Mindfulness at Home: Letting Go

by Amy Azzarito


If you live in a small apartment, frequent closet cleaning is something that comes with the territory. Considering this cold weather has me housebound, I decided to tackle mine. I don’t know why it’s hard to get rid of things you haven’t worn in years. (And by years, I’m talking about ten.) The general rule when it comes to clothing is that if you haven’t worn it in a year, you should let it go- but that’s a little easier said than done. And while I have lots of clothing that I wear continuously, my closet was beginning to feel like a storage facility.

Both Grace and Max wrote this month about being mindful with the acquisition of items, but sooner or later if you don’t want to live like the Collyer brothers, you’re going to have to let some things out of your life. I have a theory that if you want good things to come into your life, you need to make space for them. I found that to be true in nearly all aspects of my life. You won’t meet the love of your life if you’re afraid to let go of a so-so relationships. You won’t find the job of your dreams if you’re too nervous to contemplate leaving the security of the known job you have. Even though I believe fundamentally in facing change head-on, it can be hard to let go of things that were once so good to you. I’m not an advocate of getting rid of things just because they are old (my house is filled with vintage pieces so that would never work), this was more about letting things go that were no longer bringing me joy on a daily basis. It was about trusting that my memories were stronger than the items themselves and that I didn’t need the items to remember those times in my life.

Click through for the full post after the jump…

In my closet, there was the blue cashmere/wool blend skirt with its purple silk lining that I got from the boutique A. Cheng when it was located in the East Village. I was in my early twenties and something about that shop made me feel grownup and stylish. I would go there with one of my very first friends in New York, who she now is married with two kids and has lived in France for 9 years. That give you a sense of how old this skirt is. It was such a simple cut that I tried to convince myself that I would wear it again. But I hadn’t worn it in at least five years. I was hanging onto it because it reminded me of that special time (and it was expensive).

Then there were the black J-Brand cords that I got at Barney’s with Grace just before the Design*Sponge book tour and literally wore to every event. I wore them so often that the pant seat wore away, and I had to get it repaired. If we met on the book tour, I’m pretty sure you met these pants. I had a closet full of black pants and these were just no longer as flattering.

The blue Tsumori Chisato skirt that I found at Bird was there, too. I bought it for my graduation from Cooper-Hewitt, where I graduated with a Master’s in the History of Decorative Arts and Design and won (to the surprise of both me and my parents) the award for Outstanding Student. It was an expensive skirt but it just didn’t look that great on me. It was time to let it go.

It can be tough to get rid of items like these that hold special meaning. My method is to give myself a quota. Like ‘I must get rid of ten items’. Then I take a break and do ten more. I love the challenge aspect of a quota and it’s motivating to be able to check things off a list and finish them. This time, I was ruthless.

The velvet hangers I purchased to save a little space were no longer able to keep up. I needed to create space for new clothes and new memories. While I didn’t get rid of everything (I held on to a small but hard-won collection of DVF and Mayle sample sale dresses), I was able to let go of enough for a truly deep clean and take most things to the Salvation Army. What I didn’t donate I took to the Design*Sponge yard sale, where they found great new homes and I earned a little money for my Peru trip in March. By de-cluttering, I created space in both my mind and my closet to let the new, good things come into my life. –Amy

(p.s. If you feel ready to let some things go, check out this post on Decluttering Tips and Where to Donate)

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  • I am all about this post. I am getting a lot of my writing/reading work done while at my office job today and then I am pounding some coffee and going to town on my whole apartment. I agree – you need to make space to let good things come into your life.

  • I do this at least twice a year. Typically, I just tackle my closet. During the Christmas break, I decided to tackle my whole apartment. It felt so good to finally get rid of the things that no longer held special meaning. I donated everything (an entire trunk load) to a local thrift store. I trust others are now loving my old things. :)

  • Such a good reminder that we really don’t need the material things that fill our lives. This year I started a journal project with my daughters. Instead of things – we write about what we find funny or put in photos of the moments we share. My 12 year old daughter and I just made pajamas together. I’m sure she will outgrow them in 6 months but she wrote about the day we spent together and how everything that could go wrong did- a memory she now will always have because we laughed about it.

