Monday, January 25, 2010

Cleaning Closets

I’ve finally figured out why chic Urbanites wear basic black.

It’s not just because they’re Too Cool…it’s because their closets are so small.

There’s no room for color. Or frills. Or fads. Or any of those little nouveau-bohemian type numbers I’ve been stocking up on at Anthropologie for the last 10 years. (Yes, I discovered it long before my kids did. Granny’s Too Cool, too.)

When you’ve got 12 inches of closet space, you have to exercise the K.I.S.S. principle. (Keep it simple, stupid.)

I’m really stupid.

So now, even though the bulk of my wardrobe rests, unworn, on the East coast, I am still facing the dilemma of drastic down-sizing as I move from modern apartment to Munchkin-sized cottage.

In fact, it actually could have been inhabited by Munchkins at one time. We’re moving from Westwood to Culver City, a part of L.A. where much of The Wizard of Oz was filmed in the 1930’s. Our new digs are just a block from the main drag, and were erected in the ‘20’s…so it’s entirely possible. Thinking that might have been the case gives it an aura of the exotic, and makes the 12-inch closet more acceptable. It would have been completely adequate for a Munchkin of the 1930’s. During the Depression, no one had that many clothes, anyway.

We have too much of everything now.

(Background info for those who missed this part: While Katherine was still at Casa Colina, the rehab hospital in Pomona, a little house they’d visited frequently came up on the market. We helped them get a loan to purchase it. A rental property that had been occupied by various members of their Sunday School class at Bel-Air Pres, it has two tiny structures in the back yard. One of these is to be my Granny Shack. Or I may christen it the Love Shack. The renters are finally moving out this week, and we’re moving in.)

I made my way through the flooded streets of LA to measure. My new bedroom turns out to be just over 9 x 11. My husband probably won’t be able to fit into the bathroom. So, please just imagine the closet. And it doesn’t have a door, so I’ll have to stare at the mess from the bed. If the bed will even fit.

The hail crashing on the windshield all the way back to Westwood was a fitting accompaniment to Mimi’s mood. Wagner was playing in my head. At least I had the roads pretty much to myself. Californians can’t drive in weather. Half of them just pulled over to the side of the road, politely allowing this native East Coaster to zip right past them. We’re used to rain. All of my wrecks have been in rain.

Anyway, returning to the warmth of the apartment I’m beginning to really appreciate, I fix some tea and stand in the walk-in closet, surveying the challenge. How did I let myself get into this predicament again?

I have to confess that I am prone to getting into a little (a lot of) retail therapy every now and then. One of my spiritual mentors, a unique old bird who would occasionally show up at church wearing metallic gold sneakers, once told me, “Don’t we girls just always like something new?” Is that it? The novelty of something new? Then we get it home from the store, try it on in regular lighting, and go “What was I thinking?”

Getting dressed is much more complicated these days. Stores are unfriendly. It used to be so simple…as a teenager, I’d walk into Heery’s Clothes Closet and helpful salesladies or the cool college girls who worked there would bring you the Villager skirt, blouse, and sweater that all WENT TOGETHER. And a pair of Pappagallo shoes to match. It was a no-brainer.

Now, it’s like rocket science. This kind of top can’t be tucked in. This kind has to be tucked in. These jeans show the benefits of age spilling out over the top. Those make the rear view look as wide as Nebraska. The shirt’s supposed to hang out under the jacket. Leggings? At my age?

I can stand in the closet for half an hour just trying to figure out what works. What will most effectively hide the flaws?

And so, in the quest for self-acceptance, the accumulation continues. (These jeans would work if I could just find a top long enough to cover the derriere…)

The irony is that, with clothes crammed in so tight I can hardly see, I end up just wearing the same thing day after day. When you find something that works, you stick with it. I’ve been known to pick it up off the floor and put it back on in the morning. That way, you don’t even have to expend the energy of hanging it up.

Okay, I’ve stalled long enough. It’s time to face the beast. It’s time to admit that, no, Kim, it’s not likely that will ever fit again. Quit saving it until you 'lose some weight.' That one looks like something your daughter would wear. Give it up. Put it in the bag.

It’s not like you’re lighting a match to it. You’re just sharing…giving someone else a chance to enjoy it.

Repeat: Less is more. Less is more.

Let go.

As I contemplate the effects of my conspicuous consumption, I remember a precious little book I read long ago called My Heart, Christ’s Home. It spoke of a man receiving Christ as a visitor. He was just fine with allowing him in the front parlor, but when Jesus suggested a tour upstairs, the man balked. When Jesus started to open the door to the closet, he freaked. I would, too.

I wonder what clutter lurks in the closets of my heart. Are there still tight belts of unforgiveness? Designer bags full of unfulfilled needs? Elaborate costumes designed to cloak insecurities? Shoes dirty from going places I shouldn’t go?

Dear Lord, please help me clean out all my closets. Forgive me for holding on to things I need to let go of. Enable me to embrace the freedom of simplicity.

Clothe me in yourself.



Does anyone else share these struggles? If so, I'd love to hear from you.


