January 02, 2007

The lion, the bitch, and the wardrobe

My wardrobe does not have a lot of variety. I wear the same clothes over and over again. Jeans, of course, and a brown shirt, a red shirt, a coral-colored shirt, and oh, yeah, another brown shirt. Anyone who reads my blog knows what items of clothing I have purchased in the last two years because I have blogged every shopping trip, on the theory that painful experiences often lead to great writing; it adds up to three pairs of jeans, one pair of black pants, and one red sweater.

Why then was my closet so filled with clothing that the shirts were all jammed together and it was hard to pull one out?

I could argue that it's because my bedroom is small, with no room for a chest of drawers, which means that every single t-shirt and pair of jeans gets hung in the closet. I could argue that it's because I have to share the closet with my husband, who has a million cheap t-shirts he's gotten from charity fund-raising efforts. I could argue that it has to do with the climate I live in, so that I have summer clothes and warm winter clothes and everything in between all hanging in my closet all at once. I am far too lazy to pack up clothes and put them away every season. Those thing are all true, but the real problem is simply this: I am a pack rat. It's hard for me to part with an item of clothing. I'll look at that shirt I wore back in 1986, the year my daughter was born, and I'll remember what a nice color it used to be, and how comfy and convenient it was for breastfeeding, and how disloyal would I have to be to turn it away now just because it's all stretched out and faded and two sizes too big?

I am no good at cleaning out my half of the closet. No matter which item of clothing I look at, I can think of a time when it might come in handy. What if I am painting the living room? What if I am gardening in the rain? What if I decide to be Andy Gibb for Halloween? I hung onto some of my favorite maternity clothes for years after my husband had a vasectomy. Well, you just never know.

I have inherited pack rat tendencies from an aunt on my mother's side of the family, which means, for instance, I will happily take bags of hand-me-down clothes from sisters and hang onto them forever – but I am also like my father's mother. I don't like clutter. Yes, that is a bad combination of traits to inherit, enough to make a person crazy. I hate a crowded closet, and yet I cannot bear to get rid of those shirts I wore back in 1988, the ones I bought at that great garage sale.

So yesterday, I cleaned my closet the only way that would work: I made a deal with the devil. I told my daughter that if she helped, she could make all the decisions about my clothes. I would try on every item of clothing in my closet, and she would tell me if I could keep it – or she could put the item in the bag for the Rescue Mission. She would have the ultimate say. I knew she would jump at the chance. She is a woman who loves power.

So that's what we did. I tried on every single item of clothing I own (well, she drew the line at lingerie) and modeled it for my daughter. Then she made the call.

Half the time, she didn't have to even say anything. I'd pull on a shirt or baggy pair of pants, and she'd be rolling on the bed laughing. I kept trying to defend my clothing. I had a whole bunch of shirts and pants that were a size too big, clothes that always came in handy right after I'd just had a baby. I figured I should hang onto them in case I ever gained any weight and needed some faded, stained, out-of-style clothes. But my daughter thought differently. She was ruthless.

"What about this pair of black pants?" I'd say, "Shouldn't I keep them?"

"Why? I already let you keep two pairs of black pants that actually fit you. Those are baggy. And shapeless. And kind of ugly. Why would you keep them?"

"What if I have to go to a funeral? What if I get fat and someone dies?"

"If you wear those, I'm sure your dead friend will be rolling in her grave. She'd probably rather you go naked."

She would grab the pants from me and stick them into the bag while I was still talking. I'd try on a lovely turtleneck sweater, one that I have never actually worn.

"Get rid of it. You don't wear turtlenecks."

"But it looks good on me."

"Yeah, but you don't wear turtlenecks. They make you feel claustrophobic."

"Yeah, but it's a perfectly good sweater. It fits me."

"But you would never wear it."

"Well, yeah, that's because I don't wear turtlenecks."

"Exactly! That's what I'm saying! If you're not gonna wear it, I'm not letting you keep it."

