After what feels like the shortest August that I can recall, I’m back. The final month of summer was, well, stressful. While I didn’t expect that I would coast because despite being on blog hiatus, I continued to work, I came up against some challenges that either annoyed the heck out of me, caused disruption, or put me in very uncharted and stressful territory.
I dealt with a frustrating laptop issue that required four trips to the Apple Store, a renovation in my apartment, and, worst of all, a legal issue that I am still dealing with. I can’t get into too many details now because things are still unsettled, but it’s a business matter that required me to find and hire a lawyer because, apparently, there are absolutely awful and needlessly cruel people in this world. Being a person who loathes “vaguebookers” — the name for people who post vague status updates on Facebook, I promise, when things are squared away I will share more. What I can say for now is that the amount of time, stress, and what this could potentially cost a decent amount has been difficult.
I don’t think anyone expects to go through life problem-free, but when issues arise, it’s easy to feel like there are things working against you. Problems and stressful situations are a pain to deal with, but these types of moments also have the ability to give us perspective and maybe make us stronger, more patient, and calmer in the long run. I grant you, being uncomfortable absolutely sucks, yet, in times where I felt powerless in whatever I was up against last month, I would remind myself of the temporality of things, that one day all this would be a memory, and that eventually I’d resume my normal baseline status quo of ease. I was once told to look at problems like passing clouds, eventually, they will pass.
THE HOME RENOVATION THAT INSPIRED THIS POST
As I mentioned, I did an apartment renovation during my time away. I renovated my home office. If you recall, a few years ago, I had my bedroom and living room walls and ceilings replastered and painted. Last month, I had the same thing done in my office. While the project was much smaller and took less than half the time to complete, for days, my apartment looked like a hoarder home and I spent three days with someone who was lovely but still in my space, nonetheless. When you live in 700 sq. ft., dealing with out-of-place piles and a stranger in your home it can be a bit much. Plus, having this going on with everything else that was happening, I became as wound as tightly as a top.
In preparation for the renovations, my husband, Frank, and I took advantage to purge ourselves of a lot that was in my office. In addition to being my office, due to lack of apartment space, this room often becomes a bit of a catch-all. Coincidentally, at the time of our office renovation, Frank and I were also watching some episodes of the show Hoarders. I’ve heard it said that if you want to do an excellent purge in your own home, watch an episode of the show. It’s good advice.
The last thing anyone would call me is a hoarder. I’m not kidding, I read Christmas cards over the garbage can. I don’t have an attachment to stuff or a desire to hang on to the past, and while I have the ability to find meaning in things, I’d hardly call myself sentimental. However, when a room becomes a place where you park things so they’re out of sight, out of mind, it’s easy for things you don’t really need or totally care about to pile up.
As Frank and I purged our office space with episodes of Hoarders on our minds, our purging mindset was on steroids. If things didn’t have a use, were extraneous, or we were living our lives just fine without remembering we owned something, out it went. If I worried I’d one day need something I was tossing, I would remind myself that everything is replaceable. My peace of mind and a desire to have an open, clear space won out every time I questioned whether I should release something.
GOING DEEPER WITH YOUR WARDROBE EDITS
I wanted to return from my blog hiatus with some thoughts about purging that might help you go deeper the next time you clean out your closet. Given the time of year and that you’ll likely be switching out your wardrobe in the next few months, this definitely feels timely.
HOW DO YOU FEEL HAVING THE NUMBER OF CLOTHES YOU DO IN YOUR CLOSET?
The first question to ask yourself is how having the amount of stuff in your closet makes you feel. Closet size is incredibly personal and having been through this with more clients than I can count, I’ve never enforced a one-size-fits-all rule about how many clothes a person should own. What is more important is that you don’t feel like there is too much or that your closet is unnavigable, or chaotic.
Look into your closet and name the emotions you feel when you look at it. I’m not asking you to do anything about what you feel at this point, I just want you to become aware and present of your emotions. What are your feelings? Are you happy with them?
DO YOU HAVE THE SPACE?
I live in a teeny-tiny apartment in a pre-war building that was built the year the Titanic sank (which was 1912 if you’re not up on Titanic history.) Consider this, the first episode of the first season of Downton Abbey took place on this day. Unless you were actually living in the Downton Abbey home, nobody had more than a few articles of clothing in their possession. This is my long-winded way of saying I don’t have great closet space. Despite my crappy closet space situation, it does force me to be discerning because I literally don’t have the physical space for a lot of clothes.
So you have two choices, you work with the space you have or you cull down. And if you do have a lot of closet space, is it really necessary that every closet is packed? Do you need multiple closets full of clothes? Going back to my first question, how does it make you feel having the amount of clothes you do?
I have often said that a home is like a handbag, the bigger it is, the more crap you put in it. Well, the same is true for closet space.
WHAT DO YOU WORRY WILL HAPPEN IF YOU PURGE THINGS FROM YOUR CLOSET?
Several years ago, I actually interviewed the psychologist, Dr. Robin Zasio, and cleanup specialist, Cory Chalmers from Hoarders. You can listen to the interview here. During that interview, Dr. Zasio spoke about the term anticipatory anxiety which up until that point, I had never heard of before. Following that, I wrote a post about anticipatory anxiety here. Dr. Zasio explained, “It’s not necessarily the stuff that hoarders struggle with letting go of, it’s the anticipatory anxiety about letting their stuff go that stops them.”
I think people avoid purging because of the emotions that get churned up. When we struggle to let go of things we can go through mental gymnastics and potential emotional turmoil over each item we contemplate. The anxiety that gets created is all anticipatory anxiety because you really don’t know what will happen if you get rid of the items in question. It’s all speculative.
