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When Mindfulness Meets That Little Black Dress

Paring down may just be a question of perspective.

Ever since Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, sparked a decluttering movement, we’ve all been paring down our possessions.

Here’s a simple way to turn cleaning out your closet into a practice of mindfulness:

It’s that time again. Change of season, change of wardrobe. You open up your closet doors. There is that little black dress that doesn’t quite fit anymore—and you just can’t get rid of. You were wearing it the night you got the award. And then there are those red shoes you bought for when, in a burst of inspiration, you were going to get up the courage to read at an open mic night. You wonder whether you should revive that dream. Oh, and the purple scarf you planned to find a jacket to go with, thinking it was about time to expand your color palette. What if now’s the time?

You’ve barely gotten started and already you’re feeling defeated — and more than a little stressed; everything you look at brings up a memory of the past or a dream for the future. This is where mindfulness comes in.

Simply defined as “present-moment awareness without judgment,” mindfulness as an ongoing practice has been proven to offer a myriad of physical, mental, and emotional benefits and is currently creating a revolution in American health-care, education, and workplaces.

What does this have to do with that little black dress and your closet-cleaning project?

Every item in your wardrobe is there for a reason. Taking a mindful approach means noticing what that reason is. As you consider each item, ask yourself whether it is a part of your present. Do you wear and enjoy it?

You will likely find that you’ve kept many of your clothes and accessories because of the memories they hold. Like a photograph, looking at that little black dress brings you back to that night, the award, how good you felt. The good news is that the memory will always be yours — you can let go of the dress.

The red shoes? Other items in your closet may hold the dreams you had for the future. When you look at these things, they stir the same emotional desire you had when you bought them. Often these dreams involve ways you are going to change, a you that you might become. Maybe you will and maybe you wont. However, if you have no concrete plans for acting on a particular dream, and in fact you haven’t acted on it for years, it’s time to let go of an imagined future — along with the shoes.

It may not be easy. Teachers of mindfulness emphasize that the nature of the mind is to move back and forth between the past and the future, remembering and imagining (oftentimes experienced as worrying). The practice of mindfulness is essentially training the mind like you would train a puppy, gently encouraging it over and over to focus on what you want it to do. With mindfulness, what you want the mind to do is stay in the present. And that begins by noticing when it has wandered off—and taken you with it.

Back to your closet. Item by item, mindful moment by mindful moment, you make your way through, with the flashlight of your present-centered mind leading the way. Take it one step at a time; small changes eventually lead to big shifts.

By the time you’ve finished, what will remain in your closet are clothes that represent you, for better or worse, in the present moment of your life. Freed up from the pull of the past and the future, you will have more space, literally and figuratively, to experience being who you are right now.

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