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.

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