93: The Rule of Twenty

93: The Rule of Twenty

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less


The Rule of Twenty

To manifest something in your life it is wise to first clean out your closets.

~Author Unknown

My eyes narrowed as I pawed through a tumbled mountain of shoes. They were once stacked in two neat lines across the floor. Now the closet looked as though an earthquake had shaken a shoe store. It took me more than five minutes to find a mate for the navy blue pump clutched in my hand. Being late to work again wouldn’t be beneficial to my performance appraisal. I could no longer avoid my need to organize.

Later that morning I grumbled to a co-worker about the mess my closet had become. She grinned before giving me a sound piece of advice.

“The best thing I ever did was buy a shoe rack. One glance and you can find what you need in a snap.”

Her suggestion made sense. The idea of bringing order out of chaos appealed to me so much I drove straight to a discount store after work to see what they had available. I browsed up and down aisles until I found the shoe rack jackpot. A multitude of choices included racks that held as few as six pairs of shoes all the way up to seventy. I calculated my needs. Only six pairs of shoes would be impossible. Yet I knew I didn’t have anywhere near seventy pairs of shoes in my closet. I scanned the options until I noticed a tiered portable shelving unit that held twenty pairs of shoes. Twenty would be perfect. I even felt a little smug. I’d only need to get rid of a few pairs for the new system to work.

At home I assembled the shoe rack and then sipped a cup of hot tea while staring into my closet. The first step would be to see exactly what I had accumulated. I began to pull out shoe after shoe until my bedroom floor was completely littered with them. There were flats and pumps and boots and sandals and tennis shoes and flip-flops. Once I’d emptied the closet I counted shoes and couldn’t believe my eyes. Sixty-three pairs were on the floor. They looked like a sorrowful, drab rainbow in shades of black, blue, and tan.

My brow furrowed. I didn’t spend lavishly. Buying shoes wasn’t one of my guilty pleasures. In fact, I hardly ever visited the shoe department. I tried to analyze my unexpected excess. True, in the Midwest, wardrobes are more complicated. Four seasons require different types of shoes. You can’t wear sandals to trudge through snow or fleece-lined boots when it’s hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk. Yet I finally had to admit changing weather couldn’t hide an obvious fact. Somehow I had collected way too many shoes.

Twenty pairs of shoes ought to be enough for anybody. I set my lips in a firm line. I only needed to figure out a way to reduce sixty-three pairs to twenty. At first the sea of shoes overwhelmed me until a ragged and scarred pair of brown leather boots I’d owned for nearly twenty years caught my eye. Then I spied dingy gray tennis shoes used in the days when we’d gone on float trips. Next to the tennis shoes sat a pair of rhinestone-studded sandals I’d worn to a wedding ten years ago, but never again because they hurt my feet. Perhaps the problem wasn’t how many shoes I had added to my closet. It was how few I subtracted. This realization provided my strategy.

I decided to get rid of any shoes that hadn’t been worn within the past eighteen months. If a shoe looked like it had been fished from a dumpster, it would have to go, too. With a plan in place, I armed myself with two enormous trash bags. In one bag went shoes too beat up to save. Gently worn shoes suitable for donation went into the other. I would keep the remaining shoes.

At times the process pained me. How could I get rid of the shoes I wore to my daughter’s wedding or the run-down-at-the-heels loafers I grabbed because even though they looked ragged, they fit me like a glove? Yet I realized if I had any hope of staying within my twenty pair target, I had to forget sentimentality. I squared my shoulders and stuck to the plan.

Two hours later, the bags were bulging. A count of the surviving shoes revealed twenty-three pairs still standing. I resisted the urge to shove the extra shoes under my bed and with a single deep sigh, selected three more pairs for the donation bag.

Finally I filled the new shoe organizer and stepped back to admire my handiwork. The closet hadn’t looked so good in years. I could see every shoe I owned with no need for digging. Fewer choices gave me an added bonus. It would take less time to decide what to wear. By taking control of my closet, life became a little easier. I decided never again to own more than twenty pairs of shoes.

I’ve kept to my rule though there are occasions when I find myself gazing at a snappy pair of shoes marked down to nearly nothing. But there’s truth in numbers. My twenty-pair rule shapes the parameters of my shopping. I can’t add new shoes without subtracting old ones. This formula helps me think a lot harder before succumbing to temptation and making a purchase.

Spending money just because you discover a good deal makes no more sense than holding on to something you don’t need. There are fewer shoes in my closet, but like old friends, they’re the ones I really want to keep.

~Pat Wahler


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