Having sifted through tons of closets over the years one of the problems I’ve seen is what I have recently named the China Syndrome.  No, this has nothing to do with nuclear reactors, physics or explosions; it has to do with the clothes in your closet and how you wear them.

Let me explain:

Many times I visit a client and they have a closet full of clothes that they’re not wearing.  Some of it is quite nice, yet many of my clients find themselves often pulling the same-old stuff that’s not so nice, a bit tired and over-worn.  Meanwhile, their fabulous things just hang there.

For example, I will work with a client who works from home may always wear the same over-worn t-shirt and ill-fitting jeans while they also have a perfectly good looking and fresher t-shirt jeans hanging in their closet.  In their mind they figure there is no point in dressing well while they’re working from their home office.  I also see situations like when  a client buys a lovely top that they can wear to work but, out of fear of it getting soiled, they let it hang there for the perfect occasion.  Another example that is fairly common is when a client has a hard time finding clothes that fit.  If it takes a while for a client to find properly fitting clothes due to their body proportions and you can see how they might want to hoard or protect the things that do fit them.  They have such a fear that they will never find another piece that fits them so well that they never wear it.  Now, while this makes sense, where the heck is the logic?  They actually find things yet never wear them.  So, what’s the point of having them?     In all these situations, I  explain to them that doing this is like having good china in the cupboard yet choosing to eat on paper plates everyday, instead.

Therefore, I call it The China Syndrome.

We all have a tendency to save nice things in our closet for a better or more appropriate time. However, when exactly does that time come?  Why do we hold our nice things for later and suffer in the present in mediocrity?  I’m not implying that we sit around dressed in an evening gown to watch TV, however, when we have a better option that is just as functional, comfortable and useful to wear (sweats can be fabulous) why don’t we ever choose it?  Why do we save this stuff for later?

When I was on a smoothie kick I used to drink them in a large red wine glass.  Sure, I could have chosen some junky glass but I felt better and more decadent when I chose a glass that was more fabulous to use.   My choice of drinking glass was sometimes questioned, but I really didn’t care. Did it matter what I drank my smoothie out of?  Not really.  But it was a heck of a lot more fun to enjoy the glass I was using.

I think there are a few reasons surrounding our choices to downgrade our options vs. upgrading them.  The first, I think, comes from a conditioned childhood of our parents telling us not to get dirty.  We had dress up clothes and we had play clothes.  We knew which clothes were so precious that if we got them dirty we would be in big trouble.  However, as an adult I know I’m not going to run outside and jump in a puddle or climb a tree in something nice. What’s the worst that can happen if I chose to wear something I enjoyed wearing?  I’d have to wash the item when it got dirty?  Sure, there is always the risk of attracting a permanent stain when I wear it, but I’m also old enough by now to know that I shouldn’t cook in white pants or use an indelible marker near something more precious and expensive.

And, we’re not even just talking about these clothes being expensive, necessarily.  How many of you wear a stretched out, faded, tired t-shirt when you have a perfectly good substitute sitting in your wardrobe, that probably cost you less than $25, yet, you never wear it because you don’t want it to get ruined.  Well, here’s a newsflash:  Everything you wear will eventually get ruined either by over wear, a stain, sweat or stretching.  It’s inevitable.  So, why don’t you at least enjoy wearing it as much as possible in the meantime?

The truth is that we don’t have to wear the best.  We can eat off of paper plates, we can pull on the same old jeans that look horrible and we can ooh and ah over a great dress that hangs in our closet collecting dust because we’re afraid to wear it.  No, we don’t have to wear anything wonderful, yet when we do we feel better.  So, why do we treat ourselves so poorly when we don’t have to?

When we dress ourselves well in nice things we say to the world we’re worth it.  There is something ballsy about thinking that much of ourselves and, unfortunately, in our culture it is frowned upon to be a self-sufficient person who has high self esteem.  It seems that if we have our life together and care for ourselves then we’re snobby or think we’re better than everyone else.  As crazy as it sounds, think about all the gossip you hear about people who actually take the time to give themselves some self-care.  “Who does she think she is?” is something a person who display signs of self worth may hear.  It takes a lot of confidence to feel secure and know we’re worth it, in addition to dealing with those who want to snicker about it.  So, what do we do?  Well, we can either not give a crap, realizing that the negative comments from others are plain jealousy and you caring for yourself a reminder to them how little they care about themselves, or we downgrade ourselves in order to blend and avoid judgment.  Sometimes it is just easier to be a pathetic, time starved, unkempt and disorderly victim with the rest of them, vs. having your look and your life be pulled together

Now, someone could argue that taking the time to fuss that much just isn’t on their radar screen, that they have better things to do than care about whether their socks match or their shirt is fresh.  Sure, we are time starved and, for some, fashion isn’t the main priority.  However, if it isn’t a priority for you then why do you have fabulous things in your closet in the first place?  If it doesn’t matter, why do you buy it?  The China Syndrome is a reflection of you staring back at yourself.  If you’re someone who stares longingly at things in your closet that you could be wearing but choose to downgrade all the time instead, know that this has more to do with your opinion of yourself, your values and your confidence, vs. it being about clothes.  There is a link between self worth and priorities when someone is okay with eating off of paper plates yet have perfectly good china waiting to be used.