You can have everything! Just put it in your closet.

28th May 2013

This is part of my Life List goal to Get Organized and Own Less Crap. Thanks to Glad® for sponsoring this post. Without them, I would still own sliver plastic go-go boots in someone else’s size. …Maybe I should go get those out of the donation pile.

I can be sentimental about stuff — the kind of person who names her car, her knick-knacks … her kitchen mixer.

Mighty GIrl

But lately I’ve come to accept that every object I own increases my time investment in upkeep, organization, and retrieval. I have too much stuff, not enough time, and the two are not mutually exclusive.

They say you’re supposed to give away things you haven’t worn in over two years. This is because they are robots. Robots who have never met this dress, which I call “Mrs. Roper’s Night on The Town.”

Mighty GIrl

Come and knock on our dooooor!

As a kid I woke up at 5 a.m. to find treasures at garage sales with my mom, and I had my first antique stall when I was sixteen. I developed this idea that all objects, particularly vintage clothes, are looking for their Perfect Person. Someone who can understand their poignance, and value, and delight in them. Somewhere along the way, I started feeling like the Keeper of Awesome Things. That if I don’t find a home for something, it will just end up in the trash.

But we live in an urban one-bedroom apartment, where you can calculate the annual rent on the space your college sweatshirt occupies. (Over the years it averages out to the cost of your actual tuition.)

So why do I still own a a red chiffon dress that barely zipped up when I was nineteen? Because I can see where I repaired the rip in the sleeve from all those nights we went swing dancing. Because I can feel the skirt blowing around my knees when I duck my head out the moon roof of a limo on New Year’s eve.

So back off, Goodwill. Stop looking at me like that.

Mighty GIrl

And yet, I’ve been spending way too much time getting dressed every day because I can’t find anything. Not to mention, folding and re-folding precarious stacks of clothes, and re-hanging the seventeen things I tried on before I accidentally found the one thing I wanted.

So Glad proposed a post to promote their Trim Your Waste program, which is about reducing the amount of stuff you put in the landfill. This is how my life works. I put something on my life list, that I want to do, but maybe not right now, or technically ever? And then the universe forces me to admit that I don’t want to end up on an episode of Hoarders.

So I did some organizational research and put a day aside to tackle my closet. Hahahhahaha. A day. It took longer that that.

But! I set out bags for stuff to donate, sell, and give away, and set up zones in my room for clothes I needed to try on, clothes that needed repairs, and clothes I didn’t wear often.

I took courage. And put on a little mood music.

Do not worry, Pat. Have you met me? I will not be throwing anything away.

Mighty GIrl

Instead of emptying my closet out willy nilly, I went section by section. I began with my shoes, which had apparently begun to breed like Tribbles.

Anything I was certain I wanted to keep remained in my closet, while items that required pondering landed in one of the aforementioned zones.

I went through all of the clothes and the stuff I loved but hadn’t worn. I created a probation section. If I haven’t worn items placed on probation in the next six months I have to give them away.

I managed to trim my wardrobe by five bags (!) of clothes and a huge box of shoes. And, since I still consider myself a clothing matchmaker, I decided only the stained and damaged beyond repair pieces would head for the waste bin, which turned out to be a single T-shirt. Farewell, Max Fun Con shirt stained with hair dye. Don’t think that wasn’t hard on me.

The rest I’m putting back on the market. I’ll be donating some items, and others I hope to sell so I can put the proceeds toward this year’s Camp Mighty charity: water fund.

And yet, there were plenty of items that flummoxed me.

I’ve been meaning to take Geri-Ayn, an Audrey Hepburn devotee, to Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

And perhaps the important question is not, where will I wear sleeves like this, but where would I ever find sleeves like this again? Right? Could I have this made into a shirt?

And this headband, which I will never wear, matches a vintage sequin dress I wear all the time. Am I required to keep them paired for the next owner?

I have about a hundred more examples of stuff like this. My perfect senior prom dress, the scarves my girlfriends brought back from trips abroad, the one ring to rule them all. How do I let go of these things?

Do other people not dream of throwing Three’s Company parties? What is your secret for keeping only the things “you know to be useful or believe to be beautiful?” I genuinely want to know.

