I am one of those women who almost never carries a purse. It wasn’t always that way, though I am thankful to find myself in that category at this point in my life, particularly after listening to the soul-scarring humiliation of being the owner of a messy handbag in “Love, Loss, and What I Wore,” a book turned play I had the joy of attending this week in the small cultural oasis I call home.
This comic tale has deep bouts of sentimentalism and sadness as it weaves through a woman’s life story with pivotal moments remembered by the dresses she wore. Alongside this tale of three marriages, multiple motherhood and the death of a child are comic interludes that portray the humiliation of bra shopping, the familiar feeling of having nothing to wear, the wounding words of a mother.
Why do I share this with you today?
The evening was poignant. Not only did the play uproot and make light of the judgements and double standards we all experience as women trying to find our own sense of self, but I’ve never seen such animated discussion go on in a room of 100 women for so long following a play.
The girlfriends around me asked questions of their own relationships with their mothers, fathers, husbands and bosses--telling stories of how those cultural norms and personal critics got passed down to generations, starting early with questioning how to dress a 2 year old grandchild (“We can’t go out with her dressed like that.”)
It made me think of you all--of my journey as a mom, of my girlfriends from college, of my enduring friendships with the women in my life--of our search for the simple life.
Simplified closets with only the clothing inside that you adore.
Feeling simply fabulous in your own skin.
The play was such a perfect portrayal of how our clothing is a reflection of us--the judgement and shame it can invoke, or the inner goddess it can reveal--often with peels of “you look so beautiful.”
As women in society, what we choose to wear is an expression of who we are--and can carry a particular weight to it. I think about this a lot as a mom to a 3 year old daughter. I find that many from the older generations focus entirely on her beauty. And she is. A little sprite with white blond hair and blue eyes and a scheming smile that says ‘I do what I please, 'cause I’m here to have fun.’ Her spirit is infectious and can make your grumpiest day light up.
As a woman of the 21st century, I do my best to highlight all her other attributes. She insists on carrying everything she can, and will walk around with bags as heavy as she is, repeating what I’ve told her: “I’m so strong!” She is convinced that she is just as fast as her 8 year old brother and is in fact, about as tough.
Sadie’s style is one of my favorite parts about having a girl. She began choosing her clothes as soon as she could pull them out of the drawer--barely toddling or talking, but with very clear opinions about what she would and would not wear. Only items with buttons for a 6 month stint (I started sewing them on her ordinary clothes to avoid the fits of having her favorite pieces in the wash). Hearts, polka-dots, stripes--all a plus. Here she is with her brother's boxer shorts pulled over it all.
I’m constantly reveling in how when “nothing matches, everything matches”--as one woman pointed out in "Love, Loss and What I Wore." I do my best to allow it all--yesterday it was swim suits, jackets and snow boots as she headed outside to climb and slide with a friend.
I learn more about what it looks like to love what you own and own what you love by watching her dress herself.
From a young age, I adopted my mother’s attitude and confidence in clothing--that we had no fashion sense. I felt that well into my 30’s--every morning dreading getting dressed--until I first used the KonMari process in my closet, keeping only the clothing items that inspired joy (visceral joy you can feel in your heart space).
I was amazed that clothing can make your body swell with joy or feel heavy with weight! Who knew? Certainly not me.
It was hard to feel that at first, to allow myself to notice what joy felt like in my body.
(Test your own skill at this; listen to this visualization on Feeling Your Joy. It’s one tool I use with my clients to help them begin to make the distinction between what things make them happy and what things do not.)
Clothing. Oh clothing. "Love, Lost and What I Wore" demonstrated exactly what makes it so difficult to release the clothing that you don’t love (or even to allow yourself to feel whether or not you love it).
All of our things tell a story of our past.
Our clothing is no different. In fact, clothing is sometimes more intertwined with a memory, because this way in which we choose to express ourselves adds to the sentiment of an occasion.
What I loved about this play--from my perspective of searching for the ultimate simplicity in life, the kind that allows you to feel those glorious emotions of ease, weightlessness, happiness--was that it was not a story inspired by a woman going through her closet. It was a story inspired by a woman’s memory of the dresses she’d worn and events that transpired.
It highlighted just how wonderful it is to keep only the things around you that you love--as a way of allowing yourself to let go of the memories that weigh you down and hold you back from living life on your own terms today.
The sketch around the tyranny of the purse--of how the chaos of the interior is a symbol of you--was one I could laugh at heartily, perhaps because I spent many years of my early adult life living that reality, but am no longer in the midst of it. My handbag held everything I could ever need as a woman, and yet, somehow, never had exactly what I was looking for (or maybe I simply couldn’t find it). The bottom of the inside was grimy and littered with crumbs and small pieces of trash--if I ever got down that far.
When I read Marie Kondo’s book: the life-changing magic of tidying up, one of her suggestions (that I thought I would never attempt) was the daily cleaning out of the handbag. “Why,” I thought, “would I waste my time when I would simply load it back up the next day?” And yet, like so many of her ideas, it planted a seed, and I eventually did just as she suggested. I cannot tell you how liberating it was to have a clean and empty bag to use the next day.
At first, I had smaller bags with all the tampons and kleenex that I would remove from my purse (without unloading their contents)... and then put back in the next day. But very quickly, I realized that I had perhaps once in 10 years, used the contents of any of these well packed, stagnant little pockets of stuff--so I allowed myself to let them go.
Now, I have two purses, that hang, ready for use in my closet, but to be honest, I rarely use either of them. And you know what? I always have everything I need when I’m out and about. (That's just me. Some of you will have 20 or more purses that bring you joy--no judgement.)
One New York times writer reviewed the play when it ran off broadway back in 2009. He wrote “Ms. Ephron’s antipathy to the purse stems from her habitual inability to keep hers properly organized and hygienic. In the chaos of its interior she sees a symbol of herself, as in a dark mirror smudged with old lipstick and smelling of spilled perfume. But while laughing with no small sense of relief at Ms. Ephron’s identification with her bedraggled accessory, I realized that I do possess a small, disorganized receptacle filled with useless detritus, one that could be said to reflect my inadequacies as a person. It’s my apartment.”
There is no end to the ways in which our spaces and our things are a reflection of ourselves. We lean on our things like crutches that will sustain us in hard times--all the while not allowing ourselves space to stretch our legs and run.
If this resonates for you, you’re in the right place. The rest of this fall is going to be full of ways for you to lighten your load, feel more confident and relaxed in your own skin and bring that simple home, simple life, simple happiness closer than it’s ever been before. That's what I'm working on too.