Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Culling the Weeds in the Closet

Horticulturalists have a pretty simple formula for keeping a garden in top form and for providing viewing pleasure for the owners: plants are in, weeds are out. When a bush or tree dies they plant another one, knowing that the absent plant can cause an imbalance in the garden plan; when a weed gets pulled out, they don't rush out and plant another weed to replace it. To try and extend their lives, some weeds present a beautiful outside, hoping the gardener will overlook them. But letting weeds in based on their looks alone spells disaster for the garden. They soon overtake the better plantings and create havoc in the garden.

Sometimes a gardener will have been seduced by the beautiful plants in a nursery and brings home more than will grow successfully when crowded all together. In that case even beautiful plants will have to be removed for the good of the garden. Those beautiful plants will have become a burden on the garden, on the gardener, and ultimately a costly mistake. Gardeners know that the size of the growing plot cannot magically be extended to accommodate yet more plantings. They know this, and yet, they somehow cannot resist when faced with the new selections in the nursery.

All garden plantings have a "shelf life," the amount of time it takes for a plant to grow to maturity, to go through all its stages, before it dies. Some plants have a brief showy season before they go dormant. Other plants provide visual interest all year round. Some plants are relegated to the background, where they fill in the gaps and work hard but are not as visually arresting as their more flamboyant cousins. Some plants have intense visual interest; they are the real prima donnas of the garden. But every gardener knows that having too many of those focal plants disturbs the balance of the garden. And then there is the cost of the plants. Gardeners think long and hard about spending megabucks on a plant with a short life. They think long and hard about the sometimes exorbitant costs of a prima donna plant--is the cost worth the once in a blue moon show the plant puts on?

And then we have the closets in our homes. I have yet in all my years of living heard anyone complain that they have too much closet space; the opposite is always true. Closets, even those already stuffed to overflowing, are constantly being rearranged to take "just one more item." And like weeds, many of those items multiply incredibly quickly.

An article I read on closet management suggested that people need to make a plan for their closets and stick to it. The first thing it suggested was to find a classification system for the closet. Some people use a cold weather/hot weather system to begin with. They further divide the closet contents into at home/casual clothes, clothes for work and clothes for special occasions.

The next step is to assign a usage time to each classification. If you live in a cold weather area you will spend more time in cold weather clothing; for hot weather areas you will spend more time in hot weather clothing. If you work a 5-day week you will spend more time in work clothing than in casual clothing. How many special occasions have you attended in the last year? Now enter onto your list the amount of time that the clothing in each classification is actually worn.

The article ended with a suggestion that people remove from their closets multiples of types of clothing that are not worn often enough to justify their taking up closet space. I think the article should have gone further.

Take all those classifications of clothing and at least estimate how much the clothing for each classification cost. Now divide the cost of the clothing by the number of times each piece will be worn. Let's say that a skirt for work will be worn 16 times during the year. It cost you $64. That skirt would then have cost you $4 per wearing. Hold on to that skirt for 4 years and the cost drops to $1 per wearing. But what if that skirt is dry clean only? Add $5 to each wearing. Hold on to that skirt for only one year and that skirt will cost you $9 each time you put it on. And that $64 skirt actually cost you $144 for the year. Hold the skirt for 4 years and your cost drops to $32 per year, or $2 per wearing. But what if you have two dozen skirts? What if each skirt is only worn 6 times instead of 16 times in one year? The cost per wearing jumps to $16.50 per wearing if held for only one year.

And where there are skirts there are tops. Check out your closets carefully and you may notice a strange phenomenon. You may have 6 tops that all only go to the same skirt. Or you may have 6 skirts that all look best with the same top. Either way, most tops will only be worn a few times during any season; wear a top more often and the other tops stuffed on the shelves and in the drawers won't get worn as much or at all. The more tops, the higher the cost per wearing. Bring in a new skirt and it is inevitable that no top you already own will fit that skirt perfectly, thus necessitating the purchasing of yet another top.

Now look at your special occasion clothing. Look at your calendar for the last year and add up how many of these occasions you actually attended, and what type they were. An average figure would be one such occasion a month. Let's even say you have a busy social calendar and you attended two such occasions each month. And let's say that some were during hot weather and some during cold weather. How many special occasion pieces of clothing do you need to own to cover the number of occasions attended? In reality, only two, but let's be generous and say four: two for hot weather and two for cold. Now let's look at the cost of those items. Let's be "thrifty" (sarcasm intended) and make the cost only $200 per outfit. That's $800 in special occasion clothing. Divide by the number of wearings and each outfit costs you "only" $33.33 per wearing. Now add in a $10 dry cleaning charge for each wearing and the cost goes to $43.33 per wearing, if you use the outfits for one year. Imagine--gasp!--if an outfit costs more than $200.

