I just threw away a pair of black leather boots that carried considerable sentimental value. When I bought them, I vowed never to throw them away. I wanted to keep them looking nice and neat forever. And yet, when I dumped them in the trash two weeks ago, I felt completely elated.
One of my fondest childhood memories is the time I picked out these boots with my mother. Though I was already 13 years old when I bought them, I remember feeling as if owning these shoes solidified my status as A Real Teenager, because they were the first shoes I bought in an adult size. I received them for Christmas when I was in eighth grade, and I loved them for the next eight years.
But in the recent past, I felt self-conscious every time I wore them. My boots looked battered. I had worn down the heels. They were stained. The leather had formed so closely to my feet that, if I took off my shoes, you could make out the faint outline of my toes at the front.
Why was I holding on to them?
Truth be told, I cared more about their monetary worth than their sentimental value. I wanted to make them last. They weren’t particularly expensive, and I wore them all the time. I had likely gotten my money’s worth by the time I graduated high school. But year after year, I lugged them to Cambridge and allowed them to take up room in my small closet because I couldn’t rationalize throwing them in the trash.
I’m reminded of a story I’ll never forget, recounted by author Mildred Armstrong Kalish in her memoir “Little Heathens.” Kalish grew up on a farm in Iowa during the Great Depression and was taught to make everything she owned serve her for as long as possible. Her grandmother saved socks with holes in the toe by cutting off the front so they were a bit shorter, sewing them back up, and handing them to someone with smaller feet. She’d do this endlessly, until the socks fit infants. If new holes appeared at that point, she’d cut off the front a final time and sew the woolen tube into the end of someone’s coat sleeve as a wrist warmer.
I strive to respect the things I own as much as Kalish’s grandmother did each individual sock that passed through her house. But ironically, reading this story gave me the confidence I needed to throw my shoes away rather than keep them.
I was inspired to do this by the end of the story, when Kalish’s grandmother accepts that the infant-sized sock with a hole in the toe has fulfilled its job as a sock. She can repurpose it as something entirely different—in this case, a wrist warmer—but even she, during the Great Depression, knew to retire something when it wasn’t performing its duty anymore.
I’d like to think I did the same thing with my boots. From an economic standpoint, it didn’t make sense to re-sole them, a service they desperately needed. I’d already replaced the soles twice before—once more, I’d invest more money in fixing them than I paid in the first place.
Alternatively, I could have repurposed the boots to serve me in some other way. My mother, famous for her quirky interior decorating, keeps some of my tiny shoes from infancy on her bookshelves. If you ask her why, she’ll tell you that she sees them as art, what with the wear they show and the stories they tell. However, I didn’t think the Harvard Student Art Show would accept a “sculpture” made of my boots nailed to a stand.
More importantly, I thought it might be nice to have one fewer pair of shoes in my closet, one fewer belonging to worry about, and one fewer thing to clutter my life.
There’s a misconception that you must have an “overflowing wardrobe” to be fashionable. Style bloggers perpetuate this to no end. Journalists shame celebrities for repeating outfits, claiming to “catch” stars wearing the same shoes twice as if this were naughty. Meanwhile, over 3.4 million YouTube viewers have gawked at Kylie Jenner giving a tour of her extensive closet. Whether these viewers were impressed or disgusted is irrelevant—the sheer number of viewers proves that people find excess interesting.
But even I, a lover of clothes, think that less is more when it comes to stocking your closet. As “fast fashion” providers like Zara, H&M;, and Topshop churn out affordable clothes at an alarming pace, it is becoming easier to buy reams of clothes without breaking the bank, but I’d rather have two sweaters of good quality than 20 poorly-made sweaters for the same total cost.
And even if I could choose between two closets full of quality clothes, I’d rather have two sweaters than twenty. This may not be a popular opinion amongst Americans, but there are some people—most notably, the author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Marie Kondo, and her fans—who agree with me. Inspired by the minimalist teachings of Zen Buddhism, there are many who know that overconsumption can be overwhelming.
They know that space in your closet gives you space to breathe.
Lily K. Calcagnini ’18, a former Crimson Editorial executive, is a History & Literature concentrator living in Dunster House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays. Follow her on Twitter @lilmisscalc.
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