In the closet or out?

Did you think this post would having something to do with being gay?

No, nothing so meaningful. I’m just wondering what I’m supposed to do with my clothes, prompted by a quick read of an article about decluttering the closet.

Sadly, I think it raised more questions than it answered.

“As you go, get rid of anything that is worn or stained, that doesn’t fit, that isn’t flattering or that you just don’t like.”

Doesn’t this sound smart and simple?

But what if I like the idea I might somehow, someday fit back into something and it will look flattering? (Like that long black velvet dress I wore to a Millennium Christmas party in 1999. The one I haven’t a snowball’s chance of having anywhere else to wear, even if it did magically still fit. Should I get rid of that? My one and only really pretty long dress I ever bought? Oh, yeah, there’s the wedding dress too — even prettier, if I do say so myself.)

What if I don’t know it isn’t flattering? Probably half my wardrobe would qualify, if I had Stacy and Clint here.

“Hang all of your fall clothes backward, says Ecker. As you wear them, put the hanger back on the rod the traditional way. At the end of winter, if an item is still hanging backward, it’s probably something you should get rid of.”

Ummmm….get rid of something if I haven’t worn it in one season? I have perfectly good clothes in my closet I haven’t worn in 10 years! Why? I don’t work in an office anymore. I can count on one hand the times I’ve had to dress in business attire (even business casual) in the last few years. Does that mean I should get rid of half my wardrobe?

Do you save a few professional outfits for “emergencies” (meetings, church, funerals) and purge the rest?

What if the jacket of a business suit is still fine, but not the pants or skirt? Do you give the whole suit away, break it up and give half away, or hang onto it?

I just counted…I have 15 skirts in the guestroom closet — only 1 of which I’ve worn in the last year. Does that mean 14 of them should go?

Oddly, I also have 15 blazers — maybe 3 of which I’ve worn in the last year. Bye-bye 12 blazers?

And what about dressy clothes? I’ve worn the same dress to my 20-year high school reunion and 2 family weddings…enough already?

And you know, as soon as I do get rid of something, it’s going to be “in” again…shoulder pads, long blazers, tapered slacks, floral skirts, whatever it might be. I no sooner got rid of a “hopelessly” outdated plaid wool skirt I’d had for years last year when I saw a nearly identical one in the store a couple months later.

What about grubby work clothes? Not nice enough to give away, too many to keep — am I bad person if I just throw them away? Surely that would be wrong, right? Don’t poor people in insert third-world country here need them? So what do you do?

If I do purge half my clothes, what’s it gonna get me? More room in the guestroom closet, but for what? It’s not like I’m going to go out and buy new clothes to replace them. I could probably live the rest of my life with the clothes I have right now (assuming no big weight gain).  Sure, I’d be sick of them and woefully out of fashion…but I’m verging on that already.

Would I feel better if I got rid of half my clothes?

Would anyone feel better if I got rid of half my clothes?

How did I get so darn many clothes in the first place? (Because you’re OLD, that’s why.)

What’s so great about a decluttered closet anyway?

There, I closed the closet door. And the guestroom door, just to be safe.

Fast. Easy. Stress-free.

Now, on to the basement.

Distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes.
~ Henry David Thoreau


Maybe you caught one of the shows Oprah has done on hoarding. Or maybe you’ve seen accounts on the news or in the paper of people who literally cannot open their doors or move about their houses because of the floor-to-ceiling stacks and piles of stuff — aka rubbish, trash, junk, garbage. Some people even hoard animals — much to their detriment (the animals’ and the people’s).

Hoarding is considered a real malady related to OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). And while researchers aren’t sure why people hoard, they think genetics and upbringing play a role, as they do in OCD.

Genetics and upbringing? In my family that means one thing: holy crap. 

While I don’t think we actually qualify as psychologically disturbed (at least not when it comes to hoarding), we definitely have those tendencies in our genetics and upbringing, thanks to my mother’s side. We recently had to clean out one room in her house — a sunroom (what we always call the sunparlor) about 10′ by 16′. It took 4 of us about 3 days. For one room. Granted, it was a bad one — with only the smallest of spaces to stand amidst old furniture, magazines, scads of plastic take-out containers, books, games, bags of old drapes, a rolled up carpet, a 4½ foot statue of Jesus (don’t ask), and more. It was a junk room gone mad. The house also has an absolutely insane 3-room attic, a berserk cellar, and a few nutty bedrooms.

Our task this week is to take advantage of the dumpster on site for the construction project to transform said sunparlor into a bathroom and small bedroom and get rid of as much of this accumulated madness as we think we can get away with without my mother noticing. It won’t be easy — like all hoarders, she’s extremely attached to her things. But, regardless of mama’s wrath, go it must, and go it will.  

