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Successful Aging: I’m a retired CEO, but I don’t want to get rid of my suits and ties

Q. I am a retired CEO of a manufacturing company with an unusual problem, at least for me. I recently looked in my closet and did a count: 8 pair of dress shoes, 38 dress shirts, 55 neckties, 14 pair of slacks, too many suits and more. I don’t have need for all of these clothes. It’s not that I won’t wear some of them again, but it feels like that it is a lifetime of clothes that I don’t need. I am finding it difficult moving most of this out of my closet and out the front door. Any insights or advice? B.J.

Dear B.J.

Congratulations for asking this question. In the past, a question related to downsizing whether it is household items, books or clothing has been asked by women. My guess is that men have similar issues of discarding yet are apt to discuss it less openly compared to women.

There is more to this story than just clothing. Your professional wardrobe is a tangible reminder of your previous role, one likely of vision, drive, commitment, influence and power. A role that is respected by employees, business colleagues and the community.

It is easy to think that the leadership and business skills you have would make wardrobe decisions a done deal. That’s not the case because of what the clothing represents. It’s your past life which may have taken up to anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of your time.

We are talking about transition and change and about losses and gains in a new life stage. Unfortunately, there is no playbook specifically for CEOs on what some might call the mundane topic of downsizing a male professional power wardrobe.

Here are some questions to consider that at the outset may seem to have little to do with one’s wardrobe.

How do I feel about not being the CEO? This new life stage likely is a dramatic change from the schedules and demands of your manufacturing company. Are you feeling the losses that might accompany this change? That might be feelings of not being needed or depended upon. It might be the uneasiness of having no schedule or the lack of purpose or social contacts including the many lunches. It might be that no one asks you for advice. At the same time, you may feel relief of the stresses of your previous position and welcome the free time to do what you want to do, when you want to do it. You might even welcome the opportunity of no morning alarm.

Am I satisfied about how I am spending my time? Are you spending time on what is important to you? Does what you are doing make you feel good? What has meaning for you at this life stage? And then how do you discover it? Fulfillment may come from travel, spending time with family, friends and grandchildren to starting an encore career, volunteering, taking courses or even starting a band. For over-achievers, it’s not important to be the best, the fastest, the most successful or excel at anything. The shareholders are not watching and nobody is keeping score. And there is no competition.

Do I feel useful? This may be one of the largest challenges in retirement, particularly if the previous position had status and a strong sense of purpose. One way to begin is to find a cause that you care about. That could be disadvantaged youth, the homeless, climate change, social justice and more. If you have political leanings, explore the opportunities. Think about mentoring others in your profession or business in general.

Now back to your closet. My guess is that if you were clear and satisfied with the answers to these questions, it would be less difficult to clear the closet. The clothes are symbolic of the past and how we deal with the past and move to the present and future. It is a process that takes time.

“If people hang on to items that outlive their usefulness, it can keep their energy tied to the past, holding people back, making them less open to new things coming their way,” says Debra Frank, Manhattan Beach certified professional organizer and productivity consultant.

Here is one source for your clothing:; click the Success Institute button.

Thank you, B.J. for your candid question. The transition you likely are experiencing takes some time and thoughtful homework. Note, the space you create is not only valued real estate, it makes room for what’s next.

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