“Pick up your clothes” was the slogan of my youth, written on Post-its my mother slapped on my mirror, or screamed down to me from upstairs as soon as I walked into our house. Throwing my clothes on the floor was a bad thing I did while I got dressed. I’d put something on, look at myself in the mirror, and then peel it off, usually snagging another thing off the hanger while kicking the last option away. On, off, on, off, on, off until, in my mind, I looked like the kind of teen Rei Kawakubo would want to adopt on the spot and take with her to Japan, where she’d encourage my creative process. Finding the right outfit felt great—like an artistic achievement, even—but then I’d come home and feel hot shame seeing my wardrobe vomit all over the place. I kept asking myself: Why don’t I care about my things? Why am I so lazy? How will I be successful if I don’t have the discipline to put something back on the hanger?
I kept waiting to grow out of it. In college, I had a similarly afflicted roommate, and the two of us had an open closet policy. This meant that there was constantly a trail of clothes on the floor between our two rooms, like a special carpet made of thrifted silk and H&M cotton. When I got my first job at Vogue, the mess got worse. If I want to be kind to myself, I could say the mostly covered floor, bed, and counters made my studio apartment look like a giant Impressionist painting, that each garment was a brushstroke, and the chaos was somehow beautiful. If I want to be honest with myself, I’ll tell you that once, a mouse died on my countertop under some sweatshirt, and I didn’t find it until much later, when I wondered when I bought such an ugly little skeleton brooch. I beat myself up inside my head, assembling a chorus of admonishing mothers, their angry eyes burning holes in my vintage Yves Saint Laurent dress, new Prada skirt, and Jil Sander for Uniqlo coat, all of which were constantly on my floor.
I dreaded the hours I’d have to spend cleaning, but I loved my morning dress-up routine. It got better when I realized what was making me anxious was associating my clothing explosion with bad behavior. I decided it was just what I did, and I had to embrace it. When I moved into a loft in Bushwick (admittedly a little more space helped my cause a lot), I started taking pictures of my little clusters of clothes on the floor, and posting them to Instagram as if they were pieces in a studio: “New art installation ‘untitled (#nyfw), 2013’ on view in my house until 3 pm.” I stopped apologizing profusely before friends came over. My “srry it’s so messy!” texts were superfluous: I had clean clothes on the floor, not plates of rotting food or 100 years’ worth of newspapers. No one was hurt stepping over a shirt.
I also learned some techniques that helped mitigate the post-nuclear look of my dressing process. One was to host a dinner party or hire a (very) occasional housekeeper. Both meant I had to clear the floor, and were a good way to schedule an apartment cleaning deadline so it wouldn’t loom over me every day. Any messy dressers should also become adept at installing hooks. I drilled in hooks over all of my doors, in the corners of my bedroom, and even found a curved steel hook rack for my living room that, when bare, looked like a sculpture.
Hanging clothes creates the illusion that they are put away and can reduce the mess in-process. And I even discovered a benefit to letting unworn clothes lie on the ground: I tend to wear more from my entire wardrobe. As favorites drift down to the floor over the course of a couple days, my first look in my closet constantly changes, and I’m more likely to start building an outfit around something that’s left hanging. My careless tossing also gives me a more Zen sense of what I own: I’m willing to throw it on the floor, so it can’t be that precious. Dust easily washes away, and if something keeps getting tossed around and never actually worn, I realize it and throw it away.
By Katherine Bernard