Journal

On Losing Shoes and Finding Joy

by | Apr 3, 2016 | Editorial

There’s an old Chinese saying that for every child you lose a tooth. Praise G-d, that has not been my experience! But I do have a saying of my own: that for every grandchild I lose a shoe. I do not mean that I become increasingly
doddering and misplace my footwear, but rather that every time I am blessed to have a new grandchild it seems that there is another category of shoes that I can no longer wear.

Allow me to explain. I was told many years ago, because of lower back issues, not to wear high heels. Fair enough. So I spent most of my adult life wearing flats for everyday and the occasional short heels for dressy occasions. No problem. My feet were happy. I used to shop in a sample shoe shop that had rows and rows of shoes in small sizes, and I would find interesting, one-of-a-kind shoes at delightfully low prices. Things like apricot suede knee-high boots, burgundy velvet sparkly flats and shoes in my favorite forest green long after the color had gone out of vogue everywhere else. I’m fairly gentle with my shoes so most of them lived happily in my closet for a long time.

This meant that, organized as I try to be, eventually I began running out of space. I should also explain that I live in an old house, built long before people had the amount of “stuff” that seems essential today. Our closets are small. The master dressing area does have a cute little built-in shoe cabinet, which fits exactly twenty pairs of shoes. Does that sound like plenty? Then you must be a male person reading this. Trust me as a female, that is not plenty. So eventually I had shoes lined up on the closet floor and the shelf above. Now, I am not a shoe-aholic. But one does need the occasional new pair of shoes, and I rarely had reason to discard any, as they were in perfectly fine condition.

As it turned out, and much to my surprise, my feet were not. Was it the broken toe that started it? The twisted ankle? The spontaneous occurrence of an Achilles tendonitis that necessitated six months in a lovely black nylon velcroed boot? All I know is that as time went on—and I am not implying any correlation other than the passage of time—and I was blessed with more grandchildren, I seemed to be cursed with more foot issues. And with the Achilles problem came the admonition that I could no longer wear flats; now I had to wear wedges—not too high, not too steep. Then somehow I couldn’t wear shoes without backs, or sandals with thongs, and on and on it went. So I needed new shoes, but one never wants to part with beautiful shoes from one’s past; there is always the hope that they can be worn again.

And then along came Uggs. Really, it wasn’t my fault. I was simply passing by the shoe department, minding my own business, and there was an Ugg bootie in the exact terra cotta color I happened to be wearing. Yes, they were somewhat flat, but had just enough support that I could wear them. And they were so warm and comfy. Yes, they looked a little wide for my small feet, but my skirts are so long that I hardly noticed. And did I mention they were terra cotta? The next thing I knew, Ugg came out with a boot in my exact teal green. Well, what’s a woman to do? Years later, I still have—and wear—every pair of Uggs I ever bought. And they have somehow appeared in my life in every one of my colors! Really, not my fault at all.

But meanwhile, though my Ugg collection grew, my closet size did not. Enter my two youngest granddaughters, E and A, ages six and eight, respectively. It all started innocently enough. They wanted to come visit and play store. Using my closet. One look and they decided it would be a shoe store. They were in charge of setting up the displays and they were the sales force. And I, as the only available adult, was the customer. I treasure my time with these little people, so I tried on myriad pairs of my own shoes and carefully made my selections, all the while wondering when I would ever be able to wear those fabulous gladiator sandals or elegant metallic wedges again.

And as they had dredged all my shoes out of the darkest depths of my closet, I was forced to acknowledge that I was not nearly as organized as I thought I was. Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizing guru and author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, would not approve. Nor would my dear friend Marjorie, who long ago taught me the principles of a pared down, organized house. And as my dear granddaughters had to leave before they had the chance to clear out the “store” and re-stock the closet, that task was left to me. Suffice it to say that I didn’t have much energy left to do it well.

Then one day not long after, I watched six year old E ruthlessly purge and re-arrange her sock drawer, and I asked half in jest if she would like to organize my shoes. I was rather surprised and a bit nervous when she jumped at the chance. She came to my house and stood surveying my collection of footwear, shaking her head. She began saying things like, “This is really a mish-mash, Nana. It’s a good thing we’re doing this.” Then came, “Let’s put the sneakers and slippers on these shelves, and we’ll put the sandals on the closet floor.” She proceeded to do all of that, preferring I basically stay out of it, except to arrange by color once she’d gotten the categories set up.

