How to Clean Out Your Closet
by Allison B. Kelly

First, empty everything out.
Even (especially) the dust bunnies
scurrying in dark corners behind the dusty heels of those slingbacks
you just had to have.
Gently wipe down all surfaces.
Let her breathe.

Now, try everything on. Leave no item of clothing uninterrogated.
Ask, “What do you represent?”

Choose what to let go:

Slouchy suede boots that slump by mid-afternoon like your posture.
So what if they were expensive?
Give them away.
Give them the opportunity to be someone else’s treasure.

Sweaters with pills clinging like unwanted hitchhikers,
Sweaters with three-quarter length sleeves.
If the temperature demands a sweater, your arms deserve warmth too.

Those heels that pinch? That cocktail party dress?
Anything too tight.
“But if I just lost five pounds…”
Life is too short for constricting relationships.

The shirt you “keep meaning to” iron.
Actually, anything containing the phrase “keep meaning to.”

Let go of the sensible pumps. No one’s life goal is to be sensible.

The dry clean only blouse accidentally thrown in the wash.
Let it go.
Let go of mistakes.

Clothes that symbolize ambition and anxiety
don’t fit you anymore.

Choose what to keep:

That navy blue turtleneck looks good with everything.
Choose wardrobe pieces that play well with others.

Keep the pants, their deep cabernet color rich with capaciousness and imagination.
Keep the black and white loafers whose syncopated footsteps sound like dancing.

And the sweater with whimsical threads hanging carefree who asks, “What’s possible?”

Keep the fringed jean jacket
(even if it’s impractical and you rarely wear it)
because the sound of your swishing sleeves
gives you the confidence of a cowgirl.

Edit your wardrobe the way you edit the narrative of your life.
Find the things that are important to keep.

IMAGE: Coat Hanger II by Jasper Johns (lithograph, 1960).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Writing is one of my creative outlets. For me, the fun is not just telling a story but considering how our stories might be connected. In the beginning, it starts with an idea. Or maybe several scraps of ideas scribbled on sticky notes on my otherwise organized desk. The paper is a place for my rambling, scattered thoughts. They roll around on the page where I can see them. Gradually ideas take shape, growing and developing. I choose my words carefully — pretty ones, sweet ones, feeling the words on my tongue before they touch the page. That one is bitter. This one tastes like childhood. Soon I have lost track of time, giddy with excitement as my thoughts come together like a puzzle, until finally I lock the last piece into place. When I share my writing, I share a part of myself. Maybe something I wrote made you think or laugh out loud. Maybe you learned something new or found we have something in common.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Allison B. Kelly is the author of the memoir-in-essays There’s Spaghetti on My Ceiling: And Other Confessions of a Reformed Perfectionist and blogs at Pretending I’m Retired. She is an elementary school teacher with a master’s degree in education and endorsements in gifted education and ESL. She’s an early riser and list maker who survived raising two teenagers while keeping sane by running, traveling, and cleaning out her closets. Allison lives in Virginia with her family.

PHOTO: The author at Waterman’s Way, a public art installation of oversized boots celebrating the footwear worn by seafood workers in Chesapeake Bay. In the art installation, each sculpture was personalized by a local artist, drawing from themes that reflect the lives of the people who work the water, harvesting crabs, oysters, and fish from the Bay, rivers, and creek. Pictured is Crabber’s Paradise by David Witbeck. The exhibit ran from July 2017-August 2018.