Thursday, January 23, 2014

In Defense of Things

Right now, blogs and social media outlets are full of advice on how to simplify, organize, and de-clutter your life.

Which is great.

Except - and this might be my Russianalization talking - I have a huge problem with "if you haven't worn/used it in a year, throw it out/donate/get rid of it" mentality.

You see, I grew up in a world where you couldn't just traipse down to the mall and get yourself something that you need at the moment. It just wasn't available, and most people didn't have that kind of income. Instead, I had a dad and a grandfather who collectively filled a sizable shed/barn with pretty much everything. Like, if you needed anything at all, chances were you could find it in there. Almost everything was labeled and sorted, so it wasn't like a situation where you know theoretically that probably there are 12mm nails in here, but for the love of Pete, can't find them.

Now that we live in US, my dad's basement has acquired that same magical quality. It helped me greatly in my college years when I had to take insane classes like "Space Design". Carpet remainders? Check. Old wire? Check. Window screen? Sure, step right up.

Last winter, ornaments made of old bicycle chains were pretty popular on Etsy, and, since H cycles, I thought, hey, that's a great idea! So, thinking there's no way, but trusting in my dad's magical basement, I still asked if he had any old bike chains. Sure, he said, how many do you need?

This does not mean my dad's basement is a hoardy-hoard. Things are collected in jars, on shelves, old stuff like paint is regularly inspected and thrown out if it's dry. And the high I get when I've found, say, 15" French Country bench legs that I can use for a project is akin to browsing my local Goodwill and finding an Armani Exchange sweater for $3.75.

Now on to my own closet, and, by extension, house.
I have things in my wardrobe that I haven't worn in a decade, and some that don't quite fit me at the moment. And, as long as things don't get out of hand - it's ok for me.
I've kept my senior collection after I graduated from Drexel Fashion program, even though I was way to scrawny to fit into anything. That was ok (though I did give away some clothes to some deserving individuals).
After my pregnancy (more than 10 years later), I gained weight and all of a sudden I could wear most of the clothes that I made for the runway models (I know it sounds weird, but they are really around size 6-8, they are just super tall, which makes them look skinnier). If, years ago, I had gotten rid of the pieces that I put so much of myself into just because I couldn't wear them, then I would deprive myself of intense feelings of joy that I have every time I put on that skirt or this top.

This is not to say that I never purge.

(You can start paying attention now, because this is the practical part).

 I don't purge by seasons, normally, or on a schedule. When I notice that I start rifling through my closet a bit too much when I'm getting dressed instead of just grabbing the first (or second) thing that I see, then it's probably a sign that I've fallen out of love with too many things in there. That means I need to go through the closet and sort things into 3 piles:

*stuff I still love that fits me well;
*stuff I still love that does not fit me OR stuff that fits me that I don't love;
*stuff that I can't stand to see anymore because OMG what was I thinking?

The first pile just gets put back, obviously.
I like to take this time to sort things either by color or function (skirts together, pants together). It may not stay that way, but at least it's an effort.

The second pile gets edited.

Things get put on the spot and asked the existential question of WHY do I love this item?
Is it still a great item that won't look dated in 5 years and I'm just temporarily sick of seeing it? Then it goes into a storage box that is for things to "cool off" for several seasons. Actually, it's not a box per se, but a plastic zippable bag that my comforter came in, years ago (see how I don't have to buy things because I don't throw practical things out?)

 Do I love the item, but just not, honestly speaking, on me? Sometimes I buy something because I adore the pattern or the color or texture, but it's just not the best look for me, and it takes me some time to face the facts.
In that case, I might see if it's large enough to be made into something, like a throw pillow (my couch still rocks throw pillows made of a knit skirt (left-most) and a hawaiian shirt (right-most) that are darling now, but mos def were not when I tried to make them work as clothes).

I have doll sweaters that used to be socks, and scarves that at some point were t-shirts. If you're worried you can't make something yourself - outsource it or just bite the bullet and get on Pinterest for inspiration and tutorials.

Is it in good shape? Fancy label? Uber-flattering or so out-this-world outrageous that is un-reproduceable? Into another comforter bag it goes, for posterity. Who knows, I might have granddaughters some day (or my grandsons will have wives) that will be able to appreciate these gems. My best friend has a bunch of old slips and blouses that her grandma gave her, and they just rock. If I start running out of space, I just re-evaluate if I still believe that my old pink stripy sweater I bought in Paris 15 years ago will thrill my offspring's future offspring.

The third pile gets put in a bag and brought in to work in the hopes that some of the things will get adopted by my co-workers. If they do, then I get happy knowing that not only will I be able to still look at these clothes (just not on me), someone will get to enjoy it, too. Whatever does not get adopted, gets donated.

I know that I am making a blanket statement here, but you know how we all get huffy when we read articles in magazines that tell us to love our bodies right next to advice on how to lose weight? I get the same huffs when I read articles on "OMG vintage vintage vintage!!! GAAAAH." right next to advice on how to get rid of stuff. I mean… people hunt for antique photos of strangers, seek out that one perfect vintage skirt and pay pretty money for reproductions, but then get rid of things simply because they currently don't have a use for it.
Obviously, let's not all turn into never-throw-another-thing-out creatures, because then my thrifting experiences will be very sad and sporadic, but don't, for the love of Chanel, don't let the practical override the sentimental, at least not all the time. If there's a spot in your heart for that old dress, there's a spot in your closet for it, as well.


  1. I don't like the "if you haven't used or worn it in a year..." guideline, either. I don't normally wear skirts, and with one exception, haven't since I retired over 2 years ago. The exception was a funeral. I need to keep a couple of skirts as long as they still fit because I might have need of them. That's not something I want to shop for at the last minute. Decluttering, or as we in the librarian profession call it -- weeding -- varies according to the person's needs and desires. I'm weeding my books right now because I have no more room. Now that's hard to do!

    1. Ooh, I would have such a hard time weeding through my books! Although the thought crossed my mind when I decided to move living room furniture ^_^
      I feel like there needs to be more nuanced advice out there. Totally agree that some items you need to keep just in case.

    2. Some book weeding is easy. If it's out-of-date, out it goes. But some are novels I just don't think I'll ever get around to reading. I keep buying more. And some old ones are too yellowed to read. ;)

  2. Such a quality blogpost :) New reader here! ♡

    1. Thank you! Hope there is enough here to keep you interested!

  3. I constantly battle between the desire to have lots of [awesome] stuff while also wanting a house that looks like a Scandinavian designer show-home in its barrenness. Since I do most of my shopping at thrift stores you an imagine how amassing awesome things could spiral out of control. In an effort to keep myself from buying stuff just because it's cheap I've learned to ask myself "do you love it?" if I don't or don't know, I put it back. LIKING the item is not enough. When I decide its time to de-clutter, I ask myself "could someone else love this more?" If i realize i'm not enthralled with the item any more, I let it go. If I still am, I keep it - even if it's been 1+ years since I've used it.