When things aren’t going well in my life, or feel out of control, I find that one of my ‘quirks’ is that I clean out a closet. The short form of that is cleaning out the refrigerator, I start checking expiration dates, notice a bunch of things no one wants to eat (all those weird jams and jellies people give you at Christmas, the hot sauce that looks like it would kill you if you ever ate it), and the next thing I know, I am surrounded by a million jars and bottles, tossing them into the garbage. And presto magic, two hours later, my refrigerator is nearly empty, scrubbed and immaculate.
The long form of that is cleaning out a closet. No expiration dates, but a stack of clothes you no longer want to wear.
I go for long spells of keeping everything, ‘just in case’ a dress I wore twenty years ago and think I might wear again (but never do), a funny looking coat that might just come back into style (which my kids tell me was never in style in the first place), things that my kids gave me. I hold onto all of it, convinced I will wear it again, but somehow I don’t. Clothes I had a good time in, or a bad time and want to redeem them. And a whole bunch of things in the wrong sizes, that if I just lose three pounds will fit better, or gain five pounds and then they’ll fit again and I might need them. (As small/short as I am, 3 to 5 pounds makes a noticeable difference). And then there are the fashion mistakes that I don’t want to own up to, so I hang onto them for dear life. Maybe some of this sounds familiar to you too.
I have discovered some things about myself in cleaning out my closets. Shopping relaxes me, and sometimes when I am sad or very stressed, I’ll go shopping. I do it particularly on a Sunday, when I’m lonely, bored, not working, or have nothing to do. I’ll go shopping with one of my daughters or alone, and I buy something, but it’s not really me, but I convince myself that it looks cute at the time (and in fact, it doesn’t), so there is a whole bunch of my Sunday shopping stuffed into my closet.
The other thing I do is buy something that looks good—but not on me. It just isn’t my style, or the kind of thing I wear. In that case, I ask the person I’m with (usually a daughter) “do you think I’ll wear this?” Their answer is almost always emphatically no! (Or ‘I hope not!’, particularly if it’s a weird color, shiny, or has sparkles on it. I get a little weird on Sundays). But I’m stubborn, so I convince myself that the item in question really is cute and I’ll wear it. And the truth is I never do. In a recent closet purge, every one of those ‘Do you think I’ll wear this?’ items came out of my closet unworn. I’ve learned a real lesson from it. If I have to ask the question ‘Do you think I’ll wear this?’, I never will, and I shouldn’t buy it in the first place. I’m going to try not to buy those items in future.
So, feeling down after the recent death of my beloved stepmother, not wanting to go out and see people, I was hanging around at home, and decide to put the time to good use—and I attacked my closets. It turned into a massive project, and after a while, I turned zealous about it. The trouble with keeping a bunch of stuff you don’t wear, don’t like, and that no longer looks good on you, is that you can’t find the stuff that does look good on you when you look for something to wear. My closets were a mess, so I started pulling out the uglies, the things that looked great on me 20 years ago and no longer do, the things I shouldn’t have bought in the first place (an orange plastic jacket that was really scary, a lot of stuff with sequins that I would never have the guts to wear, a turtleneck sweater that nearly strangled me when I put it on. If it looks ugly, makes you feel bad, or it no longer fits and never will again, maybe you should consider parting with it). And out it all came in a heap on the floor. And along with the stuff I was embarrassed to have bought, were a bunch of things I had forgotten that I owned, some really pretty stuff that was hidden behind the rest, a white jacket I bought ten years ago that was really chic and I forgot I owned, a beautiful brown handbag I can’t wait to wear, two really good looking green plastic bangle bracelets that will be fun for the summer, and some very good looking black blouses. Suddenly, I had a whole wardrobe I could wear. I found a ten year old black and white checked wool suit that was almost identical to one I just saw in W magazine this week and was drooling over. By getting rid of the junk and the mistakes, and the things I had seriously outgrown, I actually discovered the best items in my wardrobe, and it was fun and exciting to find them, to have easy access to them because the rest is gone. I can suddenly reach into my closet and find something I want to wear, instead of ten things I don’t because I feel ugly in them. My criteria was ‘do I want to wear this?’ If the answer was no, it went in the ‘goodbye’ pile.
It was both easier and harder because I had an audience while I did it. One of my daughters was home, and watched me tear apart my closets. With 3 daughters who work in fashion, I have a tough advisory board here, and sometimes I get a resounding “No, Mom!” over something I love and want to keep. I also have to use some of my own judgment, no matter how chic they are. Their judgment is a lot younger, they are more tuned in to the current fashion trends, and some of that just doesn’t look right on me. It’s a little tough to have them go technical on me and tell me they don’t like ‘the silhouette’—-never mind ‘the silhouette’, does my behind look big in this? But sometimes it’s a good thing to have a second opinion. Remember the scene in the movie ‘Sex and the City’ where Carrie’s 3 friends line up, as she models everything in her closet, and they brutally tell her what to keep and what to get rid of. Well, it was like that when I recently purged my closets. There were a lot of ‘No, Mom!’’s, but there was a lot of great stuff too, that I loved, had forgotten, and am excited to wear again. It’s like having a whole new wardrobe. And I’m digging it all out of my own closet and didn’t have to spend a penny.
There is money in this too. I used to donate my clothes to thrift shops, and my fashionable daughters convinced me several years ago to sell the good stuff at resale shops. And to be honest, it’s nice getting some money back for the mistakes. Why not?
The big lesson I learned is that when I need to ask someone on my Sunday shopping ventures ‘Do you think I’ll wear this?’—it is ALWAYS a mistake. Always. I’m going to stop buying those from now on.
I actually had a ball cleaning out my closets. Some of what I found there was embarrassing, and some was really great, and I found some old favorites that I’ve missed and lost track of.
I highly recommend cleaning out your closet as a fun activity. And you’ll be amazed what you learn about yourself. And you’ll probably find some good surprises in there too. And right now, while we’re all trying to be restrained and reasonable, shopping your closet is fun and really works!