96: How a Clean Closet Changed My Life

96: How a Clean Closet Changed My Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less


How a Clean Closet Changed My Life

If you want to improve your life immediately, clean out a closet. Often, it’s what we hold onto that holds us back.

~Cheryl Richardson

I looked at the bed in our room in amazement. It appeared that a very large, very colorful volcano had erupted. Instead of spewing lava though, the duvet was covered in mounds and mounds of clothes. My clothes. Skirts tangled with button-down shirts and jeans, while T-shirts peeked out between the cracks. Belts coiled like snakes among the hems and sleeves of dresses.

How had this happened? I had always excused my “retail therapy” habit. After all, it more closely resembled recycling than outright consuming. Sure, I might “binge” at tag sales or thrift shops, but I always brought bags of other clothes and accessories to donate weeks later. The process, in my mind, cancelled itself out. Was I living in dreamland?

I’ve always had a romantic view of life. I grew up, in fact, thoroughly convinced that I’d been born in the wrong century. I was a Laura Ingalls Wilder wannabe, an Anne of Green Gables devotee. I longed to live in a simpler time: when women held quilting bees, and poetry readings were entertainment in place of television. When women had one “good dress,” and took pleasure in making butter by hand, tatting and making beautiful quilts. Honestly, I’m still not sure what “tatting” is, but it sounds industrious.

Those pioneers lived in the moment. I dreamt of being whisked back in time, living in a sunny cabin on the outskirts of town, talking with my neighbors instead of dashing off hurried e-mails, and enjoying extended family dinners on Sunday afternoons instead of trying to keep my son entertained on rainy days.

Nowhere in my childhood daydreams did I imagine the stress of maintaining a career, caring for a house and family, and performing all the other tasks that adulthood demands. If I had, my daydreams of living in the early nineteenth century would have been even more impassioned. Was modern-day stress what fueled my desire to shop?

I sighed and returned to the closet to survey the results of the last hour’s decimation. Empty hangers swung from the clothes rod, but other than that, and a row of shoes and boots neatly lining the floor, my half of the closet was empty. It looked so big! Spacious. It hadn’t looked like this since we first moved in.

Stretching my back, I returned to the bed and sat down. Or tried to. Instead I slid off the mound of clothes and onto the floor. Why had I ever thought this de-cluttering challenge would be “fun?”

For months I’d been scouring the Internet and reading blogs and articles on minimalism and intentional living. The premise of the idea wasn’t new to me: in my early twenties I’d called a timeout on credit cards and cleaned up my financial act. Eventually my husband and I had paid off more than $5,000 worth of credit card charges. I never wanted to do that again.

I’d even run a class on simple living and written articles on the topic. I’d learned though, that one can live “simply” and still accumulate “stuff.” And that’s why I’d decided to join a closet-reformation challenge I’d found online. Project 333 (www.theproject333.com), founded by Courtney Carver, entices would-be minimalists to live with only thirty-three items in their wardrobes for three months. Sound impossible? I thought it would be easy.

Sitting here now though, I wasn’t so sure. I took a deep breath and walked over to my pile of trash bags. First sort, then pile. It took hours of brain-numbing decisions to decide what to keep and what to let go of. In the end I hauled three bags of clothes and accessories to the garage for my next donation run. I stuffed another four bags under my bed. These were the “maybe” clothes. As in “maybe I’ll need this again, maybe I won’t.” According to Ms. Carver this was allowed as part of the challenge. I was grateful for that.

With the clothes making up my new “capsule wardrobe” selected, I hung them carefully, then stood back to survey the results.

“Wow,” I said, a shiver running down my spine. “This looks amazing.”

I could clearly see everything that was available. Rather than a mishmash of shirts, skirts, dresses and pants coordinated only by color, I could now easily see each item. There was even a slice of beautiful space between each hanger.

Now the real test began, though. I bit my lip as I shut the closet door and flicked off the light. Would I be able to create stylish outfits from such a small number of items?

Weeks later I noticed something: getting ready for work in the morning was a snap. Plus, I hadn’t worn the same outfit in the exact same way since the closet metamorphosis. Because I could see (and actually like) all the pieces left in my wardrobe, it was much easier to put a stylish ensemble together in much less time. I loved the lightness and airiness of my side of the closet, too; so much that I often paused after choosing my clothes for the day and drank it in.

It’s been more than a year since that closet cleanout. Do I still maintain just thirty-three items in my closet at all times? No. I still have a lot of room between hangers, though, and the clothes there are items that I love and wear frequently.

Something else interesting happened: my closet became an impetus in other areas of my home and even my life. I’ve lost track of the number of bags and boxes I’ve brought to Goodwill over the past year. The kitchen counter is nearly bare. I love it. I’ve given away more than half of my book collection and a recent rearranging of rooms in our house gave me the opportunity to sort our young son’s toys and share or sell a good portion of them.

More important than all the physical changes though, are the emotional ones. I find myself asking, “Is this really going to make my life better?” before buying a new piece of clothing. And before I enter a commitment into my calendar, I say, “What will I say no to in order to make time for this?”

I’m certainly not perfect. Occasionally, I bring home an item of clothing or something for the house because I need a lift or a change of scenery. More and more, however, I’m finding that the real key to living a life that resembles the nineteenth century is being content with what I have. Doing so helps me slow down and focus my attention on making memories… and enjoying a clutter-free closet each morning.

~Joy Choquette


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