Because I cannot be the only one who weeps at the thought of this in a landfill:

This post is sponsored by Glad®. Take small steps to reduce waste, and earn a chance to win big. Sign up for Glad’s Trim Your Waste program here.

28 thoughts on “You can have everything! Just put it in your closet.

  1. Kizz

    It comforts me that someone who loves things to be as aesthetically pleasing as you do does not throw away willy-nilly. Thank you.

  2. Mai

    Oh, I so badly need to clean out my “closet”.*

    *Who am I kidding? My room is my closet. It just happens to have a bed in it. A bed surrounded by so much clothes.

  3. Merrie

    Just went through my grandmother’s house after her passing. It is all just STUFF and if you don’t wear it, someone else will. And if you keep everything, one day Hank will have to wade through all of your stuff when you’re gone. Dont do that to him! You won’t miss the stuff. Let it go!!!

  4. Megan

    The Apartment Therapy guy proposed the idea of using what he calls an ‘outbox’ for stuff you feel ambivalent about. You toss it in there (a box, a closet, etc.), and the rule is that you can pluck it out at any time if you find a use/place for it or toss it when you’re ready. The idea is that it diminishes the emotional charge we attach to things. I’ve found that to be true, although I still haven’t brought myself to empty it. But, if pressed, I also wouldn’t be able to name anything that’s in there except for a green donkey piñata that I refer to as ‘my hostage’ for reasons I forget. I think I was drunk when I made that up.

  5. Kat

    I have the same problem with clothes (among other things). I have beautiful things that I have poured love into and how could I ever let go of this even if it never fit, not ever, but I wore it while I was dating X and remember that one bar we went to…? I ended up with a closet that looked worse than yours, and so. many. shoes.

    So, inspired by your life list a few years ago, twice a year, we have a Clothing Swap!

    It always includes champagne, and also a bunch of ladies running around in their underwear in my living room. All the clothes that everyone brings get dumped in huge piles around the room and we go through them like we are digging for treasure (which, clearly, we are). We tell stories about where this ridiculous and awesome sweater came from and why I am getting rid of this neon muumuu and isn’t it a shame that this perfect thing doesn’t fit me, but OH MY GOD IT LOOKS SO GOOD ON YOU! At the end, anything left on the floor is bagged and donated, and it doesn’t hurt as much to get rid of the things you love but never wear, because you see where they are going and know they will be loved.

    Also, I have gotten some of my BEST and MOST FAVORITE clothes this way. And if it doesn’t work out, and that one dress that looked perfect in the champagne swimmy mirror at the Clothing Swap actually doesn’t look that great the next morning, I put it in a bag and bring it back to the next one in six months, because all the clothes deserve to be loved.

  6. ris

    I also have a hard time getting rid of clothing, even stuff that really really needs to go. I’ve found that taking a picture of myself wearing the item helps soften the blow, and seeing that picture usually demonstrates to me that yeah, I needed to get rid of that dress/shirt/etc.

  7. Nell

    I love that Merrie said the same kind of thing I would have. In the last couple of years we have done a fair amount of “moving” of old schtuff! Gah!! It is just stuff but then it is sentimental too! Gah again! How tough. I totally understand the sentimental attachment to that kind of thing. I am a treasure Hunter too and it sort of seems that the almost perfect shoe the you found it especially hard to get rid of even if you don’t wear it anymore.
    I have started justifying the getting rid of thing by thinking of the clothes going to someone who will love them equally! I am extremely fortunate to live in an area of the world where everything gets recycled (practically). We have a recycling director who is beyond dedicated to his job which not only translates into less crap in the landfill but also money back into the coffers in our county. We are very lucky but it also helps ease the “pain” of giving things away that you may have emotional attachment/
    Good luck
    Hesper, Iowa

  8. Max

    I once had a couple trusted friends come over. I set up chairs in my bedroom, poured drinks, and let the thumbs up or thumbs down voting begin as I brought each item out of the closet. It was brutal: there were passionate pleas, stories told, tears shed. But the thumbs had ultimate power.