Then came, “Nana, these are rain boots. You know it never rains. Let’s put them all the way in the back.” And then, “Now, out of these shoes, which do you wear the most? They’re going on this side where you can see them more easily.” And on she went. Yes, she’s six. Every once in a while she would point out a pair that was really worn out and demand that I get rid of it. I dutifully got a big black garbage bag, and began to wonder why people pay professional organizers when there are little ones like this around with such skill and boundless energy! I was much relieved when she declared that my Uggs, lined up on the top shelf above the same color clothing, could stay just as they were.

So now I had a very organized, though rather crowded, closet. You know what I mean—the sort of organization that is easy to maintain as long as you never actually take out a pair of shoes and then attempt to put them back later when you’re tired or in a hurry. So as time went on…well, you can guess.

Meanwhile, Marie Kondo came out with a sequel to her best-selling book entitled: Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. I confess I haven’t finished it yet, but the basic premise in the first half is that you should hold up every item you own and decide if it sparks joy, and only keep what does. (For purely utilitarian items apparently you can muse about the joy that comes from using it and accomplishing what you need to.) I further confess that I have not had time to attempt the “spark joy” test with all my possessions, but I haven’t been able to get the joy concept out of my head either. And what I’ve realized is that there is little joy in gazing at a neatly arranged collection of shoes, so many of which are torture to wear.

And then along came my little darlings, A and E again, together for an afternoon. They wanted to play board games. Now I would do anything for them, but I am not a big fan of board games. So instead I said that I had a little project in mind. Whereupon E cocked her little head, narrowed her eyes at me and said, “Nana, did you make a mish-mash of your shoes again, after all my hard work?”

I sheepishly replied, “Not exactly,” and then went on to explain that I had decided it was time to say goodbye to the shoes I never wear. Apparently this is a lot more fun than a board game because they made a bee-line for my closet. I should stop here and explain that not only is E a natural organizer, but A is no slouch herself, and is also the daughter of a stylist. She plays “empty-out-the-entire-closet-and-put-outfits-together” with her friends. For fun.

They set about the task with great gusto. E said things like, “I never see you wear these. They should go, Nana,” and “Didn’t we already get rid of these? Why are they still here?”

A was prone to saying “What were you thinking, Nana? I don’t care if the color is perfect. These toes are waaay too pointy. You can’t wear these!” She commandeered a pair of black nylon rain booties for herself. They actually fit her (though she will probably out-grow them within six months), and she reminded me that “Black is so not your color. Why do you even have these?” Why, indeed?

They made me get a roll of those big black garbage bags. Some old shoes were obviously meant for garbage, and shoes in good condition would be donated, as none of my family members share my small shoe size (nor affinity for the colors and styles I wear!) We also made a pile of sparkly shoes for them to play dress-up. So out went the wedges whose heels were too steep. Out went the flats with no arch support. Out went the pumps with the toe boxes that pinched. Out went the thong sandals that caused excruciating pain. Out, out, out! It was long past time.

Once again, my Uggs, safely high up, out of reach and arranged by color, survived the purge. We spent a delightful afternoon, and when the girls left I took a good look at our handiwork. My shoe cabinet was half empty, as was the closet floor. The empty spaces made me take a deep breath in sheer relief. This kind of activity is very cleansing and even exhilarating. Besides the Uggs, I now had exactly two pairs of sneakers, three pairs of slippers, and four pairs of dress shoes and boots. This felt good! Very good! Except… Wait a minute! I had only one pair of sandals left—super comfortable, ten year old brown-burgundy sandals. That meant that once Ugg season had passed, if I wasn’t wearing my burgundy-colored clothes, I would have no shoes to wear!

Oh no! What now? The very last thing I wanted to do was buy more shoes! Thank goodness the weather had turned cold again. That day I was wearing my terra cotta color with the very first pair of Ugg booties I ever bought. But summer was coming, and the Valley where I live is hot and dry for many months every year. I was in big trouble!

