One of the things that most appeals to me about Judaism is its attention to detail and its involvement in daily life. It’s not just something I do once a week, or on the holidays, or when I’m overcome by a feeling of religious fervor. It’s not something only the priestly class is involved with. It informs all of my decisions, from the way I wake up in the morning to the way I go to sleep at night. It impacts how I put on my shoes, my coat. How I interact with my loved ones, neighbors and strangers. It’s pretty comprehensive.
I find the vastness and depth of our tradition extremely comforting, and am grateful that Judaism gives me the tools to make every area of my life meaningful, even when it comes to something as mundane as my closet.
Yes, my closet.
When we moved into our house last summer, my closet situation changed somewhat dramatically. Our previous dwelling place, an apartment, featured a modern, roomy closet, with two sets of sliding doors, as well as shelving on the side and top. This gave us more than enough room for all of our clothing, shoes, miscellany, and enough leftover space for a respectable amount of clutter to accumulate.
Our current home was built around 1927, and the allotted space for clothing reflects the simplicity of the time. I think even having a closet at all is amazing. Didn’t they use wardrobes or something back then? I have no idea. In any case, this is what we have to work with:
The boys’ room has a more up-to-date closet, kind of. It seems kind of like a DIY job that was done somewhat haphazardly (though I certainly wouldn’t have done any better had I tried). But despite the superior storage capacity, their room was not in the running for master bedroom.
I considered the possibility of storing some of my clothes in the boys’ room, but the idea of having to go into my children’s room to find an outfit for the day, or to put away what I wore that day (on the long shot that it wasn’t covered in sticky little fingerprints and/or particles of dinner) was unappealing.
What does any of this have to do with Judaism?
I thought you’d never ask! When dealing with a potentially frustrating situation like this, I’m able to turn to my religious toolbox and draw upon a few philosophical points I’ve learned over the years.
1. Nothing is a coincidence. Every challenge I experience in life is an opportunity to grow, tailor-made for what I need to work on in order to develop my potential as a person. Even something like not having enough closet space for all my stuff. So instead of being upset or feeling buyer’s remorse, I looked at this situation as a chance to reflect upon how I viewed clothing, what it meant to me, and also to brainstorm solutions to the space challenge.
2. Materialism is the means, not the end. Judaism isn’t anti-materialism, but it is anti the worship of materialism. We need stuff, and stuff can be good. A woman’s need for beautiful clothing is even acknowledged in our tradition, and we are encouraged to get something nice for ourselves before a holiday. A new outfit, some earrings, whatever makes a person feel pretty. But to acquire possessions as a goal, or a hobby? That’s not so much a Jewish concept. Now that I have a physical limitation on how much clothing I can store, I will think a little longer before buying something new.
3. Keeping it classy. Before an article of clothing makes it way into my closet, it has to meet certain requirements of modesty that I adhere to. Sometimes I’ll buy something that doesn’t really fit my requirements, but because I really like it, or I don’t have any patience to continue shopping, I’ll rationalize the purchase. And then I’ll maybe wear it once before it just ends up hanging in my closet because it’s really not something I want to wear in public. The smaller closet space gave me the extra motivation needed to discard those pieces that I no longer felt comfortable wearing. It felt great!
In the end, I decided to keep my dressier clothes (Shabbos and Yom Tov clothing, mainly) hanging in the closet. My husband keeps his stuff in the closet in the office (it’s really a bedroom, but we’re using it as an office for now). I made better use of the space my dresser provided and store my weekday clothes, pajamas, shells and necessities in there. It totally works. And I think it’s even an improvement over my previous situation because it forces me to stay on top of things, and I totally need that external motivation.
There’s quite a bit of room for development in how I organize my closet, and I fully intend to think about it. Someday.
And that leads me to one final Jewish concept: “gam zu l’tovah!” That means, “this, too, is for the good.” Basically, it’s the concept that Hashem does everything, and everything Hashem does is good. Even the things that may seem “bad” on first glance really are being done for the good, even if we don’t understand it, and even if we never see a discernible reason in our lifetime. This concept is tied into the belief that this world isn’t the only existence there is, that we are, in essence, souls that exist to accomplish various goals in this world, and that difficulty and hardship are part of the work we are here to do.
Life isn’t supposed to be easy, but it is supposed to be good, and the Jewish understanding of good is very different than the American one. Good and easy are not synonymous. Judaism teaches that good is when we continue to draw closer to Hashem through doing mitzvos and learning Torah and the like. And since we learn that everything happens for a reason, and that every event is a custom-made situation for our growth, everything is good.
May all of your challenges be things like a too-small closet, and may we all live good lives.