Searching for Simplicity :: The Closet Cleanout

“As any half-awake materialist knows – that which you hold, holds you.” – Tom Robbins

I filled two trash bags with stuff.  They were not just those tidy little kitchen-sized bags with the orange tying pull handles, permeated with the stench of Febreeze; these were gigantic, black contractor bags, the sort you pack tight with the leaves from the entirety of your front yard each fall and heave out to the curb for the garbage collector. 

I filled them with suits and dresses for church and button-down blouses and blue jeans…so many pairs of blue jeans.  These were not “trash,” as they were all in good shape and still relatively in style {at least from the perspective of a 40 year old mother of three}.  But crammed into bags they were, and they would no longer be mine. 

A few weeks ago, a friend from church {let’s call her Edith} gave me a basket with several blouses in it and a pair of lounge pants. She knew we had lost clothing in the flood and thought I might be able to use them.  When I got home and emptied the basket, I pulled out its contents to see if any of it would work for me.  With pleasant surprise, I found that the basket contained several blouses that were just my style and fit me comfortably. Not only did I like these clothes, but if I saw them online tomorrow {I don’t shop in stores, you see} I would have eagerly purchased them and then worn them until they were threadbare. 

But I was a little baffled…why would she give these away?  I love them, surely she must too.

I sat next to Edith at a meeting the next weekend and I thanked her again for her generosity and told her how much I loved the clothes {and happened to be wearing one of the shirts at the time} and in the sideways fashion we have in the South of gathering information without ever asking a direct question, I teased out of her that she was trying to free her life of clutter and part of that process was a rather drastic closet clean out.  She was reading a book called Soulful Simplicity:  How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More and was looking to simplify her life as she was planning to retire in two months {she is NOT of retirement age, I might add}.

Searching for Simplicity:: The Closet Cleanout | Houston Moms Blog

To say that I admire Edith is not a complete picture.  She is one of the most intelligent people I have ever met, with a deeply analytical mind and a knack for cutting to the heart of the matter.  Her competence inspires abundant trust in any and all of her endeavors.  But the thing I admire most about her is that she lives her life with intention.  Somehow, she has managed to escape the existence in which most of us live, where we float along tackling obstacles and putting out fires, always on the defensive and surviving in a reactive state.   She knows what she wants her life to be, she makes a plan to lead her in that direction, and then she manages to successfully navigate the sometimes painful steps it takes to get there.   So when Edith tells me a book has changed the way she is living her life, I listen.  And when I hear myself in the complaints she shares for her current existence and my own hopes in her wish for her future life, I go out and buy the dang book.

Courtney Carver’s Soulful Simplicity is not about cleaning the clutter out of your closet; it is about cleaning the clutter out of your life, to make room for the things that truly matter; living with less so that you can live with so much more, so to speak.  The idea {which seems as though it should go without saying, but shockingly still needs to be said} is that with less material “stuff” in your life, there is less time spent working for the money to buy that stuff; purchasing that stuff {to fulfill a need unmet by the rest of your life}; maintaining, organizing and cleaning that stuff; and ultimately drowning in that stuff at the expense of the rest of your life, what matters to you, and what matters to those you love.  If you take away the “stuff,” and give up on the game that The World tells you that you should be playing to the death, there will be space and time in your life for you to live it with intention.

I used to live my life with intention.  Not the sort of long-term intention that Edith has, but intention in that I knew what I valued and I was willing to make the sacrifices and take the steps to make those values a part of my family’s life.  My career was a victim of that intention.  But since the flood, time has failed to multiply itself to account for the needed attention to repairing the entirety of a house, nurturing children who have seen too much change and upheaval, and putting a life back together, while still maintaining the supremacy of the people I love.  I’ve been living in a reactive state for five months, I’ve lost all sense of “presence” and I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time on “stuff.”

And frankly, the stuff, the stuff, the stuff…the amount of time that is spent in pursuit of it and maintaining it…it all makes me nauseous.  This is not what living is supposed to be.

