The human brain seeks novelty. We are attracted to the bright and shiny, to the untrod and unexplored. From an evolutionary standpoint, scientists suggest that this has to do with survival. Noticing small changes in our environment may help us negotiate risks – like predators, for instance – but it also helps us find food and water. Humans living in a post-industrial world may not often use their novelty-seeking trait for straightforward survival (though marginalized and at-risk populations probably use it more than they realize), but they’re still heavily influenced by novelty.
This is why we are natural consumers, and why it’s so easy to become consumption addicts. New things give us a dopamine rush that makes us feel good. Marketers exploit this to encourage us to buy more and more in an endless cycle of intense want.
So how do we make it stop?
I’ve learned over the years that simply “opting out” in protest to consumer exploitation isn’t a great option from a psychological perspective. My novelty drive is strong enough to override good intentions.
So I’ve been seeking out ways to work with my novelty drive to develop healthier habits. An easy first step for me was trying to buy more secondhand goods, because the thrill of the hunt and the fun of trying on weird things was often enough to satiate my need for new experiences without contributing to unethical manufacturing practices.
But this, of course, isn’t a perfect solution. Consumption addiction is by definition not healthy, even if the items purchased are secondhand. I had, and still have, a tendency to use shopping as a coping mechanism. I crave that dopamine rush. So I’ve worked out another strategy that I think will significantly impact the way I view clothing and shopping.
I’m doing a flexible, two-season capsule.
How It Works
The two-season capsule works for me because it isn’t so stringent. Instead of intensely filtering my closet into 4 or more distinct seasons, I plan for two broader ones: Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter.
At the start of the cold season, I moved my sweaters into my main closet and put summer tops, lightweight skirts, cropped pants, and sundresses into storage. I kept short sleeve tees that work for layering in my main closet, along with kimono tops and other drapey things that can be worn layered with warmer clothing. I moved my boots to the top rack of my shoe shelf and placed sandals out of sight on the bottom rack.
Why It Works
I’m using a capsule in this way, not in the name of minimalism, but rather as a means to be surprised at the start of the next major shopping season before I’m tempted to buy all the things. By keeping out-of-season items out of sight for several months, I am able to see them with new eyes when I pull them out of storage. I’ve also decided not to put myself on a spending fast mid-capsule. Instead, I plan ahead for the following season, buying a handful of secondhand and ethical goods when I find what I’m looking for. I can ease into the next capsule season and make smarter shopping choices because I don’t feel the need to rush.
I’ve only used my closet in this way for two seasons so far, but I plan to keep doing so. It adds just enough structure without feeling restrictive, and it helps me value what I already own.
In a recent New York Times article on keeping resolutions, David DeSteno asserts:
We too often think about self-improvement and the pursuit of our goals in bracing, self-flagellating terms: I will do better, I will muscle through, I will wake up earlier. But it doesn’t need to be that way, and it shouldn’t: Self-control isn’t about feeling miserable.
I think a lot of people, particularly those of us in the “conscious consumer” space, are tempted to practice a type of fasting when it comes to our wardrobes. But this rigorous asceticism is not always the best solution – it certainly isn’t for me – so it’s important to think creatively about what we can do to make positive changes in our lives.
DeSteno goes on to say:
It’s our emotions — specifically, gratitude, compassion and an authentic sense of pride (not hubris) — that push us to behave in ways that show self-control.
Pursuing a two-season capsule, then, is not about restriction but about grace and gratitude. Playing a game of hide-and-seek with my clothes reminds me how much I love them when I shake them out and put them back into my closet at the start of a fresh season. And sticking to my goals in small ways feeds healthy pride that reinforces positive habits.
I was so opposed to capsules when they first gained popularity because it felt like pure semantics. People were saying they were living better while still consuming at a breakneck pace. And there was also this element of self-loathing that seemed to come with pushing out all one’s earthly goods in the name of a fashion experiment that started to take on perverse, spiritualized overtones.
But a capsule, I understand now, does not have to be about material loss or a stoic detachment from our own material bodies.
If framed well, it can be about abundance.
Do you do a capsule? What’s your process like?