Mise en Place, the first step in the magical process by which we start to love what is in our closet, is made immensely easier when the clothes in our closet are suitable to our lifestyle, the season of life we are currently in and fit the body we currently have, not the one we used to have or the one we aspire to.
I am forty-three year-old mother of two entirely too young boys, who spends her days writing obsessively and playing Playmobil on the floor. I could wear sweatpants and top knots all day everyday and no one would notice or care.
Because I got started late with children, moved around a lot, and was fortunate enough, I have been able to work in several very different career environments.
In my first job out of college, working at Walt Disney World, I was provided a “costume” which consisted of an incredibly unflattering polo and equally unflattering khakis. I eventually graduated to Guest Relations tour guide, a job I truly wanted only because of how flipping adorable the costume was (think navy blue pencil skirt, white short sleeve blouse and red plaid vest with a fantastic Disney “D” brooch.)
From there, I worked as a wedding planner at an upscale hotel. I owned several beautiful suits, which I made sure to accessorize tastefully. Although weddings were definitely my jam, I did eventually tire of brides, and was promoted to business travel manager. My suits were still useful.
I got very very lucky, and befriended the assistant of an executive of a local bank, who urgently pressed me to take a job with her at the bank where she worked. I ended up working in an asset management firm, doing things I never knew I would be good at. I had the best boss in the world, who gave me free rein to use my seemingly endless creativity, boundless enthusiasm and obsession with order and numbers to make our team better, which I did. It was, hands down, the best job of my life.
Towards the end of the time I worked there, we went from a professional dress code to a business casual dress code, which, honestly, was the only thing I didn’t like about that job: what exactly is business casual, anyway?
From there, we moved to France. Most workplaces in France are business casual. I worked as an English teacher in business schools (very very business casual). Then, on to working at a radio station (very very very business casual).
Every single one of these jobs had a different dress code, different requirements. As someone who needs clarity, order and strict boundaries, the more fluid dress code environments were the most difficult and frustrating for me. As some misguided way to provide order and boundaries to a situation that was too fluid for my sensibilities, I leaned into my Little Lilies outfit calendars.
As we said yesterday, what we wear can have an impact on our mental health. For someone like me, not having a clear idea of what I should wear also has an impact.
Cue pregnancy and motherhood, two distinct seasons of life for which no professional or business casual-heavy wardrobe ever prepared me. I have never been a casual kinda girl. I had no idea and no inclination to learn how to dress for romping around on the floor with babies.
Embracing Season Change
If there was one lesson I didn’t learn early enough, it was the lesson that Daisy Fields, my stepmom, shared with us in her article earlier this week:
Life transitions dictate wardrobe edits.Daisy Fields, woman of great wardrobe wisdom
Life transitions come in many sizes and styles. Entering the workforce to career change to exiting the workforce. No children to children to empty nesting.
Letting the season change without adequately closing it can open us up to months, even years, of closet discontent.
If you have a closet space that is big enough and nuanced enough to allow you to store away the clothes from your pre-baby era without having to actually see them every time you go to get dressed, or to not have to rifle through your years-unworn tailored suits in order to get to your winter coat, this discontent might not ever touch you. Or, it might be that every time you see those things, you are reminded of what used to be and it makes you, even subconsciously, miserable.
For me, it wasn’t ever a conscious thought, like “this red power suit makes me so angry when I see it because I miss working on the twenty second floor of that skyscraper, while now I am kneeling on the floor doing rounds of diaper changes.” It was more subtle. It was a feeling of inadequacy. Feeling like I wasn’t putting my talents to good use. Seeing that suit, which used to make me feel so credible and legitimate, left me feeling dissatisfied and empty.
I have struggled all my life with a desire to feel good in my clothes, filling my closet beyond full in order to somehow attain that goal. Surely owning more clothes should increase the chances of owning something I feel good in, right?
So boy, oh boy, did I have clothes. At certain times in my life, it felt like the filling of my closet with beautiful clothes became a goal unto itself (which is not itself a problem, if I had the accompanying space and time and inclination to wear it all.)
So if you are someone who knows me from my foray into the professional world, and you thought that I might have had a shopping problem, you were probably right. But you have to admit: I always looked cute.
That said, one day it happened. One day, two babies in, I looked at all those clothes in my closet and felt disgusted at the quantity. Disgusted that I didn’t wear most of what was in the closet. Disgusted that I had spent so much money that could have gone to some other purpose.
What became urgent was to stop feeling that disgust. And so I began another purge of my closet.
Using the KonMari Method, I made it a goal to say an earnest “Thank you” to everything I would discard. I wanted to make sure that this time around, I would have no regrets (as I have had in other closet purges, a discussion I will take up next week as I explore the regrets of a minimalist.)
Thank you, red suit, for being there when I presented the project to the Board.
Thank you, fabulous shoes, for going with me to Chicago on my first business trip.
Thank you, pink blouse, for looking so amazing under my gray crèpe suit at that wedding.
Thank you and goodbye.
This was a painful, painful, painful process. But the act of saying goodbye and removing the items from the physical space I occupied meant that I was not reminded of the past seasons, seasons which I loved the memory of and in which I had known tons and tons of joy, and to which I would never be able to to return no matter what the future may hold.
Our clothes are about so, so, so much more than what we put on our body. They act as tangible memories: places we’ve been, sizes our bodies have been, people we love and miss, nightmare scenarios.
Baby clothes, graduation gowns, wedding dresses…we keep these around and forever because of the emotions attached to them. Some of us feel guilty for ever considering getting rid of them. And those are just the obvious ones.
Then there are the clothes we bought for our first real job, or what we bought to wear to a friend’s wedding. There is the skirt we were wearing when we met our significant other, the sweater we were wearing when we found out we were pregnant.
Seasons change, yet we cling to these tangible memories, as if the power of the past resides in the fibers of the fabric.
For that one person out there who needs to hear this: keeping that red suit in your closet will not give you your best life back. What’s more, the best is yet to come! By clinging to that suit, your hands are too full to grasp what’s coming. Thank that suit for how it made you feel when you wore it, and for giving you excellent memories. Then, donate it. Get it out of your closet.
You will feel so much better.
Our clothes, once we stop wearing them, become clutter like any other clutter that occupies our space. Like t-ball trophies, kids pasta artwork and mismatched dishes, if they aren’t being used or enjoyed, then they are simply occupying space in our homes and in our hearts, taking up space there that could belong to something else, or better yet, someone.
Learning to accept the change of life seasons and declutter accordingly frees our hearts to embrace our new season without reservation.
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
Part 8: Life Transitions (You are here)