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Weekend: When Less is More

weekends (1 of 2)

“There are two ways to get more. Keep accumulating stuff. The other is to desire less.” Ladies and gents, seamstresses and seamsters, sewers of all likes, this should be the handmaker’s anthem.

Around 7:00 a.m. almost every morning, my Aunt Ginny sends me an inspirational text. Just like a horoscope, some ring true, but ninety nine percent don’t. This was that one percent.

As I look back on the last ten years of my life, I see an upwards and then a downwards trend. I was a gluttonous teen, spending most of my time at the mall. With a movie theatre and loads of shops, it was the hot spot during middle and high school. My hang outs changed when I was in college, but I still spent a lot of time shopping. Come on, what else was there to do with a 3 day a week class schedule? When I first moved to Philly, my neighbor invited me over for a drink. Totally platonic. We swapped life stories, and one of his was about a trip to a 3rd world country, I forget which one at the moment. I asked him what he took away from it. He said that it made him realize how much stuff Americans have.

Osmosis takes time, and it took about a year for what he said to sink in. Slowly, I realized that I also had too much stuff and I didn’t want it any more. I wanted simple. Living alone in a big city, everything I bring into my life has to be taken care of by me, and the more stuff I buy, the more stuff I have to care for. So, I started editing my life down to only the things I really wanted and used. If I hadn’t worn it, used it, cleaned it, washed it in 6 months, I got rid of it (exception to this are any sort of antique/vintage items).

Now here’s where it gets interesting. My closet is smaller than it’s ever been, and you would think that with less, I would desire more. Not the case. Have you ever had this mentality… when you’re at a store like Forever 21 and you have $100 to spend, you try to pack at many items into that budget before you hit triple digits. What ensues is a game to find the lowest priced items and as many pairing as you can. It’s like Scrabble but with fashion. I did that, and what happened was I left with a bunch of crappy clothes that I wan’t interested in a week later. A $10 skirt can only hold it’s allure for so long (again, the exception being vintage items – I think it’s a different scenario when dealing with older clothing). Now, if you spend $100 on one piece, let’s say an Anthropologie blouse or a Free People dress, there’s something special about that item. Even though you bought/have less than if you shopped at Forever 21, that less performs better and longer. It holds a special place in your closet and you keep it and wear it longer. I have found the same to be true for fabric – the more I spend on it, the more special the piece that I make. Also, I buy less fabric. Confession, I don’t have a fabric stash! I have maybe one or two yards of one or two fabrics, like the black wool cashmere for my very little black dress, but other than that, I buy on a project basis. This allows me to spend more on fabrics because I know I don’t have a closet full of usable yardage. And let’s face it, I’m not the fastest seamstress, so if I make 5-10 garments a year, I can justify spending $30+ dollars on a fabric. Yeh, I spent that amount of money on the polka dot brocade I told you about earlier this week. But you know what? I love it and my fingers are crossed that it will sew up nicely and last years. Now, there’s always exceptions, and yes, I have scored some good items from Forever 21, but let’s keep this conversation generalized.

So, do you want to get more? The answer may not be not by accruing, accumulating, and adding. It’s might actually be about subtraction. The simpler I get, the happier I become.

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22 Comments

  1. Reply

    IngeMaakt

    Lovely post! I find it true too. I think they key to a happy life is to be content with what you have. Not always try to accumulate more.

  2. Reply

    Pauline alice

    I love that last sentence: the simpler I get, the happier I become.
    I’ve noticed the same effect on me during the last years, especially with clothing and fabric. When I first started to sew, I wanted the most possible fabric for the less possible money (which means some of that fabric is still around unsewn). Now, I’m perfectly happy buy one fabric (the more fantastic the better) knowing that it will become a special item.
    Quality over quantity, right?
    Have a great weekend Maddie

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      I totally agree! I recently went to Mood and bought 2 yards of 3 fabrics. That’s it and that’s all I needed. I spent a fortune on those fabrics (one was over $30 a yard), but I’m absolutely in love with what I purchased three weeks after I went and before I’ve even started the projects.

  3. Reply

    Hannah Wilson

    It seems whenever I have the opportunity to shop these days, I end up becoming overwhelmed and a little bit repulsed by the simultaneous overabundance and monotony of affordable clothing available. Now, my closet consists of three colours – black, white, and burgundy. I can make plenty of outfits with what I have, everything else seems like a waste of time and money.

    …now if only I had the funds available to invest in some really nice pieces from Anthropologie, that would be a different story ;p

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      That’s exactly how I feel when I shop – overwhelmed with choices. Now, when I do, I have a plan and a limit so that I’m not distracted or hypnotized by all the clutter.

  4. Reply

    Cpdesigns

    The simpler I get, the happier I become…..I’m going to remember that one.

  5. Reply

    sallieforrer

    When I was younger I also was all about shopping at Forever 21 and H&M and scoring the most stuff for the least amount of money. I don’t really remember when the switch over happened, but like you I just felt like I was sitting on a pile of disposable crap that left me feeling like I needed more. Learning to invest in your belongings and choose them carefully and considerately, and buying the best you can afford is a wonderful lesson to learn! I definitely think it makes you – if not a happier person – than one with a more peaceful state of mind. Happy weekend sewing, Maddie!

  6. Reply

    Emily Baker

    yup! i was the same way. as i got older, i started to realize how much stuff i had (and still have). just gave my mom a couple pairs of jeans. the older I get the less I realize I need, and I would of course prefer to buy higher-quality products that are going to be for more money and just have less!!

