I think we can all agree that cleaning is a wonderful form of procrastination when one is working on a creative writing project. At some points, like this one for me, cleaning is actually a necessary part of my creative writing process. When I go to my closet (which is the closet in my son Jett’s room as well as a the folding table and top of the drying in the laundry room) and I can’t see half my clothes or can’t fit half my clothes into it…it makes me feel like a can’t breathe right. Okay, so maybe I’m sounding a bit dramatic, but sometimes messy-ness and disorganization truly become creative blockers for me.
The hubby took the week off for vacation. For various reasons, we opted for a stay-cation, and more specifically, a clean-cation. Yes, he too was partaking in a major closet cleanout – as well as finishing to build the back fence and fix the shed in the yard. Yes. It’s a lot. But, these things need to happen. These things need completion. (Like my novel…and my poetry manuscript…can you see a pattern here?!)
In any case, I set out to clean out and purge my clothing, my jewelry and the mess of underthings that were shoved in my underwear drawer. Please, let me indulge you with what I found – both literally and figuratively. (PS. The hubby managed to clean out his jazz in one day. And, build himself a closet organization system. High-fives to him.)
NOSTALGIA BE STRONG
I keep clothing because it carries history. If I do something special in a piece of clothing, I feel the need to keep it. Example: the first triathlon I did, I wore a tank top that I wrote ‘this one’s for my mom’ on. I wore it with pride, and I cried when I crossed the finish line and my twice-survived-cancer mother was waiting there with open arms for me. I haven’t worn the tank top since.
Before kids, I was all about film festivals. I traveled to Toronto and New York to attend film festivals, and I bought t-shirts to help me remember the events. Yes, I was star-gazing (okay, hunting)…for Mr. Cruise and the like, and although I never found him, I did see and meet other famous folks (including Kristen Stewart, who I told did an excellent job in the film that premiered with her in it. This was pre-vampire films, by the way. She smiled and said thanks, awkwardly. And I saw Liev Schriber at each festival and out in about in the city that he started doing double takes at me!) who made me feel all giddy and warm inside. The t-shirts – they held this all together for me.
Yes, I still have my wedding dress. Even after a major flood we had…I kept the wedding dress. When Miller gets married, if she wants it she can have it. She can wear it as is or she can Pretty-In-Pink it. Doesn’t matter to me, but I’m saving it for her.
There’s something attached to each piece of clothing…like waiting lines of prose for my memoir. I remember when I bought the clothes, even the ones from Costco on a whim, and when I see it in my closet or drawer, I’m taken back in time, if only for a moment. Even when that moment exemplifies an unhealthy impulse buy, I still savour the moment.
THE SKINNY JEANS
One pair. Size 8. Purchased from Joe Fresh just after I finished losing 20 pounds after Miller was born (thank you Weight Watchers). Miller will be seven in September. Seven years to save a pair of pants? I PUT THEM IN THE GIVE AWAY BAG.
Look, I have to accept and love my body. I’m 37 years old. This is my body for now. I’m a size 10 on a ‘skinny-just-post-my-period’ day, and my pant size needs to reflect that. Otherwise, I’m letting the demon in my head win.
Have you ever worn too-tight pants and tried to write? It’s just not a good idea. It hurts. The button and zipper digging into my guts. My butt crack hanging out. Forget that. Bye-bye skinny jeans. I’m choosing comfort and present-weight confidence.
Lingerie. Who knew I had heaps of sexy lingerie? Hot pink and sexy red negligees. Well golly miss molly! I found them all! Made me giggle to remember when I’d purchased them and wore them. So there’s that.
Old bras (with the under wires missing or a band-aid wrapped around a pokey part. For real.). Unopened packages of nylons (do you say panty-hose?). Bars of soap (for their smell!). Mostly, I found these things in my underwear drawer! No wonder I could barely close it! I found a knotted mess of patterned tights that didn’t fit right in the crotch and made my girl sweat like a furnace was on it. Wasn’t difficult to get rid of these. Oh, and scarves. So. Many. Scarves. Typically my motto for scarves is like my motto for books: a girl can never have too many! However, this was a serious purge, so I went through them all and only kept the ones I wore in the last two seasons.
I buy things in twos. Pants mostly. Two pairs of the same pants at a time. What? Yeah, that’ll stop now. Also, speaking of pants, mama has a thing for black pants. But for jeans and cords, every pair of pants I own is black!
Exercise clothing. Apparently in order for me to feel like I’m into it – I need to have 7,000 tights and bras and t-shirts. The problem is that most of them don’t fit right. Around the belly. I say, is there anything worse than working out in a pair of tights that the waist keeps rolling under your belly rolls? Grr. It’s mui annoying! So long tights that bring attention to my stomach rolls when I’m exercising!
