Dr. Robin: Cleaning out our closets

September 20, 2019

I love the meme that came across my social media earlier this week. It showed a beautiful landscape of colorful fall trees straight out of some New England visitors’ guidebook. The caption read, “The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go.” It made me feel all warm and happy. Part of the reason is that fall is by far my favorite season not only because of its beautiful colors and rich smells, but yes, for all the superficial reasons of sweaters and boots and fingerless gloves to bundle within during the cool fall weather.

After reading the meme, I immediately thought of one of my favorite sweaters – a slouchy, soft grey sweater that I found in a thrift store years ago. It’s a great piece for “sweater weather” and as I thought about it lovingly, my eyes moved back to the meme. When was the last time I actually wore that sweater? I take it out every year when I do the seasonal closet shift and then spend the fall and winter months wearing other things in my closet that are less bulky, less itchy, less grey.  (For those of you living in temperate areas, the “closet shift” is a fascinating ritual by those of us living with seasons where we move out our warm weather clothes to some storage area, and move in our cold weather clothes, and then we get to do it in reverse 6 months later.) So why do I hold on to this sweater? BECAUSE IT’S A GREAT SWEATER! And I got a great deal on it. And I wore it a lot when I was pregnant with both my daughters…and I’m not even sure I’ve worn it more than a handful of times since my younger daughter’s birth 14 years ago. But I’ve kept it and pulled it out each fall and then put it away each spring, never having worn it. Why do I do this? Does the sweater represent something else? My thriftiness? Or my desire to be the type of woman who can throw on a bulky sweater and look entirely fashionable? Or is it out of sentimentality? But if I haven’t worn it in years, why not get rid of it?

Easy to say regarding a sweater. But what about the other things we hold on to? What “grey sweaters” are in all of our closets? Maybe they are concrete objects, like the meditation chair I bought in my 20s, long before I was doing meditation or yoga, but I liked the idea of being one of those people. That damn chair moved to 8 different residences in 4 different states AND NEVER GOT USED. I didn’t want to get rid of it because I might use it, and I wanted to be that person who did start her day off with 30 minutes of quiet meditation in my designated chair…which was easier to imagine when I bought the chair prior becoming a mother. So this summer, I put the chair for sale on Facebook Marketplace and sold it to a very nice couple to use in their soon-to-open wellness center. They were happy to get it, and I was happy to see it go to good use. In actuality, this chair opened a dam in me and I scoured the house, identifying other objects that hadn’t been used or touched in years and finding all of those items new owners who would appreciate them (cue scene from Rudolph’s Christmas special where all the misfit toys get to go live in new homes with children who want them).

But what about those things in our lives which aren’t objects. What about relationships we’ve held on to for too long? People or friends who don’t bring any positive aspects to our lives. Or people who fit perfectly during a certain period of time in our lives, but the relationship has met its purpose and it is now time to move on. Start easy and take a look at your “friends” list on Facebook. How many of those people are truly friends? How many offer something of value to your life other than stylized photos of their “perfect” lives? Or how many of them don’t even offer that but instead fill your timeline with negativity? It is okay to appreciate a past relationship, but still let it go. And it is even more okay to acknowledge that a friendship was never beneficial and remove it from your life.

If we continue to move from the external to the internal, what about those feelings that are taking up unnecessary space inside of us? You know the ones. They start with our thoughts that might sound like this:

“Why can’t I manage to wake up and work out like those other moms on Instagram?”

“How do my friends manage to cook amazing, healthy meals, and attend every kid sporting event, and show up looking like they stepped out of a Banana Republic ad?”

“I can’t go back to work after all these years. What would I be good at?”

“I’ll never get promoted.”

“I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“I’m a terrible {wife/friend/mom/etc.}.”

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but you get the picture. These thoughts lead to our feelings of failure, insecurity, self-doubt. Ultimately, they tend to result in self-sabotaging behaviors. So maybe, just like the grey sweater, meditation chair or outdated relationships, we could begin to rid ourselves of those thoughts which are taking up valuable space in our brains. When we choose to move out those dysfunctional thoughts, and replace them with positive thoughts, our feelings follow the same pattern. Instead of feeling tired and anxious and inept, we begin to feel stronger and more capable. Can you imagine how good it would feel to shed those nagging thoughts and replace the negative feelings with shiny, brand-new positive ones?

That’s what this time of year is for – letting go of those things that are taking up space in our lives to make way for new things which we need or want. So over a nice cup of your favorite cold-weather drink, take five minutes to think about something or someone in your life that you can let go to make room for new things or new opportunities.

With that said, I’m going to take that grey sweater and head to my favorite consignment shop (if you live near Portsmouth, NH, it’s Wear House; tell Angela, the amazing owner, I said hi). Who knows? Maybe I’ll find something new to replace it, or maybe I’ll just enjoy having a little more space in my closet for something I can’t even imagine yet.

Just a little something for your own insight. – Dr. Robin