The year 2015 has arguably been the year of minimalist living and because of it, a girl can feel a little guilty having an overflowing closet of frivolous, never-gonna-wear-it things. Cleaning out my closet is a constant topic of conversation in my life: What should I keep, what should I toss, how much should I be able to own without looking like I'm about to be invited to a TLC special? It's hard to part ways with old, kitschy sweaters and dresses that haven't fit in years, mostly because they represent a part of myself that I'm either leaving behind or was never able to be. Most people will tell you that you shouldn't hold onto the things you no longer wear, but I have a different take on sartorial hoarding.
Clothes are memories and thus hold stories. Maybe you bought a dress on a whim while thinking of spontaneously going out for a night of theater, followed by a meal at a restaurant with 144 different forks to choose from. But then it never happens, and it's a little too hard to admit defeat. Or maybe a certain sweater no longer fits your new taste, but it's a little too hard to admit that a certain chapter of your life has been grown out of. Change is scary, and it's easier to hoard the memories than move on without them. In some ways, it could be the equivalent of throwing out a box of photographs: Sure, your room would be tidier without the messy hodge-podge of smiling faces and frozen laughs, but wouldn't you miss all that?
In order to decide between a minimalist lifestyle and your urges to keep things close, you need to remove the element of guilt. While having a minimalist closet is supposed to make your life easier and lighter, it can also stress you out when you're not strong enough to chuck 80 percent of its contents. Instead of choosing between minimalism and hoarding, why not choose happiness instead?
I have a vintage Brady Bunch-esque skirt hanging in the middle of my closet that hasn't been worn in about two years, and it's one of my most favorite things in my wardrobe. I'm not even sure if I'll wear it anytime soon, but that sucker is staying put. But why? What's the point of keeping something that will never get any wear? The point is that it makes me happy looking at it, and that's reason enough.
I bought the skirt on a balmy, late September afternoon in Chicago, while I was wandering the streets of Lakeview and talking on the phone with my mom. It was the first month of me moving out from my childhood room and into the big city, and my mother would call me twice a day, everyday to make sure everyone in the city hadn't ganged up and mugged me as a collective.
There I was running errands and listening to her chattering away in my ear, occasionally grunting a well timed "uh huh" and "no way" as she filled me in on her vegetable garden. I pulled open the door to a thrift store as I giggled at the news that my grandmother bought herself a pet turtle. That's when I saw it: Among the dusty-smelling grandpa sweaters and brazen, Dynasty-worthy '80s dresses was this mustard corduroy skirt with red and green polka dots playing all the way down to the hem. It looked like something Marsha Brady would wear while brushing out her hair, and it made me stop dead in the little basement and gasp.
My mom gasped too, thinking this was the moment my purse was finally getting snatched. I heard a tirade of frantic Polish nipping into my ear as she told me to knee the culprit and run.
After I convinced her it was an oh-my-god-I-found-my-soulmate-in-a-skirt gasp and not a crap-my-rent-money-is-getting-stolen gasp, she calmed down and told me to get it. I got my love of fashion from my mom, and she's always been quick to step into the shoes of the enabler. As I described the kitschy, wonderfully '70s number, she was all too willing to list the pros and none of the cons of adding it to my wardrobe while grating carrots over the phone.
With Cheerios clocking in at seven bucks, however, I didn't really have much room in my wallet to toss money like confetti, so I told my mom I wouldn't be purchasing it. That's when she sighed with slight exasperation at my practicality, and told me she was sending me the money right away. She put down the carrot peeler and sent me $20 to go be frivolous and full of fun.
It was one of the sweetest, most motherly things she's ever done for me. It was an act full of so much love — unfussy, uncomplicated love — that it left my heart doing somersaults in that dusty, decades-smelling basement.
So I bought it and wore it a handful of times over the years: To a mimosa brunch here, to an afternoon in the art museum there; a couple of times to Sunday dinner, a handful of times while grocery shopping or reading in the park. After a while, it slowly got filtered out of my style. By all the rules of minimalism and closet cleaning, that bell-shaped number should have seen the inside of the donation bin a long time ago.
I fully believe that you’re supposed to only keep things that spark joy in your life, and every time I look at that skirt I think of my mom and her gesture. I think of her sigh as she put down her peeler, and the no-nonsense way she sent me a little bit of money to show me how much she cared. It’s a living memory and that’s why it’s there to stay.
So, don't feel bad about being a hoarder from time to time. If there are a few things in your closet that serve no other purpose than making you happy just being there, then that's the only role they need.
Images: Marlen Komar