, I’m not.  I like fashion. I love to look good.  I’ve just figured out that the way I go about fashion: overly-consume-until-I-have-enough-options-to-make-me-look-amazing, simply isn’t working. I hate having all these clothes, but nothing to wear. The concept is absurd really.

I’ve been cleaning out my closet since I moved last August. Yet some how, I’m never in a position where the clothes I have are working for me.  I started cleaning it out again and here’s what I’ve figured out about myself. I fit in that category of people who don’t like to get rid of clothes because 1) I spent good money on it, or getting it tailored; 2) I might want to wear it one day; and 3) I’m going to eventually lose the weight. (Really, truly, I’m almost there!)

My biggest problem, however, was buying cheap clothes from stores like Ross, T.J. Maxx, New York & Company, and Wet Seal (and based on their recent racial discrimination lawsuit, I won’t be shopping there ever again).  While they may be cute, they just wouldn’t last more than a few months.  Lately, I’ve been better about buying clothes that are high quality, but it still hadn’t solved my lack of stylistic coordination problem.  Also, I’ve noticed that it’s harder to find cute, high quality clothing, even from stores like Macy’s and JCPenney.  (On a side note, I wonder if I should shop thrift shops for older, higher quality items… blog post in the future maybe)

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So in my latest spring cleaning efforts, I’ve drummed up all of my minimalist resources for inspiration and encouragement. (see the bottom of the page for more info) I repeatedly refer to the book The Joy of Less by Francine Jay (Click Here for her blog). Last weekend I spent some time on the chapter on wardrobe. Getting rid of the cheap and worn out clothes was relatively easy. Getting rid of stuff that doesn’t fit was harder, but I managed to toss some of it in the donation bag.  Then, there were a whole bunch of clothes that I was planning on keeping, but because of Miss Jay, I actually tried them on and realized I didn’t like them as much as I thought I did. More for the donation bag!

Another issue that The Joy of Less required that I address, is What is my style and color palate? Well, my style is comfortable and cute.  I love a bohemian style– you know, long skirts and maxi dresses. And I love to be comfortable; I could live in a t-shirt or a long flowing shirt and jeans. And as for my color palate, I like bright colors, and black.

The problem with my “style” is mostly when it comes to what I wear to work. American “professional” style operates in complete opposition to what I like to wear.  Slacks, button-down shirts, cardigans, blouses, blazers, suits, etc. are so uncomfortable.  I’ve bought these things because I have to try to look professional in the workplace, yet these things just don’t look chic on me. Typically, it’s in the workplace where I wear a hodge-podge of clothes because I’m trying look professional, cute, and keep warm in the giant refrigerator classrooms. 

But then I got to thinking. Maybe I could assimilate my style into my work wardrobe.  If I flesh out my BASICS for work–get some nice sweaters that I can wear with my long skirts and other clothes, maybe I can make it work.  Because honestly right now, I really don’t have very many high quality, work/teacher-appropriate and warm work clothes.

So far, I’ve pared-down my wardrobe to the clothes I wear.  Jeans that fit, t-shirts I love and still fit. Dresses and skirts that I like to wear.  I’ve kept one suit, even though I didn’t want to, because you never know, and I’m not buying another suit.

While I don’t quite have my closet where I want it, and still have more paring down to do (haven’t even touched my shoes yet), I’ve done my research and found that minimalist fashion comprises of these ten tenants:

  1. Buy high quality basics
  2. Ignore fleeting fashion trends
  3. Follow the one in, one out rule
  4. Stick to a simple color palate
  5. Don’t buy because you love it; buy because it’s useful, enduring and you love it
  6. Develop your own style
  7. Don’t compare yourself to other people
  8. You waste money when you buy useless crap, not when you get rid of it
  9. It is okay to repeat outfits, most people are too self-absorbed & self-conscious to notice.
  10. Wear clothes that are comfortable and make you feel great

 More Resources:

Stylist and Broke: http://www.bridgetteraes.com/2013/01/09/beingstylishandbroke/

Wardrobe Mentality: http://www.bridgetteraes.com/2013/05/03/wardrobementality/

Wastefulness of Decluttering: http://zenhabits.net/simple-wasteless/