Decluttering My Clothes and My Self-Image

I am in a tidying frenzy! It all started with that “40 bags in 40 days” challenge. And then my friend Edie pointed me toward an amazing book, Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Now that I'm almost done with the project, I want to share some of the things I’ve learned . . . starting with sorting through clothes. It's amazing what insight came from pulling every single item of clothing I owned out of my closet, touching each one, and discarding those that didn’t give me a feeling of joy.

Kondo Clothes and Self Image

Clothes tell you a lot about how you feel about yourself. Their complex importance is recognized from the very beginning of the bible, when Adam and Eve put on fig leaves out of shame. Levites have special garments “for glory and for beauty,” kings and virgins wear particular clothes to denote their status, and at one point, healing power comes out of Jesus via his robe.

My own clothing’s tale is more mundane, but maybe more common too: sorting and discarding clothes made me reflect on my troubled relationship with my body and with men. As I held each garment, I remembered moments: the dress I hoped would win back the attention of a disengaged husband (it didn’t), the too-tight running shirt that prompted an inquiry about whether I was pregnant (I wasn’t), the drab flats and smocks I bought when I just wanted to hide my tall, rounded female body and slide ghost-like through the world. Kondo says you’re talking to yourself through your possessions when you tidy, and it was uncomfortable and a little sad to hear what three particular types of clothes had to say.

 Clothes to Please a Man

Maybe these clothes didn’t feel so inappropriate when I bought them, but now, when I put them on, they arouse an uncomfortable feeling. It might be just a nagging “is this skirt too short” question that quickly goes away, or it might be a full-out, neon animal print, “what on earth was I thinking?” eye roll. Those outfits may or may not have lit up whatever man I was involved with, but the important thing is what they didn’t do for me: they didn’t make me feel sensual, open, happy, or loving. Out they go.

Clothes to Manage Curves

I have a whole other category of clothes that are what my sister calls “low self-esteem clothes.” These are the big, long, bulky sweaters, the bland, baggy dresses, the swimsuits with cruelly-tight “shape me up” spandex. Although my intention in buying these clothes was to look better, putting them on actually made me super-conscious of every extra pound. Getting rid of them means my closet, dresser, and bedroom are no longer torture chambers or nun’s cells.

Too Big or Too Small

I’m 5’9 and have struggled with my weight for the past twenty years. Even when I was what most people would consider thin, I dieted and binged. Consequently, I own clothes in a range of sizes from 8 to plus. When I followed Kondo’s instructions and picked up every item of clothing to see if I loved it, most of the too-big and too-small clothing gave me a horrible vibe. Not only because I knew they wouldn’t fit right or look good, but in many cases, because, ouch, they were ridiculously out of style. Ditching pleated pants that, even if they did fit again at some point, would be fashion disasters, felt liberating. Goodbye, 1995!

What’s Left?closet

After pitching or donating everything that I didn’t love, what remained? As Kondo predicts, exactly the right number of outfits. I can open and close my drawers and see everything in them (she has a fantastic method of folding and organizing drawers). My closet is no longer stuffed, but has clothes hanging neatly with space between them and extra hangers available. A miracle!

Best of all, when I get dressed, I like everything I pull out to wear. Everything fits. Everything feels like the best version of “me” rather than an ashamed fat woman, a neglected wife, or a “sexy and I know it” 90s hottie. Instead of that little stab of shame or worry in front of the mirror, I get a boost every day when I get dressed.

 What I Learned So Far

The interesting thing is that, until I had all my clothes out, I had no idea what bad messages they were shooting my way—whether from the bag labeled “try on when under 1XX lbs,” buried deep in the basement, or from the mirror as I twisted and turned in front of it, wondering if people would think that dress was too trashy, too frumpy, or just right. The negative voices were more like subliminal whispers, and I sure am glad to quiet them down.

I don’t despise the woman who bought and wore these clothes; instead, the sorting process gave me compassion for my younger, more insecure self. Self-understanding and self-compassion . . . pretty good fruits for the price of a few hours of work and a big box of garbage bags.

[bctt tweet=”Decluttering made me feel better about my body and myself.”]What about you? Got some baggage to shed? Comment by May 4th, and you’ll be entered into a drawing for an e-copy of Kondo’s book. And stay tuned for my next blog, when I describe what I learned from purging my bookshelves!

And if you're interested in clothes and self-image in fiction, check out my Christian romance novel, Her Reunion Bond. The plus-sized heroine shops for a swimsuit . . . with her mother . . . and learns she's actually a knockout!Her Reunion Bond by Lee Tobin McClain (Sacred Bond Series)

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