Pack Rats vs. Purgers
I’m not a pack rat. I throw out stuff whenever I get the urge. I’m never happier than when I’m pitching things into the garbage can or a bag marked “Good Will.” My idea of clothing organization would be to get rid of all clothing that does not currently fit anyone and, at the change of the seasons, buy *new* clothing at thrift stores, if needed.
Many years ago, a pack rat friend of mine was bemoaning the fact that she could NOT bring herself to get rid of her junk. I happily volunteered to go through her house and purge it of all worthlessness. Her eyes narrowed as she said with a slight chill in her voice, “No, thank you Natalie.” She knew.
When my in-laws moved out of their home a few years ago, they had to sort through and sell or throw a half century’s worth of STUFF. It filled their home and two large sheds in the back. Floor to ceiling. They lived during the depression. My husband was their child—and the poor man married me.
I didn’t KNOW that you might need a thingymabob 25 years after it had lost its original use. But after our wedding day I found out in short time that this is indeed the case. Even after 21 years, if I throw something out that looks like it came from the 15th century and has been gathering dust since our 19 year old was born, it is SURE to be precisely the thing someone in our family desperately needs exactly one week later.
So I don’t know what I am now. A paranoid purger? This means we have to store clothing—for all the seasons in Minnesota—for 11 growing people of all ages and sizes. (It’s a good thing half of our home is basically storage space.) As we kept adding people to our family, I had to figure out a way to make all the stuff that comes with all the people—fit. Not to mention that I had to be able to FIND it again if I did put it somewhere.
Let’s Start at the Very Beginning
Some of you are at the beginning of your family adventures, and you maybe only have one to three kids. The ones with large families have no doubt figured all this stuff out already—out of sheer necessity; therefore, this post will likely benefit younger moms the most.
We lived in a tiny home with one small storage space the first 10 years of our family life. At first I just kept all the summer/winter clothes in the closets and drawers. We had two boys, two years apart, so the second one slipped into the same clothes that the first one had left off wearing the year before. That worked fine until the Girl came along—four years later. I didn’t want her to wear the boy clothes, so I stuffed all those things into blue bins labeled “BOY.”
That came in handy, because less than two years after Girl—came Boy Three. I pulled those bins out, and he wore those clothes. I had to get some more bins labeled “GIRL” now. So far, so good. I only had clothing up to age 8, and most of it was boy clothing.
Then we moved into our current home with storage from here to Texas. I’m convinced that was the selling point for my husband. At any rate, it was a good thing, because we had Girls Two, Three, and Four right in a row, followed by Boys Four and Five. By now I had graduated from 10 gallon bins to 350 gallon bins, and they were stuffed with not only the clothes that we had purchased for our children, but clothing that other families had started donating to us.
As a related side note, I never thought about this before, but a recent comment on the Visionary Womanhood Facebook page woke me up the possibility that a lot of Wemmicks seriously think if you have more than two kids, you are automatically needy and perhaps even hick. Maybe that’s why we started getting donations?
At any rate, I had to keep all the donated clothing “just in case.” You know. An emergency. A computer crash. Armageddon. That kind of thing. We could have opened up our own thrift shop with what we had, made a fortune, and then used THAT against the future collapse of Western civilization. It would have taken up a lot less space in my house AND in my brain.
I started politely declining clothes, and furthermore, I convinced my husband that we ought to do our part and donate to others in need. Help THEM get ready for slow and painful starvation and the eking out of a living off of roots in the backyard. He likes to serve others, so he was good with that, as long as we were covered on our end. I assured him—we were.
At this point we had bins and bins—very large bins—stuffed to overflowing with clothing. Every spring and fall I’d wade through piles of clothing up to my neck trying to find seasonal clothing that would fit all the various bodies in our home. I’d flip through bins of tennis shoes, sandals, boots, church shoes, and camping shoes (old ratty shoes that you don’t mind getting muddy and moldy when you camp.) And then there were the bathing suits, light jackets, sweaters and coats for spring and fall—as well as the heavy coats and snow pants, gloves, mittens, hats, scarves, and face masks for winter.
Feeling nauseated, anyone? I was.
The Final Solution
Two years ago my mom gave me a sum of money and told me to use it on something that would alleviate any area of stress in my life. Of course, this clothing thing came to mind immediately, and I used it to buy clear, stackable drawers that I could store seasonal clothing in and label accordingly. Each drawer is limited in what it holds, making it easier to look through it quickly “on the fly” to see if what I need is in there.
I determined to limit our clothing to those drawers. If we had more clothing that the drawers could hold—it had to go. So I got ruthless with throwing stuff away.
This meant I could not hang on to ratty tennis shoes and t-shirts “just for camping.” No room. If a certain item sat in a closet year after year and the kids wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole—it had to go. If we had 24 plaid dress shirts in size 16, 20 of them would be donated to anyone desiring them. If a shirt had weird stains on it that wouldn’t come out, even after soaking in bleach, vinegar, nail polish remover, or peanut butter—into the garbage it went.
I do this with my own clothes all the time. I only keep what I actually wear regularly. I hate a closet full of stuff I never wear. I just had to get good about doing this with everyone else’s stuff. (My husband has drawn the line with his clothing. I can wash his clothing, but I can’t throw it. And I must say, he has gotten better at purging—all by himself—over the years.)
Now I have it down to just a few outfits per child, per season. They are labeled “Girl-Summer” or “Boy-Winter.” At the end of each season, I go through their closets and discard anything that is stained, worn out, or has tears or holes. If something sat in their closet for 6 months and they never wore it, it either gets thrown or put in a bag to give away. I don’t want it.
Then I pull out the next season’s clothes and we have a big “try-on” day where everyone tries on clothes in their size to see what fits. The girls LOVE this. The boys? Not so much. I have a list of necessities for each child that goes like this:
2 church dresses
pair of tights
6 pair underwear
6 pair socks
2 pairs of jeans
6 long shorts
6 short sleeved shirts
We would have fewer outfits, but we go to a cabin for 7 days every summer and need enough clothing to last for a week with no laundry. Plus, if they ruin something, they will still have plenty of options to get them through the summer. Our 9-year-old daughter is such a free spirit that we are lucky if she has anything left at the end of any season.
If there are any gaps in the list above, we purchase the items on sale at a department store or at a local child’s thrift store.
We still store all our shoes in bins labeled Summer Shoes, Dress Shoes, Tennis Shoes, and Boots. All our winter hats, mittens, etc. are in a separate bin, and all our coats are stored in a cloth, zip up wardrobe thingy on wheels in our basement. It does bulge a bit.
So that’s what we do!