One of the things that sold us on our current home when we took our first tour of it almost six years ago was the downstairs full bath and guest bedroom. My mother doesn’t navigate stairs well, and we knew that, as she was rapidly approaching retirement, long grandparent visits would be in our very near future. A downstairs suite was ideal for us and our extended family. But the “full bath” that excited us so much in theory was small, dark, tight, and depressingly pink and flowered in reality. Even a petite woman like me couldn’t wash my hair in the afterthought of a shower stall without smacking my elbows against the walls every time I raised my arms. After finishing our kitchen remodel three and a half years ago, we knew that our next big project would have to be the bathroom. Starting on Labor Day Weekend this year, and finishing on my birthday, November 17th, here is our entire renovation, from beginning to end. In pictures. (Because that’s what everyone wants to see anyway, right?)

BEFORE: A pink, brown, and gold disaster

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Our budget: Two years’ worth of garage sales, plus birthday and Christmas money. My underwear drawer was RICH for, like, 6 months!

THE BEGINNING: Demolition, Labor Day Weekend 2018

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CLEANING, PLUMBING, AND ELECTRICAL: September 3-17th

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Note to Self: Don’t turn the water back on until you are CERTAIN that all of your pipes have caps! (Just a mini-flood.)

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FINDING THE FINISHES

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Our very first tile-shopping trip, and we fell in love with geometrics.

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Stuck in the Longest. Ikea line. Ever.

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Recessed lighting! New fan! Drywall!

PAUSE: My husband had to have kidney stone surgery on September 18th. He had to have multiple procedures, and the bathroom was on hold until October 14th.

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BACK AT IT! Tile for DAYZ.

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FINISHING: After all of that work, installing the glass shower walls, the vanity, light, and toilet took only a long afternoon. Suddenly, the bathroom was done. We have just a few more days to wait for the grout to cure, then we get to shower in the new, gorgeous, downstairs bathroom! I need to buy new towels, because, frankly, my old towels are just too unimpressive to place in here!

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Last night, my husband had minor surgery. (But this story isn’t about that, so don’t worry) He was scheduled in the last time slot at the surgical center, but they were running behind. So his 6pm surgical slot morphed into a 7:15 start time. By the time he finished at 8pm, we were the absolute last people left in the surgical center. I had been at the hospital with him since 3:30 that afternoon, and before I could go back to see him in recovery, I needed to drop my bag off in my car.

At 8 o’clock at night.

In an empty surgical ward.

And through a dark parking garage.

Because we were the last ones there, the staff had already locked the doors to the center and left the entire nurse’s station empty. I went for a walk around the ward, looking for someone to help me get through the doors, when I ran into Dr. Tom*.

I had met Dr. Tom only that afternoon. He stopped by my husband’s bedside to say hello, as he knows my husband through our family business. We chatted about the surgery and work for about five minutes, then he left to finish his rounds. I caught Dr. Tom as he was leaving to head home, and told him that I just needed to be let through the locked doors to go drop my bag off in my car while I was waiting for my husband to be woken up in recovery.

He immediately told me no.

No, he wouldn’t just let me through the doors.

He was going to walk with me. All the way to my car, through the parking garage, and back again.

And then he did just that.

He was respectful, courteous, professional. We chatted about his family farm. I told him that I grew up on an old apple orchard. He praised my husband’s work ethic. We made lighthearted jokes at the expense of my sometimes-intense father-in-law. I never felt uncomfortable. Or awkward. Or frightened.

A 6’3″ stranger walked me to my car, never did anything even remotely inappropriate, and walked me back just in time to be taken back to see my husband sitting up in bed in recovery. A strange man escorted me to my car and back, and I felt nothing but grateful and safe.

I almost burst into tears, readers.

Every few months for the past two years, I have been confronted by the traumatic memories of my rape. Every few months, I’ve seen brave women adopt different hashtags, exposing their darkest, deepest secrets to the world. Hoping that their vulnerability can somehow help inspire change and reveal the sickening prevalence of sexual abuse in America. They are inspiring women, and I support and believe them. But I’m exhausted. I’m emotionally ragged. I’m mentally destroyed.

And because of that I had almost forgotten that interactions such as mine and Dr. Tom’s could exist. That something innocent and pure, and performed with nothing but good intentions could still happen.

I am eternally grateful to Dr. Tom. Thank you, for just reminding me that good men exist. Men who do the right thing. Men who look at a tired, petite woman, and just see a person who needs a bit of a hand. Men who offer that hand, with no reciprocity expected.

I needed that, Dr. Thank you.

Follow up story: An hour later, I walked next to a nurse, wheeling my husband out to the entrance of the parking garage. When we got to the entrance, I saw a woman standing at the door to the stairs. “I’ll go get the car,” I said to the nurse. The woman immediately ran up to me.

“What floor are you going to?”

“Second.”

Her face was instantly a mask of relief. “Oh, thank goodness. Do you mind if I walk with you?”

“Of course!”

We walked up the stairwell together. She kind of chuckled, “I just hate parking garages at night!”

I smiled over at her, “Oh, I get it.”

She looked over at me. “My daughter’s about your age. She just had surgery.”

“Oh, no! Everything okay with her?”

We were in sight of each others’ cars at this point. She stopped and looked at me. “Just do me a favor? Pray that her antibiotics work? I’ll pray for your husband.”

I smiled at her. “Of course. Have a good night!”

“Thank you for walking with me.”

“Thank you.”

“God bless.”

Simple acts. Pure acts. But they mean so much. Just remember to be good to each other. To give the kind gesture, without expecting anything else in return. It can turn somebody’s long, hard day into a soft, good night.

Sometimes it’s nice to remember that we are all a part of the human community. That we all have the ability to look out for each other. In small, significant ways. That’s all.

