7 February 2021

My changing relationship with stuff

After last weeks post I got some lovely messages that got me thinking about my relationship with stuff. For as long as I can remember my self worth has been tied up with having the right things and looking the part. To be fair clothes do often give me that extra boost of much needed confidence. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. That is until you start believing your stuff defines you. Do I really want to be remembered just for wearing nice things? No. My stuff is not who I am. There's so much more to me than that. And I guess this journey that I am on has begun to unravel a lot of those feelings. Things aren't important. You can't take them with you. People and experiences are the things that shape and enrich our lives. 

Instagram outfit of the day photo - early 2015



My relationship with stuff really blossomed when I started my first job. I began my working life in a small designer boutique in Bath. The store sold designer gear.....all the big Italian labels that were popular in the 80's such as Versace, Valentino and Ferragamo. I was impressed by the customers who shopped at Kimberly who came in dripping in Chanel and Louis Vuitton and who spent thousands at a time. Naturally I equated accruing designer stuff as a sign of being successful. Inspired, I saved up and bought my first designer bag - a Louis Vuitton Speedy at age 18 and then a Chanel bag a couple of years later. I was young and naive with some disposable income and I just wanted to be in with the calibre of clientele that I was serving. It was very easy to get sucked in and this is probably where my appreciation of things started to mingle with my self worth. I only worked in that environment for 3 years but it proved to have a lasting effect on me.

Instagram outfit of the day - early 2016



Fast forward some 15 years and those feelings of self worth started cropping up again. This may resonate with some of you because when you start a family you are very focused on being a mother. I lost myself for a couple of years after I had my daughter. But as soon as I hit those pre-school gates the pressure to look and feel the part rose again. At age 36 I was quite late to the motherhood party and I felt this was even more reason to look like I had my sh*t together. When you've been in that haze for a while it's quite hard to claw your way back. Your figure isn't the same and your priorities have shifted. I felt pretty inadequate. 

Thankfully I came across Pinterest which started to help me to work with what was in my wardrobe and pull outfits together again. From there I found a couple of fashion blogs that made me fall in love with clothes again. Perusing online led me to a platform (pre-Instagram days) called Avenue 57 which was a real turning point for me. It was a lovely online community that gave kind and helpful feedback as well as shopping tip-offs and advice. I used to upload a mirror selfie of my daily outfits there and enjoyed commenting on other women's outfits. Avenue 57 introduced me to a few school run mum bloggers whose style really resonated with my own. I realised that one of my favourite bloggers was lurking and commenting on my outfits and so we started conversing. Sue (you may know her as SusieSoSo) encouraged me to start my blog and so MyFashionable40s came to be (on Avenue 57 I called myself 'My Fashion Life has just begun' because it really did feel like a rebirth after having my daughter). Sue gave me the confidence to start writing because she enjoyed hearing about my thought process around putting outfits together and purchasing new things. I thought it may be of benefit to share with other women who may have found themselves in a similar situation to me......stuck in a rut and feeling that you've lost your identity when your children are very young and you don't have much time for yourself. 

Instagram outfit of the day photo - early 2017



About a year after starting my blog along came Instagram which to begin with was very similar to Avenue 57 just on a much larger scale. It opened up blogs to a much wider audience which was great! I really prided myself on my authenticity right from the word go. I only ever uploaded a picture of what I was actually wearing on any given day (on the odd occasion that I was approached by anyone who recognised me from the blog I'm sure they would vouch for me!). My integrity has always been really important to me. At that time it seemed that what I was doing was really appreciated - it was all very natural and as a result my following grew very quickly. 

Instagram outfit of the day - early 2018




From the outset the blog and Instagram were just a creative outlet for me - I never intended it to become a form of income.....it really was just for fun and I genuinely hoped I might be helping other women like me. However it didn't take brands long to appreciate what a marketing opportunity the school run mum's blogs were for advertising their products. To be approached by brands and offered gifts was incredibly exciting and flattering as someone who was very new to all of this kind of attention. I actually really enjoyed working with smaller brands with whom I really could make a difference by sharing with my audience. I was free to do my own thing. I was blown away by feedback when I made a difference to a company's sales. It was the equivalent of getting a gold star at school! 

Instagram outfit of the day photo - early 2019


I began to become unstuck when I started getting involved with High Street brands and taking on paid collaborations. Getting lots of likes per post had always been a lovely dopamine rush but now there was an added layer of pressure for posts to perform well as I was being paid for them. I felt out of my depth and impostor syndrome set in. Comparison is the thief of joy as they say. When I looked around I felt inferior to my contemporaries who were starting to use professional photographers. At the time my photos were taken by my young daughter Gracie and were very organic to say the least. If you look back at my early photos on Instagram you'll notice I can hardly bear to look into the camera - I was always looking down. With brands wanting to approve photos before I posted I became very critical about how I looked in them. I kept asking more and more of Gracie and eventually she got to an age where she was too embarrassed to do street style photos for me in and around the village we live in. The time had come to invest in  tripod - however it would take me so long to get a picture that I was happy with that I would ended up getting totally frustrated and wishing that I'd never taken such a project on. 

