The other day I heard someone say that a great closet is like a good diet. The woman talking was all perfect skin, red lipstick and smooth hair. She looked as though she kept the kind of neat, organized lists she prescribed for every self-respecting woman with hangers in her closet.
Really? I thought. A closet like a good diet? My wardrobe is a mix of a few staples and some major binges. In fact, sometimes I get really low on staples and end up just wearing fast-fashion junk.
Forget wardrobe malfunction. I have wardrobe dysfunction.
But since it's spring - or trying to be, anyway - I decided to have a purge of my wardrobe. Every happiness expert on the planet will tell you that decluttering just about anything is a step toward peace and harmony, and that includes the innards of your closet. Undergo a closetonic - a detox of threads - and you'll feel as fresh as a peach; rosy as an apple. Renewal!
Great promise. But oh, the process is a killer. I am feeling a little shaky, having come from the bedroom, where I did what several wardrobe-purge experts told me to do. I put everything I own on the bed. I made three piles.
Stuff to toss. Stuff to donate. Stuff to keep.
Well, easier advised than done. I wasn't just cleaning out my closet. I felt like I was rifling through my psyche. Those weren't just clothes lying there. There were Past Me's, Younger Me's, Wannabe Me's, Happy Me's, Foolish Me's, and then there was the problem of Cost-Conscious Me who believes in getting maximum wear out of clothes investments.
Alas, purging is all about letting go psychologically according to April Poppe. She's a wardrobe expert whose name suggests she was born for spring-clean-out consulting. "People have as much difficulty letting go of clothing as they do childhood memorabilia, photographs and other items typically seen as close to the soul," she says.
The stuff-to-toss category should include anything that's beyond repair - pilled, stained, torn, faded. Or moth-eaten. I write that last description with a bit of self-recrimination, because I have been guilty of hanging on to moth-nibbled pieces, mostly because I figured nobody would notice.
Last year, I was in London at St. James's Palace for the black-tie bicentenary of the Canada Club, and there I was, standing in my long black taffeta shirt with a fancy jacket I'd had for ages. The top looked like an Issey Miyake, all silky and pleated, but it cost only $300 or so. (It's a Marie Saint Pierre piece from Montreal.) Suddenly, I noticed a tiny hole on the lapel.
"Can you see this?" I whispered, horrified, to my younger sister who lives in London.
"Moth," she declared in a hushed tone as I noticed - over her bare, elegant shoulders - Prince Philip moving among the expats.
"But it's not wool. I think it's some blend," I said under my breath.
"Doesn't matter. Must have been something yummy on it for a moth to eat, " she continued in the sort of voice our mother uses when she wants us to accept some irreversible reality.
"But you can't see it, right?" I asked again.
"Well, now that you point it out," she answered helpfully with a sidelong glance at my bosom.
I couldn't bring myself to add it to the throw-out pile for at least an hour. Gee, it even had a palace story attached to it! And what if I asked a seamstress to patch it? Wearing moth-eaten clothing is a bit like putting on, tattered underwear. You think no one knows, but you do - and that, in the end, is what matters. Not listening to your inner "but-you're-wearing-a-moth-eaten-sweater" voice is like thinking you can get by with not fixing the utensil drawer in your kitchen because, well, you can still open it and why should it matter. Remember: Such nonchalance suggests a slippery slope that might end with you wearing your bathrobe to the grocery store.
The stuff-to-donate pile was even harder to negotiate and more painful than a therapy session. I have a dress I bought in 1993 and never wore. Sleeveless, white and short with a band of ostrich feathers at the hem, it was a post-third-baby celebration dress. I Had It All back then. Or thought I did - a job, a husband, a house, a minivan, three children under 5 and a killer bod. I didn't wear the dress either because there was never an occasion for it, or because it seemed over-the-top and obnoxious somehow, as though I knew I Had It All and was flaunting it. I can't remember. Nonetheless, I have kept it for 18 years - after a divorce, after the kids have grown and gone, after the perfect domestic tableau went up in smoke - as a reminder of a phase in my life.
I heard Ms. Poppe's voice in my head: "Be present," she says. "Don't live in the past or the future." And I managed to imagine some young thing delighted to find it in a second-hand store.
It took a few hours to go through everything, and I managed to let go of a lot - things that didn't fit any more, clothes I hadn't worn season after season, ugly stuff that was a mistake in the first place but I thought I might learn to like.
I will never be a woman who has a closet like a good diet, but it is a lot thinner and tighter. The joy comes from having lost stuff, weirdly, and from knowing I get to fill the closet up again, even if that means I will have to purge again too. I know I will always wear and buy clothes on a whim. Finding the right look can feel as magical as a sentence that somehow writes itself.
Such is life, I suppose. Such is my happy wardrobe dysfunction.