Reflections on The Happiness Factor and Letting Go (verbose)

For some time now, my closet has been contracting. It probably seems like I'm shopping a whole heckofalot for someone who 1) just quit her full-time job and 2) isn't even currently working her part-time job. But as much as things have been flowing in, more has been flowing out - sometimes painfully, but more and more easily all-in-all.

It's easy for me to let go of items that came to me for $1, on a snap decision at the swap meet. But when I've invested time in product research, energy in item/outfit/capsule consideration, and a decent chunk of change? Pain! I want to hold onto the items I chose, because I don't want to admit I was wrong, or that I've changed, or that I miscalculated. I hate feeling like I've thrown money into a black hole, and I hate looking back at how pleased I was with an initial purchase and feeling a fool.

But here's where Angie's happiness factor comes in: keeping and using items I no longer feel are right doesn't make me any happier - and in fact, I now see it makes me feel even worse. I keep things to preserve my pride, yet it doesn't make me feel proud. It's punishment, stewing in an uncomfortable shoe, itchy sweater, sweaty jacket, or lifestlye-obsolete constricting pencil skirt. Just what am I trying to prove? And what good will proving it do? As someone who is generally results-focused in her bookkeeping, it's interesting that I hadn't asked myself these questions before.

I've decided to resell these three recently-acquired coats, *plus* two more rain jackets that I don't even have photos of (yes, it's been that long since I've worn them!) and have already resold a pair of Fryes bought just this summer - because, to get right down to it, it's made me UNHAPPY to wear them. I'm just done with that.

Instead of looking at it as losing X% of the original purchase prices, which could be depressing, I'm looking at it as using their trade-in value to upgrade to something better. The one pair of Fryes yielded two pairs of super-comfy Rockports, and I'm never out and about, showing off a fun outfit, thinking that I want to go home because my feet hurt. I want the same for my coats... and jeans and hats and dresses and all.

I'm not sure where this paradigm shift came from. Maybe it was the career change. Maybe it was my recent scare. Maybe the simple fact is that I'm more aware of my clothes and their strengths and weaknesses... now that I feel like I'm actually living in them. And maybe *that* makes letting go feel worth it.

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • Mirp replied 7 years ago

    Thank you for writing this. I too am thinking about letting more things go and I think you nailed it on the head about being unhappy about an item. What is the point of being uncomfortable in an item?

  • Mo replied 7 years ago

    I can relate to the "living in them" part of your clothes. I'm there right now. And I am letting go of, for me, not cheap purchases. Because they just aren't right. They're not terrible - but they don't move me forward or make me smile. I totally get it. The maxi dress I love in theory that just is too big, the denim blazer, the $90 docs that are no longer me . . . and so on and so on.

  • rae replied 7 years ago

    Mirp, thank you. That part resonated with me, too... we spend the $ to make ourselves happy in the first place, right?

    Mo, I totally sympathize, as these were not cheap purchases for me, either. We both had it tough with all the change, too. Hard to get a grasp on what you really need.

  • Caro in Oz replied 7 years ago

    I absolutely get it. I used to sell my mistakes on ebay but now I give them to charity - even though it's painful sometimes, I just accept it & move on.

    I find this approach works for me & keeps me honest when I'm buying stuff - I'm less likely to rationalise a poor purchase.

  • lyn* replied 7 years ago

    Thanks for the reflection, Rae, it's very thoughtful ... I definitely cling on to my full-priced items too, even though they may not make me happy 100%.

    I hope you feel better. :)

  • cciele replied 7 years ago

    Totally get it. I thank my items for their service and find them a better home. I love it when friends get joy out of an item I've invested my time and money in but no longer suits me.

  • CocoLion replied 7 years ago

    I so understand this. It's so hard for me to pass on things that I got last season but haven't worn this season. Especially if I paid a lot for it.

    Honestly I think I'm just greedy and always want new things. Plus I look at my clothes every day, and so my eye will tire of an item even if I don't wear it.

  • rae replied 7 years ago

    Cathy, that is so true. I have saved many items hoping for another YLF swap!

