A t-shirt and and sneakers laid out on the floor

Ever since I moved back home after college, my room looks like a mismatched kindergartener trying to pull off a new form of vintage Scandinavian design. All the likes, dislikes and versions of myself from the ages of 11 to 22 are scattered throughout the space.

Favorite books, old cards sent to me while at school, jewelry made from woven string are hidden in drawers and stacked tightly within the bookshelves my father and I built together when plastic cubes weren’t enough to keep my stories contained. Slowly but surely, I have been cleaning out each corner of my childhood safe haven with the mantra, “If I wouldn’t take it with me when I move out to my own apartment, then it has to go.”

Getting rid of things Marie Kondo style is cleansing in a way, even as I have begun to realize I accumulated a lot more stuff than anyone probably should. So, why can’t I seem to find the courage to clean out my closet?

If I thought my faded movie theater tickets from 2012 or the fluorescent green picture frames were bad, then what keeps me from throwing out my Dr. Who t-shirt I got at the Jersey shore and haven’t worn since middle school? Or the flouncy blouse that once fit like a dream and now awkwardly hugs my waist like a bad date?

In my dreams, cleaning out my closet would be more physically rather than emotionally taxing. The process would leave me with the perfect, capsule wardrobe that would never allow me complain of having nothing to wear. Yet, nothing separates me from the implications of getting rid of long unworn clothes.

Nothing separates me from the implications of getting rid of long unworn clothes.

My mother certainly does not help the cause when she glances over my emotionally fraught piles of cotton to announce, “Oh, but I always thought this was so cute.” Plus, she is sort of right.

The groans of frustration end any attempt of my efforts. I nearly always end up shoving the piles of clothes back into the safety of the closet and shutting the door for another day. Another week.

When I look at my clothing and the outfits they created, they aren’t just polyester fibers. They are as much the memories of ticket stubs and photographs in fluorescent green frames. When I stare at my floral tank top and pink skinny jeans I was fighting to fit into last month, I remember how I wore my hair up once with them to show off the ruffle. I remember how feminine and only slightly shaky I felt in spring wedges the day I met my first serious boyfriend.

When I look at my clothing, the outfits they created, they aren’t just polyester fibers.

I swipe the hangers to the left. My fingers brush against a navy blue skater dress. I always wore it with boots even if I couldn’t cross my legs the way I wanted to while sitting between reference shelves that inspired my love of fiction over textbooks.

I question the dress’ hem. It is getting a tad too high over my knees. That hanger follows the last. Still, less than an inch in, I separate them and many others to the left.

And oh! The top I was gifted for my birthday is next. Such a warm yellow color, such possibilities, yet something I haven’t reached for in two years.

An article or two of clothing weeded out of a forest—I force myself to take a deep breath. They are clothes. They are not the memories and the joy I’ve made in them or possibly could. I need to untangle the difference. I need to create the closet of the person I’m growing into as I figure out my next place in life after all the memories.

I need to clean out my closet in order to inhabit my own style and the person I’m becoming. I will keep the good bits and get rid of those that do not serve me.

When is the last time you cleaned out your closet? Do you find yourself holding onto clothes as a way to remember the past?

Image via Chaunte Vaughn, Darling Issue No. 15 

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3 comments

  1. Yes, all true, big love to you and also—where’d you get that shirt!?

  2. Loved this–it’s something I’m learning to as I declutter my things before a move.

    And that moment with your Mom was so relatable. I find decluttering with family or friends works when the items don’t really bring up emotions. Like when you have a lot of clutter you’re too tired to deal with and don’t care deeply about.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Kendra, you perfectly described decluttering with a “comrade”. It doesn’t work! Moms go down memory lane and friends will convince you to give items a second chance. Cleaning out is a solo job and you are doing a good job taking it piece by piece!

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