On Purging and Binging

I’ve been reading a lot recently about finding and developing your personal style, as it’s a key interest of mine and I devour anything style related with great appetite. Lecture on style evolution nearly always includes a section on sorting through what you already have and getting rid of what doesn’t work. Some people go as far as saying that 80% of any ordinary wardrobe usually doesn’t earn its keep and should really be disposed of. Many blogs on style, working wardrobes and overshopping also talk about how people go about paring down their wardrobes to a more manageable level, by sensible purging of items that aren’t working, aren’t being worn or are always “the lesser alternative”.

Regular purges are regarded as essential to having a small, concise, functional wardrobe, and purging seems to have developed into a science of sort for the fashion conscious: questionnaires and general advice that will help you decide what to get rid of are widely available. The consensus seems to be “the smaller, the better” and “the more you chuck, the better you look”.

Personally, I see the merit in purging, as an overly large wardrobe just creates visual clutter which is counter productive to dressing well. For all the shopaholics/ purgeaholics out there, I do have one pressing question though that I feel is often left unanswered:

Are we just purging so that we can continue to shop?

In a compulsive shopping forum, a debate erupted recently about “closet set points”. I believe this term developed as an analogy to the concept of a weight set point, ie the normal, natural weight a human body gravitates to and remains at unless it is being seriously challenged. People were describing going back to their closet set points after a massive purge, as the gap that the purge had left in their wardrobe made them feel anxious. Many said that major purges often just led to major binges, with the overall closet at the very least not shrinking, or maybe even growing after a purge.

The talk of closet set points left me wondering if there isn’t more to it than the fact that we are used to seeing a certain amount of clothing in our wardrobes which drives us back to the shops. It also left me wondering whether the motifs a lot of people have for going through a purge are the right ones. Often it does not seem to be a deliberate evaluation of what no longer serves us and why, which is a good reason for purging. Purging for many is instead the “petrol and match” approach to a problem that’s gotten out of control; feelings of overwhelm and guilt about the amounts of stuff that have been senselessly accumulated make us feel sick every time we look at our bulging closets and houses, we’ve run out of space to store anything properly and we may no longer be able to hide our disorder from family and friends. In essence, we panic, and we purge to make ourselves feel better because when there is less in our closets, our problem doesn’t seem quite as big. But this is false logic. Just because you are getting rid of a lot of stuff doesn’t mean you don’t have a shopping problem. In fact I would argue that purging for these reasons does little else but enable us to shop more.

The commonly suggested way out of this dilemma is paring down slowly, but I believe the danger remains. Pare down slowly by all means but be mindful what you are doing – are you only dumping things because you have run out of space and you want to continue shopping? I think a lot of people would say yes, but I want to continue shopping for “better” things. They aren’t happy with the contents of their wardrobe and are replacing what doesn’t work with what does work. That’s great in theory but I would urge you strongly to be very critical with yourself. We delude ourselves all the time when we are out shopping that this thing is so fantastic we can’t pass it by, only to dislike it two weeks later because it isn’t that fantastic after all. What we were craving at the time was making the purchase, not the particular item we purchased.

I’ve not done a closet purge in possibly two years. It shows – I have over 300 items of clothing and I have no space. That I haven’t purged in ages except for the odd T-shirt with stains and holes has been a deliberate action on my part in order to slow down my shopping. I feel like if I gave myself lots of “room”, I would fill it up again. And that’s got nothing to do with a closet set point. That is purely because I could so continue a compulsive behaviour without consequences for a while. I think when the time comes and I trust myself more around shopping, I will be happy to let go of a lot of things. But for the moment, they have to stay where they are, as reminders that I still have a problem, and that just getting rid of it all is no real solution.  6


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