Clothes: Shelter for Woman Alone

I live in a small house (725 square feet) that I helped design and build, approving every detail. It is wholly my house, the first one I’ve ever had designed just for me.

Even my clothes closet is small. Although it takes up one wall of my bedroom, it measures just an inch shy of two feet deep and six feet, three inches wide, which equals just over 12 square feet of floor space–no walk-in closet, this one. My dresser, a re-purposed set of cherry wood bookshelves from the big house, just fits inside. 

I like clothes. No, I’ll be honest, I love clothes. I have an affection for fabric and cut, for drape and detail, for the way a great outfit can make me feel invincible, and how the swish of a skirt or the fit of a pair of jeans makes me smile simply because it’s fun to wear them. 

I live in a small house by choice–I prefer small spaces. If designed well, they feel comfortable, nest-like.

My late love, Richard, preferred expansive spaces; he delighted in entertaining, the more people the better. In the house he designed and built for us, which was almost exactly four times the size of this one, my office was by far the smallest room. It was my hide-out. 

My office at Terraphilia, the big house. 

I enjoyed the big house. But when it came time for me to build just for me, building small seemed sustainable to me on all sorts of levels, including use of resources (I used as many repurposed and recycled materials as possible), energy use, and conservation of cash.

The latter is especially important, because as a freelance writer and restorer of nature, I don’t earn much. I could probably make a better living as a greeter at Walmart. Except that I wouldn’t last half an hour–I couldn’t abide either the corporate culture or the prevalence of plastic items.

I’ve done pretty well at conserving my cash in the nearly four years since Richard died. I have a budget, and I’m good about sticking to it–it’s not really a hardship, because in general, what makes me happy doesn’t involve spending much money. 

Except clothes. 

Jeans, jersey, rayon, lace, silk–all in my closet…

I’ve bought what for me is a lot of clothes in the past four years. Most of them I haven’t kept–they’ve been gifted to friends or family, been consigned at a local shop, or returned to the store if unworn. I’m slowly building a small wardrobe that really suits me, but it’s taken a lot of experimentation to get there. 

That’s frustrated the frugal part of me. On the surface, I have good reasons: All through Richard’s brain cancer journey and my mom’s death in the same year Richard died, I didn’t buy clothes. Then there were two years of spending nights and weekends on finish carpentry and other building and landscaping work, which tends to be hard even on the most serviceable of jeans, t-shirts and hoodies. 

And then there’s the fact that my taste in clothes has changed since I was half of a pair who happily lived in each other’s pockets, held hands wherever we went, and often inadvertently picked clothes in similar colors.

All of that is logical. But it doesn’t completely explain why I couldn’t rein in my clothes-buying.

Last week, my friend Kerry Nelson, owner of Ploughboy Local Market, gave me a gift certificate to my favorite local clothing store for my birthday. (The store, Yolo, happens to be owned by another friend and former neighbor, Loni Walton.) 

I held onto that gift certificate for exactly 24 hours. As I was walking home with the drapy bamboo rayon t-shirt (black, because black goes with everything) and fabulously swishy organic cotton and Lycra skirt to go with it, I realized why I’ve had this need for clothes. 

They’re my shield in a world that was torn wide open the morning of November 27, 2011, when the love of my life and my companion of 29 years died. Richard was my buffer in many ways. He was not only physically larger than I am (6 feet tall and a well-muscled 180 pounds), he was also gregarious where I am not by nature (I can be, but it’s learned behavior–although I love people, en masse, they wear me out). 

Now I’m Woman Alone. Without Richard’s comforting bulk to insulate me, I feel naked. Clothes serve as my shelter, my bulwark against the constant stimulation of people. 

Once I saw that, I also knew that I was done buying new clothes. I have what I need, and I like what I have.

And tonight, as I watch Earth’s shadow slowly darken the brilliant face of the harvest moon out my kitchen window, I am struck by how happy I am. Perhaps it took a total eclipse of the moon to let me see that. 

Out of darkness comes light–if we’re lucky, patient and paying attention. I know the truth of that from the experience of losing Richard. And tonight, the dance of the earth and its moon remind me.