But shoes notwithstanding, and with all due respect to the Japanese organizing guru, I realized something very important. It is not this shoe or that, nor even gazing at open spaces once the work is done, that sparks joy for me. The joy comes from spending this precious time with my delightful granddaughters. One day, all too soon, they will not find this activity so engaging. In the meantime I will unabashedly take advantage of their enthusiasm and talents. Next up, my scarves and shawls…

doddering and misplace my footwear, but rather that every time I am blessed to have a new grandchild it seems that there is another category of shoes that I can no longer wear.

Allow me to explain. I was told many years ago, because of lower back issues, not to wear high heels. Fair enough. So I spent most of my adult life wearing flats for everyday and the occasional short heels for dressy occasions. No problem. My feet were happy. I used to shop in a sample shoe shop that had rows and rows of shoes in small sizes, and I would find interesting, one-of-a-kind shoes at delightfully low prices. Things like apricot suede knee-high boots, burgundy velvet sparkly flats and shoes in my favorite forest green long after the color had gone out of vogue everywhere else. I’m fairly gentle with my shoes so most of them lived happily in my closet for a long time.

This meant that, organized as I try to be, eventually I began running out of space. I should also explain that I live in an old house, built long before people had the amount of “stuff” that seems essential today. Our closets are small. The master dressing area does have a cute little built-in shoe cabinet, which fits exactly twenty pairs of shoes. Does that sound like plenty? Then you must be a male person reading this. Trust me as a female, that is not plenty. So eventually I had shoes lined up on the closet floor and the shelf above. Now, I am not a shoe-aholic. But one does need the occasional new pair of shoes, and I rarely had reason to discard any, as they were in perfectly fine condition.

As it turned out, and much to my surprise, my feet were not. Was it the broken toe that started it? The twisted ankle? The spontaneous occurrence of an Achilles tendonitis that necessitated six months in a lovely black nylon velcroed boot? All I know is that as time went on—and I am not implying any correlation other than the passage of time—and I was blessed with more grandchildren, I seemed to be cursed with more foot issues. And with the Achilles problem came the admonition that I could no longer wear flats; now I had to wear wedges—not too high, not too steep. Then somehow I couldn’t wear shoes without backs, or sandals with thongs, and on and on it went. So I needed new shoes, but one never wants to part with beautiful shoes from one’s past; there is always the hope that they can be worn again.

And then along came Uggs. Really, it wasn’t my fault. I was simply passing by the shoe department, minding my own business, and there was an Ugg bootie in the exact terra cotta color I happened to be wearing. Yes, they were somewhat flat, but had just enough support that I could wear them. And they were so warm and comfy. Yes, they looked a little wide for my small feet, but my skirts are so long that I hardly noticed. And did I mention they were terra cotta? The next thing I knew, Ugg came out with a boot in my exact teal green. Well, what’s a woman to do? Years later, I still have—and wear—every pair of Uggs I ever bought. And they have somehow appeared in my life in every one of my colors! Really, not my fault at all.

But meanwhile, though my Ugg collection grew, my closet size did not. Enter my two youngest granddaughters, E and A, ages six and eight, respectively. It all started innocently enough. They wanted to come visit and play store. Using my closet. One look and they decided it would be a shoe store. They were in charge of setting up the displays and they were the sales force. And I, as the only available adult, was the customer. I treasure my time with these little people, so I tried on myriad pairs of my own shoes and carefully made my selections, all the while wondering when I would ever be able to wear those fabulous gladiator sandals or elegant metallic wedges again.

And as they had dredged all my shoes out of the darkest depths of my closet, I was forced to acknowledge that I was not nearly as organized as I thought I was. Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizing guru and author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, would not approve. Nor would my dear friend Marjorie, who long ago taught me the principles of a pared down, organized house. And as my dear granddaughters had to leave before they had the chance to clear out the “store” and re-stock the closet, that task was left to me. Suffice it to say that I didn’t have much energy left to do it well.

Then one day not long after, I watched six year old E ruthlessly purge and re-arrange her sock drawer, and I asked half in jest if she would like to organize my shoes. I was rather surprised and a bit nervous when she jumped at the chance. She came to my house and stood surveying my collection of footwear, shaking her head. She began saying things like, “This is really a mish-mash, Nana. It’s a good thing we’re doing this.” Then came, “Let’s put the sneakers and slippers on these shelves, and we’ll put the sandals on the closet floor.” She proceeded to do all of that, preferring I basically stay out of it, except to arrange by color once she’d gotten the categories set up.

