On Uniforms and Unnecessary Choices

I stumbled upon an article about why Mark Zuckerberg wears the same shirt every day. I didn’t expect the article to be very memorable, but his reasoning stood out:

I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community,” Zuckerberg said, after clarifying that he had “multiple same shirts.”

 He said even small decisions like choosing what to wear or what to eat for breakfast could be tiring and consume energy, and he didn’t want to waste any time on that….

“I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life.”

As an unabashed lover of all things silly and frivolous, I should be opposed to this kind of thinking. But I’m not. I agree now more than ever. Because I’m more than familiar with the sensation of wasting time due to “unnecessary” choices.

The choice paradox

The “choice paradox” has been extensively covered in pop psychology books. The name comes from Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice but the phenomenon is also covered in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Basically, choice — that magical, wonderful force that gives us the power to control our actions, assert our independence, and define ourselves — can have the opposite effect in excess. The more choices you have, the less likely you are to actually make a decision. Some of the studies in this interesting read even suggest that certain choices can even make us less happy. Less productive. Less focused.

As mentioned in the last Sunday Currently, I spent longer than I should have studying electric kettles online. Electric kettles all fulfill the same function — they boil water. But on Amazon, where you factor in price and customer reviews and material and performance, they might as well be different species entirely. If I’d just gone to the grocery shop down the road I probably would have been happy with whatever kettle they had in stock. Now I was rejecting kettles because they “boiled too loudly.”

This issue about unnecessary choice is separate but totally related to my relationship with Stuff: capital S, to represent all the clothing, makeup books, trinkets, and knickknacks I’ve acquired over the years and keep longer than I should. The article made me think about the unnecessary choices I make each day; if not unnecessary, then time consuming. And usually, the unnecessary choices directly correlate to the amount of Stuff involved.

It will take more than Facebook’s overlord to convince me that “what to eat for breakfast” is a frivolous choice…but for makeup and clothing? I could definitely reduce the amount of time I spend each morning indulging my vanity.

Same old, same old

Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with vanity. But it requires a patience with oneself that in me is depleting. I usually love getting ready slowly and leisurely, if time permits. Putting on a full face of makeup and deciding what to wear can be meditative — it’s one of my favorite times to daydream about stories and plots and whatever else. But nowadays I just reach for the same products over and over again.

A year ago I might have written about this as though it were a rut: “my makeup routine is uninspiring! I need a change!” But in fact, I’m kind of loving doing the same face every day — winged liner, NARS blush, whatever pinkish lipstick is close at hand — with the occasional bold lip for some *~adventure*~.

But that’s not enough: I want to Zuckerberg my wardrobe too! At least during the winter, when it’s too cold to care about what I’m wearing. I used to declutter my closet by eliminating similar pieces: “this black sweater looks a lot like this black sweater, so I’ll only keep one.” If only I’d known that duplicates indicate the formation of a personal style. Now I want a closet full of duplicates. Ideally all in black and white with the occasional print, but I live in the real world, not the pages of Kinfolk magazine, so it will never be so.

I used to care so much about what I wore every day. If you stopped by our Beauty Blog Sale back in December, you would have seen the ephemera of a past life filled with all manners of clothes – tight Alexander Wang dresses I wore twice, DVF shifts I wore never.

But that’s a topic for another post. I still care about clothes. I just don’t want to think about them as much.

The uniform

on-the-uniform

Adhering to a somewhat regular makeup and fashion “uniform” is one way I hope to reduce unnecessary choices in my life. Who knows if it will work — I’m trying to do this slowly, because I know that if I plunge into it balls to the wall, it will be harder to maintain over time (for example, Project Life was my 24/7 obsession for a week, and now it’s like…a lightly simmering interest).

Rather than be extreme and say, “I must burn everything in my closet and restock it with COS!” I will try to be even more prudent and exacting about clothing purchases. I’ll practice wearing a uniform with the existing items in my closet. At least for a season. Who knows how I’ll feel once it’s warm again and my desire to dress up outweighs my desire to comfortable.

Anyway, I sporadically update a Pinterest board called Everyday Minimalist Fashion with inspirational but easy-to-wear basics. (Distinguished from Minimalist Fashion because some minimalist outfits can be quite…avant garde), so if you like the style, feel free to check in! Or if you already have a similar board do send a link!

I don’t think I’m ready to adhere to a Capsule Wardrobe or something like Project 333 (where you can only wear 33 items with some exceptions), but for an example of someone who does it really well (and with a similarly streamlined style), do check out the Light by Coco Youtube channel. The link should take you to her “Capsule Wardrobe” playlist.

