Cleaning Out the Closet

I have a lot of clothes in my closet. I have clothes that have been faded and torn in places from being worn so much. I have clothes that still have the labels attached despite being purchased months ago. I have clothes that have been given to me, clothes that have made their way to the ‘chuck out’ pile and then migrated to the ‘keep’ pile before the former pile made it to the donation bin, and even clothes that I never anticipate wearing but, for some reason, hold on to …

When I was travelling I had two pairs of cargo-style pants, a pair of jeans, a pair of yoga pants, three t-shirts, three long-sleeved tops, a jumper, and a few pairs of underwear and socks. By the time I got back to Australia I realised how little I needed – and how much I wanted to stand in front of my wardrobe and have choice. Not to mention to wear my purple boots instead of hiking shoes. Yes, despite being able to get by on minimal clothing, I came to miss tearing through the shelves looking for something better to wear.

The thing is, I hold on to things. I pounce on things I don’t need but take because they’re being offered. I store things away “just in case” and when I do go through my wardrobe I hold on to much more than I need. Or even want.

I do this with my writing, too.

I get so caught up with hoarding away the words, the sub-plots, the characters, the descriptions and dialogue, that I forget how little you need to actually be effective. When it comes down to it, a backpacker doesn’t need five pairs of shoes. A story doesn’t need six “background” characters whose histories are divulged through mundane dialogue. A girl doesn’t need forty-seven t-shirts. A novel doesn’t need nine sub-plots that end up detracting from the main story. Sure, have some choice, but is that fourth description of the weather really necessary?

Yet here’s the next problem: when I clean out my closet, I make four piles:

  1. Throw out.
  2. Keep.
  3. It might fit me again one day.
  4. I’m too sentimental and cannot possibly throw this out.

And when I clean out my closet and my writing I end up with three of those four piles back in there, even if I only really, really want one of them. And no matter how many carbs I cut out from my diet or how much chocolate I ignore, am I really ever going to wear that tiny denim scrap of a skirt again? And what am I possibly going to do with a skirt that reflects my hippy stage from when I was sixteen – and I’m now *mumbletwentysixmumble* and have no need of a cream cotton skirt embroidered with red flowers?

So I’m sentimental. And I’m apparently losing weight if the jeans I purchased two weeks ago are anything to go by since they’re now a tad too big. And yet … Life’s easier when you have fewer choices to make. Be ruthless.

  1. Throw out.
  2. Keep.

And if you really, really need that broken pair of red shoes, get them fixed so they’re not wasting space. Flesh out the character and make him realistic. Work in the sub-plot to enhance the main plot.

When was the last time you cleaned out your closet?


2 comments on “Cleaning Out the Closet

  1. Pingback: Quality Over Quantity « dodging commas

  2. Excellent post, Stef. I definitely know where you’re coming from. Sometimes I’ll write something and become so attached to a minor character or an insignificant sub-plot, or even, God help, one particularly good sentence that I like but which has no need for being there, and I find I cannot remove them no matter how much I know I should.

    …This is why friends are great for cleaning out closets.

    “Do me a favour – see that sentence I’ve highlighted? Delete that for me,
    would you? Delete it and save!”


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