So what does downsizing your wardrobe have to do with mental health? A lot actually. For some, shopping for new clothes can be an attempt to satisfy a part of their lives that feels unsettled or having a closet full of variety can calm anxiety about not having the right thing for the right event. For others, clothing has an appropriate place in their lives and their closets are not crammed with unnecessary items.

The reality is that often the needs we have cannot be fulfilled with a closet full of clothes. While it makes sense to have some variety in your closet, having an excess of clothing (or other belongings) could signify a deeper issue, most notably an anxiety disorder.

When I was in my early 20s my house was on the UPS delivery guy’s daily schedule. I had fallen prey to the credit card trap and found myself ordering from any and all catalogs that came in the mail. There was something about looking through these catalogs, writing down everything I wanted, narrowing it down (or sometimes not), and placing an order that fulfilled my young life in a way nothing else could at the time. I suppose you could say I had a “problem” with buying too much and it took years for me to find a workable solution.

In my late 20s I moved out of my mom’s house and into my own apartment. By this point I had stopped ordering clothing via catalogs, though I did still frequent the local department store on nights when I was bored. A few years later I got married and moved in with my husband and it was then that I counted just how many pair of jeans I’d accumulated. Let’s just say I could have gone nearly a month without ever needing to repeat. And even though I’d gotten rid of many clothes over the years, I still had too much. I began to place clothes in trash bags, filling four total, and either threw them out or gave them away.

My love for, or perhaps obsession with, clothing didn’t necessarily stop there. It was around then that I realized I was buying clothes for reasons beyond necessity and I’d spent many days and much money that didn’t need to be spent trying to satisfy something I still don’t fully understand. For me, clothing provided a sense of comfort and calm when other areas of my life felt out of control. I loved being able to mix and match items and create a new outfit, but I would find myself spending hours, and I mean hours, sifting through my closet to see what I could put together. By the time I was 30 I recognized that what I said was just “a love for fashion,” was actually a manifestation of my anxiety about various aspects of life.

The difference now is that I know this about myself and I work through it in healthy, less costly ways. And being married, I’m learning more about how to manage finances, a household, relationships, etc. I have other things on which to focus my attention despite still owning more clothes than I truly need. In the past three years, however, I’ve worked to reduce the closet clutter and organize my wardrobe and my life.

But how?

Well, it has taken a lot of reading and a whole lot of talking differently to myself about needs versus wants. The feeling of freedom that has come throughout the process is very welcome and I encourage you to find your own freedom from the clothing trap.

Step 1: Assess

Before you even look in your closet or dresser, or both, consider what you do most days. Are you a stay-at-home mom who rarely goes to social events? Are you a career woman who is required to dress up 5 days per week with church on Sundays taking that total to 6 days? Are you someone who wears whatever you prefer or wears a uniform? Do you do a lot of yard work, painting, or other dirty jobs?

Once you consider what you’re doing with your time, you can determine your basic clothing needs. This will include the types of pants, tops, and shoes you need on a regular basis, as well as a few extras for odds and ends projects or outings.

Step 2: Organize

After you have an idea of your basic clothing needs, it’s time to take inventory and organize. Pull out everything you haven’t worn in a year and put it in a “donation” pile. With what’s left, determine what you wear most often. Do you have a pair of black dress pants you wear 1-2 times per week? Do you wear the same pair of shoes with most outfits? If so, lay these items in an “everyday” pile. Any items you wear less than weekly, but more than monthly, can go in an “extras” pile. Create a fourth pile for your “special occasion” attire. This may include clothing worn on dates or to the occasional wedding. Lastly, create an “as needed” pile for clothing items that don’t fit in another pile (casual wear, housework clothes, etc.).

Once you have created these piles, you can now move on to the next step.

Step 3: Eliminate

It’s time to go through the items in each pile and determine what you love, like, dislike, hate. If you dislike or hate an item, put it in the “donation” pile. If you are unsure if you like it, you probably don’t so into the “donation” pile it goes. This will leave you with only items you like or love.

Through all of my reading, I’ve also learned two additional ways to go about the elimination process. One is to ask yourself “If I was shopping today, would I buy this?” If not, it’s time to toss, donate, or give away.

The second way is to turn hangers around or backwards in your closet and after wearing and washing each piece, place them back in the closet with the hanger facing the right way. If after a year you have several hangers that are still facing backwards, eliminate those items from your wardrobe.

Step 4: Simplify

The final step is to once again look through the items in each pile and, considering what you determined your needs to be in step one, shrink these piles to 7-10 everyday outfits, 3-5 as needed outfits, 2-3 special occasion outfits, and 2-4 extras. Hang these items back in your closet or fold them and put them back into your dresser. Anything that remains should be considered for donation.

Be honest with yourself as you go through this process. If you think you are hanging onto an item because you might need it someday, chances are you won’t! Trust me on this! I was the queen of holding onto clothes that I would never wear, some still with tags. Second guessing yourself will likely cause you to hang everything back up! If you notice yourself becoming overwhelmed, take a few deep breaths and walk away for 5-10 minutes. Come back and continue the process. For those items that have sentimental value to you, consider placing in a tote and storing for a period of time.

Organize your closet based on your current lifestyle and simplify the process of getting ready. When you have less to choose from, it not only takes less time select what you’ll wear, but you may even notice a reduction in your level of stress each morning. Not to mention that the items you keep will be items you like or love!

