Challenge: Wear Just Six Things

Heidi Hackemer in one of her Six.

From the Little Brown Dress project to the Great American Apparel Diet, Americans have had a long, conflicted love affair with the strip-down-to-basics movement.

Here we are, a consumption-crazy, credit-obsessed society—yet with serious cravings to simplify and spend less.

In some ways, "Six Items or Less"—a transatlantic challenge to wear only six pieces of clothing for a month—could be just another installment of this ongoing fad.

Shopping is a drug
But Heidi Hackemer and Tamsin Davies, who launched the project on June 21, say it's surprising what can emerge after wearing only six items for 30 days.

Although their m.o. was never to be anti-consumer or finger-wagging ("Bad shopper! Bad!"), just putting a limit on wardrobe choices led many Sixers to realize that "they are caught in an ugly shopping cycle and they wanted to break out of it," Hackemer says.

"Whenever you acquire something new, your brain gives you a little shot of dopamine," Hackemer notes, and looking for that chemical kick, in part, is what leads to a closet full of clothes, most of which you never wear. Like most Sixers, she realized she didn't need as many clothes.

But that was just a start. An unexpected fallout from the project was a wellspring of energy for other things, Hackemer says.

What's on your list?
"I didn't re-examine my entire life," Hackemer says. "It was more like, there were things I'd been meaning to do—and maybe it wouldn't be so hard to do them."

Hackemer started walking to work more often, eating out less and meditating. She found herself willing to tackle oddball tasks—like changing the filter on her air conditioner and, yes, composting.

Forgive yourself for failure and try again
Will the "Six Items" effect keep its hold? Or will the Sixers fall back into old habits?

Hackemer had two responses that apply directly to how and why change is hard to sustain on a financial front as well.

"Americans have this weird fascination with perfection," she says. If you miss the mark, there's a tendency to give up on yourself.

"I think we need to forgive ourselves more, or we're not going to be able to stick to the changes we're trying to make."

And, she points out, it's only human to fall off the various band wagons we build for ourselves. Maybe what's required, Hackemer suggests, is to accept a certain failure ratio, and make time—whether that's once a month or once a year—to get re-centered.

Take Buddhism, she says. Inner peace was never a "set it and forget it" option. "For centuries, monks would fast or go on retreats to rebalance themselves," she notes.

Maybe a month-long clothing cleanse can do the same for you, if your consumption habits start to feel out of control.

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