  • This post is helpful….but I am really struggling with getting rid of my college t-shirts. My mom made me a t-shirt quilt when I went to college of all my t-shirts from growing up and high school, but my sorority t-shirts irrationally mean so much to me. Maybe another t-shirt quilt is in order.

    • Hi Jamie – I love the t-shirt quilt idea. I think it’s totally cool to keep things that mean a lot to you. You could also do something like take photos of all the shirts and display them, but a t-shirt quilt sounds pretty cozy. Good luck! xoAmy

  • Also…as someone who loves vintage items, it pains me to get rid of things that a future generation might love. What if I get rid of something and it’s something that my future child would love? It’s so hard!

  • Thanks for the encouragement. Purging my closets is always a difficult task for me as I tend to talk myself out of adding things to the donation basket. “But I might need this someday!” Odds are I really won’t, but it feels safe to hold on to things. I’m tired of having so much stuff, so something’s gotta give! I’m inspired to do another round of closet clean-out today!

  • “It was about trusting that my memories were stronger than the items themselves and that I didn’t need the items to remember those times in my life.”

    This part rang so true for me! My Mom passed away 6 years ago when I was 19 years old and my Dad recently got remarried and moved into his Wife’s house. The move made sense for them and I was ok with it, but boy was it tough going through everything from my childhood. I’m 25 and I haven’t lived at home in years but all the memories that the stuff we went through held (especially of my mom)… it was so tough to get rid of them. Of course I held on to the really sentimental items but we still gave away/sold/got rid of a lot. In the end it was just stuff and, like you said, I know my memories are much much stronger than the items themselves! Thanks for sharing!

  • My closets are busting at the seams….So I just went through them with the goal of parting with 20%. My first pass through eliminated just a few pieces that were obvious, but getting rid of more was really hard. What I ended up doing this time was pulling every item out of the closet and piled them on the bed. I then tried on EVERY item. Boy was that an eye opener!! So many loved items in your closet just look better on in your mind than in reality! A happy bi-product was that I rediscovered some awesome things that were buried in the closet and that look great when I tried them on!

  • Peru? Lima? My hometown! How exciting–don’t forget to pack loose clothes so you can eat, eat,eat :) Wish I were there to show you around.
    I will try, emphasis on the “try”, to get rid of a few things–so hard to do!

  • I have a general rule with my closet where if I buy something, I have to get rid of something (excluding essentials). Also, I pare down my closet every single season and make a pile to donate. Getting rid of stuff that no longer suits me, especially when I know someone else would appreciate it, is very freeing. It’s a great feeling!

  • My passive way of doing this: in January, I rehang all of my hangers backwards (the hangers themselves, so the hook part is behind the closet rod). When something gets worn, it goes back on a hanger the right way. I do something similar with shoe boxes: everything gets a post it note on the side in January, and I take the post it off when I wear the shoes. Anything remaining on a backwards hook or in a box with a post it gets donated at the end of the year.
    It’s less immediately satisfying than getting rid of things right away, but it keeps me honest about what actually gets used (otherwise, it’s easy to justify keeping things I don’t wear!).

  • A lot of beautifully spoken truisms in this post. A lot of emotion really does go with the purging of ‘stuff”. I especially loved the comment about the memories being stronger than the ‘stuff’. Now that two of my grown children have moved out of state, the little things they made for me in school are harder to let go. I’m a pretty good declutterer myself, but for some reason this winter is one of those really deep clearing ones. I’ve done the living room, kitchen, bedroom, workroom, (where I still see a few clients for reflexology and massage) laundry room, and am about to tackle the mountain of ‘mixed media’ (heh-heh) in my newly-claimed studio. Every cabinet and closet now has breathing space, an empty shelf or drawer, and it’s getting hard to stop! I sometimes wonder that if it all just dissipated overnight, what would we actually miss?

