Halfway into the first episode of “Tidy Up” Noel and I were pulling armloads of things out of our closet. I started watching on New Years Day night inevitably to avoid doing something else I should have been doing. Now the monster has been unleashed.
If you don’t know about this show or Marie Kondo (first of all I don’t know where you’ve been the last few weeks), she is an organizing consultant and author who suggests that we decide what to keep and what to throw away by determining what “sparks joy.” All I could think about watching her tutorials with a couple that needed a divorce more than a Japanese organization expert was this olive green polyester shirt with an awkward cowl neck that I bought on clearance from Kohl’s nine years ago. I hate that shirt. WHY am I still keeping, let alone EVER WEARING that shirt?
I am not generally a saver of things. I have come to realize that horizontal surfaces just become places for clutter to collect. I also am fairly ruthless when it comes to saving keepsakes. Only the most special, most unique things make the cut. The one exception is clothes. I think the reason for this is two-fold. 1) clothes = all the memories and 2) I never want to look boring.
Growing up new clothes were the sign of some important event. We got new dresses for Christmas and Easter church. We got a new first day of school outfit. As we got older, a school dance was an occasion befitting something new. Money was tight but our mom would rather walk around with holey socks (literally) than see us go to the stupid Snowball Dance without a new dress. We would make the trek 45 minutes to the mall, twittering in anticipation about colors or features that might be nice to look for. We’d walk the whole mall to all the usual tween places looking for just the right thing. But of course “just the right thing” also meant finding the bargain. And then there were the shoes. Always the shoes had to be the perfect compliment, also at a bargain. In the end I was so sure we found exactly the right thing for this occasion. We would stop over at my Grandma and Grandpa’s house as we arrived back in town so they could oooooh and ahhhh the latest ensemble.
As the years have gone by I realized that I have just found more “occasions” to dress for. First dates. Job interviews. Trial. Dinner party. Vacation. Holiday. My closet became my scrapbook.
As Noel and I stood in our giant walk in closet, the one we cut our master bedroom nearly in half to build, pulling out garment after garment I had to tell the stories. First garment out, that hideous green shirt. I bought this shirt nine years ago on clearance at Kohl’s when I was staying with my parents over Christmas break my 2L year. Lucas had just broken up with me and I was so sad. My parents convinced me to come out to some dinner my stepdad had for a professional group. It was at one of those cook-your-own steak places. I had three dirty martinis. I definitely got drunk and cried all the way home. I literally think about that night every time I wear that stupid shirt. It fits awkwardly, it gives me pit stains. The only reason I still wear it is because I can easily layer it with a black suit coat and pants. That is possibly the dumbest reason ever. Gone.
A lot of the things were like that. Shirt, Banana Republic clearance, so I could wear under a suit. Almost everything I’d owned for at least five years and most close or upwards of ten.
This pair of pants was the first thing I bought after I got married the first time in 2004. We finally had a spare $40, so I bought these and this shirt from Anne Taylor Loft clearance because my mom always said that place was perfect for me.
This shirt was $3.50 at Charlotte Russe in 2005. Krissy and I bought “going out” shirts at the same time and then swapped them like three years later.
This shirt is fine for work if the safety pins hold.
And there it is. The oldest thing in my closet. A black polyester suit dress with a matching knee-length jacket. My mom and I bought it at the same time we got my confirmation dress. That’s 10th grade. 18 years ago. Maurice’s clearance. She said I’d need something to wear to job interviews. Little did either of us ever think I’d still be wearing it to the office, every time thinking “I probably shouldn’t be wearing this anymore. It’s too short even when I wear black tights.”
None of these things spark joy anymore. They were things I bought because they were colorful, I found a bargain, and I wanted things around for those time when I *might* need to wear it. They weren’t special, they didn’t fit right, they certainly didn’t make me feel my best self. The time had come to keep the memories and lose the garments.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things I held on to simply because of those memories. Not gonna lie, I still get into my Homecoming Queen dress sometimes just because I can. Even some garments that will never fit me again, there’s still something there. Something special and joyful that tells me it’s not time to shove it into a yard-waste bag.
We were able to completely reconfigure our closet. About four bodybag-sized bags went to Goodwill. Sometimes I get anxious when I go in my closet and only see fifteen shirts hanging there. But at least I know that whatever I put on I’ll feel good in.
So that’s just the closet. Marie says you’re supposed to do this with your whole house. Little by little I take 20 minutes to empty out this drawer or that. It is truly freeing to feel like you can see and find the things you need in your house. It also got me thinking about my life, like the stuff you can’t see.
What are the things that spark joy? What are the things I’m hanging on to that don’t?
It was no accident Netflix released this show at the time of year when people are focused on change and self-improvement. As I mentioned in my 2018 year in review post, I, too, use the new year to refocus and create some goals for the upcoming year. This year I was challenged to come up with a word. One word to become a mantra or a touchpoint. A word came to mind immediately: unapologetic. Almost as quickly I dismissed it. That’s not what I mean. That’s selfish. It sends the wrong message. Until I realized that’s exactly why I needed to stick with it.
Unapologetic doesn’t mean never making amends for doing something hurtful or for making a mistake. It isn’t about walking through the world unaware of how the things I do affect other people. It is about not apologizing for who I am. Who I am is very flawed. It sometimes means being too loud, bossy, overbearing, demanding and inflexible. These qualities are also sometimes wrapped up in this package we call power, qualities that if I were a man or in a different profession or a different community may not be something I feel I have to question so much. These qualities have a flip side: outspoken, leader, encouraging, setting clear expectations, focused on the mission and vision. All of my qualities are that way. There are some that are more obviously “good” and easy to accept. There are others that I have to actively work on to stay on the positive side. That’s a journey that never ends. But it’s all me. Good, bad, or ugly it is the stuff that makes me up and has brought me this far.
2019 needs to be about living as authentically as possible. Connection feels good to me. Being unafraid to stand up for what’s right feels good to me. Using my skills and abilities to benefit myself and the people I love feels good to me. Appreciating the comfort and beauty of our home feels good to me. Enjoying the taste of good food. The sights of places I’ve never been. The feeling of a fit, healthy body. The pleasure of rest and quiet. Soaking in and moving with the energy of the world. Continuing to discover this city that I love. All of these things bring me such monumental joy. I just cannot allow myself to be weighed down by the worry of what others think about it. I will be too much for some people. I will fail despite the best of intentions. I will still encounter all of the challenges that life brings. But maybe I’ll soar higher heights than I’ve ever known without the weight of the shoulds. I suspect the greatest critic will be myself. It’s a world of possibility out there. I hope to take it for a spin with a lightness and freedom that will make this joy multiply beyond my wildest dreams.
Happy New Year.