In all the guidebooks and development apps and baby shower conversations, nobody tells you how much of your parenting life will involve buying, washing, drying, folding, sorting, and strategizing your kid’s wardrobe, or how to go about any of the above in a sensical way. So, you try to figure out a system yourself. Surely this closet organizer or seasonal rotation method or QVC vacuum sealer will solve the problem, you think. But it never does, does it? Sometimes you don’t even know what fits your kid anymore. Sometimes, in those bizarre moments when they’re neither 24 months or 2T but some undressable mutant size in between, nothing fits at all. Sometimes you dig in their shirt drawer and find a handful of brand new tees you forgot about, unworn and (of course) already outgrown.
Let’s break the problem into parts, since this ass-ache is multifaceted. First, there’s the logistical challenge of dressing a person whose size can change in a matter of weeks. Then there’s the rough-and-tumble nature of kids, the reckless play that results in ripped seams and torn knees and stains from “washable” daycare paint. Finally, there’s the dilemma of storage: How are you meant to keep current sizes, near-future sizes, and few-months-down-the-line sizes both separate and accessible? Maintain three fully stocked dressers?
Historically, the answers to these conundrums have included sizing up, even if it makes your kid look like he raided Dad’s closet; buying cheap, so the constant turnover doesn’t bankrupt you; and using the seasons as a rough cue to purge stained, holey, too-small stuff and bring in replacements. To this I’d add the following: Buy everything from one store only. Why? Because the tags on that Cat & Jack tee and this Children’s Place one may say they’re the same size, but one’s muumuu-huge while the other binds like shapewear, and you don’t have time to memorize the size differentials of twelve kidswear brands. As for organizing, the best method I’ve found is to keep only two or three next-size-up clothes at the bottom of the drawer — nothing more. You only need enough on hand to last a couple days; two-day shipping will handle the rest. My other hot tip: Devote as much of your kid’s room as you can stand to dresser space. I stacked two of these deep-drawered plastic behemoths in my kid’s closet, and the added ability to see what he has and what he’s low on (shorts this week, socks the next) has made all the difference.
But there’s another kid-wardrobe dilemma we haven’t yet discussed: the agony of frequent farewells. I once knew someone who couldn’t bear to toss her kids’ teeny socks and stored them in a garbage bag in her closet. This sounded bizarre to me — and then I had a kid and instantly understood. There are few things more poignant than the relative size between what they wore then and what they wear now, a visible representation of how much of their childhood is already gone. There was this one summer when my son wore an excellent multicolored stripey T-shirt from Primary like twice a week because he just looked so adorable in it — the stripes accentuated his little two-year-old belly, and the rainbow colors were as lively and joyful as he is. (I also bought the same tee for both myself and my husband; he refused to wear his, like the eminently sane person he is.) But then — summer dreams, ripped at the seams! — fall came, and the sleeves of that terrific T-shirt seemed to get shorter on my baby’s arms, and more of his tummy was visible below the hemline, and I knew it was over.
So, like all of his most beloved garments, it went into what I call the Memory Box, a sturdy, leather-handled Container Store number in which I keep things like the blue and green onesie he wore on his first day home from the hospital, and the floral Monica + Andy suit jacket he wore to our wedding at eight months old, and the milk-and-cookie-printed footie pajamas we especially loved. It sits in his bedroom, because he likes to look at the memories in there, too: the jack-o-lantern balloon we bought him the day we learned that he’s allergic to peanuts, the Santa photo in which he’s screaming as though being murdered. Stuff in the box is sacred; if it’s in, it’s in for life. If I have to buy another one, I’m fine with that. But he’s four, and my stringent inclusion policy has kept the box only half-full. If I can look at it and instantly recall that moment of his life — how he felt in my arms, the doofy malapropisms he favored — it goes in. If it’s just something he looked cute in, it can go.
And go it does, to the sweet little boy of my good friend, who lives two towns over and is a year younger than my son. (He’s also his best friend, but my kid never seems to register that his buddy is wearing his old sweatpants.) That mom gets the good stuff, the unstained and extra cute things, while the more workaday but still very usable items go in one of those green bins in the Home Depot parking lot. When we visit that friend, we roll up with pastries and a giant bag of used clothing, the parent equivalent of bringing a bottle of wine.
The important thing to remember, as you wade through piles of laundry and fill yet another Old Navy cart with $5 tees, is that this won’t last forever. Someday, your kid will pick out their own clothes, will fold and store them themselves, will pack them up and move them out of your house and into one where they live without you. Yes, dealing with their unwieldy wardrobe is such a hassle, and it drives you nuts and me nuts and everyone else nuts—and we’re all so lucky that we get to do it a little while longer.