The Inventory

I have mentioned this before, but at some point in my life I read that Princess Diana had an assistant who kept track of every outfit she wore, on what occasion. As someone who used to idolize Princess Diana, this little fact took on mythic proportions in my brain. I have scoured Google looking for information to corroborate what I think I know, but have come up empty.

So…did I imagine this? If I did, let me tell you, my imagination ran with this idea and turned it into an entire obsession.

For years, YEARS, I tell you, I used to draw out my outfits for the week, at one point, even drawing my Little Lilies out for the whole month. Like Poppy’s weekly Mise en Place, but on steroids and with a permanent trace. Is this OCD? Why yes, yes, I tend to think it might be. But at the time, I had no children, nothing else to obsess over, absolutely nothing better to do with my spare time. So why not obsess over my closet as if I were Princess Diana? Am I not an everyday princess? (Hands on hips, foot stamp.)

This obsession with planning my outfits in advance, one might think, should have prevented me from going on thrift store binges and shopping sprees. One might be wrong.

It would make sense, wouldn’t it? It would have seemed like I was doing Mise en Place, right? I was doing the planning, wasn’t I?

But no. There is a fun, creative, OCD release in this kind of exercise, but this is not Mise en Place.

Mise en Place is rooted in reality. It means having the actual clothes in your grubby little paw and putting them physically in the place where you will get dressed. It is not a little drawing of something in your closet of which you are unsure of its laundering status. (I’m talking to you Lily Fields.)

The Inventory

Knowing what you own and it’s wearability status is the foundation of making good decisions about what you are going to wear. The completion Mise en Place does not depend on a full blown closet inventory or a hearty decluttering, but it can be helpful in order to get your wardrobe under control.

This weird thing happened to me a few months ago: I was messing around in Le Boudoir, and I happened upon a garment bag. In it was my husband’s suit, which was last worn two years ago at my BIL’s wedding in Paris. In the back of the garment bag was an amazing navy blue shirtdress, the kind over which I have been fantasizing for–let’s be conservative about this–eighteen years, give or take after seeing a makeover on like Oprah or something where this woman was dressed in a navy (or maybe denim, memory fails me) shirtdress.

At the time, I could not remember buying that dress. (I have since traced it back to a thrift store haul during our US visit in 2019) At some point in 2019, I put the dress in a garment bag and forgot it existed.

Since I found it again, I have worn it at least once a week. Why? Because I love it and it looks amazing.

You see, knowing what is in your closet can reveal little secrets, little hidden gems that you forgot about that can make your life feel more sparkly.

The rest of this article is dedicated to different methods of performing a closet inventory, A Boudoir Booty Call, if you will.

The KonMari Method

Having tried it, and as a mother of two small-ish children, I am not a proponent of the get it all out and do a giant sort method prescribed by Marie Kondo, however, it is a method that has significant merit deserves to be discussed.

The KonMari Method tells us to take every single item of clothing we own, put it in a big pile and go through it piece by piece, keeping the items that spark joy and discarding/donating/rehoming the items that do not pass the joy check. This is all discussed in her book, and it really is a great book, all my reservations and caveats aside. Your local library surely has a copy. It is worth the read.

This method is by far the fastest way of reducing the amount of clothes in our closet. Depending on how many items you have, it takes about a day. But, like, a solid day, sun up to sun down in summertime with bathroom breaks and meal breaks.

It also can get overwhelming at about the half-way point if you are doing it alone, at which point you stop making good decisions and start thinking about how long it is going to take you to clean up the mess you just made, eventually deciding that “Well, we’ll have to sleep on the couch tonight, cause the bed is no longer available.”

This method is nearly unimaginable for people, like me, with small-ish children who, as long as they are awake, must be involved in every. single. thing. that. I. do.

I have done it, however. I did it when my first baby still napped reliably and the second one was a peaceful little dreamboat who slept all the time. (Neither of these are true anymore, especially not the “peaceful little dreamboat” moniker.) This is how I know that you might be looking for alternative places to sleep, because that halfway point is a killer.

