Our Communal Closet

October 2, 2009 § Leave a comment

oneinathousandlogoE.O. Schaub

For many of us, the bi-annual change of seasons is like Mother Nature’s reproving reminder to clean our room, already. Around here, we’re reorganizing everything for the End of Warm and the Beginning of Cold: tank tops go away, sweaters come out; bug spray goes away, boot rack comes out; school nurse’s hand-out-about-tick-removal-and-Lyme-Disease-on-the-refrigerator comes down, school nurse’s handout-about-flu-symptoms-and-hand-washing goes up.


What I'm Bringing!

In the midst of all this transition, it usually seems to me like a good time to take stock and get rid of stuff I don’t need. If you know me, then you know that I’m a well-established pack rat, and Stuff-I-Don’t-Need is my middle name. After visiting the houses of some of my relatives I can confirm with confidence that I come by this genetically. In fact, it is only through sheer force of will and the specter of an imaginary Martha Stewart tsk-ing over my shoulder, that I manage to have a home that does not resemble that of the infamous brothers who made tunnels through the piles of newspapers in their house until the day a landslide killed one of them.

(These are the things I think about when I’m perusing my large and extensive collection of rah-rah clutter-busting books with chapter titles like “Simplify your Spice Cabinet!” and “Magazines Aren’t for Keeping, you Know!” and “You Know You’ll Never Learn to Quilt So Get Over it Already!”)

And I’m lucky, because with Fall comes a slew of opportunities to get rid of things in nice, feel-good ways. Not only can I now bring fall-appropriate things to our local consignment shop, but there are two open-to-all clothing drives going on in town this coming week, to which I might both bring donations as well as take home some things in sizes which look monstrously large until my children put them on and I realize that, yes, they really are that big now.

Best of all, tomorrow it’s time for the recurrence of my new all-time favorite: the clothing swap potluck.

If you’ve never been to a clothing-swap potluck, you’re either in for a great treat or a total nightmare, depending on your own personal perspective. I enjoy these gatherings tremendously, for example, while my mother might have a medium-sized nervous breakdown. Picture this: a gaggle of women arrive and unceremoniously dump a giant trash bag or cardboard box or small semi-load of random mostly-clothing-like-items in the center of our hostesses’ living room floor. The resulting heap is truly awe-inspiring; usually measuring a foot or two at it’s highest point like a Mount Everest of Hand-Me-Downs, and often sprawling in every which direction like an uncontrolled chemical spill. The contents tend to blend together in one dark mass and it is hard to discern individual items. The heap left unattended, one suspects, might begin to congeal, develop sentience and rise up menacingly, wandering the house, looking for organizational self-help books to read.

But the pile is also filled with secret, enticing potential: somebody else’s trash might be your treasure, after all. It works the other way too, of course. That awful maroon, floral blouse that you brought- the hippy one with the bells that jingle audibly?- there’s a really good chance that someone, at some point in the evening, will pick it up and shriek with the thrill of conquest. They will take that thing that has been the bane of your closet since 1992, and they will give it a proper home. They will love it, and maybe, just maybe, they will even wear it. What could be better than that?

But first, as with any proper Vermont event, the ceremonial potluck dinner must take place. The dinner of course, mimics the clothing swap itself- as Forrest Gump would say, you never know what you’re gonna get. So of course you take a little of everything and try it all. Inevitably there are fourteen mixed casserole-y type dishes of undetermined origin, at least one of which will involve the use of bulgar wheat (this is not a macaroni salad kind of crowd) plus salads and maybe some breads or muffins and somehow they all end up mixing together into one giant concoction on your plate- amazingly everything is really, really good.

And of course it’s great fun to just sit and eat and chat with the other moms- cause we’re all moms here, pretty much. Some moms bring their kids and others take the opportunity to have the night off, so like everything else about The Swap, it’s a mixed bag. Inevitably we talk about kids, school, home schooling, how good this whatever-this-is-I’m-eating-right-now is, and generally just enjoy being in the random, chaotic, but utterly comforting company of other women.

As the dishes are piled one by one in the poor hostess’s sink, and some sweet confection or other is consumed with the last remaining clean fork to be found within a square mile, the pile exerts it’s gravitational pull and begins to draw us in. What might we find tonight?

As if a shot has been fired somewhere, and abandoning any lingering thoughts of clutter-busting, we dive in. Everyone is picking up and inspecting and sorting and rapidly things are being tossed everywhere: into the same bags or boxes which had stood empty for the last hour, or between participants (“oh- try this!” – “could little So-and-so wear this?” – “Check this out!”) or, flung back into the pile.

There’s always something for everyone- I don’t think it is possible to go home empty handed. Every time I’ve been to a swap I’ve managed to bring home not only things for me, but at least a few things for my children, and even a try-this item or two for my husband. And there are always odd things: a random bolt of fabric, a ball of yarn, racy lingerie no one will admit to bringing, some incredible pair of clogs that we all admire but which fit no one…

In the end, the pile has been decimated. All that’s left are the mere dregs of what was once Mount Hand-Me-Down; the unclaimed remains will be taken by volunteers to the local thrift shops and shelters next week. The bags and boxes, all full again, get toted back to trunks and backseats and slowly the women start disappearing into the night, with words about bedtimes and thank yous and don’t-forget-your-casserole-dish on their lips.

It really is great fun, and although I always come home with just as much as I brought- thus effectively defeating the cleaning-out-my-closet idea- I have come home more than once with items that end up my new favorites, or my kids, and all for free. And every once in a while some mom will stop me at school or at the general store and eyeing my orange pullover will say- “hey… where did you get… that?” It was hers, of course, in another life- and she’s delighted. Like some funny secret we all share, our communal closet makes us feel- what? Like we’ve figured out how to make more out of what we have, and have great fun in the process. Everybody wins- us, our kids, the local shelter too. In an economy like this one, you can’t beat a dynamic like that.

Of course, there are the inevitable whoops-well-that-didn’t-work items. Those go right back in the bin for the next swap, which I begin the very next day- because after all, you never know who might love it.

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