Having recently left a longtime job and returned to freelance work, I felt I needed some new outfits for meeting all those new editors I'd be hitting up for jobs. After all, I couldn't stop spending now, or I would feel poor and deprived.
But a look at my chaotic closets told me I'd better clean them up before I tried to add any more items. It was the usual jumble -- summer and winter clothes thrown together, fancy and casual clothes in the same place. Impossible to find anything.
So I conducted a major closet reorganizing campaign. I filled a huge bag for our local social-services group, Helpline, with everything that was hopelessly out of style, too small, or that I hadn't worn in a long time. Then I put all the skirts in one place, all the sweaters in one place, all the T-shirts in one place. The result really blew my mind.
I was thinking I needed a new sweater, but my newly clean closets held two solid racks of sweaters!
I discovered I have sweaters in three shades of purple and three shades of pink, in white, black, even speckled black-and-white. I have lightweight sweaters, heavy wool sweaters, knee-length sweaters, pullovers, cable-knit, button-up, and zip-front styles.
How could I have thought I needed a new sweater? I realized what I really needed was a new outlook.
Buying new clothes was an attempt to make me feel happier about myself and my life. But with my thoughts properly organized, I saw that my life, just like my closet, was already full!
I have a wonderful husband of nearly 25 years, three children, friends, fulfilling work, a beautiful home in a safe neighborhood. So many people are without each of these things. Sure, I have the usual worries about money and health and the future. But why, overall, couldn't I be simply happy with what I have?
I had to wonder: were new clothes solving a problem by lifting my spirits? Or was the endless need for new clothes a symptom of my own lack of appreciation of how much I already have -- and my lack of acceptance for the standard of living God has selected as right for me?
My self-invented need for a constant supply of new clothes only contributed to my own debts, causing me more stress, and inevitably, spurred the need for more purchases. I was trapped in a cycle of shopping for new outfits that in the end, no matter how stylish, couldn't dress up the real problem: My attitude.
It's not what we have in life -- it's what we think about what we have that makes all the difference.
When my mother was a girl, she had five outfits to her name. A few for school, one nice dress for special occasions, and one casual outfit for the weekend. One coat. One sweater. Her friends likely had something similar. Now, many of us would consider such a bare closet nothing short of a fashion emergency! But I'm sure my mother never thought her clothing was a problem. It simply was what she had, and what she had was enough.
Looking at my sweater-stuffed closet, I felt embarrassed to be fantasizing about new clothes. I should put my clothing-budget money in a tzedakah box and give it to someone who really needs clothes.
Ultimately, I realized, it's not what we have in life -- it's what we think about what we have that makes all the difference.
My new attitude toward shopping was recently put to the test because my oldest son's bar mitzvah is coming up. In my old frame of mind, this occasion would absolutely have required a new outfit.
But now, looking at my racks of dresses and skirt-sets, I feel sure there's something already in my closet that will look just fine on my son's special day. I don't feel deprived that I'm not getting something new. I think even the fanciest outfit couldn't make this upcoming simcha more joyous or special.
Now, when clothing catalogs arrive in my mailbox, I don't even give them a glance before tossing them out. I know there's nothing in them for me.
I've cleaned out the closet of my thoughts. And now that the clutter is gone, I realize I already have everything I need.