It’s interesting how our perception of size changes depending on our circumstance. In Fairfax, we lived in a two bedroom apartment that was 935 feet. In Ithaca, we live in a three bedroom apartment that is 1,000 feet. Somehow, the apartment in Ithaca feels all the smaller than in Fairfax. Perhaps it’s the layout, perhaps it’s the lack of closet space, perhaps it’s that we have a third person now who needs his own space that we otherwise would have used for storage, perhaps it’s that we are ground level and therefore half our windows are slits like a basement. I’m not entirely sure what it is but we are making it work as best as we can, although simultaneously trying to come up with new and creative ways to store the ever growing pile of items our child needs. And I think of another blogger I follow whose family is the same size as ours and they live in a house less than 800 feet and somehow make it work. I wish I could rummage through her storage to see if everything is neatly placed and how, or if it’s stuffed to the gills. I feel our home has a little bit of both.
Needless to say, when moving here we discovered we had to reconsider how we were going to store everything. The closets in this apartment are much smaller in the bedrooms and all of my clothing combined would not entirely fit into our bedroom closet. Considering I am married, and my husband does have clothing, it’s only fair he has half of the closet but this still leads to issues. How will we be able to store it all?
It wasn’t until I was digging out clothing from the many cardboard boxes and packing bags and cubes, spilling them onto our bed and trying to pull out summer essentials in those early days of living in Ithaca that I realized the sheer amount of clothing I had.
Back in Virginia when I was packing, I would select an armful of clothing and go through it all, picking out clothes I wanted to donate then packing the rest. I came away with three full sized garbage bags of clothing I donated before we moved. Now in Ithaca, as I looked over the heaps of clothing I had, I realized it hadn’t been enough.
I also realized that many of the clothes I owned I simply didn’t care for.
It was an interesting realization, one built on three bases. My job title had changed from editor for a government program, one where I had to wear professional clothing to go into work, but now I was a stay at home mom who did side hustles from the comfort of her home making the professional clothing unnecessary. My body had changed significantly since having a baby; my size was still relatively the same but I wore my weight differently and some clothes simply didn’t work with my structure anymore–they were uncomfortable or didn’t fit in areas. And lastly, most of my wardrobe had been built up to reflect the styles and interests of the workforce around me.
If you visit Washington DC and look beyond the museums and monuments, to the government buildings, you’ll notice something quite consistent: everything is bland and towering structures of concrete. I feel this also represents much of the clothing choices employees of the area represent and I didn’t fully realize it until I stepped away from that culture and spoke to another deflector from DC who reflected how often she wore black to work, something she personally didn’t like.
While the articles of clothing I had for work were certainly nice and stylish (well at least some of them were), they simply weren’t me. When we were dressing up to head out for Ryland to see Santa for the first time, I went through all my work clothing and tossed them aside, settling on a tried and true statement of t-shirt and a red sweater. While I do plan to pick up a more permanent job, which would involve finding interview-appropriate work clothing, do I really need all of these clothes still? Wouldn’t it be worth having the peace of mind and the space in our closet until that interview time comes?
So I went through my clothing, coming away with a few bags worth of clothes to donate yet again and then we had our first snow and temperatures plummeted. I realized that most of the “winter” clothing I had from Virginia was more like “fall” clothing in New York. I needed heavier garments which meant filling my closet even more.
Again, I felt overwhelmed by how much clothing I had and how it extended well past our bedroom closet. In the living room our coat and hoodie closet was primarily filled with my coats and shoes.
“I need a better coat, I think my winter coat is a little too DC and not enough northern New York,” my husband commented as we bundled up to go out into the cold. I knew what he meant, I had three feminine versions of the very coat he was talking about.
And this hoarding of clothing does bring some shame. I couldn’t tell you the last time I wore a majority of the clothes and when seeing how much clothing I have piled on our couch or bed, and comparing it to what clothes I wear week-in and week-out, it makes me blush. When I first moved to Virginia, I had a closet half the size of what we have in our bedroom now and my clothing filled half the space. I had so little clothing, and had been so cautious in my purchases because I was unemployed and moving to an area to hope I would snag a job. I didn’t have the room to carry many clothes, and I didn’t have the money for a full wardrobe of nice articles. Just a few outfits to get me through interviews and hopefully to my first paycheck at whatever job I could snag.