*Names have been changed

I would like to preface this by clarifying that I do not “have” anxiety. I “experience” anxiety. I get to feeling anxious over specific, concrete circumstances in my life. I do not suffer from a disease wherein my brain falsely signals panic and fear responses to seemingly insignificant or unknown triggers. I’m lucky, in that I experience anxiety “logically,” in response to definitive curveballs in my life. I feel greatly for the millions of Americans who suffer from anxiety. I can’t even imagine living like this all the time. It sucks.

I’m anxious right now.

You see, my husband is going in for surgery tomorrow. It’s a small, outpatient procedure. Standard. Routine. It really isn’t that big of a deal.

But my brain keeps imagining horrible things.

It keeps screaming in my ear about complications. About mistakes. It’s forcing me to picture solemn looks from nurses and doctors. To imagine the horrific phone calls and conversations with loved ones. To see my daughters’ devastation. I can’t seem to turn these horrible thoughts off.

So, I’m responding to the anxiety the way I’ve always responded to it. I’m cleaning. Obsessively. Neurotically. Chaotically.

And it’s that nervous cleaning that I want to talk to you about today.

Recently, I’ve seen several memes, funny tweets, and Facebook posts about “those people.” “Who are those people who clean their houses when they’re anxious?” these posts often begin, “And how do I get to be one of them??” People identify and laugh along with these posts. “Oh, I’d give ANYTHING to be one of those people!” “Amen!” “All that I do is eat an entire bag of Cheetos when I’m anxious!”

Perhaps I’m being overly sensitive, but I would like to set the record straight. As someone who compulsively cleans when she’s anxious, I’d like to remind everyone of this one, simple fact: Anxiety always sucks, regardless of the ways in which it manifests.

There is no good anxiety.

There is no useful anxiety.

There is no right anxiety.

Anxiety ALWAYS sucks, regardless of the ways in which it manifests.

Take today, for instance. I’ve been cleaning since I dropped my kids off at school. It’s now five minutes to five in the evening. I haven’t stopped. Cleaning my house the day before my husband’s surgery sounds like a great idea (it’s always less stressful to come home to a neat house after an exhausting day). And it is. On paper. When it’s controlled. When it’s planned. When it hasn’t been hijacked by a brain in panic mode.

And, trust me, this is a hijacking.

There are sections of my house that are spotless. Yes, I vacuumed the bedrooms. And, yes, I ran a load of laundry. But did I change the sheets on the bed? Did I wash towels and pillows? Did I organize his favorite foods and physician-approved snacks to make them easier for him to access while he recuperates tomorrow? No. Absolutely not. Because I wasn’t cleaning with a clear, logical mind. I was cleaning with an anxious one.

So, instead of wiping down our inexplicably sticky and crumb-filled couch (where he’ll be resting tomorrow), I took an old toothbrush and scrubbed all of our coasters clean. Instead of putting away the dishes, or going shopping for foods he’ll be able to eat and enjoy, I reorganized our china hutch to better fit all of our serving dishes. I took a cover off an old chair to put in the wash (a chair that he never sits in). I disassembled the kitchen sink so that I could scrub the drains with stainless steel polish. Then I also polished the faucet and drip rails. I went out in the garage and collapsed all of the cardboard boxes to take them to the recycling center. I wiped the dust off of his drill, for fuck’s sake.

I spent no time with my daughters.

I told them that Mommy was “busy preparing for Daddy’s surgery tomorrow.”

But that’s not true.

I was busy desperately trying to calm my crazed mind.

I was busy trying to make everything out there look neat and organized, so I could convince myself that everything in here was under control.

And I’m worried that they’re noticing. That they’re starting to understand. (I’ve noticed that my youngest daughter won’t go to sleep at night if her room is messy. She HAS to have her toys put away. I get it, little girl. I so get it.)

Friends tell me that I have a clean house.

They praise my ability to make toys disappear. To make counter and stove tops shine. My power washing skills are renowned throughout my neighborhood.

I tell them that they shouldn’t praise me.

I’m not being humble. They really shouldn’t.

Because I don’t clean out of a sense of joy. But a sense of fear.

Sure, it looks good.

But it isn’t good.

There IS no “good” anxiety.

I don’t ask for it often, so if my darling readers could send my husband some good vibes, thoughts, and wishes for his procedure tomorrow, I’d be really appreciative! He’s the other half of my heart. And I’m not ashamed to say it.

Never forget what today is.

Never forget what we celebrate. What we remember.

Not the Battles of Lexington and Concord, where the Minutemen defeated trained British soldiers for the first (and certainly not the last) times.

Not the establishment of General George Washington and his implausible, unbreakable, underfunded Army.

Not the blast of a cannon.

Not the pop of a musket.

Not the trill of a fife setting the marching rhythm for those entering the battlefield.

No.

Today, we celebrate and remember a letter. Written by one man. Edited by a committee of five. Signed by 56 community leaders. 1,337 words long. We do not celebrate the actions today, but the words. Words that simply, clearly, and decisively declared that we are United. We are One. We are Free.

It is of great significance that the day we celebrate as the founding of our nation is not one of battles, military victories, or coups. It is not a day that is stained with the blood of our enemies, or immortalized by classical paintings depicting the sure and brave beheading of our tyrannical colonizers.

The sounds of our Independence were not the deafening volleys of bullets firing across a battlefield, or the cries of men fast breaking the bonds of their mortal coil. No. July Fourth, 1776 was remarkable for its silence. The total, frightened silence that filled the halls of the Continental Congress, interrupted only by the unmistakable scratch of pen on paper. After months of arguing, fighting, debating, and disagreeing, only the silence of terrified resolution remained.

“Do you recollect the pensive and awful silence which pervaded the house when we were called up, one after another, to the table of the President of Congress to subscribe what was believed by many at that time to be our own death warrants?”—Benjamin Rush

The Founders of this country were scared. They were uncertain. They were largely still in disagreement over the minutia of the daily workings of their own government. But they were united in their resolution. They were united in their belief in the good of the fight. And they used the strongest, most powerful weapon they had available to them. Their words.

