Essay

Dry Cleaning

Version 2

I rarely visit the dry cleaner. Maybe once a year I’ll bring in a couple of items. My mother never did it, and she never taught me when or how to do it. I figured it out, of course. They charge you to have your clothes cleaned, per item, with a personal touch and with no risk of damage. The truth is we all intuitively know that throwing our beloved and often hard-won clothes into the swirling barrel of a washing machine does not ensure the best results. It’s also not a very nice way to treat our clothes. It feels good to entrust them to another person, an expert. It feels like leaving our kids with a sitter instead of a surveillance camera.

Like every neurotically organized woman in this country, I, too, read Marie Kondo’s sleeper hit, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I expected it to offer practical advice and perhaps even personal insight (it did), but I was most surprised to read about spirituality— specifically, the animistic spirit that imbues our every possession with life, emotion, and memory. “Have you ever thought about what it would be like to have no fixed address?” Kondo implores, “Our lives would be very uncertain . . . The same is true for our belongings. It is important for them to have that same reassurance that there is a place for them to return to. You can tell the difference. Possessions that have a place where they belong and to which they are returned each day for a rest are more vibrant.” Of course I was an instant KonMari convert.

Which brings me to the only item I’ve brought to a dry cleaner since I moved here over a year ago: my favorite sweater, the one with Breton stripes. It has the perfect shape and a sumptuous knit. I picked it out at a thrift store, in a jumbled heap of late-spring sale items. It was the first thing I packed for my west coast trip: I put it on in Harlem at dawn and it was with me all day until I fell asleep with it still on, in Oakland. On the plane, to great anguish, I left an ink stain on the sleeve, mid-crossword puzzle.

When I returned and began unpacking, I folded it (KonMari style) and set it on the dresser to be brought to the dry cleaner in the morning. The intention was quickly buried under the accumulation of daily distractions. Weeks passed and my sweater was still where I set it. Then one morning in late September—who knows, maybe I was feeling especially task-oriented—I finally thought to bring it downstairs on my way to work. (Did I mention the dry cleaner is literally around the corner on my block?) I asked the man at the counter whether there was any hope of removing the ink stain, which had now spent two months settling into the finely knit cotton. “I’m sorry,” he said ominously, “but I’ll try.” I handed him my delicately folded sweater and left the place with tempered hope.

Two weeks passed before I could pick it up, but when we were finally reunited, I wore it immediately the next morning. The ink stain was gone, like a bad dream. I was so relieved to see my sweater again, and I could sense it was relieved just the same.

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