Somewhere in the back of our minds we know that clothing costs more if we wear it for less times and so we hold on to that clothing, but instead of wearing the clothing more often it gets pushed to the side as we bring in replacements. Green is in this season so last season's blue clothing isn't "wearable" any longer. But not to worry, because next season green will be out and pink will be in. And so it goes season after season, shopping trip after shopping trip. And the closets are stuffed to overflowing with clothing that we can't bear to get rid of but that we don't really use often enough to justify the price. And like weeds in the garden, those unworn clothes overrun the space available to store them in.

Ever notice that mother nature doesn't designate that one flower color and that color alone is the "in" color for any given season? That plants come in all kinds of "styles" and "lengths" all existing harmoniously? Fall flowering bulbs in purples and yellows and pinks and blues exist side by side with fall foliage in reds and oranges and yellows and pinks of all shades. Green never goes out of fashion. Brown remains basic throughout all the seasons.

Perhaps if we considered our closets as gardens we would have less weeds growing in them. Perhaps we would be more concerned with the long term and less concerned with the short term. Perhaps we would have room enough for what really looks good in our gardens without burdening ourselves looking for storage space for the extras that just don't fit in. Perhaps we should look at gardens and notice that most of what is in them is there for the long haul. Paying loads of money for short-lived annuals that come and are dead a short time later makes no gardening sense. Wise gardeners know that spending more on those annuals doesn't give the garden any more pizazz; inexpensive annuals perform the same tasks as their more expensive relatives.

Maybe, just maybe, if we followed the advice of horticulturalists instead of the "advice" of Madison Avenue and the clothing retailers our closet "gardens" would be in better shape and able to hold just the right number of plants. We are long overdue to cull the weeds in our closets.


Anonymous said...

I remember asking the rental agent who was showing us our first apartment why the closets were so tiny and why there were only three of them in a four room apartment. His answer was that the building had been built pre WWI. I still didn't get it so he said that he guessed that people in the time the building was built just didn't own so many clothes like we do now. Since we know that they didn't go naked in the streets they must have been able to make do with less clothing.

And maybe one reason for the stuffed closets is that people, me included, are a little bit lazy and don't want to have to deal with pulling out all the weeds and replanting the garden. We put it on a list to do someday and someday hasn't yet arrived.

G6 said...

OK, how much did my husband pay you to write this post???
You know, they might come back in style and I might lose/gain the weight required to fit into them and some of them are just plain SENTIMENTAL....

Anonymous said...

When we bought our house there was a small room attached to the master bedroom, probably for a baby to sleep in. Instead my husband remodeled it into a walk in closet for me. Our family used to call it the Black Hole-things went in there and were never seen again. I couldn't bring myself to get up the energy and lots of time that cleaning and clearing it up would take until my MIL casually mentioned one day that when the time came for me to die the people who would have to clean out that closet were sure to learn all kinds of interesting things about me that they had never known before. I ended up cleaning the thing out (first time I had actually seen all the walls and the floor in a long time)and the MIL was right. My youngest child was in high school so why were my maternity clothes still in the closet? And the shoes that I wore to my wedding that pinched my feet all night? And a bridesmaid dress I wore to my sister's wedding before I was even married?

If gardening doesn't get you in the mood to clean the closet then just think of death and strangers pawing through your things and commenting on how strange what you saved was.

A Living Nadneyda said...

I've actually found that certain fabrics that are labeled "dry clean only" can be hand washed.... i.e. cottons with elaborate silk screens can be washed in cold water, with an extremely mild hand soap, and then ironed, and they come out looking fabulous. Same for most linen.... it's annoying to iron, but it comes out fine.

Wouldn't take a risk on silk, of course.

The benefits of reducing our dry cleaning load can be felt far beyond the wallet... the chemicals used in dry cleaning are horrible for the air we breathe, the ground water where they are dumped, and most directly, the people employed to clean the clothes, who are exposed to these chemicals all day long. I say, avoid buying "dry-clean only" except for very special occasions.

Anonymous said...

Items made from Rayon and Rayon blends can shrink beyond recognition if they come in contact with water and the heat of a dryer or press iron. And there is no way to know which combinations will shrink until you wash them. Sad experience speaking here.

Anonymous said...

Not even the threat of death and strangers going through my things could get me to throw away my maternity clothes. I gave them away when my then youngest was 11. Four months later I was pregnant. I figure I'm keeping them now until I collect my first social security check.

Maya Resnikoff said...

My tip for clothes shopping is to do your shopping at thrift shops, or on clearance for the next year as much as possible, and look for what flatters you, rather than the precise thing that's the most "in" that season- they'll last longer. And anyways, if it's at Goodwill, I can get a skirt that I'll wear once a week most weeks for $8-10- that works out to a pretty cheap per-wear rate quite quickly... Then if I want to spend more on something once in a while, it still averages out to be reasonable.

My other favorite trick is swapping clothes that you're sick of with a relative or friend.