Never forget, my dear fellow Americans, that frightening, silent day. Never forget that, when faced with a tyranny so intense as to be unbearable, they stood together in a majority. Never forget that they chose to do so without anonymity. That they signed “[their] lives, [their] fortunes, and [their] sacred honor” away to the cause of liberty. Never forget the active rebellion they undertook as signers, as writers. Never forget that a short letter, barely the length of a freshman essay, made the most powerful man on the Earth blink. Never forget the power of the words. The legacy they leave behind. Long after the signers have been buried, and the echoes of shots have faded on the battlefield, the words remain. They can’t fade.

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Independence Day is, truly, a celebration of writing. Of writing as something significant. Something permanent. Something powerful. Don’t forget that, my countrymen. You carry that power within you. That is your uniquely American legacy. Don’t scoff at this power. Don’t think that, because it is not as loud or impressive as the cannon blast, it cannot possibly inspire true change. I encourage us all to celebrate the birth of our beloved country by remembering the words, written and signed on a sultry day, a bold declaration against oppression and wrong. The signers knew they were taunting the most powerful Army, the most powerful man, the most far-reaching Empire of their time. They knew they would be accused of treason. They would be political pariahs. And they did it anyway. Because they also knew that it was right.

Often, bravery isn’t found in the grandest, loudest gestures. Often, bravery—true, American bravery—is found in the quiet acts. The act of using our words to declare what is right. Damn the consequences. And when we find the words that are truly right, we’ll know. Because we’ll stand with them.

We’ll sign our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honors to them.

We’ll proclaim them in the sunshine.

And we’ll make it last.

“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”—Benjamin Franklin

I am a white girl. And last night, I designed a Kanji cross stitch pattern for the Japanese word “ma” (though the kanji character also represents “architecture”).

“Ma” is a word I learned 15 years ago, when I worked as a receptionist for the summer at Honda Research and Development (located, of all places, in Marysville, Ohio). Roughly translated, ma means “space,” “interval,” “the space between,” “gap,” or even “breath.” I first noticed the word as a verbal pause, used by my Japanese-born bosses. Instead of “Hmmm,” or “Interesting,” or “Well,” they would nod their heads, and quietly mutter, “Ma” before finally responding. Their verbal “ma” indicated a pause before continuing. It let me know that my boss was thinking about his answer, his words, before continuing to speak. That he wasn’t just stopping the conversation—he was giving it his full concentration, giving it the space it deserved. Architecturally, ma represents the gaps between posts, doorways, even possessions. The kanji character combines the character of Sun (or, at times, Moon) and Gate. So, the symbol is of the light of the Sun, peeking through the gap in a Gate.

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Ma has recently been appropriated by Westerners as part of our cultural progression towards minimalism. Minimalism is certainly having a cultural “moment” here in the U.S. The argument is that Westerners (primarily Americans) are being buried underneath our possessions. That our general culture is one of acquirement, of ownership, of excess, of more. We purchase large houses, and fill them with the general accouterments of our bloated, consumerist, over-commercialized lives. We buy large cars, only to drive them alone down six-lane highways, playing DVDs in the back. We physically take up more space, and crowd everyone else out. Ma on the other hand, encourages space. Emptiness. Silence. The current, popular minimalist argument is that there is a power in nothingness that Americans just don’t (or can’t) appreciate. Instead, the argument continues, we need to look to such inspiration as traditional Japanese architecture and art, and the ma contained therein.

Of course, this argument in favor of minimalist ma is pure cultural appropriation. By setting up an “us” versus “them” dichotomy (even if the “us” is cast negatively, while the “them” is something to be admired and mimicked), the basic tenants of colonialism remain intact. It is the Far East equivalent of the Noble Savage, teaching all of us Just-too-Worldly-for-Our-Own-Good Westerners all about what really matters in life. It cherry picks a single element of traditional Japanese culture, and insists upon its centrality, its necessity.

But, of course, arguing that ma is a driving element of Japanese culture is just as insulting as arguing that country music defines America and Americans. There are certain segments of our diverse and wonderful population for whom country music is, in fact, a definitive—and defining—element of their culture. But it also ignores the incredible complexity of our country and our culture (which, truly, can’t be defined by anyone as “our” culture. No one person can ever possibly make that claim). Japan can be cluttered. Americans can be silent. Space can be liberating. Stuff can be comforting. Embracing minimalism as though one were eschewing “American” ideals in favor of “Japanese” ways is overly simplistic and insulting. It is an example of white privilege: to placidly smile and speak of “admiration” without ever engaging in the work of cultural study or personal growth. It is deciding to “try on” another culture, another ethnicity, while feeling secure in the knowledge that, should things get rough, one can always “take off” their cultural appropriation and move on, never having to experience the burden of ethnic or cultural difference. You can simply comb out the corn rows, unstick the bindi, take down the Dreamcatcher, and return to the cultural neutrality of whiteness, never having to explain yourself again. So, too, with the ma, in an America that celebrates, values, and rewards the outgoing, the bold, the adventurous, and impulsive, an individual raised to ponder silently, to step back, to humble themselves can’t simply adopt gregariousness as a means of fitting in (not even mentioning the racial implications of Japanese culture versus white America).

Knowing all of this, why did I decide to design a ma? How can I possibly justify this appropriation?

Well, maybe I can’t. I do have a deep, academic interest in the concept of space (hell, my dissertation was titled “The Spaces of Sex,” and looked at how the spaces and places literary characters inhabited changed the ways they expressed or repressed their sexuality[ies]). But my academic knowledge of space is a strictly Western, intellectual one. And all of the books I studied were published in the West. While I thought of ma throughout writing my dissertation, I never once mentioned it. Never studied its history in any depth.

I could also argue that, as an English PhD, I’m interested in ma from a linguistic perspective. After all, English has no true verbal equivalent to ma. We can create awkward phrases describing “the delight in negative space,” but there is something truly beautiful in the simplicity of the mono-syllabic “ma.” As a certified (well, diploma-tized) word nerd, I love that. Perhaps my interest is strictly linguistic, then?

