I was waylaid in my big decluttering by sick kids and life in general, but now I’m back. To review: every room in the downstairs is now decluttered, with the exception of the kitchen, which will be the last room to go because it’s pretty functional even as it is. (For those of you with good memories, you recall that I did declutter the spice cupboard and pantry and cleaned out the fridge).
This week, my husband and I tackled the closets in our bedroom and upstairs hallway. I had already done the top shelf of the hallway closet. It's the linen shelf, and several weeks ago I sorted through and got rid of blankets, comforters, and sheets that we don’t need. We don’t need more than two or three sets of summer sheets and the same of flannel. I cheated a little on this. I kept way too many pillowcases, mainly because they were wedding presents, and they were expensive. Now we have five sets of sheets for our bed, three for my daughter’s twin, and about five for my son’s toddler bed. I went onto YouTube and watched some tutorials on how to fold a fitted sheet. These tutorials really worked! Tutorial one. Tutorial two. There are different techniques. I took different bits of the two I watched and combined them. The trick is to cheat on the folding so that it keeps a square shape and therefore folds like an unfitted sheet. Folding them makes a big difference. Before, my attempts looked more like crumples, which tended to give me justification for just shoving all the linens in, crumpled. Folding literally doubled the space of the closet.
But I knew that attempts to clear the rest of the closet would fail. See, the hall closet is full of all my junk: things I’ve picked up in hotel rooms (tiny bottles of shampoo, facial soap, facials crème); gifts of fancy soaps in decorative boxes; lipstick freebies from the Avon Lady, from 15 years ago; boxes of jewelry collected over my entire lifetime, including the fake rhinestone earrings I wore to my prom; hair curlers; eyelash curlers; freebies from Clinique; expired allergy meds; expired tubes of hydrocortisone; clogged cans of hairspray; multiple boxes of band aids; a dozen travel sized tubes of toothpaste; assorted compacts with no make-up left inside; ten year old containers of skin moisturizer; uncomplete sets of playing cards; cds; cassettes; sample packages of foot crème, deodorant, and room freshener; travel adapters for European outlets, and who knows what else? So help me God, I can’t throw these things away.
My husband can. I asked him to leave my jewelry and not ask me about anything else. Then I focused on our bedroom closet, which wasn’t really all that bad. We are not fancy dressers, in fact, we are terribly out of date, but we have too many clothes. I started with mine. I had a keep pile, a donate pile, and a garbage pile for anything with holes in it. (Alas, I wear my clothes into the ground. Many of my favorite jeans and shorts have holes in the butt, and I still wear them around the house because I love them so. This doesn’t work out when I forget and go run an errand.) I’ve heard a rule of thumb, that if you haven’t worn it in a year to toss it. But I have two Jones of New York suits that are good to wear when giving professional lectures or on interviews (although I haven’t been on an interview in 12 years.) I have a lime green sequin dress I bought for six dollars at Domsey’s, a giant used clothing store that used to be near the Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. From that store I also have a black gown with sequins on top and draping things on the side, a red velvet jacket, and a bomber jacket. They all had to stay. Plus an overcoat, in case it’s raining the next time I need my suit. Oh, and my wedding dress.
I cleared out some shoes and a pile of old tights. Then I sorted through my husband’s clothes, and made a "helpful suggestions" pile about which shirts he should toss because they make him look like he’s still living 1986. Still, once I’d cleared everything out, vacuumed, and put things back, the closet still looked too full. This got me thinking about why I have so many clothes. I wear the same jeans every single day. Literally. I have a second pair for when the first is in the wash. I wear five shirts, total. I have eight sweaters but only two I like. When I worked, keeping more clothes around made sense. Of course I needed five pairs of pants, for example. Now that I’m home, I don’t need all that stuff. But that's not why my closet and dresser were full. I’d packed the work clothes away back in January.
I understand keeping a couple of special outfits. Even a couple of outfits that I haven't worn in ten years, but might wear someday if I live in a city where it's okay to wear a lime sequin dress when going out of coffee. The problem wasn't my closet. The problem was my dresser drawers. All I needed was two pairs of jeans, five shirts, socks, and knickers. The more I thought about this, the more I wondered if I could do some real decluttering of not just my closet but my dresser drawer.
Around this time, my husband finished the hall closet. It looked fantastic, and he’d even saved all the make-up, putting it in a small basket. (Not that I’ll ever use it. I don’t wear make-up too often, but when I do, I have one eyeliner and one set of shadow that I’ve used for years.) But, the extra make-up might be good for Halloween, right? (Classic cluttering rationalization). When he came to check out our bedroom closet, I pointed out how many clothes we have. (He had about six pairs of jeans). We decided to hit it hard. We began tossing more and more of our clothes into the giveaway pile. I eased into it like this: I put shirts I loved but never wore into giveaway, no discussion. I put shirts I didn’t like but that were well made and might be useful on rare occasion into the “maybe” pile. I put shirts I wore but that didn’t really fit me in the maybe pile too. I put shirts I wore a lot, or shirts I consistently wore on those rare special occasions into the “keep” pile.
When I was done, I put the "keep" pile away first. Drawer One: worn, comfortable shirts, Drawer Two: nice shirts, Drawer Three: jeans, pajama bottoms, one nice pair of pants, work pants. Drawer Four: one light sweater, one heavy sweater, skirts and dresses, Drawer Five: underwear and socks. The "keep" pile alone had filled my dresser. So from there it was easy to move the “maybe” pile right into the giveaway.
My husband was doing his own magic, across the room. He even took my suggestions on all his dated clothes except one shirt. By the end, we had three garbage bags of clothes. I set them in front of our door and felt immense satisfaction looking at all the clothes that had just come out of our closet and dressers. It felt great. Later that day, my husband dropped them off at a thrift store and we were done. No going back into the bag for that one short sleeved shirt that had the cowl neck.
The next day, I went through all the kids’ clothes, for all seasons, and tried to do the same. They literally have more clothes than we do. About twenty pairs of shorts and short sleeved shirts each. It was maddening to decide what to keep and what to give away. But in the end, I had a big garbage bag of their clothes to give away, too. And I’d put all the winter and too-big clothes into one container. One. This is a big deal because when I began, there were four.
The sense of accomplishment was like a drug. It buoyed me. Yesterday, I even made the bed in our bedroom. I haven’t made my bed in twenty years, unless you count throwing the comforter over everything because workmen or parents are coming over. When my husband got home from work that night, he came back downstairs and said, “Our bedroom feels like a hotel room.” I think it was the made bed, but maybe it also had something to do with how when we're in a hotel, we travel with just the bare essentials. Maybe we’re doing that in our regular life now, too.