    Denise, I feel greedy sometimes, too. :T But weirdly purging makes me feel less so... like I don't want to hoard everything for myself; I just learn different needs... and sometimes the need is a change.

  • Adelfa replied 7 years ago

    Holding on to things that don't work means you have to build outfits around them. Which means you have to spend a lot of mental energy trying to make something work that never will. Which in turn means you have to *wear* the outfit you struggled to plan. Which means you won't feel right that day. Which means--often--that you'll spend even more mental energy trying to plan an outfit that works better.

    Makes me tired just to write it! This is what I'm trying to remember. Because it's hard for me to let go, too.

  • missvee replied 7 years ago

    I totally agree with you. I always have to remind myself that the money's gone and whether I keep the item s in question or not, the money's not coming back.

  • shevia replied 7 years ago

    Yes once the cost is sunk it is sunk. No point in adding insult to injury by forcing yourself to keep things that make you unhappy when you have things that fill you with delight! (At least that is what I tell myself.)

  • amiable replied 7 years ago

    Thanks Rae - this really helps me!

  • Claudia replied 7 years ago

    Excellent post that really resonates, Rae. Not just for the closet, but in life, too! Thanks for articulating it so well.

  • Suz replied 7 years ago

    Wonderful, Rae! This is an important (and freeing) realization. I know it can be hard -- I am okay passing something along if I have worn it quite a lot, or if I did not pay much in the first place, but it can be painful to acknowledge the shopping "mistakes." At the same time, passing along those clothes makes room for new, better things.

    I either pass mine along to a YLF friend or consign them. And it feels good to do so!

    Given my recognition that I really like to have a certain number of new things in my closet each year (which I will then wear to the point of boredom) I am even planning to build this in to my budget. I'll just EXPECT to recycle a certain proportion of my things each year (maybe 1/4 -- not sure?) and then I won't feel as much guilt when I pass them along, whether they're much worn and loved or virtually unworn. If they are not earning a place - good bye!

    Denise, I'm not sure it is "greedy" to want new things. It is part of your style persona to be very much ahead of the trend. Perhaps reframing to look at it that way will make it seem less guilt-inducing. And perhaps setting a few limits, either by budget or by number of new items per season you will permit yourself?

  • Sara L. replied 7 years ago

    You articulated very well a problem that a lot of us struggle with. Although I purge my closet several times a year, I have a tendency to hang on to things that I think I didn't use enough to justify the purchase. I need to just them go whether they cost a lot or not.

  • replied 7 years ago

    Very liberating. I understand completely, especially the part of how letting go of the inexpensive stuff is so much easier.

  • texstyle replied 7 years ago

    LOVE this post Rae because I've been doing so much purging the past year or so and it feels so much BETTER to get rid of things that don't make me feel happy when I wear them. It is an expensive learning process I suppose but then again, I didn't own a lot of super high end items.

    I have a charcoal blazer from jcrew that I've owned for 4 years and have not. worn. once. The problem with that one is that it makes me happy in that it fits, looks good, etc. but right now my lifestyle doesn't demand formality and I HATE dry cleaning chemicals. It's def. a dry clean only item. I thought I'd make myself wear it this winter but it hasn't been very cold and I haven't had a need to "dress" more than my comfier more RATE jackets.

    But there are still other items that I've been holding onto similarly - some worn once or twice. I'm working towards clearing them out a little at a time.

    Just yesterday I purged a bunch of socks. Most of these just never felt good or they were too heavy or too tight or something. Now my sock drawer is SO much more pleasing to open! Even the little stuff helps.

    And I have a friend who makes jewelry so whenever I purge costume items I can send them to her knowing she can dissect them as she pleases - so it makes me happy.

    And the comfort factor is critical to happiness for me these days. I can barely stand "skinny" jeans because I've learned how much better slightly slouchy straight jeans feel on my body. I've purged all but one pair of those.

    I think in another year or so my wardrobe will be more compact but better than it's ever been for me.

    sorry to go on so long!

  • pil replied 7 years ago

    Very insightful, Rae. I really enjoyed reading this and you've got me pondering my closet now.

