Wardrobe Editing I: The golden mean between the practical and the emotional
(This is a long post, but worth the journey!)
How do we embark in wardrobe editing? In my previous blog Un-Clutter!, I mentioned two considerations to have in mind regarding closet organizing.
1) Closet organizing and wardrobe editing are two distinct activities, and
2) Wardrobe editing precedes closet organizing.
Phew, it feels so much lighter to know that these are two separate activities. But wait, why do we still put off wardrobe editing? Why can it still feel overwhelming?
There are no doubt time-related considerations to wardrobe editing, as we may not have 3 or 4 solid hours to complete the task. But the elephant in the closet is emotion. For wardrobes are more than a collection of useful and/or joyful items; they are full of pieces invested with feelings, memories and desires.
A wardrobe reflects who we have been, and the ‘have been’ tense is sometimes doubly tense. Tense as a time marker – a past continuous tense, I remember from my years of studying English – a journey from past to present reflected in clothes from different times in our lives; and tense as a feeling – an inner tension – because who we were may not be who we are, because “we haven’t been who we have been,” and because what we keep in our wardrobe may be trying to keep something other than the item itself – in its practicality, beauty, or fondness. Our closet is filled with layers and layers (yes, pun intended) of the “have been” that we have to confront and sort out.
Too philosophical or psychological? Probably, but in my experience these feelings are usually the reason why we postpone editing our wardrobe, and why we find clearcut (external!) methods for wardrobe editing so attractive. But if we do not sort through our wardrobe, we will continue to feel a sense of inadequacy, a sense of dissatisfaction when getting dressed. And if we discard items with a method that is not ours – whatever that external method – we will not be true to ourselves and our very daily/practical/socially embedded real life. We need a middle ground, right? I am with you.
How do we find the golden mean between the emotional and the practical?
1st consideration: There is no wardrobe editing without introspection.
As much as we would like it to be otherwise, an organized closet will not bring internal order if we do not engage in some minimal dialogue with ourselves. As there is no closet organizing without wardrobe editing, there is no wardrobe editing without figuring out where you are at, what your lifestyle is, and what your priorities are. It is inner clarity and mindfulness that brings about external clearness.
This is no doubt a practical and psychological burden and you have to find the time and the emotional energy to do it. The process may be longer, but I promise it will be very rewarding in the end; not only will you have the wardrobe you want, but you will also know what you want it to be and what you should look for to keep it that way.
2nd consideration: The golden mean is unique to you.
Fortunately or unfortunately, there is no predetermined golden mean. You, your experiences, your priorities, your preferences, your needs, your obligations (yes), your desires will determine what to keep and what to get rid of in a way that feels good to you, both about individual pieces and about your wardrobe as a whole.
You will lean more to the practical, or the emotional, or a balance, and whatever that is, that golden mean will be yours and it is what makes your wardrobe an expression of your life.
So now, how do we go about it?
Tip 1. Commit to each activity as a different project.
Engaging in an inner dialogue as a separate activity from editing your wardrobe provides the necessary space for clarity about each task, making them more manageable and giving you satisfaction after the completion of each one.
Tip 2: Use introspection to be mindful of where you are at and what you really care about and want to express, so that it can inform your wardrobe editing.
Take some time to think about your lifestyle, preferences, the changes that you have been through (age, work, taste, body, etc.), and what you care about. You can start by answering very specific practical questions: What do you do during weekdays/weekends? Is there a dress code at work? Are there other activities you do that require specific clothes (sports, galas, community engagements, religious holidays, corporate events)? What makes you feel comfortable? Does your body “reject” specific models or fabrics? What do you wear when you go out? Have you changed sizes? Do you have duplicates? And you can follow up with questions such as: What are the pieces you absolutely love and (a) wear or (b) do not wear (yes, it is possible)? Are you envisioning changing your lifestyle/taking up new activities? Have your priorities/tastes shifted? What message/impression/presence do you want your clothes to convey? This mindfulness will guide your editing process, making it more manageable and satisfying.
Tip 3: Imagine that items you are unsure or conflicted about pose the question, Why am I in this closet? And try to respond honestly.
Having taken stock of your lifestyle and preferences will prove very useful to identify items you no longer want or need. But you may still find yourself having doubts about many pieces.
We have practical pieces of clothing, outstandingly beautiful pieces of clothing, and sentimental pieces of clothing. Few items are at the same time practical, outstandingly beautiful and emotionally invested. Those are the easy keepers. But we may have many of the outstandingly beautiful and emotional pieces that we do not wear that much but we are attached to. After all, we are symbolic creatures who attribute meaning to things – that is what makes us human.
We may tell ourselves, ‘That piece is so beautiful, I know I will wear it when so and so gets married, has his bar mitzvah, her quinceañera/bat mitzvah, his/her graduation. I am just waiting for the right occasion.” “I will get back in shape and wear it again.” Or “So and so gave me that skirt,” “I bought that when …” “I wore that for …” ‘Those dresses belong to my mother.” Why are we really keeping them? It is generally easier to keep them than to confront the conflicting feelings, rationalizations or underlying emotions that these items elicit. (Some would go so far as to boldly get rid of everything at once, mindlessly).
So imagine they pose the question, Why am I (olive green crochet dress) here? You may be surprised to realize that you were keeping your mother’s dresses as a way to have her present. And this realization may provide relief, because you can keep her presence in other ways and let go of those dresses you do not wear. Or you may realize that those teal leather pants that you wore 15 years ago and that you no longer wear are the only physical token of a special period and you want to keep them.
Also, if you have more than one item with the same function and justification - more special dresses than you will ever wear, for example – the question to answer will be, Why are we (dresses) all here? Is it because three give me more security than one? Security for what? Well, you get the idea.
You will have the answers to these questions if you commit to respond to them honestly. And this is the golden mean. A golden mean that is unique to you.
Tip 4: If you get stuck when sorting out items, ask for help.
Your wardrobe may be too multilayered and emotionally invested for you to be able to finish editing it all by yourself. Practical and emotional issues may be difficult to sort out. Don’t give up! You have come so far! Ask for help from someone close to you or an expert.
Tip 5: Make a list of items you are missing.
While you are at it, make a list of pieces that you want or think you need to make your wardrobe functional and a reflection of the current you. More on this on my next blogpost. Stay tuned!
The take away
Wardrobe editing is an activity to do mindfully. The initial practical and psychological burden will turn into a feeling of satisfaction and renewal. Your wardrobe will feel neither cluttered nor sterile (as a reader commented about minimalism in my previous blog) but textured, a mix of what you do, what you love, what you have learned… as textured as your life between the practical, the beautiful and the emotional.
And if you have stayed with me until here, you have what it takes to do it. Go for it!
Next time, Wardrobe Editing II: Silver linings and the golden rule.