Note: Part 1 of this series, “Changes,” can be found at the blog The Curated Body: https://thecuratedbody.wordpress.com/2017/12/31/changes/
So I Marie-Kondo’ed my closet last week. Or, rather, I had been experiencing progressive trouble fitting all my dresses into my single bedroom closet, and finally sorted through the closet in an exasperated early-morning rage last Monday. Post-event apologies to my downstairs neighbors, who must have been sleepily bewildered at what the hell all that 6am thumping and scratching was. Hangers and heels, my friends. A suitcase’s worth.
Finally clearing all of that out turned out to be magnitudes more gratifying than my imaginings of the act. I wish I’d done it sooner, but perhaps I just wasn’t ready yet. Not just because I could finally hang up clothes without having to constantly shift and slide hangers from left to right to eke out a space for them, but because there was so much on the closet rack that I in fact do not wear anymore, and in fact have not worn in years. Partly as a function of body changes over the years — let’s just say that this grown lady continues to grow — and partly because I just stopped liking some of my dresses so much. I both literally and figuratively outgrew them, in other words.
I never imagined anything would change, at least not with respect to my regard for those dresses. I bought those dresses with longevity in mind, loved them when I bought them, took painstaking care of them while they were on my regular wardrobe roster, cold-wash-hang-dry or dry-clean-only, year after year. Not a single one has seen the inside of a tumble dryer (at least not to my knowledge, unless the cleaners I go to know something I don’t); a countable number have ever been lent out, because I don’t trust anyone to take care of my things as intently as I do. These dresses were meant to be kept and worn for life, or at least as long as this particular phase of it. And yet here I am, as done with the dresses now in that suitcase as one might be a relationship that one knows is past its expiry date, but one hasn’t yet mustered the courage to end. I never imagined I’d be so over it.
Going through my closet was like a strange trip into a sea of things I’d thought I’d forgotten. I discovered last week, though, that the dresses were my memory’s external hard drive, and seemingly lost memories are never fully so. Each dress, I discovered, has hampers full of memories stitched into its hemlines, some beautiful, some ugly, many of no notable emotional resonance but that somehow showed up too, because that’s kind of what clutter does: it just spills into spaces without you meaning it to. Weddings, afterparties, dates, meet-ups I’d thought were dates but in fact were not, poetry readings, essay workshops, office happy hours, office holiday parties, hammered birthday parties, weepy goodbye parties, walks through Center City on quiet summer evenings. As I picked up and reviewed each dress it was as though I could hear the people inside those memories still talking, still whispering, still screaming with laughter, sometimes still just screaming, still dancing to the music, still crying over crushed hearts, still planning the next shenanigans filled with raucosity. Still telling me how much they loved me.
Before deciding it was time to let a dress go I first took a good minute to recall everything it was emotionally indexed to — or at least everything that immediately rose to mind — and decide if the memories alone were worth holding on to the fabric that signified them. In most cases, it turned out, keeping it wasn’t worth it. That’s the thing about growing up, or maybe the thing about having a small-ish apartment that’s already lined with boxes and bookshelves and containers-doubling-as-seating-space. Or maybe it’s both. Judged against the truth of who I am now, those things — the memories each dress recalls, the character traits each style signifies toward, the emotions each fabric pattern evokes — are a mismatch for who I am now. Each dress had its place and performance on the spectrum of my determination to make each day a day I could be my best in; but it turns out that even the most introspective of us can evolve past our own awareness of that evolution. Those dresses, as much as I loved them, just aren’t me anymore, just like I had an arguably decent time through most of my 20s but there’s not a chance in hell I would ever go back to those days. And I don’t want these dresses cluttering up my life as though they were still me; and critically I still wouldn’t want them around even if I had the storage space to accommodate them.
I have regularly mocked the notion of Marie-Kondo’ing one’s living space and one’s life. It seemed the next ridiculous fad in self-organization, destined for instant forgettability upon the creation of the next home organization app in a college hack-a-thon. Furthermore, the notion that one should spend meaningful time determining whether or not an item still brought oneself joy in deciding to keep it or chuck it felt gratingly indulgent. Who has so much stuff in their house that they not only can categorize it by function, but by emotional aura? Really? And yet, in a big way, that is exactly what I did last week — I got real about how much those clothes truly meant to me anymore, and I had to go about it that way because if I went at it from the angle of whether or not I could use them again, that answer, for my reticent-to-waste self, would be “of course.” And that answer would have satisfied my moral drive towards believing I’m the kind of person who only acquires things I truly intend to use, and use for a long time; but it would have been dishonest and self-deluding, and ultimately that’s far worse than hurtling oneself through the initial stabbing pain of letting go of a love — albeit for a dress, but still — that just no longer makes sense.
Right now these dresses are all in a suitcase next to the bedroom shelf that holds my sheets, socks and spare shoelaces. I’ll figure out where they’re all going in the next few weeks. Some will be sold, some will be given away, some will be turned into skirts and headbands by the same person, also a tailor, who does my drycleaning. In the meantime, my closet can finally breathe easier, and, it seems, so can today’s version of myself. It’s strange for me to realize just how lashed to the past my old dresses had kept me; not that this moment is now some grand jettisoning of the entirety of that past, but I think if one’s past remains too materially in one’s present, one can’t completely move forward into everything one is supposed to be. Of course my job as a writer is to make tapestries out of the memories and emotions of the past, but that’s precisely the point: to create specifically selected pieces of that past into something new, leaving the rest behind and forgiving oneself for that act, rather than getting stuck in all of the muck as though the past were in fact a continuous present. The notion of time as a man-made construct aside, living the present as though it is the past is a disservice to the gift of your life. It’s time to move on: it’s time to grow up. And it’s time to make room for new beautiful things.