Seasonal Clothing Declutter: Who's Living In Your Closet?

Once again, I mark the coming of autumn with a clothing closet declutter.

I wade into the closet and find the boxes of out-of-season clothing. Try everything on, skin itching at the touch of wool when the temperature's 80 degrees.

Sort the summer's keepers from items to donate. Look for "holes" and orphans in my autumn wardrobe. Count the upcoming dinners and holiday events, and divide them by the number of my party dresses. Try, for the 900th time, to locate some good transitional outfits: cool enough for warm autumn days, but not too summery or too bare.

A closet declutter is more a ritual celebration of the change of seasons. It's a time for reflection, a time to face up to changing identities. Who's living in your clothes closet?

Multiple personalities

Why is it that the clothing closet declutter hits harder than neutral zones like the linen closet?

Perhaps it's because we store more than clothing in our closets. We store other selves, other lives, other dreams.

We store the romantic Laura Ashley dress (with flowing gathers) that we hoped to wear early in a pregnancy that never came to be.

We store the business suit, purchased to launch a new career. It supported us staunchly as we made our first few client calls--but then we grew confident, and no longer needed the magic of a power suit.

Look in any clothes closet. Behind the hangers and shelves and boxes lies a second reality.

To declutter a clothing closet, you can't stop with the clothes. You have to move on to the clutter of the psyche that lies behind the possessions.

Of two minds

To clean and declutter a clothing closet, you need two mind-sets: one decisive, one sentimental.

Yes, you must do the conventional, and bring clutter-cutting decision-making to the job. Empty the closet, sort the out-of-season clothes and box them up for storage.

Try on everything that's left, and donate or sell anything that doesn't fit, that's out of style, that hasn't been worn in a year. Hang the survivors according to weight and color, and look out for good combinations for outfits.

The second mind-set, though, is more personal. It's sentimental and wistful and nostalgic. A seasonal closet declutter brings you face-to-face with some of the old selves that must now be dispensed with, like the worn-out clothes in the "donate" bag.

These flowered summer shorts? They belong to another person, one who lived in the South (and had to compete with the azaleas to get noticed). The '90s-era blazers with suited skirts? Another century, another career, another personality.

Decluttering the clothes closet means saying good-bye. It means relinquishing hold of the cast-off shells of who we used to be. It means confronting the changes of age.

But it also means greeting the new and developing person we are now, today, this moment.

To come to terms with the conundrum, balance the memories of the past with an encouraging glimpse of the future.

Will the new hand-loomed jacket come to stand for a new career, an exciting new venture? Will this party dress eventually remind the wearer of many happy evenings with husband and friends?

Reassure yourself! The new wardrobe, like the old, will acquire its own patina of memory and experience.

Autumn closet declutter. Look back for a moment . . . but set your sights ahead. There's a whole new season dawning!

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