Organization is so hot right now. Thanks in large part to Marie Kondo's KonMari lifestyle and media empire that preaches the importance of tidy, minimalist living only among belongings that "spark joy," people around the world have kissed their possessions goodbye in an effort to achieve personal serenity. While I don't quite drink the Kondo Kool-Aid, I'll admit that, over the past five years, I've become an increasingly obsessive neat freak at home, and I can pinpoint exactly why.
The pressures of day-to-day life — much of mine is spent on the internet, particularly scrolling the hell site known as Twitter — and a relentlessly brutal news cycle leave me on the verge of a breakdown more than I'd like to admit. As the content mill churns at a steadily faster rate, logging off isn't really an option; if you're not quick to the draw on a hot take, a timely joke or a smart analysis on a breaking news story, the feelings of failure and inadequacy creep in faster than you can say "big mood."
Then, of course, there's the matter of Instagram — a place that can rattle self-esteem and that incentivizes a constant stream of newness with its quantitative system of likes, comments and follower counts. Those who are dedicated enough to the platform to amass a decent audience will be rewarded handsomely — specifically through paid #sponcon deals or with free product from fashion and beauty brands, who count on influencer posts to sell their goods.
To feed the machine with fresh content, influencers rely on new clothing and accessories for their photos, too; as a result, fast-fashion retailers have kept up with the breakneck pace by releasing hundreds of items per day. Despite the inherent wastefulness of this business model, it's a lucrative one — look no further than the recent $212 million IPO from millennial and Gen-Z favorite Revolve, which is now valued at $1.47 billion.
I've spent hours of my life watching videos of editors and influencers unboxing gifts from luxury labels; I've scrolled past hundreds of undisclosed advertisements, brand vacations and freebies showing off product "in context," as the retail jargon goes. While my younger self would be seething with jealousy, this culture of conspicuous consumption makes 30-something me a little sad. More importantly, being surrounded by an excess of stuff, especially inside my apartment, the only space I can count on to bring me a sense of calm, exacerbates my anxiety. Instead of accumulating more and more and more things (as the most successful industry insiders seem to do), I've stopped shopping almost altogether. It might sound like an oversimplified solution, but more than anything else I've tried — therapy included! — it's helped.
In a recent article for The Atlantic, aptly titled "There Is Too Much Stuff," writer Amanda Mull addressed the "choice anxiety" brought on by online shopping — something I recently experienced during Net-a-Porter's seasonal sale, which features hundreds of pages of marked-down designer product. After browsing the offering over several days, I eventually shut down and gave up. The pressure to buy something, anything was a stressor in itself, one that could only be avoided by resolving not to make a purchase.
"Those infinite, meaningless options can result in something like a consumer fugue state," Mull writes. "After shopping online, I often don't remember days later whether I actually made a decision, and I regularly pause at the mountain of Amazon boxes next to my apartment building's elevators ... just to see if I forgot to expect something." By cutting down on shopping, I've been able to eliminate clutter in my personal space, as well as the feelings of unease that come along with returning home to a mess — feelings that, for me, can snowball into a full-blown panic if not addressed properly.
Somewhere along the line, I began conflating having my proverbial shit together with actually keeping the shit I own together and tidy. Rather than trying to unpack this on a psychological level, I've put the time and energy into streamlining my possessions; instead of acquiring new things that will inevitably pile up or spill out of drawers, closets and cabinets, I now only make carefully considered purchases and have either sold off or donated pieces I bought on a whim, are overly trendy, or sit unworn just taking up space. In being mindful about the state of my surroundings and the affect it has on my mood, I've been able to give myself literal and figurative room to breathe without making any drastic lifestyle changes.
However, as a digital editor covering every aspect of the market, quitting shopping is easier said than done. With the fashion industry in flux — particularly fashion publishing, speaking of daily stress — a much higher stake is placed in personal social media followings as a marker of success. Building an engaged audience on Instagram is often dependent upon a person's ability to showcase their aesthetic by styling and posting as many outfit photos as possible to their feed. Since a lack of new stuff often translates into less frequent posts, it's not a reach to conclude that consuming less could have negative consequences for your career. Plus, today's clout economy prioritizes follower numbers and hype above all else, only increasing consumer desire for limited-edition, rare items that prove their owner is in-the-know. There's actual scientific evidence to back up why people are so inclined to shop a drop — and as more brands adopt that model, impulse purchases become harder to resist.
It's been a little over six months since I changed my shopping habits; several trips to Beacon's Closet and Goodwill (as well as some pick ups from The RealReal) later, I can happily say I have a complete handle on everything I have, what I need and what I really, really want, which has proven to be incredibly soothing. I know that the chaos I step into whenever I leave my apartment is largely out of my control, but how I use my space, spend my money and deal with said chaos are not — and limiting my acquisition of material goods has allowed me to feel like I've taken back a bit of control. As we all watch our planet succumb to the devastating effects of climate change, I find solace in knowing I'm contributing less waste, since so much thoughtlessly discarded clothing ends up in a landfill. My impact is obviously tiny, but it's not nothing.
My method of dealing with anxiety is probably not unique (and definitely not guaranteed to work for everyone), but assigning less importance to the accumulation of stuff has been a successful exercise in shifting my perspective. Whether I've projected some of my deepest, darkest fears and general uncertainties about life onto my possessions and am attempting to sort through them instead of what's really going on in my psyche, I do not know. Frankly, I don't really care. Tranquility is a luxury these days, and I'd opt for a few hours of zen over a trendy animal print skirt any day.
Of course, I'm still not completely immune to the wiles of influencers and the picture-perfect lifestyles they sell via their feeds. Luckily, lots of what they're shilling on social media takes up no physical space at all. Time to book a vacation, baby!