Or, I could also say that as a do-it-yourself home improvement-er, and as a person interested in how to literally lighten up my overly-brown, early ’90s, American Transitional house, ma interests me from an architectural perspective. How do I create the sense of space in a playroom cluttered with kids’ toys? Perhaps ma is meant to help me maintain my sanity.

But, of course, all of these things are just sad excuses. The fact of the matter is that I like “ma.” I like the idea of space. Of appreciating nothing, and silence. I like it because it is completely contradictory to how I was raised. As an extrovert among extroverts, my family was full of loud talkers, all competing for verbal space and attention. Silence was not very well known in my house. And as for space? Though we lived on 12 acres, I was surrounded constantly. By trees, by outbuildings, by books and memorabilia. By other people. My mother once threw a dinner party for 50 people, and she was able to feed them all on real dishes. No paper plates needed. We just owned that much stuff.

And I want to do better as a person. Speaking with my Japanese bosses back at Honda, hearing their thoughtful “Ma,” let me know that I don’t always have to fill the silence with sound. That I don’t always have to be sitting around, planning my next speech while not truly engaging with the person with whom I’m speaking. That I need to appreciate the ma. For me, personally, the kanji ma is a way to stop associating silence and space with death and negativity. Because it’s true: silence terrifies me. (That song, where Alanis Morissette cuts out the music? Makes me anxious every time.) And I think it’s an issue of ego, of letting go. I need to stop finding my own voice, my own stuff, my own displays of status central to happiness and calm. I need a little ma.

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With that in mind, I will be stitching up my kanji ma. But I will not be selling it. It’s not mine to sell. And I will not be wearing it. It’s not a bauble for me to carry around. Instead, I think I’ll frame it. Simply. Elegantly. With lots of blank space around it. I’ll hang it in my office, and look at it to remember to de-centralize myself. And, along with my self and my ego, I can also use it to decentralize my experience and my culture. To check my privilege. To question, and analyze, and reflect, and struggle. To check in every now and then with myself, and explore whether or not I am experiencing the world humbly and gratefully, and without assumption. To remember that ma is not mine to possess, but is rather something that I can learn from. Something I can continue to study, to ask questions about, and to explore. Don’t get me wrong. This ma will not be there to “save” me. I’m not looking for a Noble Savage. I’m not trying to benefit from an artifact of a culture. Rather, I’m hoping to appreciate the ma which is creating such an important moment within Western aesthetics. Because, while using ma as an “us versus them” justification of minimalist aesthetics repeats damaging colonizing rhetoric, I think that engaging with minimalism as a way of life without appreciating and studying its Eastern philosophical roots is far more troubling and disingenuous. As my interest in the concept of minimalism grows (not disconnected from my growing interest in the study of yoga as a daily practice), it is essential that I learn all that I can about the cultural histories of these movements. Their roots; beyond beautiful Pinterest boards and Instagram photos. Too many people love the concept of “uncluttered” and “open” and “clean” spaces, without really understanding their historical significance in a culture outside of their own. I don’t want to do that. I want to learn. I want to be here for that. I want to show up for that work.

And that’s my justification for sewing up—but not selling—a ma kanji. Appreciation without appropriation is a complicated, difficult path to follow (and I’m not sure I’m there yet), but it’s one that is worth exploring, worth attempting. I hope I’m up for the task.

It’s finally over! I’m free! I don’t have to worry about going through my entire wardrobe anymore, because It’s. Just. DONE.

So. What do I do now?

I guess, the obvious answer would be: just wear your clothes! But this challenge has really changed the way I think about dressing every day. I’m far more aware of how many articles of clothing I own. I’m aware of how often I wear each piece. I’m SO aware of how I’m presenting myself, how I feel, how I look in every outfit I now put together. I want to give each piece of clothing a fair shake. I want to represent every article in my closet regularly.

BUT.

I also really want to get back to my daily “uniform” of jeans and tees, paired with a fuzzy, worn cardigan (my husband calls it my “crazy cat lady sweater.” I adore it). So, I suppose that one of things that I’ve learned from this challenge is that I’m still working on my personal definition of “minimalism” and what it means to me to only own what I need.

Some other lessons I’ve taken away from the last 38 days/outfits:

  1. I feel so guilty for all of the superfluous things I own. I whittled my wardrobe down from 38 tops to 23 (I actually got down to 21 of my original tops, then bought two new tees, after I had to get rid of so many of mine–just a plain white one and a green one), and from 7 bottoms to 6 (again, I gave up halfway through and replaced four pairs of old pants with new jeans). And I could still do more! I don’t even know if I’ll end up wearing all of those regularly! And, while we’re at it, what about all of my other stuff? Bookshelves, and drawers, and cabinets full of, well, stuff. I don’t need this stuff. My kids don’t need this stuff. Is it making my life better? Or worse? Am I being too nostalgic? Or am I heartless? Or am I just overthinking it? Or, or, or . . .
  2. Even while carrying around all of this extra guilt, I still couldn’t bring myself to actually eliminate all of the clothes I probably should have. Instead, I’ve decided to create a “Time Out Drawer.” Those pieces of clothing that I just couldn’t quite part with have been placed in an empty drawer in my bedroom. If, after a month or two, I don’t find myself looking for or missing that piece, I think I’ll finally be able to just say goodbye and cut the chord. (At least, I hope I’ll be able to.)
  3. It was kind of nice not having to think about my clothes for so long. for the last 40 days, I had a list. I had a plan. There was no forethought needed. Dressing myself again for the last week has proven to me that I still don’t quite know what the hell I’m doing, style-wise.
  4. I’m totally okay with duplicates. The new green tee I bought is amazing. I seriously wish I had bought it in every color. It’s soft, flattering, washable (oh, so necessary!), and has some nice details with contrast stitching that give it just a tiny little something extra. And I discovered that I don’t really care if I’m “caught” wearing the same thing over and over again. Not if I feel good in it.
  5. I can relax. People don’t really pay that much attention. Going back to my point above, I think that wearing the same shirt (in different colors) every day isn’t really the crime against fashion I’ve always feared it was. Because nobody really notices. I stopped myself from wearing one of my favorite shirts to my book club a couple of weeks ago because “I wore it last time!” It took me forever to realize that 1) It had been six weeks. Nobody but me knew what the hell I was wearing! 2) I certainly didn’t remember what any of my girlfriends had worn, so there was no way they were keeping tabs on my outfits, and 3) Even if one of us DID notice a repeat outfit, so what? What kind of horrible thing are we expecting to happen? Are we going to be punished? Mocked? Shunned? Yeah, I think not.