  • Raisin replied 7 years ago

    I really relate to not wanting to let something go because you feel like it's admitting you chose wrong, or miscalculated, I hate to make dumb mistakes! Like buying a jacket with a high neck, when I know I hate things on my neck. I realized too that once I acknowledged those mistakes and gave myself permission to get rid of them, I have become much better at thinking through my purchases, and most things do actually work for me now.

  • AJ replied 7 years ago

    Wonderful post, Rae! I luv that you are looking at the selling of your items as a chance to upgrade your wardrobe!

  • ironkurtin replied 7 years ago

    I say never be ashamed of making mistakes, because you cannot learn or progress without them. I have noticed that women in general overly stigmatize mistakes (yes that's a global statement) and beat ourselves up for them. So learning to let go and move on is good, even - especially - if it's just a piece of fabric!

    However, I do suffer from "But it's so pretty/soft/flattering/cool" syndrome...

    I have vintage Helmut Lang jackets that give me broken blood vessels in the shoulders, or are made of satin or velvet, or aren't right for my climate - but I will not shed them because they are SO damn cool and no one makes them like that anymore. They cannot be replaced.

    I have amazing wood-heeled booties I have not yet worn because they require an event - or just me feeling super sassy - and I haven't really done that much recently. But they are so neat. So I hang onto them.

    I have boxes of Inhabit cashmere sweaters that are lovely and soft, with such interesting details. I can wear them *maybe* a month out of the year where I live now - and not even *all* of them! But part of me is convinced I WILL NOT be living in Texas forever and I *will* need them wherever else we go. I've been in Texas for 4+ years now and this attitude has not changed. I love them.

    I think maybe I need to think of myself as a curator, not as a dresser, and stop feeling bad that I don't wear some of these things. After all, would I beat myself up if I didn't display my entire art collection? Probably not.

  • rae replied 7 years ago

    Adelfa, that is a great point - I sure am mentally tired or reliving the mistakes, too.

    Missvee & Shevia, perfect way to look at it. The money's gone either way. I keep thinking I need to "get the wear for my money" but really I am "getting the irritation for my money"!

    Suz, I keep telling myself that, lol. Now the part I have to get hold of is buying less *this* year even though I love it now and it's gone on sale! It IS how I resisted duplicating my Lulu jacket when it went on deeper discount... I *know* there's a chance I'll want something else next year.

    Texstyle, you've hit on something for me. These trenches were NOT mistakes last year, when I thought I had an advancing career in wealth management. I was not outside as much, and I didn't have any time to take long walks, and I hardly saw the sun let alone the rain. Lifestyle affects us so much...

    Dana and Raisin, it is so tough. I have always hated to make a mistake - all my life, it was the expectation to get 100% in all the tests! I *should* be glad that life is not a schoolroom and that I am learning much more valuable lessons from my mistakes.

    And Dana, I love the idea of being a curator. This is what I tell DH about boots - it is not just my winter shoe wardrobe, it is my Boot Collection. Lucky that he collects action figures; it is hard for him to argue.

  • Janet replied 7 years ago

    Ooh, can I relate to the hating to make mistakes camp. Perfectionism has some serious drawbacks!

  • ManidipaM replied 7 years ago

    A very keen perception of happiness, Rae, and how important it is to 'buy' it at any cost --- including the angst of letting go of recent, expensive acquisitions.

    Like Caro, I find letting my mistakes go---or at least acknowledging it as a 'mistake' or a 'moving on' until I can replace/bridge the gap---helps keep me honest around my hot buttons (read: sales!).

  • catgirl replied 7 years ago

    great post! Things have been flying out of my closet too. And come spring, most of my summer wardrobe will be gone too - especially the skirts I've continued to hoard on the off-chance I'll come back around to them.

    I have much less regret about letting things go than I used to, even a few items with tags still attached. Have made a LOT of mistakes, and will make more. But they are fewer now, and as I am happier with what I have, I'm less likely to be erratic. I've also slowed down on thrifting and browsing, which has helped keep me focused.