She kept using that logic over and over again. Why keep clothes that you intend never to wear? After a while, I gave up. I'd put a shirt on, look in the mirror, and then strip it off and throw it over to my daughter before she even said a word. She eliminated about half the clothes hanging in my closet. And we had three garbage bags of clothes to take to the Rescue Mission.

Of course, the best part was getting to spend time alone with my daughter. One of my sons would try barging into the bedroom, and she'd yell, "Mom's got no pants on!" Nothing gets rid of a teenage boy faster than the prospect of seeing his mother in her underwear. So we had time to ourselves, drinking juice and eating snacks, while I pulled cherished clothes over my head and she screamed in horror. "Good God. You paid money for that?"

39 comments:

cheesehead said...

The title makes it art!

jo(e) said...

I admit that my daughter came up with the title.

Pink Shoes said...

Is she available for hire? I had a dear college roomie once who was able to provide such a service for me.... sadly she's no longer my roomie, and while we're no longer in college (or near it), some of my clothes would beg to differ. *sigh*

ppb said...

You have done a good thing. She has done a good thing. Now....can she do the same with your husband? Then you'd probably have room for all of your clothes to hang freely!

Katherine said...

Oh, this is funny. I just did the same thing, for the same reasons, though I didn't have a helper.

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

LOVE the title... and I'd love to have her come over and do my closet, too. (sigh)

Scrivener said...

I'm the same way about holding onto clothes. I have a box full of old jeans and sweatshirts that I wear doing yardwork.

Anonymous said...

What a great story! I used to hold on to clothes too. Usually it was because I would convince myself that I will fit into it someday.

Now, I only keep things that I know that I will wear. Plus, I adpoted the one in-one out rule. For every one item of new clothing I bring in, an old item has to go. It really works!

Anonymous said...

This is great! Willow and I have to do this for each other once and a while, and it's always a vaguely satisfying feeling...Of course, I don't have the same phobia of shopping that such a venture often reveals!

Anonymous said...

What a great post--title and all!

kathy a said...

i don't want nobody lookin' in my closet. i'll get to it someday.

mc said...

I have to admit that I am headed in the opposite direction, clotheswise, than you are; I currently have pants in several different sizes (for the first time in my life) due to the whole postpartum shapeshifting thing. Can't wait until I can go through a similar exercise...

landismom said...

So great. So far, I am just on the opposite end of this process--trying to get my daughter to throw out clothes that don't fit her anymore, but she still loves. Can't wait till she can do the same for me!

Anonymous said...

This may be your best title ever. And I need your daughter to come to my house.

luolin said...

I'm inordinately pleased to find out I have things in common with you (husband taking up closet space with many cheap t-shirts, all seasons' clothes hanging together, no chest of drawers, *and* a pack rat who hates clutter).

I would have a lot more clothes, but gaining 60+ pounds in graduate school and having a super small apartment with barely room for the clothes that fit meant that I had to give away a lot of really nice clothes then.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I don't expect to see a better title in all of blogland this year. It is genius. And it will be hard to top for best post of 2w007, too.

Anonymous said...

That title is perfection! Send her down here. I got rid of stuff that's just way too big, but there's plenty I wasn't able to part with.

Sounds like a great time for just the two of you!

Anonymous said...

I've been trying to counteract my packrat tendency to say "Hey, that's a perfectly good _____" by reminding myself that if it is a perfectly good ____, someone should be using it. But I am not using it, I'm just hoarding it. Therefore I should give it to someone who would use it.

This mental exercise is actually preparation for selling off around 1,000 books (about half what is in my house) on the grounds that I am doing the book a disservice by keeping it from the hands of someone who would actually read it. The problem is that all the books that I own which someone might actually read are ones that I am going to read someday. I swear.

Sarah Sometimes said...

As others have said, yes, please, send Daughter over to my house!!! I do this every couple of years but I think I am not ruthless enough. I have the packrat tendencies but not the hate-clutter tendencies. Or, I hate it but feel ineffectual about conquering it. A truly inspiring post :).

Anonymous said...

Can I borrow your daughter? I REALLY need to do the same thing, but I can't.

angelfeet said...

It's great that what could have been a dull, tedious job is celebrated as special time spent with your daughter as well as a refreshing decluttering start to the new year.

