Tips and musings on organizing your way from chaos to calm

Clothes and Prose

Books and clothes.  Clothes and books.  Why are these some of the hardest things to part with?  Well, if you’re like most people, your sense of self - your identity - is wrapped up in your books and clothing.

Now, I could have said that your sense of self is wrapped up in what you read and what you wear, but those aren’t necessarily the same thing.  For lots of folks, clothing doesn’t have to be the right size, color, or trend to warrant some space in the closet.  In fact, they don’t even have to like it.  Books, too, get a free pass despite not having been read in years (or possibly ever).  We often keep these objects around, clogging up our closets, shelves, and garages, despite not using them for their intended purpose.  Books, after all, were manufactured so that the information they contain can be read and learned.  Clothing is created to be worn, not to collect dust.  Instead, we use them in an unintended way, to help us maintain a tangible connection to who we were, who we are, and who we would like to become. We literally see who we were, are, and could be by simply glancing at these items.  And though that is not why we brought most of these objects into our lives, it is way we allow them to remain.

My client, June,* is a bubbly, thirty-something stay-at-home mom of three.  June hired me to help her declutter her bedroom and transform it into a place of, “peace and passion.”  I first headed towards the closet, anxious to make the most of that space.  I immediately noticed that about half of the closet was filled with formal business attire.  June explained that she wore this clothing regularly about 8 years ago, before she had children, and when she was employed full time in a corporate setting.     They had no role in June’s life as present, weren’t June’s current size, and, in June’s words, made her look “frumpy” and “out of date.”   “So why keep them?” I pressed.  “It’s just so weird to think of not having them, I used to wear them all the time.  I know I don’t look good in them anymore.    But they are from such a special time in my life, right after college before marriage, and kids and all that.”    Bingo.  So, ironically, the clothing gets a lifelong invitation in June’s closet because it connects her to a simpler time in her life – a connection she fears she will lose without holding on to physical reminders.  We can all relate to this.  How many of you still have your prom outfits (or dates…gasp!)?

Dorothy,*a different client, had a bookshelf in her front living room  on which she tastefully displayed some rather serious looking books on history, politics, and the like. I was, therefore, a little surprised when I walked into her  bedroom and saw stacks and stacks of romance novels on, around, and under her bed.  Embarrassed, Dorothy explained, “This is what I really read.”  “Why, then,” I asked, “dedicate prime real estate on your living room bookcase to books that you don’t read?”  She responded, “Well, because I SHOULD read that stuff.  And I can’t have people see THESE” (pointing to the romance novels and the…shall we say… rather amorous artwork on the cover :) ) Dorothy’s sense of self (and her fears about how others would view her) resulted in Dorothy’s public space (the living room) having the illusion of calm, while her private space (the bedroom) revealed the chaos resulting from this lack of self-acceptance. She spent most of her time at home in her bedroom, where she felt most comfortable, and avoided the living room, which she described as “cold.”

Are you keeping things around because they are connected to who you remember being or who you fantasize about becoming? Do you keep waiting to become the sort of person that will wear these clothes and read these books?   This can result in depression and self-criticism, since inevitably there will be a gap between who you are and what the books/clothes symbolically represent.  Letting go of a symbol isn’t discarding a memory or giving up on a dream; rather, it’s about accepting who you are now, knowing you can always do something different later.  That’s freedom.

June has been able to let go of most of the clothing, donating it to a local charity she feels really good about.  We dedicated one beautiful memento box to the rest of the clothing, as well as some photos of her wearing some of her favorite outfits.  We  placed it within eyesight and easy reach in her closet, for whenever she wants to go down memory lane.  Dorothy and I relocated her romance novels, except for a few by her nightstand, to the bookcase in the living room (don’t tell the neighbors!).  The “books that make people think I’m really smart” were donated to the local library in the hopes that people will just think Dorothy is really smart anyway.  So far our plan is working :)

*All client names have been changed to protect their privacy.

Tags: , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Clothes and Prose”

  1. Martha Kegerise Says:

    I understand about keeping things that have memories attached. To me its’ all about the importance and do you have the space?
    When it comes to clothes, I am going through everything now. I will give myself 1 year to get back into my smaller size clothes, provided they are still in style. Otherwise out the door!
    Besides the fact that I don’t have the closet space, it is depressing to keep looking at these things. I am living in the present.

  2. Eve D'Onofrio Says:

    Good for you! And don’t forget to make a realistic plan – step by step – for getting back into those clothes in a year so it’s more than a dream :) Enjoy the present!

Leave a Reply