Kaizen, also known as continuous improvement, is a long-term approach to work that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in processes in order to improve efficiency and quality. Kai means change. Zen means virtuous. Do not change your life spontaneously, but slowly and wisely. The new habit should occur as a result of your reflection and life experience.
A few years ago, I wanted to simplify my life. Contrary to popular culture, decluttering didn’t get me far. One can fill it all up with stuff just as quickly as throwing it all out. There are no quick fixes to attain a minimalist mindset. I did not want to jump on the bandwagon, rapidly declutter, start a capsule wardrobe, quit after 2 years and start adding again. I wanted a capsule wardrobe to be a side effect of the mindset. It had to be a slow and steady process :
Read. Understand. Think.
I was new to the concept. The idea of folks wanting to own less was almost abnormal. People were giving up their mansions and moving into tiny homes ? Folks want to wear simple neutral clothing while giving up on the visual therapy that clothing can offer ? Why would anyone want less choice in the closet ? They want to wear the same thing over and over again while most people aspire to not repeat outfits ? They gave up plastic and made their life harder ? They are giving up meat ? Why ? They haven’t bought anything new for an entire year ? Are they human ? I spent a lot of time reading about the experiences from people who found joy in this way of life. It helped me identify the areas of excess in my life. It helped me re-wire my notion of “excess”, “less” and “enough”. Is it viable for my life ? Is it for me ? I spend some time thinking about how I am going to do this.
Decluttering & minimalism are not interchangeable words. Decluttering is the act of subtracting possessions. Minimalism is a state of being where your need less and want less. I needed to declutter to get the process started. I desperately wanted to hit the refresh button because I was overwhelmed with everything going on in my life.
Home : I had random artifacts from thrift stores that I would buy because they were cheap. I was moving out of my apartment and it was the right time to re-evalaute.
Closet : I had a disproportionate amount of “out of ordinary” clothing that I couldn’t wear and had shabby low quality everyday clothing.
Kitchen : I had to get rid of the non-stick cookware and hand me downs that I never used.
Bathroom : I had to get rid of all the excess products I was convinced I needed, to keep my skin and hair healthy.
Year 3 & 4
All that remains
Simplicity is a result of good design and discipline. I was tired of making bad choices and decluttering them away. I was turned off of owning excess and under utilizing/hoarding things. I would buy less than perfect items and be back on the market after a year or two. Never would I have invested in raw denim or a double wool coat or GOT certified cotton back in the day. Viewing every purchase as an investment made me save and buy better. To go zero waste, I had to invest in some supplies and re-usables. I raised the bar on quality and quantity automatically came down. I have learnt that in-order to own less, you need to want less. I have learnt that simplicity is something I have to constantly work at. I have learnt that minimalism is not about what I don’t own, but the righteousness of what is. I went from saying “I only have two pairs of jeans” to “I have two awesome pairs of jeans”. The first phrase has a tone of a sob story & is looking for approval for looking minimalistic. The second phrase comes from a place of contentment and happiness.
Set a tone for the future
I did a social media fast and found it very beneficial ! I recently started intermittent fasting and am loving it. ( Learn about it from a doctor. ) My biggest lessons : Any fast is sustainable if you can ease into it slowly. Fasting is not starving. I want to apply the concept of fasting to my closet. My rules :
- Do the 5 piece French Wardrobe challenge. ( You are allowed to buy 5 or less items per season. Spring/Summer counts as one season. Fall/Winter counts as one season. Inner wear doesn’t count. T-shirts, shoes, accessories, freebies, hand-me-downs, special occasion wear, traditional wear, replacements, basics, sleep wear, lounge wear, blue dresses, denim, … count.)
- Shop once per season and then stay out of the stores till the season ends.
- I have developed an original sin sort of mindset about consumption where I wallow in shame after every purchase. Fashion is the only area in my life where I buy more than what I need. I now set a limit. I will enjoy what I purchase and not feel guilty about it as long as it’s within the bounds.
