I suddenly see our closets as our command centers. Sounds terribly superficial, I know. Yet there’s no denying that the clothes we wear are noted and interpreted by others. If our clothes don’t feel comfortable or appropriate, our efficiency levels and dispositions suffer. So being able to reach into a closet filled with proper fitting and suitable garments matters more than I’ve ever wanted to admit.
This fact became clear to me when I helped a friend tackle her closet issues (issues relating to her actual wardrobe and issues that she’d hidden away). Mary had nailed a great job a few months earlier. She also had put on weight. She complained to me that she didn’t have the right clothes for her new position and, even worse, didn’t feel truly comfortable in anything she wore. I suggested we take apart her closet. She bitchily agreed.
Armed with trash bags, a pad and pen, a full-length mirror, and a free Sunday, we stood before her bulging closet and immediately decided that a glass of wine wouldn’t hurt. Then I cracked the whip, pulled out a blouse, and made her try it on. She stood in front of the mirror and we analyzed her image. I refused to pull my punches and Mary bravely opened her eyes wide. We did this with every damn item she owned, piling up clothes to put back in the closet, clothes to give away, clothes headed for a consignment shop, and clothes to be mended/tailored/cleaned.
Along the way, we noticed that Mary had a great fondness for tops in a certain style that didn’t flatter her figure and pants that were too young. It nearly killed her, but she gave them all away. She tried on jeans with different shoes to see if they could be dressed up or down and was surprised to find that she had more options than she thought. Whenever she said something like, “I could wear these pants out for drinks if I only had a silk top that matched,” I made a note. We ended up with a list of tops/bottoms/jackets needed to complete outfits, camis or bras needed to make certain tops decent, and body shaping underwear desperately needed to eliminate the pantylines that kept her from wearing at least five different pants or skirts.
It took nearly three hours. We removed everything from the closet and vacuumed it out. Then we wiped down the walls, baseboards, and shelves with Mrs. Meyers Lemon Verbena Countertop Spray. That alone overhauled the closet’s vibe. Energized, we tackled her drawers and then worked out an organizational system for the clothing to be re-hung.
As we went along, I could see the wheels turning in Mary’s brain, could see that she was filing away sartorial information that would make it much easier for her to get out the door in the morning. She also examined her body honestly for the first time in a long time and didn’t like what she saw. I urged her to not waste time and energy beating herself up, to focus on what she could do right away to feel healthier.
Mary ended up with a nice pile of clothing to take to the consignment shop—a pile that brought in $140. She also ended up with a fairly long list of clothing and accessories she needed to purchase in order to make the best possible use of the garments she already owned. She used the consignment shop money to cross some items off the list and, with some smart shopping, slowly crossed off more. Since I’m a fairly skilled home sewer, I ended up with a large pile of clothing to take home and mend or re-fashion for her. I was happy as hell to be of service in that way.
What happened next surprised us both. Without saying a word to anyone, Mary began cutting out the empty calories that had added about 30 extra pounds to her small frame. She put on the exercise clothing (some still with price tags) that had been stashed in the back of her closet and took increasingly long and vigorous walks. She tried her first yoga class and got hooked. In six months she looked very different because she was approaching daily life differently. She told me later that while there were many motivating factors for her weight loss, a major one was suddenly seeing her wardrobe as a substantial investment and wanting to be smart enough to make that investment pay off.
A year later Mary’s closet, her control center, is running more efficiently than I ever imagined. Rather than feeling overwhelmed when I stand in front of it or when I look at her image in the mirror, I feel inspired. Last week my friend traveled 1,000 miles to visit her daughter and spend some quality time cleaning out her closet. Even Mary couldn’t have imagined her investment would pay such dividends.