The Surprising Reason I Can't Get Rid of My Clothes

Rifling through my closet has become an exercise in shame avoidance, thanks to the overflow of clothes I know I never wear but can’t quite seem to get rid of. This is not for lack of trying—in fact, I’ve probably attempted a closet cleanse every week for the last few months, getting rid of an item or two on a good day, but nothing at all on most.

You’d think this routine would result in a pristinely curated selection of the pieces I love, and nothing more, but that desire remains a dream. No matter how many how-to listicles or cult-favorite books I read on the matter of decluttering, I fail to beat the closet bulge. In our age of Konditori, I often fear that I’m a dying breed—or, worse, someone requiring serious help.

In my defense—and what makes it even weirder—is the fact that it doesn’t spill over into other areas of my life: My room is perpetually tidy, and friends often joke that my idea of a mess is one sweater strewn across an otherwise pristine bed. While I do like to hold on to mementos for perhaps longer than I should (handwritten notes, for example), I’ve gotten pretty good at cutting everything else down to the bare minimum, be it my beloved books, magazines (they all go now), papers, beauty products, etc. You could even call it a compulsion—I may or may not clean out the fridge (and the kitchen cabinets) when I’m bored.

Why, then, is tackling my wardrobe such a challenge?

Well, I dove into the research around hoarding, and it provided some surprisingly comforting details. Dr. Randy Frost, a resident at Smith College who’s considered to be the father of hoarding psychology, has found that those who perpetually hold on to things “possess a heightened sensitivity and imagination about objects that most of us don’t.” In this way, he compares them to artists. Andy Warhol, for example, is often considered a hoarder in hindsight.

Now, holding on to a few too many Net-a-Porter or Zara finds may not render me the next pop art icon, but I’ll still happily take the comparison. I am admittedly quite sensitive, and have always been wildly imaginative—envisioning the future (or, shall I say, a future) sometimes too thoroughly for my own good. When I face my closet, these qualities seem to ramp up in a way they just don’t with other objects.

See, every item (or pairing of items) holds a vision of my future that I’m not quite ready to give up on: a career change, a love story, a daughter, and so on. That, or it sparks memories of a comforting place or time (anything with bad juju is much easier for me to let go of), reminiscences that I worry would be less frequent if I were to simply throw them out. Is it really so bad to want a few extra items around that help recall a happy time, or keep me hopeful and striving for more in the future?

Well, my creative license doesn’t think so…

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