Friday, October 23, 2009

Lessons From the Closet: Making Room for Charity

"When we inventory our closets we may discover clothes that, to paraphrase the Catholic social activist Dorothy Day, should be not in our closets but on someone else's back. A trip to the local secondhand clothing store may be in order as we pass these clothes on to someone who needs them."

- Margaret Kim Peterson, Keeping House: The Litany of Everday Life

My family lives in 1275 sq. ft. third-story condo. No garage. No attic. No basement. Very little closet space. And, one of our closets is completely taken up with our washer and dryer!

In the three years that we have lived in this cozy, much-loved home, we have learned to get very creative with the space. My husband's bicycle, for example, hangs on a special hook in our front entry way against the wall, just inside the door. Baskets and boxes are important fixtures in our house. Not only do they keep things organized, they limit what we can have to the size of the container. We have a box for holiday decorations; we only own as many things as can fit in the box. If we have too many, we have to give something away. Same thing with my children's toys. Different baskets are for different things: art supplies, stuffed animals, infant/baby toys. When the basket gets over-full, it's time to pare down and donate.

I have found this sort of creativity to be an exhilarating challenge in ingenuity. I love trying to find ways to make our smaller home work for our family and the guests we welcome there. I have also found it challenging in a spiritual sense, as I have to continually question whether or not we need something--because buying something new generally means giving something we already own away; there's just no room for superfluity in our house.

I have a confession, though. There is one area in which I have not particularly appreciated the simplifying, streamlined approach to storage and possessions. In my closet: Clothes.

Until I was fifteen, I owned very few clothes, and I had absolutely no interest in buying any. I went to Catholic schools where I wore uniforms. I had two skirts, two short sleeved shirts, two long-sleeved shirts, one cardigan, a half dozen pairs of tights and knee socks, and one pair of shoes, plus a gym uniform, consisting of one t-shirt, one pair of shorts, a pair of sneakers, and a pair of gym socks. This limited wardrobe was the extent of my fashion statement for a decade.

Enter public school. Suddenly, I needed clothes! My mother and I went shopping, and I got some things that I hoped would not make me seem like a total dweeb at my new school. But, I had no idea about what was fashionable or how to assemble an outfit! To put it blunty: I had no taste.

It took me a long time to figure out what "my" style was, what clothes looked good on my body. I wasn't used to having to make these decisions, and as I made them--and made mistakes--my wardrobe grew and grew. Additionally, I did not grow. I have been approximately the same size (except during pregnancy) since the sixth grade. So, I never got rid of any of my clothes. Christmases and birthdays usually meant more clothing that I very gratefully received from relatives and friends. And, of course, what is a young woman who has the rent and necessities covered by her parents supposed to spend her money on but make-up and clothing? Okay, was it just me?

As my wardrobe began to become more refined to suit my newfound taste--yes, eventually I got some--it became quite a prized possession. I was one of the only college students I knew who carefully put away each item of clothing each night, either folded neatly in my drawers, hung in my closet, or set in the hamper to be laundered with care on Monday morning. I still take very good care of my clothes, even with two young kids--one who loves to spit up on whatever I'm wearing five minutes after I put an outfit together! If it were up to me, I would never get rid of a single article of clothing. I admit it; it's pretty much the only thing I hoard. Which tells me something important: I care far too much about clothes.

Fortunately, I find myself in this tiny house with limited closet space. Each spring and fall, I weed through the closets and determine what we need to set aside--my maternity clothes or favorites among the kids' outfits for the next (God willing) baby--and which we need to give away. It's pretty easy to bring a shirt or two or a pair of shorts to my husand and say, "You didn't wear these at all this year; is it okay if I take them down to Goodwill?" He'll nod, and into the donation bag they go. But, when I come to my half of the closet, I find this sweater or that skirt that I haven't worn in a couple of years...a pair of jeans that doesn't even really fit anymore with my post-baby hips...a pair of shoes that don't match anything I own. I know that they should all end up with my husband's shorts in the donations bag. Yet, I can't seem to part with them.

Oh, maybe my pelvis will actually go back to its former state, and I'll be able to squeeze into those jeans again. Or, I just might find a use for that sweater or those shoes; I know as soon as I toss them, I'm going to wish I had them. And, so I set them aside in a storage box under my bed, or leave them hanging in my closet, my side of which is much more cramped and full than my husband's.