What do you think about the idea of eliminating unnecessary choices? Is spending too much time on makeup and clothes unnecessary? What is/would be your style uniform?

14 Comments

  1. I feel insecure and drab when I fall back to my uniform (a cute dress or loose top / tight pants combo) but I do like the freedom of not dressing up. When I feel like dressing up, it takes me about an hour just thinking of stuff and trying combinations and accessories on and I think I can only handle that about once a month, AT MOST!

    • Yes, getting dressed should not be stressful!! Free yourself from the chains of accessorizing!

  2. I also read somewhere that presidents, etc. (I forgot but they were more like Obama in stature) subscribe to a uniform too so they can focus on the most important decisions and not on clothing or food choices, etc. which i admit take a lot of my time. Probably too long. Perhaps now is the time to try out a capsule wardrobe with my current items but i may be too moody to subscribe to a uniform. 🙁

    • A capsule wardrobe is a great idea. I think it’d be super valuable and interesting if you decided to blog about the process. I think what I’m doing is just rotating the same items rather than a rigid uniform but it’s quite reassuring to not care as much!

  3. I’ve been easing my way into a more “uniformy” wardrobe, but I think, like Tellie said, it sometimes feels drab. I think it’s really important to figure out what your best uniform is! For example, I found my wedding outfit in a pair of black slacks, thin-strapped heels, and a white top. Wearing that = me feeling the best during any wedding ever.

    • That’s a great tip – keep a little excitement for daily wear and don’t stress out for the nicer occasions hah! It makes me sick to think of how many party dresses I acquired that I’ll never wear again – I’d love for one or two pieces to work for almost any dress-up event.

  4. I was just contemplating on ‘minimizing’ my life this way (if I can)–I actually made a pinterest board na for this so I can focus, haha. but if you really look into my closet, there are so many outfits that look similar, amidst a splattering of spontaneous dresses bought on a whim, mostly. same goes with makeup. so i think there’s always a pattern hidden there, if you look really closely.

    • Sounds like a good starting point for minimizing your wardrobe! Have you read Marie Kondo’s book on tidying? It might complement your mission to minimize quite well (if you’re willing to accept her philosophy about only keeping items that spark joy haha).

  5. I have been trying to minimise my makeup products on a day to day basis. It’s because I always ended up looking the same so why bother switching up the products and I just want to go through my stack of makeup honestly. But the lack of things to do led me to spent countless hours on YouTube and that just made me kept on thinking about my ‘curated makeup bag’ all the darn time. I want to stop thinking about makeup for God’s sake. I don’t want to wander around thinking about which foundation it is that deserves the holy grail status. My love for beauty products need to stop interfering my life. So I wish I can just have the capsule makeup products and stop thinking about other things when I need to think about more important things x_x

    • “I want to stop thinking about makeup for God’s sake. I don’t want to wander around thinking about which foundation it is that deserves the holy grail status.”

      You just pulled the words straight out of my heart, Ellya. I really hope we can both get to that point where we have our capsule collections with no fuss, holy grail status be damned! Maybe the key is to not worry about it so much? 🙂 That’s part of what’s working for me (that, and spending less time on Youtube! >.<)

  6. I think the hardest thing to eliminate would be, as pointed out by Tellie and Carina, feeling like a drab. I think one way to break that feeling would be having a set of uniform and then having some uniform option #2 (if there is such a thing) just so you’ll be able to break the monotony every once in a while. (Hope I made sense lol)

    • That makes perfect sense! I think anyone would be frustrated if they limited themselves too much. I find that a uniform based on flattering clothing shapes/styles – aka A-line skirts, long-sleeve tops, and high-waisted bottoms for me – lends itself to more versatility than a uniform by clothing type – aka black sweaters + dark jeans, etc. 🙂

  7. I have a slightly different problem. I already have a 2-week uniform.

    Having to go to work every weekday with no dress code and with almost no one in the office needing to talk to each other makes it so so easy. I am very comfortable with drab (and I’m enabled by my officemates who also seem to have uniforms).

    My bar for ‘not caring about what people think’ is too high. And this makes me feel guilty sometimes, because I feel like don’t care too much, that I’m letting myself go (if that makes any sense), and that I should at least exert some effort in clothing.

    I want to make a capsule wardrobe with every piece of clothing looking good on me and makes me feel great and this is a notch more difficult than just being ok with a uniform.

    PS. Makeup is a whole ‘nother animal.

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