Persons, places and things: closet clearing during Lent


By Barb Arland-Fye

My husband Steve jokes about how his closet space is shrinking while mine is growing. It’s true. I developed an appreciation for clothes early on while shopping with my mom. My closets contain shirts, dresses and sweaters I’ve forgotten about.


I’m thinking about them now, after attending a March 2 presentation at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. Speaker Christopher Cox of The Human Thread campaign raised my awareness about U.S. clothing habits, the garment industry, and the impact of that industry on garment workers and the climate. (You can read the story in this week’s issue.)

He observed that American homes today are built with big walk-in closets to accommodate all of the clothing we purchase. An image appeared in his PowerPoint showing a man’s closet with 29 pairs of shoes. “It only makes sense to have that many pairs of shoes if you’re a centipede, right?” he joked.


His closet gets a review each Lent. For example, he limits himself to seven sweaters — one for each day of the week. If he has more than seven, he gives three away. His mother usually purchases a sweater for him at Christmas, another one on clearance, and someone else will give him another one. So he has 10 sweaters, and must let go of three of them. The first one is easy to give away; it might have a stain in it, or the elbow is slightly worn. The second one is also easy to let go. Maybe it makes him look fat, he jokes. The third one is tougher. “I might think, ‘I really like that sweater.’ If it’s a blessed moment, God will say, ‘Maybe that’s the one you should give to these people who need it.’”
Cox referred to de-cluttering guru Marie Kondo. She instructs her clients to put their belongings into five categories, the fifth one being the things that are hardest to part with. Pick up every item and look at it, she says, and ask yourself: Does it spark joy? If not, you thank it for its service and let it go. Her point, Cox said, is that people should surround themselves only with things that give them joy.

Consider that question from a faith perspective, he advises. “I believe in a Trinity that is a God that is relational. And my being in relationship with God, with self and with family is what gives deep, real lasting joy and also right relationship with the people who make my clothes.”

His talk has impacted my Lenten practices. Stewardship, he observed, “is a question of what do I own and what owns me?”

I reflected back on my recent vacation with Steve in Florida, and all the clothes that accompanied us. I rationalized that all those clothes were necessary because of fickle weather. In retrospect, I could have left half of the clothes at home. After flying back home from that trip, I “missed” my clothes which remained behind with Steve for another week. The question from Cox’s presentation echoed in my mind. “Do I own my clothes, or do my clothes own me?”

It’s time to review my closet, and what I can part with that could spark joy in someone else.

(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at

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