This summer I began taking a class at a local church based on a popular Christian book called “The 7 Experiement” by Jen Hatmaker. The ‘experiment’ looks at 7 areas of life that a large population of Americans typically over indulge in. This includes food, clothes, possessions, waste, spending, media, and stress. The book seeks to make the reader address their own habits in these various categories and reflect on connecting it to old and new testament scripture.
This class has come into my life at the perfect time. I have been trying hard this year to grow and mature as I continue transitioning from a young college student into a full-time adult. While I am still in graduate school, adult responsibilities and decisions are more than ever being presented to me daily. I have been inspired to work hard this year to begin setting the foundation of the adult I am striving to be. “7” is another stepping stone to do some serious self-reflection, create a deeper and richer relationship with God, and to simplify these areas of my life to make room for things with more value.
This week the topic the class is focusing on is clothes. I don’t want to say that every American has a closet stuffed with clothes because that is leaving out large portions of the population that don’t have the same luxury of having closets filled to the brim. However, as a wealthy nation, there are also large portions of the population that do have walk-in closets stuffed with clothes – and I, am/was one of them (more detail to follow).
I love clothes, fashion, and styling. Since about 2007 I started following fashion blogs, personal style blogs, and poured over issues of InStyle, Elle, and Marie Claire. I got really into thrifting and shopping at Forever 21 because I was a teenager/young adult and didn’t have much money. Also, a lot of the bloggers I followed did a lot of vintage/thrifting and I loved seeing all the remixing of thrifted items. Doing this though left me with a closet stuffed full of clothes (combined with other shopping done with family or clothes bought for me by others). I even started a blog where I would post pictures of my daily outfits.
I was also dating a guy who also loved clothes from 2007 to 2009 so that only increased the frequency of my shopping. After that relationship ended in 2009, I entered into a period of a lot of self reflection and decisions of what the next chapter of my life would be like.
I became a practicing Christian in 2007 and was heavily involved with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a college Christian Ministry, at my community college. I had already been learning a lot about the life of Jesus, what it meant to follow Him, and what God had planned for the life of His people. This journey of following God lead me to the book, Irresistible Revolution, by Shane Claiborne. This book, combined with the two years of teaching from InterVarsity, was the tipping point for me in terms of a lifestyle change and steering me into a new direction. The book is heavily focused on Jesus’ call to social justice and living to serve the poor and vulnerable in the ways that Jesus did.
I began volunteering at an after school program in a low-income community where I would monitor kids, help them do homework, and participate in activities. Fellow InterVarsity students and I then collaborated with the Pastor who lived in this community to help run a youth group on Friday nights. We would prepare, games, food, and lessons each week covering topics about relationships, dealing with conflict, going to college, etc.
In the summer of 2010 I participated in InterVarsity’s Fresno Institute of Urban Leadership (FIFUL) intern program, also known as the Fresno Urban Internship (FUI). There I was placed at a Christian non-profit called World Impact where I helped run kids day camps. We would play games, put on skits, and provide free lunches.
While at FUI we lived in community – i.e. several interns lived in one large house that was subdivided into four apartments. On top of tight communal living, we could only bring a limited amount of possession, our own sleeping mats or air mattresses, could only use our phones once a week (as well as internet or computers), and had to live off of small monthly stipend to pay for food and living costs. The house was located in poor and high crime area of Fresno and the idea was to give us an immersion experience into the life of those living with limited incomes and resources. We also took urban poverty classes once a week.
This experience made me incredibly aware of my privilege and the luxuries that were ‘normal’ to me in my life. As a white, middle class, educated woman, I knew I was born with a lot of privileges that many don’t get to experience from birth. It was uncomfortable but liberating to be immersed into a more simple lifestyle than what I experienced at home. It also taught me that a lot of people in this world don’t get food everyday, don’t have expendable income, don’t get new clothes, and get looked down on by society because they look different or are poor. These facts made me incredibly sad and heart broken for the urban poor. This post is about clothes though, so I’ll elaborate more on this later.
I missed the comforts of my phone, internet, my closet, and possessions – but the experience helped break me of the bondage that those things can have. My time became more about working with the kids in my program, spending time with other interns, going to class, and reading. I became less focused on wasting time on the internet, thinking regularly about shopping and my appearance, and learning to be less vain. I also became more grateful for the food, clothes, and resources that I was able to have.
When I came back home, it felt a bit overwhelming to be back around all my stuff – the abundance of clothes, a room full of things, and 24/7 access to TV/computer/internet. I purged a lot of things – clothes and items that I didn’t use anymore. It was a rewarding and life-changing experience, and one that that still has still had a profound impact on my choices for the future (again, more on that another day.)
I had a relapse though while attending UCSB from 2011-2013. I had a family member who loved shopping and would often take me on weekend shopping trips to big malls. It was difficult to not be enticed by the abundance of cheap clothes at Forever 21 and I started accumulating a lot again. I was also in a rough place emotionally those two years and started doing a lot of ‘retail therapy.’ I had a small closet and limited storage space at UCSB but I stuffed it as much as I could.
In the fall of 2014, when I moved to San Luis Obispo for graduate school and began to get my emotional health in a good place, I was able to start the process over again. I purged a lot of clothes that I didn’t wear, didn’t fit well, and just didn’t align with my lifestyle. I now try to always keep a giveaway bag in my closet to toss items in throughout the year to donate later.
I still have a good size wardrobe that I am in a constant state of tailoring. My goal is to get my closet to a place where everything in it is well used and I am happy wearing it. When I buy something now, I do a lot better job evaluating if I will really wear it or not and envision how it will fit in with my other clothes.
I don’t want to be wasteful with clothes or money anymore. I want to feel happy and confident in the clothes I have. I want to honor God more in all areas of my life.
For the “7” experiment, we have to fast from clothes in some way. My fast will be using a small gym bag and only being able to wear and use whatever I can fit in it. This will include shoes, toiletries, make-up, and all clothes (included pajamas and workout clothes). I’ll live out of that small bag for the week. I have to dress for business casual, casual, work out, and sleep. I’m looking forward to the challenge of living simply and reflecting on the realities that not everyone gets to experience the same privileges and luxuries as I do in what they wear.
This is where I’m coming from in the start of this week and reflecting on the experiences of my past that have influenced and shaped what I wear and how I feel about clothes. I think it will be a good experience to continue to delve into that and hopefully come out with more knowledge and understanding of myself and God.