by Daniel Penny

My wife and I began to plan our move from Brooklyn to a little flat in Cambridge, UK in June of 2020. She’d gotten into a PhD in February, but then COVID made the idea of moving across the Atlantic seem like an insane proposition. By the summer, with the infection numbers, down, we decided to go through with it, which meant we only had about two months to find a new place, clear out our old one, sort our Visa paperwork, and get a pet passport for our dog.

With so many moving parts, the packing of what we actually planned to take with us fell low on our list of priorities. I knew there would be things we couldn’t bring; some pieces of furniture and plants were being taken under temporary custody by friends and family, and the rest I had to sell on Instagram. And there was plenty of junk to clear out. Over the course of the summer, a steady stream of random objects made their way to our brownstone’s stoop: a well-loved yellow Le Creuset tea kettle, a broody Gerhart Richter poster, a Christmas tree stand. This was all easy enough to part with--things I liked at one time, had served me dutifully, but now had to leave my possession.

Normally, when I take a trip, I’m a ruthless packer. When my wife and I went on our honeymoon to Paris and Sicily a few years ago in late September, the weather was already turning crisp in the city of lights, but the sun was shining steadily on the ruins of Syracuse. Weaker souls would have checked a bag, but we did three weeks with a carry-on each, rewearing the same stuff, washing things as needed, and enjoying the freedom of being unencumbered (and the joys of eating delicious food and having put our wedding behind us). But this trip was different. I would not be returning to my closet and wardrobe filled with all the things I’d elected not to bring. This would be a final parting, and I was reluctant to let go of any of my hard-won treasures. The hours spent on eBay alone!

When September rolled around and I still hadn’t cleared out my closet, my wife’s occasionally disapproving glances turned into full time pestering--with good reason. Like many wannabe-gurus in the world of men’s fashion, I’ve long preached buying better and less, but that doesn’t mean I actually take my own advice. After living in New York for nine years and only moving once (to the apartment above our first place), I had accumulated a lot of stuff: ten pairs of jeans, six pairs of chinos and cords four sport coats, three suits, a tuxedo, a half-dozen jackets and coats, way too many ties, shorts and swimsuits, athletic gear, mountains of socks and underwear and old T-shirts, two dozen pairs of shoes, and enough sweaters to knit a flock of sheep. It was an embarrassment of riches.

What’s worse, I’d been insisting that my wife was the one with the fashion problem. That she needed to get rid of things we couldn’t possibly bring to England. Old J.Crew stuff she never wore anymore, cheap jeans with holes not worth repairing. My therapist would call this a case of projection. With only three days before our flight, it came time to actually pack, and my wife did so with ease--while I was jumping on my suitcase and wrestling the zippers shut. In the end, I had dozens of items that couldn’t make the cut, and bid my farewells.

The past decade has seen a vogue for capsule wardrobes, closet edits, and decluttering. Each has its own philosophy for how you should decide what to keep or discard: Does it work with your other clothes in nearly infinite combinations? Does it spark joy? I can’t say I was so methodical in my selection. Mostly I kept my nicest things and tossed what I’d held onto beyond its prime, or that no longer fit, or what was no longer in fashion. What I had cherished and hoarded left my apartment in garbage bags, dumped unceremoniously at a local thrift store. Nobody wanted to buy them, so I had to give them away.

With my reduced wardrobe, I’ve resolved to think about my stuff in a new way. What I brought were all my favorite things, a rugby stripe shetland, a perfectly distressed pair of 501s--but because they were my favorite clothes, I had been treating them with too much reverence, afraid of wearing them out or staining them. They would last forever, but only by denying myself the pleasure of wearing them! Now I have no other choice; I wear my good clothes all the time. I take the dog for a walk in my favorite sweater and trustiest boots, and I live with the consequences. I’ve come to see that actually, I was able to bring everything that matters, but I’ll try to leave that old preciousness behind.