My de-cluttering was cruising along no problem.

Old sweaters that I don’t wear any more? In the donation pile. Jeans that don’t fit? Donate ’em. Tops that I wear occasionally but don’t really need? Donated. Dresses that I rarely wear but that make me feel sexy…. errrrrrch. (That was the sound of my de-cluttering coming to a grinding halt.)

Even though I very rarely wear my collection of short, flirty, sexy, dresses, I found myself having a very hard time letting go of them. In the past two years, I have found myself wearing these sorts of dresses less and less frequently. When I was younger (read: 18 – 22) I went out to nightclubs a couple times per month and therefore had occasion to wear my sexy dresses. At the ripe old age of 25 I am much less interested in clubbing (although I still enjoy it on occasion… mostly the dancing part), but I still love to know that there is something in my closet that I slip into and feel instantly sexy.

So I came face to face with a difficult truth: I couldn’t let go of “sexy.”

This raises three very important questions in my mind: 1) What is “being sexy?” 2) Why is being sexy (or at least having the option to be) so important to me? 3) Is being sexy really contingent upon having all of these dresses?

What is being sexy? The kind of “being sexy” that I am talking about here is the performance of one’s cultural beauty norms for the purpose of being considered attractive by potential partners – even if you’re not really interested in finding a partner. But seriously – a lot of women know intuitively what this means. For me it’s: short skirt/dress, high heels, push up bra, hair done, night eye makeup. Maybe for other women it includes a manicure, fake eyelashes, and perfectly highlighted and straightened hair. A lot of the time we aren’t doing it to attract a guy or girl – we’re doing it because of how being sexy makes us feel (more about that in question 2).

Why is being sexy so important? For a young woman in my culture, being sexy instantly elevates one’s status in society. Being a sexy woman means that you are desired, envied, worthy of someone’s attention and love. Being sexy is one of the fastest and easiest (and at times the only) route to elevating our status. Why does status matter? Having status in society means that our merits are applauded, our views are heard, our needs are tended to, and that we have social clout. Throughout our entire lives women are sold the notion that our self-esteem and self-worth hinges on our looks and our desirability as women. My desire to “be sexy” is an embodiment of a desire to be valued because I have internalized the belief that sexiness=being valued. Even though I actively challenge the norm of women being valued for their attractiveness I still get caught up in the desire to be sexy.

Is being sexy really contingent upon having all of my dresses? While I wrestle with overcoming the need to “be sexy” can I reduce the number of dresses that I own?

Once I understood where the strong desire to hold onto my dresses was coming from it became easier to let them go. In fact, giving them away became an act of defiance: I was not going to be economically tied to the need to be sexy.

I did come to a compromise: I will keep ONE dress that makes me feel sexy and conventionally attractive. I am going to work my way down to just having one. This solution worked very well for breaking my lipgloss habit. The other part of the compromise was that I gave some of my dresses away to friends. I didn’t foist them off on anyone unwilling, but somehow knowing that I could still borrow them (even though I probably never will) made it easier to part with them. I still have a few dresses that I am in the process of selling or donating, but I won’t be giving into the temptation to keep them.

Becoming a minimalist is forcing me to confront a lot of my own anxieties surrounding my possessions and their links to my identity. Every time that I deal with a challenge like this one I feel that I am liberating myself from a self-defeating belief. What beliefs about your possessions have you been forced to confront, or are hoping to confront? I would love to hear about them in the comments!