“He who possesses most must be most afraid of loss.”
— Leonardo da Vinci (today’s Moment of Happiness from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project)
A couple of days ago during a conversation about de-cluttering, it came out that my husband feels very anxious about getting rid of things.
“But what if we need them?” he asked.
This particular part of the conversation was about his large collection of t-shirts and polo shirts.
Over the years, he’s received dozens of hand-me-down shirts from his dad and his brothers and as freebies from vendors. While he might not have needed the polo shirts for the past several years, now that he’s working at a place with a dress code that doesn’t allow t-shirts, am I not glad (he asked) that we kept seven years worth of polo shirts?
I pointed out that because his brothers are a bit bigger than my husband is, the polos they pass along to him are often ill-fitting across the chest and the seams hang down sloppily at the shoulders. So while I’m glad I didn’t have to wrestle him into a clothing store amid all the moving falderal, I would just as soon spend the money for him to get a few polo shirts that actually fit him and have him look sharp at his new job.
My husband looked skeptical. This is the man who would have worn his suit from high school to his job interviews had I not pointed out convincingly that his suit was not only outdated, but it was also tailored for a 210-pound high school football player, not a 170-pound bike-commuting scientist.
He reluctantly conceded the polo shirts point. He was not, however, ready to give up the fight.
“What if I get rid of all of my t-shirts then change jobs to a place that lets you wear t-shirts?”
“Honey,” I said as gently as I could, “your t-shirts are crap.”
Most of them are quite worn and the rest have logos and/or rather unprofessional (read, “beer-related”) messages on them that would make them inappropriate for most workplaces hiring PhD-level biologists.
I felt frustrated with my husband, as I do every time he disappears for half a day to de-clutter his closet and then comes downstairs proudly with a tank top, a pair of knee-length white jean shorts, and a threadbare t-shirt that declares, “I bench-pressed your mom.”
But I have to admit, I feel a similar anxiety when I go to get rid of things.
What if I need these clothes the kids have out-grown? That urologist might have been a quack, and I could end up with a surprise third child.
And yes, we’ve never once had a need for all 23 mismatched wine glasses in our cupboard, but what if we had a large dinner party? Sure, we don’t have a table large enough to accommodate that many people, and if we did, I’d want matching glasses, but still…what if?
Back during an extended period of unemployment after I graduated college, I watched a lot of daytime television. I caught Suze Orman on Oprah one day. She talked about making room for abundance. She said we should all clear all non-money items out of our wallets and organize the cash by denomination. This, she explained, would leave space for more money when it came in, which would help us to bring in more money.
It seemed unlikely that organizing my wallet would have that effect, but that didn’t stop me from trying it. At the very least it made it easier to find the right amount of money when I went to buy cigarettes at the gas station (yes, this was a very different time in my life. It was also before I knew what hydrogenated oils or gluten were). And it wasn’t long after that I found a couple of minimum-wage jobs that helped convince me to move out of my mom’s house and leave Ohio, so perhaps there was some magic to it after all.
This is kind of how I look at de-cluttering my house. No matter how organized, if my closets and basement and garage are full of things I don’t love, don’t want, and don’t use, how can I have room in my life for the things I do love and want and use? And what if there are things I love mixed in there? How would I ever know unless I sifted through and got rid of the extra stuff?
In a way, following my Happiness Project this past year has been an exercise in de-cluttering not only my physical space, but also my internal space. I’ve come a long way, but I still have more I want to do.
Does the idea of de-cluttering set your knees to knocking, or are you a fearless foe of all types of clutter?
3 Replies to “An Embarrassment of Polo Shirts”
What about the stuff that you loved when you got it, but don’t love anymore? It took me time to admit I had a lot of things I had outgrown, or no longer wanted/needed because I had changed from the person I was when the items were acquired. I think the things that used to mean something (but don’t anymore except for ‘I used to be…’) are the hardest to let go of.
I agree, Lea. It’s hard to let go of the person I was by letting go of her possessions. During the move I finally got rid of a bunch of stuff from my days at the drug company where I used to work (I quit 8 years ago), including the “business attire” I’d liked so well at the time. I think I still have my homecoming dress from 1992, though. I’ve been afraid to look because I know if I see it, I’ll need to get rid of it.
De-cluttering sets my knees to knocking, honestly, but it feels so good afterwards! I feel the same way about exercise sometimes. I wake up and I don’t want to do it but I know that afterwards I usually feel great.