The key is to tune into those emotions, not run away from them. What stories are you telling yourself if you purge an item? What will happen if those items in question go away? What are you so afraid will happen if you let go? The more you listen, the more you will hear how absurd these thoughts can be.
DO YOU HAVE A USE FOR IT NOW?
It’s not uncommon to hold onto items in a closet that are currently useless. Beyond just clothing that doesn’t currently fit, these items can be things that don’t work with your current lifestyle, that aren’t your style any longer, or that you don’t even love all that much.
It’s not that I am against keeping some clothes around that are reasonably within a weight goal or are bigger just in case you gain, but how much do you really need to hold onto, and is the goal realistically attainable? I get that weight fluctuates, but be firm with yourself, are you using this as an excuse?
WHAT ARE YOU SACRFICING BY KEEPING THE THINGS YOU DON’T NEED?
We often speak of the gains by keeping clothing around that should really go. These benefits can include things like having things for potential needs in the future, having a size range of clothing in case of weight fluctuation, possible lifestyle or style changes, or should that day finally come when you figure out what to wear with orphans in your wardrobe. Yet, rarely gets addressed is what sacrifices you are making by holding onto these things.
With everything you keep in your closet, you make a sacrifice of closet space. If your closet is unruly, you sacrifice peace of mind, ease in your life, time, and more. Do the benefits of keeping items in your closet really outweigh the sacrifices?
WOULD YOU BUY THIS AGAIN IF YOU DIDN’T ALREADY HAVE IT?
This is a great question to ask yourself when purging your wardrobe. Ask yourself honestly, if you had to buy something all over again, would you buy it? If you say no, there is no question that it needs to go. If you wouldn’t buy it again, why do you need it now?
ARE THE POSSIBILITIES FOR THESE ITEMS REALISTIC?
Are you wishful wardrobing? Are you suggesting you’ll wear something for a life you don’t live and never will? Do you love it enough for it to be something you reach for on a regular basis? Do you have a realistic amount of items that match the amount you will actually need for pieces like this?
I once worked with a client who kept trying to keep things for “home projects,” like painting. As the pile of clothing for this need got bigger and bigger, I looked around at the white walls of her apartment, which she rented and couldn’t paint, and realized that the number of home projects she could reasonably do was nowhere close to to the amount of clothing she was saving.
IT’S NOT THE LAST <FILL IN THE BLANK> ON THE PLANET
One thing I kept reminding myself when I was doing my office purge was that, in most cases, the things I was purging were replaceable should I ever need them again. I say this all the time to clients, particularly when they are getting rid of basic items as if they would never be able to find another pair of black pants, simple pumps, or a pencil skirt again. And even novelty items aren’t being worn, you’re not wearing them now, you haven’t worn them in years. Let them go. Should you ever need something novelty in your wardrobe, you can go buy something.
ARE THESE ITEMS ONLY IMPORTANT BECAUSE YOU ARE LOOKING AT THEM NOW?
You start a wardrobe purge and invariably find things you forgot you owned. Even in my teensy closet, I have had this happen. In some cases, having my memory refreshed has proven fruitful and I start wearing it again. Yet, in other cases, a majority of the cases, the only reason an item suddenly becomes important is because you’re looking at it.
Think of it this way, up until that point, you were living your life with no memory of an item existing. The world didn’t end, your wardrobe didn’t fall apart, and you were able to dress yourself. Making the argument that now that you’ve rediscovered it you should keep it is hard to prove.
WILL YOU EVER REALLY WEAR IT?
There are times when clients are shocked when I confidently tell them that they will never wear an item in question. How could I possibly know that? Well, I look at the bigger picture. In most cases, a client has multiple alternatives they like better and will grab before even considering this unworn piece. I always ask, “In what circumstance will you ever grab the thing you feel so-so about over the other items you prefer so much more?” Nobody ever wears the thing they are just okay with if they have something that does the same job and they prefer more. In these cases, someone will re-wear the item they prefer before even bothering with the item they don’t really care about. There is a reason you hadn’t grabbed the thing you are lukewarm about. You’re never going to wear it.
WILL YOU HAVE ENOUGH EVEN IF YOU PURGE THESE ITEMS?
My guess is yes. Unless you are building your wardrobe up from nothing or have an incredibly sparse closet, you will have enough even without these items in question. I worked with a client once who after a closet purge told me that I got rid of all her clothes. I emailed her back and said, “I didn’t get rid of your clothes, I got rid of your false sense of security.” I left my client with the things she was wearing. She had two closets of clothes and the clothes in her second closet hadn’t been worn in ages. In addition, she also had things in her main closet that she was just pushing around. So what did I get rid of exactly?
Will you have enough if you purge the things from your closet you don’t wear? I’m betting you will.
YOU CAN’T PUT A PRICE TAG ON LESS STRESS
You can beat yourself up for wasted money or you can free yourself of the guilt and shame that you’ve imposed on yourself about your wardrobe mistakes. The former just keeps you stuck and the latter allows you to move on. Here’s the thing, nobody other than you is judging you for the unworn clothing in your closet. You are the one who has decided to cast judgment on yourself. What if you let yourself off the hook and let yourself move on from that narrative? As far as I am concerned, you can’t put a price tag on less stress, and if there is anything that my stressful August taught me it’s that life can be stressful enough without us throwing our own guilt and shame into the mix. Can you stop beating yourself up for your wardrobe errors and allow yourself to live with a greater sense of ease and freedom?
AS I KICK OFF MY 21ST YEAR IN BUSINESS
Well, I’ve been jokingly saying that if my business was a person, they would have reached the drinking age this month. My company turns 21 this month and while it’s not as emotionally charged as last year’s 20th, it’s still a huge milestone. As we kick off another year of client work, blog posts, and more, I want to thank you for your part in the journey.