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Clothing Purgatory Isn’t So Bad

In defense of holding onto things before letting go.

Photo: Kevin C. Moore/Getty Images

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There are two large, overflowing tote bags sitting in my closet. They’ve been there for at least six months, taking up precious storage space in my apartment, but I don’t have any plans to move them just yet. The bags are full of clothes: things I’ve worn and loved; things I bought on sale and realized would never work on my actual body; things, above all, that I can’t quite seem to let go of.

These bags comprise my Clothing Purgatory. Maybe you have one, too — a duffel meant to eventually be lugged to a thrift store, or a trash bag destined for one of those sus pink donation boxes. Bedroom chairs are usually reserved for the tiny limbo in between an item’s washing and its eventual wearing, or vice versa, but that could be your CloPurg (ew, sorry) as well. Wherever it may be, it’s where your no-longer-worn clothing goes to languish.

In general I require a one-to-three (or, in this case, six) month period between deciding to get rid of an item of clothing and actually doing it. I’ll have occasional bursts of manic productivity when I’ll toss all my old socks in the garbage or cut up a bunch of yellow-armpitted T-shirts to make cleaning rags, but for the most part, Mama needs her lag time.

Partially this is so I still have time to rescue something if I’m uncertain about its fate; this has happened exactly twice in my entire adult life (sweater with so many holes I can no longer wear it outside, jumpsuit I wore one more time before finally forever discarding it), but I like knowing that I have the option. Partially it’s because I have trouble letting go — so often the things I’m getting rid of remind me of who I was when I wore them, and just because that’s not my style or my set of needs any longer doesn’t mean I want to forget. Partially (mostly) it’s because I’m lazy.

This, judged against our modern standard of minimalism and Konmaric purging, is supposed to be a bad thing. I should have parted with these clothes long ago, I should have already dumped them out at a swap or sold them for 1/100th of what I originally paid. But I just can’t bring myself to, at least not yet.

And honestly, I don’t think a little clutter is that bad? I’ll get antsy if there are, like, teetering piles in every corner of my home, but I think the average person could use a nest or two. (Three.) A middle ground of sorts, a task you don’t need to complete right away, a small room for error. And, above all, permission to avoid lugging 20 pounds of clothes down three flights of stairs only to have them pawed through by a judgmental consignment store employee before being summarily rejected. That can always wait until next week.