Posts Tagged ‘Psychology Today’

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.


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February is a month of much emotion among eating disorder sufferers, activists, professionals, and the like. It’s a month dedicated to raising awareness about these life-threatening disorders in an effort to save the lives of millions across the world.

My focus this month is “I will help others survive.” As many of you may recall, I lost my best friend to anorexia in November and I vow to do what I can to limit the loss of other precious souls such as hers.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (2005), more Americans suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and compulsive overeating, than from Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, NEDA reports 10 million people in the U.S. battle eating disorders, compared to four million fighting Alzheimers. Yet, research dollars set aside for eating disorders is 75-percent less than that for Alzheimer’s.

NEDA offers the following chilling statistics on their website regarding these research dollars:

In the year 2005, the National Institutes of Health funded the following disorders accordingly:

Illness                              Prevalence               Research Funds

Eating disorders:              10 million                   $12,000,000 (Anorexia Only)

Alzheimer’s disease:         4.5 million                  $647,000,000

Schizophrenia:                  2.2 million                  $350,000,000

Perhaps this is because some consider eating disorders a choice illness that individuals can “snap out of” at any time. Or maybe it’s because not enough awareness about the truth of these disorders has been raised.  I can tell you that while individuals can certainly overcome eating disorders, the road to and through recovery is one that is physically and emotionally taxing. It can take as many as seven years to solidify recovery, although for some it can take much less or much more time. There are several factors to be considered on an individual basis.

Eating disorders are not, I repeat, ARE NOT, based on desire to lose weight. Ineffective eating behaviors are a symptom of a bigger problem and are reported to most often include issues with control. Whether a man or woman feels pressured to succeed, is struggling to cope with past abuse, has lived their life feeling overlooked and just wants to be loved…whatever the reason, once an eating disorder creeps into a person’s life, it takes root very quickly.

If someone struggling with an eating disorder becomes aware that their disorder is dangerous and is willing to seek help, there are numerous resources available. In some cases, individuals can become unable to make treatment decisions on their own, and family members are forced to make these decisions for them. It’s recommended that sufferers work with an individual therapist, a medical doctor, a nutritionist, and a psychiatrist. If outpatient therapy is not enough, or if medical complications are compromising the individual’s ability to function, residential or inpatient treatment is suggested. Sadly, however, many individuals cannot afford such intensive treatment, which can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for a 60-day stay – with or without insurance. Outpatient services can be just as costly over time.

It’s imperative that those of in recovery and those of us in the helping professions make known the dangers of eating disorders, as well as the treatment options available. I can’t tell you how many professionals I’ve come across who have very little knowledge about these illnesses and I hope that someday we will see a drastic increase in the number of practitioners who can help the millions who so desperately need it.

If you or someone you know is battling an eating disorder of any kind, please visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org for more information. NEDA offers resources and links that can put you in touch with treatment centers and treatment professionals. Psychology Today is also a wonderful resource for finding a therapist. Once on their site, you can type in your zip code and search the listings for professionals in your area who specialize in eating disorders. If you’re in the Cincinnati area and in need of help, please visit Eating Recovery Center of Ohio to contact an admissions coordinator.

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