    Thanks very much for sharing, Amy!

  • Great article and comments! All of you who live in smaller spaces like apartments have my admiration and respect, because you have to be especially stringent on your decluttering due to lack of storage space. I’m one of those people with plenty of storage space plus a large walk-up attic. The only problem is that is has let my family and I accumulate more ‘stuff’. However, I have been gradually chipping away at the clutter and bringing trunkloads down to the Goodwill Store to donate. It’s been slow but steady clearing. It gives me such a good feeling to give away gently-used items in hopes that someone can find them useful! (and because there’s enough stuff going to landfills every day)
    Also, having never heard of the Collyer Brothers (I love in northwest NJ), I read up on them via the link. What a sad, tragic – and scary – story. I never new that hoarding was a problem way back then. Yeah, call me naïve.
    To KAYLEE – So sorry for the loss of your mother. Having lost mine (25 years ago) I know what’s it’s like to go through her things and all the memories it stirs up – the good and the sad. I had my mom’s whole bedroom to go through (my father and brothers weren’t emotionally able to do it, so it fell to me, the youngest at age 26). However, aside from some particularly heart-wrenching moments, going through and sorting all her clothes (a lot of clothes!) and possessions was actually very healing for me and brought me even closer to her. The same was true when my dad passed away four years ago. And now we have boxes of stuff from my mom-in-law’s house from last year!
    But slow and steady is how I sort through and donate items., although some will wind up on eBay or Etsy. Well, time to go through another closet/box/drawer! : )

  • Just wanted to say that I am LOVING the new content in the new year. You guys are bringing some real thoughtfulness to the online design world. Keep up the great work!

  • What a great post! I have noticed a theme of minimalist and de-cluterring on quite a few blogs lately. It’s so refreshing to see others talking about it because even though it’s a simple concept, it’s difficult to implement, like you said! I also really love what you said about memories being stronger than the items presence in your home/life and if we want good things in our lives, we need to make room – whether it’s emotional or a physical item. So so true! Thanks for sharing. :) xo

  • I’ve been on a decluttering mission for the last few years, but have really started to ramp it up. A family, with kids, in a house, can really accumulate more stuff than you realize. I mostly concentrate on my own things, but there are also many items I’ve gathered for the family whether it’s furniture or recipes. With every cupboard, closet, drawer, and shelf I declutter, I feel so much lighter. And, like Susie, I forced myself to try. on. everything. And I looked at myself in the mirror. Even if I loved the fabric or how comfortable an article of clothing was, if it wasn’t flattering…goodbye!

    The mindfulness that Grace and Max have written about so eloquently brought to mind the William Morris quote about not having anything in your home you don’t know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. That’s what I’m trying to live by.

  • I try to do this every six months, too, but have a lot of trouble getting rid of things that I see as possibly useful. The method I’ve developed is to keep a “give away” box in my closet, and to place any items I’m not sure about in the box. I let them sit there for six months then check back in at the next six month mark. If I never want to wear the item it goes–and often I find that I’ve forgotten about it entirely. Sometimes it’s the familiarity that we don’t want to get rid of, so giving yourself a staging area helps you more clearly evaluate without needing to take on all the emotions of getting rid of sentimental things up front.

  • Ah! I’m not sure I can get rid of some of my clothes, even though I need to. Grace and Max’s posts inspired me to binge 4 bags of stuff for a more streamline home and resist items I don’t need. This was the perfect 3rd installment. Motivation to tackle my closets this weekend!

  • Whew. This is the story of my life. I have probably gotten to the 50% mark of getting rid of things, but I want to be at 70% and this last bit is tough. Clothes are a funny one. We hold onto them when they don’t fit anymore or for the memories. Thanks for this week’s inspiration to get rid of more! I’m definitely going to try the quota of 10.

  • It’s a great feeling to live lightly with only the things we need and use. I’ve been on a streamlining mission for the past year and it’s definitely liberating. Looking forward to more insightful decluttering posts like these.