The Difficult Lessons I Learned from Clearing Out My Closet

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I used to escape through shopping. I had major identity issues growing up due to trauma from sexual abuse that fed this insatiable desire to be liked and cool and cutting edge and pretty. So I started shopping early and often. Then at age 23, I married my college sweetheart and was in a marriage riddled with domestic violence and anger and fear for 8 years before I was able to get free. Needless to say, shopping was my escape from that terror. I found comfort in new clothes. I sought solace in things that only satisfied for a minute before the hurt and anger and fear returned. Needless to say, I accumulated a lot of things during that eight year marriage and a lot of baggage.

By the time I moved away from my ex and up to DC for my job with International Justice Mission, I had nearly 2000 lbs of clothes and shoes. You could literally say I had a TON of clothes .

Yellow_2015_Day_1-276Two years ago I met the man of my dreams, a man with a quiet strength and the patience of a redwood tree that stretches to the heavens and grows and grows without end. We got married and moved to California to start our new life together.

But my clothes weighed me down, and I still wasn’t willing to part. So much of my identity was still wrapped up in Madewell chambray button downs (three of them) and designer jeans (35 different pairs). So we sacrificed and paid the several thousand dollar fee to move my metric ton of clothes from DC to Long Beach where we now live. We chose our apartment based on a closet that could accommodate me and even spent hundreds of dollars on renovating that closet.

At the age of 35, in a new place and new job and new community, I no longer care to be known by the things in my closet, but rather by my strength and love of people.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve spent the last several years in anti-trafficking. Fighting modern day slavery and injustice is my heart and soul. It was what I was created to do. But in a stunning turn of events, what I realized one day after years in this work was how my lifestyle and shopping habits actually contributed to the slavery I was working so hard to prevent.

Over 60% of modern day slavery takes place in supply chains and it contributes to everything we touch. So something had to change. I was ready to let go of those things in my life that had weighed me down in exchange for freedom, true freedom, not just of men and women and children whom I will never meet, but of myself as well. I decided to only purchase clothing if I could find who made it. That was a place to start.


I recently came across an article about Marie Kondo and her method of organizing closets. The basic premise is that you pull everything you own (and I mean everything, down to your undies folks), pile it in the middle of your room and go piece by piece, asking the question, “does this piece of clothing bring me joy?” Not did it bring me joy in the past or might it bring me joy in the future, but _does it bring me joy now at this moment in my life. _If the answer is no, then get rid of it. Which is what I did with over half my clothes. And it was so freeing. And my husband’s redwood patience bloomed with pride.

Since that time, I have continued to ruthlessly ask the question, “Does this bring me joy?” That question has invaded every aspect of my life from my clothing to the items I bring in my home. You should see my closet now. It’s less than half full; a fact of which I am very proud.

For me the truth boils down to this: Clothing cannot bring me joy if it was made by slaves and children. So if I don’t know the answer to that statement, I don’t want it on my body or in my home.

At the age of 35, in a new place and new job and new community, I no longer care to be known by the things in my closet, but rather by my strength and love of people. I want to be known by my passion for justice and beauty. True Beauty. And I’m very thankful to be in a place where I no longer have to escape. I love being fully present. I no longer need to hide in my clothing.

Photos by Caca Santoro

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Johanna Tropiano

Founder at The Mend Project