Friday morning I found a box at my front door containing a new pair of Wrangler Relaxed-Fit black jeans, which in my present phase of life have become my standard dress pants. I ordered them online because whenever I look for jeans in Midland the men’s sections are full of glittery fashion jeans with skinny legs designed for European waifs that sell for $100. I’ve opted out of those.
However, buying a new pair meant I needed to move the old ones out of my closet and into the giveaway bag. This is a discipline that must be maintained for closet equilibrium and protection of the planet. If you don’t move stuff out when you bring new stuff in, before you know it, they are making TV documentaries about you.
To be honest, I’m good about cleaning my closet on a regular basis. When I hang up a shirt fresh from the laundry I put it at the front of the line, so my clothes are sorted by frequency of use rather than color. That means if a shirt remains at the far end of the line for a season or two, it is time for it to go. I don’t throw the clothes in the trash, of course, I give them away. (I suppose I could sell them, but I find garage sales almost as irritating as clutter.)
Putting two pairs of old black (now dark gray) jeans into the giveaway bag started the process, which I knew would happen, and by the time I was finished I had filled two large plastic bags with clothes. They are now destined for the Baptist Crises Center. I’m sure they’ll be worn more often in the future.
Pruning my closet is an easy chore. I have dozens of hideaways full of stuff, and they are harder to declutter. I’m not good at distinguishing between the debris of the past that should be discarded from the building-blocks of the future that should be saved. I often spend too much energy worrying about whether to throw out something that has been part of my life, only to be surprised how quickly I learn to live without it once it is out-of-sight. And afterward it feels like fresh air, like I’ve finally stepped into the clearing. Author Gail Blanke wrote this in her book, Throw Out Fifty Things: Clean the Clutter, Find Your Life, “I don’t think we pay enough attention to the lighter, prouder feeling that comes from cleaning stuff out of our lives.” Well said.
I read this book back in January 2011, and intended to make it an annual project. Alas, I haven’t. Maybe this closet project will put me back on track.
Why bother? Well, for one thing, here is a photo of a throwing-out project I undertook when moving my parents from Hobbs to Midland. This was one of at least twenty similar loads. I hope to avoid this in my own future.
But a more important reason for decluttering is that it quickly moves beyond the physical into the rest of life. We begin to ask, what about the clutter in my mind? What about old regrets and resentments? What about those five-year-old to-do list items I haven’t finished yet?
How do you decide what to throw out (knowing full well I’m not talking about black polo shirts)? Gail Blanke writes, “If it weighs you down, clogs you up, or just plain makes you feel bad about yourself, throw it out, give it away, sell it, let it go, move on.” She refers to all of that as life plaque and says we should routinely clean it out just like we regularly get plaque cleaned from our teeth.
Pruning takes courage. There is a saying among backpackers: We pack our fears. We tend to carry too much stuff, both in volume and weight, because we are afraid of what might happen and want to be prepared for all contingencies. But all those extra items make the pack heavier and the journey harder.
I’ve been thinking, and writing, about how to best live this third quarter of life - I expect continual pruning to be a major theme, throwing everything over the side that no longer matters to me: old habits, disciplines, goals, dreams – those ideas that defined who I used to be, but not who I want to be. I’m sure I’ll continue to bring new ideas and dreams onboard (maybe even new jeans) even as I’m lightening my load, but I want to streamline my passage.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32