O cruel spring (cleaning)

Ah, the cruel irony of the too-short San Antonio springtime: Bluebonnets and butterflies, blue skies and 75-degree days — and so much green dust coating our cars and sinus passages that we’re forced to wait out the oak-pollen plague indoors. Since it hasn’t been safe to emerge sans allergy mask until this Fiesta week, pollen season was as good a time as any to begin the twice-annual seasonal wardrobe rotation.

Process: I tackle my daughters’ dressers and closets first. The task is a little more involved as they insist on growing out of things. Skirts that swished around ankles last year are now creeping up to the knees. Long pants are now clamdiggers; clamdiggers are now shorts. Shorts are now Daisy Dukes and in violation of school district dress code. Swimsuits I optimistically saved last year I can now admit have been bleached and bagged irrevocably by sun and chlorine.

I make piles. Here are the pants and sweaters my 6-year-old, Dale, has no hope of squeezing into again, but my 3-year-old, Lark, may deign to wear a few years hence —though if she’s half as opinionated at 6 as she is at 3, those neatly-organized tubs containing her future wardrobe are probably pointless space-wasters. Just last week, Lark spurned a half dozen hand-me-down Hanna Andersson capris on the grounds that they’re too short to be pants and too long to be shorts and therefore should not exist. Three-year-old logic is, at times, unassailable.

Alongside a pile of clothes that might — with some judicious cuffing and sleeve-rolling — work next season, lies a pile of cast-offs destined for Goodwill. Another heap will be boxed up and sent to friends with toddler girls who hopefully won’t reject them for their own crazy-whimsical reasons.

When my kids were younger, it was hard to give away their clothes. Those little striped pants Lark wore for her first school picture! The carrot suit we zipped Dale into on her first Halloween! The Christmas dresses! They should all be under glass, like Dorothy’s slippers at the Smithsonian, or Elvis’s shimmery jumpsuits at Graceland. But I’ve gotten a lot less sentimental: A first-grader’s socks gone grey at the heels just don’t tug at the heartstrings the way baby’s first booties did.

It’s when I turn to my own closet that I start to waver, though really this should be so much easier. Long sleeves are relegated to the back of the closet; short sleeves move to the front. Sweaters return to the sweater trunk. Coats are banished to the guest-room closet. Scarves and gloves are tucked in a container on the top shelf next to the snorkel gear and riding helmet. The sock drawer is closed for business till November. Done.

But wait — here are 17 coats I didn’t wear once this winter (come to think of it, I haven’t worn one since I moved here from New York more than five years ago): The floor-length black wool Pauline Trigère my mother gave me right before I left; the Helmut Lang jacket I bought in Paris, still in its Brooklyn dry-cleaner bag. And how about all those early-’90s Betsy Johnson dresses that look like nightgowns? The concert T-shirts? The sample-sale judgment errors, delusional impulse buys, and special-occasion outfits that always felt too special (or too something) for a second go-round?

I should know better; I’m probably the only person who Tivo’d every episode of the Project Runway spinoff Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style. One of the strictest rules of all those closet-makeover shows (right after “Buy a bra that fits!”) is to get rid of anything you haven’t worn in the last year. Don’t wait for your body to snap back into shape. Don’t wait for stirrup pants and jazz shoes to return to fashion. Don’t wait till someone will meet your reserve on eBay. Free yourself from the chaos of the past and embrace a streamlined future in which a classic white shirt, trench coat, and quality shoes will figure prominently.

That simplify-your-life message is tantalizing, but ultimately not for me. If I culled everything that I didn’t wear in the last year, my closet would be a sad and lonely place. I don’t acquire clothes quite like I used to because my hausfrau lifestyle — and this climate — don’t call for a lot of variety. So every piece I get rid of is like getting rid of a piece of my past. I realize this attitude might make me a better candidate for Hoarders than What Not to Wear, but I’m not ready to let go. Besides, I just unearthed my favorite jacket from 7th grade — blanket-lined denim, Rolling Stones patches — and it still fits. On the next chilly day, probably around November, you know what I will be wearing. 

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