Clothes, guilt, and perfection

It’s been a productive day off here in Ripon. Checkbook balancing, bill-paying, house-cleaning, Bible-reading, exercising, and so on. All before lunch. WIN.

So I went on to clear old clothes out of my dresser. This is a ritual I practice each year (in preparation of the mandatory “I’m a student in Boston and therefore am moving on September 1” holiday) and just did again in June before the wedding/honeymoon/move triathlon. But my drawers seemed exceptionally full, and I wasn’t going through all of my clothes in a laundry cycle, and I decided I had too many of them and that someone else could use them more. So I pulled all my clothes out of my dresser, refolded them, and placed them in the “yes, keep” pile or chucked it in a plastic garbage bag to be brought to the town’s thrift shop. It’s a well-honed, objective system: anything that wasn’t worn in the past two months gets the boot. I’ve cut my wardrobe by at least a quarter every year I’ve gone through this ritual of de-cluttering.

When you quadruple your wardrobe during the year that you worked for the Gap and consistently bought clothes at crazy-percent-off prices, you have that many clothes to get rid of.

But this time, I only came up with three shirts to give away. Three shirts! I couldn’t believe it. And so I ran to my closet, pulling out any dress that, even if I wore it over the summer, might be considered “too young” for me now, in light of the whole “future pastor/professor’s wife/wait…you think I’m an ADULT?!?” persona that is my life in Ripon. Two more dresses. Out of way more than that (I’m embarrassed to say). So, in a fit of guilt, I went back through and added five more shirts and two sweaters that had fallen on the “maybe” side of things. I was ashamed that my objective, somewhat “selfless” system allowed me to keep so much.

The concept of guilt and shame isn’t something that creeps into my theology all too often. My reaction to the gospel is usually more along the life-affirming, oppression-fighting, community-loving lines of things. But the more I read about the global implications of our actions when it comes to our treatment of God’s creation, the more I’m convinced that whatever role I can play in the betterment of ecological and economic well-being of God’s imagining is one I should play. And when I don’t? Well, that’s where the guilt creeps in.

I know the more ethical questions come into play during initial purchase of said clothing. And that gets played out often in my rather second-hand/homemade economic lifestyle. But there’s something, at least in my imagination, about how much one determines essential to living a good life that ends up informing future consumption. For me, today where theory just didn’t match up with action. I found myself legitimizing the amount of clothes I have–and believing the words I told myself.

It’s only one drawer of tee-shirts. And they all fit, once you folded them!
It’s only one drawer of sweaters. Well, and that one pile of cardigans. But that’s not a lot!
I mean, you only have a two-drawer dresser. Until July, it was your nightstand. And your shirts all fit in it!
except for those pesky workout clothes.
And really, you gave away, like, two whole bags worth of clothes five months ago. How much more can you really give?

And as soon as I asked that last question, I stopped. The plastic bag went into the car, ready to be dropped off at the thrift store. No more clothes were added. Because that word “more” can haunt me from here until you reach Eternity. How many more people should you pray for? How much more can you give? What more could you be reading, if you only had the attention span?

When it comes to doing good, the answer is always “more.” There are always other people to help, clothes to give away, something in your house that you don’t really need. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do anything, since there’s always going to be more to do. Jesus is the one who said “the poor you’ll always have with you,” but that certainly didn’t stop him from caring about them. My stopping, however, stopped me from getting caught up in measuring the good I do. It reminded me it’s not about the amount I give away, but the less that I have afterwards–and how I’ll still have [more than] enough.

So consider this my confession. I have more than I need. I know this to be true. I’m trying to reconcile this to the best of my ability, and I pray that this practice will continue and improve throughout my life. Like a good Methodist (hah! you knew I’d get it in here somewhere!), I’ll continue to do all the good I can, praying that I’ll keep working toward an even more perfect outpouring of love and gratitude for all that I know, have, and am.

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