The Pain and Freedom of Cleaning Out Your Closets

by | Apr 9, 2019

For the past few weekends, Beth and I have been cleaning out our closets in anticipation of a move. Beth is much better at going through her stuff and quickly deciding what stays and what goes.

Not so much for me. I seem to have strong memories for everything I own. I can usually remember when I purchased it and why. For many of the items, I remember special occasions when I wore it. I have some clothes way in the back of the closet that I’ve had for decades. I even have the Hawaiian shirt I wore when I first met Beth over 35 years ago.

How do you decide what to keep and what to toss?


Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a #1 New York Times bestselling book about decluttering and cleaning up. Obviously, I’m not the only person who struggles with this issue.

She suggests you go with your feelings. If you love it, keep it, otherwise toss it.

That’s probably a good approach, but what if you love everything? What if you have memories about all of it? What if you can see a potential use for everything and you don’t want to have to buy it again when you do?

I’ve adapted her suggestion for myself. When considering an item, I first think about the memory. Do I have good feelings or not? Does it remind me of a good time in my life or a time of challenges? If I don’t feel good about the memory, it gets tossed.

Next, I ask myself, “Does this align with the new me?” I’ve been changing a lot over the past few years, and many things just don’t seem to be “me” anymore. It’s not so much if something still fits me – though that is indeed a criterion – it’s whether it fits me emotionally. For example, there are a handful of nice dress shirts that are the correct size for me, are still in great shape, but when I look at them, I’m reminded of the time I was struggling with depression and going through the lawsuit – not good memories. So, I tossed them.

I know I am a far different person today, and I don’t need to be reminded of that terrible time. I’ve already done plenty of work to heal myself and to address those emotions, so I don’t need clothes in my closet to glare at me every time I open the door.


Freedom comes when you let go


It has been cathartic to load up boxes of clothes and take them to the Goodwill for someone else to use. Letting go of the memories symbolized by the clothes is an amazing feeling. Hopefully, the new owners will be able to create their own memories to go with their new clothes.

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