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Kristin Armstrong Makes Space

Kristin’s Column: Making Space

by Kristin Armstrong
Illustration by Jessica Fontenot

I have a certain number of wooden hangers in my closet.

I don’t know exactly how many there are, but I do know that a set number exists. I will not buy any more. If one breaks, I throw it away. The fact that I won’t buy any more hangers is not only a result of my disdain for going to Bed Bath & Beyond (why is it that I always seem to get a 20 percent-off coupon from them but can never find one on the rare occasions I actually go?), it also is a statement I made to myself about consumption, order and simplicity.

Basically, it is a method for making absolutely sure I purge my closet. Typically this means that if I purchase something new and bring it home to my closet, I have to find a hanger for it. I can cheat and use an available hanger for something that is currently in the laundry pile, but this only forestalls the inevitable — the forced decision point. OK, girl, in order to keep this, something else has to go — what’s it gonna be?

Then I scour the inventory, looking for something I haven’t worn in a year, a color I knew I wouldn’t wear, a bold pattern when I am typically white/black/boring. I might pick something fancy from a previous life, because I try to never go anywhere fancy. Or something that screams luncheon, because I despise luncheons, even more than Bed Bath & Beyond. Or something that reminds me of someone I don’t want to remember. Or something that might be coming back in style, especially when it comes to jeans. Skinny-leg, stretchy, boot-cut, flare, crop, boyfriend, bell-bottom, dark, faded, holes or no holes: How the hell will we ever know what’s coming? Or I’ll purge something my daughters would call “teacher clothes.” I have nothing against teachers, love them, but my girls must have had a few who dressed frumpy, because that’s how they label any outfit that is more comfortable than cute (excluding workout stuff, and only then if it’s from Lulu or Outdoor Voices). So I find the item that has lost its appeal and sacrifice it to free up the hanger. Out with the old, in with the new.

Once in a while, I do something more drastic. The desire comes on suddenly, and it cannot be thwarted by reason, such has having no time to complete the task or having no large black trash bags. I look around my closet and am suddenly disgusted by my stuff. I see things I don’t like, things I never wear, choices I pass over every day. It’s like a revelation and I want them gone. Out. Immediately.

In fashion or in life, we may not know exactly what we want next, but the first step is to simply make room.

So I summon a brutal, discerning eye and I force myself to go fast. No second-guessing and no pausing on memory lane. I move deftly and critically through the hangers and start flinging clothes mercilessly into the center of the closet. The pile starts growing, and by the time I am done with the racks, the drawers and the shoes (why are the shoes so hard to part with?), there is a Himalayan heap on my floor. At this point, and I’m not sure if it’s motivated by fear or exhilaration, I call my twin daughters in as the oversight committee. They jointly cast a cold stare over the racks, sometimes holding up an item and laughing, speaking something unintelligible to the mother of the twins. However, I speak enough twin to know what was said was definitely insulting. After the oversight committee has finished, they might fight about something they want when I die, and if I’m lucky they might stay long enough to hold black trash bags open for me while I stuff them with my sacrifices. Then they leave me to drag the bags to the back of my car, leaving a trail of fallen items down the hallway to the garage.

Going to Goodwill might be one of the more satisfying things in life. The sense of relief and accomplishment and personal pride is way out of proportion to the actual effort or impact. When I return to my closet, I notice more empty hangers but oddly not much extra space. This is mysterious and frustrating. I want to see substantial change.

Regardless of the impact or the results, I know I have made room, and this is what matters. In fashion or in life, we may not know exactly what we want next, but the first step is to simply make room. I have freed up hangers, literally and metaphorically. I have let go of accumulated junk that is taking up space for what could be more beautiful, more comfortable or more reflective of who I am today. An important part of personal style is being authentic, unencumbered and having things that fit well. Not things that used to fit well, or used to be in style. I want the space to see what looks and feels good to me in this season.