- How much you already own factors into this challenge. I have enough. 5 new garments per season is my idea of moderation.
- There are garments I want to own and wear : a shearling jacket, Acne-esque oversized sweater, cape jacket, a poncho, a kimono cardigan, boots with low heel, …. I remind myself : I have time. Over the years, I will try them all. It needn’t all come home this year or the next.
- Timeline ? This should be an exercise in discipline for life.
Art of Fasting
Cherish and repair
I have a pair of shoes that I am tired of. A part of me is waiting for them to gather enough scuffs so that I may get rid of them. The root cause analysis for this disposable mind set ? A constant influx of new goods ! They lessen the reverence I have for the older garments. Why would anyone mend when you can replace it with a pick from a tempting array of choices ? Why would anyone take care of a garment when there is no real penalty when it wears out ? When the closet is large enough, will a garment be missed at all ? When a closet constantly grows, garments get shoved to the back of the closet making way for the newer shinier goods. I want to break this cycle. Remove the abundance and the frugal mode will automatically kick in.
Time, Money, Effort
I will start with saying : style is important. This is by no means a reason to dress sloppy or to not care about what I wear. But at this point in time, my closet is built. I figured out a way to dress that makes me happy and is appropriate in my environment. I don’t need to invest as many resources anymore. Now is the time to sit back and enjoy the returns from my investments.
Decluttering as escapism from bad decisions
I am a second hand shopper. I sometimes buy things on an impulse. I recently sent back a blue dress (put on weight) and a pair of heels (couldn’t walk) to RealReal for consignment. This was a waste of money, time, packaging materials and the carbon footprint. I let them go and feel the loss. In time, I will forget about them. Being stuck in a cycle of ‘buy and cull’ – is a big pet peeve of mine. Having constrains will make me think harder about a purchase. I wouldn’t want to give away my limited slots to less than ideal choices.
Ways to fast
Duration : I have tried to fast for short bursts of time in the past. The longest I went was 6 months. I fasted during every alternate month of the year, for an year. I would have wanted to do a year long fast but never gathered the courage for something as challenging. Am not ready for it.
Money : One could set a budget and stop shopping when its exhausted. I sort of do this already.
Ethics : I haven’t bought anything from a fast fashion store in the last 3 years.
Quantity : I never set a limit in the past. In my opinion, anything above a dozen garments per year doesn’t count as mindful consumption. I have always gone above this number hovering at 15-18. This area needs to be fixed.
Fasting is not starvation.
Buying on a absolute need basis is very noble. As I improve my mindset, I may someday be able to do so. For now, I want to do the French 5 Challenge. I want to do it for a few years to prepare myself for a year long shopping fast. It has always been the goal from the start. With kaizen, I will get there.
Why now ?
Firstly, I am ready for the next step. Secondly, one can’t talk about sustainability while consuming more than needed. Not consuming is more impactful than buying from certain stores. We, a category of bloggers use the word ‘mindful consumption’ to justify our excess purchases just because the garments don’t come from a fast fashion store. In my opinion, there is no way to mindfully consume excess. After a closet is built, anything more than a dozen incoming items per year is excess for me. I, for one, am particularly affected by being asked “If I buy 20 items a year from H&M, I am a mindless fast fashion consumer. If you buy the same number of items from APC and Isabel Marant, you are a mindful consumer who gets to preach about sustainability and minimalism?” A reader emailed me this question. Guilty as charged. Consumption is the root of the problem. It needs to be addressed. I do not want to give up writing on sustainability and minimalism. I understand that one has to earn her keep by practicing what she preaches. I care about sustainability. And actions must support the words. Intent is not enough.
What now ?
This weekend, I am sowing the seeds in the vegetable bed for my fall produce. I will count today as the start date for Fall/Winter period of the challenge. This is exciting ! Jessica, from Daarboven, has been doing this challenge for a few years now. I am tapping into her wisdom and results for inspiration.