Any, now for what you really want: the clothes!

Day 31

Day 31: Goodwill for the win! Bought both the top and the wide leg jeans at the local Goodwill. The shirt is SO soft. And I will punch my mother for a good pair of high waisted, wide legged jeans.

Day 32

Day 32: Weirdly enough, I felt like I was wearing lingerie all day in this outfit. The leggings were bothering me, and I had to keep hiking them up to get the crotch back up to starting positions. The top is not even close to the most revealing thing I own, but I felt just uncomfortably exposed in it. They both went to the yard sale pile!

Day 33

Day 33: Do you know that this is my ONLY button-down shirt? And do you know that I bought it for easy breast-feeding access? Six years ago! But, hey, if I’m only going to have one, I’d better have a wicked CUTE one, right? Keep.

Day 34

Day 34: I wore this outfit to go see a concert with my husband. When I walked up, the doorman looked at me, looked at my top, then said, “You know about your shirt, right?” “You mean, that it’s see-through? Yeah. I’m aware.” Even with all of my goodies on display, though, I still felt comfortable in this outfit. I thought I was so sexy! And, all I have to do is add an undershirt, and I’ll go from concert hall to conference room. So versatile!

Day 35

Day 35: This top is breaking my heart, you guys. The embroidery is So. Freaking. Cute. But it’s also So. FUCKING. Itchy! I was wearing an undershirt, and it STILL poked my chest raw all day! It’s like they sewed those feathers on with fishing line! Seriously, dude. BUT. I really love this shirt. I love the style. (But now that I’m looking at this picture, is it too long on me?) So, I put this one in the Time Out Drawer. I’ll see if I feel like trying it out again in a few weeks.

Day 36

Day 36: Okay, so I like this top. But it’s double layered polyester. So I don’t love it. The high neck makes me sweat. But, it’s kind of romantic and flowy. So, Time Out Drawer. We’ll see how I feel about it after a bit.

Day 37

Day 37: Cozy. Soft. Yes, I already have a pale blue racer back tank top. BUT I don’t already have one that is this light and cool. Perfect for blazing summer days. Keep! (Also, check out my ass. Oohlala!)

Day 38

Day 38: The final day of the challenge! And I did NOT end with a bang. The shimmers in this top give it a great detail that elevates it from a standard long sleeved tee. But the shiny parts of the shirt were seriously sewn in tinsel. Like, tinsel. Like, pulled off of somebody’s Christmas tree. (To be fair, I bought this shirt to wear to a Christmas party. But I didn’t realize that I’d be decorated like the damn tree!) C’mon, clothing manufacturers! Doesn’t anybody stop at some point in the process and say, “Hey, you know what feels completely fucking HORRIBLE against a person’s skin? Tinsel. Maybe, I don’t know, we should switch to like cotton or something? Guys? What do you think? Guys?” Gone.

There you have it! All of my clothes! Are you as sick of them as I am? Yeah, thought so.

But, if you’re not, check out the previous posts in this series!

Wardrobe Challenge–The First 10 Days

Wardrobe Challenge–Days 11-20

Wardrobe Challenge–Days 21-30

I have just one more week left of my Wardrobe Challenge! Honestly, I’ll be happy when this is over, and I just get to wear what I want, when I want to. This experiment has helped me to declutter, and I’ve certainly learned some things about me, my personal style, and my attitude towards clothing in general. But it’s a surprisingly large amount of pressure to remember to check my list every morning, get dressed, take a picture of myself, and really think about my clothing. I don’t think that it’s necessarily a bad thing, but analyzing and thinking about my outfit and how it makes me feel has left me feeling a bit mentally drained some days. But, once again, I’ve come out of these last ten days with more revelations about myself and my clothes:

  1. My undergarments are terrible. I am a very lucky woman, in that my breasts are small enough that I can (and do) often get away without wearing a bra. In fact, these last two or three years, during the warmer months, I have officially declared that I would be observing “Rachel’s Braless Summer!” Once I stopped breastfeeding, I realized that I just didn’t have to worry about bras in the summer anymore. Oh, the liberty! Oh, the freedom from excess boob sweat! Oh, the racer back tanks! I still wear bras most of the time, for the purposes of modesty (while I do not villainize nipples by any means, I’m also not a huge fan of displaying mine at, say, my daughter’s preschool), and for the purposes of shaping (I was a very devoted breastfeeding mother, and as a result my breasts just don’t make quite as much, well, eye contact as they used to). But because of my general indifference to bras, I’ve come to realize that I’m down to two–TWO!–non-sports bras. One of them, I bought immediately after finishing breastfeeding. Hello, gaping cups! The other one is not really that bad, but it’s an underwire (something I find completely unnecessary for my needs), and I believe that it attempts to pull my breasts in too narrow. So, I am now officially on a hunt: non-underwire, non-padded, non-crazy expensive bras. Wish me luck, ladies. This could take awhile.
  2. I can’t wait for the Pope. My mother used to joke about her friends who owned fancy china and crystal sets, but never brought them out because they were “saving” them “In case the Pope comes.” Just this last week, I was talking to the women in my book club, and I was shocked by how many of them owned fancy china sets that they have never brought out, often for a decade or more. One of my girlfriends said, “Well, I’m not going to bring out my china just to eat pizza!” I responded that pizza on china would probably be delightful, and that I would certainly attend that dinner party in a second! And then I realized that I had been harboring the same attitudes towards my clothes. I had so many pieces that were my “special occasion” clothes that I never wore them. Beautiful tops that I love, that I think make me look good, and that I’ve never actually put on my body because the timing wasn’t “right.” I was sitting around, waiting for the Pope. But here are the kickers: 1) The Pope’s never coming and 2) Even if he does, I can only wear ONE shirt to meet him. What was I “saving” these pieces for? Why was I not wearing clothes that made me feel good? I realized that I was holding on to these things, and missing opportunities to enjoy them. And what if I waited too long?  What if I finally pulled out that one, “special” top, only to find that it not longer fits? Or is no longer in style? Or moths got to it? I was being insane. So what if my “nice” shirt gets paint, or pizza on it? What’s the worst that could happen? A stain? I’m fairly certain I could survive a stain. So, from here on out, I’m making a vow: I’m wearing my clothes. Period. I’d rather destroy them doing crafts with my kids, than watch them slowly disintegrate in my closet, bringing joy to no one.