I then got to the point where I had new stuff being delivered everyday that I'd have to create content for. Once you start accepting gifts and agreeing to sponsored posts it's very hard to say no......hamster wheel springs to mind! With the smaller brands I often felt obliged because sometimes it's the only method of advertising they can afford and it can make all the difference to a table top company becoming successful. As I would describe myself as being very conscientious by nature I felt a certain sense of responsibility to brands. I would often go the extra mile and try to work gifted items into every post to give products as much exposure as possible. That turned out to backfire rather spectacularly as I would never get to wear the things I truly loved that I'd purchased with my own money. I was forever trying to do the things I'd been gifted or paid to wear justice. I got myself into a right old pickle. I felt 'stuffocated'. Clothes instead of making me feel happy and confident made me feel anxious and overwhelmed. It wasn't just creating the content and wearing the clothes that became a chore, it was disposing of all the packaging too. So much waste....loads of plastic all heading to landfill. The over-consumption gave me the 'ick'. I was lost in it all and no longer doing it for the right reasons. It all felt very out of kilter with my values and who I really am. These feelings were so foreign to me that I blamed the menopause and the fact that the big 5-0 was looming. However looking back on that episode I can see now that I had just lost all sense of myself. My identity had become so entangled with my possessions. 

And my goodness did it prove to be difficult to get off that hamster wheel but for the sake of my sanity I knew I had to start saying no. It was easy with the High Street brands. I didn't need the money as I work part-time and I didn't need the extra money to buy more stuff I didn't need either! Its was harder to say no to smaller brands as I'd often forged lovely relationships with the people behind the brands. Little by little though I started to put my foot down and started being honest because I knew I was time to start withdrawing from Instagram. 

In June 2019 I really turned a corner. I stopped drinking alcohol (a habit that I felt was getting a bit out of control) and started practicing meditation. A couple of months later in August we had a particularly relaxing holiday in Greece where instead of scrolling mindlessly on my phone I started listening to podcasts and reading, developing some different interests. I got curious about making my life more simple. Being so attached to my things was causing me suffering and I wanted to change that.

By September as I was saying no to pretty much everything and so I didn't have any obligations. I decided to take a month long break from Instagram. My big half a century birthday was looming and I'd been toying with changing my blog and Instagram name as I was desperate to shed MyFashionable40s. With a little help from my friends (Sue and Bean) we came up with CuratingMi which stuck because I was on the path to changing my relationship with stuff. 

Quite by accident in December 2019 I fell into a stride with a capsule wardrobe. Earlier on in the year I'd taken a personal styling course and once I learnt about my style personality I understood why I wasn't feeling comfortable in some of my clothes. This resulted in some regular wardrobe editing. Not posting so frequently on Instagram meant there was no pressure to wear something different and interesting everyday. I was wearing and enjoying my favourite items and dressing to suit my actual lifestyle and not my fantasy lifestyle. I realised that during the colder months I tend to wear pretty much the same things on repeat. My signature style is a rollback sweater, skinny jeans and either boots or high top trainers. I had a coat for Christmas that year that went with every jeans and jumper combo I had. That turned out to be a pivotal gift.......I suddenly felt so much happier in my uncomplicated outfits. 

Outfit of the day - early 2020 (wearing said coat)


Then along came Covid 19. The universe intervened and we were all forced to slow down.  It gave me the opportunity time to think long and hard about what I truly want out of life. I've had the luxury of time to contemplate what really matters to me. Obviously it's not stuff. To quote Courtney Carver "I need way less than I think to be happy". "My wardrobe is the least interesting thing about me" and "No one really cares what I'm wearing". What does matter to me is the people I love. I cherish my health. And for my mental wellbeing it's important to me that I keep on learning and growing. Yes, I love clothes but they don't define the person I am. Lockdown has made me appreciate all the things around me that I have overlooked whilst deciding what to wear or wondering whether I should buy the next 'must have' trend or not. These days I appreciate a walk more than shopping as a pastime. I value a chat on the phone over a text. I prefer a good book to a scroll on Instagram. I enjoy a documentary over reality TV and podcasts over the radio. It's been a gift to spend so much time at home with my family. There is so much more to life than clothes. 

