Cleaver’s in-house advice columnist opines on matters punctuational, interpersonal, and philosophical, spinning wit and literary wisdom in response to your ethical quandaries. Write to her at [email protected]
Since the start of this pandemic, I have eaten more and exercised less, and have gone from a comfortable size 10 to a tight size 16. In July and early August, when the world seemed to be opening up again, I did get out and move around more, but my destinations often included bars and ice cream shops, and things only got worse. I live in a small apartment with almost no closet space. I know part of this is in my mind, but it often seems that my place is bursting at the seams with “thin clothes.” I feel as if there is little, if any, chance I will ever be a 10 again, at least not before the 10s in my closet fade and/or go out of style. Should I just throw out all my pre-pandemic clothes?
—Growing in Greenville
I wish I knew more about what being a size 16 means to you. Are you comfortable at your present size? Is your current weight a health concern? If you are satisfied and healthy, and really need the space, by all means toss (by which I mean donate) your 10s and 12s, maybe even your 14s.
But you say that things “only got worse” in July and August, which makes me think that you see your new size as an issue and would be happier if you were thinner and fitter. It also sounds as if you harbor at least vague hopes of doing something about this — losing some weight and getting in some exercise at some point, if not going down three sizes any time in the near future. If that is true, I suggest that you hold on to most of the 14s and at least of some of the 12s you would actually like to wear if they fit.
The 10s I am not so sure about. In your place I know I would want to keep at least one or two favorites, especially any expensive ones, as aspirational garments: “Some day I will fit into that perfect wool challis pencil skirt again and not have to shell out another $150.00.” I have also found, sadly, that our best clothes are often our tightest ones, the special-occasion outfits we dieted to fit into or the classics we splurged on once we reached a long-term weight-loss or fitness goal. It can be deflating, and cost-ineffective, to toss them.
True, I can see how having clothes in three different too-small sizes could feel oppressive, and how the smallest ones might just seem to be taunting you. Do what feels right. But I speak from experience when I tell you that a cache of attractive smaller-size clothes can be a real incentive to keep on track once you start dieting or working out. Twenty years and much yo-yo-ing down the road, I still remember the thrill of fitting into a pair of rust-colored silk pants I never thought I’d wear again: it is joy that passeth even Camembert and Talenti.
You say your living space is small. That is indeed a problem. Do you have a relative or friend with attic space? A childhood room whose closet you can stuff? I am a great fan of (free) remote storage, which has the added advantage that, if you decide that you really do want to let the items in question go, you may be able to arrange things so that you never even have to look at them again. Remote storage may also provide you with a useful prod down the road – if, say, your friend leaves town or your parents downsize. At that point you may realize that you’ve totally forgotten about your stored clothes and never missed them or, at any rate, no longer want them. Perhaps you’ve stabilized at a 16 or higher, and can live with that. Or perhaps you’d be able fit into some or all of these smaller clothes now, but have become prosperous and picky enough to do without a bunch of hand-me-downs, even when you are the one handing them down.
Those storage bags where you suck all the air out with a vacuum cleaner are another option. I really love making my blouses and bedding look like enormous potato chips, and it is truly impressive how thoroughly you can flatten almost anything soft – although I confess that, in my case, vacuum-wrapping stuff usually turns out to be the last step before Goodwill.
Marie Kondo and her ilk would probably be aghast at my shillyshallying and tell you to make a clean sweep, toss everything, and experience life-changing magic. I can actually see how chucking all your under-16s might be quite satisfying, and don’t exactly advise against it. I just want you to bear in mind that people whose weight is stable, especially if they are thin people, and very especially if they are thin people with money, don’t have a clue about why the rest of us save clothes we may not be able to wear just at the moment. It’s like the people who tell you that nobody needs more than thirty books. I mean, sheesh.
