Closet Purge: A New Holiday Tradition?
How was your Christmas day? My December 25th—and the weeks leading up to it—was a harmonious combination of the warm and familiar, and the adventuresome new. On the side of tradition, I got to play the 1951 made-for-TV opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, a production I watched every year as a child and whose music was woven into my birth family’s culture. For the 17th time, I played Handel’s Messiah with an all-volunteer orchestra and chorus, about 20 of whose members have participated in this inspiring collaboration as long as I have. My partner, Phillip, and I exchanged gifts yesterday morning, definitely a tried-and-true tradition.
On the side of firsts, we spent the afternoon with friends, enjoying sparkling, fresh powder on a leisurely snowshoeing excursion to the Uinta Mountains. Also new to me: On Christmas Eve day, I became a woman possessed with a project that was long overdue: a merciless closet purge.
I’ll admit to liking clothing. It’s really my only vice these days. Once I began to go deep in Yoga and meditation, I lost my taste for mind-altering substances. I gave up meat in 1978 and haven’t looked back. (It helps if you don’t much care for it to begin with.) But piece by piece, over time my living space gets cluttered with clothing, much of which I’ve not worn in years. My closets and dresser drawers become a jumble that I dread negotiating. That’s when I know it’s time to practice the fifth Yama, aparigraha (non-attachment).
The Weight of Too Much
Years ago I read an enlightening little book, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui. In it, author Karen Kingston writes about the weight that clutter adds to our lives, and how the little irritations that we register when we walk past some broken item that we’ve put off repairing, a cluttered corner that needs diving into, or a jam-packed closet that we dread having to negotiate, drains our energy. Every time we encounter these little drains in our living space, consciously or unconsciously we shrink a little.
Having lived with an inefficient, poorly planned and built, impossible-to-clean kitchen for two decades, I remember well how every time I walked into the kitchen my body/mind felt a little diminished and overwhelmed at the magnitude of the project I knew lay ahead whenever I could collect the funds and invite the disruption of a kitchen gutting into my life. Now, on the other side of a freshly and beautifully remodeled kitchen, the contrast is striking. Every time I walk into my kitchen now, I feel happy, grateful and uplifted.
Even though I’ve not bought clothing in quite some time—expensive kitchen remodels will change your buying habits pretty quickly—my closets had long been a source of irritation. They were stuffed to the bursting point. There was no such thing as pulling out a single item. Pulling out one hanger almost always meant that one or two others would come along. And here’s the worst part: I had to iron things because wrinkles were pressed into every item.
So on Christmas Eve day, I started a purge. One thing led to another and I attacked the dresser drawers too. The resulting purged piles are an embarrassment of excess (see above photo). It’s hard to believe all that stuff actually fit into my closets and drawers. (Well, it didn’t, really.) Letting go of things feels great, arguably better than acquiring the stuff in the first place. Isn’t that what aparigraha is about?
Years ago Sogyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, spoke in Salt Lake City. The whole talk was inspiring and thought-provoking, but the thing he said that most stayed with me was this: “Freedom doesn’t come from acquisition. It comes from letting go.” This concept has borne itself out in my life in a thousand different ways, in letting go of material things as well as mental/emotional habits and beliefs.
I literally feel lighter after culling my closets. But my favorite part of a closet purge is yet to come: inviting friends over to cull the piles, and then later seeing them wearing things I’d long forgotten.
Now when I look at my closets I breathe a sigh of relief. In the season all too often associated with acquisition, perhaps whittling down my possessions will become a new tradition.
What are your favorite personal holiday traditions?