Research in positive psychology indicates that we are happier when we spend our money on experiences, rather than things. It just occurred to me that clothes should be regarded as experiences instead of objects. Looking at garments this way may help as we contemplate uncluttering our closets.
There are a lot of neglected, unwearable clothes hanging in the back of a lot of closets. How many, you ask? Enough to sink a battle cruiser. Enough to fill the Grand Canyon on laundry day. Enough to stitch together and make a raggedy patchwork sweater that covers all of North America. Enough to roll into a ball and create Earth’s second moon, Unworna. In other words, a lot.
What’s in there?
Stuff that was expensive
Stuff in a pretty color
Stuff in a neat fabric
Stuff with cool buttons
Stuff that looks good on a hanger
Stuff that fit back when I sorta liked my body
Stuff that reminds me of special occasions
Stuff I forgot I had
Stuff I “borrowed”
Stuff that was a gift
Stuff I’m hoping to wear to a (costume) party
Stuff I wish would fit differently
Stuff I would wear if I had one single thing to wear with it, but I don’t
Stuff that is too long, too short, too loose, too tight, designed for a different skeleton than mine
In my closet right now, there is a pale blue business suit from 2006. It cost $80 at Ross and I went back to look at it twice before buying it. I got the job, though, so it paid for itself. Now it’s two sizes too big and the lapels look weird. Every time I pull it out and look at it, I convince myself that it would somehow be doing a favor for myself to keep it and wear it to an occasion when I need to “dress to impress.” Because that always entails wearing a decade-old suit that is two sizes too big. Maybe if I wait long enough, it will look awesome again. The trouble is that looking at my old business suit is not the same as wearing that same suit during the hypothetical situation for which I am keeping it.
Let’s talk about experiencing the clothes we never wear:
Cuts into my belly and leaves a giant red welt
Keeps falling off my butt, causing me to spend half my day yanking it back up
Makes me itch
Gives me blisters
Buttons won’t stay closed over my bra, causing me to draw my own blood while placing tactical safety pins
Doesn’t match a dang thing
Looked great in 1997
Looked great in 1987
Still has price tags on it, indicating I only experienced it in a changing room
Would look great at an occasion (such as winter) that never happens in my life, I assume, since I don’t even pretend to put it on
Looks and acts exactly like 47 other items I wear regularly
There is another item in my closet that I haven’t worn in a while. It’s the dramatic rhinestone-bedizened cocktail dress from my anniversary dinner. I can’t be comfortable with it until I have worn it at least twice more, because otherwise the cost per wear would make me break out in hives. I have never felt as compelling in anything else I have ever worn. I know it fits. I have plans for it on New Year’s Eve. Just wearing this dress makes me feel like I have super powers. Okay, I’m unlikely to find myself in a situation where this dress is my go-to on a weekly basis. It earns its keep, though.
For many years, I had this goal weight. It was 18 pounds heavier than my current weight. I could never seem to get there. I hung on to basically every garment I liked from this special weight, in hopes I would get back there one day. Imagine my surprise when that stuff got too big! I was actually disappointed. I was finally feeling healthy and strong, freeing myself of the shackles of chronic illness, and yet I was wishing I could fit in a too-big thrift store dress with life-size tulips on it, because it had a designer label. The weird thing about getting fit is that body composition changes everything. At the same weight, I was leaner and smaller; my posture was different; even my bra size changed. It’s a good idea to hang on to smaller clothes if you are actively becoming leaner, because you can blast through a size a month, but don’t expect to spend much time in them. “Skinny clothes” are like motel rooms. With the right filters and camera angles, they can look okay, but once you get in them, you can’t wait to check out.
At one point, I had six different sizes of clothes in my closet, and all of them fit. One of the dirty little secrets about clothing sizes is that they are not assigned in uniform increments. In other words, the difference in size between a 0 and a 2 is completely different than the size difference between a 10 and a 12, and even more so for a 14 and a 16. If you think you are going to be able to predict how smaller sizes will fit you, you probably have an advanced degree in mathematics. Clothes for small women may be designed exclusively by tailors on psychoactive medication; it certainly would explain some things. I say this as a person who can often fit in a 00, if there is one available, which generally there is not.
It happened to me. I had to start over from scratch with an entirely new wardrobe. I was obese and ill, until one day, I was a marathon runner with a flat little butt. I tried on every stitch I owned, and found that 80% of it was too big. (What was left consisted of 1. Sweaters, 2. Socks, and 3. Things I wear to bed). I sat down and made a checklist of which garments I needed, and then I went to the Hollywood Goodwill and bought them. The movie version of this involves me going to fancy boutiques for that scene, but fortunately, I am a tightwad, because I went on to lose another 8 pounds and almost all that stuff got replaced.
I never cared much for clothes, as you may have surmised by the frequent cameos from my Best Supporting Actress, Thrift Store. I find myself in the unprecedented situation of going to actual retail establishments and buying new things from the current season. My husband has even talked me into trying on and buying a couple of things off the mannequin in a store window, which I thought only happened in cartoons. His pleasure in dressing me has changed how I feel about my clothes. He walked in the door one day and stopped in his tracks, staring at me. “What?” I asked. “Why do you look so good?” he asked. I was wearing a sundress and tinted lip balm. And shoes. Maybe that was it.
The main experience I want from my clothing is that it doesn’t annoy me. I will only buy stuff that fits without me having to tug it back into place, whether up, down, or sideways. I won’t tolerate a high-maintenance clothing experience, even from formal evening gowns. The next qualification is that it has to be easy to care for. I’ll hang-dry something if I really love it, but no way am I taking anything to the dry cleaners. Ironing boards are for job interviews. Finally, it’s nice to wear clothes that reflect how I feel about myself. In my case, that is no-nonsense; you won’t find me in a print or pattern very often, much less any kind of embellishment, other than my rhinestone flip flops, because I’m waiting to be discovered by a Hollywood scout who may stray into my Starbucks. Within the sphere of no-nonsense, comfortable, low-maintenance clothing, there is actually room for a few things that are flattering enough to make my hubby want to look at me twice. I don’t dislike any of my clothes anymore. I’d go so far as to say that I like them. Getting dressed has started to be a more interesting part of my life. That’s because I’ve started to see the things I wear as experiences, rather than simply objects.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.