The Lessons in the Closet

“We all have our own closets to come out of”. Judith Light

Winter has taken a strong foothold in most of the country forcing many of us to stay indoors. With that can come a sense that we’re stagnant and so are our homes.

As an interior designer, one of my favorite projects is a day or two spent rejuvenating a client’s home. Moving, rearranging and repurposing what they already have can make a house feel fresh and new again, and does wonders to revitalize it’s occupants. Re-awakening to our surroundings and being hands on with our possessions is vital for clearing stale, old energy and making space for new.

When looking at the home overall, homeowners tend to focus on the end results. Expecting that re-hanging artwork or re-arranging furniture is all that is needed to refresh a space, they are often surprised at how much time is spent on cabinets and closets. That’s because a cohesive big picture can’t be achieved without squinting and taking care of the minutia. Taking a look at what we store, and ignore, in our closets acts as a huge metaphor for how we store, ignore, and process other aspects of our physical and emotional lives.

Cleaning out a long ignored closet can rank right up there with root canal or a being on a cross country flight with a screaming child. That’s because it requires a lot from us, both physically and emotionally. With a closet, or life itself, it’s easy to keep shoving things in and closing the door. But that is not without consequence.

Ultimately, we run out of space and may find ourselves gasping for air. The only answer is to open the door and dig in.

When someone is ready to take a look at their physical stuff, they’re usually ready to take a look at their emotional stuff, even if they haven’t made that conscious connection. For some, the prospect of delving into the dark recesses of their closets all alone can be overwhelming. I’ve been accompanying people as they journey into these crevasses for years because I have seen the therapeutic benefits of this kind of work. Like most journeys, this one starts with optimism and an underestimation of what lies ahead. That optimism can be quickly usurped by denial, resistance and maybe even some tears, as we see our patterns and beliefs exposed the deeper we dig. We are looking at where we have been and where we have kept ourselves from going.

It’s hard for any of us to look inside and do an honest self-assessment. But bringing things out of the darkness and into the light is the only way to deal with them. It’s a way for us to recognize our patterns and see how our beliefs have evolved. It’s also an opportunity to rearrange and purge the things that no longer serve us. A closet can be the place where we begin and end each day, so why have it filled with clutter, procrastination and denial?

Yesterday, I worked with a client who told me I was lucky to be “wired” with an ability to stay organized. I assured her that it was a skill, like any other, that required constant practice to stay honed and I am not exempt from having to address my own stuff. A recent renovation in my home has finally given me a closet where all my things can cohabitate in one space. While the shelves and rods were being installed I realized I had equal parts excitement and dread, knowing that I’d have to go through that same process of awakening, evaluating and editing. But as the discard piles grew heavier and heavier I found myself feeling lighter and lighter. Now I find myself sitting in that closet and being reminded of the lessons it taught me.

By dumping the things we have stored and no longer want, love or need, we are actively moving out of the past and into the present. We are the ones in the drivers’ seat of our own journey. We are deciding not to have a life full of wasted space.