When I read about the art director who wore the same outfit to work every day to simplify her life, I immediately thought: I should try that. I don’t typically hop aboard trends, but I liked the idea of reducing stress by rethinking my daily habits.
Matilda Kahl went with a black and white color palette, rotating through 15 of the same blouse, pants, and jacket. I chose black pants, a yellow tunic, and a cotton blazer—only one of each since it’d just be a week. The next week, I picked a different outfit.
Before I launched my experiment, some friends raised eyebrows. One asked if I’d have to do laundry every night. A coworker thought it would get boring. But when I showed up at work wearing the same outfit for five days in a row, nobody said a thing. Nobody even noticed until I pointed it out.
Turns out, social pressure is often an excuse for the pressure we put on ourselves.
A Today Show/AOL survey found that 78 percent of women spend almost an hour on their appearance every day. Kahl started wearing her “work uniform” to save time and money, but also to alleviate the pressure of having to choose an outfit each day. She told AdAge:
I no longer spend time on choosing clothes nor do I get self-conscious in meetings, which would happen occasionally before. I just keep on with my day without my mind wandering, thinking about if my skirt is too short or my t-shirt too casual. To me, that is empowering.
Kahl wrote in Harper’s Bazaar that she felt her “male colleagues were taken seriously no matter what they wore.” I’m not sure that’s true, but women do seem to worry about it more. According to the Today Show survey, two-thirds of women worry about their appearance at least once a week, more than they worry about finances, health, family/relationships, or professional success. I know that I’d rather be working on my career or relationships or even my health than picking outfits. (In fairness, some take more pleasure in a well-chosen skirt or scarf than I do; I prefer functional clothes that fit well, look professional, and get me through the day in relative comfort.)
Kahl’s decision points to a bigger trend: to simplify our lives, and our closets. Through “kondo-ing,” best-selling author and lifestyle guru Marie Kondo encourages readers to clear out the clutter, to determine whether or not to keep their clothes, books, or other belongings by asking of each item, “Does this spark joy?” Other minimalist fashionistas advocate capsule wardrobes, with a fixed number items selected to mix-and-match for each season.
Our clothes (and our possessions) are an extension of ourselves. When we begin to reevaluate our stuff and the lifestyle we’ve built around it, often a level of discontent lies at the root; Kondo reported that in evaluating what brought her joy, one client discarded not just her shirts and old papers, but also her husband.
So in the middle of a move and a health battle, it makes sense to evaluate my habits, like choosing a new outfit every morning. Is that really necessary to the life I want to lead?
But I need to also ask myself some questions: Like, has this give me “extra” time? To some degree. I reached my running goal for the week. I had less laundry to haul to the basement on the weekend. Those are both things that make me happier than fresh shirts every day.
The bigger question, for me, is: Am I making self-evaluation a pursuit of honesty rather than image-curating? Am I trying to merely make a statement about how little I care about my fashion? Of course I care at some level. But choosing to repeat an outfit all week allows me the convenience of spending just Sunday night or Monday morning deliberating what to wear. (In the words of Matthew 6:28: And why do you worry about clothes?)
When I sorted through my closet afterwards, I evaluated many items by asking: “Would I wear this for five days straight?” I ended up giving plenty of things away that I previously felt pressure to keep solely for the sake of variety in my wardrobe.
The most important thing I’ve discovered in this experiment is that self-evaluation cannot be the goal; the fruit of it is.
Rather than seek out simplicity for simplicity’s sake, it’s up to me to examine what I’ll do with more time, fewer distractions, and less clutter. Will my quest for simplicity free me up to obey God, serve others, pursue a calling? Without a goal or purpose, we risk just adding more stress by anxiously looking for the next way to “simplify” our lives.