[Six Items or Less] Yes, Really.

Because I’m so terribly crafty, I dropped a little hint about this project last week, and a bunch of you zeroed in on right away, as in: You’re wearing just six items for 30 days straight? And: Are you high?

The challenge kicks off today, so here is the official deal:

Six Items or Less began as a small experiment between friends and quickly grew to become a global movement questioning the power of what we don’t wear.

The experiment is simple: each participant gets to choose six (and only six) items of clothing and pledge to wear only these six items of clothing for a month.

Logistically, there are exceptions that don’t count towards the six: Undergarments, swim wear, work-out clothes, work uniforms, outer wear (rain slicker, outdoor jacket), shoes and accessories. You can get multiples of the same item for laundry purposes, but different colors count as separate items.

Most people have asked about the reasoning behind the experiment and most also assume it’s a grand statement about consumerism. In reality, there is no dictated driving thought — it’s for you to decide its meaning and relativity in your world. It’s about putting a challenge out there and seeing what people bring to it, do with it and talk about.

And here is why I think this sounds neat/terrifying.

Over the past year+ of its life, Beauty Schooled has been about, well, beauty — as in, beauty school, beauty products, beauty services, and how we feel about our faces and bodies. But every now and then I would tangent into talking about fashion, mostly shoes, because I realized early on that the beauty industry is really responsible for just half of that pretty price tag.

In fact (because sometimes I’m a giant hypocrite that way) in retrospect, I’m fairly sure I chose to focus on beauty because I knew it would be easier for me personally — I didn’t wear much makeup or engage in a lot of salon services before I started at Beauty U.

But I did — and do — spend a possibly absurd amount of time, money and mental energy on what I wore. I’ve always been pretty clothes-obsessed. For most of my life, I listed shopping as my main hobby. I took pride in owning more shoes and purses than is entirely sane. Here is what my closet (yes it was actually a whole room in our two-bedroom duplex) looked like in 2009:

That madness is what inspired me to try to go a week without spending any money at all for ReadyMade.com. (There’s your first red flag: This isn’t the first time I’ve tried a wacky interweb experiment to get my shopping addiction under control.) My closet today looks more reasonable, but it’s a sham. All that really happened is that we moved to another house where I wanted the guest room to actually be a guest room. So this picture makes me look pretty normal, until I tell you that I have occupied a whole other wardrobe of equal size in the basement storing my summer clothes and shoes, plus half the guest room closet, where my fancy dresses and coats live.

So. There are lots of obvious mindful consumer-y reasons for me to take on this challenge, namely that it’s more or less impossible to buy sustainably made clothes (that didn’t require a huge number of precious environmental resources or the tiny hands of child laborers) if you live on any kind of budget. By winnowing down to six key pieces (plus accessories and shoes, thank goodness), I’ll be forced to get all creative and work with what I have, rather than acquiring more and more.

That’s one piece of the puzzle.

But there’s also a dark side to my clothes obsession: Whenever I’m stressed out or feeling unhappy with myself, fashion is my  vice of choice. I’ve lost hours, if not days, of my life compulsively changing clothes over and over again before I’m satisfied with what I’m wearing. I’m chronically late to meet friends because I take so long to decide what to wear and how to wear it. I’ve been known to stop off en route to a dinner party or work event and buy an entirely new outfit (or at least a key piece) because I didn’t feel cute enough in what I had on.

And I hate that.

I hate the waste, because most of those stress-induced purchases end up being mistakes that are never worn again (not to mention, purchased at cheaper stores where you don’t have a chance in hell of them not being made in sweatshops). I hate the drama it inflicts on those around me. And most of all, I hate that sinking feeling when I scrutinize myself in the mirror, in the 700th possible shirt-skirt-shoes combination, and realize that there actually is nothing in my closet that will make me feel better, because I’m not really frustrated about the clothes at all. It’s the body underneath the clothes, or the deadline that didn’t get met, or whatever nerves-inducing event I’m attending that is causing all that angst.

And those are problems that can’t be fixed by finding the right dress. Sometimes they are problems that can’t be fixed at all.

I adore the creative side of fashion, where you play around with colors and accessories and come up with inspired combinations. But I’m over the self-sabatoge side, where you start “playing around” and end up in a body-loathing frenzy with the contents of your closet scattered all over the bedroom, cats cowering in the corner under piles of all those damn flowy shirts that seem bohemian and chic in the Anthropologie catalog, but really, just make you look pregnant once you get them home.

So I’m signing on for the SIOL challenge because I want to see if removing — or at least limiting access to — this vice might be helpful as a kind of mental palate cleanser. If I’m only wearing six items of clothing (several of which simply do not go together), then there are many fewer outfit permutations I can go through before I leave the house. Which means I’ll waste less time fretting about what to wear, freeing up more time to work on what’s actually bothering me. Or at the very least, to be more punctual.

So for the next 30 days, I’ll be updating you on my progress here and over on SIOL, where you can check out my profile (ahem, not much doing there — yet!) and meet other Sixers, who will also be posting regular check-ins.

