Over the past couple of months, I found myself writing several stories about the growing ‘tiny house’ movement — where people choose to completely downsize their lives to inhabit a space usually no bigger than your average bathroom.
This process fascinated me.
How could someone rid themselves of the majority of their worldly belongings and willingly choose to live in such a small place?
But after talking in depth with several tiny house owners I was stunned by my personal reaction…I felt inspired. The idea that an individual, or in some cases an entire family, can live, and be really happy, with so few personal belongings was incredible to me.
Let me explain something briefly. I am NOT one of those people. In fact it’s quite the opposite. I’m the person who would spend her last $20 in the bank on a shirt from Forever 21 rather than paying for food. I have spent my entire adult life impulse-buying my way around the mall, and when I’m bored, sad, lonely, or even just hungry, I buy stuff online that I don’t need and won’t wear.
I somehow managed to bury the shame of my spending habits below my feelings of excitement every time the mailman left a package at my door. Packages that I almost always hide from my poor husband, who regularly asks what I’m spending all our money on.
The other major downside to this is that I can’t actually fit all the things I own into the storage space we have, and instead have started to take up most of the floor space in our bedroom.
(Photo: Sophie Forbes)
After one particularly in-depth conversation with a girlfriend of mine about clothes and closets and shopping, I had a sort of mini meltdown. While I am not in debt, I realized that in the past ten years I have spent tens of thousands of dollars on stuff that I simply DO NOT NEED. And it has turned my home into a clothing chaos.
….I know. I am ashamed of me too.
It was time for a change. One tiny house inhabitant had said to me that she felt utterly liberated when she cleansed herself of all the clutter she was holding on to. That by ridding herself of unnecessary possessions she felt free. And while I had zero intention of throwing everything out, there was an absolute need for a cleansing session in my life.
This is the dream! (Photo: babble.com)
With a weekend set aside, I set myself the challenge of doing an ‘Extreme Closet Makeover.’ So two days, one stubbed toe, three broken nails, three bags of trash, and two donation boxes later, aside from understanding why some people pay a lot of money to have a professional sort their closet for them, this is what I learned:
1. I am a hoarder
I think you probably got that from some of the stuff I said earlier, but once I began to wade through the mounds of closet junk, the horrifying level of my hoarding became truly apparent. Cut to me trying to explain to the hubby that collecting the fancy shopping bags from designer stores was ‘a thing’, and that I will absolutely reuse them. There were jeans that I honestly have no idea how, or when, they last fit me, several items (8!) with the tags still attached and a coat that I would swear isn’t even mine. No clue where it came from. I totaled 31 pairs of jeans which got cut down to 15. The rest went in the donation box. But not before I had a legit panic attack, like the ones you see people having on that hoarding reality show. Cue irrational justification for needing 31 pairs of jeans. Houston, we have a problem.
2. Items can hold sentimental value for the wrong reasons
Yeah, that dress you wore on your birthday in Vegas when you were still a size 2 (I wish!) and you made out with that super hot guy? Not necessary to keep. The T-shirt with holes in that you have had since college and isn’t even worth using as a nightie? Trash it. Stuff that was given to you by an ex…you know the drill. On my journey through my closet, I noticed that over the years, I have failed to get rid of certain items in my life, even though I am way past the situation that brought them to me in the first place. I am not sentimental about the history behind the item any more, yet the item itself still held some nostalgic value to me. I stood staring at my wedding dress hung on the back of the door and I realized…new things will come into my life all the time, just like my wedding dress did, that will have a new sentimental value, and those things I will cherish. But all that old stuff I was holding on to for the wrong reasons.
Just half of the stuff that was removed! (Photo: Sophie Forbes)
3. You can make your clothing part of your decor
With limited closet space in our one bedroom apartment, and my afore mentioned hoarding issues, we had to look for alternative ways to store my stuff. Put it this way, my husband has already been relegated to the hall closet and I had even contemplated moving him down to the car port so I could utilize that space as a shoe closet. (Don’t tell him!) Maybe he is a mind reader and caught wind of my master plan, but when I told him about my ‘closet cleanse’ idea, he suggested shoe shelves. His exact words: “I don’t mind seeing your shoes as long as they aren’t all over the floor.” Ok then. One trip to IKEA and four hours of blood, sweat, and tears later, I had a fancy-looking shelving unit erected in the bedroom. With a bit of arranging I got all the shoes ‘on display’ and organized. It looks cool, too. So much so that I’ve been researching ways to store my handbags out in the open as well. The added bonus of having it all out in the open is that it forces you to keep it tidy. No more slinging shoes to the bottom of the wardrobe for me.
