I am reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s a revolutionary approach to decluttering where instead of clearing one room or one space at a time, you choose a category to sort and purge. Like all of the shirts or jeans or boots or socks or beach towels. You bring them all to one place, mostly for the embarrassing shock of seeing the mound of excess, I’m pretty sure. You mound them on the floor, and then pick them up one at a time, and ask yourself if it brings you joy. If it brings you joy, then you keep it. If it doesn’t, then you set it free.
“Set it free” can look like one of several options. For me it’s largely about putting things in giant trash bags, and arranging an appointment with ScheduleAPickUp.com which is second only to Walmart.com. I love people who let me beckon them online, those who will come to my doorstep and either deliver the things I need or take away the things I’m finished with. This is perhaps a love language of mine: make it easy for me to either give away or get.
Anyway, stay with me. Because this isn’t about cleaning out my house. Except that it kind of is. In a much bigger way.
If you have a hard time parting with something that no longer brings you joy, so says the author of this book, then you are supposed to hold it in your hands and consider carefully why you have the item in the first place. When did you get it, and why did it matter to you then? Then you’re supposed to reassess its role in your life, and if it has already fulfilled its purpose in your life, then you—get this—say, “Thank you for your service.” The author says that by acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you can truly put the things you own, and ultimately your entire life, in order.
I read that, and I was like, “Um, no.”
I won’t be saying goodbye to things, and I’m not thanking things. That’s a little bit hippie-dippy and not me, I feel ridiculous talking to t-shirts, and I’m not doing that. Just give me the list of what to sort and purge, and I’ll begin to make room for Peter to live in this home when we are married.
And so I began with the sweaters, which was easy since it’s 72 degrees right now in Denver. More than anything, I found myself thinking ‘no thanks’ about one sweater after another, which is likely something I will regret in the fall. But whatevs. Then I purged the jeans and then the t-shirts and then the blouses. I was on a roll.
And then I came to the dresses. A bridesmaid’s dress (no joy), a sweater dress (no thanks), and a collection of ill fitting purchases from StitchFix with the tags still on them (no go). Easy as pie. Bagged them right up, setting them free for someone shaped like me who will be thrilled to bring them into her home. I felt no need to talk to any single one of them, thank you very much.
But then I found the little black dress with the scoop neck, the size-four style with a narrow, shiny black belt that fit perfectly around the smallest part of my waist. Robb bought it for me the summer of our tenth anniversary, and I wore it to his funeral six months later. I wore that dress as I greeted more than 400 people who came to honor the life and death of the man I had married. I wore that dress when I held my brother’s arm as I took the stage to deliver the eulogy. Somehow, there’s a whole marriage hidden in the creases and seams of that dress.
It’s been hanging in my closet for five and a half years. It’s actually dusty. As I’ve moved from one house to another, I moved the dress. I’ve cleaned out my closet only-God-knows-how-many times, but each time I’ve kept the dress. I’ve never worn it again. Let’s be honest, I’m not a size four anymore. But it doesn’t matter what size I am or was or would ever be. I’m not wearing that dress again, not ever, to save my life or anyone else’s.
I am learning that a “widowed wedding” is a whole different ball game. There are so many emotions in play, and I’m crying a lot. Or it feels like a lot. I might be able to tell you what I’m learning, if I can ever find words for this process. I don’t know how to articulate the sweeping emotions I’m living in, but let’s just say I’m back to seeing my therapist on a fulltime basis. Because this is too much for a girl to process on her own.
On a grand, large, overwhelming scale, I think this all has something to do with making space. Space for the man I love to move in, space for the man I loved to move out.
So I held the dress on her hanger. And, so help me, I talked to her. “Thank you, little black dress. You were everything I needed you to be. You were a gift in every way. Thank you for being perfect from the moment I saw you, until the last moment I wore you. Thank you.”
And then I put her in the pile with the sweaters and jeans and t-shirts and stories and memories and good or bad decisions.
And I set her free.