Many years ago, until 2008, to be exact, I was a girl with closet stuffed to the gills, shoe boxes stacked on the shelf three high all the way down the length of the shelf. What boxes did not fit there were stacked four boxes high the entire length of the closet floor. Okay, fine. They may have been double-stacked, filling the right bottom half to capacity. Fine! I may have had some stacked in the corner of the bedroom somewhere, too. Also, it’s quite possible that I may have had a few dozen bags with matching wallets to coordinate with said shoe stash. In addition to the overflowing closet, I may have also had two dressers to hold the overflow of my shopping excursions.
The cabinet above the sink in the bathroom was precariously filled to capacity with a rainbow of nail polish colors, and seemingly almost as many different perfumes. Well, okay, maybe I may have had 4 or 5 different kinds of shampoo and conditioner in rotation at any given time. 🙂 Don’t judge me! 🙂
By all appearances, the preceding background may look as though I was a tad bit superficial or materialistic. However, it was more like this. I worked in retail, and most of the stores I worked for gave generous discounts for items you could wear to work. Several of those places expected you to use that discount. Next, I worked in retail, so I unfortunately had awareness of the markups of clothing, and I always caught the end of season sales, AND got my employee discounts. And, I like variety in most things. This means a girl can never can never have too many shoes. Or purses. Or necklaces. Or coats.
When I was about to exceed capacity, I simply donated things I didn’t really use or want anymore. On several occasions, if someone commented on something and I could tell they really liked it and I knew they were struggling financially, they often ended up with it. Several members in my family asked me why I wouldn’t sell it and recoup even a little of the loss, but I never understood the point of selling something to those who can afford to go out and buy it new without stretching themselves to the limit when I could give to those who couldn’t afford to even go buy it used, because they were already struggling. And sometimes, this truly should include giving things that aren’t just necessity but “luxury” items: jewelry, dressier handbags, scarves. Silly things that many of us as women take for granted but feel a little better about ourselves when we have them. We all deserve to feel beautiful.
During my years with Kevin, there were no perks, no luxuries, no baubles. I could not get my hair done, much less go to a second-hand store to buy jeans. He went through so much money, I recall dozens of times when I had to obsessively rummage and search the apartment to collect enough pennies and nickels to go across the street to buy a single roll of toilet paper. It’s hard to feel beautiful when everything you get is solely out of necessity, and even more difficult when you have a gnat forever hovering around your ear feverishly buzzing about how fat, ugly, and disgusting you are. As hard as things were living with Kevin, as little as I did have, I was blessed to be on the receiving end of people who were like I once was. Had it not been for the kindness of strangers donating unwanted clothing, I cannot imagine what I would have been wearing.
When I first left, I was still extremely limited in what clothes I had. The first weekend I was away from Kevin, my parents had to take me to Wal-Mart to buy some of the most basic things, because Kevin had burned through my check a few nights before. I was humiliated, and I felt like a child. I know they were doing this because they understood the situation, but I swear I never had to have anyone buy anything for me. I was embarrassed to go to the register. To this day, they will not let me pay them back. Other family members lent me clothes until I had a few paychecks come in, because they couldn’t afford to let me keep them. A woman I have come to think of as my mother gave me two giant garbage bags of clothes that she had not been wearing. I considered this my brush-up course in humility. How could I really acknowledge that others need help sometimes, but have the gall to think that I shouldn’t be one of them? Millions of people every day find themselves in a position of need, so what is so different about me that I couldn’t find myself there as well?
The first few times I was actually able to go into a store to buy new clothes, I did not know how to feel. A part of me was petrified, because this was forbidden. Further, I was looking at skirts, shoes, jewelry, and anything red because I had been denied these things. I had to keep reminding myself that I was no longer with Kevin and that I was not, in fact, going to be punished if I bought something for myself. Not just something generic for myself, but something nice. Something meant to make me look better instead of androgynous. It was uncomfortable. I was used to fading away into the background. A part of me wanted to go back and fade away. But that’s ridiculous, because I hated being there. The truth is, it was easy, I had plenty of practice. There would be no fear to confront, no emotions to work though.
By the current state of my closet, it would seem apparent that I have resolved this issue. This time around, though, most of my wardrobe has been pieced together from sale racks and Goodwill. The few things I did splurge on were a winter coat (you can’t survive New York in the winter without one!) and my clothes that I wear to my meetings and out in service. After spending so many months feeling uncomfortable in my clothes and makeup and jewelry, I now feel quite at home. It’s nice to feel like a woman again.