I’m hoping to use the dumpster opportunity to get rid of some hoarded trash chez moi as well. (Nothing compels a woman to action quicker than the thought she is turning into her mother.) Unfortunately, I’ve married a hoarder (though he doesn’t think so), so there’s only so much I can do. But I’ve taken real steps to break my own pack rat tendencies. A while back, I actually threw away a couple shoe boxes full of old cards and letters from my childhood. It wasn’t easy — that postcard from Beth McVeigh from her 4th grade family trip to Florida…the letters from my sister when I was 10 and she was 20 and away at college (15 minutes away)…30+ years of birthday cards. But I did it, and I was proud of myself.

I still have a problem with boxes — empty boxes. I’ve moved half a dozen times, and finding moving boxes is such a struggle I have a hard time parting with a sturdy box. Right now, we have dozens of boxes, some flattened, some not, stashed all over the house. I also have “collections” that I have no idea how to part with — I paid money for these things on eBay, at flea markets, and at antique stores, and am loathe to just give them away. But who hasn’t seen Aunt Minnie’s 47 adorable raccoons or Uncle Al’s beloved salt & pepper shakers languishing on the 10¢ table. I can picture a similar fate for my treasures.

In the meantime, I’ll collect some good karma by pitching someone else’s “trash.” Maybe that’s the key — to let someone else do the pitching for you in methodical, detached fashion. Preferably someone with good sense and good taste. Hmmm….any takers? You declutter my house, and I’ll declutter yours. Chances are neither of us will walk away empty-handed.

You have succeeded in life when all
you really want is only what you really need. 
                                              ~ Vernon Howard


The “simplify” mantra has become so popular, and it’s easy to see why. Now that the Christmas decorations are down and the house is more or less back to normal, it actually looks a little stark. Which, if you know me, you know I have tons of chatchkes and collectibles and so does Mike, so for the status quo to look “stark,” you can imagine the holiday excess.

But it’s so refreshing. The house feels like it has breathing space. And I actually got Mike to help me load up the car with several boxes, bags of clothes, and some unused tables to donate to the local Christian Laymen’s organization. It felt so great to get rid of stuff I’ve had packed up for probably a year (how embarrassing). Now I want to do more!

The problem is a genetic predisposition to hoard. My mother grew up during the Depression; times were hard and the family had very little; as a result, she throws nothing away (the attic and basement in our family home are downright scary). Her brother was the same way. My cousins tell of cleaning out my uncle’s things after he died and coming upon a bucket filled with the little nozzles from spray cans. I guess you just never know when you might need one — or a thousand. As a result, my sisters and I are fascinated by stories about people who hoard — we can see those same traits in ourselves.

My friends coined a good name for this need to simplify — CRaP (Consolidate, Reduce, and Plan). Some things I’m wrestling with in my own CRaP efforts:

  • Cookbooks. Aside from a few favorites I can’t part with, I have probably 10 others I never open. The Web is always my go-to source for recipes these days…so surely some of the cookbooks can go?
  • Books in general. I don’t have anything like an extensive library, but we have a few shelves in the attic of novels and a few textbooks, and I have some work-related business topical books (that I never look at). I don’t know, I have visions of someday having a little library and time to sit down with a good book in front of a roaring fire. But I’ve read all these…keep ’em anyway?
  • Collectibles. I have a lot of stuff, including a large collection of china and nowhere to even display it all. I have a couple boxes of really lovely things all packed up. There’s not really a market for them anymore, even on eBay — I acquired them over time and many were gifts, but I’m at a loss. I suspect these will have to stay in their boxes for a while longer.
  • Clothes. Having worked from home these last 9 years, my wardrobe is a joke — a few go-to outfits for business meetings and the occasional event, and a lot of stuff that looks 10-15 years out of date. And dressy clothes I haven’t worn since the long-ago days of office Christmas parties. I know at least another garbage bag full can go, along with a couple coats.
  • Housewares. I have many things tucked away in cedar chests and such — curtains, drapes, throw rugs, comforters — things I can’t use here, but I always think “someday?” (On HGTV shows, they’re always raiding people’s closets and pulling out “treasures” like this to redo spaces — what are the odds a designer is going to come and do that for me?)
  • Work samples. I have a couple underbed boxes filled with old print samples of projects I worked on 10 or 15 years ago (back in the days when companies actually printed materials instead of just posting them on the Web.) These are tough to part with for historical reasons, but I haven’t looked at them in years and I do have some portfolio binders as well in case a prospective client wants to see samples.

Oh the burden of our possessions. Tastes change, spaces change, styles change, sizes change, but our stuff stays the same. I do feel the load, particularly since I’ve moved more than most people and know what it feels like to have to pack it all up, haul it somewhere else, and deal with it there. Oh, and you have to love all the paper — 7+ years of income tax records, bank statements, and such — forced clutter. Along with project papers that “I just might need.”

But, now that the S I M P L I F Y mood is upon me, I want to keep going. To feel lighter and less burdened. To make room for new ideas, new ways of looking at things, and yes, maybe some new possessions more in tune with how I feel and what I want now. It sounds so S I M P L E — why is it so, so H A R D?

The sculptor produces the beautiful statue by chipping away
such parts of the marble block as are not needed –
it is a process of elimination. 
                                                ~ Elbert Hubbard