*As with other areas of life, if you are experiencing strong emotions or attachments to items in your wardrobe and are finding this process unbearable, it might be helpful to seek out the assistance of a professional. See Psychology Today to find someone in your area.

Following the recent passing of my father much has been swirling around in my mind. I’ve attempted several blog posts in an effort to share with you some of the things I’ve learned in the past few weeks and it is only now that I can sit and put it into words…or at least try again.

One of my favorite poetry books is Without by Donald Hall who, after surviving his own battle with colon cancer, learned his wife Jane was diagnosed with leukemia. The poetry in Without details different aspects of his wife’s 15-month battle up until her final moment. The book isn’t a favorite because it details this struggle, but because it puts into words the human existence at both its strongest and weakest and it reminds me of how fragile life really is. (source: The Poetry Foundation)

Watching a loved one pass away is one of life’s greatest challenges. There are few things that can be said to bring comfort and each person must process in his or her own way. Part of that process for me has been thinking of all I can take for granted in a single day here on Earth. Instead of asking what I could’ve done differently to save a life, I’ve found myself asking what I can do differently to live mine more fully.

When our time comes to an end and family members go through our belongings, will those things be just items to toss away or will they evoke beautiful memories…memories of happiness and fun? Will there be “things” at all or will we have lived with little, but given much?

Entering the field of professional counseling, I knew I was being called to do something great. I knew that there would be many lessons I’d learn from my clients, from their stories, and from my interactions with them. But my hope is that they learn from me as well. I hope that I listen with an open mind and offer perspective to aid them in moving forward. To me, these moments mean more than anything I could purchase in a store on Black Friday (or any other day for that matter). Apart from my profession, I hope I can live a life that isn’t full of useless “things,” but of compassion, love, generosity, care, and much more.

We so often hear the phrases “life is too short,” “you only live once,” and “live today like it’s your last” but do we truly take these phrases in and begin appreciating each moment we’re given? For some the answer is “no,” myself included at times. Maybe you’re in good health or engaging in low-risk activities, and you assume you don’t have a need to seize the day. However, the point is bigger than that…why not seriously live life to the fullest each and every moment of each and every day regardless of current health status? Why not look more at the things we have rather than the things we don’t? Why not reach out a hand to help someone in need? Why not take time to listen and pray for others? Why not? What have we got to lose?

My hope is that we can examine our lives and make changes before it’s too late. Don’t save it for later. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do or say today. Don’t wait until you lose a loved one to decide that you’ll go that extra mile to bring a smile to someone’s face. Instead, ask yourself, “How can I live my life more fully today?”

We live in a world where information is available to us at any time and almost any place. If we’re not feeling well we can search online for the potential source of our issue or we can ask others on our social media pages what it could be. We have access to much more in the 21st century than ever before and, unfortunately, this can work against us.

Based on a quick Internet search, some may assume they have a deadly illness or a severe mental disturbance. It’s even become commonplace to hear “Oh that’s my OCD” or “I have ADHD because I can’t sit still.” Yet, it takes much more than reading information on a webpage to determine if someone has a medical or mental illness. It also takes more than not being able to sit still to arrive at a diagnosis of ADHD.

I remember when I was in graduate school and first opened the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the book we use to determine if an individual has a mental diagnosis). I started reading through this three-inch thick book and would comment to myself, “Oh my goodness…I have that!” Then I’d get to the next thing and assume I had that too. Eventually I realized that any one of us could open this book and find symptoms that fit us. Why? Because “normal” is somewhat subjective and we all have things that we like, don’t like, do, don’t do, etc. and those things may not always be understood by others. But just because we may find that we fit some of the criteria for a specific disorder or disorders doesn’t mean that we’re diagnosed.

I explain to clients that essentially what brings them into my office is that the issues they’re facing have begun to cause distress in their lives. They’ve recognized that, while they may not have an actual disorder, something is not working for them. For some, they’ve been previously diagnosed and are fully aware of the scope of that diagnosis. They come to see me for help managing or eliminating their symptoms.

Regardless, in recent years human behavior has become categorized by those who aren’t trained to categorize it. We hear statements that people are “antisocial,” “narcissistic,” “crazy,” “bipolar,” “anorexic,” and the list goes on. Sure, maybe these people do in fact have a disorder, but to make these words a part of everyday conversation and to use them so casually has caused us to view ourselves in terms of what’s wrong and we can be very quick to judge someone based on what makes them unique as a person. We categorize ourselves based on the issues we face and when we do this, we may only see ourselves or others as a disorder (Example: “She’s bipolar”).

I encourage you to seek help if you believe that what you’re experiencing could be more than just every day ups and downs or more severe than general restlessness. In fact, I’d never discourage that for any of you. What I do discourage, however, is assuming a disorder is present just because you behave in a way that others don’t understand, because you don’t agree with how someone else is behaving, or because you read something online that indicated you did.

When you self-diagnosis, it can be very dangerous. Not only could it cause you to not seek an appropriate evaluation and treatment (after all, you already know what’s wrong, right?), but it can lead to thinking and behavior patterns that then suggest you really do have that issue/disorder. You may begin to live your life according to the criteria and be unnecessarily convinced that you are in fact ill. Likewise, you may begin to treat others differently based on what you assume is wrong with them. You might find yourself labeling or judging someone in a way that is unjustified.

So, if you have genuine reason to believe you or someone you know may have a physical or mental illness, I urge you to err on the side of caution and seek an appropriate evaluation. The Internet is a great resource, but it doesn’t replace the need for doctors or therapists.


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