Ratio vs. intuition

The battle of the brain sides

Many decluttering and simplifying websites suggest you to start with your wardrobe. But why is this?

Is it because success will be achieved immediately (after all, how difficult is it to randomly drop stuff into the sell, trash, donate buckets), motivating you to continue? Is it because wardrobes are accumulating the most of clutter in the house? Or is there another reason for it.

Recently, I’ve spend much time thinking about this subject.

The female wardrobe is not just an accumulation of clothes. We dress for social reasons (to impress other females and males), and we are more sensitive to dressing in a way that truly emulates our personality (which we call Style), which requires effort.

There are more blogs of women out there that are posting their daily outfits than blogs of girls showing off their new technical gadgets. It’s a fascinating world to immerse in and I’ve had great fun browsing their websites.

After a while, I noticed a dichotomy.

On the one side, there is colour, abundance, and overflowing creativity (check out Kendi’s blog and her wardrobe)

On the other side, there is much thought, reduction on essence, and even ‘clinical’ treaties on the subject (check out my current favourite deadfleurette and her wardrobe).

I think this dichotomy arises from how women prioritize the relative importance of conflicting mindsets. The brain is thought to be lateralized, such as different regions taking over different functions. While this clearly is a simplified assumption, no one would disagree that ‘emotionality and intuition’ and ‘rationality’ are opposing concepts. No one would disagree that females are generally (exceptions apply) the more intuitive sex who greatly values aesthetics and beauty.

I define my biggest challenge yet in aligning these opposing concepts into my life to achieve balance, the most obvious example of clashing mind sets being the choice of my wardrobe. Of course, associated areas like home decor (functional versus comfortable), and generally all things pretty fall under this challenge, but the female wardrobe most often is the point where this conflict can be grasped most easily.

Opposing concepts:

Intuition: Fulfilling my sense of aesthetics and variety, wanting to be pleasant to look at, expressing my personality, looking pulled together. OOh, this is so cute I need to buy it.

Rationality: Functionality (don’t want to fight with ruffles or uncomfortable garments or fabrics that make me sweat), Optimality (How much do I truly need to be covered for the seasons and occasions), Minimalism (less clothes makes it easier to get ready in the mornings), Quest for quality (sustainability, and economic ratio)

Completely forcing myself to switch off one mindset is not going to work – I strive to achieve balance. I know that when I’m travelling for weeks with a set of 3 tops, 3 bottoms, I come home and thoroughly enjoy having more options. But when I have too many clothes I get stressed out. Constraining the intuitive part of my mind would trigger a counter reaction, as much as neglecting the rational part.

How it this achieved? Well, the solution to this problem has already been around since the year 0 (can you believe it??). Epictetus said: “Know, first, who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly”.

Which does not mean “I feel like a rock star today, I need to run to the mall and buy lots of leather pants and band shirts”. It means that your style (an average image of who you are over an extended period of time) is something that should be reflected upon before you make a purchase (deadfleurette does that brilliantly and excessively), and if you for example arrive upon the conclusion “I feel like a rockstar today but generally I like to wear jeans and white t-shirts”, and you arrive at exactly the same conclusions tomorrow, and the following month, then the Intuition part is surely covered. Style should smooth over temporary quests into your own personality. While one then might run crazy and buy 100 white tshirts and 50 pair of jeans (after having bought a fair share of rockstar attire on impulse in the meantime), I argue that the “and adorn yourself accordingly” part is Rationality  that gets blended out most of the time (tricked out by our innate human desire to always own more, more, more). Assume that 99% of women will arrive to a conclusion that they want to express themselves differently than just in jeans and white t shirts, categories come into play. Wardrobe categories can be expanded indifferently “I don’t own a white t-shirt with a ruffle yet” – substitute ‘ruffle’ with henley, silk, long sleeves, latest fashion, and you get the point. And then, though you have a good idea of who you are, you end up with thousands of things that fall into an amount of categories that might approximate the total number of items you have, which diminishes the number of pairings (outfits) that still emulate the style you had in mind, and your overall satisfaction. I understand why decluttering subsequently should start in your wardrobe

I’ve never been one to accumulate a large wardrobe. For one, I’ve been a poor academic my whole life (think $2 thrift store), second, I move a lot, third, I have other things to do for recreation.

But just because I don’t run around and buy 1000 things, I still have the same problem of combining rationality and intuition when it comes to the material aspects of life. It is to equal parts a question of philosophy and vanity.

Rationalizing my wardrobe

At present I have 70 items of clothing for a 4-season climate (including coats and jackets, but not counting shoes and athletic gear). It covers 0F to 100F temperatures, blizzards, rains, humidity, and heat waves. This number is reasonable for me, because it’s what I can fit in my suitcase when we move overseas again (in 2 months). Picking a number is not an arbitrary ‘I have less than you’ thing, but the result of a lot of thinking and planning on the rational part of my wardrobe. Because I strive to prioritize the rational aspects mentioned above, I allow the intuitive part to operate within the space provided by the rational part. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail.

For example, colours irritate me, but I love and feel comfortable in neutrals and sublime patterns. Chucking all stupid fashion rules aside, I only dress in neutrals (and always have). Keeping these guidelines in mind, I can choose whichever neutral garment I like.

my wardrobe from left to right -Dresses, tunics, tank tops, tshirts, blouses, sweaters, cardis, jackets

Because I spent the first five months of 2011 not buying any clothes and reflecting on my style I could identify some gaps  -I ‘need’ a wool sweater (previous one got shrunk by a certain cohabiting male operating the laundry), I ‘need’ a black leather purse (a vanity thing: cotton bag would do just fine). I can justify the purse because I have only two brown leather ones, one which was a hand-me-down from my mom, and the other one being a vintage one that I cheaply bought on ebay and which is coming apart in all places. I was also shocked to notice the constant need to replace clothes after only a few washes because of very poor quality of manufacturing of most American brands (especially GAP, Target, and F21) – leading me to resume purchasing my clothes in Europe when I was on business trips there (that was before the shopping ban – everything held up well!). What is incredibly helpful is to be able to overview what I have using the ‘Gap style mixer’ app on my phone. Now that I have nailed down which and how many clothes I feel good with, the future challenge will be to keep the little nagging ‘more, more, more’ instinct in check and keep up the status quo. After buying the sweater and the purse, I’ll go on another 6 month shopping ban.

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