not counting shoes


I’ve long been intrigued by the 333 project. The 333 project: 33 items of clothing, for three months (underwear, bras, significant item of jewelry, and pajamas excluded). Such a nice formula for cutting out what isn’t necessary, for focus, for streamlining, for simplifying. And I like formulas. Especially for difficult things.

Inspired by a recent, brief vacation — on which I brought one un-full suitcase that contained just a few items, each which proved just right — I decided it was finally time to give this particular formula a whirl.

I’ve cleaned out my closet before. In fact, I do it regularly. I even write about it a lot. Which, yes, right there raises some interesting questions. Why do I so regularly need to clean out my closet? What’s finding its way into that thing, anyway?

Interesting questions, yes, but let’s not ask those right now. Let’s just focus on my little story about my most recent closet cleaning.

Having read a great deal of the literature on decluttering — I approach this topic with the zeal of a scholar — I designed my approach. I’d make three piles, a fairly standard step, though tailor those piles to me and my particular challenges.

My three piles:

    1. the I’m Ready to Part with You Forever pile,
    2. the I Just am Not Quite Sure, and
    3. the I Love or at Least Really Like This pile.

The sorting was pretty easy, and went quickly, largely because of the existence of pile 2: if I wasn’t ready to make a decision about something, I could put it there. Piles made, I bagged up the stuff to donate and carried it out to my car. Done, and will be done next time I drive by the donation spot. Then I put pile 2 in a container and stored it in an undisclosed location to deal with at a future date. Finally, I organized the stuff that I decided to keep. Hanging up, folding, arranging pile 3 was fun, because I actually liked everything I was putting back in my closet. As I arranged, I imagined new versions of old things. This scarf! with that dress!

Fun stuff, people.

I did this sorting and boxing and re-closeting without counting — I wasn’t sure if I had more or less (though I was pretty sure it wasn’t less) than 33 items. Initially I thought I’d count and then cull further, but as I hung things up I decided to abandon that step. (Maybe I don’t like formulas that much after all. I think I’ll put formulas in pile 2.) Besides, the goal wasn’t to hit a certain number but rather to simplify, to streamline. No fillers, no maybe somedays, no “I should’s” — just clothes I like to wear now.

(I did count though. I’m at a tad more than 33 items, without scarves. In my system, scarves don’t count. They are all on one hanger anyway. I also didn’t count shoes. I don’t have that many, relatively speaking, and isn’t all of this relative? So shoes also do not count in my system. And pile 3 now includes “making my own system.”)

In the super hit The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, author and organizer Marie Kondo suggests that we should only keep the items that “spark joy” and that, if we do, our world will change. We’ll become more discerning about what we keep and what we let into our closets, homes, and lives in the first place; we’ll get used to being surrounded by all those sparks and will act accordingly, will come to expect them in all areas of our life. Say what you will about that book and about closet cleaning in general, but I find that argument very compelling: what if we (I) start really thinking about what we buy, and why? What if a bad day or a good price is not enough to convince us (me) that we need to buy a thing? What if we are (I am) really intentional about what we (I) make room for — in our (my) closet and on our (my) calendars?

I realize that, no matter how streamlined my wardrobe, how cleaned out my closet — or pantry, or toy box (yep, I am heading there next!) — life will never quite be filled only with things that would fit into pile 3. I do not Love nor particularly Really Like cleaning the bathroom or prepping files for tax season or going to the dentist, and these things and countless others must be done. But maybe, in the spaces and places where we can choose what we let in, what we make room for, creating something lovely can sustain us through tile scrubbing. Maybe.

Regardless, now my closet feels so lovely. Of course, pile 2, while out-of-sight, exists and will need to be dealt with one of these days, maybe when the temperatures start to dip and light summer dresses give way to fuzzy sweaters and soft scarves. (So. Excited. For that.) I can re-sort it then — maybe some items will be packed away for next year though I imagine most will not make the cut. Maybe by then, after weeks and weeks living with this new streamlined closet, I’ll be more sensitive to what brings me joy and can put the whole idea of pile 2 in pile 1. I’m not sure I can count on it, but it’s possible! Who knows? Who knows what little lovely things are ahead now that my closet is a little simpler, what I’ll do with the room I’ve made? I’m sitting here, in a comfy dress from the top of pile 3 that feels like an old friend, wrapped in scarves, not counting my shoes, and giving that some thought.