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Do Your Clothes Spark Joy After 50? (Do They Have to?)

A lot of people, including myself, have fallen hard for the “Konmari” craze. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, the trend – which has spread like wildfire – is the result of the enormous success of Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

The book also sparked a television series where Kondo was invited into people’s homes to help them sort through their “stuff.” Much of that stuff involved clothing.

Seeing What You Have

The first thing she recommends is to take all of your clothing – and I mean everything – out of your closet, drawers, shelves, anywhere it is taking up precious real estate, and put it all in one big pile.

It’s a revelation. Most of us have no idea how much we have, let alone what we have, until we see it all piled up. It can also be somewhat embarrassing.

For someone like Kondo, who comes from a tightly packed island like Japan, closet space and ownership of things comes at a steep price. Each thing demands careful consideration.

What impressed me about her is the deep and genuine respect she pays, both to the actual home itself, and to the sensitivities of the inhabitants. She never says, for example, “Puh-leeze, get rid of THAT!”

No, she is very soft spoken and gentle, because frankly, letting go of things brings up a lot of emotions: loss, grief, memories we’d rather not revisit, happy ones we’d rather not let go.

Some people find tremendous comfort in being “cocooned” by their stuff, especially their clothes, even if to others it looks a lot like hoarding. This can be especially true for someone who grew up impoverished. All those things tell the psyche, “We have made it.”

How to Decide What to Keep

So, to help them decide what to keep Kondo asks the simple question: “Does it spark joy?”

It’s an important question. I have learned how to apply this successfully when sorting through books, papers, household items, etc. But for clothes it’s more nuanced and personal. What does it mean for an article of clothing to spark joy? Do clothes have to spark joy?

A lot of the clothes that sparked joy in me in the past did so because they made me feel sexy and attractive. But many are things I would never again wear. I have no desire to show that much skin anymore. These days I value comfort greatly. I also value longevity and usefulness.

For those reasons it’s been easier for me to say, “This no longer brings me joy, or actually never did,” and then let it go, than to say, “This brings me joy.”

A blouse, jacket, or dress might make me feel good about myself; it might serve an important purpose, or it might have sentimental value… but I can’t always say that joyfulness is part of why I keep it.

Another good rule to consider when clearing out your closet is to think about your favorite color scheme and only keep items that fit into it. That includes a few neutrals, like grey, tan, and black, and a few of your favorite pops of color. The rest you don’t need. You may have bought (or been gifted) a clothing item in a color that you simply don’t feel good in. Let it go.

You can also consider what flatters your current body shape. Don’t keep items that you cannot wear anymore and that are uncomfortable and unflattering. Let’s face it, we’re never going to get our 20-year-old bodies back, so it’s best to rethink silhouettes as we age and keep the clothing items that we actually wear.

Some Other Questions to Ask

But still, the concept of “What sparks joy?” inspired some corollaries that I found very useful. They also offer good suggestions about why to keep pretty much anything, but are especially valuable when it comes to our clothes:

  • Do I need this?
  • Do I wear this currently?
  • Does this reflect the life I want to live?
  • Does this reflect the person I want to be seen as this year, next year, five years from now?

Along with the idea that something we wear makes us feel good about ourselves it should also be useful… and used. That’s why I always encourage clients to buy the best they can afford or similar pieces to those they love and then wear them to death.

It’s what people in many parts of the world who have small closets, or no closets for that matter, understand and value. And that brings us to another important consideration.

A Few More Things to Think About

What else needs to go? After the question “Does this spark joy?” has been answered, you may want to consider a few more things in order to decide if you want to keep or discard items. Suggestions from Dawn Lucy (Fashion Should Be Fun) about what to discard include:

  • Anything that is unflattering, uncomfortable, or itchy.
  • Shoes that don’t fit properly and that give you blisters.
  • Things that are in a color that doesn’t look good on you.
  • Items that don’t match with anything else in your wardrobe.
  • Sentimental items that you don’t wear. Take a photo or put them in a keepsake chest. Don’t leave them hanging in your closet taking up space.
  • Anything you’re just sick of wearing. Someone else may want it though. Your old may possibly be someone else’s new.
  • Any unfinished projects or “for future” items. That includes the jacket that you wanted to shorten but never did and the “jeans that you will one day fit into.”
  • Costume jewelry that’s starting to look old. This can be a personal choice as some of us really like costume jewelry. Make sure that you wear it, and it’s not just sitting in your jewelry box collecting dust.
  • Earrings that are too heavy and you don’t actually wear.
  • Bracelets that don’t fit and that slide off your arm.
  • Scarves in shapes you don’t know what to do with and don’t know how to tie. Keep the ones you actually wear.
  • Anything you feel ridiculous wearing.
  • Things you bought on vacation and have never worn. We are all guilty of this. You were feeling those great see-through palazzo pants while on a beach in Mexico but now not so much.
  • Anything that shrunk or just never looked the same after you washed it. Some items you buy may not be pre-shrunk and feel uncomfortable after the first wash.
  • Things that you try on from time to time that never seem quite right and that always go back on the hanger. Use that hanger for something you actually enjoy wearing.
  • Anything that was a gift that you hardly ever wear.

What to Do with the Things You Don’t Want?

Now that you’ve done the extensive cleaning up of your closet and put back only the things you truly enjoy and wear, what do you do with all the items that didn’t make the cut back into your closet?

These clothing and fashion items can be given to charity outlets so that other women can purchase them at a low-cost. You can also invite some friends over and have them pick out what they want. Also, another idea is to sell them, especially if you have designer and expensive brand pieces that can generate some extra money for you.

Warning: Whatever you do, don’t start pulling things back out of the reject pile and putting them back in your closet. Trust your initial instincts and go over the above list of questions again if you are struggling.

How Much Do We Really Need?

Maybe that is the crux of it. I just read an article by a woman I know who, after being treated for breast cancer, decided to leave it all behind and grab as much life as she possibly could. She and her husband sold their home and most of their belongings and bought a boat.

They now sail throughout the Caribbean and are planning to circle the globe. In reading her missives from tropical and sometimes challenging locations, it became obvious just how little we need to be happy… and to survive. Maybe as we age our joys are just more “quiet.”

I think Marie Kondo would approve.

What clothes do you have that spark joy? Why do you love them? Have you done any of Marie Kondo’s clearing of your closet? Please join the conversation below!

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The Author

Andrea Pflaumer is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, Shopping for the Real You, and an e-book, She’s Got Good Jeans. She has been a regular contributor to Sixty and Me for more than five years and blogs from her home in the San Francisco Bay area. Her most popular online course is Discovering Your Inner Style: an Adventure in Dressing Authentically.

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