Thursday, March 26, 2009

Stop Making Sense: Spring Cleaning and Shoulder Pads

I’m a deadline kind of girl. Give me a deadline and I’ll get it done. Be it taxes, a story or paying bills.

The problem is, spring cleaning doesn’t really have a deadline unless it’s self imposed. I’m usually pretty good at those but there are times when I let things slide. I mean, spring cleaning is a nice idea and all but it doesn’t have to be done.

And really, when I refer to spring cleaning, I’m always pretty much talking about spring purging.

Cleaning is easy when you have an absence of clutter. And me? I tend to hang onto things. Way. Too. Long.


I cannot totally blame this on a lack of discipline. The thing is, I get attached to my stuff. I look at it and have trouble letting go, everything from stuffed animals to books to — the worst of it — clothes.

I mean, I still had my high school graduation dress until a couple years ago. Really.

Part of this is a sense of value. Some of the clothes I’m sorting through look like new. Yes, they may be 10, 15 years old but they look good. And most still fit. How wasteful to toss them out, even to donate. I feel I should have really used up these clothes that I put my hard earned money into.

Another part of this is an emotional attachment. In some way, I feel as if my soul inhabits these things. That to give them away is to let go of a piece of my life. And not have a clue where it went or how it’s being treated.

I know. Crazy.

I’ve even gone through these items over the years and, yes, decided it was not time to let them go, hung them back in a closet I never use or in boxes I rarely touch. Either they still had meaning or — foolishly — I imagined I’d wear them again because they were so fabulous once, of course they will come back in style.


What I don’t do often enough is actually try these clothes on. I’ve found that to be helpful this year.

It’s also helped that I have a deadline: the National Kidney Foundation was in my area and announced a pick-up of just about anything in decent condition, including household “bric-a-brac,” whatever that is. All I had to do was set it out by the curb.

I’d dug through a bunch of stuff just a few months ago for the 2008 tax donation deduction so had already been kind of on a roll.

So I found myself the last several days unloading the upstairs closet — four sets of hanging clothes, jackets, blouses, shirts — and putting them on. As I removed each item from its hanger, I’d relive the times I wore it as if I was in some movie watching that sappy montage sequence of happier times. Oh the great times I had and how terrific I thought I looked.

But that was then.

Then reality.

Gasp! Did I actually wear this with these huge David-Byrne-Stop-Making-Sense shoulder pads?

Or those silky blouses I wore so often a decade ago but now look shapeless? I can see how I liked them at the time because that was in fashion. But now? Everything is so much more… fitted.

I still had an ensemble, which I finally donated this time — with only a slight amount of donator’s remorse — a fabulous pale yellow linen sundress and jacket which for years I could rely on to look smashing in whatever the event, be it a fashion show or wedding.

In fact, a couple of years ago I had to go to an event and thought it would be perfect. Then I saw myself in the mirror. I couldn’t believe the hemline was as short as it was or the shoulders so wide. I simply could not wear it.

It was clear, no matter how wonderful it was, it was time to part. Don’t ask why I still had it. Either I decided to keep it in the last round of purges, hopeful something would change, or I hung it up and forgot about it.

The thing is, while some of these items are a little out of style, someone who needs clothing will be happy to have them. And how many sweatshirts and T-shirts can I possibly have? I can only wear so many, even though some I wore maybe once.

It’s a good lesson: Think twice next time before I buy. Ask: Do I need it? Will I wear it? Don’t I have enough?

There is also the lesson to share the usefulness. They are useless in my closet or in boxes.

I actually began to feel motivated knowing these nice pieces will look just fine on someone else. Maybe they won’t even care how they look. Maybe they just need something. Period.

Meanwhile, that upstairs closet space can be put to better use than warehousing memories.

Although I must confess. As I filled the garbage bags the other night to set out by the curb, I was stung with occasional feelings of remorse — that T-shirt from Bermuda, the sweatshirt from Australia, that oh-so-perfect-shade-of-pink silky blouse that still looks like new — and put them in another bag. By the end of the night, it was a whole damn bag.

I told myself, I can still give it away later. I even thought if the truck didn’t come first thing in the morning, I’d sneak more items out. Alas, the guy came by too early.

Now I have a giant bag of stuff I never wear. Sitting there.

That’s okay. I can still give it away. I’ll decide later.

I just hope it’s not in 10 years.


monica said...

loved this! I tell you what can keep a person in line when it comes to clutter and hanging on to stuff for too long, no basement. I just dont have the room to stash away stuff and it's probably for my own good :)

Only the Half of It said...

And now you know why I practically cooed over your spartan clean house... A girl can dream. :-)

Sharon said...

This is a great story. You had me hanging on every word, sure you would donate your vintage clothes. At the end I wasn't disappointed because I realized you are using the "tier" system of purging, where you move clothes from one place to another, less accessible space to a bag or basket...and then out the door. Our family's clothes intended for donation moved from bottom dresser drawers to a basket on a shelf over the washing machine, where they sat until I bagged them up and put them in my car, where they stayed until my next trip to Goodwill. The whole process, from a prime spot to a bag in the car, could take from 6 to 12 months. You've made a good start.

Susan Howes said...

Why are we told we must get rid of these things? I think it's fine to hold on to select pieces from our past ... they are like a road map of memories and will be useful when memory begins to fade. And garments represent fashion, periods of time ... so when held on to for 20, 30 or more years they actually gain value, as well as retain that memory value. Then if you must be rid of them, you can sell at a profit. If you have the space, I say hold on to the unique pieces that are in good condition and tug at your heart strings.
You do express yourself beautifully, Ellen. Thank you for sharing and allowing us to think with you.

Only the Half of It said...

Sharon: Cool. I had no idea there was a tier system. That is one "issue" when you have enough space to do that. Thank goodness the house is not bigger. :-)

And Susan: Yes, I know. I do hang on to somethings and when I'm in a purging mood (sometimes with a twinge of self-criticism that I cannot let go) I have to remind myseld that it's OK to hang onto some stuff. I have PLENTY of that!
I still have the dress I was confirmed in, red cowboy boots from my childhood, some darling coats and things my mother made, children's books, and probably every stuffed animal no matter how ragged that I ever owned! Those are what I'd call more special, memory items.
But old jeans and jean skirts? Out of style blouses and cheap earrings? That is the stuff I cling to without so much reason.
I struggle. But I'll get there. I guess I have to do it on my terms.

Debra Darvick said...

Here's my take on summer cleaning:

For me, spring cleaning is Passover cleaning -- purging the house of anything leavened: cookie crumbs, noodles, vinegars. The hinges of the pantry get scrubbed with an old toothbrush, the crevices and undersides of countertops get their due. There is a sense of being united with women the world wide scrubbing away. And then we all collapse. Until the cooking and table setting starts for the Seders.

PattyEats said...

Fabulous! I keep my fashion relics in a cedar chest--including a pink-and-blue a peace-n-love henley from the early '70s. And now, if my boobs could still fit into it, I could wear it, right in style.

Only the Half of It said...

Patty, if you can fit your fashion treasures in a chest, you have no problem at all.
That's my goal!

Anonymous said...

I'm am the Queen of Hoarding, so I know how tough it is to go through the spring purge! :-)

Wensdy said...

I always thought it would be cool to use closet-fishing as a writing exercise. A chapter on each garment.

Only the Half of It said...

Absolutely. I love writing exercises. I have a story behind just about everything, of course, some more exciting than others.