I would if my four-year old daughter would be as helpful as yours when reviewing my wardrobe.

Kathryn said...

Oh it's a wonderful process, isn't it? We had a similar party on Saturday morning, though I was sobered by Hatti Gandhi's insistence that many of the culled garments wouldn't be welcomed in the charity shop, and would have to go straight to the recycling "rag bank".
Have similar book issues, too - though we had to purge mercilessly before moving to the Curate's house...

Anonymous said...

Oh, I need to clean my closets, too.

Anonymous said...

ROFL!!!! Super title! Great kid!

YourFireAnt said...

Jo(e), please send your daughter over to my house asap. I will give her anything she wants. Anything!

Desperate in Hub City

Xtin said...

I was almost completely distracted by your fantastically warm and good-humoured relationship with your daughter, but I simply must note that this:

"What if I am painting the living room? What if I am gardening in the rain? What if I decide to be Andy Gibb for Halloween?"

... is genius.

Anonymous said...

jo(e), this post is brilliant and hilarious. It's why we all read blogs, right here.

Turtlenecks make me clautrophobic, too, but I wear them a lot in the winter. My strategy is to stretch out the necks when they are new. It works pretty well on cotton turtlenecks, which are then great for layering; sweaters and fancywear, not so much.

Anonymous said...

Loving this post. Is your daughter available to make a trip to NoVa?

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, perfect title. Classic jo(e).

RageyOne said...

:) What a great post! I love the turtleneck conversation. too funny!

Rana said...

*laughing*

Too bad we can't clone your daughter!

I'm going through a much slower version of the same. Instead of your daughter, I've got an upcoming move next summer to motivate me. *runs screaming about the room*

I've found, oddly, that four things have been helping: I've been shopping at the consignment shop in town and it's taught me that clothes are cheap, replaceable, and sellable. So I don't get as attached to crap. Next, I inherited a huge wad of junk from my packrat godparents, and, again, I'm learning to see junk as junk, rather than neat things I haven't found a use for yet. Third, I want to get some _good_ clothes, and there's no room. And fourth, I've become addicted to this show called What Not to Wear. One of the best parts is when the hosts go through a person's wardrobe, making fun of and tossing out all their ugly, bad clothes. (Then they fit the person out in nice clothes and do her hair and make-up and then all her friends applaud her in her new look.)

Of course, I have yet to actually take the boxes of rejects out of the house...

Anonymous said...

Do you get to go shopping for new stuff? Do you get to take her with you?

I only love to get rid of the old stuff when I can replace it with new funkier stuff :)

kathy a said...

what is it with turtlenecks? why do they have to choke a person? for a few years, one could get cowl-neck shirts and sweaters, which look better and give a little room -- what happened to those? i may still have one someplace . . ..

Sue said...

Love the title! It sounds like a delightful day.

swissmiss said...

I love this!

I have the one in-one out rule too; it helps and if I violate it 20 percent of the time I hold to it the other 80.

We have a great thing going here in Switzerland - about four times a year we get two huge plastic bags in our mailbox - one for clothes and one for shoes and on a specified date you put your old stuff to donate out on the curb and somebody magically takes it away. It has done wonders for my closet!

ccw said...

Such a funny post!

I clean out our closets every time I switch for the seasons but we seem to breed out-of-date/style clothing during the off seasons. I donated 6 garbage bags this year and we still have too much ancient clothing. I think I'm afraid that 1987 Ocean Pacific clothing will come back in style as soon as I throw mine out.

Anonymous said...

See now this is why I would need a daughter. I always think I look better in my old clothes than the ones in stores. I've got no perspective, obviously.

Anonymous said...

Can we borrow your daughter?

Oh, and she might be able to get a job with the "What not to wear" show :)

andrea from the fishbowl said...

"If the answer is no, it has to go." :)

What a wonderful post... and a great idea to have an objective eye (or two) helping you out.

Myself I try to stay on top of the edit and purge because our storage space is sacred, and there isn't nearly enough of it to go around. But it's still tough to get rid of some of those old things.