Life Notes: Closet Capers
The seasonal dilemmas of cleaning and sorting

When I can no longer possibly postpone it, when the October winds get frisky, not just friendly, I face the music. I begin the ritual that is known at our house as “The Changing of the Closets.”

At your house, perhaps, that’s a simple matter, handled neatly in an hour or two. At ours – a disorganized place with at least one disorganized owner of the female persuasion – it’s a highly complex maneuver that can spill over from hours into days and weeks. The Changing of the Closets operates on the domino theory: everything topples when one thing does.

Although we are the parents of three adults with families of their own, they somehow never fully moved out of their rooms or gathered all their earthly belongings under their own roofs. So we have an endless battle with storage availability. In every conceivable spot where empty nesters should have the luxury of wide open spaces, we have – well, stuff.

Jill’s entire collection of college clothes. Amy’s camp wardrobe through the 1980s. And because Nancy and her husband have notoriously poor organizing skills, the spillovers from not only her wardrobe, but his, too.

So the game begins: Whose stuff do I displace, and how do I do it? Which daughter’s worldly goods are unceremoniously moved to the attic crawl space, the basement or the garage? No small matter, and one that requires exquisite tact and diplomacy.

But once that problem is solved, the big one remains: how will I ever decide what stays and what goes in my own wardrobe? I get attached to things, foolish things. I hold on to pants that fit me in 1998 because I spent lots of money on them way back then and I keep hoping that once I find the right diet for my metabolism, they will zip again.

For me, clothes are more than inanimate objects that cover me. They have personalities and pasts, and I cannot seem to accept a statute of limitations on old sweaters and shirts and jackets like other, more practical people do. I never throw out coats because each has a place in my personal history. And you never know when the old camel hair that was in style when Rosalynn Carter was first lady will return to its exalted place in the fashion world.

So as my husband nimbly moves out the summer clothes and moves in the fall suits and shirts, I stand paralyzed by the bedroom closet. I promise myself to be ruthless, but I succumb, each time, to nostalgia: The green dress I wore when Nancy was in the college play…stays. Ditto for the shoes with the funny heels that took me to Jill’s law school graduation, and the ridiculous hat I bought when I was convinced it would clearly establish my verve and panache. My husband logically observes that I am intensifying the storage crisis that threatens to overcome us.

I point out that not all decisions in life have to have a rational core. So no, we are not destined to murmur sweet nothings to one another at the Changing of the Closets time. We may, in fact, end up hissing and snarling and wondering why we ever decided to share life – and closets – anyway.

Once the job is done – once the last item has found its seasonal home and the last heap of clothing has disappeared from the bedroom floor – we have no consolation. Because by the time we’re really, truly finished, it’s time, of course, for the next Changing of the Closets.

October 2013
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