As a Professional Organizer and Productivity Consultant, I may seem like I have it all together when I work with you to clear out a closet or when I speak boldly to a group about ruthlessly managing your inbox. But did you know Professional Organizers can struggle with letting things go like our clients do?
I donated my wedding dress. The decision and resolve to donate my dress was made years back, but it still sat beautifully preserved in a box in our coat closet until I finally did it, and it was much more emotional than I expected.
When my husband and I were engaged and (mostly) I was planning our wedding, we were on a very fixed budget. I suppose I always knew I would not be a candidate for a princess splurge on a designer gown on "Say Yes to the Dress," but the reality of our wedding finances sealed the deal. I was OK with a simple, inexpensive and perhaps even secondhand dress. I was only wearing it for one day, right? And we preferred to use our limited budget to throw a fun party for our friends and family to celebrate with us. We also decided to enjoy a short 6-month engagement, which put even more pressure on me to find just the right dress in my price range.
I attended a bridal show in my home town and by some miracle (they probably called out 20+ names of attendees who had left early and then called mine) I won the grand raffle prize which included a gift from each vendor at the show. A local dress shop had included a generous gift card.
My mother and I shopped at a store with the gift card expecting to find an accessory or shoes or something small. As fate would have it, the store was having a redline sale on dresses.
The dress was a beautiful gown that fit me like a glove. The only alterations we did were changing the neckline, which my mother expertly handled, and bustling the train for ease of dancing the night away. Once I found my shoes, the hemline hit perfectly. I actually tried it on several times before the wedding because I could not believe I was going to have such a beautiful perfect dress to wear on my wedding day.
On our wedding day, I felt like a princess. Our photos turned out so magical. The white cherry blossoms surrounding the courthouse opened that morning to create a beautiful backdrop.
So why did I decide to donate my dress, and what in the world does this have to do with Organizing and Productivity?
I decided several years ago that I did not want to keep my dress, but I wanted to let it go in a way that honored our story. I knew I would not wear it again, and although I had a daughter and one on the way who may decide to get married and have a wedding one day, I did not want to hold onto a dress for decades that they may or may not like, and I did not want them to feel pressured to wear it just because I saved it. I also made sure my mother did not mind if I gave it away since our story of finding it together was her story as well.
I first considered selling the dress or consigning it, but it was already several years old and most resellers have a short limit on secondhand dresses. I considered donating to some of the charities who host huge dress sales and give the proceeds to charities or an organization I found that will dismantle wedding dresses and reuse the pieces to craft beautiful gowns in which grieving parents can clothe their stillborn babies. But again, I hit a roadblock when many of these charities were either at maximum capacity and not accepting donations or wanted me to ship my dress across the country.
Finally, I determined a local charity, MUST Ministries, accepted wedding dresses and formalwear for their resale shop. My grandfather, Paw Paw, was an enthusiastic supporter of MUST Ministries, and so it felt personal enough to be meaningful but without any of the previous hangups.
The morning came when I had decided to take my dress to donate. I took it out of the closet and opened the box to take a long loving look. I also showed my daughter and we looked at wedding photos together. It is/was a really beautiful dress. I was somewhat ashamed to face such a lovely thing after having kept it closed up in a dusty closet for years.
My husband offered to take it for me, and I accepted. But as I handed him the box and watched him carry it out to the car, a tidal wave of emotion swept over me, my breath caught in my throat, and I found myself sobbing.
Every memory of dressing up and slowly walking down the hallway of my childhood homes, playing with Wedding Day Barbie, and daydreaming about my wedding day came flooding into my mind. Every moment of planning our wedding, finding my perfect dress, and remembering our wedding day landed on my shoulders. Every milestone since our wedding and the acceptance that my day to be the glowing bride is behind me came flooding into my current reality. I don't plan to ever wear another wedding dress. I'd been married for over 6 years, and while I am still very in love with my husband and love being a mom, I am far enough into marriage to know that it's way more complicated than just riding off into the sunset on a white horse or a big sloppy kiss at the end of a romantic comedy. It's a lot of work and communication and sometimes disappointment and sometimes a fairy tale.
My husband came in and found me. He told me we should keep the dress, but I stopped him. "No, no, no! That's not it. I do not want to put it back in that closet! It is too beautiful to go back in that closet. It needs to be used however it ends up being used. It needs to be out in the world, not sitting in that closet. I just didn't realize how much emotion and memory that one dress symbolized for me until I saw it going out the door." But it's just a symbol. I do not need to keep that dress in that box in that closet to remember.
Yes, the dress symbolized my dreaming and wishing and searching for the love of my life, but I have him, my soulmate, in my life everyday. And just as important, I'm working on loving myself.
Yes, the dress symbolized our wonderful wedding day, but a beautiful wedding day does not a beautiful marriage make.
Yes, the dress symbolized an important part of my past, but I want to live in my/our future, not the past.
So I cried about it, and I just let myself cry about it, and I let the dress go.
Was it hard? Yes, much harder than I imagined it would be.
Was it the right decision for me? Yes, I have zero regret. (I do not assume this is the right decision for every bride! If you decide to keep your dress forever and you are happier with that decision, good for you!)
My point in all of this is to share that as a Professional Organizer, I want my clients to know that I've been there. I know what you're going through when we work together because I've done/I'm still doing the hard work to edit my life, too. I have a heart, I want to hear your stories, and then I want to empower you to make a decision that you are happy with. That may be to keep something or it may be to find a new life for it. Most of all, I want to empower you to focus on your future instead of on your past.
What symbols are you holding on to and why? What item from your past may be impeding your future?