closet drama (n.): A 19th century verse-drama intended to be read rather than staged, the “dreariest of literature.”1
When you part with something, don’t sigh and say, “Oh, I never used this,” or “Sorry I never got around to using you.” Instead, send it off joyfully with words like, “Thank you for finding me,” or “Have a good journey. See you again soon!”
Get rid of those things that no longer spark joy.
— Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
In the senior class poll, I was voted Most Likely to Get Dressed in Under Five Minutes. Most days this was true. But sometimes I would have a fashion meltdown, trying on everything in my closet and ending up with something so bad I wouldn’t be allowed to leave the house in it. Oh, yes, there’s this: My mother had been a children’s fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar. When my siblings and I were younger, she loved to take us shopping for holiday and school outfits. It was the most fun I ever had with her: a morning of excitement and promise, the trip in the car, the shopping, lunch at a fantastic cafeteria-style restaurant. But figuring out what to wear to satisfy my school’s strict dress code and my stylish mom’s none too subtle hints—not so much. Our fanciest clothes were worn on holidays, and with Jewish and Protestant grandparents, that meant twice the opportunity for me to frock up. Many a Christmas Eve, my sister and I would enjoy simultaneous fashion implosions, speed dressing and undressing in front of the mirror, glancing worriedly at each other as if we were in some kind of bizarre reality television competition.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll always hear faint strains of the Jaws theme when I approach my closet. Not that I’m a fashion disaster. My look is middle-aged woman who dresses like a college student: backpack, colorful reading glasses that I fear say “sassy grandma,” grayish-black skinny jeans, striped crewneck shirts from Armor Lux, a jean jacket and black Vans. I have fun with clothes from time to time and then, maybe once every few months, I’m sucked into a half-hour shame spiral of pants shimmying and dress wriggling before resigning myself to put on the same thing I always do. That could explain why I have relatively few clothes. But it would also imply I’m indifferent to clothes and immune to the trance of late-night internet shopping. The secret of my minimalist closet is constant donation, consignment and sale of clothes on eBay. I buy and I purge, and then I begin the cycle all over again.
In her breakout best-seller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Marie Kondo recommends rolling your socks and setting them upright in the drawer. She also recommends thanking them for their hard work and wishing them a good rest, chastising readers who force one sock inside the other. She’s even formed an advocacy nonprofit, People for the Ethical Treatment of Socks (PETS).2 More to the point, she claims that de-cluttering has led clients to greater peace and radically transformed their lives. In Kondo-vision, hoarding comes from anxious attachment to what’s no longer needed. Post-purge, the closet no longer elicits guilt, fear and shame. What one feels—for organics, synthetics and blends alike—is a glow of un-ambivalent love. It’s socks as pet rocks, equal parts pleasantly regressive and back-away-smiling creepy.
But wait: If the ability to jettison denotes some kind of spiritual attainment, I should be a high priestess. I get so excited emptying drawers that my pupils dilate and I start to tremble. I love taking stuff to Goodwill. If this is nonattachment in practice, why does the Big Dump feel an awful lot like the drug high from late-night internet shopping that happens on the other end of my fashion life cycle?
When trolling Polyvore or Shopstyle late at night, if I can’t snap out of it, abandon my carts to go to bed, I end up clicking CONFIRM PURCHASE. A few days later I’m picking up packages at a nearby mailbox place, trying on the clothes at home—and immediately sending them all back. I’m bulimic for online shopping. I get a consumption high, but without the full closet.
The people at the mailbox place pretend not to notice. But last year, a holiday temp winked and made jokes about me to her colleagues. I did the only thing I could think of to save my dignity—I implied I was a drug dealer. Since this is probably not why I was receiving boxes from Patagonia or Net-a-Porter, her drollery persisted. I resorted to the “purloined letter” approach and told her sort of jokingly that I was a shopaholic. I hoped she’d think no true shopaholic would say this aloud and therefore maybe I just reviewed clothing for a fashion website or something.
It’s now so obvious that my closet drama is all about trying to please my beautiful, unattainable, perfectly stylish mother. Being voted class slob was my form of perfection, a sullen triumph of “who needs you anyway?” How much simpler it would have been if for the rest of my life I could have lived in that feeling. I’m glad I couldn’t. Every time I order something online I hope I’ll get it right, but I never do. I’ve called myself a shopaholic, a consumerist fool, and a hidden rich neurotic. I tell myself that at least I’ve been trying to reach someone. It’s been, among other things, a kind of love.
There has to be a better way. I could try anthropomorphizing my wardrobe, like Marie Kondo. Maybe I’ll take it up a notch and start naming my clothes. It might be harder to toss a winter hat if I named it “Señor Pom-Pom.” I’ll use Pee Wee’s Playhouse as my model and start calling my black T-shirt “Shirty.” But do I have to call my other seven black T-shirts “Shirty 2” “Shirty 3” and so on? Are pants one sentience or two? Perhaps it’s all covered in the sequel, Holy Shit, It’s Winter and I Don’t Have a Sweater: The Nordic Art of Borrowing.
1 Robertson Davies, A Voice from the Attic
2 Okay, not really.