my intention for my “stuff”

When I moved to Chicago and started Jess LC from scratch in a studio apartment in 2007 I didn’t have a lot. I was self-funded by my part-time efforts from Jess LC in college and spent a lot of time thrifting for my decor and shopping at inexpensive “fast fashion” stores. It was wonderful because not only was it within my college budget at the time, but it also suited what I enjoyed; vintage decorating and feeling like I had a lot of clothes.

Then after living in the big city for a while, I started to sense a shifting in my priorities and in my personal taste. Suddenly I had a penchant for nice things, high quality things, things that I loved and were meant to last.

The only problem was that I was just starting out and was still “stealing” dozens of free tampons from my business school’s bathroom in order to stay on budget.

That’s right, I didn’t have much money.

So in late 2007 I set an intention to have only nice stuff that I loved, used, and needed.

But at that moment, my stuff looked something like this:

I had a ways to go before I hit that intention, obviously.

But rather than be discouraged by the bleak financial situation and volume of “not nice” stuff that I owned, I decided to manipulate my belongings to tip the scales just a bit.

I started to regularly exfoliate items that I didn’t need, use, or love with all my heart. Though I still love thrifting and some vintage decor, I donated or gave away all that was no longer my personal style. Same went for the cheaply made clothing that made me feel… cheap.

The end result of this concentrated effort was something like this in 2008:

As you can see with less stuff, the pie shrank a bit overall. But the proportion of nice to not nice stuff had increased. For example, if I started with 100 items and only 15 were nice, I was at 15% of my goal.

Then after my exfoliating, if I only had 70 things but the same 15 nice ones remained, my percentage of nice stuff I owned jumped up to 21% – and I didn’t need to spend a penny.  

I worked this formula on my possessions consistently and over time and the proportions continued to shift. I started to reach my goal without needing to go shopping.

And as you can imagine, over the next four years I did get more financial stability and was able to make new purchases. Although this time I had a new standard for what was worthwhile to spend money on: nice stuff. I didn’t get to buy much, but when I did – I made sure that it counted.

To continue this example, this might be a good representation of what my current stuff situation looks like:

Now I have a bigger pie since I have more things than after the shrinkage of 2008. But at the same time, the new things I’ve bought and my new exfoliations have continued to grow the good “nice” part of the pie.

Of course it goes without saying that what is “nice” or “not nice” is relative and is a personal decision that only we can make individually. But for those who are in a tight money spot at the moment or who might be unhappy with what they own; the exfoliation math can help fulfill intentions without breaking the budget.

This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Jess

    Great post! It’s definitely a process, and I think it’s hard when you’re a 20-something to try and build that “nice stuff” side. (I’m in the process of doing it, and it goes for clothing, furniture, housewares, shoes, etc. Sometimes people ask me how I can afford things—an awkward question—but you’ll see in our home that we have no superfluous items, and I’m often in the process of saving for “big ticket items.”) Thanks for the great reminder to stay on track. 🙂

  2. Melissa

    This is really interesting… I think some of the “shift” happens as we mature and realize that 1) classic, investment pieces are worth the money and 2) we can pick and choose the trends that make sense for ourselves, not take on every one that comes along.

  3. karlita

    I am in the process as well, I guess I am in your third stage. I shop more carefully now, instead of 5 things a month, just 1 thing that i LOVE

  4. MsAmanda

    What a timely post. This is so the direction I’ve been moving in clothing-wise. I’m so mad at those cheap Target flats that fall apart and this Gap sweater I’m wearing right now that is all pilled up around the bust!

    As a very serious closet-curator and adherent to the one in, one out rule, I’m finally at the point of knowing what I really like and want for the long-term and I’m would totally rather have fewer nice things than lots of so-so things.

    Cheers to maturing in fashion and the financial decisions we make about it.

  5. Sweet Life Laur

    This is an intention I am currently working to fulfill as well, and I have never felt better after eliminating the “cheap” stuff. Plus, it’s so much easier to get ready in the morning!

  6. Wow I really love this post and the timing is perfect. I used to buy a lot of clothes (I mean about 10 new items a month). They were cheap because they were mostly thrifted, but I wore them once then didn’t want to again. So I too made more of an effort to buy ‘nicer’ pieces and it’s starting to pay off.

    I really feel like a wardrobe spring clean now!

    I am also the same with books- but that is a work in prgress!

  7. Lauren L.

    Another great post Jess! I feel like I am learning the same thing as I get older. I used to buy stuff/clothes a lot more and now I am much more selective about what I choose and tend to splurge on nicer stuff.

