by Cynthia Wands
I’m writing a play about hoarding. Ghosts. A truly evil woman who might have been in my family history. Trees. Slaves that were bought and sold by the Quaker families in Upstate New York. And the gravitational weight of objects that define our place of belonging.
Yesterday I said goodbye to almost one hundred friends. Enemies. Reminders. Nags. Planets that rotate around the center of my memories.
I gave myself the project of cleaning out my closets, where I keep all my clothes from the last several years. Okay, the last dozen years. Okay, okay. The last two or three decades. I tend to keep all my clothes. This includes the denim jacket with the studded rhinestones, the embroidered black pants from Chinatown in Manhattan, the fuzzy sweater that is the size of a refrigerator.
They’ve all been living in my closet. Taking up space. Reminding me that I don’t use them, but they have a claim on the real estate in our small house with the small closets.
When I started researching the pathology of hoarding, I was horrified by the awful consequences of this difficult behavior. I know I’m not a hoarder, I don’t have the space.
But I do tend to keep all my clothes. I’ve bought clothes in thrift stores, online, at Nordstroms, Macys, designer outlets. Even though my size has changed a lot in the last few years: cancer, chemo, hip replacement, plantar fasciitis, getting older, gaining weight, getting less agile. I don’t fit into most of these clothes anymore. So, I thought this was a simple challenge: get rid of the clothes that I haven’t worn in a year. Or two. Or Five.
I had a kind of conversation with every item as I held it up to review its life span and value.
Hello darling. The Evan Picon suit, silk and wool, with beautiful trim. Last worn in 1992. I love you. But I can’t keep looking at you if you’re not going to get out of the closet.
Baby: My vintage hippie denim jeans with the wonderful patches all over them. Purchased in some thrift store in Hollywood. A size 8. (My friends will know that I have not been a size 8 in a long time.) I loved looking at these. That was the basis of our relationship.
An azure blue silk Henri Bendel tunic, tiny jewel like buttons for trim. Worn once. Loved the idea of it. It didn’t love me as much.
So many jackets and blouses and pants and skirts. I’d forgotten about most of these. We didn’t have much to say to one another.
White Victorian linen shirtwaists, high collared blouses. Gorgeous. Not useful in my current lifetime. Maybe if I was going to do another play on Emily Dickinson.
The black jet tulle dress I wore on the night we went to the theatre in the West End in London and met Judi Dench backstage. We had champagne in her dressing room. I have a picture of that night and that dress. So I’ll keep the image and not the dress. I’ll always have London.
And so it went. I had to rally my flagging spirits and cart all the bags of clothes out of the house before I could change my mind. I really didn’t think it would be this difficult to let go of my stash, my collection, my hoard, of clothing.