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Oliver: Closet cleanup causes confrontation with inner conflict

Who knew that cleaning out a closet could be an emotional adventure?

Sure, I knew it was possible. After all, I’ve watched my fair share of transformation shows where those in need of a style makeover or a house decluttering are forced to take a look at their possessions and purge.

It’s just not something that has ever been a problem with me. Until now.

Last weekend, as I was doing my seasonal closet switch to get the fall and winter wardrobe out of storage, I found myself confronted with my own version of “What Not to Wear.”

Fans of the show, which sadly will end its 10-year run this season, know that its participants often have a strange, often overly sentimental, attachment to their clothing, as hideous as it might be.

Part of the deal is that they have to be willing to trash it all to get a whole new wardrobe.

In a way, I seem to be facing a similar situation, albeit not because my taste in fashion is suspect. A lot of things just don’t fit anymore.

Last spring, when I switched out the closet, I put off a lot of decision-making.

I chalked it up to the fact that the weight loss I had been experiencing might not last. I had changed my diet and, well, everyone knows how that goes for a lot of people.

I also really like a lot of my clothes. I had spent a long time figuring out what looked good on me, thanks in large part to “What Not to Wear,” and the thought of parting with all that hard work was just too much.

However, those decisions have to be faced eventually.

Some items were easy to part with, spur-of-the-moment regrettable purchases made because of a good “deal” or the result of pressure from an overly eager saleswoman.

Others were surprisingly harder, for sentimental reasons that sneaked up on me.

A purple cardigan I wore to an Elvis Costello concert at Ravinia.

A maroon knit sweater dress I bought years ago on eBay during a short phase of online auction purchases.

A striped blue pencil skirt I practically lived in for more than a few seasons that I bought at a now-defunct boutique in Milwaukee’s Third Ward.

After a few deep breaths, and a pep talk that would have made professional organizer Peter Walsh of “Clean Sweep” proud, I realized that holding onto items that don’t fit or that have been loved and worn into oblivion isn’t productive (or healthy).

With the participants on “What Not to Wear,” there usually is a lot more going on than bad fashion. Part of my fascination with the show is seeing how sometimes letting go allows for bigger and better possibilities in the future.

So that’s my plan.

After all, I have a lot more closet space all of a sudden.

• Joan Oliver is the assistant news editor for the Northwest Herald. She can be reached at 815-526-4552 or by email at

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