The archeology of a wardrobe

I’ve been going through my closet lately. I have way too many clothes that I don’t wear, and I’m tired of the psychic weight of all that clutter. So I’m slowly pulling out things to get rid of. It’s a more difficult task than it seems like it should be.

For one thing, my wardrobe tends to be somewhat like an archeological dig. There are so many layers of history represented in my clothes choices. Different jobs have required different levels of dressing up—from my set of suits (enough to wear one each day of the week) to lots of dress pants and blazers to my old chemistry lab wear (complete with acid holes in some of them). I’ve gone through different phases in my casual wear with a host of different styles, fabrics, and colors represented.

The thing is that every piece of clothing I own has a memory attached to it. I remember buying certain items with my friend who died a few years ago; those things are precious to me no matter how much or little I wear them. Other items were purchased for specific events or specific people, so those come with significance that lingers. It’s hard to see each thing as just an article of clothing stripped of all emotional value when the memories crowd around each garment I consider.

In addition, I know how often my preferences and needs in clothing have changed over the years. And I know what it’s like to not have enough. So it’s hard to let go of items that are in good condition just because I do not wear them. I am well aware that I may wish I had that particular item a few years down the road when my tastes or circumstances change. Without a crystal ball, it’s hard to know which things I might someday regret parting with.

The biggest thing I’ve realized, though, is that there are many versions of me—not just in my closet, but in the rest of my life too. There’s the me that loves to dress up and go to the symphony. There’s the me that loves my comfy clothes for lounging around the house with my nose stuck in a book. There’s the me that loves to wear clothes that make me feel sexy and attractive. There’s the me that like professional attire that makes me look intelligent and competent. There’s the me that loves to hike and hang out in the woods with my boots and jeans and flannel shirts. The me that likes to work in the yard and on the house and play with tools. And the me that loves loose, flowing clothes that dance about my legs as I walk and caress my skin in soft movements. All of these preferences are just as much me as any other one is, and every single one of them has clothes that match in my closet. I can no more get rid of one “look” without getting rid of some portion of who I am.

And yet, I have still managed to find a significant number of things to add to the Goodwill pile. And with each thing I remove the rack, I feel a lightening of the weight this extra clutter places on me. It somehow opens up space for change and growth just by creating that extra physical space in my home. It’s freeing. So I keep at it. Slowly choosing the memories to keep and the memories to let go of in the form of the clothes that select for retaining or for donating. Making sure every part of me is still represented and honored. And at the same time, I’m still making room for future growth.

Each choice I make is as much a decision about who I am and who I want to be as it is about anything so mundane as clothing, and that’s not always easy when going through times of such massive, unrelenting change. Who knew that cleaning out one’s closet could bring up so many questions of identity?

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