I think of that wardrobe now and I want to hug my younger self. The clothing was what I found to be office appropriate but ultimately was not for the DC region. Most of the articles were donated within a year’s time and replaced by nicer wardrobes. I still attempted to keep my more quirky sense of style by wearing dresses with odd patterns, cacti and elephants and whatever else struck my fancy, but I heard the comments people made about my wardrobe and knew it wasn’t necessarily liked across the board.
So as I tried to straighten my closet and figure out how many more winter sweaters I needed, how many more jeans to fit my changed postpartum body, I also began to look more critically at what clothing I still had after the few clothing clean outs I already had. Taking into consideration the collection of heels I had and the numerous jackets, I knew I had my work cut out for me.
Ultimately, there was nothing wrong with clearing out. We’d have more room in our closets and my clothing would be donated and hopefully given to someone who could use them for fancy events or job interviews, someone who could better appreciate the style. So I got to work, pulling all clothing I would pass over from the closet and piling it onto our bed. I laid out a few outfits that would be suitable for interviewing, mixing and matching tops and bottoms to widdle down to only the essentials, and turned to the singular dresser that fits in our tight room. The singular dresser that is filled with only clothing for myself.
I had piles of pajamas, t-shirts, tanks and work out clothing. Many of the workout outfits I had, I couldn’t recall when I last wore them. Of course, this was a skewed way to judge those particular outfits as I wasn’t allowed to work out during my pregnancy and after having my son it was a very slow build up to even return to the base level of my strength prior to pregnancy–something that was still ongoing. But did all the workout clothes fit well? No. I knew many didn’t, I knew many were either too tight or worn in places or pinched in others or were baggy enough to be dangerous on machines. So I decided I would rip through my work out clothing too.
Through most of this, I realized much about myself. What I wore day to day had certainly declined from previous years, even on days I had off from work where I wasn’t being influenced on what to wear. I often would throw on a t-shirt in the morning and a pair of jeans or leggings while my son was taking his first nap and wear that until at night I’d switch out the pants for pajamas, still wearing the same shirt until the following morning or when I showered. I don’t want to blame a lack of caring on motherhood, but in a way it’s what triggered this. Or rather, how I had an abundance of days in which not to care. Prior to being a mother I dressed similarly on days I teleworked. I had no plans of going out, so I would often wear pajamas until two. Some days I never changed out of pajamas into day clothes. So it wasn’t so much that motherhood had caused me to wear a more relaxed wardrobe but the fact that I was indoors more regularly. On days that I would grocery shop or take my son on walks, I’d shower and freshen up with all new articles of clothing.
I let go of this little feeling of self-doubt for what clothing I chose to wear so often or the fact that it had become my main source of wardrobe. It wasn’t that I was letting myself go or no longer caring, it was just that the days where I wore that typical wardrobe were more in number than before.
Then I looked to the work out pants I could throw out and had a different realization. So many of them I had kept because I felt if I threw them out, I was giving up on any plans I previously had to work out again. I had done this for years, keeping work out clothing I never wore even if I was working out regularly. I felt getting rid of them was a sign of failure–particularly if the size was too small, seeming to indicate I had failed at working out by going up a size rather than down. Now I felt that getting rid of them meant I was accepting I wouldn’t be going back to a gym. I wanted to go to a gym, I wanted to work out again, but I was also scared by the pelvic separation I had during pregnancy and the fact that eight months postpartum I still felt the stinging pain from that separation on occasion just from basic activities like walking. How would I feel after running or working with weights? But that also brought to mind the question of how I could even afford to join a gym. There was no point in holding onto articles of clothing that were so heavy with so much doubt and frustration. They served as a reminder of what my strength did not allow currently but also a body image issue I had long been struggling with.
Into the donation pile the good articles went.
In many ways, living in a small space makes me feel like I am going to the opposite extreme of hoarding. I want to be a minimalist but in a neat, tidy way that still allows me my collection of books. I want there to be space to grow and change, for the ever gathering items of my son, but also to not be tripping over clutter. I want my husband and I to have all of our clothing in the closet and dresser without having to store articles. Is it unhealthy? I’m not sure. It seems that minimalism is a popular thing, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy. At least not when I become easily stressed over clutter and mess, but perhaps that’s another thing to focus on at another time. Something to dive deeply into about past traumas or whatever.
Still, clearing out the clothing and letting go of so many articles that were purchased solely by the pressure of my peers (not that they told me to, but simply knowing that certain styles were approved of over others) and articles of clothing that no longer fit into my life felt good and boy did the extra space help. Maybe this is how one exists in such small quarters, maybe this is how you do it.