I recently found a picture of myself from when I was about six years old. I was standing with my brother on a bulldozer in my uncle’s front yard. It had been there as long as I could remember, which, admittedly was not very long at the time, but as of this writing, 36 years later, it is still there. In the picture I am two hours away from home and have been for a day and a half. I am still wearing my uniform from school from the day before. Not the grey and black “I’m probably going to end up a nun someday, so I might as well get used to the wardrobe” jumper, but the blouse that went underneath. I remember wearing that blouse frequently as a kid, not because I didn’t feel like changing, but because I had nothing to change into.
The following September, I convinced my mother to buy me a pair of Sweet-Orr’s, a delightful polyester precursor to cargo pants. My neighbor had a pair in every color, including lavender because when you’re eight you can get away with wearing lavender pants (but not again until you’re 60 or so). I had one pair, navy blue so that I could wear them to school, but they doubled as play clothes. Of course, I wore them almost every day after school. Sometimes I changed out of my uniform blouse, sometimes not.
Then, when I was eight, everything changed, My mom bought me a pair of Levis. I will never forget them. They were tan corduroy Levis, my only pair of “cool” pants. I wore them every day. No, really. Every day. There is scarcely a memory in my mind that doesn’t have me in those Levis. One day, they disappeared. I searched all three floors of the house. I looked through piles of laundry in the basement laundry room, under beds, in closets, and in all of the approximately 36 dresser drawers in the house, but I never found them. In retrospect, one of my older brothers or sisters must have taken mercy on their completely unfashionable younger sister and thrown them out. Of course, no one admitted to this. What that well-meaning person might not have realized was that those Levis were about the only thing keeping me from a life in the Catholic school jumper.
At any given time growing up, as long as I had to wear uniforms to school, I rotated between one or two possible choices for after school outfits. In my entire childhood up to the age of 10, I remember about six pairs of pants and about ten shirts. There was the snazzy orange tee shirt that came free with my bike at Christmas and paired nicely with my black jeans. There was the white jersey with blue sleeves and the glittery rainbow, which I could wear with the Lee jeans that I wore for most of fifth grade. Then there were the pink and white striped pants that I begged my mom to buy me for Valentine’s Day, the one day other than Halloween and picture day that we were allowed to wear regular clothes to school. New clothes were rare. With six kids to clothe and feed, my parents chose to spend their money on education and food. By the time I went to first grade, my parents were paying tuition on both ends, me for Catholic school and my oldest brother at Columbia University. You can see why clothes were for utility, not fashion. And let’s face it, in my parents’ eyes, why buy the youngest one a bunch of clothes when she wears the same thing every day? Since I was acutely aware that finances were tight, I didn’t ask for much. It’s not that I didn’t want it; sometimes I just didn’t want to cause more stress. By the time I was eight, I knew what a clearance rack was and that full price clothes were something that grandmothers bought at Sears at Christmastime. Shopping at the mall was a pipe dream that I dared not entertain.
When I finally got a job, buying clothes became my obsession. My sister taught me how to shop for bargains, and she did a fantastic job. It was quantity I craved, so when my friends spent $48.00 for a pair of designer jeans, I would scour the clearance racks until I found similar ones for $10.00. And then I’d buy four pairs of them and a shirt for the other eight bucks.
Getting older didn’t really help. I’d shop clearance racks, yard sales, consignments sores, you name it. I’d take hand-me-downs from just about anyone, even if the clothes were ugly. I’d wear shoes that were a size too small and make them fit if the price was right. The pain I felt in my toes was numbed by the balm of the bargain. If I was having a homesick day at college, I’d call my mom and ask her to send me a check, not so I could go out drinking ( spent my own money on that), but so I could go out in search of bargains. I frequented thrift stores, consignment shops, and malls. Once I even bought clothes at Dollar Tree. I’m not talking socks or underwear either. They were selling sweaters for a dollar. A dollar!
It wasn’t until many years later that I looked in my closet and wondered what the hell happened to me. I was a train wreck, plowing through yard sales buying sweaters for a dollar, shoes for 50 cents. If the jeans were too tight, I’d just go on a diet. If they were too big, I’d just let myself eat more. The point was, they didn’t cost a lot, and I had lots of clothes. And even though I was spending a fortune at yard sales, in my mind, I was saving money. Plus, since I rarely got rid of anything, my wardrobe was robust. So what if half of it didn’t fit, and the other half was good only for retro-style Halloween costumes? In theory, at least, I had a large wardrobe.
It took moving back in with my parents at the age of 30 to realize that if I didn’t learn to control my clutter and my closet, I might end up like my dad, a hoarder (Shh! He doesn’t know). In this blog, I hope to share some of my stories, things I have learned about myself, about my family, and about human nature, especially as it applies to clutter. Maybe your mountain is small and maybe it looks large. One thing I can tell you: Clutter Mountain is not insurmountable.