    I’ve also been to a few fun swaps where everyone drops off their stuff at someone’s house, who sets it up like a fancy boutique for “shopping” later when everyone comes back for wine. Your trash another’s treasure etc. Any leftovers get donated.

  9. LeAnn


    Thank you for this post! I recently went through my shoes. It was a sad day but what made it easier was the fact I KNEW that of the shoes I donated, someone who loved them like I did would find them. Someone will find and love your Like a Virgin shirt. They just will. Just the way you found and love your Mrs. Roper dress. (btw I think you need this dress at Go Mighty, just saying.) :)

  10. Josie

    When I have something sentimental but not very practical or put to good use (read- worn ever again), I ask my self if I am attached to the memories of it or to the thing itself. So many times its the memories and the desire to be frugal/not wasteful that makes me want to hang on to things. But my memories weigh less and take up less physical space, so I choose to be satisfied with them. I will not likely recapture the feel again even if I do wear/use the item so I take pictures and create journal pages of those things/memories I want to pass on and preserve. I know this doesn’t help with the landfill problem, so I am also working on not taking on/buying things that I think are interesting/cool/fabulous, that I wont really use or let live. I may snap a pic and write about what a neat find it was, but leave it for someone who may use it and give it a good home.

  11. Amber

    I’m on a personal mission now to plan a party that requires you to wear that orange dress. It deserves a day out.

  12. Sarah C.

    I just have to say that I was giggling while reading your post — I could not help but remember all of your posts about packing. It was like seeing two sides of the same coin: packing light/owning heavy. Too cute! I think we are all like that when it comes to some topic or another, and I love your willingness to be real about things. Thanks much for that.

    Anyway, I love to organize, so I know that I might be a slightly odd duck, but one thing that ALWAYS seems to come up when my girlfriends ask me to help them organize something — is quality over quantity. Amazing vintage pieces are one thing, but poorly made clothes are rarely worth the real estate, not to mention the time & energy to maintain them. (I have not read the book Overdressed, but I have heard quite a bit about it, and I am intrigued by the subject.) Also, organizing helps keep my sentimentality about things in check. I try to remember that if I keep every item that has ever passed through my door, I will never have room for any new experiences (which is also why I limit what I do actually acquire). And the right organizational tools are key. Don’t be afraid to put everything in a specific spot. Even if it does not stay there forever, it’s a good starting point, and you can revisit every season or so to see what’s working, what may need to move, what you are really loving…

  13. Agnes

    You should have a bitch n swap party! Everybody brings their donatable clothes, you serve goodies and alcohol, and everybody swaps clothes. The remaining stuff is donated. It’s super fun to later be out with your friends and see them wearing your clothes.

  14. Catie

    I am totally doing this later this week! Thanks for the “reminder.” And dang girl, I wish I’d known you’d wanted to purge some vintage – I would have tried to set up a buying appointment. Best of luck in doing more with less, for that is my ultimate goal as well.

  15. Nora

    I used to be such the clothes hoarder, and then we moved onto a boat. Nothing clarifies your closet priorities like a vintage Tollycraft with one small closet and omigod where am I supposed to put my shoes?

    Do I miss the billions and billions of bags-full that went to Goodwill? Occasionally. But I still have the things I love & wear the most. Plus my gold strappy heels I wear maybe once a year, because seriously. How could I let those go?

  16. Lucie

    Oooooh, so recognisable! But think about it: would you have a hard time giving your awesome clothes to a friend that also loves it and will wear it a lot? Now then, think about you selling your clothes to people who will equally love them and give them a good home. That makes it less hard rigth? Oh btw, I want that red dress :)

  17. Sara

    The real question is-where can I buy all the stuff you got rid of? Because I live in out West, we have all the space in the world, never mind that I live in 550 with my fiance who owns six pairs of skis.

  18. Sara

    Actually, never mind that that comment had like four errors. It’s been a long day. But seriously, where can I buy your stuff?

  19. a.