PS. The site is having some technical difficulties today — stay tuned. I’ll have pictures of my six items (or rather, five plus options for item #6 that you will get to vote on!) up as soon as they get that sorted out.

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14 Comments

Filed under Beauty Labor, beauty standards, Six Items or Less

14 responses to “[Six Items or Less] Yes, Really.

  1. Wow I couldn’t do that. Good luck!

  2. I was watching the special features on the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, because I am obsessed with that movie, and there was a deleted scene about Rivers’ personal stylist, this guy who comes out from Hollywood 2 or 3 times a year to help her plan her outfits. It was pretty fascinating: he goes through her (obviously palatial) walk-in closet and assembles outfits — including shoes, jewelry, and other accessories — then puts them on hangers labeled with either the particular event she’s supposed to wear them to, or the kind of occasion… then, when Rivers wakes up in the morning she doesn’t have to think about what she’s wearing, but she’s always dressed to the nines.

    I’m not suggesting that you hire someone to dress you (although hey, I am unemployed!), or that you should, god forbid, dress like Joan Rivers (although that would be hilarious!), but maybe after the six items challenge a more sustainable practice could involve you planning outfits in advance — like for the week or month or week ahead — during downtimes, when that’s a fun creative activity rather than a stressful one. As you say here, I don’t think that the problem is your interest in fashion — it’s when that interest begins to conflict with or overshadow other stuff in your life that also matters. The fact is, you already own all of these (mostly gorgeous) clothes, and in my opinion, you should find a way enjoy them.

  3. sehkmet

    You certainly live an extremely privileged life. I have been wearing about six items for close to a year. I don’t ever seem to be able to afford more that that.

    My wardrobe: 2 pair of jeans, 2 tee-shirts, one long sleeved shirt, one quilted jacket, 3 bras, 5 pairs of panties, 4 pairs of socks, 1 pair running shoes, 1 pair boots, 1 winter jacket, 1 pair gloves, 1 hat, plus 2 pair of shorts for summer. Oh, and 1 purse that gets replaced about every 5 years.

    Sometimes I can get more clothes at a local church that gives them away. This stuff usually isn’t very nice so I really have to be in need to do it. Not having money to spend on clothes, I usually think about something else. I used to fret about not having more clothes. Now I figure if the clothes are clean and in good repair that’s good enough.

    Have you considered therapy?

  4. After clearing out my closet yesterday to make way for a little construction in my bedroom, I am entirely appalled at the stack of clothing that is now in our dining room—and I don’t even think I shop much. What I do think is that I’ve accumulated a lot over the years that I like/d and it’s simply come along for the ride, even if I haven’t worn it in two years. So once the construction is done, I’m clearing out the clutter if only to get a better sense of what I actually need and use (though I am keeping things that have sentimental value!).
    P.S. I don’t think you need therapy—I think what you are describing with the outfit changing is something that a vast majority of us experience.

  5. Tabs

    This reminds me of The Great American Apparel Diet — which is totally intriguing and a very good start to begin looking at all of the “what the fuck is this?” stuff and even some of the less “what the fuck is this?” stuff.

    I wish you luck, but I know you can do it. I know I’m in the middle of trying to figure out how to dress that still incorporates my own creativity, but can’t be rendered sexual (since I’m sick of being sexualized when walking out the door), and is maybe more androgynous, since the gender dichotomy needs to, excuse me, suck it. This is proving hard to do! But I too – well, actually, I planned to spend hours today going through my things, trying on outfit after outfit, in an attempt to figure out what I’m doing.

    Needless to say, in many ways, this piece spoke to me and it is all rather heinous when you think about it. But like I said, I know you can do it. And in fact, I might try to do so too! 🙂

  6. Paige

    @sekhmet: Same here, for the same reasons. I’ve been wearing “six items or less,” until they wear right out (i.e. become more holes than fabric) since about high school: 3 identical pairs of pants, 1 hoodie, 1 pair of boots, 2 white dress shirts, 2 t-shirts. (The colours might change as I replace things that wear out, though, so maybe it doesn’t count)

    It doesn’t bother me, since I physically can’t spend money on clothes instead of survival stuff.

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  8. Brave experiment, indeed. Sounds like the same self-imposed limitations I’ve set when going backpacking, or on a weekend trip to a warm spot that requires few pieces of clothing. But, given the fact that you will be in your own home, living your normal, day-to-day life, this sounds very hard, indeed! I definitely relate to the idea that fashion can provide a quick fix on a crappy day, as well as perpetuate the anguish if we are truly unhappy and unsatisfied by a sartorial solution. I look forward to learning about how this goes for you, and what you learn about yourself in the process.

  9. Imagine adding maternity clothes to the mix. My closet, shelves, dressers, and wall-mounted shelves near the ceiling to hold the overflow cannot handle it all. It’s a WHOLE SEPARATE WARDROBE that you cannot wear any other time. It also makes it truly impossible to play the “What have I not worn in two years so I can throw it out?” game because two years ago, I was also pregnant, and in between, I was either losing baby weight or it was a different season. And then I was pregnant again. Maternity jeans, hooray.

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