When I'm Feeling Mad Anxious, I Clean Out My Closet

OR: How I bought "The Ultimate Folding Tool" and it really did help me sleep better at night.

Jul 24, 2013 at 5:00pm | Leave a comment

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I forgot I owned this rainbow zebra dress until I cleaned our closets.

I've been anxious lately. Like, spiral of obsessive thoughts anxious. Doubt every single thing that I am and do anxious. Five minutes away from making a radical hair color decision anxious.

(Emily sent around an article about Rihanna's dyed grey hair and I was tempted for a hot minute.)

It feels very much like the world is out of control in a terrible, terrible way , so I am doing what I can to control my environment. This is a pretty classic coping mechanism. And I knew I was in it pretty deep when I got up from the couch in Harriet the Therapist's office last week to straighten a crooked picture on the wall. (I swear, that picture is crooked every time, like she resets it just to mess with people. But I also know she doesn't actually do that.)

This has meant a lot of things for the house I live in with Ed, especially the living room (including freshly salvaged furniture). And in the bedroom it has meant a total revamp of the closet space.

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The state of things before, in which I could find nothing.

(Can we just preemptively agree that "Oh, I wish I were hypomanic/compulsive instead of" whatever else is kind of a shitty thing to say that doesn't in any way acknowledge how unpleasant compulsion is? Please? It's kind of hurtful to justify folks' psychological distress with "at least it's productive.")

Step one of the closet revamp was to honestly assess both what I have in the closet and what I WANT to have in the closet. For me, that answer involved a shitload of shoes and the contents of my dresser, because I'd like to get rid of the dresser. It also involved getting Ed to ask himself the same things -- because Ed and I share closet space.

Here's what we decided we wanted to be able to do in our approximately ten feet of closet space: hang all my dresses, store all my shoes in boxes or on shelves, get Ed's massive nerd t-shirt collection under control, and store our underthings in baskets instead of drawers. Because our bedroom isn't that big and dressers don't make very good nightstands, honestly.

Step two was figuring out the right organizers to use. Nicolette's post about (in part) her cheap closet organizer from Amazon.com finally convinced me that since we don't own this house, investing in a totally customized closet system would be overkill. (Plus, you know, it was going to cost so much money.) It was the death of a dream -- or at least the temporary postponement of one because we will wind up buying a house at some point but we're not in a huge hurry. Maybe. Anyway. I used my Amazon gift card to order two ClosetMaid systems after several hours of research and comparison and generally staring at the possible closet configurations.

I have mega mixed feelings about Amazon's business practices and the way their determination to deliver things within a day or two impacts small, local businesses. But we picked up our giant boxes on Saturday morning from FedEx. I arranged to pick up rather than wait for delivery because I had already mentally mapped out a schedule for the day.

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So, we own those bolt cutters now.

Step three was surprisingly painful. We took EVERYTHING out of the closet. Including the old bars for hanging clothes and shelves that were only marginally useful. The dog was very confused about the clothes on the bed being full of hangers, and gave us sad puppy face for the rest of our closet adventure.

And then Ed began the installation. 

Honestly, if you're at all handy with a drill and a level, you can do this. Even if you aren't handy so much as just capable of measuring and then operating a drill at the basic level. We have two 5-foot closets, so we installed things one side at a time, with different arrangements that worked for us. Ed's side has two levels for hanging shirts and pants -- which I use part of, too, for my shirts and skirts. He's got shelves for all nine thousand of his t-shirts and his three pairs of shoes.

My side has a section for hanging long things -- all of my dresses and Ed's cutaway cut, for example. And a place to stack all of my shoes in clear, plastic boxes. I splurged on sliding baskets for socks and underwear and bras.

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The first layer of shoe boxes.

Honestly, actually installing the wall hardware was the easy part. It was also the expensive part. I used a gift card, like I said, but everything else we wound up buying (from those shoe boxes to a pair of bolt cutters for trimming the shelving to length) brought the cost up -- my total investment, split between the gift card, cash, and the Home Depot card, was about $450.

There are cheaper ways to organize your closet, but -- as in so many areas of life -- if you can splurge on your materials, you'll end up with a better system that lasts longer. (We're justifying the cost, too, because we have enough parts left over to do the closet in Ed's office.)

Step four got hard -- sorting through our clothes and figuring out what we wanted to put back into the closet.

I have worn basically the same clothing size since I stopped dieting. What that translates to is a whole lot of clothes. I try to purge my closet every six months or so because, hey, you try something and it just doesn't grab you or you finally realize you are never going to wear that prom dress from junior year. This time around, I was determined to be super aggressive about yanking stuff out of my closet.

Sometimes, when you are poor (generationally or situationally), you don't get rid of things. Because you never know when you will need that thing and not have the money to replace it. And sometimes when you are very fat, you do the same thing because it isn't like you're ever going to be able to find a black satin pencil skirt when you need one.

These are hard habits to break, even when you've been working on them for years.

But what I did this time was pick the items out of the pile that I loved. That make me happy to wear them. I didn't just pick up a piece and say, "Well, hey, I probably ought to have a conservative black dress on hand for funeral."

The truth is that I've never worn that dress to a funeral anyway. And I probably never will.

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We're still transferring stuff from the dressers. But it's BETTER.

Our closet is still a far cry from the ones photographed for display that have, like, five items total in them. An organizational system that depends on me only having a few things to wear is never going to work for us. But it's not the "two dresses enter, no dresses ever leave" Thunderdome that it was before.

And that's soothing. Because I can see what I have. In fact, I've been wearing things I forgot I owned. I've already identified a few things I can get rid of (no matter how much I love that black and brown plaid skirt, it's never going to be really it for me).

Ed and I are not minimalists. Nor are we particularly organized as a general rule. We still have a pile of laundry at the foot of the bed that needs to be folded and put away. We have dreams of being tidy, maybe even pristine, in every single room.

We've yet to entirely accomplish it. But there's something about a serene environment that calms me down just a little bit, for a little while. It's absurd, I realize, to place my mental health chickens in a basket with neatly and regularly folded t-shirts (courtesy of our newly purchased FlipFOLD). But it's what I've got at the moment.

How about you?

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Ed loves this FlipFOLD thing. A lot.