What I Learned from Paul’s Pair of Shorts

Having moved myself and my belongings from Arizona to Brooklyn three months ago, the memory of just how many earthly possessions I am capable of accumulating is still pretty vivid in my mind. Spoiler: it’s too many.

Just 2/20 of the bags I brought bursting at their seams with me from Arizona

It took me over two weeks to sift through the mountain of fabric debris that had once been a drawer (or two) full of sweaters. I’d hastily emptied the contents out of my dresser onto my bedroom’s carpeted ground (ah, Arizona) so I could sell the dresser in a yard sale. It was an existentially traumatic period of time that involved me gripping onto each piece of clothing tightly, trying to decide whether it gave me joy, or if I really needed a seventh black cardigan.

It’s always difficult for me to give away or get rid of possessions because it means I’m acknowledging that a) I’ve changed and no longer want/need the possession, b) I’ve failed to change in a way I thought I might when I first procured the possession (i.e. kitten heels for when I envisioned myself as someone who wears anything besides comfortable flats everyday), c) I have no idea who I really am because I never once wore those strawberry-colored high-rise denim shorts that I was sure I would, or d) all of the above.

So, I was happy with myself when I was able to condense my clothes and books and shoes and headbands and socks and silverware to fit into a very compact Ford Fiesta and then a slightly less but still very compact Brooklyn apartment.

Then I realized that I (in combination with my things) had taken up 75% of the space in the apartment. Leaving only 20% of the space for Paul—my roommate and boyfriend’s—things. (5% of the space for furniture. JK, beds are pretty big.) And 20% is generous considering that at least 10% of that percentage is probably (definitely) stuff we both use, like cereal bowls.

I didn’t stop to investigate how exactly Paul was able to have just a quarter of the closet space, and no dressers, for his belongings until we were both packing to leave for a short trip. That’s when it came to light that Paul, the person I believe is my soulmate, owns one pair of shorts.

I’m pausing for dramatic effect. To let that fully sink in.

There’s a small caveat I’ll offer here: he does own some athletic shorts as well. So, like knee-length basketball shorts and slightly shorter running ones. But in terms of casual, non-stretchy-material shorts? One pair. And they’re cut-offs that he made himself from some old chinos.

The shorts in question

I was downright confused about how he was able to get through the summer with just one pair of shorts. And after having observed Paul as a Case Study in Minimalism, apart from some lingering questions about Summer Laundry Days, I think I understand how it works.

Paul is quick to point out that he doesn’t care how he looks, and is fine with looking “bad” or “very bad” as he personally puts it. And while I think there’s something cathartic and freeing in not staking too much on how you appear to the world, I also know that Paul’s not being entirely honest. Put that guy into a pair of lobster-patterned Brooks Brothers slacks and boy does he care. He is ready to lie face-first on the sidewalk covered in trash to avoid being seen in such an outfit by anyone.

I’ve noted these observations and more, taking his behavior down carefully on my Case Study clipboard. What I believe is going on instead of complete apathy is: Paul has confidence that he’ll only ever want to appear one way no matter what the context of the social setting is. No matter where he is going or who he is seeing, there is one version of Paul. He doesn’t need another pair of shorts that would allow him to access a different side of himself, or portray himself differently. That’s not to say there aren’t a variety of facets to Paul. He can be serious, political, funny, goofy, sleepy, hungry, basketball-obsessed, and a myriad of many more meaningful descriptors. But, again he doesn’t feel the need to dress differently based on either external variables of what he’ll be doing or internal variables of how he is feeling that day.

I definitely can’t fathom having that level of self-assuredness. To know so decisively exactly who you are and how you will always ever feel like dressing seems impossible to me. At first, I agonized over the fact that because of these sentiments, I’d never be able to own just one pair of shorts. What kind of magical shorts would be an option to wear to a brunch with my fancy friends and also to slip on after an unsanctioned evening road race—something both sporty and grungy, yet dignified and maybe even elegant? I haven’t found them, yet.

For Paul, the answer is always the Chino Cutoffs. And, while I do envy the conclusiveness of only having one option, I’ve realized that having one pair of shorts is not just a side effect of knowing yourself. In fact, I know myself too well to ever have less than two pairs of shorts. I know that I’ll never be in the exact same mood twice. I’m self-assured in my lack of constant self-assuredness. I like the idea that maybe eventually, I’ll be able to get down to three, or four pairs of shorts to correspond to three or four consistent sets of moods I might be in. But, I also like the idea that I may never be able to predict or pin down exactly what my inclinations will be on any one day. In fact, I might, maybe like that idea even more.