Monday, September 14, 2015

letting go

I've always described myself as someone who is not very attached to "things."

I've said that if my house were on fire, the only material things I'd feel bad about losing are photos. Now that most of mine are in "the cloud," I don't really worry about anything.

Except my clothes.

I'm attached to my clothes.

The last few weeks have been very interesting. After reflecting on just how attached I was to these material things, I knew that I needed to ask why. Why were clothes so important to me? Why was letting go of them so difficult?

It's a generally accepted fact that women in our culture are more than a bit obsessed with our appearance. We are often judged by how we look rather than how we think, how hard we work, or how smart, virtuous, intelligent or talented we are. I'm very interested in the intersection between our self-image (body image in particular) and our acceptance by others, but that's a discussion for another day. For now I want to focus on why this obsession was making me keep all of these clothes, other than the fact that I've been known to go up and down in size and I've been hanging on to some small stuff. (The bottom line? If it doesn't fit today, let it go!)

Clothes do more than just cover our bodies. They tell people what we do, how much money we might have, what our habits are, how clean or neat we might be, and so much more. Now, I really do like clothes. I love color, and fabric and texture. I like to look at beautiful, well-made things and think about the creativity that went into making them. I even enjoy sorting them and organizing them in my closet, and I like bringing out the box of clothes for the upcoming season - even for my children's clothes! I had a retail job in a clothing store once, and it was like heaven - I got to play with clothes all day! But I've come to the conclusion that having a lot of clothes was simply the END to a MEANS. The MEANS was shopping. It wasn't so much that I loved these clothes. I loved CHOOSING these clothes.

Making choices can be daunting, and I'm often not good at it. Every time I'm faced with a choice, and especially when I've been given lots of options, I panic a little. But somehow, in the safety of my local J.C. Penney store, I felt somewhat powerful. Well look at little ole me, making choices like a champ! Yes, I will buy that sweater in blue! And I'll get one in black and gray for good measure! It's up to ME!!! I choose EVERYTHING!!!!

Then I'd bring it all home and stash it away. I'd feel good for awhile (usually about a week, or maybe until next payday) and then I'd set out to choose again.

This is not healthy.

Now, let me be clear. I'm definitely not giving up shopping. But I'm deciding that shopping is not the answer to my problem. I need to take time to explore the areas in my life that I need to make choices about, and I need to pray and seek counsel and then choose. I need to stop using shopping as a band-aid. I need to enjoy my clothes and have fun wearing them. I need to respect them as the gifts from God that they are. (Yes, clothing is a gift, people! God promises his people will be clothed like the lilies in the field, and we shouldn't worry about them.)  And I need to let go of the excess that is bogging me down.

In my last post I mentioned I was surprised by something. Well here it is:  it wasn't that hard to let things go. 

Seriously! It was fairly easy. In fact, it was exciting and oh so freeing.

Once I allowed myself to stop feeling guilty, to recognize that my clothing collection was not a sign that I was a horrible, wasteful glutton who cared not for the poor, but rather a symptom of a deeper problem, I was able to let go. Once I gave myself permission to keep things that were truly beautiful and useful, even if I'm not wearing them this season, I was able to let go. Once I recalled that God always provides for me, and that I will never go without, I was able to let go. 

And that is a wonderful thing.

So, there are still a few bags hanging around my house. But several items went to the resale shop, and others are now in my daughter's wardrobe. Most items went to a local "clothing pantry" at All Saints Parish in Southwest Detroit. I really liked the idea that people who really deserved and needed clothing would be getting it. (Yes, I manage to be self-centered even in my charitable moments.) A few things might be left for the garage sale, but I think I'd rather give them away. Just like all of my guilt and distress and difficulty in choosing.

I'm giving it all away.

But wow, what I'm receiving? It's so much better! Because when we let go, we make room for new possibilities in our lives, and that's exciting!

Now, back to the wardrobe. Let's talk next time about those wardrobe capsules and their 37 ideal pieces. Will I be able to whittle down to that few? We'll find out!

Friday, September 11, 2015

the adventure begins

It all started when my husband and I made plans to go to Cliff Bell's for our anniversary.

We had visited the trendy new jazz bar/restaurant months ago, and swore we'd make reservations and come back some day. So some day had arrived. Dinner was set for 6:00 on Saturday.

But I had nothing to wear.

Now, of course that is not to be taken literally. Like most women who utter these words, I have a closet that is completely packed with clothes - and more clothes live under my bed and in the attic and front closet.

I love to shop. I admit I have used shopping therapy to ease the pain of life pretty much every week for, oh, the last ten years or so. And as I sat on the edge of my bed that Saturday, gripped with anxiety, completely unable to make a decision, I decided something had to change.

My daughters had stopped by and made an attempt at putting together some outfits from what they had found in my wardrobe, but not before complaining (rightfully) that I had so many things they could barely sift through to find something. They were right. A lot of this simply had to go.

I spent some time thinking about my shopping "addiction" and why I loved clothes so much. I realized that many things fueled my actions, but ultimately decided the why of the past didn't matter as much as the why/how/and what of the present.

One of my sons, who is very clothes conscious and stylish,  had recently gone through his closet and eliminated a substantial amount of his belongings. His reasons were primarily spiritual. He is serious about his faith, and he took Jesus' words to heart:  "If you have two shirts, give one to the poor."
He said to me, "Mom, why should I keep these things, especially if I am not using them, if someone else needs them? After all, they were never mine in the first place. Everything we have belongs to God."


I'm nowhere near ready to pare down my wardrobe to one of each item, but his words had an impact on me.

The next step was letting go of guilt. I had spent A LOT of money on these things over the years, so I should keep them, right? And what if I needed them someday? Wouldn't I regret getting rid of them?

I decided to take it slow. I would start small, get rid of a few things, and think about what I really wanted in my life. Things didn't exactly work out that way. True to my all or nothing nature, here's what I did instead.

  • I looked at my closet in disgust. My only regret now is that I did not take a before picture. But it looked something like this.

  • I took pretty much everything out, and started putting things back in that fit me well right now and look good. The obvious garbage (stained, ripped, faded, worn out) went in the trash.
  • I made two piles with what remained:  things I definitely don't want, things I might want in a different season or because I'm just not ready to let them go.
  • Then I subdivided those piles. The discarded items went into three piles:  ones that my daughter or friend might want, things I can resell (at a thrift store or our family's upcoming garage sale) and things I will give away. 
  • Then I put all of the rejects in bags or boxes, and removed them from my room. Now, they have not all left my home as of yet, and guess what? THAT'S OK. I don't have to follow anyone else's rules for this! I am making progress in my own way.
  • Then I took a good long look at what remained: items that I really liked that told more about my style than I could have imagined. I discovered that I like classic items with a bit of an edge. I like gray, a lot. I have some really beautiful things. 

I also discovered a sense of freedom I have not felt in a very long time.

Next time I'll share what I did next. It surprised me more than a little.

There are lots of surprises in store whenever we take a risk, right? Let's do this!