November 18, 2019

Unleashing My Inner Marie Kondo

Marie Kondo

I keep few secrets from my husband, Jeff. The most incriminating activities that he might discover — if I were not careful — involve occasional splurges on overpriced anti-aging facial serums. Look, they’re still cheaper than regular Botox injections. 

However, from time to time I perform stealth operations on Jeff’s side of the closet. This is because the man takes the idea of clothing “sustainability” to such an extreme that it causes my left eyelid to twitch. To be fair, he can get away with dressing very casually for work, and he is always handsomely dressed for Shabbat and other nice occasions. His father, may he rest in peace, sold textiles, and Jeff learned about quality fabric from an early age.   

So, while I spend fairly freely on my wardrobe with nary a peep from the main breadwinner around here, it can be maddening to be married to someone this indifferent to material acquisitions. But everything has a limit. 

In my last purge, I deep-sixed two Pendleton shirts that had been hanging around — literally — since Jeff moved here from Chicago 35 years ago. Ditto the Oxford shirts he wore when we were first dating, only 33 years ago. Even in the protection of a semi-dark closet, colors fade as the decades fly by. 

Yet certain apparel is off limits to my Marie Kondo-style raids. For example, the Chicago Blackhawks jersey, featuring many jagged tears and indelibly stained with ground-in dirt. It’s so ragged that I bet it could fetch $300 in a trendy boutique. But this is among Jeff’s most prized sartorial possessions. 

“Certain apparel is off limits to my Marie Kondo-style raids.”

This is what happened to the jersey. Several years ago, Jeff and our youngest son, Ben, went on a Sunday hike. More than two hours after I had expected their return, there was no sign of them. Neither answered his phone. I was frantic. Looking out at the darkening sky, I called the fire department to report my missing men. Then I sat down to recite Tehillim. 

When they finally charged through the door, they looked like they had been in a skirmish outside the OK Corral. They refused to tell me what had happened, admitting only to having had “an adventure” involving an unmarked mountain path and a tumble down a hillside, leaving them lost. I was deliriously happy to see them, while silently furious at their folly of going off the trails. Meanwhile, Jeff and Ben were grinning from ear to ear, thrilled with a manly adventure normally not available to a white-collar business owner and a yeshiva student. 

Obviously, these mud-caked, torn clothes were destined for the trash. “Oh no you don’t!” Jeff protested when he saw me bagging the dirty duds. You’d think I was junking his late father’s initialed gold cufflinks. I believed that these clothes were no longer fit for dignified men, but my guys treasured them as mementos of a battle between man and the elements, a souvenir of a fabled experience shared by men who were no longer only father and son, but a band of brothers. Shaking my head in disbelief, I laundered the hiking gear in its own hot wash cycle and returned it to the closet.

During my stealth operations, I proceed with caution, ditching what seems safe: sweatpants with exhausted elastic, pajamas with air conditioning vents that were not among its original features, and dress shirts with fraying collars. When I had pointed out those frayed collars, Jeff just shrugged and said, “But otherwise they’re perfect!”  

The truth is, I greatly admire my husband’s commitment to the mitzvah of baal tashchit, of not wasting resources. In this marriage, he is the designated saver and I the designated spender. It works for us. 

Besides, it is not lost on me that a man this committed to holding onto the things he has had for years (and years and years) is also a man unlikely to trade in a wife of similar vintage for a shinier, more recent model. Knowing this does not make me any less attached to my overpriced anti-aging serums.

The Blackhawks jersey will always be safe from my purges. But what’s this? A pair of slacks with tattered pant leg hems? Yes! I’m back in business.


Judy Gruen’s latest book is “The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love With Faith.”