4. My closet actually needs cleaning!!
Yeesh….dust much? In order to cleanse my closet properly, I decided to pull absolutely every last item out onto the bed and the floor so I was starting with a blank canvas, so to speak. How shocking that was. The bottom of the closet was absolutely disgusting. Like the entire Coachella festival field had been raving in the bottom of my wardrobe without my knowledge and left all their trash behind when they left. Dust, sand, a couple of dead spiders, multiple hair elastics, bobby pins, the butt of a cigarette (gross), loose change, an un-wrapped throat lozenge, several receipts, and a lot more dust. I think because I have spent years cramming stuff in there and forgetting about it, I forgot that I might actually need to clean inside, too.
Yuck! (Photo: Sophie Forbes)
5. My tastes have not really changed in the past 10 years.
The items I own the most of, and the ones hardest to throw away, are the things I wear most often. Jeans, t-shirts, and anything black. In fact, from when I was in college until now (about 10 years), my taste in clothing has not changed that much. There was not one item of lace, floral, or bright patterns as I tore everything out and sorted through it. I appear, completely by accident, to have steered clear of the trends that flow in and out of fashion each year. Maybe that makes me boring. Maybe I need to be a little braver with my fashion choices. Or at least expand my color palate.
6. It is worth investing in really good lightweight hangars.
They take up less space, are better for your clothes, and don’t get all tangled up. As most of you will know, a pile of wire coat hangers is the stuff of nightmares. Plus, they just look neater.
The danger zone! (Photo: Sophie Forbes)
7. A closet cleanse was good for my marriage.
On a 1-10 scale of domestic goddess skills, I’m about a 3.5. Which means that I am rarely praised for how clean and tidy I keep our home. Usually, it’s quite the opposite. So when the husband woke up this morning and his first words were “I love this room now,” I wanted to squeal. However, that praise was shortly followed by, “I wasn’t going to say anything, but your clutter was really starting to annoy me.” Then he thanked me and went to work. Talk about putting a pin in my giant balloon of excitement and pride.
I had no idea that my stuff was irritating him, but he was too kind to ever nag me about it. I realized really quickly that he had been putting up with my disaster of a closet situation for a long time and that this cleanse will likely make him feel happier and more comfortable in our home. I understand that a marriage is about compromise and all that, and even though he never said anything, he (hopefully) won’t now harbor any resentment towards me for the chaos I have essentially forced him to live with for the past four years. I might even have the space for him to move back into the bedroom closet! Maybe.
8. A closet cleanse is like therapy.
Putting the actual stress of the process aside, I found the whole cleansing ritual very therapeutic. The joy of finally being able to see and appreciate the things I own, and ridding my life of the things no longer needed, was enhanced by an overwhelming sense of personal insight and even growth. It took me on a journey through my past, present, and future, and more importantly, made me really think about what got me to the place where I was physically overflowing with stuff. I pondered: Is my closet representative of how I treat things in other areas of my life? Am I an emotional hoarder who buys things or keeps them to make me happy? Do I struggle letting go of the past? To all of the above, yes. But isn’t there a bit of that in all of us?
The first time my closet doors have shut since we moved in! (Photo: Sophie Forbes)
While I am not making any promises that the packages at the door will stop completely (sorry babe), this process has made me more conscious of what I bring into my home. And not just into my closet. I made a promise to myself to always ask these questions when making a purchase: Is this something I really need? Will I still have this in six months time? A year? Will this go to waste? Is it healthy for me? Can I live without it?
And while I am happy that I now have more room and less clutter in my life, and I’m choosing to rid myself of the guilt I feel at letting things get this bad, there is still a long way to go.
But it’s a start.
Also from Yahoo Makers:
- 11 Ways to Take the Fear Out of Decorating with Patterns
- 14 How-To Tips that Will Take Your Room to the Next Level
- 2 Million Swedes Helped Design This ‘Ideal’ Home: Would You Live in It?