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!


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