The vernal equinox is upon us, and things are heating up.
If you’re on the East Coast or in the middle of the country, this may sound hopeful, flip, or downright cruel. Here on the West Coast, I’ve been blasting A/C for the last few days, which sounds fun but honestly is a little terrifying considering it was still officially winter when the temperature almost hit 90.
Never mind the externals, though — internally the annual urge to purge became so extreme for me at least that all I could do was strip down to my skivvies and gear up for a big ass spring cleaning.
And I’m not talking some light dusting and tidying, I’m talking about the big kahuna: my closet.
Almost three years ago now, my BBF who runs Style and Order 4 U helped me create a perfectly organized “Elfa” closet that only big girls have. For a housework addict, the intricate shelves, elaborate array of drawers, efficient ultra-slim hangers, and overall place-for-everything-including-stray-baseball-hats was pure ecstasy.
I kept the joint a shrine for the first year. In those early days, I regularly fondled the Container Store’s catalog and dreamed of the next level that might even include some light automation. And I kept it so perfect that the Gap used to send their trainees over to learn how to fold and stack. (Just kidding! But you know, they could have…)
But then over time, the beautiful order had no choice but to succumb to hideous chaos. In the face of tighter schedules that required fast and furious clothing changes, busier kids, and longer workdays, other more pressing household work took priority. And so the closet became more of a dumping ground and less of a sacred space.
Psychically, the avalanche of crap made me depressed. Instead of digging through the wreckage, I often took the path of least resistance and grabbed the same pair of unflattering jean and comfy yet hideously ugly gray sweater that was bought on sale years ago at Old Navy.
Let me say for the record that something you purchase “on sale at Old Navy,” should be burned immediately without even taking the tags off.
Finally the day of reckoning came — it had to. My friends joke that their teen daughters often troll their closets and steal their clothes, and oddly enough, I wanted that, too, as it makes a mom feel connected to her increasingly independent child. (And to really understand that feeling, you gotta check out, “My Teenage Daughter Borrows My Clothes” by Randi Olin.) So partly I wanted to do better for my budding clothes horse — I figured if she can find something she likes at home, I’ll hear less whining about going to the mall.
Plus it’s impossible to get the kiddos to clean up their disastrous room wrecks when mine’s no better. I had to first prepare my glass house so I could then lob a bunch of “clean your room or you get no ____ [fill in what works best in the moment here]” boulders at the children.
As I dove in, I realized that this annual ritual is likely going on in closets nationwide. And the deeper I got, the more I realized that I had two clear criteria to be met for each item in the closet to share with my fellow spring cleaners:
1) Does this (item of clothing) make me feel sexy? First and foremost, this is a much kinder way of asking yourself if something still fits you anymore. Nobody feels sexy in a pair of jeans that cook up a big ol’ muffin top — ditto on too-short t-shirts, shorts, skirts, etc. Conversely, something oversized and shapeless (READ: The aforementioned “on sale at Old Navy” sweater) needs to be tossed, too. This criteria also helped me drill down further and expunge ill-fitting bras, stretched out, holey underwear, socks that always fall down, hideous flannel PJ’s that I’ve had since 1902, and a bunch of worn out shoes that had lost their snap long ago.
2) Now, what lies do you tell yourself about what’s remaining? Things like, “That was so expensive, I can’t let it go,” or “I need to keep a few pairs of pants that don’t fit because I’ll eventually be either be skinny enough or fat enough to fit in them again,” and “That old trendy thing is bound to come back in style someday.” These are all excellent reasons for getting rid of things that you haven’t worn since 1902 (or even 2013). And the truth is, you’ll never miss those embroidered capri pants that were so sensational in 2007 or those form-fitting sheath boots with no zippers that you always loved but only wore once because form-fitting sheath boots with no zippers are a bitch to take on and off, and you know it. If you have to use the word, “vintage” to justify an old, out-of-style rag you just can’t let go of (i.e., the Norma Kamali embroidered top that I stole from my mom in 1982, I’m talking to you!) you might just be lying yourself out of fully clearing out your clutter.
And in the end, when you are left with a sparkly clean and organized closet, along with an overflowing trash bin, plus several full garbage bags of clothing to donate, the psychic trauma of a long neglected closet will be lifted. The space will be made for you to find new gems that fit you right and make you feel like a million bucks. And you’ll have the tax write-off to boot.
So if you see me walking with a lighter step and wearing a vintage Norma Kamali top, just know that I’m enjoying the afterglow of a gratifying spring cleaning. And if you’re looking for a sweater bought on sale at Old Navy, I know just the markdown bin at Goodwill to send you to!