My wardrobe is almost empty; bare coat hangers, the bones on a skeleton once covered in a cotton and polyester flesh. The drawers beneath are similarly barren, but they hide the items I cannot bear to part with, at least not yet. The last top my Nanny ever bought me, a revolting bright green t-shirt with the words HOT STUFF emblazoned in yellow, is squashed out of sight into a corner. I have never worn this top, but I am compelled to keep it – this last reminder of a time that my grandmother’s mind allowed her to remember that I was her child and someone for whom she would buy a gift.
The grey top I wore to feed my son throughout the nine months he shared our bed is also tucked away. A nondescript cotton singlet, it appears unremarkable to anyone but me, for I look at it and am transported back to a time where sleep was pitifully absent, but where my awe for my child and my body’s ability to grow and nourish him was unrivalled in its splendour.
In a large container I house the items I adore but I struggle to find a reason to wear. The Betty Page-style dresses that I slipped into for dinner with my husband pre-kids; the ones I favoured for their stretchy thick fabrics and the way they skimmed across my hips. These beautiful dresses are folded neatly on top of each other, taking solace in knowing they are in company. The happy yellow dress I wore to my Nanny’s funeral – my show of defiance to the spectre of mourning – has also been rolled lovingly into a bundle just so it can be hidden away. Alongside it is the evening gown I borrowed from a friend for a ball I never attended, a bridesmaid dress for an interstate wedding to which I was too pregnant to fly, and the first suit I ever bought. This suit, the suit I wore to chat with murderers, child molesters and the garden-variety criminal offender, cost more than my week’s wage as a law clerk but has remained a solid cameo performer for a range of job interviews. So like the dresses, it too belongs in this clothing purgatory, the place where clothes aren’t really part of my rotation but are yet to pass over into the Salvation Army bin afterlife.
An anomaly among the expensive, stylish clothes cursed to a life of limbo is the skirt I wore the night I met my husband – a tiny denim Morrissey number from which threads hang at the hem. Quintessentially ‘noughties’, this skirt is unlikely to ever be worn again for reasons related to both my waist circumference and my reluctance to provide further fodder for my children to complain about when they are older. But here it is, looking at me with its shiny metal chain at the hip, reminding me that it was once something more to me. We used to have a thing, remember? it says.
In the best-selling book by Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising, Kondo encourages us to hold each piece of clothing we own to determine if it ‘sparks joy’. Sparking joy is the reason to retain an item in the home – a butterfly sensation of appreciating an item wholeheartedly for its qualities and memories. If an item does not spark joy, it can be thanked for its contribution and sent on to its next adventure.
I hold the Morrissey skirt up in front of me and study it closely. I am tempted to try it on, but Kondo assures readers this is not necessary. Hold it and you will know.
This skirt sparks something, but it’s not joy – more of a nostalgia. A strategy used to appear more attractive to the opposite sex, this skirt was not on its maiden voyage when the gaze of my would-be husband locked on it from across a crowded pub. In fact, that is exactly why I wore it the night I met the man who would become my life’s companion – because I knew my track record in this skirt was strong and I had hoped this confidence would translate into witty banter (it did).
But I cannot say that holding this skirt brings me joy. Kondo would say that the purpose of the skirt in my life has been fulfilled – that it has played its role and can now be acknowledged and discarded. But yet my jaw clenches when I think of parting with it. How can this be?
In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, humans require a mere five items to both survive and thrive. By ensuring our physiological needs – safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualisation – are met, we are more likely to flourish. Physiological needs are defined as those most critical to human survival – air, water, food, shelter. Our safety needs relate to personal security, financial security and maximizing our health and wellbeing. Love and belonging include friendship, intimacy and family. Esteem needs are those linked to notions of self-worth and self-respect. Self-actualisation is the fulfillment of one’s unique potential.
I note with a pang of sadness my ownership of a Morrissey skirt is unlikely to contribute meaningfully to any of these needs.
I hug the skirt to my face and compel myself to summon a feeling of gratitude for an inanimate item. I bought it on sale at David Jones despite my status as a struggling university student, and wore it to clubs all across Brisbane in my early twenties. It has seen the inside of bars, the carpeted floors of bedrooms, and the seats of cars owned by boys who were as reckless with their driving as they were with their words. And yet throughout it all, the hungover mornings and the long cab rides home, it was a loyal friend to me.
So as I sit alone on my bed, I inhale its metallic, smoky scent and say aloud the words that will sever my ties to my once-dependable denim darling.
‘Goodbye, skirt. Thanks for all your help.’
Then I delicately place it at the bottom of a lavender scented bin liner, where it waits for company.
Sarah Tucker is a Brisbane-raised, Melbourne-based writer, blogger and lawyer whose writing explores themes of family, friendship and mental health. She is a proud mum to two little men and a cattle dog with even more psychological issues than she has. For more of her writing, visit allmydirtylaundry.com.