Prompted to Purge in Paris: 36 Inches to Freedom

My teeny tiny Parisian Closet…my bedroom and kitchen were to the right, just to give you some perspective.

It would not be an overstatement, hyperbole, nor fiction to say that my 5 week stay in Paris in 2010 changed my life forever.  It left an indelible print so deep on my soul that I am happy to say it is most certainly permanent.  I love the Parisian way of life and vowed to incorporate aspects of it into my life at home. Being a frequent visitor to the City of Light, with each visit, I bring back more and more of that state of being.  But, on this last trip, it was not fashion, language lessons, food, wine, or the sublime cafe creme that caused me to have an existential epiphany. It was my miniscule Parisian closet.

In preparation for my trip, I remember spending a few hours in my large walk in closet, perusing the multiple rows and shelves for the items that would be the foundation for my Parisian wardrobe.  My closet was teeming with beautiful things. It was so carefully organized that it would leave any observer certain that my initials were “O. C. D.” When I was done packing, I felt rather smug about being able to fit everything I needed into a single suitcase, with plenty of room to spare, in light of the myriad options I had to choose from.  How was I to know then that a mere 5 weeks later, I would come home bleary eyed from my flight, and go Ghengis Khan on my lovely closet?

Indeed, I was able to fit everything into a single, average sized piece of luggage, but the devious, invisible, stow-away that lurked inside my periwinkle blue Samsonite  roller bag, was my characteristically American desire for quantity.  Although I considered myself a connoisseur of quality, I have to admit I took tenuous comfort in quantity–as if having more options was a good thing.  It rarely is.   (Anyone who has ever stood in their cavernous closet, staring into obscene abundance, and uttered the words “I have nothing to wear,” knows exactly what I mean.)  It would be near impossible to be completely impervious to this American notion that if you like something you must have LOTS of it.  For Heaven’s sake, America is where the Big Gulp, the All You Can Stand Buffet, and mamoth portions delivered to your table on a flat bed truck were born.   When was the last time you heard someone say,  “Man! The portions at that restaurant were tiny, but the quality was so exquisite, it was perfect!?” This isn’t limited to food. Just consider the ridiculous amount of debt held by the average American. We have an insatiable appetite for bigger, better, faster, and MORE, MORE, MORE.

I’m not certain whether it was the 3 flights of narrow, twisting stairs I had to climb to get to my apartment, or if it was panic at the sight of the Lilliputian proportions of my Parisian closet that caused me to hyperventillate.   18 inches of shelving.  18 inches of hanging space.  5 weeks in Paris. How do people live like this? If you look closely at the photo above, you will see in the mirror reflection that the hilarious rub in all of this was that my closet also served as the parking spot for a disproportionately gargantuan vacuum cleaner.  I stifled my screams, unpacked my bag, and bucked up.

In less than a week, I made some observsations about Parisians that made my teeny closet seem less of an abomination.  Parisians, although often well dressed and effortlessly chic, rely on a mere handful of excellent quality items to make their wardrobe.  I witnessed this first hand in the French class I attended Monday-Friday, and also in my conversation groups.  It was not unusual to see people wear the same exact outfit or variations of the same pieces several times a week and sometimes 2 days in a row.    My immediate thought was to be a little embarrassed for them–do they not realize they just wore that get up yesterday?  Did they forget? Maybe they were out all night engaging in “Parisian pursuits,” so they didn’t have time to go home and change before class?  I then asked myself the dread question, are these people poor?  No.  These people were not suffering from memory loss, they were not on a proverbial walk of shame, nor were they living out a scene from Les Miserables. They were enlightened.

Taking a closer look, I could see that the items cycling through each person’s wardrobe tended to be of good quality and were comprised of generally classic shapes that suited each subject to a T.  This was true even for the shop keepers and residents of my adopted quartier of the 1st Arrondisement, whom I saw on a daily basis.  I became acutely aware of their patterns.  It was clear there was greater emphasis on the quirky details of someone’s ensemble–yes, they were wearing the same black T-shirt and skinny jeans (insanely in vogue at the time), but they would adjust things slightly by adding a blazer, chunky necklace, or scarf.  Whatever tricks they pulled, they somehow made the same few pieces look fresh and frustratingly chic.  Even more bizarre? They seemed quite comfortable and content with what they had.  What a concept!

I could not ignore the evidence before me.  So, with a classic Parisian shrug, I decided to approach my closet like a local.  Undoubtedly, those who know me will allege that this was no stretch since I already have a “uniform” of sorts.  This experiment had nothing to do with developing a uniform.  It was about cutting through the crap.  As I began recycling the same pieces over and over again on my trip, I noticed I was paying more intense attention to quality and how things fit me.  Was this piece of the best quality I can afford?  Did it fit perfectly?  Did I feel amazing in it? If the answer was “non,” it was gone!  The end result was a careful honing of the little wardrobe I brought with me from the States (with a few pieces from Paris of course) and distilling it down to the simplest, most pure reflection of me and my personal style.

When I got home, I did a slash and burn number on my closet.  I couldn’t get rid of the excess fast enough.  I was ruthless. It didn’t matter how much I had paid for it.  If it was time to go, it was time to go.  What I learned in Paris wasn’t rocket science, nor was it an entirely new concept.  Paring down my “things” to a healthy minimum, was an idea I thought about for a while, but it lacked practical application.  I had to see it in action with my own eyes.  Paris was the perfect forum. When I was done, I was free.  I promised myself that nothing would enter my closet again, unless it is what I now call Paris Perfect.  How could this simple exercise not have applicability in every aspect of my life?  This emphasis on quality over quantity now pervades every part of my life, from the food I eat, to the company I keep.

Have I turned into a possession-free hippie lunatic, not even close!  But, what I have found is that by staying focused on quality and what is perfect for ME, I am free to sail past distractions.  Try it!  I dare you. Survey your unedited closet.  I am sure you will find that it is probably an accurate historian of who you are and where you have been. Undoubtedly, there are things festering in there (perhaps much like in other parts of your life), that have stayed way past their welcome–things that no longer fit, or maybe even things that never suited you to begin with.  Purge them! Clear the underbrush, cut off the dead branches!  The results could be profound.

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