PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — On the first weekend of January this year, I took part in the ritual countless others did across our land – the Great Closet Clean Out. While not an official event, the New Year brings the anticipation of organization, order and calm. It must be true – why else would every home goods store put their organization bins on sale?
I’ve heard the tips and techniques. Turn all your hangers one way at the beginning of the year; anything that hasn’t been turned around goes. Be honest with yourself – are you really going to wear it again? Do you really think you (or your dry cleaner) can remove that stain? And for the love of all things holy – if those shoes gave you blisters, why are you holding onto them?
My husband and I share a closet, so we tackled it together. Truth be told, he’s far more disciplined at keeping his side of the closet tidy. It’s not quite as bad as a “before” and “after” photo, suffice to say our ratio of closet clean outs is likely 3:1. As we were sorting, he had a keen observation — not only was I talking to my clothes as I placed them in donation bags, I was talking to them, he thought perhaps, as if they were people. I didn’t really see it this way, more that these beloved clothes and I have been through a lot together. For my “work clothes” that served me in Corporate America, I said “thank you for your service.” My pink Calvin Klein jean jacket that was a splurge in High School and in college was perfect for our group Halloween costume. Everyone had a jean jacket, but only I had the pink one – who do you think was Pinky of Pinky and the Tuscadero’s? To this, I said “Thank you, we had so much fun together.”
For me, this is a natural process. I need closure to honor the memories made. Yes, they’re just clothes, but I’m remembering the experiences I had when I was wearing them. I guess, fortunate for me, I’ve held onto things so long I had time to visit several decades of my life. Did I mention the gorgeous sweater from Ireland from the early 90s? I wore it to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade the first year my daughter was born; at some point during the parade I swaddled her in my sweater to keep her toasty. But this weekend was time to say, “Thank you for keeping her warm” and sending it on its way to be of service to someone else.
Apparently, I’ve skipped this event the past many years. Not only was my closet jammed with clothes, I’ll admit it – I’m a back of closet hoarder. Once I start pulling everything out, it revealed just how much you can squeeze into a small space, especially if you’re determined, or sentimental, or both.
Past the shoe racks were two boxes filled with Christmas cards. Was it in Martha Stewart’s magazine I saw you could make a cute wreath out of past cards? In the back corner was my mother’s knitting needles and yarn. She had started an Irish knit sweater but had to stop when her arthritis became too much. I guess I thought I might pick up knitting and jump right into this complex pattern. Or find someone to finish it for me. I couldn’t bear to toss this, so it’s relocated to the guest room. If you know of someone who knits, send help.
I should know better about the crafty projects. I was pregnant with my daughter when I purchased a Beatrix Potter Growth Chart cross stitch. It was beautiful – Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle Duck and friends would be there as I marked off my child’s milestones. My dear friend shopping with me questioned me – in fact, I believe may have asked to make it interesting. I should mention, she was one of the above Tuscadero’s, so she knew me pretty well. My daughter is now 24. Peter Rabbit is almost complete, but that’s it. I knew it was time to admit defeat. There was more than a moment of hesitation – should I try again? How special would it be if my daughter has children and I could complete this for her? And then, just like that, I took a photo, sent it to my girlfriend so we could enjoy a chuckle and placed it in the bin. It was time. I need to Venmo my friend $5.
It’s the objects that we’ve attached so much emotional value to that are the hardest. Pinky Tuscadero Jean Jacket and Beatrix Potter growth chart were easy compared to my robe.
I loved my robe. It was a perfect weight, waffle weave, breathable and lovely. It’s from the season of my life when my kids were young, everything felt challenging and I didn’t have a moment to myself. My husband and I pulled off a miracle week. We got coverage for our three kids, including one with significant medical challenges, and had a delayed 10th anniversary trip to Cayman Island. That hotel robe represented everything I needed to be reminded of. The importance of carving out time for my husband. How critical self-care is. That I can ask for help. It reminded me of every fond memory of that trip – from the simple joy of eating 21 consecutive meals uninterrupted and not having to cut anyone’s food to exploring the island on moped, stopping to snorkel wherever we wished. That robe was freedom, joy and love.
Unfortunately, that robe was what I was wearing the day I learned my youngest son was so gravely ill that he was not going to survive. I threw it off, hurriedly getting changed to join him in the ambulance. That robe has been balled up in the back of my closet for the past 16 months. It was time to let it go.
Because that’s really what it is, isn’t it? It’s about letting go. I’ve spent a lot of time on this concept this past year. As a yoga teacher and someone practices daily, I’m fortunate to hear many others speak to this. It’s not easy. It asks us to not only have strength, but to have hope. Hope that things will be OK. Hope that there will be a future that is filled with laughter, joy and peace. Knowing that the memories you have will always be there… and it’s OK to let go.