  7. Reply

    Ginger

    Interesting post! I’m not a naturally organized person, and I don’t have much space to store clothes, so I’ve been actively thinning out my wardrobe over the last few years so that getting dressed is easier and I actually like everything in my closet. I’ve enjoyed stepping away from shopping now that I sew- I was never a big shopper, and didn’t really enjoy it- and it’s been really freeing in a sense. Sometimes I feel like the cycle of fast fashion and shopping creates a lot of false needs, and I would come away from the store with things I didn’t really even like because I felt like the deal was too good to pass up or it was a trend I needed to participate in. Simpler is better!

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      And isn’t it a great feeling to have less? I feel like I have more mental capacity to focus on the things that actually matter.

  8. Reply

    Gjeometry

    I’m actually not a fan of shopping, especially for clothes. I HATE trying things on and I also dislike malls and anyplace that sells everything, like a department store. So, for me, sewing has allowed me to attempt sewing my own clothes, thereby eliminating the need for ever shopping for and trying on clothes again! I do like to window shop though and get (steal) ideas. 🙂 But, now, ironically, I LOVE fabric and pattern shopping, so I have to make sure I don’t get all silly and buy everything in the store.

  9. Reply

    Natasha Estrada

    I’ve never bought anything from Forever 21 and I’m glad for it. As I’ve gotten older I’ve been surprised at how long certain things stay in my closet for. Stuff that I wear of course. As a teen I would have been shocked.

    Sometimes more isn’t better it’s just more.

  10. Reply

    Lady ID

    I’m with you. As I have gotten “older”, and learned more about fashion and making my own clothes, I am less interested in quantity and more in quality. I am now getting to a point where it is difficult to get rid of clothes because more of what I have is well made and I still like the style.

    Having a smaller closet also helps with this. I still have gobs of fabric but that’s another conversation.

    I avoid Forever 21 after the whole DVF thing, There is one store of its ilk that I go to because they have long tank tops but now I have started making my own tanks:)

  11. Reply

    Diane Brown

    When I was young, I didn’t have a stash. I bought a pattern and fabric in one trip, took it home and made it. Somehow that changed and I would see fabric that would be great for “something”, I had no idea what, so I would bring it home and then never use it. A couple of years ago, I realized that I spend an enormous amount of time taking care of “stuff”. I have given away probably 75% of my possessions and don’t miss a single one. While I have given a lot of fabric away, I still have too much. I moved last fall and haven’t been able to sew at all because my sewing stuff overwhelms the room that it is in. I was sorting tools last night. I was shocked by the all of the duplicate tools that I have. Six seam rippers, five small scissors, three little ruler things and ten crochet hooks. I haven’t tried to crochet anything since the 1960s.

  12. Reply

    Minnado

    Great post. I am trying to get rid of most of the stash of fabric I have (most of it inherited) so I can concentrate on sewing with fabrics that really suit my aims and projects. Also this is due to a lack of space as I cannot store lots of fabric. I gave up[ buying new clothes about three years ago and like Gingermakes find it freeing to just be able to say no to consuming more fast fashion. And concentrate on other things that make me happy 🙂

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      Part of the reason I can’t have a stash is due to space too. I live in a small apartment in Philly.

  13. Reply

    emily marie

    Yes to all of this! Coincidentally, I’ve been writing/thinking on the same topic lately. It makes sense that any seamstress would feel the same way as you about having a quality edited wardrobe, but it seems that these bad shopping habits have seeped into many peoples’ sewing habits. I’m talking about less than quality fabrics. This is and has always been so confusing to me! Even if the garments are sewn well, if the fabric is not up to snuff it is just not going to wear well or continue to be something you can be proud of. Quality does not always have to be pricey, either!

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      I agree that quality is so important is fabric as well. The best pattern can’t make up for a crappy fabric.

  14. Reply

    randomly_happy

    Love the message in this post.

    I used to buy rather mindlessly (though at the time I thought ‘I had to have it’) but then when I switched careers my cushy salary dissolved and I had to do with less.

    And I loved it. It’s so nice saving up for things. Think about what you really, really want as opposed to what’s trendy or what the magazines tell you to but.

    Happy weekend of sewing!

  15. Reply

    Carlee McTavish

    So freaking true! When I was twelve I started work and ALL my money went into crappy cheap fashion. There are things I probably only wore once or twice before donating. Now that I am older, less is SO MUCH more. I long for the day when I can have a closet of timeless, beautifully crafted clothing. And slowly I am working towards that goal. Having less really does feel like a huge weight lifted off one’s shoulders.

  16. Reply

    elle

    I love this post – it really resonated with me. I’ve been working on the idea of “less but better” for all my material possessions for a couple years now. It’s led me to buy far fewer items of clothing, and also to shop far more mindfully, because I started to really pay attention not just to the cost of an item, but it’s quality of material and construction. And actually, it feels like starting on that path is what has led me to take up sewing. I’m still a total beginner, but I just can’t bring myself to buy cheap fabric for the heck of it (except for making muslins). So I’m buying fabric that I love, even if it’s a bit pricey, and just taking my time to try to sew the items I make well. I feel like I’m learning more and getting further with this approach anyway. I have just accumulated a small fabric stash though, thanks to some generous birthday fairies. But now I plan to sew my way through it before going fabric shopping again.

  17. Reply

    Amanda Russell

    Maybe it’s an age thing, but I’ve definitely found my tastes switching from quantity to quality over the years. I’d much rather have one high quality thing that I love, than a whole roomful of STUFF. 🙂

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