Besides, your asking whether you should “just” throw out all your pre-pandemic clothes sounds to me less like a desire to simplify your life and more like defeatism. I may be wrong; as I said, you may be fine with your size, and/or seriously oppressed by those space-eating clothes. You may be living in a small space totally by choice and have plenty of money, in which case getting rid of all your smaller clothes would mean only that you would have to shop for all new ones some day, a prospect many women actually enjoy. But my guess is that some mild post- (well, sadly, mid-to-late at best) pandemic depression is part of your equation.
I know: lots of factors, no clear answer. But I hope I’ve given you some useful ideas. My guess is that you’ll arrive at a compromise, saving at least a few of your intermediate-size clothes against the time when you do start moving more and eating better as this pandemic finally winds down. Having some old 14s and 12s around will at least ensure that you have a few clothes that fit while you shop for new ones, maybe even try some on in real live stores.
I have a childhood friend, Dora, whose mother died suddenly a few weeks ago. Dora lives in our home state halfway across the country, as did her mom, but I attended the funeral on Zoom. I also made a donation to the charity suggested in the announcement, and sent Dora a beautiful card enclosing a long letter full of memories, condolences, and some advice I thought might be helpful.
Since then I have heard nothing from Dora acknowledging my card or thanking me for my donation. I have called her twice and left voicemails, and last week I emailed her. Still nothing.
Am I right to be perplexed and little disappointed by this? How should I handle the situation?
—Let Down in Lansdale
Dear Let Down,
I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that the emails and voice mails you sent your bereaved friend were to express concern and sympathy, not to imply any criticism, even the passive-aggressive, “just making sure you got my letter and donation” kind.
I doubt that you are “right” to be perplexed. Many people in the early stages of grief prefer their own company, or that of their family and closest friends. I don’t know how often you and Dora communicate under ordinary circumstances, but unless you usually get in touch with each other at least weekly and ramp things up dramatically in the case of major life events, it is not especially strange that she’s not ready to talk to you about how things are going, and hasn’t been up to writing notes or emails.
If her conduct does seem out of character, and in a way that hints at emotional trouble, you could try getting in touch with one of her family members or local friends. But it sounds as if you are concerned about the more specific issue of her not acknowledging your card and donation. To this I can only say: Seriously? Don’t you have better things to be “perplexed and a little disappointed” about? Your friend recently lost her mother without warning. Please cut her some slack.
In any case, strict etiquette no longer seems to require individual acknowledgement of sympathy cards, or any cards. My more traditionalist acquaintances do reply to handwritten condolence cards and letters with some sort of snail mail, either a personal note or a general, printed card of the “Mary Smith’s family thanks you for your kind expression of sympathy” variety; but answering sympathy cards and notes has become optional. This is as it should be. Grieving people should do what helps them most: replying to sympathy messages may be a welcome distraction and a way to stay connected to others, or it may feel like just another dreaded death-connected ordeal.
In the case of donations, it is customary for a family representative to acknowledge the gift, although sometimes the recipient organization takes on this role. If you are worried that your donation was not received, or that Dora was never notified that you sent it, there is certainly no harm in contacting the organization directly. But it is not classy at all to do anything that might come across as judging a recently bereaved person for not being bereaved in the right way. Nor do you ever want to chide an adult for insufficient gratitude.
I suggest that you keep calling Dora at regular intervals to ask how she’s doing and say that you’d love to hear from her. Emails are nice, too — maybe you have some more childhood stories you could recall, or some photos you could scan and attach –as are cards and letters. But try very hard not even to hint at disappointment. And try not to feel it, either. It is such an enervating emotion. If you feel a bout of disappointment coming on, jump out of your chair, play your favorite upbeat music, and start dancing.
P.S. That advice you “thought might be helpful” may be problematic. You would be amazed how many people do not welcome unsolicited advice right after their mothers die, and this might help explain why Dora has been in no hurry to get back to you.
Cleaver’s in-house advice columnist opines on matters punctuational, interpersonal, and philosophical, spinning wit and literary wisdom in response to your ethical quandaries. Write to her at [email protected]. Find more columns by June in her attic.