Friday, July 31, 2015


I have clothing and fabric strewn about my office, on our dining-room table, and on the floor outside a couple of closets I've been sorting through. The process of de-cluttering, it turns out, creates a lot of clutter while it's underway. 

Quilt project and sparkly stuff
It takes a lot of energy, too. I find myself evaluating items that represent, literally and figuratively, the threads of my life. Should it go? Should it stay? These decisions can be complicated. The secret, I think, is in the timing. Am I ready to let go of this? Am I ready to stop being the person who needed this outfit? Can I see myself getting along without so many bins of fabric and craft supplies? Or, at least, with less of these particular supplies? (There is definitely a voice in my head that says, "If you get rid of this stuff you'll have more room for that other stuff you've been wanting.")

Sometimes an item represents a dream. For example, I came across a pink pinwale playsuit I began to make for ViMae seven years ago, when she was a few months old. The fabric was cute but too heavy for ruffles, and before I'd finished it she was growing so fast I knew she'd never get to wear it. I couldn't throw it away--I had long dreamed of sewing darling clothes for adorable children. But by now, I have sewn other things for both grandkids, and I have also discovered the joys of buying wonderful like-new dresses at Once Upon a Child. Realizing that my dream is intact and even improved, I am finally ready to throw away that unfinished project along with other hapless bits and pieces. Bonus: In the process I uncovered more fabric that the kids have decided will be perfect for some brand-new projects.

Then, of course, there's the matter of an entire work wardrobe--two, really, because summer and winter demand different clothing options here in Minnesota. I'd stopped wearing dresses for work long ago in favor of dressy pants and jackets or sweaters. To my way of thinking, I had maybe five pairs of pants for winter and five for summer. My closets, however, say there were more. And I had them in three different sizes. For a couple of years in my 40s, I wore braces on my teeth. Lost 25 pounds because I wouldn't eat in public. I did give away some of those clothes years ago, but I realized I was keeping a few "in case I ever get cancer and lose a lot of weight." I guess that idea stuck with me because my mother got cancer at 60 and did lose a lot of weight, and shopping for new clothes while you know you are dying is not that much fun. But I'm finally ready to risk it. Those size 8s and 10s are gone.

So are a lot of other clothes that don't fit, probably never will, and perhaps never did. Also gone: things that never were really comfortable, or didn't flatter, or that I just don't like.

Or that I no longer "need." Apparently when I was working I needed eight black long-sleeved t-shirts, differing only in length and in the shape of the scoop necks. Plus eight or ten in other colors. (I wore them, instead of blouses, with suits and jackets.) I can say with confidence that I don't need so many now.

Future pillow cover and more sparkles
The same is true with all the pants, both dressy and casual, that I'd accumulated in an array of classic colors: black, brown, navy, and, of course, tan, beige, taupe, sand, stone, khaki, and other synonyms for, um, tan. Tried them all on, found some in the back of the spare closet that fit better than ones I've been wearing, kept only the favorites. In another closet I found four pairs of pants I'd put in a bin to be hemmed. Kept two, tossed two.

Today we are taking three huge bags full of clothes to Goodwill (along with household items we've recruited for the trip). This will make room to continue the weeding process, which will eventually include books, collectibles, you-name-it. And I plan to revisit my closets in six months or so, because I know I'll be ready to shed some additional stuff.

Cleaning out my closets, and then decluttering in general, was going to be my first post-retirement project. It has taken four and a half years to get started. I think I feared the process; I thought I would have to summon brutal self-discipline to get rid of things that had been part of my life. You've heard, "If you haven't worn it in a year, it's gone." Well, no. Some things just have a longer shelf life than that. 

So I gave away everything I was sure of, including some special-occasion clothes and some of the t-shirts I've collected over the years, bearing logos of favorite causes and teams and places. But I kept things to which I felt attached. A very worn shirt bearing the logo of International Women's Year (1976), in which I participated, for example. And my 1991 World Champions sweatshirt with a few Twins' autographs. And I was already feeling okay about that when I heard about a new best-seller with a rather grand title: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

I haven't read the book, but in interviews author Marie Kondo says that when you are torn about keeping or tossing an item, hold it, touch it, feel it. If it makes you happy, keep it. Amen to that.