Then came, “Nana, these are rain boots. You know it never rains. Let’s put them all the way in the back.” And then, “Now, out of these shoes, which do you wear the most? They’re going on this side where you can see them more easily.” And on she went. Yes, she’s six. Every once in a while she would point out a pair that was really worn out and demand that I get rid of it. I dutifully got a big black garbage bag, and began to wonder why people pay professional organizers when there are little ones like this around with such skill and boundless energy! I was much relieved when she declared that my Uggs, lined up on the top shelf above the same color clothing, could stay just as they were.

So now I had a very organized, though rather crowded, closet. You know what I mean—the sort of organization that is easy to maintain as long as you never actually take out a pair of shoes and then attempt to put them back later when you’re tired or in a hurry. So as time went on…well, you can guess.

Meanwhile, Marie Kondo came out with a sequel to her best-selling book entitled: Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. I confess I haven’t finished it yet, but the basic premise in the first half is that you should hold up every item you own and decide if it sparks joy, and only keep what does. (For purely utilitarian items apparently you can muse about the joy that comes from using it and accomplishing what you need to.) I further confess that I have not had time to attempt the “spark joy” test with all my possessions, but I haven’t been able to get the joy concept out of my head either. And what I’ve realized is that there is little joy in gazing at a neatly arranged collection of shoes, so many of which are torture to wear.

And then along came my little darlings, A and E again, together for an afternoon. They wanted to play board games. Now I would do anything for them, but I am not a big fan of board games. So instead I said that I had a little project in mind. Whereupon E cocked her little head, narrowed her eyes at me and said, “Nana, did you make a mish-mash of your shoes again, after all my hard work?”

I sheepishly replied, “Not exactly,” and then went on to explain that I had decided it was time to say goodbye to the shoes I never wear. Apparently this is a lot more fun than a board game because they made a bee-line for my closet. I should stop here and explain that not only is E a natural organizer, but A is no slouch herself, and is also the daughter of a stylist. She plays “empty-out-the-entire-closet-and-put-outfits-together” with her friends. For fun.

They set about the task with great gusto. E said things like, “I never see you wear these. They should go, Nana,” and “Didn’t we already get rid of these? Why are they still here?”

A was prone to saying “What were you thinking, Nana? I don’t care if the color is perfect. These toes are waaay too pointy. You can’t wear these!” She commandeered a pair of black nylon rain booties for herself. They actually fit her (though she will probably out-grow them within six months), and she reminded me that “Black is so not your color. Why do you even have these?” Why, indeed?

They made me get a roll of those big black garbage bags. Some old shoes were obviously meant for garbage, and shoes in good condition would be donated, as none of my family members share my small shoe size (nor affinity for the colors and styles I wear!) We also made a pile of sparkly shoes for them to play dress-up. So out went the wedges whose heels were too steep. Out went the flats with no arch support. Out went the pumps with the toe boxes that pinched. Out went the thong sandals that caused excruciating pain. Out, out, out! It was long past time.

Once again, my Uggs, safely high up, out of reach and arranged by color, survived the purge. We spent a delightful afternoon, and when the girls left I took a good look at our handiwork. My shoe cabinet was half empty, as was the closet floor. The empty spaces made me take a deep breath in sheer relief. This kind of activity is very cleansing and even exhilarating. Besides the Uggs, I now had exactly two pairs of sneakers, three pairs of slippers, and four pairs of dress shoes and boots. This felt good! Very good! Except… Wait a minute! I had only one pair of sandals left—super comfortable, ten year old brown-burgundy sandals. That meant that once Ugg season had passed, if I wasn’t wearing my burgundy-colored clothes, I would have no shoes to wear!

Oh no! What now? The very last thing I wanted to do was buy more shoes! Thank goodness the weather had turned cold again. That day I was wearing my terra cotta color with the very first pair of Ugg booties I ever bought. But summer was coming, and the Valley where I live is hot and dry for many months every year. I was in big trouble!

But shoes notwithstanding, and with all due respect to the Japanese organizing guru, I realized something very important. It is not this shoe or that, nor even gazing at open spaces once the work is done, that sparks joy for me. The joy comes from spending this precious time with my delightful granddaughters. One day, all too soon, they will not find this activity so engaging. In the meantime I will unabashedly take advantage of their enthusiasm and talents. Next up, my scarves and shawls…

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