So, here’s the list of the last ten days’ outfits. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Day 21

Day 21: I felt uncomfortable in this top. It’s just a bit too tight, and while I love the little pattern on it (arrows and hearts!), I also felt as though the fabric was too thin, showing every single fold, roll, and pinch. Yard Sale pile! Also, if you look closely, you can see how weird my bras are making my breasts look. They seem to be pulling them too much towards the middle, giving me a lot of side/rib exposure before reaching my armpits. If that makes sense??

Day 22

Day 22: I bought this shirt at the same time as the one above, so the same issues apply. You can see how faded the material is (the fabric used to be the same color as the stitching). And, even though it’s a darker blue, my bra is actually visible beneath it because it’s just so worn and thin (man, I have a lot of shirts that look like this!). Yard sale!

Day 23

Day 23: I adore a baseball tee.  It’s relaxed and comfortable, and I think it’s cute as hell. Keep.

Day 24

Day 25: Okay, so I know that this picture got overexposed and so the lighting looks really weird anyway, but once again, you can see my bra through the thin fabric! (That spot above my left breast? That’s not on the shirt. That’s the logo from my sports bra showing THROUGH the shirt) How everything I own doesn’t have holes all over the place, I’ll never know. Goodbye.

Day 25

Day 26: My “Pope” moment. I just came from the gym, and threw on my clothes for the day in order to go meet my girlfriends for lunch. I’m sweaty and smelly and dirty in this picture, and I would have NEVER allowed myself to look like this while wearing this top before this challenge. This is one of my “Special” tops. I love it. I think it’s beautiful, flattering, and unique. And I never wear it! I got tons of compliments on this shirt. Even coming straight from the gym! That’s the power of good clothes, friends. I’m keeping this. And I’m wearing it!

Day 26

Day 27: Another “Special” top. It just so happened that I was slated to wear this outfit on the day of my daughter’s birthday party. We had cake, cupcakes, ice cream, giant pans of Indian food, and glitter slime. I did not escape unscathed. And neither did my shirt. But that’s what washing machines are for, right? We will live to rock another day.

Day 27

Day 28: This is one of the few shirts that I own that my husband compliments me on consistently. It’s fun, and soft, and flattering. Keep.

Day 28

Day 29: There’s a scene from the Office, where a woman comes in who Michael has a crush on. Pam takes one look and immediately says, “Hello, Ms. Boob Shirt.” This is my boob shirt. It’s not unflattering. It’s just uncomfortable for me to wear. Though straight on, it doesn’t look especially revealing, every time I glanced down, all I could see was tits. And I’m short. So the downward view is basically what EVERYONE sees. It’s also pretty pilled from over-washing. I couldn’t get comfortable. Gone.

Day 29

Day 29: It’s long! It has pockets! And a hood! Keep.

Day 30

Day 30: This shirt was my very first postpartum, not-designed-for-breastfeeding clothing purchase six years ago. I’ve barely worn it, but I’ve held on to it ever since, just because it was the FIRST. While it’s not horrible, I just never wear it. I think someone else will really love it better than I do. Yard sale!

 

I am halfway through my wardrobe challenge! And, I have to admit, I’m getting kind of sick of my own clothes. I am honestly finding it hard to motivate myself to Keep. Wearing. Everything. It’s hard to put on that nice blouse, when all I want to do is return to my regular tees. It’s hard to wear a sweater on a day when I would usually just put on my yoga clothes and call it good. Getting out of my own comfort zone has been truly challenging. Which is something I wouldn’t have predicted prior to this challenge. But, I only have 18 more outfits to wear before I’m done, so I’m going to keep doing this! And, again, I continue to learn things about myself from this challenge:

