I’m going to tell you part of my story today.
Ever since I was two or three, I loved the idea of being pretty. I wanted long hair, earrings, and dresses. There’s little explanation as to why I was so conventionally “girly;” my mother didn’t push those ideas onto me and I watched very little TV. Still, I dreamed of being a princess and looking beautiful everyday.
For a short stint in elementary school, I tried being a tomboy. It didn’t really work. That’s all I have to say about that.
And for most of my teenage years and into college, I cared deeply about dressing well. I subscribed to promotional emails from fashion houses, cosmetics companies and every department store I had ever frequented. I shopped often and spent a lot of money. I was basically addicted.
No matter how many times I changed my image– from Free People boheme to Ann Taylor polish– I never felt like I had gotten there. I always wanted more.
I didn’t fall into a full-on eating disorder, but I did secretly diet and on occasion skipped meals in my teenage years.
Like many other young men and women, I sought to find my identity in my image. I sought to find myself in what others thought of me. I sought to be perfect.
The first time I thought about looking away from the mirror– for good– was when I volunteered with my church in Asia, about 10 years ago. I had always wanted to work with under-privileged children, but I didn’t think for a minute how they would have an impact on me. Fascinated by me and my cohort of Asian-Americans there to teach English, these kids adored us from Day 1. But I didn’t want to point to ourselves as the shining beacon of hope for them. I wanted them to see someone else: Jesus. I wanted them to follow the only perfect human who ever lived; the one who restored humanity to its original state– courageous, peaceful, compassionate, generous, and beautiful beyond definition.
And from then on, I’ve had a voice nagging in my head: when will I stop obsessing over my image? When will I realize that, if I don’t see myself as the end-all-be-all of hope for others, then why do I worship my own image as though I were?
My decision to shrink my closet
Simple living is not an end in itself. It’s a decision to focus solely on the things that matter most to us. Simplicity is what helps me remember that I’ve chosen no longer to worship my own image.
Why do I want to stop obsessing over how I dress? Why have I jumped on the capsule wardrobe wagon, and decided to accumulate less stuff?
It’s because I’ve seen LIFE on the other side of it all. I’ve seen how brave I can be when I’m not entrapped in insecurity. I’ve seen how generous I can be when my shopping bag is empty. I’ve seen how selfless I can be when I’m not constantly trying to look my best.
I like that side of myself. I want that side of myself to become my whole self.
When I stop obsessing over my image…
I become more aware of the need that is around me.
I am less inhibited by the fear of failure, and more motivated by faith and courage.
I care more for those who love me and less about how they make me look.
I give openhandedly and don’t worry about how much is left for me.
I lower my expectations and find more joy everyday.
I realize that I am rich in many ways.
I feel less compelled to compare my life with others.
I am empowered to start living in a way that matters.
An ongoing journey
There’s not a certain way that this has to look. I’m not tossing aside my desire to be put-together or to dress appropriately for various occasions. What I am tossing aside is the endless appetite for stuff that promises to make me feel better about myself.
Because the truth is, this stuff has failed me for 24 years. This stuff has never delivered on its promise. It’s like the minus stew they ate in The Phantom Tollbooth (anyone else love that book?!). The more I ate of it, the hungrier I became.
And as I write and think more about what it means to live simply, I am reminded of how much better life is on the other side of self-obsession. It’s on this side of it that I want to stay and thrive.