What is it about Spring—flowers blooming in abundance while pleasant breezes and sunny days play opposite warm rains pattering on windowpanes like the dancing feet of billions of enamored, little ants—that makes everybody want to get rid of their stuff? Spring Cleaning, as most people know it, is a dusty, time-consuming Band-Aid put on every year around the same time, with no anti-bacterial ointment to fight the incessant infection. It is a temporary fix for a recurrent problem.
And then there was Minimalism—a lifestyle change (with roots in Buddhism) that focuses on finding contentment through less. Buying less unnecessary garbage and spending your money more intentionally—think of it as a shift from compulsory consumption, or the it’s-on-sale-and-you-didn’t-want-it-before-but-whatever-it’s-only-$5 mentality, to buying things you need or things that add value to your life.
Minimalism goes beyond Spring Cleaning. It isn’t solely about spending habits and renouncing your life as a hoarder—that’s just the first step in a long process of building a more intentional life. Folx have written books and blogs, recorded vlogs, and filmed documentaries and television shows about the transition from more to less. In each story, the auteur manages to get out of debt, find peace with their work-life balance, foster healthier relationships, and a whole bunch of other nifty outcomes. Depending on how you downsize, minimalism could even help you check the “environmentalist-hipster” box at parties.
Who doesn’t want to be the environmentalist-hipster at a party?
This post, however, is for a special kind of minimalist, who just so happens to find themselves in a queer sort of quandary. How can a person reconfigure their entire life without buying a bunch of stuff? How can you go from presenting as a feminine female to expressing the bald, bearded, butch dude who’s been incognito under layers of gender dysphoria since the dawn of time? How can the mild-mannered, genderqueer Clark Kent emerge from the telephone booth, dressed to the nines, and finally feeling like their super fabulous self, if they have nothing to wear?
When trans & non-binary folx tire of adhering to the gender roles they were assigned at birth (based on arbitrary body parts that remain unseen for most of the day) and decide to express their gender identities in a more honest and outward way, they transition. Transitioning looks different for everybody, takes varying amounts of time, and can cost different amounts of money. Trans and enby folx basically have to re-work their entire lives to fit themselves, instead of worrying about normativity and societal pressure.
Minimalism and transition have a lot in common: both revolve around regaining control of your life by expunging the things (both literally and figuratively) that don’t make you happy, thereby creating room for more meaningful experiences, relationships, and stuff (again, both literally and figuratively). There’s no set timeframe or rigid rules for transitioning or becoming a minimalist, and for most, it’s about the journey, not the destination. Ultimately, your way of life shifts, and suddenly, you’re not as miserable as you used to be.
That being said, transitioning isn’t always a smooth ride—especially when it comes to clothes. Two years into my transition, I bought a pair of neon pink, leopard-print, “shredded” leggings to make up for the Kesha parties and LMFAO concerts I’d underdressed for in college. They were undoubtedly a conversation piece that would have fit in well at the house parties I frequented as an undergrad, but weren’t practically designed for a trans grrrl who wanted to look professional…or even a twenty-eight-year-old who wanted to look human.
Unfortunately, these leggings weren’t my first misstep in the “womxn’s fashion” world—whatever that means. I’ve bought and donated a lot of clothes and miscellaneous crap over the course of my transition process—sometimes learning from previous mistakes, and other times…not so much. I’ve always tried to purchase things from secondhand stores when possible (because the environment), but sometimes it’s just not in the cards.
For many marginalized communities, buying stuff creates a sense of control (I could write about this struggle for days, but for clarity’s sake, read Mikki Kendall’s fabulous book, Hood Feminism). For transgender and gender non-conforming folx, buying clothes, shoes, and accessories that reflect our gender identities gives us a power over our bodies and style that many of us have never had; therefore, purchasing a pair of pumps we don’t “need” isn’t an act of fashionista fierceness, so much as empowering and loving ourselves (although sometimes it’s one of those “I’ve got to have it! purchases that are fueled by personal desire…,” as Janet Mock so eloquently described them).
While rainbows and unicorns (queer identities) are undoubtedly a colossal piece of the puzzle that makes up each and every trans and enby person, they’re not the only identity that we prioritize in our lives. We are undoubtedly in the middle of a climate change crisis that is exacerbated by fast-fashion, factory farming, motorized transportation, pollution, and a host of other icky inconveniences. The results of climate change disproportionately impact marginalized communities, especially in the global South, where hordes of locusts are devouring Africa, and natural disasters have destroyed much of Nepal. In 2016, Louisiana was hit by a ‘1,000-year’ flood a few months after a ‘500-year’ flood wreaked havoc on the state’s people and parishes (Louisiana doesn’t have counties, they have parishes—don’t mix it up). Sea levels are rising around the world, and polar bears and other arctic creatures are losing their habitats. These are big problems that compulsive consumption, or buying things without a second thought, plays a role in.
Transition is obviously a non-negotiable AND you can do it in a way that’s eco-friendly. You don’t have to choose between the two identities.
The worst thing a person can do is buy something new, then throw it away when it no longer serves them. While the donation process has its faults, it is still better than throwing something in the garbage where it will immediately be transferred to landfills. For trans and enby folx interested in incorporating minimalism into their transition, building your wardrobe from thrift stores, clothing swaps, and other second-hand outlets is one way to help combat climate change. You can also go with a capsule wardrobe, where all of your clothes match, so you can make bazillions of outfit combinations, but only own a few pieces. There’s lots of options, especially if you get creative.
The buzzword from the Minimalism documentary on Netflix is intentionality. Transition is the ultimate act of being intentional with yourself, so why not do it in a way that benefits the planet and gives you more reasons to be smug about buying vintage clothing? If ‘minimalism’ isn’t the term that fits best, just tell your friends that you saw Ariana Grande’s post about thrift stores on Instagram, so you thought you’d give them a try.