Gap Year Chronicles: The 6 Useful Lessons I Learned On My Journey of Opting for a Smaller Closet Whilst Living Abroad

Words: Aleksandra Medina

Hi! My name is Aleksandra, I am 20 years old. Since June 2017, I have lived in three different countries on my own.

Let me give you a little backstory.

I moved away from home for the very first time when I was 18 to go off to university. It was my dream university and everything was supposed to be perfect. However, I had spent one year in one of the world top universities, when I suddenly realised I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. Or even what I wanted to study. I realised I lack real life experiences. And, as cliché as it sounds, I felt the pressing urge to "find myself". So, I took a huge leap of faith and decided to embark on the unknown journey of a gap year. I finished my freshman year and returned back to my hometown, Riga. However, I had promised myself that I will not exactly spend my gap year on my parent’s couch watching Netflix. I wanted to travel, gather life experiences and finally prove to myself that I can spend an entire year paying for all my experiences myself.

  Image: Author's own

Image: Author's own

So, now, as I am writing this, it’s nearing the end of November and I have lived in three European capitals by myself: London, Paris and Madrid. In the meantime, I have visited Milan, Odessa and Monaco. And, man, how many valuable lessons these experiences have taught me! And right there, amongst the top lessons I learned, I’ve found one of the most important ones - it was the way living out of one suitcase with a maximum weight of 20 kilograms (along with the lesson of better organising my budget) changed my closet. Here’s the few lessons I have learned that might be worth taking note of in terms of making less(!) space for your wardrobe. 

1. CHOOSING QUALITY OVER QUANTITY

I know this isn’t a breakthrough statement and it has been said a gazillion times before. But, this is certainly true when you have to pull through three months, with clothes and personal belongings weighing just under 20 kilograms. 

It’s quite difficult to convey the significance of this statement through an article read by people who don’t know me personally. I love clothes. I love shopping. I truly care about the way I dress. I keep myself informed about current trends. But the way I love clothes and love shopping has changed significantly. It’s not about getting as much out of the trends and interpret them to fit into my closet anymore. It’s about learning about the trends and figuring out which pieces will withstand time and trend-changes, and form a great capsule wardrobe. Secondly, I finally reached the point in my life where I realised it’s completely worth investing in a quality piece that you will be wearing and using every day. Going to Primark or H&M just isn’t an option anymore. I don’t have the finances, the time, nor the closet space to waste for a piece I will wear twice, or that will dissolve just after 10 washes. For example, take a quality pair of black skinny jeans. Instead of buying a new pair every two months because the quality doesn’t exactly pass the test of time, I can just buy one pair I really love, and not end up with six pairs of worn-out jeans collecting dust in the back of my closet as a result. 

2. LEARN TO LOVE AND RE-USE YOUR BASIC CLASSICS

A white T-shirt, a pair of black skinny jeans, a black skirt, a pair of Converse sneakers, a leather jacket, a pair of Chelsea boots, a pair of black pumps and a white blouse: these are the must-haves that I have discovered for myself. These essentials can be worn and transformed into appropriate outfits for nearly any situation. Once I figured out my 8-piece list of basic classics, I realised that these are the articles of clothing I wear most of the time. Other items and accessories are just extras, barely being worn at all. Figuring out the building blocks of my style and closet has showed already great results: travelling with just a carry-on has never been easier and faster to figure out. 

3. YOU WILL DO FINE WITH JUST ONE PAIR OF HIGH HEELS

This is one of the most painful lessons I learned. As a sixteen-year-old high schooler, I was already a proud owner of around 8 pairs of high heels, and I couldn’t imagine going anywhere without taking all of them with me. But I survived with just one pair of black pumps throughout my summer abroad. Black pumps go with everything. Black pumps are amazing. Invest in a quality pair that will withstand the longest nights and not cause your feet to bleed by the end of the night. Ditto.

4. JUST ONE PURSE CAN GO A LONG WAY

Another painful realisation for me. Although I had brought along a couple of favourite purses when I was in Paris and London, I realised I almost always used only one of them. And now I have been in Madrid for about a month with a single purse, and I am still doing fine. However, I must admit that the purse has to be of good quality, if you plan on wearing it every day. On top of that, it should be a timeless piece: a signature speaking volumes of your personal style, rather than a passing trend. It also helps if you are completely in love with your purse, like I am with mine.

"I had promised myself that I will not exactly spend my gap year on my parent’s couch watching Netflix. I wanted to travel, gather life experiences and finally prove to myself that I can spend an entire year paying for all my experiences myself."

  Image: Author's own

Image: Author's own

5. ONE STATEMENT PIECE WILL ROCK YOUR EVERY OUTFIT

For me, it’s still my Lagerfeld purse. It’s my signature piece and it finishes up pretty much every single outfit I wear. It makes me feel fierce. It improves even the simplest outfit based on my basic classics. While matching with pretty much everything, it is also distinctive enough to level up my style game. I can wear it for a job interview, when I go grocery shopping, when I go to the club or when I am stuck in an airport layover for hours to kill time. 

6. SWEATERS AND COATS ARE TOO HEAVY FOR ME... SO I LEARNED TO SURVIVE +5 DEGREES IN A LEATHER JACKET AND SNEAKERS

True story. Sweaters are just too heavy. They also never seem to fit into a carry-on. For me, ditching them was the only option.