Wednesday, August 14, 2013

People-Colored Clothing Declutter

I wrote recently about how I'm drastically paring down my jewelry collection -- by "drastically" I mean I'm getting rid of ALL of it (except for my wedding ring).  I've gifted most of the collection already, and the rest of the assorted collection is getting ready to move into the hands of someone who knows someone who wants the rest.  From now on, as far as jewelry goes, I'll be happily nekkid.

This approach does not work, however, with clothes.  And I have a lot of clothes.  It's not that I do a lot of shopping; I probably buy fewer clothes than anyone in my circle of friends.  But because I take care of my clothes, mending as necessary,  they last me a long time.  (Right now, I'm wearing a black t-shirt from college, with my old dorm logo and the date "'85-'86" stenciled on the front.)   And because I'm nearly a half a century old, I've had a long time to collect a complete wardrobe.   So, between yearly yard saling, free clothes that just happen to come my way, and as-needed mending, I have accumulated a LOT of clothes.

I have so many clothes,  I developed a storage system for putting away the "off-season" clothes . . . and my system has evolved from two seasons to four.   I have so many clothes, that even with my "in-season" clothes, I've constructed elaborate schemes for choosing outfits for seven or even eight weeks into the future.  I have so many clothes, I spend my time fretting over them: organizing, deciding, categorizing . . . it's clear I've reached the stage where I don't own my clothes: they own me.

Alas, I can't do what I did with my earrings.  Even though I have the incredible career protection of tenure, and  even though I am blessed to live in a free country like the USA, I'd lose my job and my freedom if I just gave away all clothes and wore only my wedding ring.  Cold turkey is not an option.

Here's the problem with standard de-clutter advice.  They say, "if you haven't worn it for a year, get rid of it."   But what if you're an organizational, list-loving freak like me who takes that advice to mean, "Figure out a way to wear all your clothes every year"?    Should I really keep 40 different dresses that I wear two times each?  Because, man, they're taking up space in my closet, and they're taking packing/organizing/deciding space in my brain.

So I decided it's okay to come up with my own, completely arbitrary rule.  Rules, as any poet knows, do not stifle a person; they allow for creativity and flair.  Think of the difficulty of rhyme and meter; both of those are huge impositions on the English language.  And yet, when you do impose rhyme and meter, you get incandescent sentences, like this:

SHE walks in beauty, like the night
  Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that 's best of dark and bright
  Meet in her aspect and her eyes.

Byron was a free-wheeling, rule-breaking kind of guy, but when he wanted to write something beautiful, he bound himself to the rules of poetry.  And, in my own less poetic or enduring way, I created rules for the closet.

So here was my rule.  I would toss all my clothes, EXCEPT for clothes I like in these three categories:
  1. Black clothes, white clothes, black-and-white clothes.
  2. Brown clothes, yellow clothes, (segued to include some hot-pink clothes).
  3. Personally meaningful clothes.
The third category let me keep, for example, the blue Jackie-Kennedy-esque dress that my grandmother made for my mom.  I admit there's a bunch of wiggle room in category 3, but I don't think I abused it.

But even with the wiggle room of that last category, I found that this scheme let me do a very quick, mentally easy sorting-and-giving of clothes.  I'm down to about half of my former clothes, nearly effortlessly, and still loving the variety that's left.  Better yet, almost everything in my closet matches almost everything else.  

It was after I did the sort-and-give that I realized:  categories 1 and 2 give me "people colored clothes" (at least, in the sense that those are the colors we use to describe people's skin, even though of course those are mostly ridiculous descriptions).  I have no idea what that means about my closet and my clothes and me, but I sort of like it.


  1. Heh--Native Americans are hot pink!

    I also am not a fan of the one-year rule because of things like funerals and job interviews and (other people's) weddings that do not happen every year.

    However, I would not enjoy a color-limiting rule. My rules are things like it has to fit, be washable, fit my tastes, be flattering, go with stuff I have, have pockets, and be in decent condition. Which means, sadly, not only should it have no holes, but it should not even have transparent parts that are not holes. And I should think twice about items that have faded so much that my friends think they're a different color than I do.

    Actually, I do have color-limiting rules on my shoes: only black and brown for work shoes. And those go with my black and brown belts. Those were the colors I wore most often anyway, and it was very freeing to get rid of the other shoes, even my iconic blue suede shoes.

    1. "Have pockets" -- yes!!! I think Freud got it wrong. He saw women staring longingly at men's pants, and didn't realize we were thinking, "Dang! I wish *I* had pockets!".

      My wedding dress had pockets!

      I thought the color restriction would be more limiting than it is, but I have so many styles of clothing (and "yellow" can mean a lot in practice, really) that I haven't felt hemmed in (so to speak) at all. -MM

    2. My pants have pockets. I am jealous of men's blazers. Loads of pockets! Hilarious comment about Freud!

      That is awesome that your wedding dress had pockets!

      I like jewel tones and pastels and earth tones and sky tones and neutrals. So, pretty much everything but day-glo.

  2. I'm the most boring person... I have clothing that can all be mixed and matched, mostly solids (from the "Spring" palette, to complement my coloring). During the work year I line up my business suits and wear them in order on teaching days, replacing them at the end as they get washed. I wear my skirts in order on the other days. On Fridays and non-teaching days that I don't feel like shaving I wear pants (also in order, though I only wear the heavy pants in winter).

    In the summer I wear pants and shorts and business-casual t-shirts.

    On weekends I wear my Perspicacity and anime t-shirts, unless I'm not going out in which case I wear my pajamas (which are worn out ex-tshirts from my DH-- when the holes get to big they go to the rag drawer). I used to wear my grad school and college t-shirts, but those got seriously worn out and turned to rags.

    I do keep extra clothing that I don't wear because I need bottoms that range from size 8 to size 12 depending on where I am in the breast-feeding/hormone/eating cycle.

    I recently got rid of my maternity clothing and before that I got rid of cute little dresses I loved in college but am now too old to wear.

    I am so lazy.

    1. "Lazy"? No, you are working with a finely honed system! I'd go with "efficient."

    2. Yes, I *love* cycling my clothes through a loop. I do that in my drawers, too; clean laundry goes in on the right, and slowly moves toward the left, when I'll take it out and wear it in rotation. (Isn't that how *everybody* chooses what to wear???) -MM