Guest Post: Emotions In The Trenches

I’m so excited to share a guest post with you today.   I thought this would be a perfect follow up to my last post about my sister.  I had the opportunity to help my sister with her closet.  She’ll share all the gory details below but I was so very proud of her hard work.  She was prepared for the task at hand and she really was a great student.  She kept working hard until we were completely finished and she has a lovely closet as a reward.  She also happens to be a wonderful writer….enjoy!


The following is a guest post from my sister, Jami Mays.

My son shook my shoulders at 7:45, “Mom! We overslept!” Oh, great. That’s not the way you want to start your day when an organizing consultant is going to come over to your house. So, needless to say, the pre-organizing I had intended to get wrapped up (read: started) before Julie arrived at 9am did not get done.

In hindsight, it was probably good that I wasn’t able to get things cleaned up before her arrival. It was probably more helpful for Julie to see my room, and more specifically, the issues with my clothes and laundry untouched, in all their pile-y, messy, disorganized glory.

Everything was clean. But there was a load of clean, unfolded-and-now-wrinkly clothes on the dresser top. And one in a basket. And another in a bin. And my closet was underused and not working for me.

I’m a big believer in authenticity and honesty. And honestly? I’m a mess. It wasn’t until a few poignant, pensive moments while reflecting on the work we did this morning that I realized the root of the problem. Today, I learned that being disorganized isn’t just “a thing we do” but a reflection of habits that we have — and habits can be broken.

Let’s go back. Let me fill you in (read: let me help you understand my excuses) on why I think I’m a mess. First, I grew up sharing a room with Julie. You might think it was great to share a room with a compulsive organizer and, in some ways, it was… But in other ways, I think I got stunted. I never had to do any purging or organizing on my own… Julie always did it with me or for me. Then later, I was a very young mother, having had my son when I was 21 years old. I was divorced before my 23rd birthday and spent nine years as a low-income, sometimes-up-to-three-jobs-working, single-mother. I didn’t have the luxury of things like free time or extra money — the reality of my situation was that I worked more than I did anything else and I struggled in many ways. Some days, it was all I could do to make sure the lights stayed on and my son had food in his belly. So when someone brought me a garbage bag full of clothes, it felt like Christmas, not charity. The last time I actually went shopping for fun (read: not, “Oh crap, my bra broke, I need a new bra.”) was probably high school.

So when Julie picked up one of the first things in our pile of clothes from my closet today and just looked at me, I started crying. AUGH. I wish you could see my face right now — I’m so irritated with this overflow of emotion, but I couldn’t even help it. That jacket — that ill-fitting, cheap jacket served it’s purpose right in that moment. I can’t wear it – it doesn’t fit. I don’t even LIKE it anymore! But the memories that flushed through my head and in my heart caused me to well up inside, before I could even recognize what those feelings were trying to tell me. I haven’t worn that jacket since high school and it reminded me of the nineties and velvet mary janes and floral dresses with spaghetti straps and tiny white tshirts underneath — I’d wear that corduroy jacket over an outfit like that and feel like a billion bucks. That jacket WAS high school for me.

I cried a few more times through our process, but after the first pile, everything got easier. It was easier to defer to Julie and to remember the rules she gave me when we got started. And it was nice that, for the things like that corduroy jacket, I could choose to keep them — the things that really mattered and had memories — just not in my closet in my bedroom.

And we also recognized my pattern of, “Sure, I’ll take it,” with regard to hand-me-downs of all sorts. I spent so many years NEEDING help from my friends and family that I got used to accepting things that were ill-fitting, not in the best of shape, not my style, etc.

And after we pulled everything from my closet and dresser and piled all of my things on my bed (literally, everything!)… After I flashed back to our childhood with Julie cleaning out my desk, “When is the last time you used this bouncy ball?” only this time, she asked things like, “Would you wear this out of the house?” I was curled up on the bed, watching Julie fold my clothes, recovering from the exercise of purging, she said, “You know… I think you have a hard time with this stuff because, for a long time, you didn’t have anyone that valued you… So you weren’t ever valuing yourself.”

And I just sat there, blank in the eyes. Thinking and realizing that, “Wow… You’re right.” I can’t promise you that your experience will be like mine because I’m sure our work had a special sisters-only filter, but Julie looks at your situation and can recognize the issues. She just reached out and put her finger right on the pulse of the problem.

I never struggled with self confidence… But I always viewed myself as utilitarian.

I was my son’s mother. I did things for him.

I was my boss’ employee. I did things for him for my job.

I wasn’t my own keeper. For most of my adult life, I didn’t have anyone to “keep” me… Being a single mom for ten years, I had to do all of that stuff myself and, let’s be real, there’s not a lot of time for self-care when you’re working 60 hours a week and have a toddler.

But my son is eleven now. I’m happily married now. I’m successfully self-employed now. I don’t need to struggle with this stuff and be a mess anymore. Of course, there are still areas where I’m going to be a mess, but as we went through my things, I recognized this pattern:

  1. When clothes got old, worn-out or stained, I kept them and just moved them from real clothes rotation to my pajama drawer (or really, my basket of clean clothes on the floor of my bedroom “drawer”).
  2. Because I work from home, the lines between what clothes are pajamas and what clothes are REAL clothes is already blurry, but things got even blurrier when my pajama/work clothes/house clothes all look the same — and that’s old, worn-out and stained.
  3. I needed to sort out what was REALLY pajamas, what was REALLY clothes that I would (and should) wear out of the house and what was garbage.

I deserve more. And I didn’t realize I was under-supporting myself from under all the piles of my laundry. Somehow, in my mind, I thought that if I just didn’t release any of the clothes I had, I would have plenty. But it was the opposite because I could never stay on top of the laundry when I had five times as many pieces of clothing as I really needed.


So we ditched FIVE garbage bags of stuff out of my closet and dresser. I’ve got one whole bin of clothes that are in great shape or new with tags and just don’t fit or aren’t my style that I plan to sell. And I’ve got room and space to breathe.

It’s crazy how we go into something like this thinking, “I’m going to have to get rid of my stuff.” And we feel sad about losing things — or feel like we’re going to feel like we don’t have enough at the end of the process.

But I feel like I can finally SEE what I do have — and like I’ve made a choice for what I want — and now I have room between my hangers in my closet so that I can do that thing you do when you’re shopping, where you slide the clothes down and evaluate what you want to wear… We can do that at home?! YES. And it feels good. And I have space in my drawers so that I don’t have to dig around and find things. It’s amazing, y’all.

I know that the things that are in my closet right now are cute, fit me well and that they’re there because I want them there. Not because someone else didn’t want them in their closet.

I feel much more in control.

And really… Who needs more than two weeks worth of underpants?

-Jami Mays


  1. Rebecca McCarthy

    Excellent writing, Jami.
    And excellent work, Julie!
    thanks for sharing this. Poignant and smart.