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Clothes and a small handbag hanging on hangers. Getty Images/EyeEm

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After my mom died, her clothes got a new life

I’ve been slowly selling her stuff. It’s made me reconnect with her zany sense of style — and what made her so special.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m selling my mother’s stuff — my stuff, now — for clout. She died in August and left me a mess. Not furniture nor books nor shiny heirlooms, my inheritance is largely a couple of rooms full of clothing. It’s not designer stuff, a lot of ’90s and early-2000s items she loved and got too fat to wear again. On track with the 20-Year Rule, all of the mesh shirts, low-rise denim, and mini logo purses she wore way past their expiration dates are in style again.

I couldn’t have a funeral during the pandemic, much less family or friends come over to help with Culver City’s own Kilimanjaro of clothes. I was the only one to make the kinds of phone calls you hope you never have to, every day wading through a new headache wrapped in red tape and legalese. I was 27 without a mom, in lockdown, on unemployment, without any family in Los Angeles. I needed a distraction, and when my go-to self-destructive behavior didn’t work, I clung to a pragmatic and glib hobby to deflect the teary conversations and bleak reality of my personal 2020 tragedy story. I ordered a $30 ring light and downloaded Depop.

My mom was wholly unorganized, messy in all ways. All her shit was out in the open, splayed out in front of her, a Level 1 hoarder. She didn’t like people moving her things; she liked to see it all at once, nothing hidden away behind wood or plastic. She had this disease where if there was a five for $15 deal, she had to purchase five. Shoes and dresses often had a twin in a different color.

A collector, a shopaholic, an addict — whatever you want to call it, my mom was many things, and had acquired a treasury of ’80s, ’90s, and “Y2K” clothing, shoes, and accessories to fit each of her personalities. One year I gifted her The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up knowing full well the fate of that poor little hardcover book as a coaster. The few times I tried to clean out her closet (“edit,” is the word I used) she would regress into a teenage fit of whining and bargaining. Later I realized these clothes were her mementos and trophies and not to push it any further.

It was just us two growing up, an only child with a single mother. By turns, I was either ashamed or in awe of her wardrobe. Most of the time, her clothes embarrassed me; passé and gaudy, they cluttered our apartment and stood in the way of us ever getting along. But there were gems that I coveted. The home did not have an open-closet policy. “No” and “Because I said so” were the answers if I wanted to wear something of hers. So I regarded her stuff as a sister would: borrow (i.e., steal) whenever possible. I got caught most of the time, worth it every time. In recent years, if I wanted something that she wasn’t prepared for me to lose or ruin, she’d soften the blow by saying, “Don’t worry, everything I have will be yours one day.” That day was sooner than expected.

Moving is a pain. Moving your mother’s entire life, without her, is paralyzing. Sometimes all I could do was stare at the growing pile of trash bags taking over the living room, evoking distant seagull squawks from the local landfill. On my worst days, I had my aunt and my boyfriend visit and put things in front of me so I could give a thumbs up or down as they packed or threw away the rest. It was the best gift anyone could have given me at that moment.

Photo albums and documents were easy — those just got dumped into a box and put in a corner. Everyday stuff like makeup and workout clothes were among the hardest to decide on. Do you keep your mother’s half-used moisturizer or just throw it away? I still don’t know. I got a storage unit and crammed whatever I couldn’t decide on into a warehouse across town. Most days, I was happy to ignore the 5-by-10-foot cavern and pretend that I was still the same person I was from Before.

Everyone kept telling me to take my time with her belongings. That there was no rush. But after two months of a zombielike shiva, I had to get my life back. When I couldn’t stand another heartbreaking conversation with a distant family member or lawyer, I walked into her room and made three piles: keep, donate, sell. If I was unsure, I would try on a dress or a top and snap a photo. I was creating a digital inventory of her clothes, of the life I knew and the one she had before me. I wanted to post the photos online in some anonymous, remunerative way. If I couldn’t have a mom, then I told myself that money and hot pics would be the next best thing.

In order to pack, I had begun to trick myself. I blow-dried my hair and put on mascara. Taking photos became an excuse, or reward, for whatever sad thing I had to do that day. It became the honest reason I was able to open my mom’s front door knowing she wouldn’t be there on the couch to greet me, even if that’s what I hoped and prayed for and imagined every single time I turned my key in the lock. Like it had all been a big joke. Or nightmare. Or simulation.

At the end of December, I posted my first items on Depop: a knock-off Prada briefcase that screamed Lucy Liu as a leather dominatrix from “Charlie’s Angels;” an oversized, painfully ’80s Talbots camel coat; an unidentifiable camisole styled with a Juicy Couture velour mini skirt and rolled down Uggs. Everything in the photos belonged to my mom, down to the hair clips and hoop earrings. I styled myself as Carmela Soprano or Carrie Bradshaw in panoplied fits only a 19-year-old could get away with in public. My entire life I had hated these clothes — the disorder, the showiness. Now, I was cosplaying my mom like some Norman Bates e-girl.

