Cleaning Your Closet: Why is it so hard to let go?

IMG_6662I have a lovely beaded shawl that my mom gave me that will go perfectly with the cranberry colored dress I am wearing to a wedding this afternoon. I can’t find it. It is driving me crazy because I know it is here…….somewhere. I vaguely remember hanging it upstairs in a spare closet (where several other things we don’t use often are kind of shoved). Things like holiday wrapping paper, a few boxes of old pictures and files, wrought iron candle holders that I got at a tag sale that are just too nice to throw away. The shawl is not in there, I don’t think. It could have fallen on the floor and although I need to clean that closet out, I am not in the mood on this gorgeous Saturday morning to do that.

As I was rummaging through another closet, I kept coming across all these clothes I just never wear. I swear I just cleaned this closet and got rid of so much, yet here I am again, frustrated. Why is it that I keep these things? My friends and I have had so many discussions around clothing. Over the years, working with patients with weight issues, the subject of clothing comes up often too. It has been my experience at least in my life that it is mostly women who struggle with clothing issues (I am sure some men do too, but so far, I have not encountered one who talks about it the way we women do). Just this week, I went shopping with my husband who needed to buy a gray suit for his daughter’s wedding next month. It was so easy! As he was trying on his first gray suit, I glanced around the floor of the large store we were in. To me, all the racks of suits looked the same, just different groupings of colors. On the other side of the store where the women’s clothes were on display it was a different story. So many colors and patterns and styles to chose from! No wonder it is confusing (and we won’t discuss shoes).

So why is it that me and many other women I know can’t just go to their closet and find what they need, get rid of stuff they never wear and live a simple clothing life? Here is what I have realized:

  1. Some women (me) find it hard to resist a sale. That cute little sweater jacket from Ann Taylor that is normally $89.99 and now marked down to $9.99? How could I resist! Well, after hanging there for almost 2 years and maybe being worn once (it is just so thick and warm, who could stand it for more than an hour or so? No wonder it was on sale!) probably needs to go. But then it would have been a waste of money. This winter I will wear it, right?
  2. Some of us, as we age, get a bit confused as to what is appropriate to wear. We may have a few items that we absolutely love. For example, I have these very comfortable khaki green cargo shorts I bought years ago from Sports Authority that are perfect for kayaking. They were on sale, they are sturdy and I wouldn’t care if they got a bit of slimy lake water on them. Unfortunately, they are short. Back then I wouldn’t care, but now, at my age, I feel uncomfortable in shorts that are too short (and unfortunately, I own some more expensive and nice shorts that I splurged on back in the day that I also have not worn for many years….and also have not parted with). It is hard to get rid of stuff you know you spent good money on. It was easy, however to get rid of a short leather and suede skirt a friend had given me. I never wore it (well once for Halloween when I dressed as Dolly Parton!). When I turned 40 it was easy to let it go. The nice expensive shorts are another story.
  3. Some clothing holds special memories. I still have my first robe tucked up in a drawer (somewhere) that I wore after I came home from the hospital when my first daughter Jennifer was born in May. My mother bought it for me, it is white with tiny roses on it and button down so it was easy to nurse in. I just can’t part with it. I also still have the straight leg, high waisted faded Levis I got after my third child Kara was born. I remember it was our first house and for some reason, I loved those jeans and they hold memories of back then when I was a young mother.
  4. The size thing. There are so many stories I could share about so many women who have a range of sizes depending on where they are in their dieting lives at the moment.  We all know people who are able to lose a lot of weight and go down several sizes, yet they keep their larger sized clothes just in case. And then when they gain back the weight, they keep their smaller clothes just in case. There are people who slowly gain a bit of weight over the years and it is perfectly normal, however they refuse to go up a size because of the number thing. Some people think it means something to be this size or that size. Why does this matter? Do you judge someone who is not a certain size? Why do you judge yourself? Those have always been my questions to some of my patients. What about comfort? I have always said, one way to feel bad about your body is to wear tight clothes. Squeezing into a size you used to fit in just to be able to say you wear a size whatever does not make sense, especially if you do not hold your friends to that standard, why do it to yourself? Think about how wonderful you feel in the clothes you throw on when you are ready to lounge around at the very end of the day (I am talking jammies here, PJ’s, leggings, sweats, happy clothes). How does your body feel then? Much better I bet. Why can’t we wear clothes that make us feel like that all day? Maybe not sloppy sweats but just putting on clothes that truly fit comfortably can feel the same as those jammies. Personally, I look at several sizes when I go shopping. I start at the sale rack (of course) and if it is cheap and I love it, I don’t care what size it is (as long as it is big enough). I have been know to buy clothing twice my size but if the armholes fit, it is usually fine! You can look nice but also be comfortable. And happy.
  5. Style. We all care about it even when we think we don’t. A year or two ago, jeans took a turn from boot cut or bell bottoms to suddenly straight leg. I did not own any. I started to feel like I was not stylish at all and the only one wearing bell bottoms. I rarely buy the crazy fashions because I just don’t care (although I would if I loved it, for instance when the hippie shirts came back, I did buy one or two because that is what I wore back in the day, loved it then and love it now). Anyway, when the straight legs went on sale at my favorite store, I tried a few on. They were stretchy and comfy! And usually most pants are too long on me so I have to wear some type of heel or pay big bucks to have them hemmed. With these straight legs I could wear flip flops! I got some. And I am going to keep them until they fall apart because I love them. I also have to face the fact that all those padded shoulder gorgeous jackets I purchased back in the day when I had to dress professionally will never come back and even if they do, I don’t like them now. Why am I keeping them?

We have all read the advice about how to know what to keep and what to let go. Advice such as “if you haven’t worn it in a year, get rid of it” and “for every new item you buy you need to get rid of something” and “if you don’t absolutely love the way you feel in it, get rid of it”. This all sounds good, but not too easy to do for the above reasons. But maybe we can start.

For me, I have decided:

1. If I have not worn it in five years (believe it or not) I probably won’t wear it tomorrow.

2. If it is itchy or makes me too hot I won’t wear it.

3. If it has padded shoulders or if it is short or high waisted it will continue to sit there.

4. I will never get rid of the clothing that holds important memories.

For this morning I am going to go empty that upstairs closet and start filling large trash bags to take to Goodwill. I am going to set aside my special memory clothing and find a plastic bin to store them in (maybe I will even label it). I am going to try to be honest with myself about the fact that I really am too old to wear some of these things, they make me uncomfortable both physically and psychologically, and they are wasting space in my closet. Space where a lovely black beaded shawl might be hiding.

Good luck in letting go of your useless clothing!

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