Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cleaning Out the Closet

My husband remarked at dinner last night that my posts for the past several weeks have been more “serious.” Serious? You can’t be serious! So in an attempt to lighten things up a bit, I will return to what I know best: absurdity. Absurdity in the form of cleaning out one’s closet.

I get a hankering every now and again for complete and total order in the house. Yes, there is some deep psychological underpinning here but I have neither the time nor the financial resources to figure out what that underpinning might be. Heck, I have enough trouble struggling into my own personal underpinning—aka my bra—every day, so why delve into the psyche? Too much time, too much trouble, not enough money.

OK, where was I? Oh, right, back at the closet. Child #1 and I share a closet. As those of you who live in an old house know, closet space is at a premium. In this three-bedroom, nearly one-hundred-year old house, we have but three closets, and one of them is in the dining room. The other two are in the kids’ bedrooms, and are shared by the liked-gendered members of the family: Patrick/Jim, Dea/me. It is a struggle to keep our clothes unwrinkled and in some kind of orderly semblance when they are interspersed with those of the other inhabitants of the house. Suffice it to say, I have worn more than one un-ironed dress shirt to a business meeting that definitely has the smell of Eau de Field Hockey about it.

This past weekend, I pulled everything out the closet, which resides under the stairs to the attic. I found seventeen tote bags, three mismatched shoes, countless unpaired socks, two flower girl dried-flower wreaths, a box of beads, and a third-grade math workbook. Then, I set about pulling out every garment that I own and store in the closet. This unearthed one vintage mink jacket that my mother gave me (and believe me, I’m going to wear it the first chance I get; sorry, PETA), a size eight skirt (I must have had that since the sixth grade because I haven’t been a size eight since around 1975), and countless white dress shirts, the origin of which is unknown to me (I mostly wear pullovers and turtlenecks as I loathe looking down and seeing buttons stretched across my ample bosom).

Cleaning out your closet reveals all of the fashion errors that you have made and reminds you of what not to do in the future. I’m more Ethel Kennedy than Jackie Kennedy, albeit with fewer children, less money, and no hint of scandal surrounding me. As a result, I was surprised to find a pair of black pumps with a retro sixties’ feel and little bows on the toes. Was I channeling my inner Jackie when I bought those? What of the polka-dotted bolero jacket? Or the blazer with the Nehru collar? Or the gold silk chantung blouse that I wore once and didn’t even remember that I had?

I made some hard decisions regarding items that I had forgotten I had, crammed as they were in the back of the closet, but that I knew I wouldn’t wear again. I loaded up a bunch of items—four bags in all along with countless other things on hangars—and took them to Good Will, where the woman at the donation center eyed my cache with glee. It makes me happy to think that many of the things that I consider cast-offs—despite some being new and never used—would be sold at a fraction of their original price to someone who might get use and pleasure out of them.

Cleaning out the closet is a daunting task, but ultimately, a cathartic one. It’s interesting to take a trip down Fashion Memory Lane, but for me—someone who considers cleaning an extreme sport—it’s even more satisfying to see room where there used to be none.

Stiletto Faithful, does cleaning out the closet—either literally or figuratively—give you the joy it gives me? What treasures have you unearthed in your cleaning expeditions? Do tell! (P.S.--Pictures of me in the vintage mink jacket to come. Stay tuned.)

Maggie Barbieri


  1. I can't wait to see the picture of you in your mink.

    I'm a neat-freaked so once my closet gets cluttered, I have to clean it and it does bring me joy when I can see a shelf or the floor.

  2. Oh, yes, restoring order to the closet is a happy experience. To be accurate, the restoring isn't as happy as looking at the restoration, if you get my meaning. My meaning is: I don't like working to clean a mess up, but I love not having a mess.

    Also giving the same thrill is cleaning my office/desk up (I get to a point where I cannot work until I get the desk clean), cleaning out the junk drawer in the kitchen (I love doing that), and cleaning the garage, technically a place that is, well, a freaking garage so who cares!?

    I have a new strategy for this: moderation. Every time the Vietnam Vets or AMVETS calls asking if we have a donation, I say YES and then I do just some small bit of clearing out extra clothes and household items and give up to someone who hopefully can use them a few shirts or an older model hand mixer, etc. Taking a bit by bit attitude is working as well if not better than my habitual "the entire house must be routed!" tactic.

    The big job is a daunting and unappealing, but doing a bit here and there is working well. I've even evolved to actually opening up a bag or box in advance, keeping it in an easily accessible spot of the house and filling it with things as I go through the days and weeks so that when the call for a donation comes in, I'm already ready!

    If this is being a mature, 50-ish year old woman, than I am LOVING it. The immature part of me though must still live on (is it my inner child?), because I promise you that whatever blouses, jackets, purses, kitchen gadgets, etc., I feel good getting rid of will most likely be replaced within a year or so and I'll move on to a new set of clutter to give away another day.

  3. Maggie, you must have ESP. I have been thinking for weeks that I need to clean out the closets! However, I'll probably wait until all my immediate crises are over. But I love purging stuff from the house (and I'm training Ed to get rid of things, too). It does do something wonderful to the psyche. Like, for an instant, everything is uncluttered and orderly. Until the next time.

    P.S., I mean, Maggie, you are no Ethel Kennedy. More like Erma Bombeck, I'd say!

  4. I've only lived in my condo for 2.5 years now. I was always in rentals before then and you just can't accumulate in a rental as well as you can in a home you own. Ask me again in 10 years, and I just know I will have a closet full of treasures squirrelled away. The closet in my spare bedroom is already filling up...

  5. I do hate/love to clean out my closet. I hate the thought of doing it, but when I start, I love it. What I find really interesting is pulling something out and REMEMBERING the last time I cleaned the closet and wanted to keep THIS item. Now I hold it out and ask, "Why?" Yesterday I cleaned out my hubby's tee-shirts. He has over 200, many so worn you could read a newspaper thru them. But he won't toss them. I put the bad ones in a plastic bag, and kept 50 of them on the shelf. We'll see if he can be persuaded to just throw the bag away...

  6. Gayle, I think my hubby and yours are related. I can hardly get him to throw out an old T-shirt either, even if it's got 20-year-old pit stains and holes in it. Too funny!

  7. I just cleaned my closet a few months ago. Got rid of BAGS AND BAGS of old, old clothes. Looking at it now, I see there is still more to go. It is very daunting and not something I like doing (when there are books to write and read, kids to play with, etc), but it has to be done occasionally. It's like exercise. I don't love doing it, but I feel good when it's done. =)

  8. I'm terrible at throwing things away. Not that I really want to keep everything, it's just not something my family ever did and I'm not wired to toss stuff. You know - "Another Great Depression might be right around the corner. You might need the zipper or the buttons off that old garment." That tv show HOARDERS - I can't watch. Hits just a little too close to home. I need an intervention.

    aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David