All of this thinking helped me to arrive at the fact that a capsule wardrobe is absolutely the way forward for me. To be honest I'm a little disappointed about how much I did buy last year but then, these ideas were all still thrashing about in my head. I knew reducing my consumption was my number one priority, so I'm proud of how that has been steadily going down. The majority of what I purchased last year will shape my capsule over the next few years as I've had the chance to get to grips what kind of clothes that really suit my life. Looking back over my journey on Instagram it is interesting to see the items that have stood the test of time and that are still in my wardrobe. All of the outfits in my round-up here are things I'd happily wear today. I must have been doing something right.......I just can't believe how distracted I got! 

Phew! That is enough from me. It feels good to finally share this, I've been meaning to write this one for a while. One from the heart for sure!

One last thing I want to do is to thank Sue. I have met and made some amazing friends throughout my time online and for that I am truly grateful for.  Sue has always been there for me - I still refer to the original email she sent me with some beginners blog guidance. I asked her to proof-read this post before I hit publish because I have shared all my ups and downs with her and she has always been the voice of reason and kept me going. I consider myself very lucky to have her in my life - which I think is the fitting place to end this post.

Hope you found it interesting. I've listed here a few resources I have found useful. 

Michelle x

Blogs 
Use Less 

Recent discoveries
Slowdown. blog
UncomplicatedSpaces

YouTuber's
Use Less - capsule wardrobe inspiration......a great place to start.
Style Apotheca  - low buy & minimalist journey......very relatable.
A Small Wardrobe - minimalist......very quirky, excellent tips though!
Benita Larsson - minimalist.....so soothing to watch.
Matt D'avella - minimalist & lots of great life advice.

Netflix documentaries 
The Minimalists - Minimalism 
The Minimalists - Less is Now
The Social Dilemma 

Podcast 
!0% Happier by Dan Harris

I use the Calm app for meditation 🙏



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22 comments

  1. Love this ! Very honest and interesting. Like you , I am passionate about clothes but I’ve never had the funds or support to purchase loads and loads but I still succumb to advertising and eBay !! I’m much more minimalist these days and have sold it cleared out a lot of ‘stuff’. My lifestyle has changed too and I’m enjoying curating my wardrobe ! Keep up the blog and I still love your Instagram posts xxx

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    1. Thank you Jules! Lovely to hear that you enjoyed the post. There's nothing quite like finding a gem on eBay is there! I'm far from being a minimalist but I guess that is the long term goal.Less stuff = more life is the motto I'm trying to live by! xx

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  2. Hi my lovely! Excellent post and very relatable, I kind of stopped blogging 5 years ago with similar thoughts and situations- I think when you’re compromising yourself over content and brands and not enjoying it, it definitely helps to take a sabbatical! Like you I’ve enjoyed other things during lockdown- reading, podcasts, music, walking and insta is way down the list! My pics are as organic as anything- haha- but I don’t really mind, I post what I like and enjoy and only when I feel like it! Insta for many is a proper full time job for many- it’s really evolving into slick and professional accounts- so different from a decade ago!! Wishing you good health and happiness in 2021 and stay true to your stylish self! Xxx

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    1. Hey Sharon, lovely to hear from you! Glad you enjoyed the post and found it relatable! It definitely helped to step away and evaluate how I was feeling, it gave me the space to work out what I was missing! It's been the simple things that I derive the most pleasure from. I'm happy I shared how I felt - from the response I've had I do think some people are longing for a change...I hope this post can encourage some to take that leap of faith! Instagram has been a hard habit to break and as you say for some it is their livelihood. It is so different now. Hope you have a super 2021! And thank you for that gorgeous compliment 😘 xx

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  3. I really enjoyed reading this. My clothes/outfits have always defined me as a person and have been such a large part of my adult life. The amount of time/money that I have invested in them is quite ridiculous. I now have wardrobes full of clothes that I no longer wear but still cannot part with. You seem genuinely happy with the changes you have made and I hope it continues for you 🙂

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    1. Thank you Christy Ann, lovely to hear you enjoyed the post. I know exactly how you feel! I can believe how much energy I've wasted on stuff over the years! And I've been in the same place over parting with things but that has got easier in time as I no longer want to be bogged down by things that are no longer serving me. I do feel much better now and lighter as a consequence of sharing my journey. My hope is that it might encourage a few of my readers to tread the same path 😘

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  4. Ah Michelle - I feel quite blessed to have come across you when I did and we've been through this journey together - through the good, the weird and the ugly but I definitely think you've definitely found where you want and need to be. Your journey is still interesting even if not as flamboyant but life is like that and I love that you want people to see the real you. And I think this post will help a lot of people finding their way through the IG quagmire. xxx

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    1. I couldn't have done it without you Sue! I definitely feel like I've found where I want to be.....you grow through what you go through as they say. It's been a relief to share and reveal the real me. Nobody really knows what's going on behind the squares....it's not always what it seems for sure! xx

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  5. Absolutely fantastic post Michelle, glad to see your back in your happy place and no longer a slave to the pressure. It's why I stopped many many years ago.

