Coming back to the surface

Once of the wonderful things about Mise en Place is that whether it is a habit that you do every single day for the rest of your life, or something you do on one-off occasions, there is always a benefit to doing it.

It’s not like deciding to, oh, I don’t know, stop snacking between meals, where, instead of feeding your feelings you actually have to feel them, and have an awful, uncomfortable latency period between your good deed and any positive impact that might come from it. No, with Mise en Place the benefit is immediate: 1. you feel good about having done it 2. you feel good about the next day 3. the next day you feel loved.

As with the development of any good habit, the intention of it is to make your life better. The added benefit of the immediate hit of good feelings that come (especially when we get started with the habit of Mise en Place) makes it a habit that has a quick payoff and a long-term benefit.

The future is in the future

In January 2017 I had my second baby. From August of 2014 until September of 2017, I was either pregnant or nursing a baby.

When I first got pregnant, I gave very little thought to what it would mean in terms of permanent change to my body. I was beyond excited at the prospect of dressing a baby bump, and that was about as far as it went. The rest was in the future.

I stored away my handknits, I put out of sight some of the clothes that quickly became unwearable due to the bump, but I assumed, however naively, that I would wear them again one day.

After my first scalawag was born and I made the gigantic mistake of trying to fit into a pair of pre-baby jeans upon our return from the hospital, I understood that there was a reality that I hadn’t bargained for: my body had just gone through something that it would never return from. I mean, bones in my body actually moved. I suddenly had real hips. I wasn’t going to be able to fit into those jeans again if my life depended on it.

As I nursed, then was pregnant again, I let this reality get away from me. My midwife, who accompanied my second pregnancy kept insisting that I be very careful not to gain too much weight during the second pregnancy, because she insisted that after a second baby it is much, much harder to lose. Yet again, the thought that there would be a post-baby body got away from me.

And then January 2017.

I understood and regretted every dish of ice cream I indulged in.

A plan

Feeling ill-at-home in my body was one of the ways that post-partum depression snuck in and made itself at home. It felt like being on the outside looking in, seeing a body in the mirror that didn’t look at all familiar, certainly didn’t feel familiar. Regardless of what it actually looked like, it didn’t look or feel familiar.

Nothing pre-baby seemed to fit right, and obviously, it couldn’t fit like it used to. I mean, much of it still fit. But not well.

So I got it in my head that all year I would save up all the money I would usually have spent on clothes and I would, on the occasion of my birthday (which is in September) buy myself a new wardrobe, in the hopes that by September my body would have found its new normal.

This was something that was actually kinda fun to plan for. I started a Pinterest board of looks which tickled my fancy. I plunged into this project as if this was going to be the thing that would give me my life back.

Just to step outside the narrative for a moment, and to be very very clear, buying new clothes did not give me my life back. I know now that buying new clothes will never give me my life back. But I was looking for something, anything that would give me some hope. I settled on this.

What I should have done, and didn’t get started doing until two years after my youngest was born, was actively learning to love my new body. To show it appreciation and to speak kindly to and of it. No matter what it looked like or felt like to me, my body had just done some amazing work and it deserved my affection. Instead, I wasted a lot of time being mean to it.

What I thought I wanted

I wasted time on Pinterest that year. Boy, oh boy. It was an easy thing to do, and it was something I could do while the boys napped. It didn’t require anything special from me, other than to just sit down (which was a welcome change from kneeling on the floor with babies.)

I found myself attracted to looks that were sophisticated, put together, usually with a touch of navy here, or a red jean there. Everything was either sailor themed or otherwise striped. The colors were limited to navy, white, red, khaki, a little kelly green thrown in here and there. (Knowing me as you do, you can imagine how long that lasted in the real world.) What I was attracted to was an aesthetic: sporty, bourgeois elegance.

When my birthday rolled around, I headed off to the thrift store. I went to the bigger stores, too, hitting the sales racks. I found a cute little sailor shirt, a cute pair of skinny green jeans. I bought navy this, navy that. Red jeans, a red belt. I made myself wear all these things, and I’ll admit, when I go back and look at the pictures, I was kinda cute.

But it only made the depression worse. Why? Because this was a costume. I was wearing the clothes that a depressed me had thought would make me happy but they didn’t make me happy.

I used to sparkle

At some point, my hormones sorted themselves out. At some point, my writing started giving me purpose again, making me feel like I existed outside of the two little lives that now depended on me. At some point, I looked at my new body and was willing to befriend it and decide that I would love it no matter what size it wanted to be. I wasn’t going to try and dictate anything to it: I just wanted to love it again.

At some point, I went back to the people who had counseled me during a difficult season and admitted to them that I was depressed and needed help.

There was no magic in all that, none but the fact that every single evening I would put out my outfit for the next day in the bathroom where I knew I would get dressed in the morning. It was a teeny tiny investment in tomorrow, tomorrow being a concept that I had nearly forgotten to believe in anymore.

Little by little, I started digging back into my old clothes, the pretty ones I hadn’t worn in three years and found them far too fancy for this new life. But many of them I simply loved too much to discard.

Seeing clearly

As you know, my sister’s philosophy on life is: Life is short, wear a pretty bra.

Mine has become something very very similar: Life is short. Wear pretty clothes.

After a year of feeling dowdy and like nothing fit me right, after buying things that I didn’t really even like but that filled an ideal of a life that would never be mine, I undertook to put those pretty clothes to work.

I started asking myself questions:

What is the point of owning pretty things if you never wear them?
If it is too pretty to wear, because you are afraid of ruining it, then why even own it?
If it makes you happy to look at it in your closet, won’t it make you that much happier to actually wear it all day?

So I tried. Yes, it felt like I was chronically overdressed. I was. But I discovered that I would rather be overdressed and feel pretty than feel dowdy. Putting out my clothes the night before meant that I had some perspective about how I wanted to feel the next day.

Try the Gamechanger

By now, you are probably getting tired of hearing about Mise en Place. If you already do it, then bear with me a few more days. I am going to be sharing my findings regarding some of the different wardrobe theories I have explored over the last few years, which are intended to make getting dressed a simpler prospect. (Spoiler alert: in all things, less is more.)

If you haven’t yet tried Mise en Place, just try it. I will stop nagging you soon, I promise. Just go to your closet, pick out what you are going to wear tomorrow, down to the pretty underwear you never usually wear but because Poppy was so convincing, you are going to going to take them for a spin. Put all those items: tops, bottoms, cardigan, scarf, socks and frilly underthings–in the place where you are going to get dressed tomorrow morning.

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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