If this method is one you chose, make sure to have a plan for getting the bags of donatable and rehomable items out of the house as quickly as possible. (Fair warning!)

The Seasonal Sort

Daisy, in her opus on the benefits, nay, imperative of Mise en Place as a way of life when she was running her own business and caring for two boys, touched on a number of important points that I would tend to believe make up a more doable method for a person who hasn’t dedicated their life to a Tidying Festival, à la Marie Kondo.

Because I believe in practicing what I preach, I decided to try this Seasonal Sort concept last week, just after my boys returned to school post-lockdown. The whole process, from Boudoir to bin, took thirty minutes.

The materials I had on hand were: the contents of my wardrobe and one largish Ikea bin with a lid, which had previously contained the overflow/emotionally charged clothes I had relegated to the basement. As you may remember, one rule of my Buy no clothes in 2021 challenge was that I needed to empty out that bin, a to-do on which I check boxed a few weeks ago.

All I did was take out my warmest winter go-to items out of The Boudoir. I folded them relatively neatly and filled the bin with them. I stopped when it looked like the bin wouldn’t close if I added one more thing. (I’ll admit: after I did this, I ended up doing one washing machine of things I wasn’t sure about. I want to make sure sure sure that my moth problem remains in the past.)

Additionally, in the process, I found a few items that I knew I would never wear again. Those “aspirational size”-jeans Daisy spoke of, for example. A shirt which, while adorable, is something that I absolutely never ever wear, and for good reason: the color looks awful on me.

I wish I had taken before and after photos. The space felt spacier. It felt breathier. It felt…it felt neater. And all I had done was take out about twenty items that I wasn’t going to be wearing for a few months and another five that would be leaving Le Boudoir for good.

The Container Concept

In all things, I prefer Dana K. White’s method of decluttering without making a bigger mess. This means simply dealing with each individual item that is clutter as you come across it, either putting it back in its home or taking it to the trash/recycling bin/donation box. I like this as much for my wardrobe as I do for generally keeping the apartment tidy.

When it comes to our wardrobe, however, there is always the question hovering over us, “How many clothes do I really need?” I have no answer to this, other than the fact that I do not own enough pairs of socks to get me through the end of the year with my sanity intact.

Dana K. White is a genius on many fronts, and I believe she can answer this question for us with the Container Concept..

Let the space you have, your Valhalla or Boudoir or Penderie or Firmament, not the space you dream of having, dictate how much you can keep. If there is no more space for all your socks and you have to shove them down every time you want to close the drawer, then you need to pare down (see what I did there?) to a number that will fit in your drawer, in the space you have designated for your socks.

This notion is revolutionary when it comes to the amount of clothes we can logically allow ourselves to keep on hand (we will have a discussion next week on different minimalist wardrobe equations, none of which I espouse with much enthusiasm, but they can provide interesting ideas.) Mise en Place is so, so, so much easier when everything we have to choose from is visible and accessible.

Every small thing you do today is a step towards that ideal.

Wrap-up

You do not have to do a once-and-for-all one-day festival to clean out your closet, but it is the fastest method to getting it done. If all you have are a few stolen minutes each week, at least give it a try.

Do the easy stuff first–remove items that don’t fit. Remove items that you don’t like. Remove items that you never wear, for whatever reason. Then progressively move on to the harder decisions. (We’ll be dealing with the core issues around why some decisions are harder than others in the days to come. Just stick with me!)

Conclusion

Knowledge is power, and this is true even in our closets, too. Knowing what clothes you own, having what you need at your fingertips, makes decision-making about what we are going to wear easier, and I will argue, more fun.


This article is part of a series on Mise en Place

Part 1: Make Magic with Mise en Place
Part 2: Our Closets, Ourselves
Part 3: Stories from Poppy’s Closet
Part 4: Daisy’s Secrets to Rolling with the Rest
Part 5: The Boudoir
Part 6: The Inventory
Part 7: Mental Health and Mise en Place

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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