After extracting, sorting and hauling pounds of garbage in a creek clean up two weeks ago, I thought tackling my wardrobe would be a breeze. Ha!
While nothing in my closet is rusty, stinky or heavy, many of my clothes carry invisible baggage that makes deciding what to keep, sell or donate like navigating an emotional minefield. For example, I still have the outfit I wore to my younger brother’s wedding nearly a dozen years before; in fact, it has survived multiple moves. Then, I had been unable to find the dress I envisioned — a simple reddish-orange silk sheath — and since I couldn’t sew, I abandoned my idea and tried to find something else. After a fruitless and frustrating search in department stores, I stumbled into a small boutique and spotted a designer dress and coordinating jacket made of pastel gauzy silk; it was feminine and flowy, with fabric rose buttons, the kind of outfit perfect for an outdoor spring wedding. It was expensive and, as it turned out, it wasn’t really perfect for me. I wore the dress just one other time. A few occasions I tried to wear the jacket but felt at sea in the sheer, billowy fabric. Still, I hung onto them, I see now, out of an inability to let someone else enjoy it and out of a belief that outfits worn for special occasions must be kept. Indeed, my older brother’s mother-in-law seemed pained when, in June, it came up in conversation that I had long ago given away the shiny pink puffy-sleeved bridesmaid dress (and matching dyed shoes) I dutifully wore to her daughter’s wedding more than, um, two decades before.
For other clothing, there are familiar arguments to keep things: “It’s in good condition.” “You might wear it again someday.” “Hang onto it, it was such a great deal!” or, the flip side, “It was expensive. How could you just give it away?” Perhaps a garment comes with a story; donating or selling it feels like an erasure of a memory or even a tiny death. Ditto for clothing that once fit but doesn’t anymore. Bidding adieu means relinquishing the possibility that it might be worn again. Sometimes, admitting that a chapter of life is over is just as difficult as parting with a physical object.
Being trapped between nostalgia and the fear of letting go means opening a closet filled with many things, even delicious fabrics, and believing there’s nothing to wear. Many times I’ve rifled through my hangers and wondered who, exactly, bought the clothes. Some part of me fancies ruffled velvet jackets and tops, yet the rest of me rarely puts them on. Another sub-personality likes to score bargains at thrift stores, even if they don’t fit quite right or the colors are not the most flattering. Its refrain? “But it was only $2.99!” My wardrobe had become too à la carte; often I scrambled to cobble together an outfit. A few months ago a Facebook friend shared a link to Dressing Your Truth, commenting that it’s helpful for figuring out what to keep. Curious and in need of advice, I clicked on it and signed up for a free online course to determine my “energy type”. At the end, there was a pitch to buy a book and access to online resources (videos, discussion forums, pod casts) to support transitioning to a new wardrobe and, more importantly, to honoring the personality traits that give rise to it. Normally I’m skeptical and don’t like being pitched anything (which, I learned, is true to my “type”), but I liked the premise: who you are on the inside determines what to wear and not, as one might expect, your hair, eye or skin color, body type or even occupation. The more I learned about this philosophy and how the “types” expressed themselves in clothing, the more I saw it confirmed in the world. Although the book’s lack of a strong editor irked me, I had to admit that they were onto something.
To test their theory, I acquired a few brightly colored casual tops that I would not have considered before. To my surprise, I feel better in them than in the more muted shades I used to favor. So far, the reactions have been positive; even strangers have made comments. But what’s more valuable is that I now understand why certain clothing went unworn and why I felt ill at ease in flowing or complicated garments, even if I appreciated their aesthetic, fabric, pattern or craftsmanship. I faced down my crowded closet and, without hesitation or regret, filled a large plastic bag for Goodwill. Mostly those were items I found on sale or at thrift shops, that no longer fit or were worn out. What slowed my momentum were the more unique pieces. I still enjoyed looking at them, and a few, purchased overseas, reminded me of those trips. Saying goodbye to these felt more wrenching. Some I listed on eBay, and a few I sold to a local consignment shop. So far, there have been no takers for the delicate jacket and dress, even though I’ve lowered the price twice. Perhaps I need to override my tendency to grasp and trust that, by sending the outfit downstream, something better will come along.