The Psychology of My Closet.

I didn’t realize how much stuff I acquired over the years until I had to move. It’s not until the truck was in the drive that I was forced to stare my hoarding issues in the face.

Packing for me is like that dream where you show up to school on the first day totally naked — only instead of people seeing my bare bod, they see my shameful shoe addiction (insert embarrassed monkey emoji).

I recently packed all 26 years of my belongings into a 10x10 storage unit. And let me tell you, when you spend two days straight playing Tetris with your possessions, you start contemplating the purpose of belongings.

This experience raised a lot of questions in my life. As I lovingly wrapped treasures in bubble wrap and cardboard, I made a conscious decision to say goodbye to unused items.

It sounds easy enough… until I got to my closet.

As each garment of linen, silk and let’s be real, polyester, passed through my hands, I couldn’t help but reflect on the memories woven into each piece. The first day of college, the night I met my husband, the day I left for Haiti… Without fail, I couldn’t shake the sentimentality that seemed to overwhelm me when I went to toss an item. And while there’s a chance you’re sitting there shaking your head at my struggle, there’s also a chance you know exactly what I’m talking about.

So why do we do it? Why do we attach feelings and memories to inanimate objects that can’t reciprocate our feelings?

After reading a lot of intense (and to be honest, kinda boring) studies on the reasons why we place such value on items, it seems that there are legitimate psychological reasons we do so.

When it comes to people and their clothes, attachment stems primarily from identity, financial and/or emotional connections.

1. Self-Esteem

Women especially, have the tendency to hoard clothes that we use to measure our image — treating those high school jeans like a scale. If we can still fit them, even if they’re whitewashed and bootcut, it means we’ve maintained our desired figure. Or maybe we hold onto them as an enabler to lose those stubborn 10 pounds. Either way, this mindset makes it extra hard to toss them out, as we’re too busy repeating the mantra “I’ll fit in them again one day.”

2. Financial Reasons

This to me is the hardest one because it’s a “realistic” reason, and I pride myself on being a realistic person. Ultimately, we’re too busy assessing dollar signs to consider the fact that we haven’t worn it in three years. Keeping items based on what we once paid for them is still costing us. Instead of money, we pay the price of minimal closet space and guilt by these unworn garments.

3. Emotional Attachment

Saulo Cwerner, author of “Clothes at Rest: Elements for a Sociology of the Wardrobe; Fashion Theory, Vol. 5,” explains that we view our wardrobe as an expression or an extension of our identity, which causes us to develop personal connections to each garment. This sense of self trumps the need for a minimalistic space.

Sentimentality is a very real thing. It’s what makes us human, and can be a beautiful expression. However, we often misplace that sentimentality on items that can’t return our feelings.

No matter the “why,” saying goodbye to things isn’t easy. But I found out that the feeling of sadness is swiftly replaced by one of relief once I gifted that item to a friend or donated it to a worthy cause. It’s like my 19-year-old brother told me recently,
“It’s just stuff, and stuff doesn’t hold memories. People do.”
He’s totally right, and apparently way more mature than me.

To be transparent, I’ve struggled for years with the frustrations of having too much stuff, while also feeling heartbroken about letting things go that harbored precious moments to me.

Now knowing that their value is merely what I place on it, I find myself holding inanimate objects with more of an open-hand.

Plus, my storage unit is way less cluttered. And I actually find myself looking forward to unpacking possessions in our new home with no other feeling than one of peace.