In one of my favourite lines ever from the sitcom Modern Family, Jay Pritchett, a salt-of-the-earth type of guy in his 60s, asks his attractive younger wife Gloria (played by Sofia Vergara) if she knows where his “good underwear” is. Her reply is a funny sitcom one-liner, but it’s also become sort of my guiding principle moving into what I presume is the last third of my life. (This line is funnier if you can hear it in Sofia/Gloria’s Latina accent, but I couldn’t find a clip of it).
“The question is, why isn’t all your underwear good, Jay? You make a nice living.”
This is the question that has cut to the heart of my approach to “midlife and beyond.” Why is not all my underwear good?
If you were hoping this post was going to be mainly about my underwear … well, that’s weird. Sorry to disappoint. I am taking the question literally, throwing out old underwear as soon as they get holes or the elastic starts to go and immediately buying new ones in my favourite colours and styles, which I wouldn’t have done a few years ago. But I’m not going to post pictures or anything. (Jockey for Her French Cut, though, if you really want to know).
No, I’m thinking about the broader implications. Why are not all my T-shirts comfortable T-shirts? Why are not all the books on my shelf books that I love? And so on.
Although so far, I’ve really only gotten around to dealing with the books and the T-shirts (and the underwear). But given how much I love both books and T-shirts and how many of each I have, that’s a good place to start.
Maybe for some people it’s Feng Shui, or minimalism, or the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, or the Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F#@k, or whatever, that guides their personal organizational principles. But for me, it’s Gloria’s question to Jay that I steer by. If I don’t consider it “good,” why is it here?
Let’s take T-shirts, for example. Anyone who knows me in real life knows I’m most comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt. And since I’m lucky enough to have a job where I can wear jeans and a T-shirt to work, this is the outfit I’ll most often be seen in, day in and day out, unless I’m going to church or to dinner at a nice restaurant. As a result, I have a lot of T-shirts. I’ve amassed this great collection of T-shirts with clever slogans, or images from favourite TV shows or books or music or whatever. Or shirts I cherish because they were a gift from someone.
But I realized this summer that I have a short list of about five shirts that I cycle through, and the twenty or so other T-shirts, no matter how amusing I find the designs, only get worn when all of those five are in the laundry. The reason is simple: those five are comfortable. Like super-comfortable, both in fit and in fabric. The others, even the ones where I deeply love the image on them, are either not a great fit, or made of a fabric that doesn’t feel great against my skin. I know I’m being insanely picky about this but … if this is the thing I wear most, why shouldn’t I be?
So this summer I decided to take a big step. Last week I did a purge of my T-shirt drawers. Some of the old shirts with great, fun, designs that I just don’t love the fit or fabric of, are in the process of finding new homes. And I went to the source of some of my most comfortable T-shirts, and ordered a few more designs I liked in the same fit and fabric as the ones I love, so I’ll have a new stable of comfortable shirts.
This is such basic stuff, I can’t believe I’m only figuring it out at the age of almost 52. And obviously it’s dependent on the fact that, like Jay Pritchett, I make a good living — if I didn’t have the money to replace my shirts I’d have to make do with the ones that aren’t so comfy. But in the grand, universal scheme of things, T-shirts are not that big an expense for an adult who makes a decent salary and spends very little on clothes. Why not have things that I truly love and am really comfortable with?
I’m also in the process of applying this principle to the vast metres of bookshelves that sprawl all around my house, though obviously in that case I’m not as much inspired by comfort. In a future blog post I’ll tell you how I’m applying “Why aren’t all your books good books?” to my shelf space, but for now, I’m going to go back to admiring my new, smaller T-shirt collection.