This may sound like a very first-world issue. If you’re a refugee, your signature color is whatever happens to be on the clothes and blankets you manage to find. You don’t have the problem of wedding out your closet. You don’t have a closet, or a house surrounding it. As I said recently about some small problem or the other connected with our move, “I don’t have to worry about getting to the well and back again without somebody shooting me, so I don’t have anything to complain about.” On closing day, that pretty horrible time, I reminded myself, “This day isn’t going to end with anyone diseased or dead. The worst than can happen is that we’ll have to pay that $100 penalty if we don’t do the closing today.”
Kind of puts things in perspective. (I told Gideon, “This isn’t the worst day of my life. That was the day you went into the hospital with your cancer.” And he said, “That wasn’t my worst day, because that was the day I finally started getting some help.” Such as a morphine drip.)
But still. We all like to feel that we know our own minds, that our surroundings have coherence and style. If you know what you really like and what fits into your wardrobe and your décor, then you’re much less likely to buy unnecessary things, less likely to have the dreaded “I don’t like this after all” reaction. Your life is simpler, more streamlined.
So what’s my signature color? You’ll laugh. It’s dark brown. That’s doesn’t mean I want everything I own to be that color, but it’s the foundation. Everything else has to coordinate with it. Let me quote once again from Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman by Ann Ortund (she’s talking about her wardrobe, but her principle applies to all of your possessions):
I’m a brown girl: my Bible is brown, my notebook Is brown, and all the shoes and handbags I own range from chocolate through the browns to creamy white. When I buy a dress (avocado or orange or turquoise or whatever), I probably already have all the accessories to go with it. Traveling is easy; I already coordinate. And I can more easily stay stripped down to the minimum. (emphasis mine, from the print version online, p. 48.)
So, in addition to getting rid of more of my clothes that I simply don’t wear or that I have to make myself wear (such as the orange leather jacket that was marked down to $25 at Christopher and Banks and is totally beautiful but which is uncomfortably stiff and which I worry about all the time I’m wearing it—will I wrinkle it? will I get something on it?), I’m getting rid of my black stuff. I have a beautiful pair of black dressy pants, a nice pair of black boots, a couple of black sweaters and a beautiful black sweater vest, but I never wear them. I got a great deal over a year ago at a consignment shop on a Talbots sweater set, brand new, with black and cream stripes. I’ve never worn it, even though in theory I really like it. So . . . out it all goes. (Even though black is seen as such a great all-purpose color for clothing, it ha to be said that it’s aging.) Why should I hang on to items that someone else might really like and actually wear? I’ll stick with the items that I’d wear every day if I could, such as the Lands’ End handknit sweater I bought over 20 years ago and still love. I’ll keep my beautiful black shoes that I wear for concerts and my concert outfit, of course.
I hope you’ll see that this whole weeding-out process has huge implications that go far beyond what’s hanging in the closet. It’s the life application of Gresham’s Law, which says that “bad money drives out good.” (Don’t expect me to explain the economics of this statement, which has to do with the money supply.) Bad possessions drive out good. You have nice items hanging in your closet, but all the stuff that’s not so nice gets in the way. You can’t see the good for the bad. I’ve said to Jim before, “If we have all this stuff sitting around, then the stuff we really care about is obscured.” Bad relationships drive out good. Bad food drives out good. Bad use of time drives out good.
I’d advise that, if you struggle with this type of issue as much as I do, you read anything and everything by a man named Don Aslett, who has written such great classics as Clutter’s Land Stand: It’s Time to De-Junk Your Life. He’s a firm believer in the same principle that Ann Ortlund preaches: “Eliminate and concentrate.” (My in-laws actually got to meet him this summer; I am very envious! I guess he’s now in his eighties and sort of retired, but he runs something called “The Museum of Clean.” Be sure to stop by the next time you’re in Pocatello, Idaho.)
I’d better get busy on my own stuff instead of telling you what to do with yours. We now have a dresser in the bedroom, so I can at least get some clothes put away. The closet hardware may arrive today, so then we can actually, like, use the closet. Watch for updates next Monday. Happy weeding!