The Hang Up

Your closet needs to be a place of joy and celebration of who are you now – not who you were. – Stacy London

Last week I summoned my courage and journeyed to a place that I’d long been dreading. The mere thought of this excursion sent shivers down my spine. I knew it would take mental preparation and physical stamina and it would not be easy going. I’d accompanied others on this trek before, but now I was going on a solo mission. More than once I convinced myself to turn around and go back, especially when I discovered all the things that had gone there to die. But I kept going, knowing I’d be haunted if I didn’t carry on. I didn’t need to book a flight or hire a jungle guide. I merely opened the door to my clothes closet.

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I know that I am not alone in my morbid fear of this abyss. Given the choice, most of us would prefer the mindless purging of a junk drawer or the bathroom vanity over a visit to the depths of our clothes closets. In fact, when I am helping a client de-clutter and purge the overwhelming contents of the home things tend to get much more emotional when we get to clothes closets. I’ve seen (and done!) my fair share of cursing, excuse making and tuning out when these doors are pulled open.

I contend that our clothing closets impact our lives more than any other space in our homes – and the growing $7.7 billion dollar closet organization industry figures seem to support that supposition. When remodeling or designing from scratch the request for more closet space is always high on a client’s wish list and lack of (or inefficient) clothes storage space is always high on their list of complaints. An inefficient closet can make the daily tasks of selecting an outfit, storing garments and dressing a recurring nightmare. But the emotions elicited by the clothes closet seem less tied to storage capacity and more to what they are holding.

Our closets are filled with much more than rows of pants and shoes.
Their contents tell our story.

If we look at our closets from this vantage point we’d begin to understand why it is necessary to immerse ourselves in them from time to time. At first glance we would see the costumes that express to the world (and to ourselves) who we are, or would like to be. Dig a little deeper and we may see some things we’d forgotten about –happy memories, our hopes, our accomplishments – and need to be reminded of. Also lurking in there are reminders of our fears, our disappointments, our foolish purchases, our broken promises and lack of willpower. We’d see the ways we stash things instead of taking the time to thoughtfully deal with them. We’d see the places we resist or hold on. We’d see our denial and guilt. Is it any wonder we avoid looking for too long?

What happens if we keep putting things in without the occasional maintenance of thoughtfully evaluating to see what still feels right and what doesn’t? We end up with that feeling. You know the one – a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear. This is actually less about fashion sense and more to do with disconnection from self. If the eye is met with a hanging rod full of things that have no relevance to the body we have right now, the lifestyle we live right now or the way we feel right now, how can we know who we are right now? Lack of clarity confuses us. It makes us stop thinking and creating inventive ways to approaching things. This inertia makes us reach for the familiar, the same-old, the stale. It keeps us stuck somewhere between the past and the present – in a place that doesn’t really exist.

In so many ways, the home, and all the things we put into it, is a metaphor for our lives. It’s a wonderful diagnostic tool if we make that connection between what we see around us and how we feel. The things we have on display for the rest of the world to see aren’t usually the things that need our attention. Most often, it’s the ones that we ignore and relegate to the dark, forgotten corners that have the power to most effect how we travel through life.

My recent trip was exhausting and had me wishing for a magic wand to do the work for me. Any lament in saying goodbye to the 4” heels that my feet now protest, the beautiful dresses that somehow “got smaller” and the handbags that dutifully carried my lipstick and cell phone was quickly forgotten by the souvenirs I came away with. Among them, knowing that everything would go out into the universe to serve someone else. But more importantly, was the reminder that we are able to recalibrate and reconnect whenever we need clarity, and that we always gain more by first letting go.

A routine trip to my closet is as detoxing as a spa vacation and as fulfilling as a mountain climb. It reminds me that it is always in my power to get rid of that which no longer represents me. It helps me to separate fantasy (or wishful thinking) from reality and makes me take a good, long, honest look at where I am right now. It challenges me to ask if what I am showing on the outside aligns with the vision I have of myself inside. It reminds me to use these same “clean out” skills in other areas of my life and gives me the courage to say goodbye without regret. While it’s not one of my top 10 destination spots, I know that there is great benefit to my returning again and again.