Well, I missed my first publicly self-imposed deadline this week.
On the other hand, I cleaned my closet.
Since you are unacquainted with my closet, you may not be impressed. But it was bad enough that I had become semi-convinced I had a resident poltergeist: some sort of conscious being who had taken to hiding whatever I was looking for — some item I would have recently seen in a location I was sure of, but which would be gone when I needed it — completely unfindable — until I gave up and moved on. Then, when I was hunting for the next mysteriously vanished object, the previous one would reappear. I wasn’t sure whether my poltergeist was malevolent or just ramping up the pressure to get me to clean up. But clearly it was time.
The closet is a good-sized walk-in, the smaller of two built by the couple who previously lived here, after they had shared one closet for 20 years. It has built-in cubbies, hooks, and drawers (several of which haven’t worked in years, but I’m too embarrassed by the mess to let anyone in to fix them); and one high shelf that runs around the whole space, where I keep stuff that’s out of season or that I don’t wear any more.
Why, you ask, keep clothes I don’t wear any more?
Well, how do I know that I won’t ever need them again? For starters, I have been many weights and corresponding clothing sizes since we moved here almost 26 years ago. At one point I was 25 pounds heavier, and it would be depressing enough to gain those back without having to buy bigger blue jeans all over again, instead of just taking down the pile and pulling out a larger pair. Child of a mother whose motto was When in Doubt, Throw It Out, I am, instead, She Who Agonizes Over Throwing It Away — for years — finally tosses it, and invariably needs it 20 minutes later. So I’m paranoid about tossing, and stuff does pile up.
I tried to clean out my nightstand some time back. Odd things accumulate there —stuff that was never really useful to begin with, and which never becomes any less so. I spent half an hour going through the bottom drawer, and it was the most fabulous time travel: a baby name book (my children are now 25 and 18), someone’s itty bitty tooth in a tiny plastic chest, the insides of what had been the head of my younger son’s beloved stuffed bunny (which had fallen out of a gaping hole at its neck, bitten through by our old yellow lab), cards my husband and I exchanged on our 10th wedding anniversary (18 years ago). I laughed, I cried, I had a wonderful time — and afterwards I put most of it back in the drawer.
Clothes are no easier. I’m not particularly interested in fashion, gravitating toward the same shapes year after year (leggings, oversized sweaters, A-line tunics, swirly skirts, scarves). I love comfort, hate being cold, and have what can only be described as a color addiction. In her bestselling decluttering book, Marie Kondo suggests deciding what to keep and what to ditch by holding each item and asking, “‘Does this spark joy?’ If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.” Holding a gorgeous sweater in a rich purple brings me joy even if I haven’t worn it in ten years (especially if it was a gift) — and even more joy folded next to a pretty rose-colored one.
The result reminds me of a New York subway car at 42nd Street, at the height of rush hour. And sadly, past a certain point, you really can’t wear a beloved old garment to dress up no matter how gloriously purple and soft, because it stretches out of shape and fades unevenly — and that’s even if you haven’t committed a laundry malfeasance because you weren’t paying attention when you loaded the dryer and ruined a perfectly good sweater. I have one of those saved where I can see it often, as a cautionary reminder.
When I told him I had found the floor of my closet, my husband asked if that was a metaphor. I said no, it was a fact; but of course it was both. The closet and the nightstand will have given you a pretty good idea of what the rest of the house looks like — especially when you learn that of the four of us in this family who live or have lived here, I am by far the neatest. We have work to do.
And of course, the harder part of decluttering is not the time and physical effort so much as the mental shift required: learning to notice what we may be hanging on to that we no longer need, and letting it go. And more: noticing the way we grasp after cool new stuff we think we need, and pausing to ask whether we really do — or whether we might be better off with more space rather than more stuff.
I have a long way to go. But the clean closet feels great.