Change Your Closet, Change Your Life: Gillian Dunn (Transcript)

Gillian Dunn at TEDxWhiteRock

Here is the full text of registered nurse Gillian Dunn’s talk titled “Change Your Closet, Change Your Life” at TEDxWhiteRock conference.

Best Quote from this talk:

“No, because you know the present on the inside is even better than the wrapping. I think life gives us a present and it’s called today and we hold back from unwrapping it and we give ourselves excuses and make it feel okay. But really what’s on the inside is what matters.”

Listen to the MP3 Audio:  Change Your Closet, Change Your Life by Gillian Dunn at TEDxWhiteRock


I believe there are two types of people in the world. Those that sing in the shower and those that perform in the shower. And I am a performer.

I don’t know what it is about that small space with the water running. My shampoo bottle is my microphone and my loofah singing backup, all I know is when I’m done, I want to start touring instead of toweling.

Now after the shower is out of the way comes the really important part: choosing what to wear.

I stand in front of my closet, bursting at the seams and I still have the thought: I have nothing to wear.

Now usually this decision is made a little bit easier for me, because I work as a registered nurse and we wear scrubs to work. With the big bold blocks of colors that scrubs are, sometimes the decision feels more like what giant Crayola crayon do I want to be today.

The closet is just one of the areas in which our stuff overwhelms us. We wear 20% of our clothing 80% of the time. We live in a time where with the click of a button, you can order something online and have it arrived at your doorstep without even leaving the couch.

Abundance is the name and spending is the game. We have no problem with gathering stuff but we have a problem with using it. And that’s why I’m here today.

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At this point you get to join me. I’m going to invite everybody to raise one hand. I won’t make you do anything crazy like those guys.

I’m going to ask a series of questions. If you answer yes to any of the questions, I’m going to invite you to lower your hand.

Do you have clothes in your closet with tags on? Do you have clothes in your closet you haven’t worn in a year? Do you have a candle in your house that has never been lit? Do you have special alcohol that you’re saving for a special occasion? Do you drive a luxury vehicle that spends more time in the garage than out on the open road?

Finally, do you have dinnerware or China that you save for a special location or guests? If you find your hands back in your lap, you’ve earned yourself 10 more minutes of listening to me.

I returned from a family vacation in Mexico, and I bought myself a beautiful blue ornate candle. I was so excited to light it. I returned home and I thought: Today is not the day. I’m going to save it for the right occasion. So I tucked it in my closet and I forgot about it.

Two years passed and I remembered my candle. And I thought: Today is the day. I’m going to light it. So I pulled out my candle and I opened the box and my beautiful blue candle had turned into a big puddle of wax. My candle had melted.

Now what struck me that’s really strange about this was that my candle had done exactly what it’s designed to do. It’s designed to melt but it had done it without me.

That’s the day that I learned: Don’t let your candle melt in the closet.

After telling one man this story, he came up to me after and he said: “My wife and I have had candles in our house for 10 years and they’ve never melted. Perhaps it’s your location, not your loss that you should be focusing on.”

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And I said “I think you might have missed my point there.”

All of the things that we gather have one thing in common. We decide that they’re special. We have no problem with cutting the tags off the sweatpants or putting the IKEA cutlery and dinnerware out. It’s the good China, the expensive Scotch, the good suit that stay locked in the cupboard.

I learned this on a new level one day when I was out shopping. And I overheard a man compliment the other man on his watch. And the man responded “If you like this one, you should see the ones I don’t wear.”

This sounded really strange to me, until the other man responded: “Absolutely. The best ones never leave the box.”

Now these watches tick instead of melts but I could see their batteries running low as their owners wore their second-best watch saving the best watch for another occasion.

I want you to reflect on that item that made you lower your hand. When you think about using it or when you go to use it, what is the feeling it evokes in you? Is it a feeling of special, of importance, of poise?

I learned recently when I don’t wear something, it’s because I decided it’s too nice. I was recently given a necklace. It was a bit nicer than the kind of necklace I normally wear. So I put it on and I showed it to my sister. And I said, “This is too nice to wear everyday.”

She looked at me and she said “It is really nice. But isn’t your thing don’t let the candle melt in the closet?” She was using my quote against me. A yet simple yes or no would have done; it struck me.

As soon as I had elevated this necklace to be too nice to wear every day, it got moved into my jewelry box and forgotten about, waiting for that special day.

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This made me really curious. So instead of gathering stuff I decided to gather information. And I learned that our tendency as humans to stockpile stuff is based on two mindsets: I am not enough; and I don’t have enough.

I’m going to begin with: I don’t have enough. This is a mindset that was ushered in by the Great Depression and sold us the lie that by gathering things around us, we can protect ourselves against hard times.

I believe it’s best summarized with a quote by author Lynne Twist. She states:

“For me and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is: I didn’t get enough sleep. This is quickly followed by the thought: I don’t have enough time. Whether true or not, these thoughts occur to us automatically, before we even think to pause or examine them.”

This mindset of I don’t have enough means that we live in houses three times bigger than 50 years ago and yet our garages are so filled with stuff we can’t park our cars in them.

The second mindset is I am not enough. I already said we’re excellent at gathering stuff. We as a society love to shop. And when we’re shopping, we’re looking for those things that are missing in our lives.

You don’t have enough time? Buy another power tool for that deck project you don’t have enough time for.

You haven’t lost the weight? Buy a pair of pants that will look so much better when you’ve lost that last 10 pounds.

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