  • Transcona Shannon replied 7 years ago

    It's all part of the learning curve and growing process. Well done!

  • Beth Ann replied 7 years ago

    Kudos, Rae, to keeping what works and letting the rest go.

    As for me, I have 22 long sleeved t-s. Not counting sleepwear. Not counting turtlenecks. Clearly, purging is not my strength! I tend to keep items for several years, and I'm still working on PPP -- still refining. I think, however, it might be possible to do with less. Maybe 15?

    P.S. I live in a 1,000sq house with no basement or garage, and a small closet. I guess that provides a natural barrier to excess. YLF has been very helpful in making that small closet (stacked with 22 long sleeved t's) work better than ever before!

  • Susie replied 7 years ago

    I appreciate you posting this, Rae. I've never been much of a saver and I've always weeded out my closet pretty regularly. But it seems as if I always skim over certain items, like there is nothing 'wrong' with them per se so why get rid of them? Yet there are probably lots of things in there that I just don't wear.

    I think I would like to have less pieces, love every single one of them (or at least value their usefulness, like a long sleeve layering tee that I actually wear), and wear them all more frequently.

    Too often I buy something just to have something new, or because it's a good deal, or because it seems like it 'should' be a workhorse, without focusing on things I love and am really excited to wear.

    I plan to do another purge soon and I hope I can be ruthless about culling the things I just don't wear or just don't love, even if I think I "should."

  • rachylou replied 7 years ago

    Yes. You have articulated my own feelings for me very well when it comes to certain pieces. My pride can get in the way when I've invested something in a piece - time, money, imagination... I stubbornly try to get the dividend that will never actually be paid out.

    Btw, I see why you got that Navy trench coat in the first pic. It *is* a beauty.

  • Aida replied 7 years ago

    SO very well written Rae! I VERY much enjoyed reading your post, it resonates strongly with me as well. Last year I had a rather sudden dampening on my purchases simply because I decided I wasn't being nearly picky enough; my closet had far too many 7s and 8s and not enough WOWZA 10s (even in basics and essentials). I am feeling better about curating what goes into my wardrobe these days, though I still have a LOT of holes after a recent reevaluation of my wardrobe. But as I've learned to become more picky about what goes INTO my closet, I just haven't gotten as good at being picky to get rid of those less-than-perfect items! I don't know if it's a matter of admitting mistake on my part, I don't really mind that so much, but I tend to become worried that I'll start to crave more variety. A lot of those items were purchased several years ago when I was still trying to figure out my style, so they span quite the style spectrum. But you know what, I'm on almost 3 years of no full repeats so that's a pretty good indication that there is definitely more than enough variety there, right? Honestly, it has come as a HUGE surprise to me that, as I have slowly pared my wardrobe down and culled out those less-than-perfect or not-quite-my-style items, I truly have become happier with the state of my wardrobe. It's not where I'd like it to be yet, but I really do need to just suck it up and get rid of those items that are more of a hindrance than anything at this point -_-

  • Angie replied 7 years ago


    The planets have aligned - after the sky fell down when you wore flat oxfords.


  • Suz replied 7 years ago

    Rae, you really are a wonderful writer, you know.

    And wise way beyond your years.

    Just needed to say that.

  • rae replied 7 years ago

    Una, I really feel that cutting out the thrifting was key. It made constantly buying feel NORMAL. And at my swap meets there is not usually any way to properly evaluate fit or function.

    Beth Ann, I sympathize. I used to have multiple drawers of tees to sleep in. What's up with that??

    Susie, those deals can be the death of me! And some things (boots! bags!) feel like a good deal more easily than others (basics... tank tops.... sandals) - no matter if I actually need the other things more.

    Rachy, the important thing we have learned is that we are Proud Women. :D

    Aida, I have that panic about variety, too. What if I change stores? What if I change departments? I might NEED that thing I don't particularly like... : /

    Angie, that made me giggle! It is nice to know the cosmos are settling down after all that upheaval they brought. :)

    Suz, your compliment means so much to me. It is the best coming from a killer writer!

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