Don’t Die with Tags on your Clothes

My mom died and I just cleaned out her closet.

She didn’t JUST die, mind you; she died in 2008. Yes, she died ten years ago and I am just now cleaning out her closet. Don’t judge.

She lived in a wing of our house. I realize that sounds very Downton Abbey-like and I assure you it wasn’t. We don’t dress for dinner, not one of us speak with a British accent, and we never ring Carson so that we can have tea in the library. We don’t even have a library. Or a Carson. What we have are teabags and a microwave. Simply put, we added a full guest house to our home so that my mom could live with us but still on her own. She maintained her independence but with the security of knowing I was right “next door.”

After she died, I pretty much left the contents of her house as they were, right down to the small dry cleaning bundle on the bedroom chair. It was like one of those photographic series where the photographer enters a building untouched by time, photographs it, gives it some cool name like, “The Mother Shrine” and then wins a prize. Bonus points if it’s haunted.

I told myself that I would get around to sorting the contents when I was ready. I was fortunate in that I didn’t have to hurry and clear the house of those things that meant so much to me. Yes, I threw away the food in the pantry and emptied the refrigerator. I had no sentimental attachment to Activia yogurt and whole grain bread. But her clothes and shoes? Well, they hung in the closet and sat folded in drawers and lined up in boxes for ten long years, partly because it was too painful to go through them and partly because there were SO MANY OF THEM. The woman loved clothes. They were tidy and organized and in exceptional condition, sure, but HOW MANY BLACK FLATS DOES ONE TINY WOMAN NEED?

And as I pulled out garment after garment, I noticed a common theme: tags. About 1/3 of the clothes still had tags on them. As in, they had never been worn. They were brand spankin’ new.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, this was the same woman who had “The Good Towels” displayed in the bathroom and the towels we were allowed to wipe our hands on hanging from a hook under the sink. My mom had Show Towels, and we all learned from an early age NOT TO USE THE GOOD TOWELS. I remember being a kid and watching with horror as a guest actually wiped her hands on The Good Towels, crumpling their smooth and undisturbed folds. It felt like someone kicked a puppy.

This was also the same woman who threatened us with bodily harm if we sat on a bedspread or used it to keep warm. Even as I type this, it sounds stupid. But yes, a bedspread was used to decorate the room.

“But mom, why?”
“Because if you sit on it, or God forbid LAY ON IT, it will wear it out and not stay nice.”
“What about using it, you know, to keep warm while sleeping.”
<exasperated look> “Seriously? We have blankets for that.”

So, it was no surprise that I found the equivalent of Macy’s petite department in my mom’s bedroom, all with tags still on. Like the Good Towels and the Bedspread Rules, she was saving them for a time in the future. I’m not sure when, exactly. Pretty sure she didn’t know, either. I do know that she wouldn’t wear a new outfit to go to Costco or get a haircut. Church on Sunday morning was the exception. She would cut the tags for Jesus. But every day outings and events weren’t deemed worthy for new clothes.

Don’t get me wrong; it made her happy, these new clothes. Just knowing they were waiting for her brought her joy, kind of like me and my Pile of Unread Books that threaten to topple over in my bedroom at any moment. And I think she thought she had time; time to cut off the tags, time to wear each outfit, time to enjoy them all.

And then, she got really sick, really fast…and that time never came.

Fast forward ten years and here I sit, surrounded by an enormous amount of petite clothing and more shoes than anyone would wear in a lifetime. Not gonna lie; I shed more than a few tears over this. Not just that she would never wear them, but that she WAITED to enjoy them.

It made me think about why it is we put off the things that make us happy.

Do we feel it’s wrong?
Do we feel undeserving?
Do we wait because we feel the time isn’t right?

I suppose the answer is different for everybody, but no matter the answer, one thing is true:


Life is to be enjoyed, so stop with the excuses.
Stop with the procrastination.
Take the things you love and enjoy them. Embrace them.
Wring from them every last bit of joy you can.
Not just the “things,” but the people, the places, the experiences you love.

Not tomorrow.
Not someday.
But now, because no matter who you are, you deserve all the HAPPY there is.

As for me, I made a vow, sitting there, surrounded by “Petite Small” tags and shoes that would never get to meet my mother’s feet:

I vowed to not die with any tags on my clothes.

And I hope you die the same way.


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