Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cleaning Out the Closet

Clothing: Did I buy too much or is my closet too small?

For years I have been blaming the closets of my pre-war apartment. People those days were not the consumers we are today. I have imagined that the occupants before me had some seasonally adjusted outfits to wear when they “went to business”, clothing suitable to wear to religious services, a fancy outfit to wear for parties, and sturdy clothing to wear everywhere else. They did not own workout wear, ski wear, hiking gear, and seven pairs of boots (three pair for various levels of snowfall).

Yes, the closets are small, but yes, I do buy more than I need.

First step: Stop blaming, start thinking

I took a hard look at what is in my closet. There were a lot of clothes that I liked and wore often. Some clothes I liked and wore once in a while. And there were some clothes that I have worn once or twice. Then there were the definite mistakes. For instance, the mail-order items that never fit well in the first place. What was I thinking when I bought that salmon colored sweater? The thrift store finds that had a great label. The expensive jacket that is out of date (maybe that cut will be back again?). Using a term I have heard in Yoga class, I became a witness. As a witness to my own closet, I became unattached to the emotions related to my faulty consumption practices. I was then able to sort out what I no longer needed to have.

Most of the clothes that I wear every day needed to stay. I have worn them every day for a reason. They fit well and they looked good on me. They were the go-to clothes. But how many burgundy cotton sweaters does someone need to own?

The items that I wore once or twice are the most difficult. Some skirt lengths were too long. Some pants were a little too tight around the waist. Some heels were too high to walk safely. Some items were purchased with a specific occasion in mind. Some were given to me (like my late mother in-law’s fur jacket that fit me perfectly). The long ones were taken up, the tight pants were history, the party dresses stay (for now) and well I can’t part with that jacket yet.

I will never wear the clothing that does not fit me. The tight pants became history.

The t-shirt and sock drawer deserve special mention. There were the t-shirts with sentimental value and t-shirts with stains and holes. I got brutal with those. I discarded the ones with holes and stains and threw out all the worn out souvenirs (except I did keep the one I bought on my first date with my now-husband). I love socks, but only ones that are not droopy, tight, or have that synthetic feel.

What do I do now?

After I took up the hems on the skirts, I discovered that they went with a lot more than I thought. It felt like I just acquired a few more outfits. I also experimented with new combinations using the old standards.

I packed up a few burgundy sweaters for my sister, who hardly ever shops. She loves my cast-offs. The high heels went to my co-worker who is brave or stupid enough to wear them. The rest of the wearable stuff went to Housing Works and Goodwill. The socks and t-shirts make great rags, with some exceptions. Synthetics don’t make good rags. In addition, I like my rags to be somewhat regularly shaped. I cut the toes off the socks and the sleeves and necks off the t-shirts. The synthetics, scraps and the really stained and worn stuff went to the textile recyclers at the Jackson Heights and Union Square Greenmarkets.

Is there a higher meaning in all this?

I think there is. I discovered that the high I get from purchasing clothes lasts a very short time and is not worth the anxiety of looking at a messy, disorganized closet. I also found out that I have not been a discerning consumer. I have bought too much stuff that I thought were too cheap to pass up, or settled for what was not perfect for me. I now shop for what I really need and occasionally something that I really want.

Contribution from our people-conscious student Rhea Varadi

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