When your entire life is a mess, clean out the closet

There's something cathartic about purging your closet when life doesn't make sense.  Have you ever tried it?  Maybe it's cleaning your office instead, or tending the lawn.  Letting go of what you no longer need restores a sense of calm and order.  Everything seems manageable again; you indeed are in control.


I am a big believer in the power of environment to shape mood and thought, so my convictions about closets and chaos are merely a natural extension of that philosophy.  Sometimes the life changes or stresses are bigger, sometimes they are smaller, but whether I have writer's block and need to clear my head, or--like this summer--I have transitions of every kind awaiting me, I roll up my sleeves and begin tackling the sock drawer.  I throw out the ones with holes in the heels and the unraveling threads and decide to relinquish the hope that I will ever find the partners to the lonesome socks that manage to make their way into the bottom of the bin.  If I really need a breather, I recategorize and rearrange: the accessories swap places with the running gear, and rainbow order replaces seasonal sorting.


This immediate impulse sounds superficial, and materialistic, but it cuts deeper.  Why do we turn to stuff when it is usually those things that matter on a much deeper level that are at stake?  There is a therapeutic element, of course, to touching and folding and caressing.  The mundane, routine physical actions soothe a racing mind.  Yet old-fashioned tasks like cleaning and cooking and gardening also create space that proves lacking in today's environment.  We cannot hold a phone and scan screens while pressing our blouse or chopping an onion.  Our minds can roam, free to explore the anxieties and dreams and creativity we otherwise push to the side or have little time to entertain.


I imagine I would get criticism from some about my instictive desire to assert control over my material surroundings.  You could say that I hold the mistaken belief that I am much more in charge that I in fact am, that, by attempting to subdue the disarray that is my wardrobe, I close myself off from change and growth rather than open myself.  Instead of admitting my powerlessness, I delude myself through distraction.


But I do not think that is true.  We need the small victories, too.  We need the satisfaction of having resolved, having conquered, in order to face the challenges that await.  Cleaning the closet is our training run for the life we go out to live--to live, not control.  We may not be able to organize our life in rainbow order, but we can be deliberate about what we want to keep, what we want to let go, what deserves pride of place, and what needs attention and care.  


I can think of worse places to go looking for answers.

Emily Rowell Brown