  1. I didn’t know that I didn’t know. Prior to wearing every piece of clothing that I own, I felt pretty confident that I “knew” my style. That I knew what made me look good, and what made me feel good. But doing this challenge revealed that I really didn’t know! I am much more in tune to what looks flattering on me, what makes me feel good, and what I really want to wear and present to the world after this whole process.
  2. I couldn’t take it anymore. My jeans seriously sucked. So, right after outfit 11 (which I didn’t even get a picture of, because it looked just sad!) I told my husband that I was fed up. I bought four new pairs of pants. I threw away four pairs of my old pants, and I am so, SO happy that I did! I feel sexy in these new pants, and confident. It’s a good feeling.
  3. My attitude towards my clothes is the single most important thing. I’ve discovered that the key to cutting down on my clothing clutter is to listen to my own feelings regarding my clothing. I’ve learned that when I feel discouraged, or disappointed, or unhappy with my clothing, then it’s just not worth keeping it around. When I look at my randomized list of outfits, and I find myself feeling bummed about having to wear something, then I know that it’s time to let that article of clothing go. Even if it’s something that I have been complimented on. If I’m constantly tugging at it, or fidgeting, or just feeling strange about, then it needs to go. Period.
  4. I own too much stuff. When I first told my friends about this challenge, I mentioned that I had pared down my wardrobe to 38 shirts. My girlfriends couldn’t believe it. “Thirty-eight shirts? Thirty-eight??” I had been so proud of my wardrobe reduction up until that moment. I mean, doesn’t everyone have a closet so packed and disorganized that Lorelei Gilmore would shed a tear of pride? The answer, of course, is no. And nobody needs a closet like that, either (I mean, in seven seasons Lorelei and Rory never actually repeat an outfit. Real human beings just don’t need that much fabric in their lives!). Prior to starting this, I thought getting down to 25 tops would be impossible. Now, I can see it happening. Easily. Hell, I could probably do more! But, the really big news about this realization is that I’ve started turning my now-discerning eye to the rest of my house. How much stuff do I really, truly, genuinely need? How much do I have? How much do I use? How can I bridge the mathematical divides between my answers to those questions? All of this is to say that you should all come to my yard sales this spring! They’ll be LOADED!

Day 11: I didn’t get a picture of this outfit. But it wasn’t good. Old jeans, completely ripped through on the hem. A plain white t-shirt so old and threadbare you could see through it. (Seriously, girlfriends, why did you guys just let me walk around with all my business on display for so long?? Couldn’t one of you have mentioned that you could see everything through my crummy old shirts??) They both went in the trash. I wouldn’t want to donate things that old and beaten up.

 

Day 11

Day 12: My grey Goodwill pants continue to rock it (and my pink socks are adorable–you know they are!). But I have realized that I actually own THREE different teal blue, racer back tank tops. This one is by far the least flattering. Boi, bye!

Day 12

Day 13: Oh, the joys of new jeans! These are Tommy Hilfiger “Pull-On Skinny Jeans.” Do you know what that means? It means they are basically fancy elastic waist pants! No zippers or buttons, but still made out of denim. I’m in love. They’re a *touch* too long, but I adore them with a little cuff at the bottom, so I don’t think I’m going to even hem them. So cute. Keep.

Day 13

Day 14: Okay, this sweater has me confused. It’s warm, and I really like the styling on the back, but I’m just not sure I feel super confident in it. The pants are flat out far too tight. They’re already gone (replaced by much better things!), but I just can’t decide if I want to keep this sweater. I get compliments on it, but I dunno. Can you guys give me some feedback? What should I do?

Day 14

Day 15: Behold. My new William Rast jeans. Justin Timberlake designs these jeans, and I told my husband that they remind me of what I imagine snuggling with JT might feel like: soft, buttery, flexible, yet completely supportive, and so good for my ass. They’re total “touch me” pants. Even my rough-around-the-edges husband couldn’t stop–ahem–rubbing these jeans. Just paired with my old tee, they were perfection. And, yes, I am totally saying “Ooooh” to my own butt in this picture.

Day 15

Day 16: Don’t let my expression throw you off. This picture was taken at the end of a long day and I was tired. This is my favorite turtleneck, paired with my ankle length black leggings. I really like them both a lot. And these leggings are now my only “non-jean” pants. I think keeping them will add some versatility to my wardrobe. Keep!

Day 16

Day 17: Just in case anyone thought that these photos had been retouched or edited in any way, let this prove to you that they have not. Fresh out of the shower. Wet hair. Shiny, just-washed face. I’m wearing my new pants that are replacing my way too big brown “placeholder” pants. These olive green ones are cozy, but LONG. Definitely going to have to hem these suckers! And my top? I’m never getting rid of it (it says “The Maddie Lous,” and we sold them to raise money for Riley Children’s Hospital in honor of my Riley kid, Maddie. They’re baseball shirts, because her initials are MLB. I thought I was being so clever!). But I think it has to become a paint shirt. It’s just kind of meh on me. Hits me in kind of awkward places.

Day 17

Day 18: I’m sex on a stick and I know it. (This orange tank is my FAVORITE top! And I honestly probably would have never paired them with these grey pants. But, yowza.)

Day 18

Day 19: Black William Rast jeans. Also need to be hemmed, but they’re so freaking soft. And there’s a great story behind this top. I got this hoodie years ago at a store in Montreal, Quebec that specialized in small-production and sample sales from tiny, independent designers. This was a runway sample. The only one like it in the world. It’s long, warm, has a hood AND pockets. I’m never getting rid of it. But I had to pull it up in the back because you guys just need to experience my booty in these new jeans. I mean. Come on.

Day 19

Day 20: Further proof that absolutely NOTHING has been Photoshopped! I took this picture this morning, unshowered, greasy, running out the door to drop my daughter off at preschool. I threw on this beautiful pink hat that my closest neighbor (and closest friend) made for me. Fashionable, AND saved the world from experiencing the horrors of my bed-head. I’m also so happy that I finally found another t-shirt in my closet that doesn’t have stains!

What does everybody think? Did I do a good job picking out my new jeans? Have I gotten rid of something that is just too cute to bear? What should I do with that pale gold sweater?? Let me know! (Seriously. Help a sister out!)

What’s my wardrobe challenge? Check it out here: Dressing Like Cher

Missed my first ten days? Here’s the link!

It’s raining.

My husband was late for work, and ran out the door without kissing me goodbye.

My youngest woke up with a high fever, one day after her older sister finally got over her fever.

I haven’t gone grocery shopping, so we’ve been subsisting on grilled cheeses and fast food since both girls were sent home sick from school five days ago.

Oh. And it’s Valentine’s Day.

My oldest woke up with a headache, but no fever, so she insisted upon going to school so as not to miss her class party. We’ll see how that goes.

After she got on the bus, I bundled up my feverish preschooler, and drove to drop off the elaborate, homemade Valentines my kindergartner had made for her class.

I realized that this was only the second time I’ve left the house since Friday.