    I like what Josie said about memories. Sorting what to keep has often made me think about the nature of memory, and to whom a memory is ultimately most valuable. With rare exceptions, our memories are meaningful to us in a way that can never be truly passed on. Sometimes I take a great photograph of an item I’ve loved and want to remember, but which is too worn/not valuable to anyone but me (ie, the dirty sneakers I wore all through the Irish countryside) or something that I want to remember but not revisit. Some great memories shouldn’t be impinged upon with future wearings.

    I do think there’s something to be said, though, for being the Keeper of Things. I’d vote for keeping that headband alongside its sequined dress, until you’re ready to put the dress aside. In order to coax myself into parting with items that are objectively awesome but serve no purpose in my actual life, I tell myself it’s good karma to put it back out there at Goodwill for another girl to find. I was lucky one day, and now someone else can be lucky, too.

  20. Emily

    We have clothing swaps. Everyone brings their bags, dumps them in a big pile, we pour some wine and dig in. The hostess is responsible for bringing the unclaimed goods to Goodwill after the party. You don’t have to take as much as you brought. It’s tons of fun and we make the boys leave the house during the party.

  21. ali

    I totally do not get that. I’m a 100% a thrower-outer. My closet has probably about a 10th of the amount of clothes yours does, if not less. I own 5 pairs of shoes and there are still a few out of that I never wear.
    I think this might be a result of my mother being the complete opposite. Total hoarder. Seeing all the things she had piled up over the years that were never used broke my heart. I figure if I’m not actively using it, I don’t need it. Someone else will probably get more use out of it.

  22. abby

    The secret to keeping only the things you find beautiful or useful is to remember that the things are not the experience, the memory. Letting go of the clothes does not diminish past experiences–it means you are open to new experiences.

    Meanwhile, there is someone out there with a deep, deep longing for the perfect senior prom dress to go to her perfect prom in. A woman trapped under a bad perm and heavy chandelier earrings who needs the Mrs. Roper night on the town special to get her marriage back on track. Ke$ha could probably use your Like A Virgin t shirt. And they can’t have their own floaty red dress limo experience until you let go of the dress. Send your clothes off with a blessing that they find their way to an awesome next experience!

  23. Deanna

    That orange dress has made my day. Thank you for that. What works for me it to put things in the donation bag, cinch it, and drop it off as soon as possible. Don’t look in the bag again, whatever you do. I do the probation thing too ( a two week probation period because most of the probation items are things that I could wear to work and what not).

  24. talia

    OMG, that dress with the sleeves is incredible. do not give it away, or if you do, i most desperately need it.

  25. Susan

    This has definitely been a problem for me too. I started having a Naked Lady Party twice a year (that’s our name for a clothing swap). It has been very helpful to me because somehow it’s easier to give it to a friend, and even the things that no one takes, seeing them sitting with all the other clothes makes them less appealing. I started mine to not only help me get rid of things, but also to get “new” clothes on a “no new clothes” budget. And sometimes I find if I’m stuck on a certain item, I just need a little more time and by the next Naked Lady Party, I’m ready to part with it. Keep fighting the good fight!

  26. Susan

    I haven’t read all the comments thus far so I don’t know if anyone’s mentioned this yet, but DON’T EVER THROW AWAY CLOTHES! Keep them out of the landfill. I used to volunteer at a charity shop where we had bags and bags of clothes donated to us in all kinds of states. Ultimately we only were able to put about ten to fifteen percent on the shop floor to sell. But here’s the thing: the “rag man” would come by and purchase bags of clothes from us that were too stained/out of fashion/smelly/smokey/whatever to sell. I think they sorted through and picked out some to resell and then shredded some which ended up in insulation, pillow stuffing, etc. and the charity ended up with some cash for each bag. We had donors who knew about this and would sometimes give us pre-sorted bags, separating out the things they thought we might sell from stuff they knew would go straight to the rag man. We always appreciated when people told us this in advance as it saved precious volunteer hours. So take your old fiber-based items in bags to your favorite charity shop!

  27. a.

    Speaking of Things, I found a hamper just like yours in the haunted basement of an antique store last summer….and I left it there. No room in my apartment. Soon, I’ll be moving to a place where I have room for the hamper. And it haunts me now.

    I’ll be back there again this summer, fingers crossed.

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