Mental Health and Mise en Place

I am going to take a parenthetic break in the practical aspects of Mise en Place and take a moment to expose a few ideas, a few for which there is scientific research to back up, to argue that what you wear doesn’t just make a difference in how others see you, but it can make a difference in how you see yourself.

Headspace/Heartspace

Remember, at the very beginning of this series I exposed two terms, one real, one made up. First, the real one: Headspace, meaning, a person’s mental state and the ability to think clearly. Second, the made up one: Heartspace, meaning, a person’s emotional state and the ability to feel clearly.

Being in a good headspace, that is, in the moment not feeling stressed out or overwhelmed by the details of life, is a critical element to making good decisions. Having a small amount of perspective, with a benevolent consideration of what we want for ourselves (which can be pursued through our Ideal Life Exercises) means that we are consistently improving our current situation, even when that means removing activities, stuff and even people from our lives.

With that knowledge that we can impact, even in small ways, our progress towards the life we want for ourselves, we are able to feel more clearly; recognize our emotions, name them and let them complete their cycle in a healthy way, so as not to drag around years of regret for things we did or said because our hearts were not in a good space.

The clothes we wear and our beliefs about them have the power to impact our headspace, and there is science to bear it out.

Enclothed Cognition

The research is less than ten years old. It seems like something that should have been done a long time before that, because it just makes sense, but nonetheless. Someone actually had to do the study and publish. (And then someone had to make this fabulous little explanatory video about the findings.)

In the initial research participants are given a lab coat and told that the lab coat is important to performing certain tasks. Others are given no lab coat. Tasks are given to accomplish. Those told to wear a lab coat and who have been told that the lab coat is important perform better on the tasks.

Result? What we believe about the things we wear impacts how we behave.

This article from Brain Fodder does the best job of distilling all the best ideas that can be gleaned from the scientific research into a digestible format.

Using the research to hack our emotions

Great, Lily, this is all fun and smart and everything…but now what? And what in the world does it have to do with Mise en Place?

From the research, we know that what we wear actually holds sway over how we think, what we feel and how we perform. Therefore, decisions about what we are going to wear are more important than we give them credit for.

The purpose of Mise en Place is to eliminate the urgency of decision-making around what we wear, giving us a stress-free(ish) moment to think about how we want to feel the next day, how we want to perform the next day, and pick out clothes accordingly.

Why I started doing Mise en Place

For someone who had, for years, made little drawings of how she was going to dress, sometimes even a month in advance, motherhood quite seriously put a cramp in my style.

Motherhood did more than just cramp my style, though. It plunged me into a very dark place. Exhaustion, both physical and mental. I lived on an emotional roller coaster of both my own emotions and those of a toddler who was (and still is) highly sensitive. My hormones were all over the place. Postpartum depression spent a few days sunning itself on the doorstep, then moved in without being invited, like a neighborhood cat that one day you find sleeping under the covers of your bed.

I had a baby and a toddler. I had one pair of jeans that I knew fit, although they were not particularly attractive. I wore them every day, unless they got spit up on by the baby. I had a sweater which was my go-to because it was easy access for nursing. I had been so desperately holding everything together and trying to take care of everybody else (as one does in the midst of upheaval like bringing a new baby home) that I had not noticed that I had been wearing the same thing for days. Days.

I look happier than I was.

When I first started doing Mise en Place, it came on the heels of having worn the same jeans and black sweater for four, maybe more days in a row because I had been too stressed out first thing in the morning to pick out anything else. I had plenty of other things to wear. Plenty of prettier things to wear that probably would have fit just as well, that were just as easy access. But since I had relegated any decision about what I was to wear to the thirty seconds before my family was to go anywhere, I could not take the time to think about choosing anything else.

My clothes were stained, I had a seam in the sweater that was unraveling. I was overwhelmed with other stuff and this was literally the least of my worries.

I was miserable. I felt hideous.

It’s surprising that the clothes lasted as many days as they did, but what had to happen happened: the baby spit up on my easy-access sweater and I ended up with a shoulder-ful and a calf-ful of baby puke (moms know what I’m talking about.) This happened just before nap time.

I put the boys down for their naps, then stepped into The Boudoir.

I had a huge bubble of frustration pressing on my heart. Finally, it burst and I sat on the floor of my closet crying. I stank of curdled milk, unwashed hair and misery.

When the feeling, which was a potent mix of feeling invisible, feeling unhappy, feeling tired, feeling lonely and feeling angry finally completed its cycle, I grabbed another sweater and a pair of jeans. I wasn’t even sure if they would fit.

While I stood there, something else caught my eye: a pretty maternity t-shirt I had loved wearing. I hadn’t even thought of wearing it since the baby had been born, but I just realized that it had buttons on it. Hmmm…maybe I could wear it? It was, theoretically, easy-access.

The top in question, serving its purpose on a bump

Just looking at it made me happy. But if I were to wear it, I would have to take a shower, something I hadn’t done in so long that I couldn’t remember the last one I had taken. Thinking about the shower, I took out some clean underwear and socks and attached them to the hanger. While I was at it, I grabbed a skirt I was sure would fit.

I took all these things and hung them up in the bathroom, where I knew the next morning I could, if I tried really hard and made sure to tell my husband of my intention, I could manage to get a shower in before things got crazy.

Throughout the rest of the day, from time to time I would have to go into the bathroom to get something, and I would see the outfit hanging there. I started to have a tiny glimmer of hope. I was looking forward to the next day so that I could wear it.

The next day, my husband and I conspired to make sure I got my shower. I even took a few minutes to blowdry my hair. I got dressed and I actually wanted to leave the house. I wanted to take our boys someplace, because I felt like a human being again. The benevolent, unstressed Lily who had gotten together my outfit for me had made my life better. I thanked her.

During naptime, I took a few minutes to choose what I would wear the next day, thinking about how I wanted to feel the next day. I wanted to feel pretty, I wanted to feel alive. So I picked out clothes that I thought would help me feel that way. I put them all together and put them in the bathroom.

It took a long time for the postpartum depression to get under control, but this small step of caring for future me was the first step to wanting to get help.

I was dressed and I actually was happy. Plus, my accessory was pretty darn cute.

Conclusion

Postpartum depression is not the only reason to start doing Mise en Place, as we saw with both Daisy and Poppy, who both had their own reasons for having started, but it was a powerful reason for me to start.

What we wear impacts how we see ourselves, even how we do what we do during the day, down to the underwear we wear (which we will discuss in more detail next week with Poppy.) Removing the urgency from the decision about what we wear allows us to determine in advance what we want for ourselves and then dress accordingly.

I’m not Pollyanna. I know there is a limit to how much difference our clothes can actually have on how our day will go, but dressing for the day we want to have is one tiny investment in our Ideal Life and being content with who we are and the progress we are making.

So yet again, Mise en Place for the win.


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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