Closet Excavation

Whoever coined the phrase “skeletons in the closet” probably had taken a peek into my downstairs coat closet and quickly shut the door before anything otherworldly escaped. From all I have read in the professional literature about hoarding, there seems to be a consistent thread that those impacted by this challenge feel compelled to keep or store things, likely related to a variety of biopsychosocialspiritual factors and with differing levels of severity. Mercifully, the DSM-V has not yet created a category for the organizationally and time challenged among us, who just prefer tossing things into a small space with a door and making sure it latches shut so no one can see our mess. If “chronically cluttered” was a diagnostic category, I’d just make myself the label and sew it on the lapel of my coat…while I was cramming the aforementioned coat behind closed doors.

I have been feeling a bit under the weather, and today was a dreary, rainy day. As always, there were several projects calling my name, but nothing that couldn’t wait until tomorrow. A marathon of back episodes from Mad Men and Downton Abbey were calling to me on Netflix. I walked by the coat closet, noticed the door was ajar and pushed it shut. Or, at least I tried to. After seven years in this house, my overstuffed closet had reached max, and would not latch. This did not bode well. I thought about the fact that I had invited my students and faculty colleagues over for a holiday gathering in a few weeks, when it was likely they would wear coats, and that those coats would need a place to hang. I thought about children and grown-ups who really needed hats and scarves and coats as the weather chills. I knew that my closet space had a lot of potential donations lurking in its corners. I sighed, and resigned myself to the recognition that the closet needed to be cleaned, and today needed to be the day that happened. Beautiful actors in vintage clothing and escapist plot lines would simply have to wait. Darn it.

With the diligence of an archeologist, I began this excavation of piles of outerwear, purses, bags, briefcases, and other items that had found their way into this purgatory of purging. I filled three bags with outgrown children’s coats and winter wear, and another one of items the grown-ups had stopped wearing routinely. I stripped conference bags of their neglected handouts which were sent to recycling and noted the lineage of business cards I found that spanned academic ranks and administrative roles. I made a few piles of things that actually required saving; I tossed out far more than I kept. I found some long lost treasures, including my collection of holiday themed earrings that had disappeared a few years hence, when I thought I had left them in a hotel room. Instead, they had been living in the inner pocket of a carry-on bag tucked inside a scarf. I rolled my eyes upon finding some purses that made me wonder what I was thinking at the time of their purchase. I smiled and teared up finding a bag full of toddler toys in the back corner of the closet, remembering how small my now middle school daughter was when we moved here. At that time, a bag of busy toys accompanied us everywhere. The same overflow of emotion accompanied the froggy rain boots that I hope will be on some other toddler’s tiny feet soon. I unearthed no fewer than 15 phone books, and am now reassured that we will have fire starting material for the fire pit for the rest of the season, possibly next. Martha Stewart could probably make a forest of folded tree crafts with them.

I designated one of the former work bags I just cleaned out to hold the articles, books, and journals I take on spiritual day retreats these days. I love finding new uses for something old, and was happy to have a dedicated carrier for my materials instead of stacking them on a pile on the stairs. At several points in my personal archeological dig through the closet, I wondered what toddler-Mom-Sarah would have to say to middle school parenting Sarah. Or, what the purchaser of the black and white canvas clutch would think of the vintage leather handbag and wool hat buyer a few closet levels higher. My mind drifted, and I wondered what would happen if my five-years-ago self who first purchased the bag now housing my spiritual direction materials was given the opportunity to peek into the future and see its eventual use. I suspect I would have been surprised…and perhaps even laughed like my Hebrew namesake when encountered by a prophetic angel. How can one handbag remind me so vividly that life holds serendipitous surprise and divine growth, that all things unfold in God’s time. These are the layers of our lives.

My closet is now clean and organized. The Goodwill has several bags of donated winter wear. The closet door closes without any issues, and there is ample room for my guests to hang their coats again. I didn’t find any skeletons, but I did get to glimpse the growth and change of body and spirit over the years. It makes me wonder what treasures the next personal archeological expedition will bring when, inevitably, my closet is filled to overflowing again.

Closet excavation: success.

Small point of light: discovered once again, in the most unlikely of places.

About harasprice

Professor of Social Work and Priest in The Episcopal Church, parent, teacher, learner, writer, advocate, and grateful traveller along this journey through life
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