How about you? Have you mastered the art of decluttering? Organizing? Shall we form a book club to study Ms. Kondo's advice?  Or have you found life-changing decluttering "magic" from another source? Do tell!


stephen Hayes said...

I'm sure someone will put your old clothes to good use.

Pauline Persing said...

I'm still working on the decluttering process. I've been at it for years. I can only work at it for a few months at a time. I keep telling myself. I have less now than I did a couple years ago. I like that thought about touching an item and seeing what feelings I get from it. Some years ago I gave away some children's games the grandchildren and I played. I ended up rebuying the games. Too many good memories associated with them.

DJan said...

I moved away from my work place seven years ago and got rid of lots. But yeah, I kept somethings I've never worn again. But when I touch them and think about throwing them out, I... I just can't. I hear you! :-)

Midlife Roadtripper said...

I went through a great number of things like clothes, books, closet stuffings last year. Felt so good after to walk in and not see all the clutter. When we cleared out my parents home a few years ago, we tried to find as many groups that needed their things as possible. We donated my mom's art supplies and frames, sewing and material to a group that worked with young kids with cancer. Books to her favorite library branch -- where she still owed fines BTW.

Anyway, I tried to do that with much of my things as well. Safe houses for women's clothing and kids places for toys. Helped to know it wasn't just going into a pile somewhere. Definite catharsis.

Far Side of Fifty said...

There is no magic book or video, you just have to do it and enjoy the space you created. In my case when the hangers clog up on the rod it is time. I did part of a purge this spring. My problem is saving something I truly love for good and then hardly ever wearing it. I refuse to wear uncomfortable clothes or shoes...I am too old for all that nonsense:)

Jeanie said...

Nancy, I am experiencing much the same. So far, 7 bags, five boxes to Goodwill and more to come (but the weather has been too nice to tend to the basement!). And one day, the art room will be pared down as well -- but not quite yet. Yes, it's something we must do, but there are feelings connected to some of those things that are hard to let go!

Do you hear me applauding from Michigan?

Sally Wessely said...

I did a very big purge of books, furniture, holiday decorating items, canning supplies, fabric, and patterns when we moved three years ago. It took weeks to go through it all. I had friends come and help me with the purge. They were great in helping empty out a very large empty basement. Since then, I still have many things to get rid of, but for now, they are out of sight and out of mind.

I will occasionally clean out a closet and get rid of clothing items and shoes. I have more to go, but I have only gotten rid of what I can currently deal with getting rid of. I have suits and such that I wore to work. I hang on to them because I loved them. They are in a basement closet. I will eventually get rid of them, I suppose. Or, maybe not. I am now concentrating on clothes that fit that I really don't like and don't find flattering. Those things are going away. They are somewhat new and in good shape, but they were bad buying decisions. I have no attachments to them. I bought them because they fit. I never did like some of them. I find I made much better buying decisions in the clothing area of my life when I was working because I had a clearcut view of what I needed and wanted. Now, I can't be sure what to wear.

troutbirder said...

We're downsizing which must be mega decluttering. I'm into it with the help of Craig's list. Mrs. T not so much...:)

Unknown said...

I quit working a few years ago and all of my "professional wardrobe" was put in plastic storage containers and moved to the garage in am effort to get them out of my closet. Why am I letting them clutter up my garage? I really need to take your advice! If I haven't worn the stuff in over 3 years why am I keeping it?

Nanette Stearns said...

Books have always been the hardest for me. Even though most of what I read now is in ebook form, I can't let go of the old books yet.Plus they multiply when I'm not looking so I know I'll never keep up!

J said...

Before the kinship of blogging emerged, where I would I ever go to find someone to commiserate with over the process of de-cluttering? I do "min-sweeps" of clothing and "other" once or twice each year. Until I read this post, I felt a little guilt over erring on the side of caution when I was torn over an item. Now, I'll just keep it! I'll add it to my special pile called, "Let the Kids Deal With This After I'm Gone!"


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