  1. Having inhabited several smallish homes of the vintage variety (read: no closet space) I have some tips.

    1. If the closet does not already have an opening that exposes the entire interior, all the way to the ceiling, hire a carpenter and have the opening enlarged. Then install bifold doors. They take up a smaller footprint in the bedroom and if you can easily reach/see everything in your closet it helps.

    2. Get modular shelving from Home Depot/Lowe's/Target wherever. The shorter shelves are better because if you stack folded shirts or sweaters more than three deep they get all jumbled. But I have learned that you can get a lot more in a closet with lots of shelves than lots of hangers. Only leave the hanging space that is essential for dresses and dress slacks. Fold everything else: sweaters, jeans, shirts, scarves.

    3. Get a highboy dresser. Small footprint, lots of drawers.

    4. If there is anywhere besides the bathroom that you can steal a corner for a girlie dressing table, do it. Keep everything you need to get ready there. The only thing you need in the bathroom is shampoo, soap, and a razor. You'll have more space and the dear hubby might have a prayer of getting into the bathroom.

    5. Find a smallish vintage armoir that you can slap a coat of white paint on, put it in the hallway, and keep linens and towels there.

    Good luck! It's kind of fun to have a place with only what you need. Start with empty and put in exactly and only what you use all the time.

  2. Hi Kim,

    Love the post... ;)
    Having moved from our tiny Mar Vista house (next to Culver City), to Northern California, you would THINK that I would have more space...
    But, no - our new kitchen is TINY - and the house is configured differently.
    So, I haven't even unpacked about 40% of what we had in our old house.
    We are now 5 months in... I'm guessing that when we move into our bought home (hopefully soon), I will simply donate the unopened boxes...
    We're using the basics and there is something "freeing" about not having so much STUFF!

    Good luck with the move :)


  3. I've been contemplating a big move of my own, so I do understand how difficult moving is, especially in this city. I will, most likely, be moving into something smaller and for a while I struggled with wrapping my mind around paring down my belongings--and I honestly don't have that much stuff, especially compared to some people. Because I am also intensely interested in seeing the world (it's like a wolf at my door, it just keeps calling me, getting more and more intense), I was reading some different travel blogs and sites regarding cheap travel and non-conformity. This particular site was dedicated to what they referred to as "flash packing", which is literally packing as little as possible, the bare, bare necessities and then picking things up on the way. For instance, on a trip to Thailand, a girl packed two swimsuits, a sarong, necessary toiletries, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, along with her computer. That's freedom.

    The reason I mention it is because you're right: we all have too much stuff. Many other articles that I read focused on the fact that most times, people upgrade their homes to bigger and larger basically just to store their "stuff". They collect books and tokens from travel to prove that they are smart or that they have traveled, instead of just being smart and well traveled. I know that I am guilty of that one and it all suddenly seemed very clear to me--none of this stuff really means anything. I think there is a fine line between having a comfortable, comforting place to rest your head and then too much, which is something that I'm trying to negotiate as best I can. Seems like you are in a similar situation--I totally empathize!

    I think your place sounds very nice and I'm glad that you all are going to be able to be together, yet each have a little privacy. And Culver City really is ideal--I lived there when I first moved to LA and I wish that I had never given my little duplex up because it was truly an ideal living situation!!

  4. When I felt God telling me to move out of Montgomery and to Atlanta, I was faced with having to let go of a lot of things. We're talking things I've had since I was a kid, and I'm 27 now.

    I wound up selling my bedroom suite, which my maternal grandmother passed down to me when she died, and all of the rest of my furniture. I also got rid of about three huge trash bags of clothes.

    When I moved, I had a suitcase of clothes, two big plastic containers, and about three or four little boxes. Enough to fill my little Corolla almost to the point where I could no longer even see Montgomery in my rearview mirror as I sobbed out of fear of the unknown and sadness over leaving behind my entire life to go where God was leading me.

    Currently, I live in what is usually my friend's dining room. I have no closet. All of my clothes are laid across chairs or tables. However, after nearly 3 months, I have finally found the job that is going to get me out on my own and really into my new life here in Atlanta.

    And you know what? I am thinking of getting a small studio apartment. I've kinda grown fond of always being so close to the things that were deemed worthy of making the leap of faith with me.

  5. A room i lived in in college had an open closet like that - my mother and i put a big long nail in the top of the molding and two others on the top corners and bought a long piece of thick fabric (over twice as long as the height of the closet opening). We tied a big loose knot in the middle, secured the knot on the middle nail, then hooked the fabric over the top corner nails, and let it drape over the closet opening, - it was very cute and chic and definitely hid the mess!

  6. My friend passed your blog on to me and she knew it would speak to me. I have been decluttering for a couple of years now. It was a totally new concept to me as my parents keep everything. I totally see the connection between my "letting go" of stuff and the letting go of my mental baggage as well. It has been such a freeing feeling to let go and I have done it slowly over the last 2-3 years. I have young children so going through their stuff has become routine but going through all of my "stuff" as well. Clothes, books, greeting cards, magazines, videos, cds, dvd's, decorative stuff, I was holding on to them but why? The stuff clouds my vision - present and future. I am really moving to more simplicity but I'm still a work in progress. Love the post!



Thank you so much for taking the time to write.

It helps to know we're not alone.