  8. kelsey williams

    this is exactly what i want to do! i’m curious if you ever fall back into buying cheaper items, or how you stay on track. i always say i want to do this, but have trouble spending $100 on a shirt that i may be able to find for $20, even though the quality is less…

  9. Jessica S

    what a great post! I am 24 and still in school getting my PhD, so unfortunately most of my “pie” is in the not so nice slice… but I am working on slowly but surely increasing the “nice stuff” slice, as I exfoliate my old undergrad clothes/furniture, and purchase big ticket items that I love and fit with my growing up style… I definitely am the tortoise, but at least I know what I am working for and have my eyes on the prize

  10. Anait

    This is such a great post…I’m a Phd student, like Jessica, above, and it really is hard to transition to the “nice stuff”. But I love the way you did it, by slowly eliminating the not so nice stuff and thus increasing the percentage of nice stuff.

    I read a quote once in a fashion book on American womens’ closets, something along the lines of “I have no idea how they can get dressed in the morning with so much excess”. And I think it’s true – we tend to buy in quantity instead of quality, especially in this credit culture.

    I’ve recently begun to invest in quality pieces, and though I’m sad to see bigger chunks of my bank account go, it’s infinitely more satisfying to know that I bought something of quality and that I will cherish for many more years to come (and, often, something that I’ve saved for for a long time).

    Thanks for sharing!

  11. Maggie Rose

    I’m kind of naturally a “purger” so I love this! We’re on a super-tight decorating budget but I try to go “as nice as we can” for now. If I spend more on an item, it needs to be a piece that can go with us to any future apartment or home. I don’t get TOO down on myself for buying something more affordable that I don’t love IF it fits a current need and is a specific need to this apartment in particular (say, specific dimensions and I haven’t been able to find anything else). I also have to see it fitting into our apartment the duration of us living here. I’ve also started to carefully store a few items that I do love that just don’t work in the current apartment and when we have more space, I’d like to still have them and not have to re-purchase (mostly vintage pieces). Our storage area is small though so luckily that is limited!

  12. Ugh, I used to be terrible about this! I would buy things just because they were on sale and while I had a HUGE wardrobe, I somehow never had anything to wear. Things wouldn’t fit me, I’d have 5 of the same dress because they were $12.50 at Forever 21, it was not good.

    So in the past year I instated a rule: I only buy something if I LOVE it. If I don’t love it, I don’t buy it. And the couple times I broke that rule, I ended up regretting it.

    Now, this rule does have a slight downfall…I only have one pair of pants that are work appropriate because I got rid of the ones I don’t like but haven’t been able to find any other that fit me the way I want.

    But it’s OK. Somehow, with a smaller, more intentional wardrobe, I don’t have as much trouble finding things to wear like I did when I had a ton of clothes. And I’m saving my money for clothes I love.

    I’ve extended this thinking to other things in my life like home things. My friend got super annoyed with me in Target when I wouldn’t get a potholder because they didn’t have exactly what I wanted. But I was rewarded for this decision when I walked into Bed Bath and Beyond and they had EXACTLY what I wanted.

  13. Jacki

    How do you always know to write just what I need to read? I’ve been on a bit of a spree lately, BUT it’s been because I want nice stuff and am trying to build my collection. But now … I need to start “exfoliating” and that is the hard part. It’s so necessary.

  14. Kelley

    I LOVE this. It’s definitely an encouragement to those of us who want magazine-perfect homes and wardrobes, but are still on a young-person budget.

  15. Kate

    I have to say that this is basically EXACTLY what I’m doing!

    It took me FOREVER to really start exfoilating Jess. But I’ve finally started taking a hard look at my stuff (and my life) and basically since 2012 started, I’ve exfoiliated hundreds of dollars in clothing, furniture, odds and ends, etc. It feels so good to only have nice things that I love!

    And a new favorite thing to love – I got my Jess LC Flea necklace. And promptly wore today.

  16. Jess

    Thank you all so much!! I love knowing that I’m not alone in my quest to work towards having nicer things than just a lot of “stuff.”

    Kelsey, to be honest, I love nice things so much that it’s not hard to slide back into getting cheaper things. However, if I’m on a budget I will try out trends like colored denim on cheaper price points that might not last that long. But a nice sweater that will last for years is hard for me to pass up, I get get them more sparingly. : ) But the flip side of that is that I’m not as good at saving as you are!

  17. Fantastic post (and I love the little pie diagrams)! I am constantly trying to downsize the amount of “stuff” that I own and make a move towards quality items that make me happy. I find that having less clutter in my apartment makes me calmer and there is much less to make a mess with (I’m naturally a very messy person). Will go through another cull today, inspired by this post – thank you!

  18. Becca

    What a great way of looking at this. I’ve had some version of this floating around in my head recently but love how tangible you’ve made this. I’m trying to only buy things I love and scale back on what I have in general. We live in a 2 bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, and while it’s much larger than the place we had in Manhattan it’s still small. It makes you really consider everything you bring into the space.

Leave a Reply