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    1. 🙂 Thanks Fiona....that means a lot to me! It's good to be back on an even keel and leave the madness behind 😉 I bet you had a good idea of what was coming!

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  6. Great read. I follow for fashion tips and love your posts. You come across as someone who is just being yourself. Glad you've found what makes you happy it must have been so easy to keep going before you took stock.

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    1. Thank you....that's such a lovely compliment xx

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  7. Great Post Michelle,
    I have actually felt this way about Instagram for a while. When somebody is posting gifted products ALL the time for me that account looses its authenticity. What's their true style? Would they have bought it at that price if it hadn't been gifted ? It's quite easy to create new and exciting content when you publish a new outfit everyday.BUT for me I'd rather see a mixture - new and old. I love to see old items styled in different ways , it's much more relatable and let's by honest not everybody has bottomless pockets.

    When my mum died my mindset changed. I've often said it's people and moments that count not how many dresses you have or designer handbags . Sometimes it all feels very materialistic.
    I ve waffled on and hope I've made sense

    Tracey x

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    1. Thanks Tracey. It was actually a great exercise to go back over my Instagram feed to find the pictures for this post. The outfits that I felt the comfiest and happiest stand out a mile to me and I still have the majority of those pieces. In equal measure I remember those sponsored posts that made me feel stressed and out of kilter. It's been a great exercise overall though because me realise the potential in my wardrobe as it is. I have everything I need already and need to learn how to work better with it instead of constantly chasing the new 'must have' items. It's inspired me to exp!ore my relationship with stuff some more.....this has been a real learning curve! We've got to keep this conversation going! I heartedly agree that people and moments are way more important xx

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  8. A great account of your fashion awakening Michelle, a metaphor really for realising that stuff just isn’t important and, as you say, we attach our self esteem to our things! Bet you enjoy your capsule wardrobe far more than feeling overwhelmed by stuff. I know what you mean about the ‘Ick feeling. I always get it on Christmas Day! Thx for sharing! X

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    1. Thank you! I get way more excited over planning my capsule than I do than the rather fleeting buzz of a new purchase! I'm definitely viewing this whole exercise as a way of learning why we are so in the grip of our stuff! I've been sent and have found some amazing articles that are helping me to understand my attachment to things.......I have a feeling our next Christmas is going to look very different! Lovely to hear you enjoyed the post! xx

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  9. What an interesting read. Am so glad for you that you are now in a happy place. It has made me realise how Instagram affects our mental health. Reading this has made me realise how much I am defined by stuff. I am going to take your advice and read/watch the suggested blogs/documentaries you mentioned and give myself a bit of a insta detox and start to feel happy again with the special things in our lives. X

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    1. Thank you! I'm going to share a few more articles and videos that I have come across in my next post. I'm really starting to examine my relationship with stuff....we are so conditioned and it's a hard habit to break. I'm so curious about it! I'm also going to really start shopping my wardrobe with a vengeance......my goal posts have changed because I've realised I'm not doing enough. I already have everything I need.....now is the time to reinforce that! xx

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  10. Hi Michelle- really enjoyed this blogpost. As you know, we’re on a similar path. Watching & hearing about your journey to get back to *yourself* instead of being defined by “the stuff” has been really really lovely and inspiring. So happy for you.
    Thanks for the wee mention xx

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    1. Hi Bean, lovely to hear from you and glad to hear you enjoyed the post :0) You were way ahead of me getting onboard with this but I guess we have to arrive at that point when we are ready! Thank you for your lovely message - you have been a real source of inspiration on my journey. We gotta keep this conversation going! xx

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  11. Hi Michelle, I couldn't read this and not comment. I thought that this was a really interesting post and one that probably a lot of women can relate too, especially since places like Instagram have become so heavily influenced by brands. I used to follow people on IG for their realness and integrity, but these days most fashion related accounts I follow are all about 'gifted/ads' which makes it all feel very disingenuous. Particularly in these difficult times, there's something quite unsavoury about promoting items that people don't really need. I think with age comes wisdom and confidence of being comfortable in your own skin. I have a much clearer idea now in my 40's of what does and what doesn't suit me. I had a massive clear out during lockdown last year and was ruthless with 'things' I'd been hanging onto, even some clothes I'd had pre-children! I admire your honesty and I think you've always had your own well developed sense of style. Hoping all is well with you, sending you a wave from down the road! Sian x

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  12. I've always loved your style. Admire your courage to say 'no'. I find it sad when instagramners I follow because I love their style, get so successful they lose what I love because every post is a gifted outfit or a #ad.

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