It’s Wednesday.

As my sick kid complained from the backseat, I decided that this crap morning deserved some drive thru breakfast. (And fried food almost always improves her attitude.)

I ordered my sandwich and hash brown, and pulled around to pay. As the cashier was handing me my change, a drop of rain dripped off his jacket sleeve. Poor guy. Stuck near an open window. In the rain. In the cold.

And it’s Valentine’s Day.

“Thanks,” I paused, and flashed him a smile, “and happy Valentine’s Day!”

His face brightened. “Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too! What a smile! It must be a good day today, huh?”

And I thought.

About the hot food I’ll soon be eating while watching cartoons with my daughter.

About the modern medicine that we can afford and get with ease, that will soon be soothing her achy body.

About how my husband sat in bed too long this morning, holding her hot, feverish body (making himself late for work) while I made lunch for our oldest.

About my creative daughter, who picked out a Valentine’s craft for her class and worked so hard this weekend–even with a fever–to finish them all for her friends.

About our refrigerator and pantry, both stuffed with food. I can’t make a special Valentine’s dinner for my family and friends as I had planned, but I can make loads of yummy meals, without ever visiting the store.

About my family, calling and texting me all week to check in on how the girls were feeling.

And I looked over at this dripping wet fast food worker. And I smiled.

“Well, you know what? It is a pretty good day.”

Happy Valentine’s Day, friends.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I have decided to try and cut down my wardrobe, in the hopes of creating a “capsule” wardrobe that will not only cut down on my clothing clutter, but will also more accurately reflect who I am as a person. I decided to take my closet as it currently stands and challenge myself to wear EVERYTHING in it over the course of the next 40 (or so) days. And, to make sure that everything in my closet got a fair, equal shake, I assigned each of my clothes a number, then used an online random number generator to match every top with every bottom. 38 tops. Paired with 7 bottoms. For 38 days.

Here’s what I’ve learned from my first 10 outfits:

  1. My pants game needs a serious upgrade. My jeans are sad. Really sad. Ever since becoming a mother, I’ve chosen cheap and convenient over stylish and flattering. My ass deserves better. Literally.
  2. I have to start making myself a priority. One of the strangest things that I’ve discovered from this challenge is how rarely I ever take the time to make myself look nice. I’ve had to make a conscious effort–a real effort–to take a shower, style my hair, and put on my daily outfit. When did just putting product in my hair become an option? When did I become an option (and not one that I choose regularly)? Even with this challenge, there have still been several days where I just didn’t bother getting dressed. My kids have been sick so we all stayed in pajamas, or I was cleaning the house all day in my sweats, or I did my yoga and just didn’t bother to change into “real” clothes all day. It’s one of the “advantages” to being a stay-at-home parent that I don’t have to worry about what I wear. But it’s also a slippery slope into genuine personal neglect and poor hygiene.
  3. Some of my clothes are OLD. The very first shirt I put on for this challenge is a decade old. I was excited to wear it, as it reminds me of when I was teaching (and had to look nice at least three times a week), but the second I pulled it out, I saw that it had yellow stains at the armpits, loose threads and sequins, and just lots and lots of wear. Things are starting to show their age. So I guess it’s time to let go.
  4. I look pretty good. I have taken a full-body picture of myself for ten days now. It’s terrifying. It’s embarrassing. I’ve been trying to hide my phone from my husband so that he doesn’t open my photos and see all of the, well, me on it! But, at the same time, I’ve been looking at my photos and thinking, “Wow.” My body looks fit. My hair is cute. My smile is natural. And when I feel good in my clothes? I look hot.

Below, find the day-by-day breakdown of my first 10 outfits. (Also, excuse my crazy photo sizes. Apparently, my photo editing skills have not taught me how to resize things properly! I’ll fix it for next time. Promise. ;-)) I have already donated/gotten rid of three shirts, and have plans to remove three pairs of pants from regular rotation.

Day 1

Day 1. I loved this outfit, but, sadly, upon closer inspection, this shirt was really showing its age. To the donation pile it went!

Day 2

Day 2. This was the day I fully accepted what my sister has been telling me for years: my Target bootcut jeans are tragic and doing absolutely NOTHING for my butt!

Day 3

Day 3. Love my wide-leg jeans. Love this lace tank top. Love my shoulders. Werk, girl.

Day 4

Day 4. Super Bowl Sunday. Jeans are again tragic. But I love the off-shoulder shirt. Again, I love my shoulders. No shame.

Day 5

Day 5. The silliest feeling outfit of the entire week. Honestly, these pants are already my “placeholder” pants. They’re currently the only brown pair of pants I own. They’re at least a full size too big on me. I started this project, knowing that these pants would need to be replaced by something better at the end. Luckily, a cardigan saves the day. (As it almost always does for me)

Day 6

Day 6. By far, my FAVORITE outfit of the week! This outfit made me feel as though I had finally found my style. I felt confident, appropriate, attractive, and comfortable. I could go to a playdate, then add a sweater and some heels and go out to dinner with my husband. Only one thing hindered me: Once I took this picture, I saw that my top was covered with grease stains! But, still, personal style unlocked! This is what I’m trying to accomplish! Give me an entire closet of THIS!

Day 7

Day 7. Tight pants. Tight top. Suck it in, girl. SUUUUCK it in! I also figured out that this top was is so old, it’s from the Junior’s section. Oy. Donation pile!

Day 8

Day 8. Classic white tee with dark washed jeans. Classic shirt so old and threadbare that it shows absolutely EVERYTHING going on underneath. Donate.

Day 9

Day 9. Damn. Also, I added my favorite boots ever to this outfit. Double Damn.

Day 10

Day 10. Today’s outfit. I’m happy that my kids are home sick on this outfit day. Baggy pants and top are kind of nice for a “movies on the couch” day.

There they are! Have I made the correct assessment concerning my clothes? Should I let go of others and hold on to some? Comment below and let me know what you think!