5 Ways Soren Kierkegaard Knew What Personal Style Should Be About (Even If He Never Actually Talked About Clothes)

A lot of times it seems that in order to find happiness, one needs to learn how to escape materialism; and I don’t know about you, but I struggle with a not-so-flattering amount of materialism on a daily basis. Which is why I decided to be proactive about my habit and find guidance that would help me put into perspective what is important in life, with the help of Soren Kierkegaard, existential philosopher, of course. It’s not pretty, but spending on personal style is such a hard habit to break. I want to be minimalist and keep my closet light, but, damn it, I can’t help but chuck my purse at the cashier the moment I see something that speaks to me. It’s a constant battle.

Style is a beautiful thing to have, but a lot of us get easily swept up in the material of it. You want a pretty dress, you want the new style of sandals, you want to try out that one trend just for the hell of it because it's fun. These items start becoming things you collect and then discard, and you enter more of a fast fashion cycle than anything else. It’s a hard thing to control because this need becomes a craving. And we all know how hard it is to say no to a craving.

So while on this search for self improvement, I came across a beautiful notion from Kierkegaard himself:

"The highest and most beautiful things in life are not to be heard about, nor read about, nor seen but, if one will, are to be lived."

Hmm. The most beautiful things in life are those that can be lived. While that’s a romantic thought, you’re probably sitting here wondering how we can use that to curb our constant “want” trigger. It’s simple: Turn your clothes into not something you can adorn yourself with, but something you can live in.

When you have the attitude that your clothes are moments, things begin to change. You no longer buy things because you want them, but you let them into your life because they'll make your moments and experiences more special.

A certain dress reminds you of an excellent second date, or a pair of ripped jeans bring back memories of hiking along creeks and muddy trails. A top would be just the perfect thing for that coffee date with an old friend, and a skirt brings back memories of a spontaneous vacation somewhere along an impossibly blue beach.

Pretty clothes are pretty clothes and will always be admired when seen, but they become so much more meaningful when there are few of them, and when they are bought with the intention to be thoroughly lived-in. To give you a better handle on what I mean, here are five ways style is just like this Kierkegaard quote:

1. Holding Onto An Item That Reminds You Of Someone Is Perfectly OK

I have this ridiculous threadbare, cotton-candy-pink t-shirt that has nothing on it but a pair of coal-lined eyes. It's so silly. At best, I could use it as a shirt to sleep in — it has no style, no panache. So why do I keep it around? It belonged to my mom, and I specifically remember her wearing it around the house when I was little, as I ran around barefoot and wreaking havoc under her feet. I remember her cooking dinners in it, walking me to the park in it, and I remember her wearing it while sitting on the floor in my room, braiding my hair as I told her the latest gossip between my Barbie dolls.

There are pieces in our closet that have strong ties to people we love, and they become more than a dress or a sweater. They become an extension of a memory; something tangible we can put our hands on. The same goes with certain pieces you wore around these people — like a dress you wore because it was your grandmother's favorite, or a sweater you love because it was the first time your partner kissed you. They becoming meaningful and worth keeping around.

2. Wear Clothing That Reminds You You’re Awesome

I have a pair of pretty run down Chucks in my closet that sort of desperately need to be replaced. And no matter how many sleek leather sandals or impressively sharp pairs of oxfords I own, I find myself reaching for these busted shoes time and time again. Why? Because I’ve had some of my most fun nights in them. Memories of tearing up dance floors in the middle of summer nights, laughing down streets while drinking out of brown-papered beer cans, rambling strolls with best friends, and red push-pops come to mind every time I lace them up. They remind me of the times I was most fun and full of light, and they reassure me that things can always be that way.

No amount of new shoes can give me that.

3. Keep Those Pieces That Bring Back Specific Adventures

Every once in a while, I pool together enough going-out money and spend it all on a backpacking trip rather than the usual fizzy cocktails. I go get lost in busy streets with dizzying traffic and shouts yelled in new languages. I tuck myself into charming cafes and buy tickets on buses and boats that lead me further and further away from home. And every time I go, I make sure to only bring a handful of outfits because A. I’m not about being a mule for the whole trip; and B. Chances are my dresses will get ruined or lost somewhere along the way.

And even though I come back home with floral dresses with frayed hems and tunic shirts that are now baggy and misshapen, I love wearing them time and time again. Each piece reminds me of a specific place I was while wearing it: Sweating inside a cafe in Hanoi as I drank dark Vietnamese coffee; following the winding bazaar roads in Rajasthan as dust plumed around my feet; climbing onto the top bunk of a sleeper bus, hoping the 10-hour ride would pass quickly.

These pieces aren't just stylish things to wear anymore. They're the equivalent of pictures in a scrapbook. And now while out shopping, I like to think about whether a piece I'm considering buying would be suitable for an adventure in my near future — be it hopping on a plane again or going on a new date. If I don't think it would contribute to the experience, then it doesn't need to clutter up my life.

4. Opt For Pieces That Evoke A New Version Of Yourself

Sometimes you try on a dress or a pair of pants and something magical happens: You pivot in front of the mirror, toss your hair, and get this dark spark in your eye. You feel ah-mazing and can't quite believe you never really noticed how awesome you were.

Certain pieces add a little joie de vivre into our lives, and in their own way, transform us. They give us the confidence to become more fully ourselves and push us to share that light with other people. They help you live. If a piece doesn't elicit that type of response from you, is it really necessary to take up space in your life? I'm thinking probably not.

5. Pieces That Share Who You Are On The Inside, Outside Are The Best

There are a few people out there with such a wild and loud sense of self that you can't help but fall slightly in love with them. When you find clothes that aren't just cute and don't only have the purpose of making you not-naked, something beautiful happens. You're wearing your heart on your sleeve and you want to share it with those around you. You want to show who you are, and take delight in who others are, too.

That's when clothes transform from being something just material, to being something that is lived. When you have that perspective in mind, saying no to materialism and buying things with intention becomes a tad easier.

Images: Fotolia; Giphy