Cleaning out your closet is one of the first ways Courtney Carver went about the process of simplifying her life, of clearing out the clutter to make room for more love.  The idea is that when you simplify your clothing choices, you save the time you spent making decisions about it in the morning, you save the money you wasted buying things that you don’t absolutely love, you free up the space you formerly used storing the stuff, and ultimately, you place minimal importance on clothing as a defining characteristic of who you are as a person.  The clothing becomes one less charade you expend your energy maintaining.  The ultimate goal is Project 333, a form of capsule wardrobe consisting of limiting yourself to 33 items for the course of 3 months.  I am not ready for Project 333 yet, but the beginning of any journey is taking the first step, so I’m starting with a closet clean-out.

The book suggests dumping everything in your closet onto your bed and sorting things into four piles:  Love, Maybe {I want to keep it but don’t know why}, Donate {no longer fit you or your lifestyle}, and Trash {damaged beyond use}.  Given that I have limited space {5 of us plus two dogs and a cat are currently living in 850 square feet and I share my bedroom and closet with two children post-Harvey}, I abbreviated this process a little. I kept everything hanging up and went through my closet item by item and created two piles :: Keep and Donate {Trash had already been accomplished}. 

But I am a sentimental lass and had difficulty keeping the “Keep” pile small. 

“I remember when I wore this last; that was such a great day.  I can’t part with it.”

“This looked so pretty on the woman in the blog/magazine/grocery store.  Maybe I just haven’t found the right way to style it.  I will hold onto it longer.”

“I paid a lot for this; it feels wasteful to give it away.”

“I might need this again if I lose 5 pounds,” and its evil twin sister “I might need this again if I gain 5 pounds.”

So I looked for more guidance and found a way of sorting that works a little better for me.  The four piles may work just fine for you, but I am neck deep in sentimental guilt-driven idealistic materialism and need something a little stronger.

That’s when I discovered Marie Kondo’s test.  Marie Kondo, master of minimalist living, suggests that you hold each item and ask yourself the question, “Does this spark joy?”  I tend to think the use of the word “spark” there is a bit pretentious and confuses the issue, so I went with the more pedestrian “Does this bring me joy?”

And boom!  I cleaned out that closet in no time and without looking back with regret at any of the items in my Donate pile.  A particular blouse may be really beautiful in itself, but when I hold it and ask if it brings me joy, the fact that I’m always tugging at the collar and that it’s a little tighter in the midsection than I prefer, made tossing it away pretty simple.  Looking at it brings me joy, but actually wearing it brings me misery.

Go on, try it…it is shocking how simple it is to make a decision when you ask yourself that question, and I have a feeling that goes well beyond cleaning out your closet.

When I was finished, the pile of clothes littering my floor was a little embarrassing.  Not because it was huge, but because it made me sad to see it.  Why had I held onto all of these things, some of them for 15 years? {Yes, I had jeans in my closet from 15 years ago.}  When I turned to survey the remaining contents of my closet, I understood why.  I felt a moment of anxiety as a panicked little voice inside my head asked, “What if you don’t have enough?”

Enough for what?

Enough to maintain a certain image?  Is that what I really want to spend my precious hours on earth working towards?

Enough to have a sufficient variety in my wardrobe so that people don’t suddenly think we’ve hit financial disaster?  Do I want to spend my time, energy and money attempting to control what people think of me through my clothing?

Of course I have enough.  I only need enough to cover myself and dress appropriately for the occasion.  That’s all I really need.

And maybe the things in this Donate pile would end up in someone else’s Love pile, just like the shirts Edith gave me.

When I woke up this morning and went into my closet to decide what to wear, I was greeted with a closet full of ONLY the things I LOVE to wear. Nothing from 5 pounds ago was staring at me to remind me to skip the donuts this morning.  Nothing I had spent too much on but didn’t wear enough was filling me with guilt and remorse.  Nothing that was uncomfortable or burdensome to wear threatened me with a day of torturous tugging or itching.

My field of vision consisted only of those things that make me smile.

What a different way to start my day.

I’m looking forward to going through the rest of the techniques in Soulful Simplicity and looking for ways to clear my life of clutter, waste and distraction so that I can fill it more with the moments and people I love.  And while this was a relatively practical change toward living more simply, I’m looking forward to engaging with the greater philosophical choices that come from making a decision as to what you want your life to look like and being willing to take the steps to get there.

Join me in this!  You’ll be glad you did. 

Have you tried a capsule wardrobe? 

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