This year, as I anticipate receiving more clothing for Christmas presents, as the Holy Spirit works in my heart, as the economy makes it harder and harder for people to make ends meet let alone supply themselves with luxuries like new clothing, the words of the above quote really go to my heart. I open my closet, and it's like I hear God telling me, "Stop holding on so hard. Remember that all these things are gifts from Me; you're just a steward. Clothe my children, not your hangers." I sense a trip to the thrift store in my future, and by making room in my closet, I find my heart making room for charity.

Who knew a 1275-sq. ft. condo would teach me so much?--about gratitude, and self-denial, and love. Thank you God, for the blessing of limits!


  1. Great post, Bethany. I, too, love my clothes too much and hoard them inordinately. I am also trying to pare down my wardrobe. Also, so many of my clothes are things I don't really like and have only kept because I had them for years. My goal is to make my wardrobe and my daughter's wardrobe simple, small, durable and practical yet at the same time feminine and reflecting my style and taste. I have boxes of clothes to get through before I reach that. I'm glad to know I'm not alone in this. Though my house is much larger than yours-over 2,500 sq feet-I think it is not a good habit to hoard things,and I believe in organization.

  2. Bethany -

    I also have the desire to hoard, but my problem is books, not clothing. I used to regularly clean out my books and give some away (I recommend sending unwanted books to libraries - most resell them in an effort to raise money). Years later, however, I've found myself rebuying the same books I used to own. As a result, I now find it very difficult to part with any of them. Or at least that's my excuse. Someday, though, my husband and I will run out of bookshelf space, and then I'm not sure what we'll do...

  3. Isn't it funny how much easier it is to get rid of our husband's clothes than our own! It's easier for them to part with them too. Recently our church participated in a clothes donation drive, which was a good incentive for us to get rid of stuff.

    Now that they're gone,I don't miss my extra clothes. I wasn't wearing them much anyway and when I did, I was reminded of why they stayed in the back of the closet. (Not a good fit for me, not a good color, etc.)

    And books...oh I could go crazy with books. But a few years ago, I made a rule that I cannot hold on to books I won't read again. I only keep reference books, Christian books, poetry, books with sentimental value such as my illustrated book of Little Women, which I had as a child, classics such as Jane Austen...well, as you can see, I still have a lot of books. But a fiction book that was good yet not good enough to read again gets donated to a friend or the library.

    My feeling is, why have stuff laying around and making me feel cluttered and guilty when it can benefit someone else.

  4. Bethany, I can SO relate to this post! We, too, live in a tiny house with very limited storage space (we only have two closets, one for us, a smaller one for Shira's clothes and also our towels and linens). We simply cannot hang on to all the clothes we own! Just yesterday, I purged Shira's closet. I took two bags and filled them with baby clothes she grew out of that we're keeping, and I'm giving away the rest (that's 4 more bags). Now it's time to go through my clothes.

    I love love love the look of a decluttered house. Owning too much stuff is simply inconvenient!

  5. This made me smile. I just made myself get rid of some clothes that I have been holding onto with the hope that I will fit back into them someday in the not so distant future. I realized that I just needed to trust God to provide what I need when that time comes, and I got rid of them. It was a very freeing feeling - especially since we are 6 people living in 880 sq.ft.!

    It truly is a good feeling to be creative in making a small space not only just "enough", but actually cozy and comfortable. With God's help, I've actually gotten pretty good at it, I think.

  6. Love this post. Our first home was 700 sq. feet, with us and one older son, and, a baby.
    Our second house was 1800 sq. ft., our older son - had his "own space" aka - mistake, and two little girls at this point. We moved, to another state, and, all of us lived in a condo for 2 years - 900 sq ft. Now, we have a home, 1500 sq ft., but, very little storage space, etc. We have the smallest house of anyone we are friends with, but, we are very blessed. We cannot have a lot of clothes or extras, but, our family understands giving. Honestly, we love where we are, if we moved, it would be down, possibly mission work.

  7. Ah! All you ladies with less-than-1,000 aq ft homes (and larger families than mine!) are so humbling for me! It really is a blessing in disguise, isn't it?


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