I’m a keeper. I like to hold onto things. My husband hates it but I remind him that I’ve kept him around for 15 years, so perhaps he should embrace my saving tendencies. I grew up with a father who liked to winnow our belongings with each frequent move so you don’t have to be Freud to intuit my desire to keep mementos.
I lack experience in culling my own possessions. Recently I was at Ravinia with a group of friends and one lamented that she’d lost her ticket and now wouldn’t be able to put it in her scrapbook. I offered her one of mine before she told me she was joking. But the punchline was that I was actually planning to toss mine in the box that holds every other concert and play stub we generate.
For the most part, I’m ruthless about routinely weeding the kids’ toys and clothes, books and newspapers, kitchen gadgets and other items. If it’s outlived its usefulness, it goes (husband aside). But, my own closet has somehow escaped the ax.
Yes, some things should be purged. Like a never-worn cold weather contraption (it’s a scarf! it’s a hood! it’s both!) that my dad bought off a TV ad. While other things deserve to be kept and used fondly. For example, a Harley Davidson belt with a giant silver eagle buckle that my late step-father gave my mom. Then there are the countless “in-betweens.” My closet has become a timeline of my life rather than a useable space.
As a birthday gift to myself, I decide to participate in the DailyBuzz Moms August challenge to “pamper myself” and hire someone to help clean out my closet. It’s an imperfect time for such a luxury--the weeks after summer activities and before school starts that my friends and I call “mom camp.” Long days filled with to-dos and whines for “what’s next?” and “play with me.” But I can’t control my birthdate and rather like the idea of wedging a little pampering between the string cheese and relentless playdates.
I’m not interested in closet organization nor in being totally on trend. I just want to pare it all down so I can see my options. I have a lot of choices yet a small subset that I regularly wear; I’m in a rut. I want help from someone with solid fashion sense who is also painfully truthful. Basically, I need a stylish Larry David. I need to curate instead of collect. Enter Mollie from StyleSpies, a closet consultant and ex-ShopBop buyer, who “knows what to keep, what to donate, and what to tailor.” Perfect.
Mollie sends me a survey and instructs me to avoid deliberation and just jot down my gut responses. Still, it’s a struggle. “What shoes are your favorite?” A peek in my closet reveals brand schizophrenia--no repeats, just a collection of random stuff I like. I leave the question blank. “Who’s your fashion muse?” Um, Jamie. Angie. My friends’ names are meaningless to Mollie. For my own style, I finally write: winter = flare jeans/sweater and summer = white pants/navy tank.
Since our 11am-2pm appointment time will eclipse lunch, I decide to bake a snack for us. I choose Glazed Maple-Pecan Oatmeal Scones from Baking Illustrated. The scones seem to offer the right amount of sweet maple reward and oaty sustenance. They are edible motivation. Both my son and daughter are in the kitchen with me and, as usual, I try to do too much at once. My daughter mis-cracks an egg while I run upstairs to get dressed. The nuts and oats burn while I get my closet ready. Our scones are black-bottomed. It’s a metaphor for my life: crowded and overdone.
I rush to gather garbage bags for donations and shopping bags for items to be sold at consignment as Mollie suggested. My lack of high-end brand focus makes me leery about the consignment bit, but I gamely provide the bags. The “StyleSpy” arrives and the greetings are easy; within moments we are on task.
It takes twelve minutes for Mollie to whip through my shoes and create a stack of get-rid-ofs. I have 14 pairs that are “too.” My black heels are too worn. My red patent flats are both too shiny and too square. My Aerosoles, too “mom.” Ouch. But the purge feels good. I am able to save pink kitten heels by holding them next to the dress I wear them with and lime green wedges by promising never to match them.
When my home phone rings, I ignore it. Then my cell. Then my home again. I don’t know who’s calling but I hate them; I’m getting pampered here! I answer and it’s my husband. He says, “I know, you should describe your style as ‘bohemian.’” Only, that’s not my style, that’s the style my husband wants me to have. He has clearly defined tastes and opinions, not just about my clothes but also about his own; he has proclaimed--cocktail aloft--that if he ever opens a men’s clothing store, he’ll call it “The Hawaiian Cowboy.” Cheers. Before I can hang up on him, he and Mollie are chatting it up and I start to worry that my closet’s going to look like Nicole Richie’s--all hippie prints and head necklaces. But, post-call, Mollie gets back down to business.
She has catch-phrases. For example, an orange wool poncho already “had its moment.” My friend says later, “But what if it has another moment?” I’m not worried because of another of Mollie’s quips: “If it comes back, it will be different.” For a khaki cotton blazer, she says, “I know what you were going for here.” In other words, I know the address but I’m still lost.
She holds up an old corduroy shirt and says, “Now, tell me about this.” It’s a nice way of saying, “What were you thinking?” Then at another find she exclaims, “Wow, I remember these dresses!” My closet is a museum. I should charge admission.
I defend multiple items with, “That’s for Vegas.” She notes that I have a lot of pieces earmarked for that annual trip. I shrug, Vegas demands a lot of costume changes. She relents. After the first hour or so, Mollie becomes so tuned into my overall style (whatever it is), that she points to two skirts and says “they just don’t look like you.” She’s right--they’re my mother-in-law’s.
Easy targets are any whites with yellow spots, sweaters that are too “bally,” lacy tank tops, and Gap jeans. When I tell another friend about the process she stands and says, “I’m wearing Gap jeans right now.” I forward her the link that Mollie sent me proclaiming that “Gap and Old Navy make mom jeans.” We make stacks: to ditch, try on, alter or dry clean. Not surprisingly, my consignment clothes bags are still neatly folded.
Before she leaves, Mollie gives me three checklists of top tens--shoes, accessories, and clothing items that every woman needs. We identify my gaps. All in all, we weed out 14 pairs of shoes, 8 scarves, 9 belts and 79 pieces of clothing. 110 items gone. Actually, make that 109 since I rescue a white linen skirt after Mollie leaves. My closet swallows the space as if it never existed. But I feel lighter.
The next day she follows-up with a list of specific things that if added to my closet would help me pull disparate things together: a colorful skinny belt, charcoal leggings, navy or black blazer, dark skinny jeans, bold-colored flats. The pampering continues when she creates a pinterest board with suggestions and photos for me.
This time of year tends to go in a blur. I have one child starting Kindergarten and another stepping up to a new school. It’s a lot of change but also a time for new beginnings. There are enough real-life events to tether my emotion to that I don’t need a closet full of memories. As Mollie said when she ditched a shirt I got on my engagement trip to Germany, “You can still remember it and love it but you don’t have to keep it.” It feels like growth to let go. Maybe I can throw away my Train concert ticket after all.