Thoughts on Closet-Sorting Day

What does one do with something one doesn’t want anymore?

That rather depends upon who one is, doesn’t it?

Note I didn’t say something that’s no good anymore. Throwing things out has always been hard for me. How does one decide that something isn’t “good”? Or even “good enough to keep”? Just because a piece of clothing is stained or repaired, or otherwise not acceptable to wear out of the house, doesn’t mean it’s not a perfectly good garment, that will serve it’s design purpose of protecting you from the cold, or sun, or making you feel well dressed.

Perhaps part of my feelings come because as an historian, I know how precious a garment was when you’d raised the sheep or flax, processed the fiber, spun the thread, woven the cloth, sewed the garment, and dyed or otherwise embellished it. Maybe some of that comes from being so fat that I have to make many of my own clothes or wear the horrible offerings they have in the Plus Size sections. But whether made or found in a store, a skirt or blouse is something that becomes a part of my wardrobe, and fits in with the other parts, and I don’t want to give it up.

In the movie, The Gods Must be Crazy, a passing aviator tosses a Coke bottle from his cockpit over the Kalahari, where it’s found by the bushman, Xi. Clearly, the pilot didn’t want the bottle, and chucked it. The bushmen found too many things it was good for, causing problems within the tribe. It’s not a question of is it still good, but what is it good for? It no longer contained Coke, so the pilot figured he’d lighten his load, which does make sense. On the other hand, that act also shows the pilot’s attitude toward the land over which he was flying. It didn’t count to him. There was no reason for him to even think about where the bottle would end up. No concern for the land or inhabitants.

All my life people have told me to just “get rid of things” when they didn’t see the value in them any more.  Generally, I think they apply their own criteria: would I want this in my life? We are taught, rightly, that getting rid of things makes space for new things to come into our lives. Consider the difference between Victorian interior design and modern idealized rooms with lots of space, light, and clean lines. Most of us live somewhere between these two ends of the spectrum, we keep enough “stuff” around us to keep us comfortable, but not so much we feel crowded by it. Hence cleaning the closets fall and winter.

Why fall and winter? probably because that’s when, in New England, you pull out the clothes that were too light or heavy to wear during the last season. (During October and often April, closets are filled because we need both depending on the day and hour!) We store them in attics, or back closets, or even storage lockers, because we don’t have room for the superfluity of clothes we’ve collected. Often we don’t throw them away because of their intrinsic worth, but because we value the space, and our convenience more. We choose to pick which we like better to pare down our collection to what fits. Talk about first world problems!

What gives something value? For some people, being “fashionable” is important. That gives them criteria to choose. For me, durability and comfort is far more important, and for any of us, the clothes should match our own taste. I think everyone should dress so that they are happy with the way they look. But I’m disturbed by the modern theory that clothes should always look “new”. When something has quality, it retains it. When you’re a kid and changing size every year, you may need a new wardrobe each year. But once you stop growing, you can start investing in good clothes and eventually develop a wardrobe of good clothes you really love.

Similarly, in school, you hang around with who ever is in your class, your age mates, but when you get older, you start valuing the people who understand you, who are there to support you when you need help, and who you help when they need it. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the other people your age, but that you choose to spend your available time with the ones who “fit” best. I believe in reincarnation, that we love many people over many lifetimes, but in any given lifetime, most of us only have the time and emotional energy to commit to one person at a time. If you meet another soul mate, you have to acknowledge the underlying affection, but maintain your commitment to this life’s love. And if that doesn’t put letting an old garment go (or a new one you like in the store) into perspective, what does?

But back to me in front of my closet. In the movie  Rise of the Guardians North asks Jack what his center is. Over the years, I’ve come to feel that my center is finding good in people, and things. Just as everyone has something wonderful about them when I look for it, so does every sweater and skirt in my wardrobe. I find myself sound like Lot bargaining with Yaweh for the fate of Sodom. “You wouldn’t throw away a skirt just because of one spot of paint, or one tiny hole- if I wear a long sweater over that, no one will even see it!” OK, I will acknowledge the demands of physics. It can’t all fit in the closet anymore. Some must go.

fallen leavesThere is good in everything, but sometimes the uses change. Right now trees are dropping the leaves that no longer support photosynthesis. Those leaves become mulch protecting small plants, and then become part of the soil. The trick with clothing, or anything else we need to get out of our lives is finding where they can go to continue being useful. (I am incredibly grateful for the “yard sale” section of our recycling center.) By the time I’m willing to let my clothes go, they are generally ready for the rag bag. (Would this be absorbent? Maybe it should be cut up for rugs!) As with any fat person, there’s also a goodly selection of clothes that don’t fit any more (I might lose the weight!- That way madness lies!)

Perhaps I wouldn’t have so much of a problem getting rid of things if I didn’t see it as an analogy of how so many people “throw people away”. There’s a difference between getting out of a bad relationship- that’s like getting things to which you’ve developed an allergy out of your house, or just not having time to include all the wonderful people you know into your life because there aren’t enough hours in the day. (Yes, I know this is why my house is cluttered, it’s full of projects to be finished, and other wonderful stuff!) Perhaps what I’m doing is like the girls who keep several boys hoping that they might become “boyfriends” in case they have a fight with their current boyfriend. Perhaps I should let the various tools and materials I’ve collected, the thousands of books and movies, the mementos and keepsakes and let them go. But my mind rebels. Other people will judge my stuff worthless and toss it out. I don’t mind it going to someone else who’d use it, but I don’t want it to end in a landfill or incinerator when I know it’s still good for something. Why is there such a huge industry for disposal of “stuff“? Because there’s a huge industry convincing us that we should want stuff, that it’s good for the economy to make stuff and buy stuff. But more is not better, whether it’s sweaters, or relationships. Put your care and energy into the one or few you want, and maintain it.

I guess the most important thing is to BE worthy of care and energy others may put into relationships with you. People aren’t interchangeble, and you can’t decide that one doesn’t go with your color scheme or lifestyle and look for another. Frankly, I’ve found most things are not interchangable. A new vase is not the vase your mother gave you. A new dress isn’t the one you wore to that great party. Modern tools are often non-functional because they’ve been engineered to be cheaper to make, and fail when the original had lasted 30 years or more. I do worry that the way we think about things carries over into how we treat people. Find the value. Seek quality, and don’t fill your life with polyester, whether in your closets or relationships.

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