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What's In Your Closet? Old Work Clothes Bring Back Memories

We've been doing our spring cleaning in the summer, and now we're focusing on paring down our clothing collections. Too bad we can't seem to throw anything away.

Actually, if I may brag a bit, I've done a pretty decent job of whittling down my closet -- at least enough to get the majority of my wardrobe out of 1995 and into 2010. Like many people, it can be hard for me to say goodbye to clothes, but I tell myself that someone else will enjoy having them more. Yes, Goodwill: I would like a receipt. Thanks.

My spouse, on the other hand, can't seem to part with items in his over-stuffed closet ranging from his voluminous collection of 1990s Big Dogs t-shirts to his dusty scuba diving kit from college. He doesn't use them anymore, but he keeps them because...well, why is that? Just donate it already!

So I was feeling pretty good -- if not downright cocky -- about my overall chuck rate when I reached into the back of my side of the closet to touch a rather tall, unmarked, rectangular box. I pulled it out, dusted it off, and opened it up. There it was, semi-neatly folded: My collection of work clothes spanning the entire 1990s. My first interview suit. My favorite pair of well-worn pumps. My collection of Hillary Clintonesque headbands. My lucky pair of fire engine-red corduroy slacks and my tried-and-true, earth-toned paisley silk vests (hey, I never said I had good fashion sense). My red sailor dress (no, really). The purple blazer that was always one size too big. The button-down collar work shirts I bought on clearance at The Nordstrom Rack while The Miami Sound Machine blared over the store's soundsystem.

It was all coming back to me now like an old Celine Dion song, staring me right in the face, daring me to remember myself as an unhappy 24-year-old employee trying to figure out why my co-worker always used paper towels as Kleenex. I was instantly transported back to many an awkward, in-person interview, the small, enduring sweat stains in my dark-blue interview blazer a testament to my work inexperience and my apparent inability to buy a good deodorant.

And I can't throw most of it away. I just can't. It's my entire 20-something work history relegated to one box, a cardboard time capsule of cube farm fashion memories semi-neatly refolded and promptly returned to the back of the closet. We all have things we can't part with, right? Right. I just happen to hoard old, out-of-style work clothes that I'll never wear again for touring the facilities and picking up slack. What do you keep?

Beware, Generation Y: If you work long enough -- which we all hope you do -- you will accumulate work clothes that carry a certain sentimentality. The suit you wore for your first big interview. The shirts you wore when you landed your first big clients. The work pants you were wearing when you met your future spouse. Your lucky tie. Your lucky shoes.

Or maybe your sentimentality tends toward non-clothing items such as a clipboard with a company logo, a company t-shirt or a company water bottle that you've kept all these years. It's sitting in a box, standing at the back of a kitchen shelf, or laying in the garage. All these things take up valuable space, both in our homes and in the back of our minds. They are a reminder of the way we were at a specific point in time, for better and for worse. Someday, you'll look at that dusty, logo-ed computer bag and the memories will start flooding back, kind of like looking through a high school yearbook. I wonder whatever happened to co-worker so-and-so. Did they ever change that stupid company policy or procedure? I can't believe I ever said that in a meeting! What is my old boss doing these days? I think I'll Google her. Too bad Google can't store our old work clothes, too.

As for giving my spouse a hard time over his inability to part with his t-shirt collections, I have been forever chagrined. If I can keep mine, then he can keep his. All is fair in love and hoarding.

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