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  • Katie Kemp

Soul Closet, a conversation about scarcity

My clearty (clean + dirty clothes) pile was getting out of hand. There were even two of them. Laundry is the chore I loathe the most; the constant feeling of it never being done, the continuous influx of kids’ bedding, and the ungodly amounts of clothes these children wear. Thankfully Adam has taken on the brunt of the processing and I do the folding. (Eww.) With all of the listed above as a priority, weeks would pass before I would get around to doing my own laundry. (Hence the clearty piles!)


Enter my dear friend Julie. I met her a handful of years ago as my daughter Hallie’s occupational therapist. She was organized and grace-filled, ever making things a little bit better just by her presence. When it was time for Julie to transition to one of her dream jobs, working with a lost and forgotten population, the elderly community, we knew we had to let her go as an OT, but not as a friend. The day she told Hallie she was leaving she mentioned that maybe Hallie could come to do a concert at her facility. Hallie spent no time grieving the loss of her departing OT and got straight to work on her playlist. That Christmas Hallie played her first concert starting it off by announcing the weather (what she thought old people would want to know). By the end, she had them up dancing as she played the piano and we all sang (including Blue Christmas by Elvis).


A little while before the concert Julie had asked if I would be her mentor. She is intentional about relationships and who she spends time with, so I was incredibly honored by her to ask. She has now become like a little sister to me. My family welcomes her with open arms to family dinners and she continues to bless us with her many talents including voice lessons, housesitting, and babysitting. She often spends the night after babysitting so that we can have time to chat about all things spirituality, creativity, and life. We have sipped on coffee while doing a Lectio Divina, (a contemplative reading of scripture) and will then find ourselves in the kitchen creating delicious food. This is mostly her laughing at my lack of structure and me laughing at her following the rules (I mean, recipes).


After a date one Friday night, Julie and I joked about the possibility of her helping me organize my closet (another one of her talents). She loves the Netflix show, The Home Edit and had once mentioned helping a handful of friends and family organize their closets in a similar way. So I decided to trust her offer to help me simplify and declutter.


If it’s not clear by now; yes, Julie is a saint.


The next morning, coffee in hand, instead of sitting in the front room to pray, we met on the floor of my bedroom before I exposed her to the most neglected corner of my life. We took a moment to breathe, to be silent, to center. It’s difficult for me to assume the role of direct receiving. I was quite nervous to be that kind of nitty-gritty vulnerable. I mean, she was about to see my underwear drawer. But gracious Julie was there, gently showing up, as usual, making things better with her presence. My own vulnerability is often met with “the gift of tears,” as Julie names them, and so tears were dripping from my eyes.


I knew this closet was representative of my own soul, my own life. It was a direct reflection of my own self-neglect and the ever taking care of everyone else before myself. It was a physical representation of a mindset I’ve long held about needing to save everything until the last thread too. My closet was a tangible place I couldn’t hide or ignore the reality of these patterns, and now I was about to welcome someone else into this mess.


We emptied out my dresser and all the clothes that were hung and piled everything on the bed. Sister’s hand-me-downs, a shirt from when I was in high school, things that were not the right size. Too big, too small, PJs with holes, my favorite running shorts that were hideous (thanks for the gentle realization, Julie!) Things that really were not serving me and yet, I held onto.


As we unraveled my clothing, I began to unravel the belief systems that got me to the state of creating such a pile. I was confronting a mindset of scarcity. “Waste not want not,” a motto that claimed a moral stance about the nature of saving everything because you never know when you might need it. This motto, stemming from my wise father who became the man of the house at 12 years old taught us the lesson that helped him survive.


“But what happens when you don’t need that mindset anymore?” Julie asked.


I had become a slave to the very belief that had once saved my dad, and Julie was right, it was no longer needed. So, as I released a few more tank tops into the give-away pile, I began to release my grip on the “waste not want not” motto.


Julie reassured me, “Items that are still are worth something can be given to someone that will actually need them.” The possibility of items being reused allowed me to more easily release. And the more things I said thank you and goodbye to, the easier it got.


My pastor Andrea says, “Prosperity is about what is flowing through you,” and when I’m holding onto things that don’t serve me, I’m making the goodness in my closet and life stagnant.


Tears and laughter accompany the act of letting go. We laugh so much until my stomach hurts as I have to “answer” to Julie for how particular items were in my possession. Speaking the answer out loud helps me realize the bizarre reasons I was holding onto them (often, it was that someone had given me something). If Julie had not been there I don’t think I would have released as much as I did without her help. There was something deeply healing about her witnessing my process. I began to learn through her eyes about when a shirt has a rough edge (unless intentional) it’s not hippy grunge, it’s just old and time to let it go. She showed me things I couldn’t see- bally sweaters, worn thin athletic clothing, and helped me see my worth through the intentional items I choose to keep. “You’re worth taking care of.”


I only kept a few items that I could answer ‘yes’ to Julie’s question of, “Do you love it?” and then let the rest go. Seeing a pile of only things I love brought a new lightness, an airiness. Then, she ‘Marie Kondoed’ my drawers. She taught me how to fold- hotdog (fold down the middle to make a long shape), hamburger, fold in half again and then finish by folding in thirds. She placed items in the drawer in an accordion, and once it was complete, she arranged by color so the final product was beautiful. “Beauty and order, “ she said, “allows more creativity to flow from your life.”


Julie confronted the pattern of me neglecting my own needs and suggested a new rhythm: I could do my own laundry, first. She then told me about how to create a new habit by lighting a candle and playing music and smiling- all to trick my brain into believing laundry is pleasurable (I highly recommend having an OT as a friend). Four weeks later, she is right. I now look forward to the time I take to do my own laundry- a moment alone in my own space, taking care to steward beauty, remember my worth, and the great abundance flowing through me in my own life and soul.


Fall 2020 I had a moment that I felt so very drawn to the word “fold.” I wrote about one meaning here. I claimed it as my word for 2021. There are many meanings to this word, but when I picked it, I never imagined it would mean literally learning to fold my underwear and socks a new way. But that’s God’s humor because now I have a box of sock tulips I open to every morning.


My closet is really just a metaphor for the things I have stored within myself. The process of confronting each story- of naming why it’s still there- is helping me release it. My pattern of self-neglecting is gently and steadily being tossed out. I sense a new spaciousness in me, a new intention of filling with only things I love. We all know it was never really about the clothes or my closet, but about how I’m learning to steward my one and precious life.


I’m mindful of the culture of scarcity we live in which directly relates to wealth disparities and even the way we relate to God. But this is not about that big conversation, and yet, maybe somehow it is. Because confronting a scarcity mindset even in one small closet has a ripple effect, and the most fun way to do the deep work of liberation is with a friend.


Thank you, Julie.