Thursday, November 20, 2014

what baby clothes have taught me about the French Method and minimalism

Minimalism is not something usually applied to kid's clothing. If anything, the arrival of a newborn usually comes with an avalanche of hand-me-downs and gifted clothing. When the girl was born, I ended up with three Hefty trash bags of clothes that went straight to the donation center, for reasons of sizing or seasonal appropriateness or character placement. That was three bags in excess of the clothes she could wear. Needless to say, austerity was not a word to describe the situation. People just love picking up a cute onesie or two, especially if the baby happens to be a girl.

And then there are very good reasons why minimalism isn't practical with a baby. Spit ups, spills, blowouts, and just the general dampness of these tiny human beings make it necessary to change clothes once or twice a day. Some days, I've had to change outfits a few times even before noon.

But while it isn't really feasible to limit the number of items too strenuously, I have found it satisfying to apply the French method in two ways: 1) to buy a few high-quality items that add punch to an otherwise cheap wardrobe 2) to find a functional uniform.

spend a lot on a few high-rotation items, and spend little on what's adequate
Most of the kids' wardrobes are thrifted or gifted, and I have aimed to not get overly invested in what the kids wear. Sure, there are so many cute things for kids, and in another situation, another life, I probably would have indulged in searching for them, but in hindsight I'm rather glad I didn't get caught up in that.

But one or two super-cute Boden tees, some good See Kai Run shoes with the flexible soles, and warm long underwear have absolutely been worthwhile. These things have gotten a lot of wear. The wool undershirts and long johns get worn every day in the winter, and it's worth the peace of mind of knowing that they're dry and comfortable. The tees and shoes have been sound purchases just from the viewpoint of cost per wear. And really, just one adorable piece is enough to make the whole outfit, and it supplies all the friendly strangers something to say about the baby.

find a functional uniform
When you're in charge of wrangling a squirmy potato in and out of their clothes several times a day, you quickly come to see the advantage of streamlining the whole process. For each child, I settled upon a general uniform and then duplicated those pieces so that getting them dressed became a simpler matter. Right now for the baby, that's a wool shirt and long underwear from Finland (the hilariously named "nappy pants"), a long-sleeve onesie, a sweater or sweatshirt over top, and some comfortable jersey pant.

For both, the bodysuits came from Boden (stripes for one, stars for the other) and Hanna Andersson. Conveniently, baby things often come in multiples, so that lends itself to forming uniforms. I also bought a set of soft play pants from Baby Gap, which they both currently wear because she is so small and he is so huge.

It took some trial and error to figure out what works best for their particular season, body shape, and developmental stage. While I loved overalls on the girl, for example, they proved to be cumbersome for my wide-set and inert boy. But once I figured out what seemed to work, I set about getting rid of the majority of the pieces that didn't.

applying these ideas to big people clothes
It's so much easier to edit a child's wardrobe. If something doesn't work, wait a few months and soon enough they'll outgrow it, making the task of chucking an item easier emotionally. And then you know not to buy that same mistake again. But I have to admit that I'm still hanging on to clothes that I know don't work for me, just out of some idea that maybe some day soon, they might. And these are items that are ill fitting not just in terms of size, but also lifestyle, age . . . my developmental stage, if you will.

So editing my closet is still a wash, a work in progress if I'm feeling charitable. But applying the idea of buying a few higher-quality items to elevate a humdrum workable wardrobe--well, that seems easier done. Due to simply the current inertia of my wardrobe, anything I buy has the feeling of being a special piece.

As for finding a functional uniform, perhaps that is something I can work out on the pages of this blog over time. I would like to streamline the process of getting dressed, since I don't have a lot of time for self care but would appreciate not falling into the rut of being "mom," that harried woman with no time for self care. I honestly don't care that much about my appearance these days, but I feel like maybe I shouldn't give up that battle just yet.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

the thrift road trip

"Poughkeepsie Bridge 115997" by Jack E. Boucher

I moved a few months ago to a small town a few counties over but still in New York state. It feels so remote and rural, although, ironically, I am now closer to NYC than ever, only a 90-minute drive away. It's a place where an array of wildlife (deer, a wily groundhog) visits the apple trees in the neighbor's yard, and where the local thrift shop offers layaway. Before we moved, I figured that in order to enjoy the pleasures that this place had to offer, I would have to cultivate new interests and acclimate to the rhythm of a slower day, and I haven't been wrong in that.

So slowly I have been making forays into my new environs. And one way that I like to explore a new area is by plotting a day-long road trip where I stop at all the local thrift shops within a particular area. I use The Thrift Shopper directory, which helpfully has reviews from previous visitors, to find a list of shops within a certain radius and then map them out on Mapquest. Even with two kids in tow, it can be a pleasant daytrip.

Recently I went on a loop that encompassed some towns along the Hudson River. With the haunting notes of Over the Rhine's "Poughkeepsie" song playing in my head, I stopped at little church shops and big chains like Goodwill and the Salvation Army. The church shops were filled with tiny treasures and smiling older women who God blessed me and exclaimed over the kids. The Salvation Army was located next to their homeless shelter, so it was pretty sketchy and smelled of roach spray. You never know what you will find at a thrift store, and that's never more true than when you go to one in a new area. But still, it was so pleasant to be driving on the bridge over the river, kids sleeping in the back, a new road at my feet.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Ace & Jig Folk Midi Dress

credit: mille

Kind of really love this dress. It looks vintage, but it would take a dozen years to ever come across anything that sweet in a shop. The henley neckline makes it practical when you still have a nursling, too.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

hello old friend

It's been more years than I'll admit to that I've been in school, but something about the turn to fall weather always reminds me of the start of a new school year, and with it, a sense of anticipation and new beginnings.

Nothing changes your perspective more than parenthood, though. An older friend once explained it to me as being the eruption of the real into your life. Seismic changes. Becoming a mom shook me down to my roots, and I feel like I'm only now able to try to build back a sense of myself.

Let's start with the sartorial self, though, shall we? It's the easiest. My wardrobe is basically frozen in time to about three or four years ago, for financial and physical reasons. The body shape fluctuated, and the bank account dwindled, and priorities shifted. I hadn't bought anything of note in some time. It's interesting to me now to walk into my closet and see the things I acquired from such a clear period of my life. They seem almost like mementos, or old friends, and they make me feel a little bit nostalgic.

This week, though, I ordered a few things online: a pair of midrise jeans and a fall-weight sweater. Both are items that I hope will carry me through the postpartum transition and remain useful afterwards.