About 3 days into self-quarantine, my relationship with my girlfriend quickly reached a breaking point. I hadn’t seen it coming at all and as we talked it over, I came to a realization that I’d somehow become really unhappy with my life up to that point. I wasn’t sure what led me to become so unhappy or why I hadn’t had the clarity of mind to notice it, but the revelation sent me into a spiraling introspection where I began to pick apart pretty much every aspect of my life to find what had made me happy before. This journey inevitably led me into my closet.

Finding peace in quarantine proved to be a difficult task for most and as restrictions ease in certain parts of the country, while simultaneously tightening in others, the initial post-quarantine world is equally fraught. The battle against racism, injustices and the push for reform across industries has also made a return to “normal” feel not only inadequate but also irresponsible.

As I started looking to make changes to prepare for a new chapter, I thought about what my ideal life would be like. What would I do with my days? What would my lifestyle be like? And least important, but still on my mind, what would I wear? While most of my friends had degenerated into uniforms of fleece and sweats, I felt better wearing more or less the same outfits I’d worn pre-quarantine. Something about the familiarity of my favorite clothing gave me a sense of security and structure that I’d lacked in other aspects of life. That small sense of comfort reminded me of what it had felt like to be at peace.

Peering into my closet with this renewed perspective, I was determined to see which pieces I truly valued, and why I valued them. The “Less, But Better” principle made famous by industrial designer Dieter Rams can often be applied to most aspects of life, so I used that as a starting point. It’s easy to take this approach from a quality point of view, much it’s much harder to make it apply to your personal style. That pair of jeans that pairs well with anything, that one was easy to justify. But the jacket I’d worn once for a fit pic and never again? What made me buy that piece in the first place? Did I ever really like it, or just the concept of it? And if I had the choice, would I buy it again or is there something I would change about it? I brought this mentality to all of the different pieces in my closet that I hadn’t worn since quarantine.

First, I determined if something was essential to me based on how often I wore it and how I felt when wearing it. If something wasn’t essential to me, I thought about what value it provided me, if at all. This is more or less the Marie Kondo method but I was focused more on happiness than decluttering. While I expected some of my more adventurous pieces to be failures, some of them actually ended up being essential to me. The ones that weren’t essential weren’t failures either, they’d still ended up being part of the process of discovering what I like. Once I viewed things this way, I realized I didn’t feel so bad when things didn’t work out.

I withdrew when I had tired myself from poring over everything I owned. I made a pile of clothes and shoes to resell, noting what value they had brought me and what gaps in my wardrobe still remained. In the pile, I had a pair of black dress pants, which pair well with everything but ultimately were too formal for any occasion I’d attended in the past few years. They possessed a certain practicality that ultimately didn’t make sense for the way I’ve dressed in a while. But there were other pieces, like my Birkenstocks, that had long been a staple of my wardrobe. I hadn’t worn them in over a year because they’d become ubiquitous and I’d found another pair of sandals that suited my style better. Other pieces simply fell out of favor; German army trainers that I’d replaced with more comfortable New Balance 990s, Carhartt pants I’d replaced with some softer sun-faded army fatigues. These weren’t necessarily linear upgrades but an evolution of my personal style as I continued to realize my preferences, which are increasingly for comfort and versatility over emulating any particular aesthetic style.

With summer passes, I feel like I have a clear handle on what I enjoy about the things I own and what I’m still searching for when I shop for new pieces in future seasons. Even if the new pieces don’t work out, that’s part of the process and I’ve found myself at peace with that. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “it’s not the destination, it's the journey” that gives life meaning. In this case, maybe it’s the journey to discover your personal style that’s more rewarding than the actual clothing itself.