I had resisted Depop when it first launched in 2011. It was Gen Z territory, and I, a younger millennial, did not feel invited. For years, when it came to my own clothes, I stuck to my trusted reselling pillars: first, eBay (which has the most reasonable commission rate at 10 percent); then the RealReal (which has the least reasonable commission rate at 55 percent but with a higher chance of selling); and lastly, if I was really desperate, Poshmark (relegated for Zara and Brandy Melville resells). But Depop was different, more personal, and encouraged backyard modeling and personal branding, a consistent #aesthetic and marketing campaign.

In a haze of grief, I opened Depop and discovered a teenaged flea market with its own ecosystem of tacit rules and self-imposed community standards. Success on the app fulfills more than a capitalist itch; social currency is what you’re really after; otherwise, you’d get rid of your junk elsewhere. I furiously screenshotted my favorite accounts, studied their poses and set-ups and descriptions, and pinned a wrinkled off-white sheet against the wall of my mom’s room, incorporated props, and took on a persona.

There’s an underwritten humanity to the teenage-run micro-economy. Transparency and a backstory build trust and followers. If you’re not 100 percent sure about the authenticity of an item, let them know in the listing description. If this was an important piece from your grandmother’s closet, write it in with a butterfly and crying face emoji. If an item has a suspect stain that you haven’t tried to remove, let the price reflect it and say so.

After I had a solid lineup of Depop clothes, I recruited my best friend to come over to my mom’s and help (emotionally and to take photos). Dara and I rifled through my mom’s closet just like we had done all those times growing up, digging up supplies to play dress-up as 10-year-old versions of “The Simple Life.” We picked out Biggie Smalls silk button-ups, printed mesh long-sleeves ripping off ’90s Gaultier, pointy stilettos in ungodly color schemes, Betsey Johnson Intimates camisoles, Victoria’s Secret sheer babydolls, and deadstock treasures you could only find on Melrose Avenue in 2002. We were on set, losing daylight and sweating as stylists, photographers, models, merchandisers. I had no attachment to these clothes anymore. They weren’t tethered to my childhood shame, my very recent mourning; I was just there to move product.

We had no business having this much fun with my dead mom’s clothes. “It’s because it’s what we used to do as kids,” Dara told me. In elementary school, we fantasized about being like our mothers, tiny feet stumbling in their high heels and dangling keys and purses and dolls on our hips from one side of the room to the other. Then we wanted to stand in direct opposition to them for as long as possible, discovering our own look, until the pendulum swung back the other way and we were ready to accept our fate as our mothers’ daughters. I am my mom’s Mini-Me and always will be.

On New Year’s Day, I got a call from the maintenance team at my mom’s place saying I needed to let them inside. The garage right below her unit was a raging torrent. Her bathroom was likely the source of the flood, and they were waiting outside her door with a pump vac and industrial fans. The bathroom was inside my mom’s bedroom where I kept my piles, some in boxes, mostly on the floor. All the Depop clothes. All the clothes I thought I’d keep forever, now flotsam in a sewage floor.

I was six hours away in Arizona to ring in the New Year (in tears, in bed, alone, duh). I told them I couldn’t come back until tomorrow. I called my aunt, my mother’s sister and my forever lifeline. We were cynical at this point, immune to any more bad news because we had already gotten the worst of it. No shit, of course this happened. The curse of 2020 wasn’t lifted at the stroke of midnight. Why would we think a day made any difference? What could I do but say, “Oh well, okay,” and cry about it when I got home?

Later, my aunt texted me, “Heaven is having no stuff.” If that’s true, I know my mother isn’t happy about it.

I raced home in a couple of days to find that it was a false alarm. The burst pipe came from elsewhere. Everything was fine and dry. I still had my (her?) clothes but was left with a realization that even if all the stuff that reminded me of her dematerialized tomorrow, Thanos-style — these clothes, the last birthday card, her favorite pillow — it still wouldn’t fill my heart with what was missing. These were consolation prizes, nice but empty souvenirs, totemic of what I can never get back. My grief won’t soften once I’ve sold everything. I’m still not sure what to keep for myself, what counts for posterity or family keepsakes. I still have time to decide. I haven’t been to the storage unit in months.

The game of the app has become a reprieve from the depressing and inescapable duties of closing bank accounts and canceling Netflix and filing for probate court. Every time I sell an item, a teeny, pixel-sized burden is lifted. Yes, extra cash is nice. Having my mom would be nicer. But with all this stuff that was foisted upon me, it’s a relief when someone called internet_babygirl42069 in Florida buys my mom’s “Iconic Y2K Roxy Hawaiian Floral Mini Dress’’ that I didn’t have the boobs to fill out and would never have worn otherwise. I package it up and send it off and don’t have to hold onto it anymore, kind of like when people spread ashes around the world. Except it’s my mommy’s stuff. And it’s sprinkled to a new generation of equally unconventional, vibrant, messy women.

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