The Only Perfect Thing In My Life Is My Closet

Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh.
My life is a mess. You might not think that if you met me. I try to come across as put-together. I have a cute husband and a great job, and I own my apartment, which in some circles is considered the pinnacle of being an adult. But I am far from perfect. And in the summer, when the humidity is at its peak and my hair gets really big and kind of frizzy, I feel like my exterior finally reflects how I feel on the inside: a little bit crazy and a whole lot disorganized.

If you look carefully, you can see cracks in the veneer. Take my desk at work. It drives certain colleagues crazy that it’s a mess of papers and books and abandoned paper cups half full of tea. Peek inside my purse, and you’d be horrified by the mix of old receipts, crumpled gum wrappers, empty containers of hand sanitizer, and forgotten business cards. My apartment is neater, thanks in part to my husband, but I can’t escape the piles of stuff that never seem to find a home: the clothes I’m selling on Poshmark, the dirty laundry that needs to go to the dry cleaners, the mail I keep promising to sort through. Let’s not even get started on the last time I shredded all that old paperwork.

But there is one place in my life that is an oasis of calm: my closet. I open the doors each morning to choose something to wear, and I let out a little sigh of relief. Before me, my beautiful clothes are organized by type. From right to left, it runs: coats and jackets to party dresses to work dresses to skirts to blouses to cardigans to blazers. Nothing is out of place. It is my shelter from the chaotic storm that is my cluttered, busy life.

there is one place in my life that is an oasis of calm: my closet

I can’t tell you exactly when I got into organizing my clothes, and my system has gone through different iterations over the years. One thing that hasn’t changed for as long as I can remember: my strong distaste for wire hangers. I remember one summer, as a teen, watching the old Faye Dunaway movie Mommie, Dearest on AMC. It’s a terrible film, and one of the worst scenes is when the tyrannical Joan Crawford beats her adopted daughter while screaming, “NO MORE WIRE HANGERS!” It’s intense, and while I would never get that worked up about a hanger, I understand the sentiment to an extent. I shudder whenever I go through my husband’s closet and find a shirt still hanging on one of those blasted pieces of metal. “No more wire hangers,” I trill jokingly, though every joke is a little bit true. I have a similar hatred for the thick, plastic hangers that also fill his closet (I prefer the crystal style), but I can’t justify the expense of replacing all of our hangers. One day...

A year ago, I became obsessed with finding a solution to my shoe problem. We had no proper shoe storage; everything just ended up in a pile in a corner or a random bin, and it was unsightly. I spent hours researching shoe storage options — when I get an organizational idea in my head, I will not let it go. I fantasized about having a walk-in-closet that could house my growing collection (impossible in a one-bedroom apartment). I would linger on the Elfa page on the Container Store website and imagine spending thousands of dollars to completely redo my closets just to accommodate my shoes. (We have custom shelves for my husband’s CD collection. One could argue my shoes are worth more.) In the end, I settled on simple shoe racks that fit in the bottom of two of our closets — one for me, one for my husband. It’s the best $60 I’ve spent in a long time. Though I’m still dreaming of those Elfa shelves. Someday...

Last spring, when I was going through a bit of a hard time, I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, because I needed some magic and some life-changing. The book didn’t fix my generally messy life. Despite her good advice, I refuse to part with the two shoeboxes full of ticket stubs from every concert, movie, and play I’ve ever attended with my husband. But I was inspired by her trick for folding clothes. Suddenly, my dresser drawers were as beautifully organized as my closet. Kondo's special folding technique saved me a whole dresser drawer that I now use whenever I need to haphazardly hide away one of those other miscellaneous piles before company comes. But better than the extra storage is how all of my shirts and pants and underwear now seem to stand at attention, waiting for me to choose them each day when I get dressed.

suddenly, my dresser drawers were as beautifully organized as my closet

My husband and I are preparing to move this summer after seven years in our little apartment in Brooklyn. As I start to imagine decorating a new place, I spend most of my time fantasizing about how organized I will be. Maybe I will finally be able to get my whole apartment as perfect as my closet. With an organized home, surely my work desk will be neat and tidy as well. I will become incredibly productive. And even in the summer, my hair will be sleek and silky. It’s a trickle-down effect, right? One perfect space begets another? I’ll never get tired of that fantasy.

But if I’m being realistic, I know no matter where I live, I’ll face the same problems. Because I’d rather spend my time doing other things than having a perfect home or a clean purse or an organized desk. And I’m okay with my messes, just like I’m okay with my big summer hair, because I know I’m never going to be flawless. I’ll never have a perfect life — no one does. But I’m happy to settle for a near-perfect closet.
Editor's Note: The photo in this story is not of the writer's real closet. She would never use that kind of hanger.

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