On Envy: Ideal vs. Actual Wardrobes

My alarm goes off at 5:15am every morning. I roll over and pick up my phone, silence the alarm, and open Instagram. Scroll. Double tap. Pause. Scroll. Double tap. Comment. Scroll. At 5:30 I’ve already seen two dozen outfits that seem better than everything I own, and I wonder why I can’t seem to get it together enough to be as easily stylish and happy as these women.

On the train ride into work I try to read a book, but it doesn’t hold my attention and I open up my phone’s web browser and check the websites of all the brands that I like, making a mental list of the things I want to buy and envisioning how much better my life will be once I own them.

On my lunch break, I start a handwritten list. I write “My Ideal Capsule Wardrobe” at the top of the page and start writing down the items from the train ride. I scroll through Instagram for outfit inspiration. Beautiful women smile back at me over cups of coffee and lush green plants and pristine shoes that look like they’ve never seen a raindrop, and I get too overwhelmed and give up on my list.

Obviously, this is a bad way to start the day.

Now, I preach the practice of minimalism as much as any dedicated Instagrammer, but frequently, social media co-opts the real intentions of minimalism (to be content with less stuff/to live more intentionally) into the message that your life can be perfect with less stuff, as long as your stuff is the correct stuff. This is damaging, and it spurs those ugly, envious feelings that are the antithesis of minimalism and intentional living. It makes you spend your time thinking of what you have to buy to turn your body into its most ideal, instagrammable version, instead of freeing your mind to focus on the things that really matter to you, like your relationships, your career, or your art.

On social media, images of a brand’s newest collection or an influencer’s perfectly curated closet are available for endless scrolling and are constantly tricking you into believing that everyone is happier than you. Everyone’s stuff is better than yours, and if you can only acquire this stuff, you can be as happy as these people. The trouble is, if you keep on scrolling, you have to keep on buying, and you never do end up as happy as the people in the photos (spoiler alert, they probably aren’t that happy either). You just keep wanting more stuff.

You aren’t a bad person if you fall prey to this social media marketing. It’s smart! It’s effective! It caters to the very specific interests of the conscious consumer – high quality clothing that is beautiful and responsibly made, versatile and timeless, feeding you image after image of a person just like you, except slightly better. You feel good when you purchase these kinds of items, but at the end of the day, you’re still focusing your energy on buying stuff. So how can you stop?

Here’s what I recommend you do if you find yourself in a downward spiral of wanting/consuming and you want to guide yourself back to contentment with the things you already own:

  1. Get off social media. Just take. a. break. I think we don’t realize how constantly we are inundated with images and messaging that make us want to buy stuff, even from people in our little curated communities that we love and who are genuinely doing awesome things and creating valuable content. Take the pressure off, even just for one weekend, and reach for a good book or a magazine whenever you get the urge to whip out your phone and scroll through insta.
  2. If you can’t get off social media completely, try unfollowing/unsubscribing from brands, designers, stores, influencers, etc.
  3. Try a wardrobe project that involves remixing the clothes you already own. Something like the 10×10 challenge, styling one dress five different ways, or a similar project that focuses on creativity without consumption.
  4. Analyze everything you own and pare down your closet accordingly. This one is my personal favorite. I get a little thrill every time I find the key to why an outfit isn’t making me happy, and I never miss the thing I decided to donate or recycle because it wasn’t working for me. Get rid of the idea that your wardrobe needs variety for variety’s sake. If the only purpose of that top you hate is to wear something different than you wore the day before, it’s not worth keeping.
  5. Set time to focus on a hobby that isn’t wardrobe related at all. I decided that I would read one book a week, and so instead of spending my downtime on social media or evaluating my clothes, I pick up my Kindle and read. Maybe you want to make more ceramics or cook new recipes. Whatever it is, set aside time for it!
  6. Create a budget. This one is the hardest for me, but probably the most important. Assign your money to your top priorities in life (paying your bills, getting out of debt, saving for a vacation, etc.) and you may be surprised at how far down the list clothing ends up. When you see your priorities in front of you with dollar values next to them, suddenly, that new silk blouse doesn’t seem as important as it did before.

All this is to say: intentional living is hard. We live is a world now with constant distraction, advertising everywhere, and consumption of commodities like clothing at an all-time high. The age of the influencer makes us believe that there is such thing as an ideal wardrobe that will bring us ultimate happiness, but intellectually, we probably all know that there isn’t. It may be a disappointing fact to face, but your holy grail closet probably doesn’t exist. After the initial disappointment of that realization, though, can be a feeling of intense relief. If a perfect wardrobe doesn’t exist, then you don’t need one to find happiness. You can let go of the envy and the desire to consume and look inward to find contentment, safe in the knowledge that you are enough, what you own is enough, and that you get to be in charge of what makes you happy.

I hope that you liked post #2 of my 10x10x10 project. Please follow along with me on Instagram at @goblinshark_ for daily outfits & feelings (unless you’re taking a social media break, in which case, I solute you).






4 thoughts on “On Envy: Ideal vs. Actual Wardrobes

  1. Great post. Thanks for articulating so well the exact pattern I can get caught in. The exercise of minimalism is pointless when we feel like even the things we have are not good enough.

    For me, documenting what I wear each day and recording what I liked and didn’t like, how I felt when I wore whatever I wore – that helps me recognize that I already have so much of what I need.

    I’ve been able to go back in my photo archive and recreate the things that felt most “me.” Instead of feeling like I need to always wear something different, I’ve become comfortable rewearing the tried and true outfits because I remember how “me” they make me feel.


  2. I completely hear you on the idea that it seems like living with less is only okay if it’s the correct stuff. Despite trying to embrace a minimalist wardrobe, I don’t really buy any less than I used to, just different things. I feel like, as a blogger, I can get down on myself for not having the “right” aesthetic of the minimalism/capsule community. Great post.


  3. I love this! I find that it’s my thoughts (more than my wardrobe) that needs constant tending. It’s good to know that I’m not alone.


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