Oliver: Paring down shoe collection brings reflection on former self

Power heels used to help to define this former mid-level manager

Before all of this pandemic business, I was in a decluttering groove.

Each month, I would take a load of items I no longer needed to one of the many donation sites around McHenry County.

Then we all went on lockdown, and the rest of the world caught up with me. Except that now I wasn’t in the mood to clean out my closets.

Little by little, I’m regaining that need to become lighter. I’ve been tackling the garage for a while now. That wasn’t so much full of stuff as it was chaotic, with things put away willy-nilly. Just grouping similar items has done a world of good for Tony’s former domain.

This past weekend, I finally got around to taking stock of my shoe collection. Though large – nowhere near the Imelda Marcos range – it does have its own, very small closet.

Those shoes have been in that closet since before my mother came to live with us. In fact, they are in the room she used to occupy. So while she was here, I didn’t really go into that closet much. At one point, it also held some of her items, too.

When I tackled the closet after my mother’s death, I cleared out only her things. I wasn’t in the mood to weed out my shoes, too. I had enough on my plate.

It was a bit of a project to haul out each pair, assess its worth to me and make a decision. In true Marie Kondo fashion, I knew right away whether a pair of shoes “sparked joy.”

Some, I took one look and remembered how uncomfortable they were to have on.

Some, I shook my head and questioned what I was thinking at the time they were acquired.

Mostly, I realized that the person who used to wear those shoes is not the woman I am now.

Those shoes were for the boss lady who used to roam the newsroom. Since I’m short, most of those shoes had at least a heel of an inch or 2, most even higher than that.

They were, in a word, fierce. They were spiky and studded and meant business.

They were a bit like armor. I dressed for the job, and these shoes, along with my business attire, sent the message that I knew what I was doing and I was worthy of respect. My male colleagues could get away with dress pants and polo shirts. Me, not so much.

Of course, I also had more sensible shoes for the drive to work. I’m no fool.

In the winter, I would have tall boots with heels and short boots with heels. Buckles and straps and zippers were a given. They were definitely “look at my feet” footwear.

When my assistant news editor job was eliminated, I figured I would need those shoes again someday.

Then my mother came to live with me, and it became apparent that wearing heeled shoes wasn’t practical when one is chasing down or trying to catch a woman with dementia.

These days, as a caregiver for my husband with Alzheimer’s disease, I do all the driving and we rarely go anywhere that requires shoes or boots made for battle.

Did I get rid of all of it? Oh no.

Not all of those shoes strayed into “ridiculous” territory. Some really do still make my heart flutter a little bit. One never knows when I might find a good reason to put them on again.

Still, it was a reminder of how we often go through “seasons” in life. When I was in that newsroom full time, I presented myself one way. Those shoes were part of how I defined myself.

Well, my season has changed. Now I find myself being defined in ways other than what is conveyed by those 4-inch power heels.

I loved that woman while she lasted. She really did have some fierce footwear.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at jolivercolumn@gmail.com.

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.