I’m pretty sure everyone has these three drawers in their home.

The first is the junk drawer. It is usually in or near the kitchen and contains an assortment of hair ties, used ticket stubs, a bottle opener and at least one 9-volt battery that may or may not work.

The second of these is the top drawer in the master bathroom. It usually has dental floss, three different types of nail clippers, an assortment of hotel sample shampoos and lotions and at least one random 9-volt battery that may or may not work.

Lastly, the third drawer I’m certain everyone has — especially everyone in my house — is an overflowing drawer of t-shirts. My t-shirt drawer has, at minimum, 20-plus shirts at any given time. Of course, I only wear four of them regularly. But I can’t seem to get rid of all the other ones.

Our Emotional Ties to Our Clutter

As we begin a new year, I’m already seeing friends who are looking to cleanse their physical living spaces. Even more are looking to clear their mental spaces, which is probably the greatest reason to declutter. A recent New York Times article cites a study that shows “clutter can induce a physiological response, including increased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.”

I started another round of decluttering a few months ago, and in doing so, I was reminded of the Marie Kondo method of tidying up that I wrote about last year.

For the most part, it’s usually a smooth process — until I get to those t-shirts. I know I don’t need them all. I know I won’t wear many of them, so I don’t have the “maybe someday” mentality. Ultimately, the process is difficult for me and others because it’s hard to get rid of things that are comforting, keep us warm, bring us joy and conjure up sweet memories.

Thankfully my mom spearheaded an effort to move this needed project forward.

Ten years ago, she spent many months working on a quilt made of t-shirts that were mostly in an overflowing t-shirt drawer at the house I grew up in. It was, in a sense, a decluttering project for her. She gave that quilt to me as a Christmas gift that year.

For Christmas 2017, she gifted me a certificate for a service that makes these quilts so I could make another with additional shirts. But this time around, I (shockingly) didn’t have enough shirts. It required at least 40.

She looked a bit dejected and understandably so. I was essentially rejecting her gift, saying I really could not use it.

Fast forward to mid-2018 and my mom was determined to get another quilt done. Apparently, I had more shirts at her house, but not quite enough to finish off a quilt. She asked for whatever we had at my house, which included my shirts, my wife’s and my daughter’s. I gathered up a few, sent them, and honestly, forgot about it all.

Then Christmas morning 2018 was here. Wrapped in tissue paper and folded into a large gift bag, was another t-shirt quilt. It was then I recalled the few shirts we sent her, but the majority were shirts from her house, ones I had completely forgotten and were surprised she still had.

There was the shirt I got from a soccer camp I attended when I was 12, an assortment of high school wrestling shirts, a shirt from a summer scholar academy and a shirt with the wacky bell schedule that my high school introduced during my junior year.

It was at that moment I realized the powerful memory recall mechanism t-shirts have. Looking through at the quilt is just like opening a dusty box filled with old photographs and family heirlooms.

This quilt now reminds me of that weird school schedule, the days wearing the different shirts with my wrestling teammates and how hot it was to wear a blue cotton t-shirt at soccer camp during a St. Louis summer. But even better, is the shirts are sewn together with a Container Store shirt my wife wore when she worked there and a cheerleading shirt from my daughters first cheer competition.

It’s my memories, mixed in with theirs.

Seeing that, and recalling the memories of those individual pieces of fabric are exactly why t-shirts are hard to ball up, toss in a box and send off to Goodwill. Decluttering doesn’t always have to mean saying goodbye to cherished memories.

The quilts were the perfect gifts. They decluttered some drawers, eliminated a little stress, jogged some happy memories and of course, keep my family warm on the couch while we watch Netflix in the winter.

Featured Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash
Photo by Jeff Sheldon on Unsplash
As we begin a new year, many of us are looking to cleanse our living spaces. What should we do when we come up against an emotional tie to our clutter?