I had way too many pairs of socks. Socks so old with age the soles were matted. I said thank you and goodbye.
THE HIGH SCHOOL CLOTHES
Sigh. Of everything, these were the hardest to let go. I had a pair of jeans that I purchased in my last year of high school. I bought them second hand (!) so they were already aged and storied. I loved them sooo much. Wore them so much the crotch was about eight different kinds of jeans from my grandmother covering the rips and tears (thank you thighs that rub together) with old pieces of jean material. I just, I wore them until last year. I squeezed into them. Forced them on myself to prove that I could still do it – do what? Be in high school? I think, yes, partly to answer that question.
Here’s the thing, when I’m stressed out I have recurring nightmares about being back in high school. I’m late for a class or I can’t find the gym or a paper is due but I didn’t know and so it’s not done. The stress is real. So are the memories. I dream in full-colour and surround sound – but even more – I can smell the sweaty hallways and I can taste the soft-batter cookies. High school was an important and amazing time in my life. I go back that often. If only in my nightmares. But also, because I did a lot of becoming the best parts of me in high school. I want to hold onto the jeans like I want to hold onto the feeling of being in high school. The truth though is that no matter how much my brain may still very much feel in high school, my body is no longer there. Like, at all.
I folded the high school jeans up and put them in the give-away bag. (#gah)
There was one other item of clothing that I’d kept since high school. A pair of vintage cordouroy shorts. I wore these hiking and portaging – making some of the best life-long memories. But I can’t fit into these either. And so, I hugged them and thanked them, and put them into the give-away bag as well.
When it comes to my writing life, I haven’t quite had re-visited my high school years. Perhaps a memory or two will find its way into a line of poetry, but I haven’t really written about this part of my life. I think because I’m still hanging so tightly to it. I still feel like my soul is mostly high school material. I don’t know. Maybe now that the jeans and shorts are gone I’ll be able to write more about that time in my life.
Sigh. Plastic hangers are not the best things to hang your clothes on, but for now, it’s what I’ve got. I went through them and got rid of the ones that were stretched (yes, this can happen. They get saggy in the middle…kind of like my body.), and the ones that had longer necks, if that’s how I can explain them. I didn’t colour-coordinate them or anything, but I kept the ones that were in good shape. I did buy some new pant hangers and skirt hangers. One of the new pant hangers completely broke before I even used it. GRR. But the other one worked, and in the end, I had enough hangers to hang all the clothes I wanted to hang.
(NOT CALIFORNIA) CLOSETS
Closet space in our ranch is limited. As I mentioned, my clothes are in Jett’s room. The hubby’s clothes are in our room. Miller’s closet is just an extra room for her art supplies and her shoes. There are metal rods hanging in the laundry room for coats, excess clothing, etc.. The closets are thin and high. Thanks to the handy hubby, he built me some shelves and new hanging rods, and now I can fit everything in the closet and/or the dresser in our room (which he graciously emptied of his stuff so I could use the whole thing! What a love!). No longer are there over-flowing laundry baskets at the side of our beds.
The overflow – we went through it, organized it, purged it and now there is space for everything we wear. Not what we’re dreaming of wearing, but what we actually wear. It’s pretty cool.
AND HOW DOES THIS AFFECT MY WRITING AGAIN?
My ability to focus has shifted since the purge. I mean it. I breathe a little better. I don’t get chest tightening when I see laundry that needs to be done or put away. There’s a place for everything! I can see all the clothes I wear, still feel connected to their purchase origins, and be grateful for their on-going histories. I’ve let go and this has made me feel more present.
If I’m feeling more present, lighter in my chest and breathing then my writing and creative self and output is greater.
Also, that demon in my head that calls me fat, well, she’s been much quieter since the purge. And that’s really satisfying.
I often write about cleaning out my office and how that makes a huge difference in my writing life. That’s still something I agree with. You know what? I also cleaned out my office this week. It was easy and productive, and I’ve been working in it and feeling good.
Maybe this is common sense for some. If I think about it, I bet I’d already know this too – that purging and cleaning is a good thing – but sometimes, when I get wrapped up, when I get busy and rushed, and the clothes start to pile up, it’s usually a reflection of my proverbial ‘plate’. It is probably piled up and messy too. So stopping to clean and sift and let go is necessary in all parts of my life. It’s partly procrastination, but also partly necessary. It’s also an important reminder to be grateful for closets at all. To be grateful for the reality of being able to give things I don’t want or need away.
As a writer, a gift I have to give myself and others is that the words will always be here to help share the memories and histories of all that gets let go.